One of my goddaughters turns 14 tomorrow; an age that seems both very old and very young. She’s passed ‘double figures’; she’s no longer a new ‘teen’ and this will be her first year of GCSEs. Her mum says she’s interested in music, books and make up, but that a gift voucher would do the job. I don’t want to buy a gift voucher! That’s so boring, but what do I buy a 14 year old when I don’t really listen to Radio 1 any more, the last book I read was packed with masturbation and sex (not deliberately so, I hasten to add), and I tend to opt for the most luxurious make up products I can afford? Where is our common ground? In desperation, I sent my mind back to my own 14th birthday.
Terrifying; truly terrifying. It was October 2000; I’d just left my prep school and was still incredibly naive.
The music chart was awash with absolute dross. Let me remind you: All Saints, Steps, Westlife, A1, LeAnn Rimes, S Club 7, Atomic Kitten, Hear’Say, Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell. My most played albums were Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and Dido’s No Angel: both of which were played on my orange Discman; iPods hadn’t been invented yet (!).
All the girls at school wanted to work in the Coyote Ugly bar; Kristen Dunst was bringing it on; Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore were busy rebooting Charlie’s Angels, Leonardo DiCaprio was desperately trying to shake off his Titanic heartthrob status in The Beach, Russell Crowe was ‘father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife’ and Sandra Bullock had been voted Miss Congeniality.
Harry Potter was about to get to grips with the Goblet of Fire; and finally Philip Pullman wound up his His Dark Materials trilogy with the fabulous The Amber Spyglass. But enough of books, every girl worth her salt would have killed to have got her hands on a Lancome Juicy Tube, or a pair of GHDs, which would have been the icing on the cake of our outfits of super low-rise flared Miss Sixty jeans with a thong peeking out of the top, and either Etnies or DCs on our feet, and a Bench or Paul Frank hoodie on top. Man, we looked good.
And that’s not all. I set up my first yahoo email account (firstname.lastname@example.org), three-way called my friends after school (on the landline), got my first mobile phone – a Nokia 3310 with changeable covers and Snake (how awesome was Snake?!), and greeted everyone with ‘wassup?’ (blame Budweisers).
I could go on and on and on and on… but my point is (does there have to be a point when reminiscing is this fun?) my goddaughter is no longer a child, she’s becoming a young woman; and all I had to do to realise that was to remember who I was at that age.
With that in mind, it’s not too hard to find her the perfect present, because she’s not really all that different from me, even if there is a 13 year age gap; and rather beautifully, we all have our similarities, we’ve all been 14 (although maybe not a girl) and we just need to remember how to see ourselves in others.