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The Small Faces
a tribute

Spanish Camping


When I was nine or ten, I read a letter in the Macclesfield Express from a teenage girl who lived near us. Her parents, she said, had accumulated all the material possessions you could possibly want. Given such a comfortable start in life, what challenges could life possibly hold for her?

The letter touched a raw nerve amongst Macc’s petit bourgeoisie, and next week the letters page was full of admonishing messages to the girl, including one which memorably instructed her to "Seek and thou shall find." My Mum seemed a bit upset about it too, which isn’t surprising. After all Dad and her had battled their way from humble origins to achieve a standard of living their parents could only have dreamed about.

Like many of their contemporaries, my Mum and Dad were a success story of the post- war meritocratic society. My Dad, son of a Birmingham welder, won a Grammar School scholarship and went on to Queen’s College, Oxford. He then had a very successful career in industry, becoming Personnel Director at Cadbury’s.

My track record at school looked impressive, until the final year; Head Boy at Primary School, Vice Captain at Middle School, House Captain at High School, down to sit nine O levels. Then I began to see the world the same way as the Macclesfield girl. What was this all about? I could see my life panning out exactly as expected and I started to be suffocated by the whole pre- ordination of it all. Something deep inside me snapped and I had to get out.

I became embarrassed by the size of our house and Dad’s status. I grew my hair, wore bovver boots and got Dad to drop me off round the corner so my friends from school couldn’t see the swanky car he chauffeured me in. At sixteen I was wearing clothes from jumble sales and hitching my way around the country, unable to stomach the idea of joining the rat race to accumulate material possessions that, in the final analysis, can’t be taken with you.

Miss Gittings, the Careers Advisor came into school and asked me what career I had in mind. I told her, truthfully, that I wanted to be a continental coach driver. I’d been to Holland on a school football trip, on a coach driven by an ageing Teddy Boy we’d nicknamed Dwayne, as in Eddy. His lifestyle to me seemed entirely perfect; he got to travel abroad, have a laugh, chat up women and get paid into the bargain. Unlike my Dad, who came home stressed out and hung up, Dwayne had managed to avoid growing up, and I wanted to be like him.

Miss Gittings looked briefly concerned then laughed dismissively. Yes, I’m sure we’d all like to be continental coach drivers, she said, but you can do much better than that. You’re doing O levels. Why I should have been taken in by someone who valued mediocrity so highly, I don’t know. Put it down to inexperience. In any case, I allowed her to carry out a computer analysis to identify the career I would be most suited to. When the printout, as long as your arm, came back a week later, it spelled out my destiny- Town Planner.

So she fixed me up to go visit County Hall in Worcester where I met a group of the most frustrated, miserable and unhealthy- looking people you could ever wish not to meet. Any questions? The Head Planner enquired, after delivering a lengthy monologue about the parlous state of local government. No I said, before bolting out of the door screaming.

I lost complete interest in school from then on. I didn’t try, but somehow managed to end up with five O levels, so I went to Technical College for a couple of years to hang out with a bunch of other hippies I reckoned were cool.

If I confused my parents, my Grandma thought I was from another planet. Why on earth I would want to apparently reject everything she and her son had given so much for was beyond her. Of course I made no attempt to understand her and wallowed in her condemnation, as young rebels are wont to do. I’m sad to say that the in last year or so of her life we struggled to find common ground.

I did make one concession to Grandma, a few weeks before she died- I had my hair cut. It had been strongly suggested that such a gesture would make her very pleased, and she could pass on into the next life secure in the knowledge that her grandson had turned out normal after all. Unfortunately she was so ill by this stage she barely seemed to notice, and I was choked. It had taken me a couple of years to get my hair to that length.

Hair played a crucial role in my next life decision. Before sitting my A levels my Tutor asked me what I planned to do next. Work in a bakery, I told her, having spotted an job advert that offered enough money for me to smoke as much hash as I wanted and have fun with my girlfriend. She looked me cold in the eye. You’ll have to have your hair cut if you’re going to do that, she said. Go to University and you won’t have to get it cut for three years. My UCAS (College) application was in the post next day.

At college, life was more complicated. As I’d had gone there to stay in the idle manner to which I’d been accustomed, there didn’t seem a lot of point if I couldn’t afford the requisite chemicals with which to enjoy my, ahem, study periods. The problem was that the grant didn’t stretch to hash AND food, so I had to deal, and I didn’t have time to deal AND attend lectures at the same time. Not when they began as early as ten in the morning.

So began several years of drifting, a time during which I met many talented people who had very little in the way of conventional ambition. I knew a brilliant artist who’d stay up all night on speed creating amazing works of art which he’d either give away, or destroy. He lives in a caravan in Wales, two fingers forever held up to society, and I admire him for it.

Somehow, I ended up getting a degree and working in the Planning Department of a local authority, though not as a Town Planner. More recently I’ve become a Dad and this is something that’s changed me. I want to succeed now, on my own terms, and make my son proud of me. No doubt in time he’ll become as ashamed of me as the next teenager, but in the meantime I think I’ve achieved what the Macclesfield girl was told; I’ve sought and I’ve found.

© John Peters 09. 2000

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