The A to Z of Being a Teenager in Noughties Britain

A (sort of) love letter to MSN, alcopops and N-Dubz.
Nana Baah
London, GB
illustrated by Esme Blegvad
Noughties Illustration by Esme Blegvad
Illustration by Esme Blegvad

No matter where you grew up in Britain, if your formative teen years took place between the early noughties and 2010s then congratulations, because you hold a number of seminal shared cultural experiences. From having to wait for your parents to get off the phone so that you could use the dial-up internet, to filling your MP3 player with illegally downloaded N-Dubz and developing an unhealthy obsession with Seth Cohen, being a teen before the invention of mobile internet and Zoella was pretty wild.


So, if you did most of your growing up in a shit British town pre-coalition government, this one’s for you.

A: Alcopops

In your early teens, just before you pivoted to being able to strawpedo an entire bottle of Malibu, drinking low-alcohol sugary drinks was a completely fine thing to do. You weren’t as worried about your teeth as you are now (hello, disappointing vodka soda!), so VK, Archers Peach Schnapps and WKD Blue Vodka were your people. I recently bought a VK Orange and Passionfruit and actually, they’re still very nice, thank you very much.

B: Bluetooth

You rarely think about Bluetooth as a thing, do you? Aside from using it to connect your phone to a speaker, or to quickly disable it when a stranger tries to AirDrop you something on the train. But let’s not forget that Bluetooth was once a surefire way to cement a friendship. If someone Bluetoothed you Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls’ so you could set it as your ringtone, you were definitely mates.

Honourable Mentions: Buses, Bebo

C: Chain Emails

“If you’re reading this, then there’s no going back,” the email begins. “Even if you close this now, the events I’m about to describe will still unfold. So read on and follow my instructions.” The next four paragraphs detail the harrowing story of some girl named Annie, who was killed at Disneyland and now haunts anyone who opens this email. Now you have to stay up until 1AM so that Mickey Mouse won’t murder you in your sleep, because your mum kicked you off the computer before you could forward it to five more friends. Sad.


Honourable Mention: ChatRoulette

D: Dumping, The Art of

One of my friends broke up with her Year Nine boyfriend by sending a ‘U r dumped’ text from across the classroom. An exchange that thrills me to this day.

Honourable Mention: Dry Humping

E: Email Addresses

Famously, using the Hotmail account you had as a teen all the way into adulthood is unacceptable – get a Gmail like a grown-up. That is, unless you’re using it to scam an extra free trial out of a TV streaming site. In which case, go forth and enjoy your Now TV account,

F: Fingering

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with fingering, nor do I think it’s solely for teenagers. But the fact is that rattling their fingers around inside of you, as you both sprawl in the darkened corner of a bedroom during a house party, was a favourite pastime of most 15-year-old boys. After which, you’d go back downstairs and lock eyes with him, pride stretched across his face as he thrusts his outstretched middle and first fingers under the noses of everyone in the room. “Just smell them,” he says.

Honourable Mentions: Free Houses, Flip Phones


Photo by Emily Bowler.

G: “Got off with”

A horrible phrase, one that I hope to never hear again.

H: Halls

There are few things better than attending a Sweet Sixteen in a small town function hall. It’s someone you vaguely know’s birthday, and you’re drunk off Smirnoff Ice wearing New Look heels, watching their aunts and uncles dancing to the ‘Agadoo’ song. It’s sick.

Honourable Mention: Habbo Hotel


I: iPods

Mad that you had to carry a separate device to listen to your music pre-iPhone, isn’t it?

J: Journeys, Coach

The coach part of any school trip was always the best bit. It didn’t matter which historic site or geographical wonder you were on your way to visit, the way that gossip could travel from the front of the coach to the back within minutes was a thing to behold.

K: Kissing

Similar to fingering, far too frequent and often extremely terrible.

L: LimeWire

RIP to a real one.

M: MSN Messenger

Leaving your friends at the school gates to rush home and sit alone in a room lit only by the glare of the desktop computer screen, so you could log onto MSN Messenger and talk to them all over again was an unshakable school day ritual. For a messaging platform with few discernible features (unless you count ‘emoticons’ or the ability to put your best mate’s initials in your personal message), MSN was iconic. Long before the DM slide, it provided the most chaotic way to let someone know that you fancied them. Waiting for them to come online, then ‘accidentally’ sending a message that expressed your unrelenting love. If they didn’t feel the same way – and they never did – you could blame it on your friend or say you’d accidentally sent the message that referred to them by name (!!!) to the wrong person. RIP to MSN … I wanna run to you.

Honourable Mentions: Myspace, MP3 Player

N: N-Dubz

‘I Swear’ was ahead of its time and also one of the first songs I downloaded to my MP3 player. Dappy, Tulisa and Fazer were cultural icons in the 2000s, and looking back at some of Tulisa’s outfits, are you surprised? Who would have thought they’d be forgotten.


O: The O.C.

For people who didn’t aspire to the Skins lifestyle (or couldn’t get MDMA delivered to their rural market town), The O.C was an American drama with similar levels of teen angst, but more aspirational interiors and a really good theme song. I wasn’t actually a Summer but I wanted to be because obviously, Marissa ends up dead.

Honourable Mentions: One Tree Hill

P: Poke Wars

A now defunct Facebook feature, basically a more brazen version of liking several of your crush’s Instagram pictures in one go.

Honourable Mentions: Piczo, Parks

Q: Questionnaires

It was a dumb waste of time to answer a 56-point list of questions, including, “Who is funniest in your class?”, “Who was the last person you sent a text to?” and “What did your last text say?” But you simply had to do it and tag everyone you knew on Facebook to do the same.

R: Rankings

Thinking about it now, publicly ranking your friends in order of how much you like them is a wild and kind of mean-spirited thing to do. But still, everyone who had Bebo had a Top 16, regularly updated to accommodate for fall-outs. If someone pissed you off, you didn’t have to fix it by talking to them. Instead, you could passive-aggressively catapult them from number one to number 16. A simpler time.

Honourable Mentions: Reading and Leeds Festival

S: Shopping Centres

You spent your entire allowance on Woolworths pick ‘n’ mix and McDonald’s lunches, but walking around a shopping centre with the same people you saw everyday at school was apparently an acceptable weekend plan to you.

Honourable Mentions: Sony Ericsson, Skins


T: Tagging

You wake up to a barrage of notifications from people tagging you on Facebook, despite you simply having commented a smiley face on someone’s mirror selfie.


Photo by Emily Bowler.

U: Underage Drinking

Only made possible, if a) your parents were the type who said things like: “If you’re going to drink, I’d rather you do it in a safe environment,” and proceeded to buy you and your friends a one-litre bottle of Glen’s, which you’d share and then throw back up in the living room. Or b) you had a friend who inexplicably looked 30-years-old, and so could walk out of a corner shop with two sacks of WKD.

Yes, it’s OK to check on Facebook to see how old they look now.

V: Virginity

The greatest shame you ever thought you’d carry and so you embarked on having the worst sex of your life. My secondary school crush was so desperate to lose his virginity that he attempted to formally arrange it with me, asking whether I would be interested in deflowering him between third and fourth period. “Just get back to me about it at lunch time.”

W: Webcams

You have a sticker over yours now, but webcams were once the portal that connected you to a whole host of perverts on ChatRoulette when your parents went to bed during sleepovers. Also how you took your first few Facebook profile photos.

X: eXcessive Photography

Do you recall going anywhere without someone thrusting a Canon compact camera in your face between the years of 2004 and 2013? Mere seconds after returning home from a house party, there are 500+ photos of you uploaded to Facebook. Instagram could never.

Y: ‘Youngers’, The Concept of

‘Youngers’ is a term used in criminal gangs, usually referring to teenage members who carry out high-risk tasks like the transportation of drugs. So tell me, why did the exceptionally middle-class, completely non-gang-affiliated kids at my grammar school refer to kids in Year Seven as ‘youngers’?

Z: Zoot

Being tricked into buying shredded oregano leaves and having the audacity to keep mentioning how high you are? Disgraceful.