“I Thought, Because of the Hair…” — Walking Cross Country in My Formative Years

I’ll finish this series by telling you a story from aged fourteen, a most troublesome age to be, in the eyes of most. Hormones are doing their thing, and areas of life that were previously non-existent, were now the most pressing issues of the day.

You wake up to the agonising truth of the fragility of modern society, begin to question long-held institutions, and also relationships are now a thing.

If I don’t put my mind to something, then I’m not really interested in it. This means I’ve lead an intense life in some very specific areas, but a very passive one in most. In a classic example of this passivity, I got roped into doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award at age fourteen.

Most of the people I knew at school suddenly said, “Oh, we’re going to this meeting at lunch, you should come too.”

I didn’t ask what it would be about, I just went. For all I knew the freaks, geeks and cool weirdos of our school could’ve banded together to form a cult, and I’d just agreed to attend a meeting where I’d be sacrificed in the name of Alex Turner.

It wasn’t an Arctic Monkey’s themed cult, but a meeting about an award that involved a lot of walking and community volunteering. Fourteen-year-old me decided that I should be doing more of those things, and so I signed up for the long haul.

The walking portion of DofE was all anyone ever cared about. “F**k charity,” was a regular sentiment thrown out by half of the award hopefuls. You see, two types of people did DofE — Nerds who were looking to impress universities with extra curricular activities, and people who wanted to join the army.

No disrespect to anyone who, as an adult, serves their country in the armed forces (you’re much braver than I) — But the only people who wanted to be in the army at our school were absolute head-cases.

As an adult with a better understanding of mental health issues, I can point to a few people who needed some serious help, but who instead were thrown into light army drills where they were allowed to enact their bizarre sadistic fantasies.

The DofE participants were split into same-sex groups of about four, and so naturally a grouped up with some of the guys who were more my speed. None of this militaristic practice, just a leisurely walk through the country, followed by a night under the stars with plenty of jokes and music.

thesimpsonshikegif

We’d go on one of these weekend excursions every six weeks or so, and I really liked my first DofE group. We weren’t very good but we always made it to the campsite before it got dark, and we had a good laugh by the portable noodle cooker. (It had a proper name, but we only ever cooked noodles in it, so that’s what I’m calling it.)

I remember one time we arrived at the campsite before a group of the wannabe army kids. Their leader (he was the tallest and so I assumed) was absolutely livid. He couldn’t believe that a bunch of freaks had got to camp and erected their tent faster than him. He blamed and yelled at his own group, and I sincerely hope he has since received the professional help he needed.

As the months went by, and a couple of the kids in our group lost interest, the two remaining members of our squad thought we might have to call it a day on DofE. Then the leader (a teacher from the school) said we could stay if we found other groups to join.

Now, the only other boys groups were the army squads, who had now taken to calling themselves “The Walking Holocaust”, thanks to the tall one. Didn’t even make sense.

Some of my friends who were left doing DofE were girls, but joining them was strictly forbidden due to the fact that intimacy can only happen between people of the direct opposite sex… (that’s sarcasm, and it makes you realise how silly some of the rules growing up were).

I was also losing interest in DofE, and so I decided to ask the teacher if I could join the girls group. If he said no then I’d call it a day on my walking career, if he said yes then I’d continue goofing around with my friends in the countryside every month — A win/win thanks to my trademark passive nature.

“Sir, can I join this (all girl) group for the next walk?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“…(Upon hearing an unexpected answer) But sir, is that allowed?”

“Well it is for you.”

“…?”

“You’re gay aren’t you?”

“That’s flattering sir, but I’m not.”

“Oh, that’s a surprise. I thought, you know, because of the hair… Well let’s just say you are and then it’s all fine. Otherwise you’ll have to join The Walking Holocaust.”

“I’m a massive gay sir, and may I say you’re looking extra dashing today.”

“Get out of my office.”

He didn’t really use the name The Walking Holocaust, but you get the idea. Thanks to my constant inability as a teen to conform to a particular gendered fashion, and the stereotypes long-held by a person born in the 1960s, I managed to get into another DofE group that was full of likeminded friends.

Of course, the kicker was that I was dating one of the girls in the group at the time, so the exact arrangement the teacher was trying to avoid had actually happened.

We were terrible walkers, and we never completed a weekend walk successfully, but I had beat the flimsy rules of the system, and I think that’s what DoE was all about. (It’s not)

Although, in hindsight, I’m glad we never made it to one of the campsites, as the tall one from The Walking Holocaust would then know I was dating his ex. And given the way he berated his peers for failing to beat us to the campsite earlier in the year, I feel as though I wouldn’t have made it out alive.


Today is Friday, January 11th and please follow @drinkipediapod on Twitter, and maybe even give it a try.

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“Lots of Love, Milky” — Misbehaviour in My Formative Years

I hope you like tales of teenage debauchery, because they’re usually fun stories. This is not exactly one of those anecdotes, so if you’d prefer a more outlandish childhood venture then go read a Russell Brand book or something.

This happened when I was sixteen, which barely qualifies for formative years but I’ve made a theme for the week and I’m sticking to it.

It was the final year of secondary school and my friends and I had discovered alcohol. Other kids at school had discovered it much sooner (and subsequently were way cooler), but they weren’t on track to finish their classes, and so we felt as though we’d found a good balance between cool kids and total dweebs.

This story also happens to take place on the night I first watched professional wrestling, which means it was formative as all heck. I wish I could say I’d watched it since I was a kid, but no, just from a drunken night at aged sixteen — Exactly when I was supposed to be finding that sort of thing very lame.

After watching The Undertaker defeat Shawn Michaels in what I would later refer to as “an all time classic”, the four of us were still full of energy and alcohol at 4am.

We were looking for mischief, but didn’t really know what we could achieve. All of this took place at a friend’s house in early summer, a friend who lived on a housing estate far from my own.

This friend used to drink copious amounts of Diet Coke, at least fifty cans a day, which may be an exaggeration. I still love this friend dearly and so that’s why I can over-hype his soda consumption. Unlike Andy from yesterday’s story, whom I no longer know, and so will gleefully drag through the mud by recounting his attraction to a medical dummy.

(Also, Andy isn’t his real name. I love creative writing!)

On this estate, despite the fact that it was very modern, they still had their milk delivered by a milkman. This was news to me, as not even my grandparents had their milk delivered by a float/actual human being combo at four in the morning.

I was born in ’93, and had always bought pints of moo juice from the supermarket like every other self respecting millennial (well, until we all cut cow products out of our diets in the latter part of this decade).

Suckered in by a hilarious and archaic concept, I watched in glee as the milk float made its way around the neighbourhood. Idea!

“Hey, what if we took everyone’s milk and replaced it with cans of Diet Coke?”

“Why would we do that?”

“…For a laugh?”

“…Okay then!”

We gathered handfuls of cola cans and set about replacing the milk bottles in the neighbourhood. Now, I do have a mischievous streak (as you can bloody well tell, I mean, are you reading this absolute lunacy!?!), but guilt also hits me pretty hard. And most of the time it happens immediately.

As I placed my first cans of Coke on a neighbour’s doorstep, I got this pang in my stomach, and a thousand thoughts cross my mind.

“What if they need this milk for their breakfast?”

“What if they have a rare disease where all they can drink is milk and I’m killing them by taking it away?”

“What if they’re a family of literal cows and they’d ordered this milk in order to illustrate the brutality of the human dairy industry to their now of-age cow children?”

Admittedly, that last one wasn’t very likely, but the guilt was real. The problem was that I couldn’t back out of the prank, as I’d been the one who’d suggested it. What kind of super cool, mischievous friend would I be if I retreated now?

So I decided to hide the milk just around the corner of the doorstep of each house. That way they’d get the initial (hilarious) shock of the Diet Coke, but still be able to locate their precious creamy lactose.

However, this wasn’t enough, as I’d now gone too far the other way. It had turned from a prank into a mild inconvenience, and I feared that much of the impact had now been lost.

I needed an equaliser, something to balance this prank out to the point that I’d be a hero among my peers when I told them all about it at school, but also so that it would have the perfect flow for a blog post written a decade later.

And so we decided to write a series of notes to place between the two cans of Coke that now sat on several doorsteps across the estate. They mostly went something like this…

Dear Valued Customer,

I’m very sorry to inform you that all of the cows ran out of milk yesterday. And so I have replaced your order with delicious cola pop. I hope it still tastes good on your cornflakes — My son has this combination when I get to see him, every other weekend.

Lots of love,

Milky

cornflakesandmilk

My hope was that by adding the sign-off, nobody could possibly blame the actual milkman for our act of pure rebellion. As pangs of guilt started to creep in that we may have cost a milkman his job (which was still a bizarre concept to me, because I thought they’d stopped delivering milk in the 19th century), we made for the local field.

On this field we ran around shouting Hulk Hogan’s theme music at the top of our lungs. Hulk Hogan had not wrestled or appeared that evening, so I’m not sure why that happened.

As we sobered up together, we watched the sunrise, before deciding to call it a night and get a few hours sleep. We didn’t want to be wandering the neighbourhood when people came outside to collect their Diet Coke, and read their well-written notes from Milky.

I wonder if anyone actually drank the cola, or if they tried it on cornflakes as the good milkman suggested.

This is not the most rebellious thing I ever did, or the least, but it’s very on-brand, and I still think about it whenever I have my cornflakes and coke.


Today is Thursday, January 10th and you can listen to the new episode of our podcast ‘Drinkipedia’ right now! On iTunes or here: https://drinkipedia.podbean.com/

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“I Was Born Ready” — Medical Training in My Formative Years

As a child I attended an institution known as Badgers. It’s sort of like Cub Scouts, but it’s connected to the St John’s Ambulance. It’s social interaction via learning and team building for kids who want to remain indoors, with an emphasis on medical training.

My parents enrolled me in this programme without my permission, which I protested in the moment, as even at this age I didn’t enjoy hearing “Surprise! You now have to have two extra social interactions a week, and guess what? Most of them are strangers! Yay!”

Fortunately they only remained strangers for a week or two, and soon my close friends and I became kings of Badgers. Whatever they are, whatever the badger king is called. Probably that one from The Wind in the Willows, right? Yeah, I bet he’s their king.

Badgers had clearly struggled to retain members aged nine and ten, as by the time we reached the age of nine we were running the joint. Well, the adult volunteers were running everything, but we felt as though we were, and that’s probably what matters in the long run.

At Badgers the main goal was to collect badges. This was extremely confusing and not something the organisers had thought about too clearly. Many conversations like the following one were had during my two years as a Badger:

“So what are you doing?”

“I’m a Badger.”

And what do you do as a Badger?”

“We collected badges.”

“You collected badgers!?”

“No, badges.”

“Oh, so you’re a Badge-er? One who collects badges.”

“No, we’re Badgers, but we collect badges, as a badge-er would.”

“…”

“I should’ve joined the scouts.”

Don’t name the institution after the reward you’re planning to hand out, or vice-versa. If you’re dead-sett (that’s a badger joke there) on calling the group ‘Badgers’, then you should have to collect truffles. It’s really quite simple.

We had to wear these weird uniforms that looked way more formal than the teen and adult versions of St John’s Ambulance, who got to wear cool green coats. We wore these black tabard-like things over the top of a white polo shirt.

Polo shirt to a nine year old means school and school is borering, so they weren’t too up to date on the connotations of their branding for a nine year old.

Although, because Badgers was for all genders, and we all wore these lengthly tabards, we all looked like androgynous kids, and that was pretty cool. I’d go as far as to say that I lean towards wearing tight jeans and long flowing shirts because of my time spent in Badgers. My former religious leaders now know who to blame.

I remember working my way through the different six-week courses in order to earn my various badges. One of them was just playing football, so that was pretty fun. This was before I realised that I wasn’t very good at sports, but still enjoyed playing them for the exercise.

The most coveted badge of all was the First Aid Badge. That’s what we were all here for, right? Well, some of us were here because our parents signed us up without asking, but for the majority of people that badge was the ticket to the cool green jacket of the adult world.

The problem was that only four Badgers could take this course at a time, as the leaders wanted to make sure that everyone understood the first-aid training clearly. So my friends and I waited our turn.

Some other kid we knew (I’ll call him Andy) came back from his first-aid training, just before we began ours. Andy bragged about how he could now save any life at any time, anywhere.

After he explained that all you have to do is get-off with a dummy (“really waggle your tongue around in there”), we decided that we didn’t want Andy around us should we ever need any medical assistance.

When it was finally our turn to learn all about First Aid, we were ready. I expected that we would be picked up in an ambulance and immediately thrown into the crux of an emergency.

“She’s crashing, get me ten CCs of metamorphosis, stat. Damn! It’s no good, we’re going to have to bring out the electric paddles that look like telephones but don’t put them to your ears because that would hurt. You! Badger! Can you handle this?”

“I was born ready.”

I snapped out of my daydream just as we were shuffled into a slightly different back room of the community building where Badgers was held. Sure enough, there was a plastic head and torso on the floor and we were encouraged to sit around it.

medicaldummy

None of us could believe that Andy, who thought you had to grope a patient in order to treat them effectively, had been right about the exact nature of first-aid training.

I raised my hand and asked if I could spend the next six weeks getting my Arts and Crafts badge (truffle) because this looks boring. Another one of my friends raised his hand too, as he shared the same opinion. We weren’t at Badgers to fondle a plastic human. No! We were here to save lives dammit! And maybe explore our encroaching puberty by hanging out with hot doctors and nurses.

We were escorted back into the main hall by one of the volunteers, who announced that two slots were now open in first-aid training. Andy leapt to his feet and began puckering his lips as he sprinted for the door.

“Veronica has missed me, I just know it!”

I left Badgers a few months later, as I realised there was nothing left for me to do here. No more worlds to conquer. I’d collected all of the badges apart from the boring first-aid one, and because of that I could never posses one of the cool green jackets.

No green jacket, no point in continuing — A motto that sounds good, but doesn’t make for excellent life advice.

Our rascal-like crew left Badgers by performing a gig (we were also a band, did I not mention that?), despite the fact that only one of us could play their instrument (which was the drums, and he was incredible, but you sort-of need some tune or melody for a casual music performance).

We all just mimed along to a Red Hot Chilli Peppers CD, and in my head I’ll maintain that we were doing a meta-textual comedic performance in order to satirise the lack of talent displayed in modern pop music.

Either that or we were a group of dumb kids who possessed inflated egos, due to the fact that 50% of us had just had their first kiss with a lifeless dummy, and the rest had confidently turned her down because we could still see Andy’s spit congealed in her mouth opening.


Today is Wednesday, January 9th and I wonder if Andy is the kind of guy who owns a sex doll now.

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“Have an Alby” — Reward Systems in Formative Years

I can never work on something without seeing the meaning behind it, or without a proper incentive. I’ve chipped away at this habit over the last year and I’ve managed to turn myself into a somewhat productive person by instituting rewards for working on (as yet) unpaid creative projects.

I blame the need for my reward-based productivity on a system implemented at school during my formative years. It’s likely my own fault, but you can’t get a 1,000 word story out of introspective self-punishment. Only professional authors can do that.

This reward scheme happened in Primary School (or Elementary School but not quite, to any American readers), and was in place between the ages of 6 and 10 — Important years for development and the prime years for being on a bouncy castle.

These rewards were tokens, called Albys (pronounced: Al-bees). Albys were handed out for good behaviour, hard work and achievement — The big three.

Albys were little white slips of paper that you’d write your name on before placing it into a raffle box on the teacher’s desk. At the end of the week, in front of the whole school, each class would draw an Alby from their respective box, and the winning good-child could choose a reward from one of two glass jars.

I have no doubt that other Primary Schools had similar systems in place — It’s a simple lottery-based rewards system that’s akin to modern-day loot boxes. Although you earned the in-game currency through hard work and intelligence, as opposed to draining your parent’s bank accounts by screaming in the aisles of Target until they get you a million V-Bucks.

Albys, and any other systems like them, are better than V-Bucks. (Whatever they are, I had to Google them)

As far as I know, no other school used Albys specifically. I could be wrong, and there’s simply no record of this turn-of-the-millenium, North-East England, Primary School reward scheme left. Maybe every school in the country had an Alby, although if they did I think we’d see social media posts like:

“lol, so random but does anyone remember Albys!? Lol”

I’m actually hoping that if I type the word Alby enough in this piece, it’ll appear towards the top of a Google search and subsequently unite me with someone from a different Primary School who also remembers these little tokens.

Although I’m a little worried that I may be spelling it wrong, as there could be an ‘e’ between the ‘b’ and ‘y’. So I’m going to say Albey once, just in case.

Seriously, I’ll pay money if anyone still has an original Alby (Albey).

The nerds (me) would work really hard to earn Albys, just so we could get our hands in the glass jars and rummage for a prize. To really have something to show for all the hours spent being socially inept freaks.

There were two types of prizes you could receive in the Alby-system; Cool Kid Sweets and Geek Stationary. I bet you can guess which jar yours truly always put his hand in. That’s right, I am in fact a cool kid and I got all the sweets, all the time. Go suck on a lollipop losers, except you can’t, because I have all the lollipops! Ha!

No. Obviously I pocketed stationary at any available opportunity during my childhood. You can’t turn free pencils and notebooks down, not in this economy, I always told myself.

The more Albys you received in a week, the more likely you were to have your name drawn out of the box. It’s basic maths, which I know, because I got lots of Albys.

In assembly every Friday, each kid would wait with bated breath to see if their name would be drawn from the box. Even the kids who didn’t get an Alby that week couldn’t contain their excitement at the possibility they’d get to rummage in the sweetie jar.

(No self-respecting non-Alby earning school kid would EVER rummage through the stationary jar, are you kidding me? No way!)

When your name wasn’t drawn, you’d always hope that the Chosen-One would choose from the sweet jar, because if it was something shareable then there was a chance that you too could benefit from the Alby system, without your name even appearing out of the damn box. What a rush.

In what has become a trend for my entire life, I would always disappoint my peers by picking stationary — Something that you can’t really share with anyone else. Well, you can, I just didn’t want to.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — “But Matt, couldn’t you just take a stack of blank Albys from the teacher’s desk and write your name on them when nobody is looking, before placing them in the box before the teacher catches on?”

Yes. Yes you could. And we all did.

It was a victimless crime because most of the Alby-earning students did it, we all boosted our own numbers. Blank Albys also served as a form of playground currency during lunch hour.

“I’ll trade you my Mars Bar for five blank Albys.”

“Throw in that uncommon Pokemon card and you’ve got yourself a deal my friend!”

In hindsight I’m surprised the teachers didn’t notice that there were far more Albys in the box each week than they’d handed out to students. But as an adult with friends who’ve taught kids of that age — They didn’t care what happened as long as the clock kept ticking closer to 3:30.

If all the extra Albys had prevented them from pouring a glass of wine at the end of the day, then you best believe that box would’ve been policed like Buckingham Palace.

I also wonder which teacher, or member of the governing body, came up with the Alby scheme. It must’ve been someone with a penchant for light gambling. Some genius who recognised that kids get addicted to things just as easily as adults, and that if we all try hard enough with these Albys, we can get them addicted to learning!

The Alby system taught me, and countless others, how to work in exchange for some kind of reward. But it also taught us how to gamble, cheat, lie, swindle, barter and to expect stationary in exchange for good behaviour. And for that, I am thankful.

Years after leaving Primary School I still want to sarcastically say “Oh, have an Alby” to anyone who achieves something mediocre. But that’s a very niche reference, one that would be hard to implement to any friend group outside of the one I had between 1998 and 2004.

So now, in my early adult years, I’m half tempted to print off a batch of my own Albys, that I can give myself as a reward for productivity. My name will be the only one in the box, so I’ll get to rummage in the prize jars every week. Win/win.

I’ll fill one jar with sweets and the other with stationary (keep it classic), and the sweet jar will remain full and unrummaged for years to come, because if I’m anything, I’m regressively consistent. I can already see a pocket notebook with my name on it, because I put it there, and I’m an adult.


Today is Monday, January 7th and it’s time to mellow out and tell some stories (on most days).

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