The Aston Triangle by Harry Dukes Jnr
The thought process behind this memory drift started about 2 hours before kick-off in the recent Blues/Albion FA Cup game. I met up with some old friends from school
I hadn’t seen most of them in 20 years apart from the odd random bump into each other over the years at a sandwich shop in town, passing each other at New St station or pointing them in various directions while I was volunteering at the Olympics.
However, it doesn’t feel like I haven’t seen some of them for half a lifetime. Via Facebook or Twitter I’ve kept up with marriages, births and house moves. So meeting up for a beer at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth was good, just to make sure we all looked healthy and that were actually still real and not just names and conversations over the internet.
Meeting up made me think – what did we go through to allow some sort of bond, however tenuous, to continue over the passing years? I’ll bypass any serious points and head straight to what I wanted to talk about here – these were the kids that I first went out with, got drunk and discovered independence with.
Teenage drinking. It wasn’t/isn’t glamorous. But jeez, it was funny. How did it all start for me, what led me down the path of Red Stripe, Mad Dog 20/20 and Thunderbird wine? It was school of course – kind of.
At our school, in Kings Heath, there was a weird set up – a boys’ school with a girls’ school right next door. We didn’t really mix at all until the sixth form except for something that happened at the end of every term. There a teacher (who I won’t name but if you went to the school you will know instantly who it is) ran a disco at the end of every term at a local rugby club. With only sixth formers as bouncers and also acting as the bar staff it was basically your easiest of all possible entry level drinking sessions – we thought we were big men buying actual pints of actual beer from an actual bar while some brave types nearly talked to real girls. Nearly.
This break into the big time led to us thinking, “this is good, but there must be more to than a social club near Hall Green…”
Word got out quickly, older brothers were consulted. Apparently there was a place you could go at 15 or 16, be allowed into pubs, buy beer, listen to music. And this place was called the Aston Traingle. And it was like heaven. Apparently.
This was 1990. This was a world of Gazza with fake breasts, dance music, and local bands like Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin kind of making it. There was a scene and it involved army trousers, Doc Martin boots and checked shirts. These had to be bought at one of three places: the army surplus shop near the QE hospital in between Selly Oak and Harborne; Oasis indoor market; and Alive on Corporation St. There was nowhere else.
So we bought the clothes. We looked the part. The next step was a bit bigger – we had heard stories of rock hard bouncers, always on the lookout for underage kids to beat up. So we went and did what seemed the most subversive and illegal thing we could, we got fake IDs. This involved me and my friend Chris heading off to the Youth Hostel Association underneath the Virgin Megastore (also handily placed near Oasis and Alive) and joining up…and here was the clever thing – you could give them your date of birth and they never checked. And that was it. We had fake ID.
First stop this Aston Triangle place. About 5 of us went there following bigger boys, I say bigger boys… in reality I mean kids from the year above. Turns out it wasn’t really a triangle but just Aston University and it had an outdoor. We knew what we would buy – alcohol. Maybe cigs. But definitely alcohol – and while we were there definitely cigs as well, yeah that would make us cool.
It would be nice to think I spent my money on a nice bottle of Malbec or some simple hipster Czech fizzy lager but I was 15/16. Instead it was Mad Dog 20/20 (orange not green, I wasn’t an animal) and then some Thunderbird wine as that meant we were classy and that.
That summer was initially spent on a flat roof by a roundabout outside the main Aston Uni building – not sure what we did apart from drink, smoke and talk football (Gazza’s fake boob sthough), music and most of all wonder if we should try using our ID to go to a pub or even a club.
Pubs then. The first we tried was the one that looked the most out of the way and therefore less likely to get raided by police – because in 1990 that’s what the police were most on the guard for… underage grammar school boys sneaking into pubs. That’s a fact by the way. Keep that and use it as you wish.
Sorry back to pubs then. To cut a long story short we ended up going to The Black Horse, opposite what is now Millennium Point. All that preparation was in the end pointless – not once did I get asked for ID there. Suddenly, we were enveloped in the murky world of snakebite and blacks, upstairs rooms playing jumpy up and down music and Spanish foreign exchange students lobbing bricks through toilet windows. Yeah, little tip here: if you ever have a Spanish foreign exchange student staying for a few weeks check they don’t get really aggressive after 5 pints of Strongbow before taking them out with you.
Also in Aston were the Pot of Beer and the Sack of Potatoes. But I didn’t bother trying there. Despite my fake ID I still looked 14 and I knew I had no chance. When I say I didn’t bother trying there I really mean I did try once but got refused so told everyone I wasn’t bothered and thought it looked crap anyways. A few years later I returned to Aston to do a Masters – and found that they were boring. So that’s a win for me.
The big one was still ahead of us – that was trying to get into a club. And there was only one club to try and get into. The Hummingbird. Our membership of the YHA saw us safely through as it had done for most of the people in there it seemed. Camping was massive back then I think. Must have been. And inside, oh the inside. There were sticky floors, cans of Red Stripe and a hot pastry counter. There were rumours of drinking through straws getting you drunker quicker, rumours of a secret room where the really attractive people were allowed to go (like with the Pot of Beer I wasn’t bothered), rumours of the Sultans of Ping being in the house, rumours of bouncers with guns and just generally lots of kids doing things lots of kids do.
And it was this that held us together as friends, this exploring of early adulthood, of discovering life away from our families, of a life away from school. And these memories stay with you and even if you don’t see them very often or never at all so do the people.
And as I found out in The Spotted Dog, it’s nice to see those friendly faces now and again and remember all of that time. It’s also a reminder that my daughter, who is about to reach the age I was then will never be allowed to join the Youth Hostel Association as long as I live. Another fact for you
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