Stuck Inside A Story (For 28 years…)

That’s how it feels. That’s what it is. Stuck. Trapped. Held prisoner. I can’t get out. But do I really want to? Evidence would suggest not. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I have done. Created a world, created characters, used some magic and a lot of hard work, an imagination I can’t control, and there you have it, an alternative reality I can’t escape from.

I had no idea this would happen when I started writing as a child. My first attempts were hand-written stories about lost and abandoned animals, heavily influenced by my love of Watership Down and other similar books. I didn’t write my first story about real people living real lives until I was 12 years old. What happened to tear me away from my quaint tales of lost dogs and runaway bunnies? Well, weirdly, this.

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And this.

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Watching The Lost Boys gave me a few vital ingredients for the story that would go on to hold me prisoner for the next 28 years. It gave me the main idea, the main concept and it gave me some characters. Or at least, it inspired me to create characters who would turn out to be the kind of people I wished I knew in real life. As for Stephen King, it was around this time that I started my collection and was well on my way to becoming a truly obsessed fan. Add to that strange mix, the recent divorce of my parents, the usual teenage angst and rebellion, and I had me a story. Remember the bit in The Lost Boys when the younger brother realises his mother is dating the head vampire? That’s where the idea for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side came from. It wasn’t called that back then. It wasn’t called anything for ages. But I kept thinking…what if your mother was dating a monster? Only not the vampire kind, the real-life kind? And what if no one believed you? And what if you only had yourself and your best friends to try to battle this person? It was a weird mix of asking ‘what if’ questions, my parents’ recent divorce playing on my own fears, a dewy-eyed fascination with the actor Corey Haim, and a love of horror and fascination with the darker side of human nature that spawned this tale.

In my mind, my main character Danny, who is 13 at the start of Part 1, looked a lot like Corey Haim, who I was quite a bit in love with at that age. Once I had him in my head, his character started to grow and evolve, and I think I wrote that very early first draft pretty quickly. I remember it was my absolute obsession for a while. I hated to be away from that story. I’d rush home from school and up to my room to pick up my notebook and pen. I’d write endlessly and passionately. I suppose at the time I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was sort of trying to invent friends, I think. People I was intrigued by, people who had drama in their lives. I felt like I was a character in the book too. I was so proud when I finished it. I even started a sequel. I showed my English teacher and she read it and gave me a merit certificate I had to go up in assembly to collect. I remember being embarrassed but happy. The certificate said I had written a novel. At age 12! I don’t think I have the certificate anymore, but here’s the book.

 

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I started rewriting it after that. I had invested in an electronic word processor. It was the most exciting machine in the world to me! I could sit there and tap away and watch my words appear on this mini screen, before hitting print and then holding typed pages in my hands. What also happened to me at that age was that the story crept inside my brain. It kept me awake at night. It was company. I was never, ever bored. I’d look forward to bedtime because I knew I could lie there and think about my story before I fell asleep. I watched the scenes in my head like a movie. I heard them talking and arguing. Inevitably I came up with new ideas and extra bits, but mostly I just let them play it all out, and most of those imagined scenes have never made it into any of the books. It was just me, a fly on the wall of a made-up world, watching them live.

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Here’s one of the many pictures I drew of the characters. Only some of these made it into the final version.

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I rewrote that book again at aged 16. I’d started and not finished tons of other stories in that time. The book had opened a floodgate, forging a lifelong addiction to writing. But that one story, I couldn’t ever let it go. I rewrote it again at 19. I thought about it constantly during the non-writing years of balancing early motherhood with self-employment. The same story, the same characters always in my head, coming back to me night after night. I was 34 before I finally returned to it. I started writing in notebooks again, just like when I was a kid. Snatching spare moments, writing before bed, suddenly entirely addicted all over again, but this time it had to come out, it had to be finished.

I finally released it in 2013. The Mess Of Me snuck in and was released first because The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was so long and needed so much work. But finally, it was out. A real book I could hold in my hands! I’d done it. So now they would fall quiet, surely? I’d stop thinking about them. I’d stop playing out more scenes.

Well, no, not exactly. Before I knew it I’d penned a sequel, This Is The Day and released that too. That should have been the end of it it, but yet, it still wasn’t. The story itself was so enticing to me, and I was so invested in it, I couldn’t stop imagining other endings, and I guess, truth be told, in my head I did not want it to be over. So the stories went on. Every night, hi guys. What’s happening now?

I wrote an alternative ending in 2016 and included it in Bird People and Other Stories.That was supposed to draw a line under it, but it only made things worse. Now I couldn’t get the thought of other endings out of my head! What if this happened instead? What if? What if? For the fun of it, I started writing a screenplay in a notebook. Brand new material that led on from the original ending of book one, slotting in and delaying the ending, but finishing up before This Is The Day. This was only supposed to be for fun. To get it out of my system. To indulge myself even more than I already had. What the hell, what did it matter? It was for fun. I didn’t have to explain that to anyone!

Except now I do. Because that screenplay became a total obsession. I carried that notebook around with me everywhere. I grabbed every spare moment I had to write into it, getting this new story out. I absolutely loved it. I was so excited about it. I just couldn’t put it down. So eventually, after a lot of thinking and plotting, I came to a decision. I would do it. I would split the book back into two parts and this new material would be part three. Part Four would be This Is The day but it would need some reworking. Then suddenly, parts five and six emerged…

I’ve now accepted the truth. And that is that this story and these characters will never let me go. They are part of me and part of my life and I’m going to leave each book open, just in case I want to revisit it again.

There are new characters introduced in Parts Five and Six, and these also get their own spin-off book or possibly series with characters from both appearing in the others. So, as you can see… this thing could run and run.

So, if you are interested in reading this story, which began when I was 12, followed me through my life and has now evolved into at least a six-part series, you can start with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part One which is available for pre-order on Amazon now and is released on 9th November. This is a reworked, revised edition. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part Two is also available for pre-order now and is also released on 9th November. Both at the special introductory price of 99p.

I plan to release the brand new Part Three in January an Part Four in February. By then I hope to be into the second or third draft of Part Five…

And the weird thing about this story is that I wrote it purely for myself, I indulged myself entirely, became utterly lost and absorbed and have still been unable to climb free from it. So I don’t really expect anyone to buy it, and I don’t really mind if they don’t. It feels weird to even try to plug it if I’m honest. Like this one is just for me. Like this is my mind, my imagination, my daydreams and to imagine anyone else wandering around in there is almost unsettling. And if it holds me prisoner for another 28 years? I think I’m okay with that…

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RIP Kurt Cobain; Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

The Boy

“People always say they can remember exactly where they were when a big news story broke. You know, like Kennedy being shot, or Martin Luther King being assassinated, or Elvis being found dead on his toilet. I didn’t used to care, or pay much attention, until it happened to me. I will remember forever and ever where I was, what I was doing, even what I was fucking wearing the day I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.

I was in The Record Shop again. I had only been in about five minutes, brimming with excitement, clutching the money to pay for the stack of singles and albums I had piled up behind the counter. Beck’s Loser, Oasis’ Supersonic, Talking Head’s Remain In Light and Pixies Surfer Rosa. See? Remember them all. I was wearing blue baggy jeans, and I had just been thinking that I must have lost a bit of weight because I had to keep hitching them up, and I was feeling pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for God’s sake, not smaller. I had on an old Clash t-shirt I had picked up in a charity shop, and my beloved baseball boots which were coming apart at the soles. I went around the counter, and clutched the records to my chest, inhaling the musty smell of them while Terry chucked my money into the till. He was drooped over his stool, mug of tea steaming in front of him, and a stack of dusty cassettes to one side, waiting to be shelved. 

You still don’t have a record player to play them on do you?’ he asked, struggling to disguise his own amusement.

Gonna’ ask for one for my next birthday.’

You’re weird, you know that? All the other kids are getting into the CD’s mate. That’s the new thing! You’re going bloody backwards!’

I like old things,’ I shrugged defensively. I stayed where I was behind the counter, stalling for time by gazing longingly at my records and wondering if he would allow me to turn off the radio and put one on. We heard the news announcement at the same time. We both lifted our heads instantly when we heard the words spoken. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain has been found dead at his Washington home. It was a long, stretched out moment, dizzying and sick, and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, just crashed on out under my feet. I was standing on nothing. The fat man was staring at me and I was staring back at him. My mouth fell open in slow motion, registering the horror. Terry’s face seemed to twist in shock, his eyes becoming loaded with despair and disbelief. I was rigid and could not speak.

Oh my God,’ Terry whispered as the news reporter rattled on.

I held my records to my chest and shook my head. ‘Can’t be true,’ I heard my voice croak. I walked stiffly then, around the counter and towards the door.

Oh shit,’ he was saying behind me. ‘Not another one. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s never fucking Michael Bolton or Phil Collins is it? Hey? Hey Danny, come on, you all right mate?’

Can’t be true,’ I said. I wrenched the door open and started running.

I ran all the way home. I stumbled up the driveway with my sweaty hair plastered to my face. I barely paid attention to the two cars parked in the drive as I dashed past them, still clutching my records, all my coherent thoughts commanding me to get to the television, to find out more. I ran into Howard and Freeman in the back garden. They had the barbecue going and were lounging in plastic garden chairs, smoking and drinking beers. There was an instant and undeniable light that leaped into Howard’s eyes when he saw me.

Whoa look who it is! Our number one man!’ Freeman greeted me as he often did, with just a silent nod of his head. ‘You heard the big news yet eh?’ I scowled at the snake like smile that crawled across his face, and the delight that shone in his beady eyes, and turned away from them, into the house. There was a roar of laughter behind me. Their footsteps echoed mine. ‘Don’t you love this about Danny?’ Howard was asking Freeman. ‘He’s so bloody talkative!’

I hurried into the lounge, placed my records on the sofa, turned the TV on and started to flick through the channels with the remote. They came into the room behind me, and ordinarily the fear would have started to crawl down my spine, but I was too absorbed, too desperate to hear it was all a joke, a mistake. 

Ah looks like he already knows,’ said Howard, drinking from his beer bottle. ‘Oh damn, I was looking forward to telling you. What a fucking loser eh Danny? That so called hero of yours, that idiot junkie? Worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter!’

I barely heard him, and I stopped flicking channels because I had found him. There he was, locked inside the TV set like so many times before, on Top Of The Pops and MTV. They were playing the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there he was, in his striped top, peering through his blonde hair as he snarled the lyrics. He came up to the camera lens, shook his hair from his eyes, and I mouthed the words as he sung them.  My eyes tracked down to the information that was running along the bottom of the screen.  Kurt Cobain found dead in his Washington home. 

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television to steady myself. I forced a deep breath of terrible, heart breaking shock. I listened in mounting sorrow, as the reporter relayed the information that he had probably been dead for a few days, that it appeared he had died from a shotgun wound to the head, and that a suicide note had been found at the scene. But at the same time, there he was, alive and kicking, killing his guitar, thrashing the hell out of it, while the cheerleaders bounced up and down in slow motion. They started playing shots from their other videos and from live performances, Kurt destroying his guitar and hurling himself into the drum set.

I wanted to reach into the TV. I wanted someone to speak out, to voice a doubt, to suggest it was someone else, not him. The footage then went on to show the thousands of distraught and weeping fans that had already gathered outside his home. Howard made a disgusted sound from behind me.

Oh Christ look at them all! Pissing and moaning! What a bunch of babies. Christ, they all look like you Danny, like they’re fucking homeless! It’s a bloody uniform, the way you all dress.’

Shut up,’ I growled the word from the very back of my constricted throat. It was all so wrong. All of it. He was just a young man, just twenty-seven years old, how could he be dead? How could it be over? I pressed one hand to my mouth and became slowly aware of the icy silence behind me.

You better not have told me to shut up.’

I didn’t reply. I chewed at my thumbnail and tried to take it all in. They were talking about drugs and depression now, showing clips of him looking ill, or sad, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel angry the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.

Don’t get it,’ Howard announced. ‘Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for God’s sake. Just some drugged up scruff who made whiny depressing music. You wait now, bloody hoards of ‘em will start topping themselves! Come on, turn that off now. We’ve had enough of that shit.’

I want to listen,’ I protested, not looking at him.

Pathetic,’ he sneered, coming closer. I stood my ground, spreading my legs and holding onto the TV. ‘Turn it off I said.’

I gestured in frustration. ‘It’s not finished, I just want to listen!’

Don’t fucking argue with me, turn it off now, or I will!’

I gritted my teeth and stepped closer to the TV. ‘I just want to listen. You weren’t watching it.’

What else do you need to hear for fucks sake? Your hero is dead, little man. There you go. Who gives a flying fuck anyway?’

Shut up!’ I pushed the words through my tightly clenched teeth as my eyes bored into the TV screen, both my hands now balled into fists at my sides. The thick hand crashed into my skull from behind, knocking me into the TV which rocked back slightly on its stand. Then the hand was closing on my neck, wrenching me backwards and hurling me down to the floor.

Don’t you ever tell me to shut up you little prick!’ The hateful face was right there, breathing beer and juicy fruit chewing gum into mine. I shuffled backwards, back towards the sofa, holding onto my head and weeping. I pressed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see any of it anymore, didn’t want to hear it or believe it was true. Howard straightened up and stalked arrogantly around the back of the TV where he ripped the plug right out of the wall socket. There was only watchful silence from Jack Freeman in the doorway, and I didn’t care anyway, because nothing mattered, because everything was shit. They’d killed him; they’d taken him from me… ‘You better watch yourself,’ Howard warned me softly before leaving the room.

I crossed my arms over my knees, buried my head in them and let the sobs wrack my body. I felt overwhelmed by this gutting grief as it ripped right through me, and it felt like it would never stop, would never end. I heard them laughing at me. In the kitchen, or outside, they were laughing about it, so I jumped angrily to my feet and stormed recklessly into the hallway. I rubbed my hands viciously into my eyes and thought well come on then, you might as well kill me you fucking bastard! 

That’s right laugh!’ I yelled at the kitchen.  A stunned silence followed. I moved back, positioning myself against the front door, ready to run. I used each palm in turn to rub at my wet cheeks. ‘Just laugh then!’

Howard appeared in the kitchen doorway, his head slung low on his shoulders, while a deep frown hooded his stone like eyes. His expression was stunned. He could not fathom why I had shouted at him. 

What did you just say?’ he asked me, stepping into the hallway, and I could read him like a book. He was pissed off and worried, doubting his power all over again, losing his good boy.

You wouldn’t understand anyway!’ I cried at him. ‘You don’t even like any music! You have to have a soul to love music and you don’t fucking have one!’

The phone rang then. It was so sudden, so shrill and loud and unexpected in the shrinking space of the hallway, that I jumped about a foot in the air and Howard visibly flinched. I snatched it up before he could even move, pressing the receiver to my face with trembling tear stained hands. I heard a snivelling in my ear, and I let the air flow freely from my sagging lips. 

Billy?’

The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. ‘Danny…have you heard it?’

Yeah. I heard. I’ve just seen it.’

Howard backed off slowly, his expression wondering and pensive. He turned on his heel but paused to point one finger back at me.

Pathetic,’ he hissed and was gone. I immediately sank back against the door, my legs going weak on me, my spine folding in, as I dropped my head heavily into one hand.

I don’t want to believe it…’ Billy was saying, his voice small and dazed. ‘Why would he do that Danny?’

I don’t know Bill. Don’t know.’

Do you think it’s really true?’

I think it is. It looks like it Billy.’

I can’t believe it,’ he sighed hopelessly into my ear. ‘I can’t. I fucking love that band man. I fucking love them…’

I could only nod. I knew exactly what Billy meant, and exactly how he was feeling, and yet there were no fit words to explain it. Later I wrote in my diary that it felt like we had been cheated, and stolen from. Something had been taken from us, something we would never be able to get back, no matter how hard we tried, and no matter how much more music we fell in love with. It had been ours. We’d all loved it, all of us. It had united us like nothing ever would again. I lay on my bed for the rest of that heart-breaking day, with Nevermind on constantly. When Something In The Way played, the emotions got the better of me, floored me and battered me, and all I could do was cry.

My mother came up to see me when she arrived home. She viewed my swollen eyes from the safety of the doorway and sighed in sympathy. 

I just heard, and I’m so sorry love,’ she said. ‘I know how much you love that band.’ She sighed again and gazed around at the posters that adorned my walls. ‘I know he was like a hero to you. I just don’t understand,’ she said then, with a small and nervous shrug. ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get why they do it when they have all that money and success!’

Maybe he hated his life,’ I told her stonily from my bed. ‘Maybe he despised all that. Maybe he hated waking up every morning. Simple as that.’

I expect it has more to do with drugs and depression,’ she said knowingly, making me writhe with fury and contempt. ‘They all seem to go the same way. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Such a pity. And with all that money and fame you’d think they’d be happy!’

For God’s sake,’ I spat at her then. ‘Money and fame don’t equal happiness mother, there is a lot more to it than that! Like maybe his parents did a really good job of fucking him up!’

Oh that’s nice! That’s lovely! Why do the parents always have to get the blame?’

Because you reap what you sow.’

She shook her head at me, edging away. ‘You what? What is that supposed to mean? You don’t half come up with some crap Danny!’

I think it’s true.’

Well I don’t know where you heard that nonsense, but one day you might be a parent and then you’ll find out how bloody hard it is young man!’

I rolled my eyes and laughed at her. ‘I’ll do a better job than mine!’

What is your problem?’ She made a stance that filled the doorway, hands on hips; head cocked to one side, staring at me as if I were some kind of alien, not the very child she had grown inside her own fucking womb. Her eyes flashed at me angrily, so I tore mine away, found Kurt’s poster above my bed, and fixed them there.

If I ever have kids,’ I said, ‘I won’t disappear and never see them again, and I won’t let psychotic bastards come into their lives and wreck everything!’

Oh,’ she snapped. ‘So now we’re back to Lee are we? Well I don’t have to stand here and listen to this thank you very much, I’ve heard it enough times by now. I came up here to offer you some sympathy!’

More like to gloat,’ I grunted at her. ‘Just like he did. Yeah, he couldn’t wait to laugh at me and rub it in!’

Danny, it’s called teasing, and it’s no surprise he’s not a fan of that music…’

He’s not a fan of anything except himself! He stood there laughing and gloating, the bastard!’

Danny, we are getting married next Sunday whether you like it or not…’

Yeah, and that’s what you’re marrying Mum,’ I said bitterly, not taking my eyes from the poster. ‘Someone who makes fun of me being upset about something that really, really matters to me. But then you already know that don’t you? You just don’t care. Now just leave me alone and close the fucking door behind you.’ I closed my eyes and dropped my arms across them so that I would not have to see whatever depressing look she gave me before she went away.” (Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by Chantelle Atkins) RIP Kurt Cobain xx

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain

Stay In Your Own Lane; first music gig

Last night I took my thirteen year old daughter and her two closest friend to their first gig. The band was their current favourite, Twenty One Pilots (their wikipedia page describes their sound as schizophrenic pop, in case you’ve not heard of them!) Anyway, the genre and the band are not particularly important to this post, although I will say I was enormously impressed.

My daughter has been to family music festivals before, but this was the first time she got to a see a band of her choice, a band she has discovered and fallen in love with herself. I have to admit, I felt kind of privileged to be able to experience this rites of passage experience with her, even if it was politely from the side-lines. I watched their excitement build as we finally arrived at the venue, and watched their confidence soar as they joined the massive, snaking queue of teens, who all looked just like them. (Checked shirt, skinny jeans, red beany hat.)

My daughter has a phrase she sometimes uses when I show an interest in her music tastes, or when we discuss our musical differences. She will say jokingly; ‘stay in your own lane’! Which basically means, don’t try to get it, don’t try to understand, go back to the 90’s where you belong!

So, with this in mind, I kept to myself in the over excited queue, whilst keeping a watchful eye over my hyperactive charges. I wasn’t there to enjoy the band, and had to keep reminding myself of this. I wasn’t there to join in, or embarrass them in any way. I was only there because under fourteens must be accompanied by an adult.

Once inside, they queued for their merchandise or ‘merch’ as they call it these days, we found the toilets, and then found our seats in the circle upstairs. Once seated, I looked around and felt immediately old and out of place. I go to gigs and festivals as much as I can, but I go to see either music from my era, the 90’s, or music I have gotten into lately. I was surrounded by teenage girls and boys who all looked remarkably like my strong minded daughter. I was also really tired and could have easily dropped off asleep at that point. I then started to notice the other parents. Dotted here and there among the beany hats and checked shirts, sat sedately and smiling gently while the excited chatter built to a crescendo around them, were parents, around my age or older. They were out of their lanes too.

Then the band started. The four teen girls in front of us instantly leaped to the feet and started bouncing and screaming, and pretty much didn’t stop. Everyone else followed suit, while us oldies remained seated, as we were only there because we had to be. We didn’t want to get too excited or too involved, no matter how good the band was.

I tried to mind my own business, whilst stealing the odd glance at my teen as she enjoyed herself. I’ll admit I had to choke back the odd tear or two, watching the utter joy on her face as she sung along to the songs she loved. It was more than just excitement though, more than just joy and the wonder of a first time time experience. It was their sudden sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe to while they automatically knew they belonged, of seeing themselves in the people around them, feeling a powerful sense of unity and without a doubt, pride in who they are.

It made me think back to my first gig. Pulp is always the one that sticks in my mind. I think it was 1994 and I went with my then best friend, a girl who had always been bullied and ridiculed at school. I remember how it felt for us, to walk among a crowd of young people who looked just like us, who loved Pulp as much as we did. We belonged. We’d found our people, and no one was going to laugh at us for being different.

That feeling was repeated for me many times over the years, and even more recently when I finally got to see the reformed Stone Roses at Finsbury Park in 2013. That smile you get on your face when you recognise the people. When you all sing along. When you jump and bounce and wave your arms all as one. A tribe. A belonging. Add to that the utter thrill of finally seeing a band you love, in the flesh, right there, and they are talking to you, and singing for you, and giving it all for you. Nothing can beat that! The only sad thing is that it ever has to end.

So, in the end, I was up on my feet like the rest of them. At one point a mini drum kit had been placed on a platform, and passed out on top of the crowd. The drummer then climbed onto it and drummed on top of the audience! The singer vanished, only to suddenly appear up on the balcony with us. Like all great front men, he had complete control of the crowd. If he had asked them all to jump off the balcony for him, they would have done so willingly.

I crept out of my own lane just a little bit, just long enough to be extremely impressed, and to wish I was young again! I didn’t sing or dance though. My daughter would have been mortified.

On the way home, the kids were buzzing and hyper. My daughter talked about the next gig she wants to go to. I can see now that she has the bug and I am happy for her. If anything can help you get through this confusing life in this crazy world, it’s music. It reminds you why you are alive.

I was left wondering if I would be welcomed along next time. By that date, she will be fourteen, and in most venues, won’t need and adult with her. I felt a brief stab of sorrow at the thought of being asked to merely drop her off and pick her up again. I’d miss out, but that is as it should be. She’s got her lane and I’ve got mine. I’m sure they will cross paths again at some point. Festivals are great for that.

In the meantime I will just savour the memories, of being able to witness one of her first experiences once again. Like watching her take her first steps, learn to ride a bike, and learn to read. I’m glad I got to be a part of it, even if it is unlikely to happen again!

Do You Remember? (Teenager of the 90’s)

Times change. And so does the music. But more than that, it breaks your heart- like The Bluetones singing where did you go? Or Garbage singing stupid girl, or Whale singing happy in you. I got old. And so did you. But we didn’t really. It’s only on the outside. If we didn’t look in mirrors, we wouldn’t remember that we got older. The music though…it likes to take us back. It grins and teases. Takes us by the elbow whispering; do you remember?

Do you remember fish and chips in the car? The car-park at the beach. We never got out because we didn’t want to be around other people. Let them have the beach. We had the music. It was always us and the music. We still do it now; leave the windows rolled down in pride. Yes, this is good.

I am older, and so are you. Jaded. More cynical. You didn’t used to worry about anything, and you still don’t, but you don’t care either. The world proved you right. I got older, but I fight hard not to get old. I insist the child in me remains loose. Vigilant at all times. In charge of my soul. No mortgage or nine to five for me. No hamster wheel or human treadmill. Music makes everything better.

Do you remember mix tapes? Personalised for the one you loved. But it wasn’t just about love or loving them, it was about telling them what music you loved, letting them in on a secret, telling them what music they should love too. I wish I’d kept them all, but times moved on. I can still see your neat handwriting, black biro, letters perfectly formed. I can picture you in my head; lying on your bed where you kept the hi-fi just above your pillow, so that when I slept over, the music was right there. I can see you writing out the songs one by one. Telling me who I should love. You gave me The Stone Roses and I will love you forever for that.

Do you remember love letters? Passed back and forth. Lyrics and hearts in smudged biro dotted around the edge of A4 lined paper. Ten Storey Love Song – I built this thing for you.

Do you remember The Beach Boys? First music we played in our first home. I remember a younger us in a teenage bedroom; wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long? But we didn’t have to wait long at all to get older. That happened in between songs.

Music is our connection. It links me to you and to everything that I see in my head when I look back. To every song I hear there is a scene, a memory, a feeling. Gomez singing get myself arrested after you did get yourself arrested. A thousand songs in a thousand moments in cars, bedrooms, clubs and festivals. Me and you. Cider and Hooch and Two Dogs. Empties lined up on the bedroom window sill, curtains blowing in the wind. Select magazine on the bed. TFI Friday on the telly. Ocean Colour Scene and Kula Shaker and Cast and Supergrass and Portishead and Massive Attack and Tricky, and I always preferred a slow sad song, and you always preferred fast and happy. Then you’d write me a little note before you left.

You can be yourself when you find the right music. Remember that? Remember that it was our time. And its so funny now when we find it again; when we find ourselves in the record shop, not drawn to the vinyl that was before our time, but to the cds in the flimsy plastic cases, to remembering how cool they seemed compared to tapes, until they scratched and jumped and jittered. The artwork, the song list, the lyric sheet. In an instant, we are excited again, worries forgotten, age meaning nothing. It’s just you and me and the music, set free, eyes wide, let loose, fingers flicking amidst exclamations of ‘we had that one on tape’, ‘we had that one but it got scratched’, ‘I’ve still got that one but it doesn’t work’, ‘do you remember this one?’ For a few moments its perfect joy.

Then in the car on the way home. Everything is made better by music, whether its new or old. Smiling without knowing that we are. We’ll be high on it for days. Classic finds. Cheap and cheerful. Would rather spend money on music than anything else. And I look at you and I think do you remember that you’re the same as me? That we see things they’ll never see?

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