Posts Tagged ‘first love’

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission. See

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission.

I first fell in love when I was 10 years and 11 months old. She was 10 something, too.

It was 1967. Early June. A day trip to Brownsea Island. There was me, my Mum, and my best mate Ian Sinclair.

Ian was from Glasgow. Lord knows what his family was doing living in suburban Bournemouth on the genteel South Coast of England – Costa Geriatrica they call it – but he was incredibly exotic and attractive, with his rough Glaswegian accent, short, nuggety frame, tousled brown curls, and impish good looks. I think every girl in school was mad about him, not to mention a few older girls who had already gone ahead to big school, but with whom we shared the local bus service and cafes. Ian was, naturally, going out with the prettiest girl in school, Helen.

I was going out with the next prettiest, her twin sister Julie. Both girls were exceptionally attractive, awesomely tall, slender, played a demon game of netball, and were kindness personified. But whereas at nearly eleven Helen and Ian were already a little more “advanced” than might have been quite proper with their affections, neither Julie and I really had a clue what we were doing, apart from snatching the occasional mis-managed kiss and giggling inanely. She used to draw a lot of cartoon horses heads, too, and delighted in drawing them kissing each other, which was, she explained, a cipher for our affections, and much easier than both of us trying to surreptitiously watch the more skilled Ian and Helen and work out what we were doing wrong.

At the time, this compromise satisfied my emotional requirements from a girlfriend entirely, and we were great friends. But then, one fateful day, on Brownsea Island, Ian and I rounded a corner, having left my mother reading the early edition of the Bournemouth Evening Echo on the sun-kissed grassy lawns, and walked into Erin. Erin was the same height as me. Her lustrous hair, cut into a fringe behind which a pony tail tumbled and bounded around her shoulders (think Olivia Newton-John in the early scenes of Grease, but with light brown hair) shone – literally shone – and her face seemed almost to have a halo around it.

She wore a simple summer dress, and across the bridge of her upturned nose lay a spray of tiny freckles. Above that, a pair of laughing, humourous brown eyes twinkled challengingly.

I swear I stopped stone dead. Transfixed. She was, without question, the most beautiful creature I had ever clapped eyes on. Despite her holding my gaze, and swinging her body invitingly from side to side, I simply couldn’t speak. Ian laughed: “This is my best friend, Steve. I’m going over there, you talk.” And with that, he left. Wise beyond his years, to a fault, was our Ian.

In retrospect, she did all the work. couple handsShe asked where I was from, explained she was from a village nearby, told me her life history, (which basically consisted of which school subjects she liked), and generally tried to put me at my ease.

She was smiling constantly, as if in possession of a secret I did not share. Before long she had enough of talking, and her innately wild spirit took over.

She insisted we wander the more isolated part of the island, and soon enough, hand in hand, that is what we did. She was not my first kiss. But she was the first that happened spontaneously. Sneaky games of spin the bottle didn’t count, even if I had been introduced to the joys of kissing “properly” by Rick’s big sister Anna, who when the bottle slowly ground to a halt in front of me took me into the hall and proceeded to inculcate in me a joy of necking that stood me in good stead in years to come. With a rather tired and world-weary air, the 13 year old took me under her wing, almost as a social service. It was great. But my goodness, it was not as great as kissing Erin.

Our lips met, without warning, and it was perfect. It wasn’t forced, or scary. I felt a rush of emotions that were mainly composed of testosterone and adrenalin, and it was altogether wonderful. When I pulled back, she stood there with her arms around my waist, and leaned back, gauging, I think, the reaction in my face. Obviously satisfied, she kissed me again.

We walked a bit, mostly in silence, punctuated by laughter. She told me what she liked about me. At that moment, nothing was wrong, or could be wrong.

Then we ran. Ran as if the wild winds of the world were snapping at our heels. We ran for what seemed like hours, but it can only have been only a few minutes, maybe thirty, running with complete abandon, but always hand in hand. Our hands were clasped as if to let go would be to bring the world to an abrupt end. We ran through tree branches and bushes and down tracks and up hills and over the endless fields of purple heather and nothing could stop us; at that moment, I think I could have gladly run forever and never needed to breathe.

Until, of course, we ran into Ian, just before we reached the lawn, and the ferry that would take us and the Triumph Herald back to the mainland, and the inevitable goodbye, and the hilarity in Ian’s face punctured the moment, and Erin kissed me briefly just once more, and wrote down her phone number, and I went home. Somewhere a peacock cried its lamentation to the skies.

As I left, she got smaller and smaller, but it looked like she didn’t take her eyes off the ferry, until we had bumped off the other end, and turned left along the Sandbanks sand-dunes, and she was hidden from view.

And when Mum asked us in the car what we were talking about, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was too young to be getting a bus to another village to see a girl the same age, and goodness me, what would her mother think, for Heaven’s sake, and no, I couldn’t ring, and give me that piece of paper, and that, emphatically and finally, was that.

I’ve had a thing for freckles ever since. And girls called Erin. I never even got to say sorry. She must have thought I didn’t care.

Girl in the window, Salvador Dali
The girl in the window, Salvador Dali, mid-1920s

Some of the writing on WordPress is utterly charming. Emily Hauser’s work at In My Head often attains a flow of such effortlessly fluid competence that it leaves me, as a fellow professional, gasping. I have her to thank for many a heart-warming or thought-provoking start to my day.

I warmly recommend her musings on her childhood newspaper delivery round at

In the UK, being a paper boy was even more exhausting than Emily remembers from her Chicago childhood.

Unlike the USA, where papers are vaguely flung in the direction of the front yard, in the UK they were always delivered through the letterbox, which was usually an impossibly narrow or idiotically positioned integral component of a front door, rather than a decent-size receptacle intelligently stuck on a pole at the front gate. And the front door was invariably up the end of a path or driveway, which was always, equally certainly, covered in treacherously invisible black ice mysteriously laid down in the frigid pre-dawn.

Bikes were impractical; you’d have been on and off the thing 500 times a morning. So, rain, hail, snow or shine, one walked, carrying a bag weighing about the same as a small car on one’s ten year old frame. A bag that was made of a sort of hessian, that got heavier and smellier as it got wetter from the freezing rain that always came in horizontally off the English Channel in that seaside town of blessed memory.

Sooner or later the papers inside would get wet, and start to glutinously stick together, until eventually the whole interior started to resemble a sort of papier mâché sculpture of indistinct design.

Oh, how we laughed.

Just as it became almost overwhelmingly tempting to dump the whole bag behind the vast hedge at Miss King’s the piano teacher and run away to sea, there was something to live for.

Every morning, Sophie, the new girl with impossibly blue eyes who had moved into the yellow house down the road, used to wave at me as she sat in her bedroom window eating her rice crispies , as I vainly tried to squeeze the Daily Telegraph through their impossibly small letterbox, usually shredding it in the process.

Her father, who became infamous for writing a letter complaining about the state of the roads to the local paper, (in those days an impossibly infra dig* thing to have done), must have cursed me daily. Sophie just gazed down, like an imprisoned princess in a tower of sunflower weatherboards and slate tiles, a sudden ray of sunshine on a sodden day.

She went away the next year, to big school, until a famously hot summer some eight years later, when we endured one awful first – and last – kiss in the back of a taxi after an awkward shared meal of chicken chow mein and egg fried rice where neither of us could think of anything to say. We should have left it at a lonely wave and a gentle smile that made the unendurable worthwhile.

Never go back, Dear Reader. Never go back.

*Infra dig: a phrase beloved of my mother, one of the genteel poor, meaning unbecoming of one’s position or beneath one’s dignity.

It derives from the Latin infra dignitatem, literally ‘beneath (one’s) dignity’. It is first recorded by William Hazlitt in Table talk; or, Original essays on men and manners, 1822:

“Among other things, the learned languages are a ready passport to this sort of unmeaning, unanalysed reputation. They presently lift a man up among the celestial constellations, the signs of the zodiac (as it were) and third heaven of inspiration, from whence he looks down on those who are toiling on in this lower sphere, and earning their bread by the sweat of their brain, at leisure and in scorn. If the graduates in this way condescend to express their thoughts in English, it is understood to be infra dignitatem …”

The first person to put the shortened infra dig. version into print was Sir Walter Scott. He uses it in his 1825 novel Redgauntlet:

“It would be infra dig. in the Provost of this most flourishing and loyal town to associate with Redgauntlet.”

If ever used, it is now more commonly written without the full stop. Even most of those who realise it is an abbreviation now consider it to be well-enough established not to require it, as amp – short for ampere – is now accepted without a full stop.

What is beneath one’s dignity is obviously a matter of judgment. The group most often associated with the term are the British upper middle classes, a mindset rather than a measurement of purchasing power, although they might now consider it infra dig ever to use it.