It starts with one look… and something clicks. A switch is turned on. Before that look, everything is football and catching frogs and hanging out with your mates, its saturday matinee picture shows, and caramac bars and the Beano comic… it’s childish and child-like pursuits… it’s innocence.
Then one day, the first year of senior school, between the age of eleven and twelve, suddenly the reality shifts… A veil slips and a new vista is revealed. A hidden agenda becomes apparent. And it starts with one look.
It starts with playing tennis with your best mate, Steve, during lunch hour, outside in the last vestiges of summer, September 1971. Your playing a hot and sweaty game of tennis, in full uniform, and you really want to win, but you’re not very good at racket games and your will is much stronger than your game. You are running from one side of the court to the other, like a dervish… and your friend is stood still in the centre of the court, just running you ragged. Your face is red from the exertion of this game, which is not your game. You lose a point. You stand hands on knees, taking deep breaths and you glance over at the side of the court and there are two girls watching you… And that is the moment, that look from the girl you vaguely know, the girl who is in your tutor group, but you have never spoken to her. There in that look is the agenda for your life for the next forty years… chasing that dream.
The girl, Pat, speaks.
” Can we play doubles?”
Her friend Jane, looks quizzically at Pat, but doesn’t speak. Steve answers. He is like that, much more sure of himself. Seemingly.
We played a couple of games, but the bell rang for class, and we had to stop. Steve spoke to the girl Jane.
“do you want to go to the pictures tomorrow?”
“Just you and me?” She asked reticently.
“No the four of us, you, me, him and her.” He pointed at me and Pat.
She turned to Pat.
“Well, do you want to?”
Pat looked at me and smiled.
So that was it. I had a date. I had not contributed one word to the setting up of this date…
but I had a date!
I asked my mum what I should do on a date. She said take her some chocolates. So I did.
I put on my best clothes, borrowed my Dad’s aftershave, and bought a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. I knocked on her door as arranged. She was wearing a floral smock type of dress and looked very pretty. Walking down the road towards the cinema where we were meeting Steve and Jane, who lived on the other side of town, I felt very self conscious. She had been surprised by the box of chocolates, and I realised my Mum was probably not the best person to ask advice from, with regards to dates. She had never been on a date… She had been with my Father since the age of 13, and they never went on dates. The chocolates was a step too far for a first date.
As we walked down the street I felt uncomfortably short. With her platform shoes on, Pat towered over me. She was a good six inches taller.
I wanted to say things to her. I wanted to say she was pretty. I wanted to understand the feelings she evoked in me. Of course, I couldn’t do that. I was shy. Tongue-tied. So we walked down into town in silence. We met up with the other two by the cinema and they were talking ten to the dozen. They didn’t seem at all self-conscious. It worried me that I couldn’t speak. We went into the cinema, I can’t remember the film, and we just sat there. Watched the film. I wanted to hold her hand, or something… But I didn’t know how you got to ask for these things.
At the end of the show, we walked out in silence as the other two laughed and joked together. They waved us off nonchalantly, as they walked off hand in hand in the opposite direction. They looked like they had been doing this dating thing all their lives.
When we arrived back to her house, after an awkward silent journey, I plucked up the courage to ask for a goodnight kiss.
“I never kiss on the first date.” She shook my hand formally, and thanked me for a lovely evening… well not so much… She said,
“Thanks.” And went inside. I think that was probably the only word she actually said to me during the whole evening. She chatted away to her friend, Jane, who sat beside her in the cinema, whilst I looked across them to Steve, who gave me a thumbs up sign. I gave him a wavy hand sign.
On the following Saturday, I called in to Pat’s house, on the way to the Saturday Matinee, to see if she wanted to come along.
When I knocked at her door, she looked aghast. She brought me into the house and explained that she didn’t feel she was ready to date yet. She thanked me for asking but said she wasn’t feeling that way about me. I don’t remember speaking to her. I just remember feeling like a piece of something awful on the bottom of her shoe. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
So there you go… it starts with a look. That was my first and last date. I don’t think I ever went on another formal date in my life.
But I did learn to talk to women.