Suggested Audio Candy:
 N.W.A. “Straight Outta Compton (Instrumental)”
 N.W.A. “Express Yourself (Instrumental)”
 N.W.A. “Appetite For Destruction (Instrumental)”
I will never forget the day I first witnessed the strength of street knowledge. If memory serves, I was just arriving at the cusp of adolescence and rather a long way from growing into my skin. Others were developing at a much faster rate and that elusive first chest hair was still nowhere to be seen. Moreover, cool was not something I had in my repertoire. My music tastes hadn’t yet ripened beyond bubblegum pop and, while other kids in my class were parading about in their brand new Nike Airs, I had to be content with my Dunlop Green Flash. Money didn’t come easy as my family survived on disability benefits and I was one of four children. This was reflected in my clothing and didn’t bode well for me standing out from the crowd for anything other than the wrong reasons. I had just started secondary school and this was supposed to be the making of me but nothing had really worked out according to plan. Indeed, the very evening before first day, my grandmother donated me a pair of shoes and they did me no favors whatsoever.
I called these behemoths boulder bashers as they were practically indestructible and withstood more punishment than any other footwear I have ever been exposed to since. I despised them, so much so, that I made it my first and only priority to damage them at every available opportunity. Every morning I would turn up at the school gates to the tune of a thousand surreptitious snickers and comparisons to clown shoes were drawn as what little confidence I possessed started to dissipate. Apparantly you can tell a lot about a person by what they wear on their feet and I may as well have painted my face for all the credibility they bought me. Needless to say, any chances of attracting the fairer sex were promptly dashed, and so too were my hopes of amassing popularity. For the record, these shoes endured right through to the end of tenth grade and I still remember my jubilation as they eventually gave up the ghost.
However, while my boulder bashers were doing a stand up job of compromising my already insubstantial levels of cool, I was thrown a lifeline courtesy of a dash of audio enlightenment. Rap music saved me from further humiliation and I donated all my free time to becoming well versed on the scene. Of course, financial restrictions made a fat gold chain totally out of the question, but I certainly had no shortage of urban intelligence to impart on anyone willing to lend me an ear. I was desperate to be accepted by my peers and also to break my duck with the ladies. Evidently, girls took a lot more kindly to me, but not quite in the manner that I had been hoping. Like the gay friend, I presented little of a threat, and they were only too happy to share their innermost secrets with me. This led me to get my hopes up on many an occasion as I misread signals like a far-sighted air traffic controller and ended up nursing all manner of emotional abrasions.
I knew I had a spot of game but the issue was getting anyone else to see this. My cause wasn’t aided by the fact that my bandy legs were reminiscent of a newborn fawn’s and combined with my boulder bashers to leave me resembling a nine iron. Puberty eventually paid me a visit and, with its tardy arrival, something started stirring deep within me. If only there was a way to release all this pent-up sexual frustration. Indeed there was and I made the very most of every last opening to milk my solitary udder. As I turned thirteen, opportunity knocked, and I landed a job in the local video store. Being a clerk actually presented me with a slither of stature as, regardless of whether or not I was a nobody at school, any VHS rentals would now be required to go through me. Finally my first dose of power, albeit diminutive. Even the school bullies would give me the time of day, although admittedly only on their terms. Each time the bell rang for recess, I was in danger of unforeseen wedgies, just as previously. But within the sanctuary of my place of employment, I was somebody.
I’ve always been a country boy at heart and, despite the rural village I came of age in being on the outskirts of London, its population was barely eight thousand strong. It’s true what they say about places like Corringham; everyone knows everyone else’s business. One lad around my age made the mistake of spreading dog food across his penis and requesting his pet terrier lick it off, only to be caught in the act by two of his associates. Regrettably for him, news travelled fast and pariah status beckoned in no time as well as a whole host of typically beastly nicknames. Mercifully, I only had a Russian hamster, and they are known for their tendency to bite without warning, so I never sank quite so low in the pecking order. Instead, I made good of the tools at my disposal, and comedy became my guardian angel. Considering the amount of movies at my fingertips, inspiration was never once at a premium and my wicked sense of humor served me well through my remaining school years.
Not only did females find me agreeable on a platonic basis, but I also had the ability to make others laugh pretty much on command. Granted, this was often at my expense, and sliding a paper clip into a live plug socket during a Physics lecture was one of numerous examples of my new-found aptitude for comicality. But I was more than content to take the rough with the smooth if it meant that my lunch money was safe. Alas, this didn’t exactly endear me to my tutors, and I lost count of the times I was banished from the classroom for failing to take the curriculum seriously. Speaking of which, I loathed my lessons with a passion, and frittered whatever potential I had right through my scholarship experience. Years before I had been heralded as something of a child genius and this was never destined to blossom as I blamed the system for every last hardship that befell me during my teens.
When I was as young as five-years-old, I penned a short fable about dinosaurs that earned me the ultimate accolade. My tutors were so impressed by my storytelling that I was afforded the chance to present my tale to an entire assembly of kids three years older than I. While it was deemed that my grasp of the English language was exemplary for one of such tender years, mathematics also proved a strong suit. Indeed, I was fast-tracked to the curriculum of the year above, and my educators started whispering between themselves to the tune of “this one is going to go far”. So it all went to my head right? Not even, overblown ego has never been my problem. Laziness, on the other hand, has. I simply wasn’t interested in what was being peddled and, as I commenced secondary school, it was only set to accelerate further. Take mathematics for example. Sure I could balance the books but the very moment I first heard the words Pythagoras or algebra, I tuned straight onto my own frequency. 2x – 3y = –2. Really? Is this likely to benefit me in later life?
I mentioned earlier about the whole Physics Boom debacle and there’s good reason why I felt the need to conduct electricity in my own unique way. Two words – periodic table. Now I’m not about to besmirch science as some of the world’s greatest minds have made a rather fruitful career out of splitting those atoms. But it just left this particular pupil stone cold. History lectures were similarly excruciating affairs as I had no great desire to learn all about the Industrial Revolution. Rap music was already teaching me about the trials and tribulations of black people in the nineteenth century and at least they peppered my tuition with drums and snares to keep it fresh and current. Even my lecturer appeared fatigued teaching us and, all these years later, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about this particular historic event. Right across the board, there was precious little to glean that could actually prove advantageous in later life. Thus, I coasted through school and walked away with some pretty woeful grades for my ten-year stint with the education system.
Considering how much I had underachieved during school, walking into a job was not an option unless I had a predilection for flipping burgers. My parents would have been mortified so I decided the best course of action was further education. This time I would knuckle down just enough to gain any qualifications required to appease them and, moreover, other opportunities awaited. Reinvention was the key and everything appeared to be fitting into place just dandy. My part-time job in the video store afforded me the funds to upgrade my wardrobe, I knew how to raise a smile, my formerly pencil-thin getaway sticks now had a touch of definition about them, and none of the school bullies made the transition to high school. That is the one good thing about suchlike ruffians – more often than not they go directly into manual labor working for their similarly obnoxious fathers. Good riddance you callous cretins and I hope you fumble those breeze blocks and they shatter your fibulae.
The world was now my oyster and any downtrodden years now appeared to be in my slipstream. Most critically, I was now in a far better position to appreciate any life enhancements and not about to let a dash of long overdue popularity shit go to my head. I’m actually grateful for learning the hard way as it taught me some of the most crucial life lessons I have ever learnt. Had I been donated an easy ride, then I may have ended up just as hateful as the infidels who made my early teens such a sombre affair. Hindsight is a marvellous tool as long as you don’t linger on the negatives and I owe being the man I am today to growing up in Corringham. I’m now forty-one-years-old and still haven’t managed to escape the wretched place but it could be a darned sight worse. Returning here three years ago was a truly ethereal experience as, while little has changed aesthetically, that eight thousand-strong community almost entirely comprises complete strangers. In some ways, it is akin to being a ghost, but there are benefits to the anonymity this provides.
Running into old acquaintances is seldom anything other than utterly harrowing. We’ve all been there I’m sure, engaging in the kind of small talk that neither party has even the vaguest interest in, but both feel obliged to partake in. Around the midpoint of this exchange, it dawns on us that we never particularly cared for them anyhoots. It then becomes a case of endurance and, by the time one of us taps out, there appears only one logical form of closure. We swap details, perhaps friend each other on Facebook, regardless of the fact that this is the last time we are ever going to put ourselves through this ordeal. Six months later, we pass in the street, and do so with heads bowed so as not to encourage a second even more grievous reunion. Mercifully, these interactions are few and far between now as the personnel has changed considerably in the time I’ve been away.
I sometimes ponder whether or not I will breathe my very last in Corringham and the prospect brings up decidedly mixed feelings. On one hand, I would like to think that my journey is destined to end somewhere less backward and there is so much of the world that I am still yet to see. On the other, it really ain’t all that bad. I recently had a conversation with someone who left their tiny home town years ago and relocated to an entirely different part of the country. At the time they felt tremendous relief to vacate but that had changed over the years and they missed the sense of community that this intimate settlement provided. They say that home is where the heart is and, for all its shortcomings, there will always be a little of my heart reserved for Corringham, Essex even if I wind up somewhere else entirely. It was here that I attempted to lose my virginity at seventeen and failed miserably, here that I spent the best seven years of my employment sitting in a musky old video store watching Steve Martin movies, here that I took sanctuary when my whole life appeared to capitulate around me. Anyhoots, it could have been a darned sight worse. I hear Compton is a wretched place and have street knowledge to thank for that one.