The new university year is about to start. This is completely irrelevant to me at the moment. I graduated from college in 1996, and my oldest child is eight. And yet it’s been on my mind, and I think this is because this year’s 18-year-olds were born in 1994.
I was 19 in 1994. My first year at college was 1993-1994. I met my husband in 1994. And there’s a quantum universe somewhere where I accidentally got pregnant in 1994 and now have an 18-year-old who is about to start university.
A legal adult who’s also my child is a terrifying thought and one which, in this universe, I thankfully don’t have to contemplate for another decade. (Hello 2022! You’re scary!). But I’m fascinated by the idea of my imaginary student. Let’s call her Henrietta, because in 1994, I might well have thought that was a good name. Here are some disconcerting (to me at least) things about Henrietta:
She’s too young to remember John Major, let alone Margaret Thatcher – in fact, she doesn’t remember a standalone Tory government at all, since the last one was defeated in 1997.
She’s probably never made a phone call from a phone box.
She does not remember Kit Kats having silver foil wrapping (and the strangely sensual pleasure of sliding a thumb along the gap to rip open the foil).
She was a year old when the first Bridget Jones column was published.
She was three years old when Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died.
You know how the Spice Girls and Take That both recently reformed? Henrietta doesn’t remember them from the first time round.
She has always been able to get to France by train.
Snickers have always been Snickers, since well before she was born. (Not that I mind what they’re called. They contain peanuts, the food of evil.)
She was born the year Four Weddings and a Funeral was released. It is to her what The Rocky Horror Picture Show is to me. (In that Rocky Horror was released in the year of my birth. I’m not implying that today’s teens dress up in wedding outfits, pretend to be embarrassed posh men and recite “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” to each other. Although I now think they should.)
The first Harry Potter book was published when she was three years old. She was seven when the first film came out. She may well have spent her teen years reading Snarry fan fiction on the internet. (If you don’t know, you probably don’t want to.)
Oh yes, the internet. Which is possibly the single biggest difference between my childhood and Henrietta’s – and between my childhood and those of my actual children. I have a friend ten years younger than me who learnt about sex from internet fan fiction. (Gay sex. She didn’t find out there was another kind till about a year afterwards.) Henrietta grew up in a tumult of constantly changing technology: cassettes becoming CDs becoming minidiscs (remember them?) becoming MP3s; videos becoming DVDs becoming Netflix and video recorders transmuting though DVD recorders into TV-on-demand, like bulky black caterpillars into pretty programmable butterflies.
And of course Henrietta’s smartphone replaces about 25 of the things I lugged to and fro from college. Once you start being able to print your own clothing from your iPhone, luggage will be eliminated altogether and suitcases will become merely a folk memory. Much like Marathons, letter writing and finding out about sex the proper way – from dictionaries, whispered gossip and Judy Blume’s Forever. Now I feel old.