HUNTING THROUGH THE rubble in my brain, I’ve found lots of memories labelled ‘clubs’. I went to a few. “Night clubs?” you might ask. You might ask again. But I won’t answer. My eyes will just glaze over as my mind reaches back to the acne-cursed days of my youth, and I recall how many of us were really, really stupendously dull. I suppose some teenagers in the 1970s cruised in cars, got drunk and got girls in trouble, but most of us had much duller nights. You could either stay at home, do your homework and watch the one television channel … or you went to clubs.
My kids hooted when I mentioned I belonged briefly to the school chess club. “Really? Really?” – revelling in yet another opportunity to mock how unhip their father was. “Actually, I used to get bullied and beaten up by the Chess Club. I wasn’t cool enough for them.” Not true, but if they are going to tease me, I’m going to make them really scared about the genes they got from me.
It’s just as well they’ve never seen a picture of me in my Boys’ Brigade uniform. Very mockable. I imagine it’d be hard these days to convince modern teens of the allure of marching in military-style parades whilst wearing scratchy black shirts and shorts, shod in shiny shoes, and showing lots of buckles and badges.
I also belonged to a slot-car club. Slot-cars are what nerds did before we had computers. A fibrolite shed by a railway line with a huge table-top race-track; jammed with men, older teenagers and a few kids like myself, all competing and talking their geeky slot-car jargon to each other. The competitions were intense. You knew who the champions were; even if their cars were only 1/32 scale, their egos were full-sized. Twitchy prehensile thumbs flickered on the controls sending their cars whining around the track at missile speed. My thumb was a sluggish dullard, but I had an ace trigger finger, so I had much more success at the Henderson Photographic Society, another club I went to for years …
I don’t know if that camera club was better than most, but I’ve often thought about how brilliantly the adults catered for teenagers. They coached and encouraged us, offered us the use of their darkrooms and equipment, and were endlessly patient. They initiated us into the weird grown-up world of AGMs and committees, socials and discussion nights. “Dad! Dad! Did you really go the go to the camera club prize-giving instead of your senior school ball!?” My kids have heard the story before, but they are baiting me to tell them again so they can crucify any last shred of my self-esteem. “But I won a tripod!” I say in my defence as they roll around in mock-horror that their own father could be such a dweeb.
Both clubs were brilliant for a shy kid like myself to learn how to interact with adults. In reality, shyness was the real reason I went to the club instead of the school ball, but that club is part of why I don’t suffer much from shyness now.
I occasionally went to a film club. Long on pretention and short on anything I actually enjoyed watching. My enduring memory is their wine-and-cheese night: people dressed up in sports jackets with turtle-neck sweaters, trying to look suave and sophisticated while drinking local plonk out of school staffroom mugs (someone had forgotten the glasses). Even at the time I thought, this ain’t that posh.
I joined a car club. I had no real interest in motorsport, but I was a teenager, and they had beer … and Boys’ Brigade didn’t have that.
In pre-television New Zealand, there were scores of clubs: pigeon fanciers, short-wave radio enthusiasts, stamp collectors, chicken breeders and so on. Kiwis loved their clubs and willingly paid their subs, and served on committees. But the generation of youth after me were described as ‘The Unclubbables’. Today, some clubs are still roaring, but many more are coughing blood or died long ago. I think we’re poorer without them. We are humans. We need friendship, and friendships form very naturally around shared interests. And I think young people need the opportunity for intergenerational contact.
Healthy maturity gets downloaded from other adults, and I think the type of adults who served by running clubs had great software.
AFTER DECADES STUDYING FAMILY LIFE, JOHN NOW FOCUSSES ON THE ‘PRIME-TIME’ ISSUES OF LATER MIDDLE AGE. CHECK HIM OUT ON JOHNCOWAN.CO.NZ – ESPECIALLY IF YOU NEED SOME WRITING, EVENT SPEAKING, VIDEOS MADE, OR SOMEONE TO HAVE A COFFEE WITH.