Wheatus “Teenage Dirtbag”
This is a song for the outsiders, for the teenagers who are not sporty or a teacher’s pet. Like many of my chosen songs it has a story arc. It is the video as much as the song that sparked the memory recounted here.
In my teenage years there was a religious divide in the West End of Newcastle based around Catholic versus Protestant. Today the tapestry of divisions and misunderstandings is far more complex. Fear of the “other”, those different to ourselves, led many people to vote for Brexit. Demanding that the “other” be stopped, curbed or banished.
When I was growing up in the West-End of Newcastle in the fifties and early sixties I was part of a Catholic community that had its roots in Ireland. We had educational segregation and I was taught by nuns in my primary school and priests in the high school (not all teachers were priests and nuns but they dominated the management and culture of the school).
Our high schools were also divided so that girls went to one school and boys to another. This meant that we boys had little social interaction with girls and non Catholics. Non Catholics largely meant Protestant as at that time there were very few other alternative communities in Newcastle
Our main opportunity to meet girls was either at the church youth club which meant the steely eyes of the priests would be watching you and if necessary report back to your parents, or there were the two cinemas.
The Plaza and the Brighton Cinema sat on opposite sides of the West Road. To avoid clashes between the Catholic and Protestant youth there was an unofficial peace line along the West Road and we went to the Plaza on the north side and they went to the Brighton on the south. In 1960 the Plaza closed and this led to a few problems but in 1963 the Brighton changed from a cinema into a bowling alley and that’s when things turned ugly.
After a number of minor clashes including me getting beaten up in the toilets of the bowling alley, a big confrontation took place in a local park. Looking back it seemed like hundreds were involved but it was probably no more than thirty or forty.
I remember there was a lot of posturing and shouting but very few actual clashes but the fighting that did take place was vicious. Later, we got together with our rivals and worked out a deal where we could each use the Brighton Bowling Alley on different nights.
Today there is a lot of talk about gang culture. In the sixties you felt being part of a gang or being seen as part of a community afforded you some protection. The reality was being in a gang lead to more trouble not less and not just with rival gang members but also with the Police.
It did however, teach me a valuable life lesson. Violence only brings more violence and rarely solves anything. By negotiating we found a solution and if we had done it before I would have saved myself a swollen jaw and a few loose teeth.
This weeks poem is about one of my daughters when she was a teenager.
In the living room four teenage girls talk
Conducting a complex matrix of interwoven conversations
In the corner of the room the television demands attention
I ask them politely to turn down the volume
My daughter tells me they would miss a favourite TV program
I suggest that watching a television is impossible
When they are all talking at once
My daughter informs me that woman can do this
I know better than to quibble with her
You can not argue with an article of faith
It forms part of her feminist catechism
Passed down from Mother to Daughter
Since the nineteen eighties
I retreat to the bathroom and wallow in the warm water
Turning up the radio to drown out the sound of the voices in my head
© Jeff Price April 2018