I used to have the pleasure of working with a guy about ten years older than me. I viewed him as a big brother, the big brother I never had. He accepted me despite all my shortcomings, faults and immaturity. He made me feel safe and included in the workplace. I was such an emotional mess throughout most of my working life with him and yet we shared many moments of laughter together. In the six years since I left that employer I have only seen him a handful of times. Today I bumped into him. He was jogging past literally as I was stepping onto a bus. I managed to hear him say, “It’s Mark,” as a big smile lit up his face. This made me feel very emotional as he seemed genuinely pleased to see me; and that’s not a feeling I experience very often. To be remembered with fondness is one of the greatest compliments I think I could ever be paid, but to believe that of him makes it even more special to me. For he is everything I wish I was in a man. I’m not even half of what he is. To this day I still respect and admire him. And I still tear up that I’m not in his company every day.
What a year! Those were my halcyon days for sure. I was 18yrs old for some of it and 19yrs old for most of it. It was the year I first fell in love, the year I achieved my one and only ‘A’ Grade in an exam and the year I passed my driving test first time. My hair was thick, long and gorgeous, like I’d just, “stepped out of a salon.” Oasis were at the height of their powers and played Knebworth; Eidos gave us Lara Croft which made me buy a PlayStation, and just when you thought life couldn’t get any better, Capcom go and captivate my friends and I with Resident Evil. Video games have not reached those dizzy heights since, although you could possibly make a case for Grand Theft Auto 4 in 2008. And of course, football ‘came home’. None of us will forget the painful glory and what might have been at Euro ’96. I still get chills down my spine every time I listen to Baddiel and Skinner with The Lightening Seeds.
Of course I remember the fever, the excitement, Gazza’s goal against Scotland and his ‘dentist chair’ celebration. I remember thrashing Holland and Stuart Pearce scoring ‘THAT’ penalty against Spain, allowing him to exorcise his demons from 1990. But what sticks in my mind the most is the semi-final against Germany at Wembley. There were about 6 of us lads crammed into a mate’s bedroom to watch the game with room temperature lager aplenty. For a wonderful little while we thought we would win through Alan Shearer’s goal, only for Stefan KUNTZ to equalize and take it to extra-time. Then of course we had the rollercoaster of Gazza’s miss by millimeters and Gareth Southgate’s Pizza Hut audition. What had the most impact was the silence amongst us lads afterwards. No-one could speak because If we had have tried, we would have all cried. So we sat in the dark, completely silent for about 30 minutes. It was a very emotionally powerful and draining night. We carried our faith and dreams into that room that night and placed them in the hands of 11 Englishmen, whom did us proud and didn’t let us down; apart from that cunt Southgate of course!
Some great movies were released in 1996. The ‘Scream’ franchise was born, and for me the first film still retains the award for best opening scene to any movie ever; “Which door am I at?” ‘Trainspotting’ was also released, and without ever trying heroin, managed to put me off it for life.
Cinema trips that year included ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Ransom’.
We had some great music too and we had the Spice Girls. Okay, I’ll ‘fess up’, whilst I dislike them all now, it was impossible to deny or escape them then. They were different and provided the soundtrack for everyone’s life that year between September and the Christmas No.1. I absolutely loved the ‘Britpop’ scene. The music will forever remain indelibly embedded in my memory as the soundtrack to that wonderful transition from adolescence into adulthood. Do you remember getting your pay packet actually in your hand, every week in an envelope with coins and everything?! Do you remember going to the pub and spending it all on Fosters, Stella, Two Dogs and Hooch? Do you remember going down to Our Price or Fun House Records and buying albums for less than a tenner each? Do you remember going up Oxford Street and getting yourself some Ben Sherman shirts and ‘Chipie’ Jeans? Drowning yourself in original Joop, smoking copious amounts of cigarettes with no detrimental effect on your health whatsoever, and eating junk food by the truckload but still staying a 36″ waist? To go shopping in 1996 I would have to go to Canterbury. There was no internet then as we know it now. There were no ubiquitous shopping malls and designer outlets. If you wanted a poster on your wall or a ‘Friends’ video and mug, you had to find your nearest city and bus it on the ‘park and ride’.
It would be very hard to decide on the ‘song of the year’, but for the purposes of this blog I shall have to plump for Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. It was a huge number 1 smash, Keith frightened the crap out of everyone in the video and us ’19 somethings’ would play it in the car all the time. You see, for most of that year, only one person in our group of friends could actually drive. Most afternoons and evenings were spent cramming 4 or 5 of us into a Rover Metro and cruising around Thanet aimlessly, hoping to pick up chicks and shoot cyclists and students with huge ‘Super Soaker’ water guns. Another great evening was had driving about and putting fake notes to the milkman in people’s empty bottles on their doorsteps. Some poor families that summer had no milk for 3 weeks and some got way too much, along with yoghurts and fresh chickens too. If I had to pick an artist synonymous with 1996 I would go with ‘Kula Shaker’. Who could forget ‘Tattva’ and ‘Hey dude’?
So what’s your favourite year and why? Do yourself a favour and take a trip down memory lane. You’ll be surprised at who you might meet again.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the value of a best friend. They are invaluable. They are essential for you to develop and grow as a person, they are in effect, a mirror that can talk back to you. They’re like the Yellow Pages, but they’re not just there for the good things in life, like an unblocked drain or fly fishing. They’re also there for the nasty things too. They will prop you up when you can no longer stand; they will listen to you when you’re frustrated, and they’ll help you see other points of view when all you have is tunnel vision.
They are also an integral part of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. Maslow was a psychologist, who theorized that for all humans to achieve their full potential, coined, “self-actualization,” we need to pass through a sequential set of stages, each one needing to be in place before being able to achieve the next. After ‘physiological’ and ‘safety’ needs are met, we then yearn to love and be loved, to engage in intimate relationships and enjoy a sense of belonging. This is where your best friend comes in. Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by our own thoughts or they become distorted and affect our perceptions of reality around us. This is where a best friend will listen and talk problems through with you, so you can become well adjusted and more informed. You could say they act like unpaid counsellors at times.
I’m very lucky to have such a person, whom I can rely on and depend upon in an hour of need. Best friends represent the closest one can ever get to being totally themselves with another person. You don’t have to see them every day, or even talk to them every day. You have a chemistry, a history and a bond, that transcends time and geography. It is not something you really have to mention or acknowledge, it’s a feeling. But as last week the marketing and advertising industries had us coerced into telling our romantic partners we love them, perhaps this weekend it would be appropriate that we ring/text or see our best friends, and tell them how much we love and appreciate them.