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ARTICLES // Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These (1997)

What a difference 10 years makes.

This article was written for Babble, the (probably now defunct) University of Brighton‘s Student Union magazine, following the first few months of Britain’s new Labour government back in 1997. It is an early attempt at political commentary.

After 18 years of Tory misrule, there was a certain national euphoria at their ousting. Blair and his new government were seen as a bright new hope for a country that had been downtrodden by its leaders for decades. Once in power, they became another government, another thing to criticise, another focus for peoples rage. Diana died too, and the jubilation that swept the country in May dissipated into a national outpouring of grief.

Blair’s government have had their own fair share of trouble from political legacies they inherited, the old guard and other unpreventable factors, including the fuel protests, the Countryside Alliance and Foot And Mouth Disease. However, it is the PM’s willingness, even eagerness, to go to war that will most likely mark his tenure at Number 10. Kosovo and Sierra Leone carried the mark of ‘humanitarian intervention’. He happily bombed Iraqi no-fly zones with pal Clinton. And then came his cosying up to the Bush administration (amongst my many reasons to leave the country), going to war again in Afghanistan despite Britain’s long history of ultimately failing to subjugate the Afghan people, and of course the ongoing disaster that is Iraq.

The Labour government claim a long list of achievements of their time in power too, and while the country has clearly improved in many ways, Iraq has divided the country from its rulers and damaged Britain’s standing in the world that will probably be felt for generations to come.

This piece captures some of the almost innocent pre-9/11 era, when people were just getting used to complaining a little about the government again and evokes seaside Brighton too.

1997 was certainly an interesting year. 2007 is still so full of fear.


Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These

Now that the ‘peoples’ government have become just ‘the government’ following numerous blunders and U-turns – tobacco, fees and benefits for instance, we can all heave a sigh of relief and get back on with complaining.

But if you can cast your minds back to the beginning of term…

…Brighton, throughout the summer months a decidedly ‘relaxed’ town, always undergoes a period of frantic activity during the transition between late summer and early winter (end of September to beginning of October). The biggest impact, after the tourists, daytrippers and foreign students have eaten their last ice cream cones and thrown their final stones into the sea, is the return of the tens of thousands of students who pass through the two universities every year. If that doesn’t swell the town’s ranks enough, the students are joined by the politicians, reporters and policemen who start to filter in throughout the weekend.

By Monday, the Annual Labour Party Conference bestrides the hotels and The Brighton Centre, cordoning off the seafront and returning the gaze of the eyes of the nation. The Palace Pier appears on TV at least 10 times a day as some Westminster luminary or other trot out in front of the cameras for their comments on what’s going on ‘inside’.

Brighton is often the scene of many classic conference moments that define or permanently alter a party’s career. Neil Kinnock found himself unwittingly splashed over Britain’s front pages when he failed to win at the old Brighton game of ‘run away from the tide at the last minute to avoid getting wet’ and promptly fell into the sea. In 1984, the IRA came within a whisker of taking out most of the Government front bench including the then-recent Falklands veteran Margaret Thatcher, with their bombing of the Grand Hotel. 1997 in Brighton will go down as the first Labour Conference in 18 years when they can revel in the knowledge that they are actually in power following ‘those election results’.

Can we still allow ourselves a wry smile at the memory of the evening of May 1st? Particularly as Tory boy Wee Willie Hague (Notting Hill, nice one!)’s firm and decisive direction for the party of ‘No, no, no, we still don’t like Europe’ is pushing ever closer to the icy waters of the North Sea.

Of course I stayed up for Portillo! You wouldn’t go to bed before the winning goal at the World Cup, would you?

Obviously, once you vote them in (whoever they are) they always become ‘the government’ in the end. But (and here comes the point of the piece) haven’t these been strange times to be living through in Britain of late? Especially given the passing away of a certain Ms. Spencer during the summer. Crying in the streets! Most irregular, eh?

So have we finally grabbed hold of the Old Guard of Old Britain, caught them by the scruffs of their necks and shouted back ‘No! We’ve had enough and we won’t take any more. We’re gonna run things from now on and show you how it’s done. Haven’t you heard of caring before?’ With young British music, film, fashion and art trading global stamps with each other, we have an increasingly polarising world as we hurtle towards another Year Zero (or by the Christian calendar at least). There’s a lot more crazy shit yet to come, you can be sure of that.

Winding down the nineties isn’t far off now, (thinks – ‘still haven’t found a decent name for the next decade yet’). But you may find that having spent your youth through them won’t have been the least exciting time of your life. Strange days indeed!

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Filed under 1997, Articles, Features

SHORT STORIES // A New Page Turns (2006)

New Year’s Eve 1999 was a moment in time that had assumed mythic status during the latter part of the 20th Century. Being now on the other side of it and living in a post-911 and post-Iraq War world, it almost seems like an innocent blip on history’s brief timesheet. After all, people still hadn’t even really started taking global warming that seriously then either! I guess that, like with myself, it was another New Year, another party, another moment in a lifetime of many, without many of the massive significances that it was previously endowed with.

This story was pulled and edited down from a section of a novel-in-progress. Novels can be written in a matter of months (to the experienced) or can be strung out over years and years – particularly for first time novelists. Mine falls more into the ‘years and years’ category. Sometimes, a story comes out in its own time and will not be rushed. Hopefully, this results in a better tale, but it can also be a little frustrating to have such a hefty piece of work just languishing around in one’s consciousness for so long.

The protagonist of the novel, and thus this story, is a young man named Will Evans. Perhaps an easy way out for a first time novelist, but it falls pretty squarely into the ‘semi-autobiographical’ camp, although the good thing about the ‘semi’ part is that you can play a little fast and loose with your own history. Still, this tale does follow my own New Year 1999 pretty closely.

I put the story together as a submission to caféDiverso, a multi-media travel publisher based in Barcelona, who were running a book competition called ‘Everyone Has A Good Story: Voices of the UK’. As it happened, after submitting the story I never heard back from them and have no idea whether my yarn made it into their book. Having written it however, I was determined to get it published somewhere, and got it up at a website called ‘The Deckchair‘, a site for Brighton writers. It can be seen here.

How was your 1999 > 2000 moment?

A New Page

The day that people the world over had been waiting for so long for finally came to pass. The new millennium. New Year’s Eve, 1999. The closing of an old chapter and the opening of another new one.

Was it a seismic shift in mankind’s history? Not really. It was mostly just another day.

It had been a moment in time that for many had assumed mythic status. By the year 2000, everybody would be wearing silver suits, eating food pills and living in moon colonies. Despite the promises though, by the time it came around the personal jetpacks promised for the kids of the future were still some way off. Essentially, most of the world used the passing of the new millennium as an excuse to party for a couple of days. Fireworks manufacturers the planet over rubbed their hands with glee.

When younger, Will Evans’d had grand plans and schemes for the moment. He wanted to be somewhere very cool, to be able to pass a memory and a half on to the grandchildren.

‘Where were you at the turn of the millennium, Grandpa?’

‘I was drinking tea at the Great Pyramids, my child’

He was due to turn 29 in the summer of 2000 and there were a number of personal milestones that he’d hoped to pass by then. Of course, life and fortunes are rarely as easy as that. In the end, the attainable had to be settled on and he decided to simply have a good time on the night that everyone had been waiting for. Like on so many other nights, Will was to find himself going out to a pub in Brighton with friends and getting royally pissed.

So, for him and his pals, the evening of the last day of the 20th Century began at someone’s flat. The girls were all largely decked out in something sparkly or glittering. The boys were mostly all smartly dressed too, with even some ties on show. Once everybody was inside, coats off, music on, cigarettes lit, a couple of bottles of champagne were pulled out, the corks popped and the merriment began.

Snacks, drinks, joints, jokes, laughs, a little dancing, the group of friends bonded quickly on a night such as it was and generally got themselves in the mood for what could be the party of parties in a town that was generally reputed to party hard as it was.

Once the evening had worn on a little, they decided to commence the trek into the town centre, where much of the rest of Brighton was likely to be moving and shaking their things. The streets were thronged with eager revellers, which made a brisk pace tough. Everywhere, people were drinking at bus stops, cramming into pubs, singing at the top of their voices or shouting salutations at strangers.

The journey to the centre took them past the pubs, estate agents, convenience stores and kebab houses that lined the way. Charity shops had people slumped in doorways, too wasted already to make it as far as midnight. Drivers who were still sober enough to drive were parping their horns in harmony with each other. Gaggles of young girls dressed for considerably warmer weather roamed in packs past Woolies and Argos, their glittered heels clacking in group rhythms. At Churchill Square, sullen teenagers hung around in gangs in front of the shopping centre, some mucking about with skateboards, others furtively smoking cigarettes.

They approached the Clock Tower to find a large volume of human traffic moving across their path, heading towards West Street. This townie mecca of cheap drinks, cheap pulls, dodgy music in large clubs, kebabs, student nights and fights that led straight down to the sea was the last place in town Will could see himself wanting to be that night.

They crossed the river and moved on. Halfway down North Street and Will’s crew cut a right into the bird’s nest of streets and bohemian hangouts that made up The Laines, heading for the pub where advance tickets had been bought. Almost everywhere was tickets only that night, with many venues getting away with charging astronomical entry fees.

The atmosphere and the events of the night were not that different from that of an average Saturday night. The pub was heaving and the music was very loud. Getting served at the bar required a lot of patience, often taking up to half an hour to get served. Seats and tables were largely all taken. The air was thick with smoke. But at least they’d managed to get in somewhere. The casualties of the night were piled up on the streets on their way in to town. Everybody else who couldn’t get in anywhere and were destined to wander the streets waiting for the clock to strike could be watched through windows steamed with condensation.

Eventually, the conditions in the pub wore our plucky partygoers down to the point where they decided that it was time to leave. 11.30pm had already passed, later than most British pubs were usually open. They’d had a good night and were in high spirits but it was time to take some air and join the crowds wending their way down to the beach.

It was only fitting, having been born in the town in the first place, then lived there again for the preceding eight years and mostly within spitting distance from the sea, that Will should be seeing in the new millennium on Brighton Beach. It was a stretch of land, sea and sky rich with memories and laden with symbolism for him. He’d played there as a child, getting his first taste of swimming in the ocean and taken long walks along it with his family. With friends he’d got pissed, stoned or partied there. With girlfriends he’d frolicked and kissed on the stony shoreline. It was a place too for silent contemplation and escape, a soothing environment of expansive emptiness, summer crowds aside, where a young man could sit and think to calm the raging torrents of his mind at times of trouble. And it was also where seemingly half of Brighton had chosen to spend their time waiting for midnight.

The whole seafront was shrouded in mist, a seasonal fug that could have only rolled in from the sea. The lights from the pier diffused in the haze of the night sky, offering a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours for the delectation of the inebriated crowds but making viewing of Brighton’s pending firework display a little veiled.

The moment drew closer. People shuffled around, clutching their bottles or cans, smoking cigarettes or joints, chatting with friends or neighbouring strangers, all looking at their wrists and waiting, wondering, hoping…

…10, 9, 8, 7… 10, 9, 8… 5, 4, 3… 6, 5, 4… 2, 1… 2, 1… 3, 2, 1. Pockets of cheers went up as midnight struck for some. With no Big Ben to unify the reactions it was more like a Mexican Wave than an explosion. Others joined in as more watches struck twelve. Eventually, the whole seafront gathering was united in breathing in the first gasps of fresh air of the twenty first century. The fireworks were launched from the pier with bangs and awed cries. Thousands of mobile phones went off simultaneously, each signal jostling for space amidst the crowded airwaves. Friends hugged and kissed each other, wishing a happy New Year and good luck with the next one. Strangers did too. Shouts and cheers rang out along the beach.

After about half an hour of kissing, congratulating, cheering and greeting the new dawn, and with little left to keep them on the beach, people began to drift away to the TVs they’d left behind, the beds that were waiting for them or the parties they had to join that would carry on until daylight or when the last person dropped. The trickle of departees soon became a stream, which in turn mutated into a river. Soon, a sea of people filled the streets, all trudging away from the beach and off to somewhere else.

He awoke the next day to find out that it again gone dark outside and he had slept through the first day of the new millennium. ‘Oh well’, he thought, ‘a night of such binging and frivolities needs to be followed by some serious recuperation’. He’d made it. They’d all made it. Broken on through to the other side.

He went into the kitchen and put the kettle on for his first cup of tea of the day, month, year, decade, century, millennium. Will had the flat to himself. He took his tea into the lounge. Some soft lighting and a little music were in order – it had to be The Beatles. He began to skin up.

…I read the news today, oh boy…

‘What does the future hold?’ he wondered. ‘What happens next? What happens next?’

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Filed under 2006, Fiction, Short Stories