My brain isn’t very good with numbers. I think my mind is more visual than numerical. Being 30 feels very stable and evenly balanced to me. Like if my life were a piece of paper I could fold it in half now and it would have two equal parts of fifteen years.
When I was fifteen I had a lot of different ideas. I was precocious. I was too clever for my own good and too clever for my own sanity and safety. For a long time I carried this over-intellectual view to the world. I was not at all practical. I was going to go to sixth form for subjects I enjoyed, not things I could turn into a job. After that, for University I would do the same. I vaguely believed I would study German and Philosophy at Uni and then move to Germany. I loved the idea of being there, the fact that they recycled a lot of stuff and they had mountains in the south I could visit. I saw myself daydreaming as I caught the tram home. I had hopes of being mistaken for a native speaker of German. I was very good at languages at school. I was better at English Literature. I never really counted that as work or even as being difficult. I was always picked to read out loud and I scribbled extra notes in my poetry anthologies on bus rides home as the boys at the back of the bus shouted things at me. I wanted to be intelligent. Intelligence was a self-defence I could attain. I could never be strong or fast but I could be clever. I wanted to use my brain to get out of the problems I was in. I was scared to become a teacher because of my experiences at school. I thought, a whole class of children would hurl the same homophobic abuse at me that my contemporaries had when I was a pupil. Because of this and the rush of ideas that came from studying Philosophy suddenly at fifteen lots of things didn’t matter any longer. What was the point in my going to University to study Business Studies when I’d just read that ultimately existence is utterly meaningless?
When I was fifteen I came to London on shopping trips and it was exciting. I loved it for the rush and the crowds. The tube was exciting. I spent my time in an isolated village or at school in a small county town. I always think now that I was lucky London was so close. I was fortunate I could take day trips. London was diversity and busyness. There were gay people in London, I’d seen that on late night television. I had spied them on the train, in the shops on Oxford Street. Because of these day trips into London, I got a skewed view of the city. I was always at the busiest place at the worst time. I rarely saw London the way I do now. When I was fifteen I used to think London was too busy and that I could never live there.
It was a long march and a string of learning experiences that meant when I was 27 I wanted to move to London. I had learned that coming to London would give me the fuller life I had always wanted not just to join a bigger community of LGBTQ people, but culturally. When I was fifteen I went to the Tate Modern for the first time. I was taken there by some school friends, as they had wanted to go to laugh at the art that wasn’t art. While the other boys walked around pointing and laughing I wandered off by myself, telling them I’d meet them later. I remember I bought a postcard of a Jenny Holzer piece from the shop and I was excited. This was culture I reacted to. Not the ignorant provincial attitude of my school friends. I was better than them. I like to think I’ve grown humbler over the years but that was how I felt. London had the culture and the life that I had been missing out on all this time and boys my age came to laugh at it when I realised that I loved it.
I don’t think I would recognise myself if by some time travel incident I managed to meet myself at fifteen. I imagine sitting opposite myself on the tube. When I was fifteen I wore mostly black and I had long straggly hair which I sometimes dyed black. I was very angry and sad. I wrote poetry to get through it all. I had a lot of emotions I couldn’t understand but writing always helped. I resented my parents and I was very depressed. I was living through the trauma of daily bullying and attacks at school. I was never alone though. I imagine on the tube ride next to my fifteen year old self would be my friends who supported me. I ditched the boys and spent all my time with girls around this time. They didn’t care about my sexuality and were also dealing with the same emotions I was. I would never recognise my thirty year old self sitting opposite me on the tube carriage. I have short hair now and I wear glasses. I have a beard and moustache. My eyebrows are almost as prolific as Gandalf’s. I have a job in an office. I pay taxes and have a pension and I recycle. I love my parents and my family and now I’m an Uncle twice over. I have a partner who I live with in a flat in North London. He makes me ridiculously happy. I never stopped writing and I ended up getting a Masters in writing and I wrote a book of poetry. My life isn’t complete or perfect or in any way finished. Nobody feels that way about their life. I do feel like the fifteen year old me would be happy with the thirty year old me. He would probably tell me that I should write more and care less about money. I’d be happy with myself. I’d want to reach across the aisle of the train and shake my own hand.