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Costa Coffee, New Oxford Street

What three words would you use to describe what troubled you during your adolescence?

Integration, affection, and adulthood.

Integration's a good word choice.

Yeah, I don't care so much now, but for me between 10 and 15 it was a big part of what I was worried about. It sounds like I just mean social integration, but I also mean feeling like you're part of something. When you're at that age you don't have much else to worry about. Integration is a major factor of life. Everyone's life at that point is in the same structure; you might go a different school in different place, but you're still going to school, you know? I think integration is a universal thing to think about at that point. Towards the end of that period though, around age 16, it morphed from wanting social integration to wanting affection.

Affection from who?

Having a relationship basically. It's basic in a way, but I always imagined I'd have a relationship at that sort of age. Before that age it's all games and kiddy stuff, but I wanted to feel something deep. It's connected to the integration stuff, it's about having people show that they care about you I guess.

I think some people would assume just based on the word that you were talking about parental affection.

Yeah, and I think if I were psychoanalysing myself that's maybe due to how my parents gave me affection. It felt like it wasn't enough, so I needed it in a more obvious form.

Do you mean obvious as in... maybe there's an element of being obvious to other people as well?

Yeah, definitely. My parents were affectionate, but not in an obvious way. I think that's why I was craving it.

If you could visit your birth and give your parents some advice for how to raise you differently, what would you ask them to change?

It would be to be more physically affectionate. It's not like they didn't hug me, but I craved physical affection more than they gave me. You know those things that tell you what your love language is? I think for me it's pretty obvious that it's physical. I'm high maintenance in that aspect.

And nowadays do you find yourself being more attracted to people who are physical?

Oh yeah, absolutely. It almost... I don't know, it seems like quite a simple thought but I've never connected those things. When someone reciprocates physical attention with me, it completely grabs my attention. I think there's got to be a correlation between someone like that and someone who's caring and kind.

Are your parents still together?

No, they broke up when I was quite young. My memory is patchy of when they were together, and it's hard to remember them as a cohesive couple. They're separate entities in my mind. In the last few years of their relationship it was going that way anyway. Even when we were living in the same house, they knew they were going to go their separate ways. It's weird for me to think of a family day out, like them two and me. I realise now that they had separate bedrooms, maybe for the last 2 or 3 years of their relationship. I mean, that says a lot really doesn't it? I don't know if that was before or after the official divorce process started, but what I do know is that my mum is the one who went for it. She set the legislation in motion.

But he knew about it?

That's the thing, he didn't know until it came through the post. He got the post, went to wherever she was in the house, opened the post, and then saw what it was. He just went, "poor (interviewee's name)." And I think he said it multiple times. Obviously I've heard this story from my mum, but I believe that's what the exchange was like. It sounds quite heart-breaking, but they weren't on talking terms.

Do you remember what you felt like in that moment?

It's weird to say, but I don't remember how I felt. I remember packing up all our things to leave the house, and my mum saying to me "this is your last day in this house." I cried and hugged the walls of the living room. But the rest of it is hazy.

It's interesting how you've chosen your 3 words chronically. One word for each period of time during adolescence. 

It's not as cut and dry as that. Integration was an ongoing thing, even if that was under the surface. I always try and place things in time. It's hard to sum up in words the third part of my adolescence. The main thing I haven't addressed yet is what I was 16, 17, 18, I felt an internal pressure to meet the standards of what I should've been doing at that stage. 

I was expecting you to say a pressure of being ahead of your time. As in being 16, but feeling the pressure of being a 20 year old.

No, because I always felt behind. In fact, I think I was behind. Always. I feel like... (chuckles). It sounds weird but I feel like life peaks earlier than it's supposed to. I like the bit where you're an adult but you don't have the responsibilities of being an adult yet. That's quite a narrow window of time, but you can live as a kid but have the rights of an adult.

And there's a part of you that wants to say that that's when you peaked?

That's my favourite time. Of course I had problems then, but life was pretty decent then. Adulthood to me is like "it's the same as before, but now you've got these problems." Some people revel in those things, they like being independent, but I think it just adds more to your plate.

It's a pretty profound thing to be bothered by adulthood before you get there.

A lot of my life 10 to 15 was thinking "oh, I'll do this and that when I'm an adult." My whole mentality was not being bothered by it, because that was my time to be a kid. I knew that in 10 years time, that would be my time to be responsible. I used to play Xbox a lot, like a real gamer, you know? It was a huge part of my life, and it sounds tragic, but that was my social life as much as face-to-face conversation. But the point I'm getting at is this: I haven't played games for a year and a half now, and even that was for about 10 minutes. I actively don't game any more, it's an active decision. It was okay for me then. I remember thinking "of course I can do this stuff now, because I'm not an adult yet."

And now if you were to sit down and play games would there be an overwhelming guilt?

Yeah, I get guilt! I get guilt. 

Guilt of wasting time?

Yes, that is exactly it. Because now I'm in another phase, and its value is very limited so I just don't bother. I want to use my rights of being able to do whatever I want as an adult, rather than play Xbox.

Do you feel like you do use those rights?

When I'm in London, yeah. Going home is time for recovery. It's almost like delivering on a promise of my younger self.

Living up to your expectations of your younger self.

Yeah, so I feel pressured, and that pressure keeps me going.

I just want to say that these interviews are usually around 30 minutes, and we've been going 50 so far and I feel like we're just getting into it. This is a good one (chuckles).

We can skip right to the crux if you want.

Oh okay... the question I love to ask to get to the heart of someone's childhood is: "What's an emotion you experienced on a certain day or over a period of time that you'd wish everyone in the world to know how you felt, but also wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy?"

Internally the worst I felt... I think there's been a few days... nothing major, they're mostly embarrassing days. But I feel like if I told them to people they'd go "oh yeah, that is a bit embarrassing," but honestly they destroyed me. You know what I mean?

You said it right at the start - at that point in time school, social, and home life is all you have.

Yeah, what else have you got? I hate being embarrassed. I'm more prone than most people to being affected by embarrassment. I'll dwell on it, and it makes me feel like a loser. Coolness to me essentially means socially valued.

I don't know how much it affects you still, but the amount of value you put on what other people think of you is astounding for someone who I would say-

Sounds like they don't give a heck? (Chuckles). I don't like to say this, but truthfully I'm painfully insecure. Insanely so. Like it or not, all we've got is other people. At the end of the day, there's value in saying "don't let people define you," but it does define you. My existence is other people's perception of me. And I don't like to acknowledge the specifics of embarrassing moments in the past, because I feel like it needs to be forgotten. If I disclose it, it's real.

That being said, I'll try and think of specific examples. I was at a job that I really hated. I felt bullied essentially, and I don't think I had the maturity at the time to deal with it. It haunted me for ages. That's the closest I've known of trauma during adolescence.

What sort of age was that?

I'm embarrassed to say this, but 19. I should've been able to stand up for myself. I felt in that situation that I was like... a child. I thought at the time "if I were an adult I'd be able to deal with this." I used to dream about it. And if I told people people about it they'd go "yeah, people at work can be bad." But I dreamt about it for a very long time. My mind constantly automatically went there all the time for years after, and I think that's almost a litmus test for trauma. 

Do you think that experience made you realise that you were not as mature as you wanted to be, or did it send you backwards a bit in maturity?

Initially it sent me backwards. I left the job and then resisted getting a job for a while after that, even though I needed to. When I eventually joined a new job, I was anticipating a similar thing to happen. 

Do you still dream about it?

No. I think one time it came up in one dream way after the fact, and it surprised me. I thought I'd gotten over it. I felt like I'd reverted, almost like a glitch. I wish I could tell my younger self to go and find another job sooner, and prove to myself that it was a one-off bad situation. Whereas what I did was withdraw and dwell on it. It was a low time. It's what defined me for ages.

Was embarrassment the most intense emotion you experienced?

There's two types of intensity isn't there? There's prolonged intensity, or a singular sharp moment. Looking at both of those criteria, I think it would still be the most intense.

Do you think you'll ever reach the level of maturity where a situation like that wouldn't affect you?

I'd hope I'll get to a point where I could deal with it like a normal person. Most of that situation you could put into the category of 'naivety'. I think I've said to you before, naivety is the worst trait. I really think it is. It will only hurt you, there's no positive to naivety. None. Other traits, even bad traits, can give you a little edge. Naivety doesn't give you nothing but bad stuff.

What would it take for you to get to the point where you don't have that naivety?

As I've been doing since then, just living life. I have a natural tendency to be naïve, and that's why I still have to second-guess everything I think. Even as I talk about it now, it pains me when I realise there were points in the last week that I was a bit naïve. It has to go, you know?

Finally, what would be the soundtrack to your childhood?


Haunt // Bed - The 1975

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