As a child, I was mad on the All Creatures Great and Small books and TV series. Thinking being a vet would be a great career, I tried to practise my techniques on my cat. Unfortunately, unlike my friend’s dog who was perfectly happy to be wrapped in bandages from head to tail and prescribed Smarties for medicinal purposes, my cat was made of sterner stuff. Any attempts to put his paw into a sling would be met with a firm claws-bared whack.
Then I became a teenager and realised that a vet’s life would be a lot harder than it appeared on the telly, especially without Tristan, with his jolly japes and drunken pranks to make it more fun, and getting up in the middle of a cold winter’s night to stick my hand up a sheep’s backside was not something that really appealed.
Instead I found a new obsession in music magazines such as NME, Kerrang! and Record Mirror. Yes, of course, Smash Hits too but that didn’t fit into my hip image so I didn’t carry that one around, waiting for strangers to notice and nod appreciatively, ‘Look, she reads NME. She’s so cool’.
I would wait impatiently for the next issue, eagerly stopping off on my way home from school to pick up my ordered copy, having previously completed and cut out the little subscription form – y’know, Dear Mr Newsagent, please reserve me a copy of Britain’s hottest pop mag – that means SMASH HITS – every fortnight until further notice from the next issue.
I mentioned doing this to my teenage daughter.
‘What, you went and handed in a form at Waitrose like a saddo?’
‘No, not Waitrose, a newsagent. A little shop that just sold newspapers and magazines and sweets. And it wasn’t sad.’
‘Why didn’t you just do an online subscription and get it delivered?’
‘Because, FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, the internet didn’t exist.’
Muttered under breath as walking away: ‘Loser.’
Rushing home with my coveted mag, I would read it feverishly from cover to cover, devouring it as completely as the packet of Breakaways I had snuck up to my room. Ah, what joyful days before we learnt about healthy eating. Children today might have iPad’s and Play Stations but I’d never heard of saturated fat or bad carbohydrates and could munch guilt-free on endless Penguin bars or packets of Skips. That beats Instagram hands down.
Lying on my bed, gazing up at my poster of Simon le Bon Bon, I would fantasise about bands playing gigs in glamorous places like New York, Sydney or Milton Keynes. For some reason, I didn’t picture myself actually in a band. Instead my dream was to work as a music journalist: travelling the world, reviewing records (Daughter: ‘What’s a record?’ Me: ‘A round thing you would play to get music to come out. Like a big black CD’. Daughter: ‘CD???’), attending concerts and interviewing bands. Naturally, all the stars would all fall madly in love with me and try to win me, but I would be a free spirit who couldn’t be tamed by a mere rock god, and would be known for my beauty and mystery throughout the music world. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting this fantasy just right. It sure beat reading Silas Marner.
During Careers Week, I revealed this ambition to my form teacher, Miss Smith, (obviously leaving out the part about being worshipped by rock stars), hoping for some encouragement and assistance. Miss Smith had white hair that she’d started having shampooed and set twice a week in the 1950s and saw no reason to stop now, a different coloured twin-set for each day of the week, and (we were convinced) a sexual obsession with Shakespeare. This being a Monday, she was wearing the pastel blue combo, her hair freshly teased into a candy-floss helmet. Staring at me incredulously, her lip curled with contempt, she spat out, ‘A music journalist? YOU? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you can’t do that.’
If this was some reverse psychology method of motivating me to reach my full potential, it didn’t work.
At the grammar school I attended, if you didn’t fall into the academic, jolly hockey sticks mould, they didn’t really know what to do with you. Except ask you to leave as soon as they possibly could. Information about courses, jobs and opportunities was a lot harder to find in the 1980s. A quick Google search in 2014 brings up hundreds of hits for music journalism, from NVQs and degree courses to level-entry jobs, internships and the best ways to break into the business. Compare that to the ‘Careers Section’ of my school library: half a shelf, tucked between Biology and Chemistry, with a few dusty university prospectuses and not much else.
Nowadays, if I were a 15 year old with music business ambitions who received poor advice from a teacher, I’d think, ‘Up yours, you ugly crone’, start a music blog (BarbedBands? Barb & the Bands?? You get the idea), review a few gigs, make an online music programme on Youtube before being discovered and getting my own MTV show, marrying Harry Styles and taking to the celeb lifestyle like Jesse Pinkman to meth.
However, back in 1985, lacking the foresight to invent the Internet and have all this available to me, I pretty much just gave up on my dream. I wasn’t someone who hung out with bands, writers or creative sorts and didn’t have the confidence or daring to just make things happen. My ‘guidance’ from my teacher left me pretty crushed and I went on to spectacularly fail my O levels and leave school at 16, spending several years travelling and working in a series of crappy jobs before finally going to uni at 24. (And getting a first. Suck it, teacher biatch.)
Sadly, by then I’d forgotten about my dream and opted to study business and marketing, then enter the corporate world – the complete antithesis of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
So, without sounding like a Degrassi Street after-school special, when my children say that they want to be an astronaut or an actress, I always tell them to go for it. It doesn’t even matter if they reach their dream or change their goals on the way. As long as they’re having fun and following a passion, not working in a Dilbert cubicle staring at a monitor for eight hours a day. Been there, my friends. Not fun. Although, in hindsight, having The Verve line You’re a slave to money then you die as my screen saver probably didn’t make it any better.
Ok, I’m off to finish editing my book so I never have to care about the WENUS*.
*Friends joke – please tell me you get it, or I’m not sure if we can still be friends…