Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Big Reunion

I turned 30 last year.  It wasn't a big deal, really.  I was quite excited to enter a new decade.  This year, I turn 31.  That's a much bigger issue.  There are a few things that I've discovered in the last few months, which annoy me a little more than I'd care to admit.  A few small signs that I might be approaching middle-age.  For example, I can't casually eat whatever I fancy without gaining weight anymore and I have visibly more "laughter lines" than I used to.  And believe me, my life really isn't hilarious enough to justify them...

There is, however, one thing I like about being in my 30's and that is the fact that I feel I can be justifiably nostalgic for my teenage years.

Before I go on, let me clarify: I loathed the majority of my teenage years.  I've blogged about how horrendously bullied I was and the enormous void it created where my self-confidence should have been.  But I'm not talking about that aspect of the era.  I'm talking about the nice bits.  Writing "boobless" on my calculator.  Passing notes to my friends in class.  Getting kicked out of Miss Selfridge for testing ALL of the make up on display (that happened to us all, right?!).  Taping the charts off the radio every week and trying to press "pause" before the DJ started talking all over the songs. Planning my wedding to the popstar of my dreams...

Aaaah, yes.  Reminiscing over teenage crushes.  There's something about those first, hormonal experiences of "love" - it's a feeling that takes hold of you and never quite lets go.  At 14, the object of my adolescent lust was a member of a boyband (as they so often are!).  His name was Lee and he looked like this:

Finding this photo made me go wibbly and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Let me give you a little bit of back story, to explain how important this particular crush - and the band Lee belonged to - were to me.  

Music is an important part of most teenager's lives and mine was no different.  At 12, when I was being spat at and told I was too ugly to live (if you're reading this and you're a bully, f*ck you in the eye with a spoon), I would go home and listen to Take That and all the horrible words I'd had screamed at me would melt away.  I'd wear my Walkman (oh God, just typing that makes me feel old) on the school bus, to drown out the nastiness and I'd come home and make up dance routines to my favourite songs.  Because I was effortlessly cool, obviously.

By the time I was 14, Take That had long since split and I was planning to become the 6th member of the Spice Girls.  Who cared about bullies?  I had GIRL POWER!  Everything was going to be great.

And then, on November 5th 1996, my Paps (my Greek grandfather) passed away, following a stroke.  He was the last of my grandparents and I felt terribly isolated from my friends, most of whom still had all four of their grandparents, alive and well.  Suddenly I was being bullied every day and I was dealing with grief and it was all just too much.  On November 7th, we got in the car and headed to London (where Paps had lived).  I'd taped several songs from the radio onto a cassette to cheer myself up and bought myself a copy of Smash Hits with my pocket money, to read on the journey up from Cornwall.  In a moment of fluke-ish synchronicity, as I turned the page in the magazine, I saw this:

Are his feet not cold?!  PUT SOME SHOES ON, LEE!

And at that very second, the song "Don't Make Me Wait" started playing on the tape I was listening to.  As it did, for the first time in 48 hours, I smiled.  An actual, proper smile.

I know, I know.  As a 30 year old, I can look back rationally and I can see how shallow that might make me sound.  But at the time, all I thought was: "Wow, I don't feel terrible at this precise moment in time and it's all thanks to this band!  I LOVE THEM."

911 became the band who saved me from going out of my head with 14 year old angst.  I listened to that song over and over, during the next few days and weeks.  The eve of my grandfather's funeral, I listened to it a lot.  It was the only thing that took my mind off everything going on around me.  The song was great (I stand by that) and Lee was gorgeous.  He - and the band in general - was my ray of sunshine at a dark time, as dramatic as I know that sounds.  

As time went on, the band became my escape.  My walls quickly became plastered in pictures and I'd talk to them about my troubles, however crazy that may seem.  When the bullying got worse and I was at my lowest, I'd tell Lee all about it.  Okay, he never answered back, but the strange little ritual made me feel less alone, anyway.  When I moved from Cornwall to Gloucestershire in early 1997, I told myself not to be nervous and to look forward to the release of 911's debut album, rather than worry about having to make new friends, or whether or not I'd be bullied at my new school.  When I moved back to Cornwall the year after that, I had two 911 albums to listen to in the car, instead of one.  Throughout all the moving, all the bullying, all the usual trials and tribulations of being a hormonal teenager, the band were my constant.  They were always there and when Lee gave an interview in which he spoke out about bullying and how he hated it, I decided he was someone I could actually trust.  I rarely had crushes on any of the boys at school (there were a few, but only my closest friends knew about them), because I was picked on by so many of them that I was usually too busy hating them, or hiding from them, to actually think about whether their faces were nice or not.  Lee not only had a face I definitely liked, but he sang pretty songs about love and he seemed so much nicer than the horrible boys I was forced to sit on a school bus with.  As far as I was concerned, I was a one-man woman.

My diary.  I was 14.  I was hormonal.  I was practising my signature...

Of course, the thing about being a hormonal teenager is that one day you reach a point where you shake yourself like a wet dog and go: "WHAT AM I DOING?!" and set off on the path towards being an actual "grown up."  By the time I was 17, I was a Manic Street Preachers fan, writing tortured poetry and wondering where the heck Richey went.  And then the whole "growing up" thing just sort of happened.  I got a boyfriend and stopped thinking I was an unlovable freak (until he dumped me, but we're all allowed to have a mini meltdown when we're 19 and broken hearted for the first time, right?!).  I got a job.  I fancied real people that I actually knew.  I went clubbing.  I learnt to drive.  I went on holiday without my parents.  I had to start explaining to younger people what Walkmans actually were...

By the time I turned 30, I was a published author.  I'd survived an emotionally abusive relationship and was getting my life back together.  I was happy and healthy, with a good set of mates and those heady days of kissing posters goodnight were long behind me.  The music I'd once loved - the soundtrack to my teens - was still around, hovering in the background, but the pictures on my walls were of family and friends.  I'd been lucky enough to see 911 twice "back in the day."  They were gone now and whilst I occasionally thought fondly of them (and wondered whether Lee might be as heart-stoppingly gorgeous now as he was then...), that was that.

And then this happened:

I keep thinking this looks like a Sixth Form photo.  Coolest Sixth Form EVER.

ITV2 announced a new show called The Big Reunion, in which they'd bring back six pop groups from the 90's and early 00's.  "Cool," I thought.  "I'll probably watch that!"  And then I saw the line up.  

B*Witched.  "Aw, I used to love them!  I saw them live in the 90's.  I wore double denim in their honour!"
Atomic Kitten. "They were awesome.  Whole Again is such a fab song."
5ive. "I loved 5ive!  I remember taping their performance of When The Lights Go Out from Top Of The Pops!"
Liberty X. "I saw them live, too.  They were so cool, back in the day!"
Honeyz. "I remember singing End of The Line and Finally Found with my friends, trying to do harmonies."

From the first week it was on, The Big Reunion pretty much became the show I watched religiously.  There were to be no excuses for missing it.  I had to know what had happened to "my boys" since they'd split, 13 years earlier.  I wanted to find out what had become of the man who'd inspired me to support Carlisle United for the last sixteen years!  If anyone texted during the show, they'd be lucky to get a reply during the ad breaks.  Once a week, I took a trip down Memory Lane and I bloody loved it.

Last time 911 were on breakfast TV, I taped it and watched it so many times the video went all warped...

A funny thing started to happen.  The more I watched the show, the more I reminisced.  Not just about my teenage crush on Lee, or about trying - and failing - to bodyshake.  But about my life back then.  About the friends I had, the places I visited, the dreams I held.  I contacted old school friends on Facebook, some of whom I'd not spoken to in years.  I realised that in spite of what I thought at the time, 14 year old me was actually a decent girl.  Someone I'm proud to have been.  She was funny and bright, even if she never knew quite what to do with her hair.  She was loyal to her friends and she aspired to big things.  So she slept with a cardboard cut out of a member of a boyband... WE WERE ALL YOUNG ONCE.

And those songs!  Listening to them all again - not just 911, but all of the bands' back catalogues - brought back so many memories.  Dancing at youth club with my mates.  Listening to The Day We Find Love every night religiously before going to sleep.  Recording "demo tapes" with friends, covering our favourite songs.  It's not an overstatement to say that some of the songs recorded by the bands featured on The Big Reunion really were the soundtrack to my growing up.

So when a Big Reunion tour was announced, there was no question of not going.  Luckily, I have a best friend who understands the significance of seeing your favourite bands from your teenage years live again.

I love 911.  Lydia loves 5ive.  We were destined to be best friends, due to our mutual love of numbered bands.

Of COURSE I made a top for the occasion!

Settling into our seats at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on Saturday May 11th 2013, both of us were, it's fair to say, more than a little bit excited.  The phrase "I might actually be sick" was bandied about.  But then again, so was the phrase "he has a head like a potato," so...

The lights went down, 5ive (now 4our) came on stage and we went from being quite sensible grown ups to hormonal teenagers in seconds flat.  We - and those around us -  screamed so loudly that the sound was reverberating in my ears for hours afterwards.  And the concert itself?  AMAZING.

5ive were brilliant show-openers.  They harmonised, they danced, they got the crowd going and were just generally awesome.  B*Witched jigged their way through C'est La Vie as though it was still 1997 and Rollercoaster (sort of my theme song, after my birthday trip to Alton Towers last year) was a highlight of the night.  The Honeyz harmonised beautifully and brought some sass to the proceedings with Won't Take It Lying Down.  Liberty X were sexy and edgy.  Atomic Kitten were bursting with energy.  And 911...  Seeing them again after all these years reduced me to a jelly-legged, jumping, singing fourteen year old, all over again.  

None of the bands were a disappointment.  Every dance move was polished to perfection.  Every song brought back memories.  The whole night made me realise how important those trips down Memory Lane actually are.  We are only the people we are today, because of the experiences we've had in the past, after all!  Who knows if I'd be quite the same Emma now, had I never seen that advert and heard that song.  Who knows if I'd even be here, such was the level of distress I was living with at the time.  The fact is, that slightly geeky girl who used to practise signing her name "Emma Brennan" and who plastered her walls with 911 posters, is a huge part of the woman I became.  Reminiscing over those days, thanks to The Big Reunion, gave me a chance to remember so much more than songs.  It reminded me of the times I'm happy to have lived through, as well as the times I'm glad to have put behind me.

I can't adequately describe how brilliant the night was, so have some photos:

Who gots da funk, 5ive gots da funk, right? 

"I fight like me da' as well!" - B*Witched.

Lydia took this photo of 911.  I was very busy at the time.  Screaming my ass off.

"Money can't buy ya Honeyz..." Except it can, cos I paid for my ticket and they were there.

Atomic Kitten.  I'm sure my Nan once had a lampshade that looked like Tash's skirt...

"L to the I to the B to the E to the R to the T-Y." X.

Guess what this band is called?!

Everyone looks cooler in dramatic silhouette.

Lee looked over and my inner 14 year old wet her knickers.

So that was that.  The lights came up, Lydia and I had had an amazing night and we prepared to leave, grabbing our things and gushing over how brilliant the show had been.  We decided, on the off-chance, to do a spot of stage door lurking.  Because, well, you never know...

...And as it turned out, that half an hour or so of standing about ended up being amongst the highlights of the entire night.  No, weekend.  No, year so far.

First of all, Lydia ended up having a good old chin wag with Kerry Katona from Atomic Kitten, who, it turns out, is a total sweetheart.

Lydia has a new best friend.  Woe. 

And then something happened that had already happened a million times in my head.  I've mentioned Lee a few times, so I'm pretty sure you know where I'm going with this, right?  Yes, you guessed it.  Reader, I married him.  Well, okay, I held his hand and gave him a hug.  To him, I was just another fan, after just another show.  To me, he was the only man my 14 year old self actually had any faith in (besides my family members, obviously).  The person I'd quietly poured out all my troubles to.  The only constant during those turbulent, hormonal years.  And oh my God, you've no idea how relieved I was that he was nice.  See, had I met him when I was 14, he could've stabbed an old lady, whilst wearing a puppy-fur coat and I might (MIGHT) have shrugged it off, what with the fact that I was besotted with him.  But as a 30 year old adult woman, had I met him and he had been a bit of a dick...  Well, it would have required a lot of alcohol to forget, that's for sure.  But no, he was as sweet and friendly as I'd hoped he'd be all those years ago and I privately applauded my clearly excellent taste in teenage crushes.  Oh and for the record?  I totally still would. ;-) 

It's blurry, but damnit, it's proof. ;-)

So my advice to anyone reading this blog now?  Take your own trip down Memory Lane; you never know what you might discover!  Dig out your old music collection.  Listen to the songs you grew up with.  Find out what became of your teenage crushes and be proud of the awkward, shy, hormonal mess you might once have been.  Because that person helped make you what you are today.