Tonight I Fancy Myself…

choke

I was seventeen.

Still at school.

I wasn’t allowed to go on dates until I was sixteen.

It was a Mormon thing.

After I turned sixteen I didn’t go on any dates.

I wasn’t what you would call…cool or popular.  I had friends, including girls, at school but I don’t think anyone had a crush on me.  I, on the other hand, had a crush on more than one person.  Each of them unattainable in their own ways…she was too pretty, she was too popular, she was in the year above, she had a boyfriend already, she was a combination of all of these.  I did actually have a “girlfriend” but she lived in Dundee…a good hours drive away and so I only saw her at infrequent Church discos.

Disco.

A Church hall with approved chart music played at a volume where we could still hear each other speak and where the prospect of copping off with someone was impeded by the fact that there were more adults supervising than there were young people.

Studio 54 it was not.

I did manage to kiss a girl called Rhonda in the car park at one of these dances once.  That brief encounter spun me into a madness that involved my playing “Help Me Rhonda” by the Beach Boys over and over again every day for a week.  I’m not quite sure how my parents managed to not murder me that week.  Very tolerant people my folks, understanding.  They were probably just glad I wasn’t taking drugs…or were so concerned that I was taking drugs that they thought it best to just leave me alone.

There was one girl at school who meant more to me than any of the others.

Where lust and infatuation were the order of the day with nearly every girl who spoke to me or walked past me in the corridor, it was different with…her.  I better not name names.  What if she read this?  I know its unlikely, but still.

She was pretty.

More importantly she was nice.

We were, I think, friends.

We often ended up walking to school together.

She lived above a shop on the High Street, quite close to “Sleeves” the record store, and on the mornings when I wound my way to school along that path we would bump into each other.  I do mean that, it was purely coincidental, I have no recollection of ever having agreed to meet.  Then after school she would sit on a wall on Pratt Street waiting for her mum to collect her for a paper round…it is possible this only happened once a week but in my mind this was a daily occurrence.  Who knows what two seventeen year old not-quite-adults talked about on a wall in 1990.

Music?

Films?

Other kids at school?

Teachers?

Looming exams?

The future?

I dunno.

As I walked home I would have this feeling that I should have said something more, something that would have really impressed her, something that would have made my awkwardness and acne fade from her vision and leave her swooning.  I couldn’t think what that might be…it is thirty-three years later and I still have no idea what that might be.  Ask my wife, she hasn’t swooned since her blood pressure was too high, or too low, and she took a funny turn in the bathroom.

I had a Saturday job at this point…working in McDonald’s.

I was a lobby host.

Sounds quite grand that doesn’t it?

It meant that instead of flipping frozen patties and squirting ketchup onto burger buns I cleaned tables, toilets and hosted kids birthday parties.  I don’t think McDonald’s do that any more…the birthday party thing, I’m almost positive that they still clean the toilets, but in 1990 I had to play pass the parcel with gangs of seven year old Fifers who were off their faces on the still Fanta we loaded them up with.  It was like being in a crack den…a palpable sense of danger hung heavy in the air.  Terrifying.  Sometimes there would be two or three in one shift and at those times I found myself praying to God for a strength that seemed to be beyond me.  Inevitably God was busy and I had to rely on a combination of balloons and brute strength to protect myself from the grabbing hands and swinging feet of these demons.

I saved up my wages for several weeks in order to facilitate a grand gesture.

No, not just grand…bold.

Not just bold…daring.

A grand, bold, daring gesture designed to win the heart of a girl who, with hindsight I now know, had placed me firmly into the part of her heart labelled “Friend/Acquaintance – Definitely Not Boyfriend”.

She liked music.

I liked music.

Music could be the thing to bring us together.

Together, together.

Right?

Right.

We had discussed The Beautiful South on more than one occasion.  We were both fairly confident that they were not as good as The Housemartins (she was convinced they were not as good as the Kevin McDermott Orchestra but I was fairly confident they were) but we both liked them.  We each owned a copy of “Welcome to…” and we were both very excited about their latest album “Choke”.

I used my Mc-Money and bought two tickets to see The Beautiful South at the Playhouse in Edinburgh on November 24th 1990.

Not just two tickets.

Two tickets in the third row.

Okay, the third row isn’t the front row but it is one row better than the fourth row and it’s pretty bloody close to the front row.

“Would you like to go and see The Beautiful South?”

“Yeah.”

“I meant, would you like to go and see The Beautiful South…with me?  I’ve got two tickets.”

“Yeah.”

Boom.

She loved me.

What am I basing that on?

Didn’t you hear what she said?

Listen again…

“I meant, would you like to go and see The Beautiful South…with me?  I’ve got two tickets.”

“Yeah.  I love you.”

BOOM!

Told you.

Getting to the Playhouse from Edinburgh involved a forty minute train journey from Kirkcaldy and then a short walk from Waverley Station to the top of Leith Walk.  We chatted on the way over about what we might expect…would they play any Housemartins songs (no), would it be any good (yes), what would we call our children (undecided).

The concert was brilliant…much better than my last visit to the Playhouse when I saw Whitesnake.  This time there was no double denim, no mullets, no prospect of being sacrificed by Satan’s Slaves and, best of all, an abundance of the sort of acetastic songwriting that only Paul Heaton delivers.

As we began to make our way out of the theatre I began to plot my big move.

Teenage boys have to plan “the move”.

Especially if it is going to be the big move.

The move that would lead to a steady girlfriend who lived in the same town as me and who people wouldn’t simply dismiss as being imaginary.

I would be urbane, witty and erudite on the journey home.

I would walk her to her door.

As we got close I would hold her hand.

Then, as we were saying goodnight, I would tell her I thought she was the prettiest girl in the school.

Her heart would melt.

Her eyes would close.

Her lips would whisper…”Kiss me”.

I would.

This was going to be wonderful.

Goodbye loser Max.

Hello ladies man Max.

As we neared the doors of the theatre a voice from behind us called her name.

We turned around to see her big sister walking towards us.

“Stay cool Max” I thought to myself “She probably goes to University in Edinburgh, this changes nothing.”

Big sister walked with us all the way to the train station.

“Any second now she will say her goodbyes and the move will still be on.”

She walked us to the platform.

“OK, OK…making sure little sis gets on the train safely.”

Then she boarded the train.

“Bit weird, she better be careful the train doesn’t leave with her still on it.”

The girl and the sister found two seats and sat down.

The train heaved out of the station, leaving the carbon bleached canopies of Waverley behind us.

We made it to Kirkcaldy.

The girl says goodnight and thank you.

The two of them head for home.

That was that.

No more waiting on the wall.

No more walking to school in the morning.

Just me.

Me and a broken heart.

A broken heart and a little time to think about how to mend it.

 

 

 

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