snogs shags and fags
snogs In her teenage fantasy fanzine 'Morgan', Ruthi writes about her attitude to alcohol. She reckons it's kinda fun, even if it does make you puke, and anyway, vomiting is 'psychologically great', which is a way of coming at the whole deal, I guess. She figures that hangovers don't actually exist either ( 'a corruption of peoples low pain tolerances'), which is wistful, wishful adolescent naivete at it's finest, and glories in the surge of alcohol intoxication which only the young can ever truly feel, being to do with that great coverall of First Times that go hand in hand with a billion other fresh experiences. Like snogs, shags and fags.

The first time I remember really kissing someone, I mean really full on the mouth, tongues and all, was in a drunken embrace on a staircase. We were both around sixteen I guess, and as well as drinking bottles of dry Martini, he had also been smoking Gitanes cigarettes that he'd bought on the school trip to Paris earlier that summer, which meant that now the thing that sticks in my mind most about the kiss was that his mouth tasted disgusting. Now, maybe it was the ashtray mouth, or maybe it was something else, but somehow I've never been able to get really into snogging my own gender after that experience. Not that it affected me with just guys... I tried kissing a number of girls in the following months/years, and although there were never many who were willing to indulge me in the first place, the number who I ever wanted to kiss again was even smaller as I discovered that with girls too my taste for passions was quite literally turned off by the touch of tar on my tongue.

This actually sparked off a whole dichotomy in my head, because the truth was that I found the whole visual aesthetic of cigarettes really quite alluring. It was probably the tired old oral association thing again... flakes and fags together, huh? Right. So I'd find myself attracted to those who were smoking, and on the far from frequent chances that ever arose to touch lips, would come away feeling foul and disgusted. Weird shit. Sad shit.

I always kinda wanted to not feel this way about it too. I felt like it was sort of, um, really square to not smoke and to have a problem kissing anyone who did. It was part of the whole 'middle class' middle of the road, pre-pc, liberal/conservative bullshit that pervaded the early 80s I think. All that mis-guided 'just say no' drugs thing, and the adverts on tv that said how smoking was for inadequates and squares, but how anyone with even the twinkling of a grasp on Yoof Culture could see that the whole crap imagery projected by the ads was just more grown up condescension, a complete failure to get to the actual roots of Being Young. I couldn't help it though, and whereas with alcohol the initial dislike of the taste passed easily under the appeal of the effects, I got no such thrill from nicotine.

Perhaps strangely, there was also the deal about not wanting to abuse our bodies. My friends and I used that one a lot, because we kidded ourselves we were cyclists, and actually the only one of the gang who ever really made it in terms of bike racing results was the one who always got the most abusedly drunk and who was the first to crack out the fags on those occasions too. He never seemed to have any problems with kissing either.

But it was the idea that cigarettes went hand in hand with all that held appeal that hurt most. All the best french movies were filled with cool cats digging Sartre and Bechet whilst dangling a Gauloise or Gitanes on their lips. Excavating the sixties, as all kids in the eighties (all decades from here on in?) did at some point, there were images of dark beat clubs shrouded in smoke from american imports; Chesterfields, Lucky Strike and the like. Dig the Stones, The Creation, Action et al and you dig the whole scene... cigarettes included. Not an optional extra. And of course for the rockist off-days nicotine cool was de-rigour... rock stars smoked and drank like, well rock stars. Keef without Jack Daniels and a fag? Yeah, right.

The graphics could be cool too. I actually took to carrying a pack of Gitanes (no filter, natch) around with me for ages, even though I couldn't actually bring myself to light the bastards up. I'd lay the pack on the table in the pub, and after a while people actually gave up slagging me for it. I guess I was sad beyond reproach by that point. Of course the package cool only went/goes with certain labels, which should go without saying. If it must be Marlboro it has to be a soft pack, preferably those ones with the gold instead of red. B&H are way out. New Lad cool may be hip but who gives a fuck? Prole style never won my heart I'm afraid. JPS were only ever acceptable when Lotus still won Grands Prix, in fact when Ronnie Peterson was still alive... We're talking 70s really. No retro thank you very much. The French brigade were always cool, but the new graphic attacks spoiled it all for me. Farewell romance. Chesterfields were funny for the reference to the shambling pop band of same name, but you never admit you know about that. Lucky Strike is Pop Art, straight outta the 60s,...

In fact in the summer of '86 I probably carried around several packs of the above... not that I ever smoked a single one of them...

I also had/still have the most perfect dark red leather cigarette pouch. A genuine US import from the 50s, given to my late Aunt (dead before I could remember her...) by an airforce pilot, somehow now in my hands, I don't remember how. It's for those US softpacks, and it too has made me wish I could face the taste of cigarettes. Still, it's come in handy for carrying packs of pills. Contemporary usage of classic design. Or somethin'

So the fags could never sway me into using, no matter how many temptations they could throw at me. The thoughts of those smoke-kisses always cut me cold.


Alcohol was a different matter. After the obvious childhood distaste that went with afore-mentioned 'middle class' liberal/conservative bullshit, I came to fucking love the stuff. My mate Jon Lace is to blame for all of it. Him and his parents. See, we were lucky in a whole load of ways, 'cos Jon's folks had a real, ah, 'open' attitude to booze and boozing. We were around fourteen, fifteen and getting wasted in their house Sunday afternoons as they 'entertained' guests and such like. They were so cool about it I couldn't believe it. Wine, beer, cider, you name it we downed it. And Jon's folks condoned it too. Which maybe denied him the thrill of defying parental control, but which was cool for me because I got the feeling of rebelling against my own parents, who always hated the idea of drunkenness, but never had to resort to sitting in freezing beach shelters/school yards at midnight to get the buzz. Not only that, but Jon's folks went away for whole weekends with alarming regularity, leaving the whole place to become a den of debauched revelry. Or at least of excessive drinking.

I never had a problem with alcohol. I mean, I never had a problem digging it. It was everything that cigarettes could have been, but I enjoyed it into the bargain. I got such a thrill from the whole deal. Of course you only ever drink to get drunk. That was such an obvious ideal for living when I was seventeen it was like a joke to suggest otherwise.

Trying to convey that total and absolute thrill of teenage drinking is impossible of course. If you never got it, you'll never get it, simple as that. The memory still makes me quiver. It's as much to do with the excitement of expectation as anything else I guess. It was an Event, at least in the early days. You know the deal. 'Course you do. 'Party at X's house, month next Saturday.' All the plans for scoring the booze and shit. Figuring what records to take (I was always some kinda hated DJ playing obscure weird shit when The kids wanted Nik Kershaw or Howard Jones), what clothes to wear, who you were gonna try and get off with. Not that I ever did of course, too 'odd' and all the smoke shit, like I said. Sad skinny bastard. If only Pulp and Jarv hadn't taken 14 years to become 'sex symbols'. And if only so many teenage girls didn't fucking smoke... Yeah well.

The booze ended up being the most vital element though. Always. And I dunno about you but we went through so many phases with our booze. As ever, obsessional about the labels, drinking shit for the looks as well as the effects. Not that we really let anything get in the way of effects... Like downing bottles of Martini (Dry) in as few goes as possible (two assaults on a medium sized bottle was my proudly held record) because it gave a fucking great buzz for about a half hour. Better than anything else I ever experienced from alcohol, except maybe once when Scott and I snaffled loads of champagne at a bike shop opening. That was cool. 'Course we knew Martini was way un-cool, but hey, we were into the Irony game years before we realised that was a good excuse for bad taste. We also went through a phase of drinking Bezique. Remember that? Weird shaped bottle. I hear they still sell it in '80s retro bars. Weird shit. We did the tequila game too, phasing my brothers older friends by slugging it neat from the bottle when they were all recovering from a Live-Aid party. Funny the dumb things you remember.

Tennents Special we slugged for some months before the naff Blues Bros ads appeared and it went overground. Never touched Tennents Lager, not even if they did do an ad tuned by Henderson's Win... they used fucking Hipsway as well. Ugh. We did Red Stripe and Shlitz until the shits from the schemes started slugging it in the wine bars of town, making out they were Thatchers' nouveau riche. Falling for it all. Us turning instead to Old Peculiar because it was hard and fucked you up good and quick. Later Jack Daniels and Coke not for Keef but for lobster fisherman Dave who spelled a bottle with me 3am Key West summer, and later still Haig and Perrier, reverence to Hemingway, Garden of Eden. Always for inside, never to impress. Always in excess.

So it goes.

Then it goes like this, hitting the other side of the coin.... in other words realising that for the few memories of Great Nights/Times where it felt like the stuff was really adding something special to the experience, was just sharpening up the edges, or blurring them so that it all became hazy beautiful, then there are a hundred times as many nights that have become lost forever, where the stuff just obliterated everything and all that remains is a dull ache somewhere deep inside. Some of my friends say this is just a psychological wall I build to ignore problems, or difficult memories but I don't think it is... And even if it is, the walls are there as a result of the stuff. Whatever the reasons, at the moment I can't break those walls down, and I don't want to really anyway. I know that behind them must lie the desolation of the seven years in which I spent most weekends in pubs and clubs with people I called friends, and with those I did not even call acquaintances. I know that behind those walls lies all the hate and pain and isolation of living in a place that held no hopes, no Future... only a forever fading phony memory of a blue haze. Forgetting the bullshit rejection. Just seeing the obsession, missing the whole fucking point. As usual.

No dwellings.

Which means that today I figure on the deal with fags and booze and see something new. No longer do I feel like I've got to / want to conform to the presentations before me. I don't need those crutches. I feel more comfortable with myself. Away from all that past, something New here now and ahead. Digging the musics, the scenes from inside more than ever. Not needing so many outside connections. Making them in the head. Alcohol just fucks me up when I don't need fucking up anymore. It makes me feel like shit. Wipes time out when I should be using that time to make something of life. Writing, making shit,... and riding.

I want new thrills... don't want to keep plugging with the same old same old. Maybe that's the whole point: keeping out there, chasing the excitement, keeping up the rush in the heart and the head. Whatever the drug.

Alistair Fitchett. 1995

(This article originally appeared in the limited run fanzine Fantastique! issue 3)