I was a callow youth for most of my adolescence. It wasn’t my fault; the lack of judgment and poor impulse control that I shared with my pubescent friends were the products of a still-developing prefrontal cortex. When you combine the overestimation of competence and the underestimation of risk with a sprinkling of hormonal surges, you have an accident waiting to happen – such accidents are now recorded for posterity as ASBOs, so that the adolescent perpetrator can have a lifelong reminder of their future-sabotaging prefrontal cortex. You can’t avoid the cortex, it seems, and neither can you dodge the hand that life deals you. You might be given a prial of ACEs – not as lucky as it sounds – giving you a predisposition to develop ARMS, followed by a FEP and, thereafter, a potential lifetime managing other psychiatric acronyms with the help of your local CMHT. But that’s another story, another potential trajectory and another identity.
There’s another threat to the immature adolescent brain. Like a rogue personal trainer from ‘Catcher in the Rye’, urging you on to the next existential crisis, the ‘who am I-why am I’ challenge won’t leave you alone: the tricky twins of individuation and identity.
My older brother had a big influence on my efforts to find myself. In his slipstream, I glided through a range of footwear from brothel creepers, brogues, loafers and clogs, eventually coming to rest in trainers and Dunlop tennis shoes. The length of my trousers and the circumference of their bottoms increased overnight. Passing quickly through Sta-Prest, Two Tone Tonics (very uncool, thanks to ‘Johnny Reggae’ by Jonathan King, another of those 1970s characters up to no good – speaking of Reggae, rumour had it that Judge Dread lived in nearby Snodland, not Gotham City, where he produced a litany of risque Reggae numbers), I finally arrived at my sartorial destination: a pair of Levi originals that were kept going by a life-sustaining network of patches. Tank tops over Brutus collared shirts were replaced by Grandad shirts and cheesecloth, overlaid with an ironic combat jacket from the ex-Army & Navy store on Week Street. After a short fling with a feather-cut, my hair was left to its own devices. This was a post-hippy, ‘Hairy’ look, hurriedly binned following the advent of Punk in 1977 – a glorious paradigm shift that slammed the lid on the 1970s and released an uncontrolled wave of contempt for our suburban status quo. ‘Fuck the Jubilee’ appeared on the pavement outside the shops on the Beverley Estate. Maidstone Borough Council was not ready for anarchy, let alone treason. Who would have guessed that Her Majesty would still be reigning over us forty years later?