Tough guys in the 80s and 90s: for whatever reason it was important that we looked and acted like Mr. T, Chuck Norris, and the criminals of the day, despite being eight years old and the owner of a My Little Pony lunchbox.
At our school, it was imperative that we gave the impression of A) not giving a fuck what anyone thought of us (especially teachers) and B) being able to roundhouse kick anyone in the school into the middle of next week. It also helped if we could project the aura of someone who carried guns, and who had the Hell’s Angels on speed-dial (assuming our mums let us use the phone).
Because we were all idiots, we used to take our cues from the popular tv shows and movies of the day, thinking that if we just copied whatever punk, tough guy or shit gang member (I’m looking at you Los Locos) was on the screen at the time, then their street cred would rub off on us. If we acted like them and did the following things, then our enemies would run and hide in a bin when they saw us coming.
It never worked. All that happened was that we either got laughed at or told off by grown ups.
1. Dyeing your hair
Where we lived, only troublemakers and yobbos dyed their hair. Any colour that wasn’t the regulation black, brown, blonde or ginger marked you out as the sort of person that shoplifted and had run-ins with the fuzz. In reality, the yobbos were more likely to sit around listening to vinyl and looking all sad, but we weren’t to know that.
In our neverending quest to look hard, we would resort to colouring in our hair using felt tips. Usually green felt tips, I have no idea why. Sadly, this didn’t really work on me as I had very dark hair. There was that time I tried to use Tippex instead of hair dye, but that ended badly.
Then came the mid 90s, and the invention of hair mascara – all our boring hair colour problems were over. If we put enough hair mascara (a whole tube) on our hair, then from a certain angle, in a certain light, it maybe looked a bit reddish. This was fine by us; as far as we were concerned, hair mascara made us go from schoolkids to hardened criminals overnight. I’m not sure how many real hardened criminals wore hair mascara.
2. Leather jackets
Wearing a leather jacket instantly made you invincible. This was because of a special chemical injected into the leather that made people cross the road when they saw you coming.
Not that any of us had leather jackets. We had kagouls and coats with velcro fasteners.
Also, biker gangs all wore leather jackets, and had names like ‘Groin’ and ‘Pissface’. I think the plan in the back of our minds was to somehow acquire a leather jacket/hat/socks/anything, and then people would mistake our bicycles for actual motorbikes. This would mean we’d officially be ‘hard’, and no one would bully us and call us a der brain while nipping us.
3. Putting your hand through a bunsen burner
What could be more dangerous and hard than putting your actual hand in an actual fire? All the hard kids at school would regularly spend entire science lessons waving their hands around in the bunsen burner flame instead of doing any work. This was massively impressive to onlookers, until they actually tried it themselves.
Since I wrote that bit, it has come to my attention that Alex is also suitably impressed by this, having never done it himself at his posh knob school.
I don’t remember exactly how you did it, but there was a certain part of the flame you could wave your hand through, and it didn’t hurt or burn you. Obviously, once everyone got wise to the trick, we would just crowd round the bunsen burners waiting for our turn to do this. Thus, the awesomeness of the trick was relegated to being about as clever as doing that thing where you wave your pen and it goes bendy.
4. Saying ‘Bloody Mary’ 3 times into a mirror
In our girls’ toilets at school, you could shut the door and turn the lights off, and then the only light would be through the small panel of glass in the door. This was handy, because the mirror in the toilets was haunted, but only when it was dark enough.
Once you and your friends were successfully alone in the toilets, one of you was nominated to summon the evil spirit in the mirror. This was done by staring into the mirror (usually with your face pressed up against it, for some reason), and saying ‘Bloody Mary’ three times. No one knows exactly what happened on the third go, because no one ever got that far. However, we did have some scary paranormal encounters even before completing the ritual. These included:
– “That mirror DEFINITELY moved!”
– All running out of the toilets screaming
– One of the teachers barging in, thus breaking the sacred atmosphere of the toilets
– “Oh my god I saw something in the mirror!”
– All starting to cry and shitting our pants
Tattoos when I was a kid did not enjoy the mainstream popularity they do now; you hardly ever saw technicolour butterflies, fairies and out of context Chinese words. Back then, people generally had things like ‘FUCK THE POLICE’ stabbed into their forehead using a compass.
Therefore, having a tattoo meant instant bad points. Unfortunately, we never had much luck with convincing tattoo parlours that we were eighteen when we were six, so we had to resort to other means.
Step forward temporary tattoos. For a few pence we could buy all kinds of shit designs to plaster on our arms and faces. These were better than our other option, which was to scribble on ourselves with a biro. Temporary tattoos also lasted a bit longer than biro – sometimes up to a whole day before bits started falling off into our cereal.
However, temporary tattoos had one flaw – these were the kinds of designs you could get, which were less badass than ‘FUCK THE POLICE’ –
6. Listening to rock music
Along with dyeing your hair, listening to loud, headbanging music was something only degenerates did. According to my mum and dad.
When you consider the alternatives we had as kids – Whigfield, Take That, and my ‘Handful Of Songs’ tape, it’s easy to see why rock music was the answer to our problems.
The best way to listen to rock music was obviously to carry it round in a huge ghetto blaster, so everyone around you knew how hard you were. If, like me, you didn’t have a ghetto blaster and stood no chance in hell of ever getting one, then your other option was to listen to it on full volume using your walkman and some really shitty headphones. This meant everyone around you could still enjoy the benefit of your music.
Obviously, it was hard to get your parents to buy you albums with names like ‘Fucked in the skull’ and ‘Bloodletting’, so you might have had to rely on your older siblings’ taste in music. Thank you sister 1 for liking Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Sister 2 not so much, with your Wet Wet Wet tapes. Going through a phase of liking one Def Leppard song does not excuse that.
7. Chewing gum
Favoured by punks, yobbos and general disturbers of the peace the world over, chewing gum was, in our tiny minds, the ultimate symbol of disobedience. In order to successfully utilise your packet of Hubba Bubba or Juicy Fruit, you had to do the following –
– Chew at all times, even while sleeping and eating
– Chew while talking
– Blow huge bubbles while teachers were talking to you
– Adopt a strange New York accent when you talk while chewing gum
– When (inevitably) ordered to get rid of your chewing gum, swallow your gum in one final act of defiance.
The downside to swallowing your chewing gum, of course, is that it will stay in your stomach for seven years. We all know someone who knows someone who died because their stomach got filled up with chewing gum, and their poo ended up coming back up out of their mouth.
8. Doing graffiti
All the rad ‘n’ bad kids on tv had cans of spray paint about their persons. People like the Fresh Prince, and… that’s it. When you cared nothing for the world or authority, it was a good idea to express yourself by doing an art on the wall. Not on your desk though, because your teacher would walk past and see you doing it, then you’d have to spend your breaktime cleaning it off while Mr Rhodes the caretaker looked on and tutted.
For ultimate bad points, the thing to do was spray some swears on a wall while chewing gum and listening to your ghetto blaster. However, the chances of us acquiring any spray paint were slim to none, given that they only sold it at B & Q, and you had to pay money for it. So we used the next best thing – our trusty felt tips.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot of skill to do anything resembling a passable graffiti. The general difference between the graffiti in our heads vs the graffiti we ended up with was as follows –
So we’d usually just fall back on writing swears on the cubicles in the toilets, or on one brick round the back of a petrol station where no one ever goes. That’ll show ’em.
9. Wearing sunglasses indoors
Some people were actually so hard that they didn’t even need to see where they were going, they could just walk wherever they wanted, and people and buildings would get out of their way.
You had to be sure to wear the right kind of sunglasses though. Red Mickey Mouse ones generally didn’t count, and neither did cardboard 3D glasses. You also had to memorise the layout of a room before putting your sunglasses on, otherwise you were likely to walk straight into the wall. Only Patrick Swayze had the ability to make walls get out of his way.
10. Watching horror movies (lying about watching horror movies)
Given that most kids at our school had never seen any horror movies ever (apart from maybe Gremlins), we had carte blanche to wow our friends with tales of having watched our 20th horror movie of the week, because our parents got it out of the video shop for us, AND they let us stay up until 3am on a school night.
This was not what really happened. But the other kids didn’t know that. Therefore, major cool points were to be had by claiming to have watched A Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, and some films you’d made up, such as ‘Horses With Drills’, and ‘Killed In The Head’. The more elaborate and gory your made up movies were, the better. For example:
“Last night I watched ‘Eyeball Piss Murder’. There was one scene in it where a man cut another man’s head off with scissors, but the head stayed alive and bit the guy’s knob off, and then blood spurted everywhere.”
11. Being in a gang
I blame Los Locos for this, again. Also the scene at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs where they all walk down the street in a row. There is infinite menace to be projected by walking round in a big group, especially if that group has a secret den and a password. I would have liked my gang to have a theme song too, but we were never that creative. Also, I never really had a gang.
This was good because you didn’t need any special clothing or equipment to do swearing. You also didn’t have to risk opening a portal to hell, which was handy. All you needed was a decent enough arsenal (lol ‘arse’) of swears, and you too could look like Dirty Harry, MC Hammer or similar.
Obviously, some of the more advanced and sophisticated language was unknown to us as kids. Words like ‘fuck’ and ‘twat’ were alien to us, but we knew enough. Our words of choice were:
Boobies (especially when spelled out on a calculator)
Obviously, ‘piss’ was right at the top of this hierarchy, reigning supreme as king of the swears. Telling someone to ‘piss off’ was extremely hard and clever, as was putting your hand up in class and yelling “Miss, miss, I need a piss”. Obviously, this was for advanced badasses only.
Little did we know that all we had to do in the end to look hard was kick a person in the shins.