Monday, 20 May 2013


or 'how sad your 18'

I got excited for my eighteenth birthday the way I get excited for most events nowadays - slowly, in a sad and dreading build-up for days and days spent telling my friends that I was turning eighteen and that it was going to be awful - and then, the course of the penultimate evening as a seventeen year old: all at once.
The reason for my dread, I still think, was a viable one. After all, eighteenths are just another birthday, if you don't take into account the amount of things which you suddenly become able to do - such as, for instance, be incarcerated in a maximum security prison. Besides that important cultural point, turning eighteen is very much just another brick in the dreary wall of getting slowly closer to the inevitable end. The light at the end of the tunnel, it has been said, is a train. Stop me if I'm sounding too sentimental.

All this would be fine, however, if it wasn't for all the people who suppose that it is something more than a milestone on the way to heavens door. These are the people, God damn them, who look deep into my soul with worry whenever I mentioned that I was dreading turning eighteen. I'm very sure they  probably thought I was coming down with some sort of neurosis for not welcoming the HM Prisons invitations with open arms. Of course, I exaggerate - but they are guilty of the same crime.
On your eighteenth birthday, due to the huge amount of cultural emphasis put on it, you are expected to have (almost by law it seems) the most improbably wild time possible, mainly through the taking of previously illegal drugs known as 'alcohols'. Of course, what with me being the rugged urban outlaw that I am, I was already well acquainted with these drugs. I knew what they had to offer and I felt as though I was left with some great tradition that I had to carry on. The fact that I did indeed get very drunk and am in fact writing this with a hangover lying ruefully on my head, is entirely irrelevant to the journalistic integrity of this piece. My night in the Ham and Blackbird was purely investigational I tell you. The fact of the matter was, I didn't like that the birthday card I received from my dear sweet Grandmother was emblazoned with an illustration of a man running drunkenly from pub to club to pub to neon club. That, my friends, is the Death of Innocence.

So there I was, the afternoon before my birthday came stumbling around the bend, stood at a bus stop, attempting to figure out why I was dreading it's arrival so. A friend turned up. She inquired as to why I looked so glum, and so I filled her in.
Now, at first, she did indeed look shocked. And then, in a moment of realisation, her face reformed to the face of understanding. Alcohol, we asserted, was more fun when it was illegal. When what you were doing was perfectly fine within the eyes of the law, all the thrill of the matter was taken out. Not only was the arrival of this symbolic number the Death of Innocence - it was also the death of something much less simple, but much more enjoyable. Not only was this the representative of our common desire to rebel legally, it was a milestone of the government telling us it was suddenly OK to not be OK.

The event started the evening before, sitting with my parents in the living room with a cider. Living room. It made sense that what with the imminent arrival of the children on my actual birthday, we should relax and open my presents the night before.
I'm not a materialistic person, as has been evidence with several weeks of industrious throwing out. This presents an obvious challenge for people who wish to buy me gifts on birthdays and christmasses, but considering the very small amount I had said regarding my wants and needs, my parents did extremely well. I was succinctly pleased with the gifting. But there was a third gift - one which I had been waiting for for almost seventeen whole years.

The 'eighteen years box' is one of the unspoilable highlights of turning eighteen for me. On my first birthday, my parents asked members and friends of my family to provide objects with which to fill the box. It included various things - a journal documenting 1996, a membership to a stamp club I did not know I was a part of, my brothers first failed driving test and a mile-high pile of birthday cards.
My first birethday cards. Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that's what little boys are made of. A simple time where every card I received wasn't encouraging me to get pissed. There were more important things to attend to, such as teddy bears playing trombones or soft-pastel drawings of happy rabbits. And the badges. So many badges. One today! One today! Me! One! Today! It was curious to remember blue hills. I may not have been happy - children are never contented - but I was one. Shit mattered.
Retrospection continued the following morning with a visit to my Nan. There was a cake. We hugged. I blew out the candles whilst people sang happy birthday and everything was good again. Even the candles had their smell. I was one year old again. She gave me the card on which a man stumbled from bar to bar. Sent me on my way. Young Emma gave me a card the envelope of which read 'LEWIS (how sad your 18)'.

Another card I received reads: '18 Year Old Buys First Legal Pint: Asks For Usual!'. It reflected, in a perhaps unintentional way, the fact that I had indeed already bought pints. But I must admit, there was a certain happiness to be found in flashing my credentials to the Polish barmaid.
The drunken night which ensued was littered with small acts of rebellion, almost as an elegy to rebellious youth. We jumped over fences. We jeered playfully at the Chinese takeaway ladies attempting to hold a straight face for the phone-in customers. I bought Sainsbury's Basics Cider for one (hopefully) last time. I mumbled incoherent thanks at the kebab van owner. 
How sad I was 18? In the morning, very much so. The hangover came almost as a holy ritual and I knew it was my job to sit it out. My brother - also on a hangover - seemed almost sad that due to our states we wouldn't be able to go out for that fabled brotherly pint. But it was no matter.

As my hours of eighteen rolled on, I found myself chewing the mandatory chewing gum and sipping at the compulsory seltzer that eighteen  years and one day finds you with. Without any seeming inclination, I moped around the house and kept myself busy. I tidied my sock drawer. Applied for a job in a bar. Got some work done. All without pomp and circumstance. I didn't even post a Facebook status.
It was strange. Too good to be true. Almost on cue, I was beocming an adult. Was I hungover? Evidently so. Did that feel like it was it? Not so much. As the day rolled past, I asked myself if this was eighteen. If this was adulthood. I wanted some sort of conclusion for this essay. But no. Time is not conclusive, and whilst it may heal all wounds, it does not answer all questions. At least not if you rely on trivial dates such as birthdays.
A year, I thought. One year of eighteen left. And then I could figure it out. The Big Day. A Day of Cards. How sad your 18. I'll have the usual mate.

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