Johnny Proctor – Ninety

Zico is a sixteen year old lad in 1990, trying to find his way in life. He’s growing up in a small Scottish village in Fife with only really one thing in his life – his football team, Dundee United. That, and the usual weekend shenanigans of almost any boy who’s sixteen – alcohol, weed and girls. Our protagonist, obsessed with clothes, quickly gets drawn into the life of a football casual, running with the infamous Dundee Utility. All he lives for is the weekend.

As the story progresses we find Zico treading down a path that will be familiar to people all over the country who were 15-30 in the late 80s and early 90s. One little word changes his life, seemingly forever. One little pill. Ecstasy. Suddenly he finds himself questioning everything in life, his path in life. Does he even have a path?

Can this youngster choose the right path to go down? Self-destruction is never too far away in any direction. One wrong decision, one lie to his loved ones, one pill too many and the button of Zico’s life will be well and truly pressed with no going back.

One thing is clear, despite him loving a life on the edge he clearly has morals. But are these morals enough to pull him back from the brink? This being a story involving drugs, trouble is never far round the corner and I genuinely had no idea what way Johnny was going to take it as I could see the pages running out. Is Zico’s lifestyle of violence and love going to catch up with him? One thing is for sure, one of them is, and it’s 50/50 which one will come out on top.

The story is written from Zico’s perspective and thus we hear his inner thoughts, thoughts most of us can relate to in some way. He worries about his family finding out about his lifestyle but knows there’s going to be lies and non-disclosure for that to remain hidden from them. This doesn’t sit right with him but he knows it comes with the territory and needs must. Likewise with his girlfriend Lisa. Will she be ok with a “hooligan” for a boyfriend? We see Zico’s inner torment at hurting those closest to him whilst knowing the two things he loves doing most will hurt them. So what will he do?

What is surprising though is a couple of chapters are written from his girlfriend’s perspective. These both happen at Acid House parties and show empathy from the writer about how she must feel towards her boyfriend, her fairly new boyfriend at that. Does she know what he’s up to in his other life? How does she handle all these new things flooding into her life at a rate of knots – drugs, music, new friends? Her life was much simpler a few months ago. Will she cope? She delivers perhaps my favourite line in the book when she sees him coming back from a three hour absence at a rave in Blackburn. “When he finally did see me, well, after having to do that fucking pirate eyepatch thing with his hand to make sure he could focus looking at me”! Yip, been there, worn the t-shirt!

Full disclosure: I was 15 in 1990, I come from a small village in Fife, I support Dundee United and found myself in the Acid House scene, albeit slightly later than Zico. Johnny would have had to be the worst writer in the world to write a story I couldn’t somehow relate to but he surpasses expectations by a country mile. Knowing what I know, the story is completely believable whilst entertaining at every juncture. There is peer pressure, romance, comedy, drama, paranoia, highs and lows. So pretty much everything you need for a drug-addled night out then.

I’ve read probably hundreds of books and articles on the Acid House scene in Britain but, at least as far as I can remember, I’ve never read any fiction on the last great youth movement. If you’ll pardon the pun, this really is a novel way to retell the story. This is Johnny’s first novel and it’s obvious he writes from experience. As the book progresses and starts to focus more on the drugs and music, the descriptive element shifts up a few notches and you feel like you are right there feeling the same things he is, the highs and the lows, the confusion, the forgotten conversations, solving the world’s problems and then instantly forgetting your name so poverty gets put on hold. That rush from the drugs, that rush from the music, that rush from meeting all these people on exactly the same wavelength as you. It’s all there and you want, nay need, it to be 1990 again and dancing in some farmer’s field without a care in the world.

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