I can never resist a gauntlet, well, not when it's thrown down by someone I admire. So when the Illustrious Waffle put out the challenge to write about first love in all its gory detail, I seized the chance to tell the story of how I unwittingly put someone off worldly relationships for life.
To find the tale's beginning, we must return to the time of tory boys, and fire up the Ashes to Ashes soundtrack. Matthew Fitzgerald, as we shall call him - naturallyI have changed the names to protect the guilty - was my first foray into the tory boy type, though he was much more rebellious and less tweedy than later examples. He had the requisite wedge haircut, nice manners and the wherewithall to buy a gin and orange, but with added Bad Boy qualities - a shocking reputation for breaking hearts and being unrepentantly late with his homework. Usually, tory boys were bard boys, given to slipping scrolls of tortured adolescent poetry into your pocket at the bus stop, but with his brooding way of turning up the collar of his Crombie against the rain, and of curling a sneering lip around a Players No. 6, Matthew had swallowed the anti-hero manual. His name was doodled on every exercise book, girls missed several buses home trying to catch the one he was on, most break-times were spent discussing what it might be like to be kissed by him. Truly, he was the Byron of Birkenhead.
I wouldn't say I was immune to his charms, I was just more realistic: I'd seen him loitering in cool record shops with a copy of The Face. He wore peg top trousers like David Bowie in his 'Let's Dance' phase, and winklepicker shoes. Rumour had it that he'd even been to London to hang out at The Wag Club. Not in my league, I thought. I'd content myself with the mild literary flirtation of the bard boys at the local library.
But as chance would have it, and after not very long at all, we ended up on the same dancefloor of some sticky carpeted nightclub in a forgotten corner of Birkenhead, gyrating to New Order's Blue Monday, the longest danceable tune ever to chart in the UK. Prevented from close physical contact by the outrageous pointiness of our respective winklepickers, the synthpop-fuelled tension built between us until, close to the six minute mark, we lurched into a fierce, compulsive embrace, the braces on his teeth bruising my lips with the force of his passion, my long hair catching painfully on the parallel rows of buttons on his shirt. By the time Blue Monday had given way to Duran Duran, we were off the dancefloor and snogging for England. In the argot of the day, we had 'tapped off'.
Reader, I'm sorry to disappoint, but this great lothario kissed like a carwash. So drowned in spittle was I, I kept having to break off to rub my face affectionately on his shirt. Did I let this put me off? I did not. I was filled with all the exultant triumph of a 100 to 1 racehorse romping home against all expectations in the Grand National. He could have had the breath of Baal and the personal hygiene habits of a Gruffalo for all I cared. The prize longed for by my entire class was mine: Love might be a drug, but victory is more potent and addictive. I let him wait for me outside school on Monday and contrived to appear chilly so he'd put his blazer around my shoulders. I let everyone see his self-consciously romantic gestures like lighting two cigarettes and passing one to me. He bought me Joy Division's Love will Tear Us Apart in 12 inch vinyl and I'm ashamed to say I didn't hesitate to bring it to school to parade in front of everyone.
But I'm afraid that Mr Fitzgerald was a better trophy than he was a boyfriend, so quite how he was so prefixed with mystique, I have no idea. His dating M.O mostly involved coming round to mine on the pretext of helping me with my latin prep but I never saw him get Cicero out of his satchel before he pounced. I can't say that I was immune to pouncing, being young and extremely curious, but his brand of pouncing was so horribly inept, featuring more carwash kissing, and vigorous rummaging under my school shirt, all sweaty palms, doggy tongue and orangutang arms. Within days he was pressurising me to 'go all the way', making so many irrepressible assaults on my virtue I knew exactly how Clarissa felt fending off Lovelace. Actually, scratch that -there is no literary analogy worthy of his persistence. I felt like a leg to which an amorous dog had become attached: he was unshakeable. Had the technique been more honed, and the execution more adroit and less enthusiastic, perhaps I would have succumbed, but at last, bored by my rebuffs, he decided to finish with me.
The Conversation took place on the platform of Hamilton Square tube station in Birkenhead after a visit to Probe, an incredibly trendy record shop in Liverpool run by Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, who looked rather different in those days. He'd been silent for the whole journey, and hadn't launched himself at me once, which was welcome, if unusual.
'We need to talk' he said, in that fabulously original way that such conversations always start.
'Ok' I replied, refusing to be drawn and having read enough Cosmopolitan to know what to expect from such an opener.
'I don't think we should see each other anymore. You see, I've got my exams coming up and I really need to get some work done. Oh, and I'm entering a seminary in September: I'm going to train as a priest.'
'Like, as in Catholic priest?' God I was slow on the uptake.
'Um, yes. I've been called.'
'Well, I can see that having a girlfriend might be a little surplice to requirements.' I regained my composure as best I could, taking refuge in silly puns. I left him on the platform, thinly disguising my high dudgeon, and took the bus the rest of the way home.
But really? I must confess [snigger] that I was a little put out. What can one make of it? That I was so fabulous that only God would do next? That my failure to acquiesce to his base desires confirmed his vocation? To this day, I've not really managed to get to grips with it, and would be grateful for any theories offered.
And as for Matthew Fitzgerald, he didn't become a priest, but a monk, tending the apple orchards at Ampleforth, teaching and such like, or so I'm told, but I didn't trouble too much with keeping up with him. I'm hardly likely to make him my friend on Facebook.
First love? Pah. Overrated. Get it over with for practise. Romeo and Juliet is just a story, and I think there was a dodgy monk in that too.
Hang on, since when were Tory boys so goddamn cool? Winklepickers? A copy of the Face? Wonders will never cease. xx
Loved it! Was the sticky carpet Nightclub Ruperts by any chance ?
Oh what a tragedy. Are you sure this priesthood lark wasn't just something he'd read in a boy's version of the Cosmo? ‘How to end it with a girl who doesn’t give out on the second date.’
A great story, loved it.
"A LITTLE SURPLICE TO REQUIREMENTS..."
One of the great in jokes.
Love this word play.
I've added you to my favorites list...curated and illustrious.
Lovely story, and beautifully written (as always). I would hazard a guess that his superhuman persistence had as much to do with the impending orders as with the usual hormonal urge; perhaps he should have confessed his approaching chastity to you.
I'm sure the thought of being quite literally his 'one and only, for ever more' would have been a sufficient aphrodisiac to overcome your reticence.
aarrgh. a priest??? i think the purity and depth of his love for you sparked a higher calling, actually. you were a catalyst. pity he ended up an apple farmer tho, and not the pope
You got my vote.....
Fantastic story - having a first love who became a monk is much more romantic than one who became a hedge fund manager (yes, I looked him up on Facebook).
And so evocative of those teenage 80s snogs - the first boy I ever kissed had a mouthful of metal, with horrid elastic bands attached...
Ha ha, what a brilliant story! I am new to Mrs-T and have been enjoying your tales, you do write beautifully and very wittily. I shall be sticking around!
Ahhh....the love story of youth. Some women have said that they have dated men who have become gay. Some men have dated women who have become lesbians. But you are the first woman I have ever heard of who dated a man who "had the calling." It was his fault really. God didn't give him the blessing of being much of a kisser so I guess he figured he had no talent with women and would be better at kissing the bible---less lip, you see. What a great way of telling a story through the age of music. I love your references. I could see everything so visually. You on the dance floor finally getting your prize and showing all those evil girls in their uniforms what Mrs. T was all about. You're a great writer. I wonder if that lovely monk still thinks of you and then has to self-flagellate afterwards. Ahhhhh the punishments of love. Excellent piece. xoxoxo---one of 365
I love that 'Bryon of Birkenhead'!
They make very good apple juice at Ampleforth apparently; my mum and granny go and get it.
Maybe they get it from him?
HE BECAME A MONK! Oh my Lord, quite literally in his case. You can be proud, very proud, to have been the girl who was unmatchable. You are the woman who couldn't be bettered. I bow before you....
Irresistible! All the way up to its pious conclusion.
Ha! Just as well his calling didn't require more kissing...Actually your post was better than Ashes to Ashes at transporting me back to misspent youth. I'd had a Joy Division and Wag club moment in one!
Great piece - loved it. A collection of 'first love' stories would make a great book. Enjoying your blog
best wishes Sarah
good lord - we were THROWN back into the past at the mention of ashes to ashes - vivid memories of dusty-smelling red velvet curtains, lightbulbs removed for weird orange-y shades - so unflattering to a teenage complexion - groping to depeche mode.
we love it here. am going to pop back chez Trefusis a lot.
Ruperts ! Good grief - haven't thought about that place for 30 years - it's all coming flooding back to me now. Gosh Mrs T you really take me back - that 12 inch od Blue Monday was the bane of my life at the time - just went relentlessly b;eating on forever and zapped all my enthusiasm for dancing.
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