Everything was always better in the Spring.
No more sitting around at the ice rink for hours on end, too poor to actually buy a ticket to skate. No more hiding under the ramps at the skate park, sheltering from the elements. No more standing outside the off licence in the pouring rain, begging strangers to go into the shop for us and get us a bottle of vodka.
The arrival of Spring equalled one thing: PARKS.
From the tiny local park with the pond (containing a supermarket trolley but no ducks), to the biggest parks in London, as soon as the weather vaguely resembled springtime us youths would take over any and every green space on offer.
Aged 14, sitting in French class, sunlight flooding the room, I’d pass a note to my friend. “Fuck this, I want to go outside!!” A reply would swiftly arrive on my desk – “Park? Let’s go now, we’ll tell Sir we’ve both got period pains.” And with that we’d run out of school, go to the shop and buy tobacco and ice lollies, and skip off to the park. After getting suitably high and claiming the swingset, hours would pass and we’d head home at dusk without a care in the world.
Parent: Where the bloody ‘ell ‘ave you been?
Sometimes there would be loads of us. I mean, 40, 50, 60 of us, from all the different state schools in the area. The boys would play football, and fight, and collect wood to build a fire, and drink whisky from the bottle and roll supersize spliffs. The girls would lounge about on the grass, shoes off, gossiping about the boys, t-shirts rolled up in a desperate bid to tan our pale stomachs, smoking Mayfairs and drinking cherry schnapps.
More friends would arrive, with a bottle of gin from granddad’s cabinet and 32 cans of IPA that they’d stolen from Tesco. We’d climb up onto the roof of the Pavillion and the boys would teach us girls how to skateboard. There’d be awkward teenage kisses as the sun set behind the trees. Whoever’s birthday was closest, we’d toast to them (“Happy Birthday for 3 weeks time, Harry!”) and use their upcoming birthday as an excuse to pop ecstasy pills and stay in the fields ’til dawn.
Sometimes it was just me and the boys. The girls would have curfew or babysitting or homework to do so couldn’t always spend long evenings in the park getting high with the guys they’ve known since they were 4. I didn’t have any of these things, I had no rules, so could do whatever I wanted. I spent so many nights in the park with my friends, guzzling cheap cider and laughing ’til my face hurt.
Sometimes we didn’t even make it to the park. We’d just hang around, in the car park, on the stairs behind the kebab shop, on the war memorial, on the bench at the bottom of the street. It’s difficult now to think about what we actually did during all those hours. Just hanging about getting high, I suppose. Oh, the glory days.
Spring was supposed to mean exams. But for those of us who came from broken homes and generally didn’t give a fuck about school, Spring meant one thing: ALMOST SUMMER, ALMOST SUMMER HOLIDAYS, 6 WEEKS OF NO SCHOOL!
The arrival of Spring also meant a change in term-time fashion. Us girls stopped wearing those unflattering baggy jumpers and itchy woolen tights to school. Instead, clumpy loafers were replaced with impractical ballerina flats. We rolled our skirts up an extra two or three inches, making them ridiculously short, barely covering our arses. Fake tan would be applied liberally to our thighs (the rest of our legs would remain white, covered by our black or white over-the-knee socks). Cutesy vest tops were worn under our school blouses, to be seen when we unbuttoned our shirts after school. Glittery eye make-up and blonde highlights were deemed essential. Plus big hoop earrings, a dangly bellybutton stud and a diamond crucifix on a rusty chain, the bigger the better. The smell of 50 different body sprays mingled in the school corridors, a reflection of our pubescent anxiety about one’s body odour after sweating during phys ed. We were so shallow, so carefree.
Ah, Spring. We went to every park in a 10 mile radius. We built rope swings over the river. We played drunk rounders. We played Spin The Bottle. We kissed in the children’s playground. We got locked in by the park keeper. We climbed trees. We were free.
By the time we were 16, things had changed. Those of us who had fake ID started to hang out in pubs. Some of us moved to different colleges. Some of us started working full-time. Some of us began to get serious about school, deciding to study for A-Levels and apply for university. Some of us moved to a different part of the country. Some of us fell out.
Once the last of us had turned 18, it was all over. Grownups. Now the arrival of Spring means a new financial year, a general election, failing to get on the property ladder, and the start of the wedding season. The arrival of Spring means the start of the rest of our lives.