At times it was annoying, but me and my twin brother respected our parents’ rules. Even in our early teens, when our friends had more freedom and were playing out late, we knew we had a curfew. Yes, there were times we longed for more latitude – but in hindsight I’m glad we had that strong parental presence looming over us.
I guess that protective mentality could’ve stemmed from the time, before moving to Harlow, when we lived in Catford, London. Despite it being home to my parents for many years, it wasn’t an environment they wanted to raise children in. My mother, whose parents were originally from Ireland, was actually born in Harlow. And despite my father’s protest to the contrary, he – unlike his siblings, who were born in St Lucia – is a born-and-bred Yorkshireman, making me and my brother of Irish/Caribbean ‘northern’ decent.
With both of them sharing the same birth date, my parents first met while out celebrating their respective birthdays. Even across a heaving dance floor my father would’ve been tricky to miss – something to do with him being a professional bodybuilder. To this day I don’t know how a combination of a placid Irishwoman and hot-headed Yorkshireman works, but after 27 years of marriage they’re doing something right.
Primary school was fine, but no one can prepare you for the transition to secondary school. Compared to me, my brother lacked confidence. This, along with his boffin-like persona, made him a target for school bullies. Only during a fight, when I (despite being a short-arse) stepped in and helped redress the balance of power, did things improve for him.
However, problems at school weren’t confined to my twin alone. My confidence took a knocking when, for some reason unbeknown to me, I was placed in the ‘less able’ student groups. I could’ve just resigned myself to this, but instead it motivated me to work beyond my potential and as a result I achieved respectable grades. However, as hard as it is to admit, academically my brother always had the edge on me.
Such rivalry wasn’t anything new. I don’t think even the parents of twins can truly grasp what it’s like. You’re born with a level of competitiveness against an opponent who just won’t back down – it’s like fighting against yourself! My parents went through hell – anything he could do, I could do better. Although living together wasn’t easy, it was inevitable that going to university (especially different ones) was going to be tough – but at least it gave us scope to develop as individuals. As expected, we both had our share of problems on arrival. Only this time, without my brother beside me, I was acutely aware that I had to resolve them on my own. Such feelings shouldn’t have come as a surprise. For so long we’d formed friendships, faced problems and taken on challenges as a duo. I now felt exposed – it was as if 50 per cent of my confidence had been wiped out. The situation wasn’t helped with me being all but last to arrive at the halls of residence, where by now friendship bonds had begun to form. I had to summon every ounce of confidence to strike up those initial conversations – to this day it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
The later part of my time at university was a struggle. It wasn’t the complexity of the course – it was my fellow students’ lacklustre approach on a shared assignment that led me to take on more and more responsibilities. As the stress increased I became withdrawn, anxious and shut myself off from those who cared for me. Although I had the support of a long-term girlfriend, my negative attitude started to bring her down. As upsetting as it was, I can’t blame her for ending the relationship – it was my fault. Only when my family intervened did I take control of the situation and sort myself out.
Looking back, I can’t believe how I was. But like many things, I believe it happened for a reason. I’m stronger and more confident because of it and, more importantly, I graduated with a 2.1!
As a kid Harlow was great, but as you grow older you want more opportunities – sadly it felt as if they weren’t here for the taking. Such feelings are prevalent, especially among my age group. To start with, there’s just no nightlife here – well, not the kind you’d feel safe with.
So, unless you’re willing to settle for Harlow’s less than salubrious offerings, you have to look towards other towns for entertainment.
As for my future … well, I’m still working towards my career goal in media. It’s a competitive industry, so I know it’s gonna take time – but I’ve got the perseverance. However, I’m unlikely to find job opportunities in Harlow. It’s a shame, but almost inevitable, I think, that Harlow will lose a generation of youth who are ambitious and willing to move elsewhere in order to fulfil those goals.