Friday, 5 September 2014

Teenage Kickings FAQ

Ok - I opened up the floor about a week ago to questions regarding the book and any of the subjects covered by it. Many Thanks to all who asked questions and I hope my responses here answer them satisfactorily.

I will of course do the honourable thing and reply to only those questions that I was actually asked, which aren't necessarily the ones I wanted to answer.

What was the reason/motivation for writing Teenage Kickings?

Probably the single most asked question. I was mulling over this earlier in 2014, prior to being banned/excluded from a certain social event which has been done to death. That pushed me over the top in the sense that it lifted a lot of the conscience-driven reasons for not doing it and made me realise that 1) people would continue to believe whatever they wanted to, 2) no amount of walking on eggshells would redeem myself in the eyes of many whose minds had already been made up and 3) getting the truth out there would be both revelatory for the reader and somewhat cathartic for the author. It also occurred to me that in many ways, the story of Teenage Kickings is pretty fucking good, way better than most of the fiction you'll read, and that I had the skill to bring a splash of colour to things and keep them interesting.

That said, perhaps the real genesis of this book was ten years ago when, after years of on-off bottling things up, I went into a six-month spell of 'confessional' verbal diarrhea where the whole lot came out in a babbling, uncontrolled stream of what must have seemed like utter nonsense to some of those who heard it. Different people remember different things and I ended up laying low for a while. However, when I snapped out of it I recognised that it was not only the situations and issues explored in the book that had gradually worn me down, but the way in which I'd felt compelled to bottle things up and keep them to myself, either through the requirements that society put on men to be tough, the quite obvious lack of a support network at home or whatever. I think one of the morals of this story is that repression can be seriously injurious to your health.

Re-visiting some of this stuff clearly torments you, so why bother?

The person who asked this is not wrong. It's a bit like going back to the scene of a bad crash on a motorway and a form of 'flooding' in the sense that whatever catharsis you might derive from it comes at a price. Some people think I'm being extremely brave putting this on public display, others think it's a sign of attention-seeking or exhibitionism while I personally think it's neither. Something you'll see over and over again is how frequently I tried to deal alone with problems that I was ill-equipped to cope with and really needed outside assistance just to get my own head around, let alone navigate the minefield that seemed to be a constant when I was still young, fragile and precious. I was probably that rarest of things, a teenager who was acutely aware of how little he knew, horrifically low on confidence despite not being dumb and objectively having more potential than most. That in itself makes the story worth telling.

I'm not absolutely sure that on a personal level I'll get the catharsis I first anticipated, which is why I'm mulling over exactly what I'll do next with this.

Doing nothing is not an option, but it's watch this space for now.

How many are you hoping to sell?

I'm not hoping to 'sell' any in the true sense. This will be available free of charge, whatever form its finally released in and I certainly didn't embark on this project to make money. I've known enough people over the years singularly driven by or obsessed with the stuff to know that I certainly don't want to become one of them. Be assured that knowing for certain (I get the stats for this site, remember!!) how many real people have really been reading this is more than adequate recompense for my efforts.

How do you think some of your family would react to reading this, and does that affect what you write?

I strongly suspect their reaction would be one of anger, not necessarily one of being hurt or upset, but anger that I'd chosen to lift the lid on things they would rather I hadn't. It is of course immensely sad that things have ended up where they have, but something I didn't come round to in these serialisations is that Rob and I were actually 'excommunicated' from the family at the tail end of 2004. To this day, we've never received an explanation as to why this is or, god forbid, an apology for the rest of them having done so. I decided to leave this out as some of the spin-off questions from opening up that particular can of worms would need more than a couple of thousand words to adequately cover. We were always the black sheep of the outfit and in many ways this book is for the pair of us. I'm no angel and have made many of my own fuck-ups along the way, but he is essentially blameless in what happened.

Does it affect what I write? Not really, no. Everything I've written is verifiable and I've checked with Rob on a factual basis to make sure there's nothing in there that he would have difficulty dealing with from that perspective. I appreciate people's takes on things are different – aren't court cases basically the performances of two showmen in wigs putting their individual slants on the same set of facts? I've tried not to be one of those showmen, but perhaps in your view and in the minds of others I might not have been wholly successful. I can sleep at night knowing that, although people might be upset by some of the things I've written, the factual basis on which I did so is something I can comfortably defend. Going back to the earlier questions about 'why' and 'being tormented' it's amazing how the feeling of having nothing left to lose can liberate you.

Any prospect of reconciliation or a happy family unit is dead – once you understand that then the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

You talk about the truth a lot and that being your main aim here, but why is it that as opposed to entertainment?

I hope in a niche way that this achieves a bit of both and there's enough humour laced in there along the way to stop things getting too heavy, but you be the judge. As far as 'obsession' with the truth goes, I'll admit to being a pretty intense guy (I've been limerent three times for fuck's sake!!) but truth is about as close to a 'healthy obsession' as you'll get. Factoids, conventional wisdom and urban myths annoy the life out of me and we need to get away from them if we possibly can. A guy I don't really respect described me as “straight as a die” through gnashed teeth a couple of years ago and, well, I'll take that – thanks very much.

Can I speak to your relatives and get their take on some of the stuff discussed here?

I'd actually be quite interested in their take on the more 'unknown' stuff that I kept from them, but knock yourself out. It's still (just about) a free country.

Do you know what's happening in the lives of Bob, Irene, Lauren and Deano?

Bob lost a leg as a result of a car accident and, last time I checked, was living in sheltered accommodation but my information might be old. Irene manages pubs that have been struggling and/or had runaway tenants ahead of someone else turning up. I'm not pursuing an agenda of depicting anyone as all good/all bad because precious few people are actually like that and I'll say that she's a very capable woman in her own right whose talents were, at least to some extent, wasted by the circumstances she found herself in. Unfortunately, her version of history does not tally with mine, Rob's, or, most importantly the truth and she is NOT a 21st century Mandy Jordache. Deano lives in the Netherlands and appears to have learned to play the guitar – fair play. Lauren has recently given birth, which makes me an uncle, at least on paper.

What's your fondest memory from growing up?

Single memories are hard to pin down. I remember some of the friends I had more than anything. One of the heart-warming elements of the story is how many good people I had the pleasure to spend time with and some of the hilarious anecdotes that I'll share with you. I still remember a mate of mine, who wanted to be a solicitor, telling a teacher that he “wanted to go into soliciting” when he was older and that still makes me smile even now. I remember another fella who, after a session on the Cheeky Vimto and a game of pool that seemed to last for hours (I eventually won), decided to demonstrate his strength by doing push-ups on a bar rail. Seconds later, the whole edifice and the guy himself were lying on the floor, with the rest of us laughing our heads off. I remember the lad who asked me this question, telling his new girlfriend that football would always be the most important thing in his life and, amazingly, they were together for a while!!

Ok, a single best memory was my mate Craig's 18th. I was a couple of years older than him and had disposable income, so brought a case of beer and a bottle of scotch. I still remember his Dad telling him not to do anything 'inappropriate' with his girlfriend that night as he had guests, but slipping off for half an hour and coming back down with his shirt undone, fag in one hand, beer in the other and a Cheshire cat smirk on his face (laughing as I type!!). Sir Gus and I then dissected the works of the Smiths and Siouxsie and her Banchees while drinking the aformentioned bottle of scotch. The following day we went to watch North End demolish Stockport 6-0. It was Ryan Kidd's last ever match for PNE and Stockport were that bad, he almost scored. I'll admit to remembering about 30% of the game and having to be reminded that David Healy had blasted in a hat-trick.

What would you do differently if faced with that time all over again?

That's a very difficult question as so many of the decisions were made on a dictatorial basis by other people. I've pondered this since I responded privately to it earlier in the week and I think the single biggest thing I would try and do is lighten up a bit and give people a fair crack. Something I was guilty of doing was failing to reconcile the fact that the overwhelming majority of us are alright with my own situation – basically, I didn't apply what I knew. MOST people will not destroy someone they know to be fragile or in a bad place and perhaps my perception of how brutal young life was (I present that as the reality I understood at the time) owed more to a few bad experiences than it did to humanity in general. All I'll say is walking round with that gloomy worldview is no fun – I certainly wasn't laughing at or taking the piss out of anyone inside, no matter how that might have presented itself. The reality was quite the opposite.

What advice would you give someone suffering from the sorts of things that happened to you at home?

Again, a tricky question, as people tend not to have just one difficult thing going on at a time and it's the cocktail and/or accumulation of shit that hits them. I'm not in the business of saying that I had it 'worse' than other people in absolute terms – I mean, how could I know for sure? But...I'll say with some confidence that the mix of issues and complications was unfortunate and perhaps bordering on unique. I'm getting Oxbridge in one ear and “you're a bag of shit” in the other. Only one of those can be right, and, probably somewhat out of the ordinary, it's the voice you'd expect to be on your side that's pushing the negative angle. The extent to which that fucks with your head, fuels resentment and makes you doubt yourself can't be overstated. Most of those who come from dysfunctional environments have their talents destroyed at a young age and, at best, blend into obscurity. So already, I'm, er, different.

My advice to any struggling young person would be 1) identify the things you enjoy doing and can say with some confidence that you're good at and 2) try to find a mentor who believes in what you have to offer the rest of civilisation. Selfless mentors are a precious thing, but since most of us are blessed with a good heart and a willingness to help others, they're perhaps less rare than you might expect. I've been blessed with some fantastic people in my life in the last seven or eight years, although you might argue they came along when it was too late. A couple have acted as mentors, imparting genuine wisdom and putting up with my attitudinal strops. Some have just been astonishingly brilliant in every way and I love every last one of them. I appreciate that intensity can be a two-way street and neither of those ways is necessarily what you're looking for.

Do you look back on the Wolseley/HRPC years with any fondness?

I was asked this very recently, but not strictly as a response to this FAQ.

The short answer is – I met some great people as you do in most places, but too many had been broken and defeated by their environment, become complacent and, if I'm honest, had been there for far too long. There was a sort of 'team spirit' there, but it was based around mediocrity, having a laugh, sharing what was sometimes poisonous gossip and getting pissed together as opposed to anything more lasting or constructive. It's at best simplistic to think that compelling people to get wrecked with each other will produce optimum levels of performance!! As a young person coming in from the outside, that was a very awkward environment to walk into and, seeing as the 'key chain' principle applied, namely that how long someone had been there meant more than what they had to offer, I was always going to be a bad fit for the place culturally.

Fond memories? Precious few I'm afraid, even before we get into Nicola and all that...

How would you explain to someone how they can diagnose Limerence? What advice would you give them?

Ok I'll admit I'm glad I got a Limerence question. Rob believes I should write a book specifically about this since it's such a rare and fascinating subject. He might just be right.

First up, a doctor is never going to 'diagnose' you with it, since it's not recognised as a mainstream health concern. Had it been then I could conceivably have taken an eighteen month period out of formal education and two lengthy sickness absences from work, so I'll leave you to debate the merits or otherwise of that!! Perhaps the smartest move is to identify what distinguishes Limerence from the general 'dog on heat' horniness that most teenagers have. As I see it, there are five clear markers that separate one from the other, although the way in which this manifests itself will be of course be different from one sufferer to the next.

1 – you'll experience EXTREME reticence in the presence of your limerent object (LO), which might take the form of blushing, being unable to look him/her in the eye, physical weakness and other feelings of fragility. It has been known for people to faint/pass out as a result of contact with their LO.
2 – your LO will pop into your head, semi-intrusively and without warning. IT controls you and not the other way around.
3 – You really do not want anyone else. Limerents who are in relationships have been known to experience a better 'intimate' life while this is going on, but the chances are this is because their lust is fuelled by thoughts of someone else and not the person they're with. If you're single, then you'd rather stay that way than be with anyone other than. Hand on heart, I counted the women I turned down in the period 1996-98 as a result of my condition, got to seven in my head and stopped as the whole thing was becoming demoralising.
4 – you can be 'horny' for just about anyone, but you'll see your LO as essentially a god or goddess who is really 'better' than you in every conceivable way. This in itself is unhealthy as he/she has the same biological functions of you and will be possessed of as many flaws and weaknesses as you are. However, while you are 'under the spell' you will see that person as the closest thing to perfection you are ever likely to encounter. For that reason, a Limerent boyfriend or girlfriend is an astonishingly loyal and loving person for as long as it lasts.
5- the craving is first and foremost for reciprocation and warmth, not necessarily for anything overtly erotic or sexual. In my own personal experience, I've not been able to visually undress an LO during an episode, perhaps fearing that it would 'cheapen' the whole thing. Curiously, I never so much as looked at an ex-LO in 'that' way either before or after the episode. Dunno if that means anything or not.

Advice? I think knowing you're limerent as opposed to being in love is half the battle. I wish I'd known before my final episode what was going on as my understanding was that this was basically what most people went through from time to time, perhaps an extreme version, but with similar dynamics. I was of course wrong. My other observation would be to remind you that THIS IS NOT YOUR LO'S FAULT. He or she has not chosen to make you feel like this and probably has precious little idea as to exactly what is happening, since Limerence is something of a minority sport in itself (about five per cent of people according to the vague research that was done). On a more practical level, I'd suggest that if you can cut him/her out for a while until you get this out of your system, without behaving in a way that might be deemed inappropriate or prompt awkward questions, then that might be a good call in the long run.

Am I in it and how many pages are dedicated to me?

Ha!! As Harry Hill would say, there's only one way to find out....

Thanks every last one of you – I'll leave you on the only appropriate note and...take care.