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Publication: The Face, cover story, March 2000

Daddy, who were the Stone Roses?

Teen 2000: There are 5,250,000 teenegars in Britain. On Saturday 15 January 2000, the Face travelled the country and spoke to 1,000 of them

Oliver's Cafe, Cheap Street, Sherborne, Saturday January 15, 2.30pm

At Sherborne Boys School for in Dorset, the rules are simple enough to grasp.

"Basically," tuts 16-year-old A-level student Will Mclachlan, "Girl Power is bollocks. Now, if you go for a women who's affected by this Girl Power thing, they're like, 'No, I'm not going to let you pinch my arse.' Women: know your place!"

His mate Charlie Benham look up from his mobile phone and agrees. "These days, it's the women choosing the men," he grumbles. "The problem is, as soon as you start going out with someone, the girls are all like, [super keen] 'How's It Going!?!' the whole time. It becomes really commercial, yeah?"

Will and Charlie are boarding pupils at the 350-year-old, £16,000 per year school, a traditionally-minded institution that has rule against most things 16-year-olds might want to do: no fags, beer or drugs, and sex with girls is punishable by expulsion (or, it's rumoured, suspension if the girl happens to be a boy). These new politics of copping off? Troublesome, mate. More rules are categorically not what's needed.

These are the worst of times to be a teenage boy: you can't drink, vote or bet yet, your female counterparts are consistently outperforming you at GCSE level, you're scapegoated for the rise in urban crime, the delinquent thrills of wheel, boards and balls you once thought your own now co-opted by people who won't admit they're no longer young. The future is an infinity of boredom stretching before you. Admit it: you're in even more trouble than normal.

According to a different set of rules, however, these are the best of times to be a teenage boy: economic wealth at your fingertips; empowering new media and technologies self-generating faster than your own sperm; a bouyant market for the computer skills you're insticntively honing; an infinity of opportunities stretching before you. No wonder everyone wants to be a teenage boy. You've never had it so good!

Adolescence: it's a confusing time for all of us. It's fifty years since the teenager stopped being mere sociology and became living, breathing, swearing, shrugging reality, an entire demographically-specific mode of being with its own disposable income to fritter, impenetrable code of language and a blatant disregard for what its worried parents thought.

Fifty years later, the kids aren't necessarily "alright". They aren't necessarily in deep trouble either. The problem is that Britain's ranks of teenage boys all are becoming all the more difficult to locate on the cultural radar. Predictably, the first people to notice were those with the most to lose, namely the advertising industry. Where once you could rely on the marketeers to tell you everything you'd rather not know about teenage boys, it seems they recently awoke to discover that one of their demographics had left home. Their patterns of consumption had changed. The boys were acting wierd. Soho, we have a problem...

But more troublingly, amid the new orthodoxies of adolescence - the dismissal of mainstream political systems for single-issue activism, the replacement of traditional religions with a belief in a vague but complex "something", emotional sophistication at a younger age and an increasingly conservative disposition - a gloomier shift has been detected, in which teenage boys are reacting badly to this age of personalized insecurity. Faced the rise of inner-city violence and the empowerment of women, and no longer certain of a job for life, boys are increasingly showing signs of nervousness and self-consciousness once more closely associated with teenage females. One media agency has even published a report entitled "Are Men the New Women?". These days, boy will be boys, though increasingly they'll actually be girls.

Adolescent males in crisis? It has to be admitted that Britain's teenagers are being mysterious and contradictory beyond the call of duty. Would the real teenage boys please stand up?


Safeway car park, Malvern Links, Worcestershire, Wednesday 19 January, 7.00pm

WHAT do the lads do for fun in "Great" Malvern?

"Well, last time we went out skating, I landed on my head," laughs 16-year-old rollerblader Michael Gogerty. "I couldn't move my neck for a week."

According to the ten-man MASS - Malvern Aggressive Skate Scene, average age 15 - extreme sports are the only way to deal with the extreme normality of their home, a town of 38,000 inhabitants whose prosperity was built on a Victorian spa and the twentieth century defence industry. These days, though, the town proliferates with charity shops and the only sport store has closed. Malvern, reckon Mass, is a dull place with stupid people. Example: presented with a choice of manufacturers' quotes, local sports councillor Jack Lemon opted to buy for the "dearest, but shittest" half-pipe - der! - after six months months of MASS's agonised lobbying to get one built.

As a consequence, at weekends MASS redeploy to skateparks in Worcester, Bristol, Derby and Birmingham, and noisily carve out the complicated moves - grinds, rail jumps, allez-oop fishbrains, royales, soyales and roof jumps up to the current record of 8ft - of a kind that keep the demand for orthopaedic surgeons in the NHS strong.

Tonight being a chilly school night and Malvern lacking a skatepark, Safeway's carpark doesn't afford escape from the permanent affront to the bladers' sensibility that are "the Bos": Malvern's patroling Boy racer fraternity, who figure marginally lower than skateboarders on the MASS evolutionary index. At the corner of the carpark that's this evening's competition ground, Michael Gogerty kicks off his Duffs trainers, pulls his tent-sized Roces jeans down over his blades and pauses to list the Bos' principal crimes: 1. "surgically-implanted" caps. 2. tight jeans with mobile hitched on the belt and tops tucked in. 3. cheesy "dreamscape" in-car soundtracks. 4. thinking tinted windows, alloy wheels, modified Cosworths and Novas are cool.

"The Bos are mamof round here,' he stutters, 'mamof' meaning everywhere. "It's well dodgy: they've all got cars and they're, like, 19, but they all go out with girls from year 9 who are only about 13!"

Neverthless, Malvern's girls are apparently choosy over which of the carpark-dwelling tribes they associate with, appearing to be more impressed by donuts and burnouts than grinds and royales.

"Girls can go and jump in a bin," Ralphie returns, wobbling knock-kneed along the kerb. "You don't need to go out with girls. You can meet them at party, get off with them and leave it at that. Girls are good: when you want them there."

"I had a job and a girlfriend, and I had no time to skate," points out Carl. "Then I lost my job and my girlfriend finshed with me." He beams. "Now I can skate."

In the face of such crassly mainstream company of the Bos and their embrace of high street culture, it falls to MASS to bear the standard of 'alternative' in Malvern, even if it's an alternative that's widely available as Korn, Machine Head, Limp Bizkit or Eminem downloads for their Diamond Rio MP3 players, or through a subscription to 'Blade' or 'DNA' skating magazines, or for the price of Salomon, Puberty and Shifty bladewear the constitutionally untucked gang all wear. But, it seems, some kind solidarity counts for a lot these days.

"I've have got female friends and they get A stars, they're good at sport, good-looking," explains Michael. "It's really annoying. Girl Power is commercial bollocks, but the fact is they are going to get the jobs. Employers think they can trust girls and they don't think they can trust boys."

Currently, a more pressing issue the wrath of the Safeway security guard who's marching across the car park. Hassle beckons. Ross has towed a pair of bare-knuckle bladers past the store entrance on the back of his Yamaha moped one time too many and a stern shooing-off is in order. Frantically grabbing trainers and Eastpak rucksacks, MASS instantly retreat and V-sign Mr Safeway from afar.

'Thing is, no-one wants to skate here, but no-one consulted us about the half-pipe,' Ralphie later announces amid a bomsbite of burger wrappers in the adjacent McDonalds. "Jack Lemon's a wanker".

The issues that matter in Malvern are U-shaped, and prompting on others yields little more than the collective MASS shrug. Drugs are "stupid: they make you skint and knackered". GM food is "alright as long as it tastes nice". And politics? Britain's leaders may be interested to learn that nine out of ten bladers expressed no political preference whatsoever. Meanwhile, the dissenting voice, 16-year-old Arran, would like to take this opportunity to address Tony Blair: "What the fuck are you playing at? Get it sorted."

As the bladers of MASS will tell you, you've got to fight for your right to a new half-pipe. Even if you fight for little else.

"There's not a lot else to do here. It's a bit pathetic really," notes Micheal's brother Will, who is 13.


Scott's house, Arley, Warwickshire, Saturday 2.30pm

Liberation comes GTi-shaped for the max powerless of Arley, an ex-mining village consisting of three shops, three pubs and several streets and surrounded by fields and crumbling mine workings. Among the sheds and bins behind the redbrick terrace where Scott lives, three lads with earrings, battered Adidas trainers and hair gel and are clocking the village's greatest civic treasures: a tangerine VW Polo, lowered, bodykitted, with alloys, Team Dynamics exhaust and a skull gear stick. It is declared "mint," by Paul, 16, Charlie, 15 and Scott Glover, 16. A street away is a "proper sports car" we also peer into: a cherry red Toyota GT, 6-inch exhaust, £16,000. On work experience, Scott drove one of these around the garage until his boss started acting the twat and Scott told him to fuck off. The episode was concluded when Scott's dad, who's been a bouncer, went round and banged him.

For the time being, the disembowelled Kawasaki KX 125 scrambler Scott's rebuilding in his uncle's shed, outside which several other permamently crippled motorbikes are rusting, will have satisfy his taste for torque.

  "The meaning of life is to have fun, isn't it?" Scott theorises as Paul and Charlie poke through motorbike magazines the shed also houses. "It's about booting it, putting you foot on the floor and watching the rev counter fly around, knowing you've got loads of power. Doing donuts: you whack the steering round, rev the bollocks of it and dump the clutch out. "

Aside from the all-too-infrequent squeal of fat tyres on post-industrial wasteground, Arley is a deafeneingly quiet place, the silence hanging most densely over three of its sons. A village fractured by the miner's strike of the Eighties, the cruel socio-economics of life have pressed the pause button of their lives: adrift between the regimented ignominy of school - Paul has already left, Charlie was expelled for punching a teacher, Scott is battling for his engineering GNVQ - and being granted driving licences, there's little to do in Arley except wait. Here, choice is expressed between a shared Lambert & Butler and a rip on Ricky Carmichael's Motocross on PlayStation.  They might occasionally smoke a bit of weed, but harbour a deep scepiticism about most other drugs, on account of what happened to Charlie's sister. "She had the thing they put cows to sleep with? Ketamine, is it? All one side of her face was went down there, like that," he mimes. "Haff her maff waf like vat!" She sounded funny: I just laughed. She were alright after a week."

Still, the dream is to be able to drive to Milton Keynes to hear DJ Si, M-Zone and Producer lay down thumping hardcore at the Helter Skelter mega-raves soon. Most poeple "drug it" there, Paul explains.

Paul: "I'd go everywhere if I had a car. I'd got to the cruises. It's just freedom, innit."

"But you'd just go in Nuneaton and pull donuts all day wouldn't yer?" Charlie interrupts

"Yeah! In the multi-storey carparks there's loads of mint cars, booting it round, ripping the handbrakes up..." Scott contemplates.

The zippy thrills of the future might not have to wait. Just as they could tell you where to get hold of chipped Nokia phones with unlimited talktime for £160, fake tax discs, MOTs and insurance aren't too difficult to come by. What the law defines as Taking cars Without Owner's Consent is something of a pastime with mates of theirs down in Nuneaton. TWOCing's not for them, they insist, but apparently it's dead easy. Max Power even decribed how you can break into an Escort using a carrot.

"Criminals-to-be, this lot," assures Scott's 21-year-old sister Kelly, glowering at her brother and his mates. "And if it's Scott who's nicked first, he'll have no teeth left."

Paul, for one reckons he'll get into trouble - car crime probably, - in the next year. "We're all thick up here," he laughs, nervously checking Charlie and Scott for confirmation.

 They're out drinking tonight - a bottle of vodka each at someone's house is the preferred routine- and enjoying their status as the Arley pin-ups, some consolation that their immediate horizons seem to be truncated just beyond the turning off for Nuneaton up the road where thge village peters out and fields and slagheaps begin.

"We do have a laugh, but it seems to involve trouble," says Scott, fastening his skeletal Kawasaki into the shed. On pain of a more than thumping from his big sister, you suspect he wishes it didn't.


The music room, Sherborne, Saturday January 15, 4pm

Though rock & roll isn't listed among the many activities in the school prospectus, at Sherborne it's possible to beef up your CV and kick out the jams at the same time. Thus, Desert Storm, the band Charlie and Will recently formed with their Barbadian friend Rhys is is an excuse for extreme yoof terror on poorly-tuned guitars as well as being a valuable "career opportunity".

 Will and Charlie, too, are "heavily into" Slipknot, Machine Head, Marylin Manson, Korn, Metallica and Eminem, the homogenised voice for mildly pissed off white kids, and while they cautiously hope to pursue careers as artist and graphic designer respectively, Saturday afternoon involves cranking through covers of US metal that MTV has decreed it's okay to rebel along to. Currently, vague plans for the band at the moment extend as far as writing some of their own stuff. Get signed? Maybe. Desert Storm's relevance to the present, is twofold:

"There will be a few girls who'll like it," Charlie, who's the singer, decides. "But not many."

"And we're gonna cause a storm,' winks guitarist Will, adjusting his Metal Zone footpedal. "We're taking a different approach. No-one's at Sherborne has ever played heavy metal before: they all play [with savage disdain] popular rock like Green day and Nirvana."

Are you going to change the world with it?

"We're trying to do stuff that most people would reject? It's sort of like a type of anarchy, really. Like, I'm anarchistic through my A-level artwork. Hur hur: fuck the school! And we're getting people who normally wouldn't like Machine Head, to really just rock out. And they're gonna be affected by it..."

"I reckon people will really go insane," Charlie grins to Will. They're working hard on Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" and Metallica's "Wasting My Hay". Their first gig is three weeks away.

As practically any activity at Sherborne that's not designed to build young chaps into overachieving professionals looked upon as deeply suspect, if not positively ruinous, the plushly appointed music room is the only place in Sherborne where it's acceptable to wallow in feedback, read the NME and describe yourself as "un-rugby". As if to prove the point, the upper sixth form band Red Shift soon arrive and perform a depressingly competent version of Guns N' Roses' 'Sweet Child Of Mine'. Nexy to Will and Charlie's painstakingly dishevelled DMs and trenchcoats, the scrubbed and hockey-shirted fellows of Red Shift look strikingly unhip. Rock & roll one, Sherborne nil.

"There aren't really any people who are different in this school," Charlie whispers, heavily conspiratorial as he packs up his guitar leads up.

Later, the band shamble off into the town centre with the prospect of spending Saturday night's joint disco with the affilliated Sherborne Girls school, a tediously segregated affair with a blatant prejudice against Coal Chamber and in favour Shania Twain and Britney Spears. It's either that or trying to find a pub free of the patrolling teachers and avoiding the attentions of Sherborne's state school headbangers.

We stop outside The George, Sherborne's "hardest pub".

"The fucking stress of this town..." Charlie sighs, gesturing beyond its front door. "If we were to go in there, we'd get our heads kicked in. There's a jealousy/hate thing - the Gryphon school hates us. Last term they were joyriding round town, trying to run us over. Seriously. The teachers warned us to stay off the streets.'

Persinal injury is one thing, but with blood on the collar and alcohol on the breath, a grounding or an expulsion would be quite another. Like so much at Sherborne, fighting the power remains an academic science and one that's simply costly to pursue.

"It's a very sheltered life here, I know," Charlie conludes. "I want to take a gap year to see how difficult life is. Here, we worry about what the next rule will be, not the next law."


It was once the touchstone of teenage culture that rules existed to be broken. But for the 16-year-old boys of today - and hence the 18-year-olds of election year 2002 - the notion of radical youth is evaporating as quickly their material wealth is growing. According to a recent survey of 18-year-olds, 87 per cent of the sample said they approved of their parents' lifestyle and 43 per cent supported the arming of police while home-ownership and marriage were also overwhelmingly favoured. Add to that a 750 per cent increase in the male style press and as many as 240 TV channels now available in the UK, and it doesn't take a sociologist to figure out that the surfeit of choice may bring more options, but allows scarce opportunity to opt out and find their own path.

"Being an individual", meanwhile, was also the principal remit of youth. But in marketing terms at least, "youth" is now a mindset instead of an age range, and most shades of teenage behaviour have been appropraited and remarketed as shrink-wrapped lifestyles available at all major stores. These days, every member of Britain's ageing population can be a teenage boy. It's therefore hardly surprising that teens themselves are invisible amid the ranks of grown men pursuing a fantasy of youth with Dreamcasts, snowboards and illicit substances. Where does it leave the young when their youth is no longer their own?


• The year 2000 according to Michael Gogerty, 16

I'll try and get the best grades I can and try to get into technical college, and do a GNVQ; I don't know what in though. After college, I'd like to take a year out and travel; I was born in South Africa so I'd like to see what that's like, then Europe and America, definitely New York. I'd like to snowblade where it's snowy and skate where it's warmer. I've thought about so many things I fancy doing and decided weren't for me. Everyone in my family is clever and there's a pressure to do as well as them; I'll be the only boy that's isn't head boy form the last few generations. You feel as if you're letting it down, but I've had learning prpblems. I've been told by my family that going into a trade would be good - a lot of the people with nice cars and houses have been in the trades, and seem to do really well. You think it's normal to do A-levels and then go to university, but it doesn't always happen like that. I feel really restricted that I'm not as clever as I'd like to be, but it's just the way it goes. 

• The year 2000 according to Scott Glover, 16.

At the moment, fixing cars and getting some money would improve the quality of my life the most. What I wannna do is keep to the end of school, get sorted out for a work-based training, try and hang on there for a bit, see how it goes fixing cars, then if that goes alright, get a job fixing cars and get some money. I think I've got a good chance of getting a job. I think I'm likely to break the law as well, driving without a licence or getting caught on a motorbike. If the police stop you, you get accused of things you haven't done. I'd like to get a flat with some mates as well, probably in Arley because there's here's about 15 members of my family in Arley, so I'd like to stay. It's where I've always lived. Or down Nuneaton. It does worry me that I'll end up like the criminals round here, in prison. I mean, I don't want to. It's stupid, thieving cares, dodgy licences, drugs and all that. You can decide something for now, but you can't really decide something for the rest of your life.

• The gap year plans of Charlie Benham, 16

I'll work in a pub or get a job somewhere and in the summer I'm going to Indo for some surfing - Indonesia, that is - then I'll go to Barbados to see my friend from the band and stop off in Jamaica because we often go there as a family, then go to Venezuela to see a friend, then across to India and Goa and then across to Thailand and then to Australia where I'll probably do some surfing down the east coast. Then I'll got to uni somewhere. I'd like to go to Bristol because a lot of my mates are going to Bristol. And, I dunno, study graphic design or journalism? But if our band works out really well and we start composing stuff, maybe sign a record deal. If it doesn't work out I'd quite like to make some stuff like LTJ Bukem or Goldie, drum & bass or something like that. I'm studying art for A-level but I don't want to resign myself to fine art. I'd definitely want to be an artist, if I had the guarantee of being really well paid, am worried about finance. I want to have a secure future.

© Kevin Braddock 2000

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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