I’ve been busy in marking land, coming to several conclusions whilst I tick and comment.
The first thing I do is set up a youtube playlist of 50 tracks, put it on shuffle and listen to them until I’ve done my 50 and marked about 20-odd papers (not 20 odd papers… just goes to show how important a dash can be) I pretty much go with whatever I’m in the mood for. Today, I seem to have regressed to being 13. However, one of the first tracks I added was ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. And it made me think, even though I thought I was an odd-ball geek like nobody else, and I was an odd-ball geek like nobody else, I was actually a pretty cool odd-ball geek like nobody else. And now I’m marking 400 papers, including some kids who are oddball geeks too. I like that. There aren’t so many of them, but sometimes you get a real insight into a fresh and wonderful mind – something quite entertaining and funky.
I’m sure people thought I was a lunatic for picking secondary school teaching. Like, you actually want to teach teenagers? Are you crazy??
Maybe a little bit.
But I love these emergent personalities becoming something new. It’s like watching butterflies emerge. Kids are great – under 11 when they’re just funny and childish – but when they really start becoming something interesting – that’s when they really fascinate me. Some don’t. Some go on to be carbon copies of each other, wearing what everyone else does, doing what everyone else does. For girls, they become Lauren and say ‘Am I bovvered, though?’ – with their townie clothes and orange make-up, tide-mark necks and Argos earrings. For boys, they become Kevin and say ‘It’s so unfair’ and want to wear their socks outside their pants and walk around with their hand down their elasticated waistband. I kid you not. It’s a chav trend I’ve seen several ‘young men’ of about 18 doing. Why?? Who knows??! I’m not interested in what I would have called ‘townies’ – in my generation with their Pod shoes or Kickers, or their Cabrini jackets and Farrar pants. Ski jackets were so ‘townie’ and being a townie was the equivalent of having your brain sucked out. You liked Duran Duran and wore gold sovereign rings and too much hair gel. The girls wore nasty lipstick a shade paler than their skin (oh, Dusty Springfield, if only you knew what you’d unleashed… although I can’t blame orange skin on you!) and huge socks rolled down past their knees and ruched up, like huge, thick legwarmers.
I never fitted in with the ‘in-crowd’. I was too poor to buy Kickers or big socks. I didn’t like Duran Duran or Curiosity Killed The Cat. And I mark papers for kids who don’t fit in with the ‘in-crowd’ sometimes, and it makes me a little glad there are still little unique personalities out there. I didn’t have ‘favourites’ at school, but I had kids I loved a lot – usually the weird ones or the funny ones who were a little bit strange. Sharp kids who didn’t want to conform. They reminded me of myself.
When I was about 12, with the proceeds of my hard work collecting milk money (not a euphemism for bullying… I was kind of like a little debt collector for dues for milk deliveries) I would go down to Bury. I earned £4.00 which wasn’t quite enough for an album unless I saved up a bit. Mostly, I would spend it at a second-hand record stall on the flea market, courtesy of a guy in his thirties who took the time to push certain tracks my way. I like that. I think odd-ball kids could do with adults to let them know they’re okay to be odd. I had a couple of teachers like that, and although I probably wouldn’t have put this guy in that category, he’s largely responsible for what I listened to before I became ‘rock and roll’. It’s kind of the music I listened to before I knew what was cool to listen to. And so much of it so hugely important to me still.
Changes was the first one I got. Life on Mars came next. Here I was, this little 12 year old with her 10p bus ticket buying arguably the best of Bowie. And so much of it meant so much to me. ‘These children that you spit on as they try to change their world…’ I felt like one of those children, sometimes, finding my way in an adult world.
After that, I went all Indie on a route of my own. At 13, I went to a gig in Manchester for the Sugarcubes – the band that brought us Bjork, who was odd before Lady Gaga.
Sugarcubes, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Talking Heads and my big love, Depeche Mode. Depeche Mode released ‘Black Celebration’ in 1986 – and it got to me in ways music doesn’t do very much any more. Then came the Sugarcubes first album. Sure, Bjork is weird – but here, her voice is so… wow. Different, kooky, unusual, feisty, filled with emotion. The year before, Talking Heads released ‘Little Creatures’ and that was just lovely, bouncy, indie pop too. I wish I still had that Sugarcubes t-shirt now! I used to wear it with a yellow paisley silk scarf, a hand-sewn suit jacket, jeans and some uber-cool leopardskin teddy boy shoes I bought from the original Red or Dead in Affleck’s Palace. I had a little army satchel, made of olive canvas, which I covered with the names of bands I liked and badges I’d picked up.
Even when Guns n Roses changed my life for good in 1988 – the void had been filled already with some pretty funky stuff. And even when I fell into the uniform of the rockers with tasselled skirts, skin-tight jeans and motorbike jackets, I still did a good line in ‘LJ unique’.
At the time, I did it because I was poor and I didn’t fit in, but I like to think even back then, it was cool not to fit in. Luckily, I had some very good school friends who didn’t fit in, but who were SOOOO cool. Laura Johnson, Helen Pendlebury and Anna Lee will always be my heroines because they made it cool to be weird way before anyone else did. We wore second hand clothes, listened to David Bowie or Talking Heads, did mix tapes for each other, went to weird gigs at the University or at the International II when we were just 14. I’m as much a product of odd-ball Manchester as I am of them. The city benefits from a huge university (and in the 80s, nobody, but nobody was cooler than Uni students) which brought second-hand shops and good music. In fact, the Academy, one of Manchester’s better venues, is still part of the Uni buildings. The MUSU vanished a long time ago, but I saw some great bands there.
Anyway, here’s to cool kids who don’t realise how cool they are.
And a little track for them, too.