I went to see the Inbetweeners movie the other day. I loved it. Like the rest of the UK it seems. It broke box office records and now everyone is scrambling around looking for British Comedies as a movie about four teenagers on their first 'lads away' tour smashed all the American summer blockbusters out of the multiplexes.
Poor old Planet of the Apes and Cowboys and Aliens. Why does it work so well the hifalutin' intelligentsia of the broadsheets, I have wondered? It's base humour with bad language, booze and girls. Exactly - they seem to have completely missed the point that the series and film have both smacked the nail squarely on the head as to what it's actually like to be a fumbling, dopey, exaggerating teenager. In Skins they were all beautiful and having sex. Nothing could be further away from what it's actually like being 17: alcohol is a wild horse that seems to buck you off and leave you with a head being repeatedly smacked with a hammer and girls are strange, wondrous creatures that seem always just out of reach and leave you in a perpetual state of bafflement and pent-up sexual frustration. It's why we love them so. They are even more wondrous and mental than us...and of course they have curves. It's simultaneously like being swept by a wave of desire with all these jagged rocks just underneath. It's all you can do to keep your head just above the water. It's still the same actually.
My first proper lads trip was way back in 1989. We went to Lloret de Mar. Actually, we went to Tossa just outside but met some Manc girls and ended up staying with them the whole week. We went by bus, which took two days, and hit the town with all the fanatical abandonment of death row prisoners who'd suddenly been pardoned and released. In a word we went 'mental'. I've often thought about British kids abroad. How daft they go. We come from grey industrial towns. Places where rain and cold winds are the norm for 9 months a year. In the Valleys people are even penned in by these imposing mountains. As a kid I'd mutter to myself as I walked to school, 'I'm outta here first chance I get'.
Don't get me wrong, I love my home town. I was lucky to be brought up there. Good family, great mates, but through it all I just had this undercurrent where I wanted to see the world. I wanted to look over that mountain. I wanted to see what it was like out there, in the world I watched so enraptured on the glass box. I'd been abroad with my folks. I was lucky. My Father had a job underground and when that went, the steel works and when that went The Water Board. Every other year we'd go somewhere in Europe and I loved it. I loved the different smells, the language, the people, even the bloody electricity pylons which looked like Space Invaders.
It got under my skin and I wanted more. And when I was 17 I was able to go 'with the boys' as we say in Wales. I was still doing my A'levels in Ponty college and two lads, Jarman and Leyton said they wanted to go too. So we booked onto the legendary 'Ferris Coaches' for a week in Tossa for the princely sum of £68. I remember it clearly. I was so excited the night before and when we arrived that early dank morning in Cardiff for the bus, no one could find us on the lists! But we've paid!! Didn't matter, your name's not down. My Grandfather (who was dropping us off) saved the day. He asked them to ring someone. These were the days before mobile phones and we waited anxiously around the phone box. They finally agreed to take us and even dubbed us 'the stowaways'...we didnt care, we were off to sunny Spain!
We met the Manc girls on the bus. At Dover where we all got mixed up was where it began. Kids from all over the UK suddenly thrown together on a 52 seater and sent to Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Someone had a cassette deck and the Roses were the soundtrack of that summer. It seemed to be everywhere. I can even remember what I wore. C17 flares, a 'Woodies' flowery shirt and pink adidas jeans trainers. My hair was being grown long and I'd dyed it blonde. I looked 12. This was my major flaw. In the UK I not only had trouble getting served I was actually laughed out of pubs. It was awful. Some of my mates had beards. I still can't grow one and I'm forty years of age. Still, we started talking to these girls and they told us to come with them when we got there. We didn't need asking twice.
We arrived in Tossa dumped our stuff and headed to Lloret. It was like an adult Disneyland for us. Awash with colour and young brits, house music pumping joyously from every club. It was as if a shoal of exotic fish had landed on the streets of Spain. The Brit kids looked magnificent. It was the summer of day-glo tops and faded jeans with multicolour kickers. The Germans and Scandie kids stuck out still dressing like Jon Bon Jovi and that other awful band Europe. We sniggered behind our Polo-Ralph Lauren polo tops at how out of fashion they were. Football became the universal language for lads. 'Who are you?' would be the question, Sunderland, Lincoln, Brizzle Rovers' would be the replies. I loved it. Football then was the preserve of mostly very young working class kids. There was no Sky, Prawn sandwiches...Italia 90 hadn't happened. We were still the outsiders. It made you strut when you walked. You were 'football'.
I could get served too! Seriously, without even an eye blink waiters from all over Europe gave me what I wanted. Lager, Wine, Shorts...didn't matter they handed it over. I couldn't hold it that well, but who cared I could ask a girl what she wanted and then confidently stroll up to the bar and bring it back. I was a man for the first time in my life. The Manc girls had some lads with them too. School mates of their who have now become lifelong friends. You understood for the first time that lads who'd have been in a different end on match day were just like you. They liked the same music, had the same sense of humour and dressed the same. We were all of the that great tribe...the young British male. And the girls? It was suddenly all different. I suddenly realised my accent was a massive bonus. I talked like the cliched Welshman. I sang as a I spoke. I used words like 'butty' for friend and 'lush' for good without thinking. And they loved it. They told us we sounded like Tom Jones. We laughed. He was someone I folks spoke of but we didnt care. We suddenly started asking for 'It's not unusual' in clubs and they played it (it's a GREAT club song) and the place would cheer and we'd dance like madmen on the podiums...it was our national anthem. I suddenly realised being Welsh made you different, a bit exotic and that's what everyone was after: something a bit different. People with different accents. We suddenly began collecting addresses. Road Trips to Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle when we got back would now be key. We were peering over them mountains and damn, it felt good.
For six days we partied like it was 1999 and then some more. We slept a few hours in the days and then hit the bars for 5pm and staggered into bed 8am the next morning. If we were lucky. One morning they'd let the Alsatian loose in our apartment foyer and so slept on the curb outside. The three of us and three girls who heroically stayed with us rather than doing the sensible thing and going home. One of the Manc girls and me became a bit of an item and I spent the last three days with her. I loved the fact she spoke is a Northern drawl and changed an 'e' in things into an 'o'. "Manchestor" I'd make her say, and she'd giggle. Then she'd ask me to speak Welsh and I'd make things up and she's giggle some more and I felt like Burton in Hollywood. I was living the life.
I've never known such a crashing depression as when I got home. My father remarked I was paler than when I left. He was right, I'd seen no sun. I'd slept in the days and been out all night. And this is what the In-Betweeners got right. They got that reckless excitement that you only have at that age when you're with your mates for the first time on holidays abroad. No parents, no teachers, no rules. You can do what you want. As some posh fella said in Oxford Uni once....'Bliss was it to be alive in that dawn....but to be young was very heaven.' Amen to that butty.
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