These are unbelievably self-indulgent, but I really enjoy writing them. Those two facts are probably not coincidental.
I was going to go back to the first three RAM posts, to make sure I didn’t double up on anything. It’s quite easy to forget what I’ve already covered.
But then I realised that, actually, it might be interesting to avoid re-reading them for that reason. If the same memory pops up twice, perhaps it’s on my mind for a good reason. If I describe it in a different way, then similarly that might reveal something interesting.
1) My first French kiss was with a girl called Joanna Rowlings, or JoRo (I don’t remember seeing her nickname written down, but the CamelCase seems appropriate). We were 10, or maybe 11. Another couple – my friend Dean and his girlfriend Nicola Dunham – were there too, lying on the endless grassy slope of the Nower. Both couples decided to do it simultaneously. Sort of a dare.
“Eurgh!” I exclaimed. “It’s like there was a slug in my mouth!”
2) Aged around 17, I was studying English, French and History for A Levels. My French class was mostly girls. I think maybe one other boy. Oh! That reminds me of something else! Wait, I’ll finish this one first. One of the girls in the class was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, forceful character called… Oh, damn it. I can’t remember. This is why I don’t think a traditional autobiography is on the cards for me. Memory like a… metal thing. Holes in it.
I quite liked her. I didn’t know what to do about that. At one point, it turned out that the sixth form were doing a show of some kind, and were recruiting volunteers. She asked if I would dress up in drag for some skit or song or somesuch. I can barely articulate the solidity of my refusal. It was bafflingly vast, and dense, like a planet screaming “NO.”
I’m not sure why. Scared of seeming foolish. Of having the spotlight swing in my direction. The sheer CERTAINTY of my response surprised even me. I didn’t see it coming, but it wasn’t the last time it happened.
3) I was early 20s, in Bath, a magazine journalist. The word ‘journalist’ gives an authenticity and sense of professionalism that I really didn’t possess. A lot of us were terribly underqualified, learning on the job. I had a big long coat that I loved. I was at a nightclub one evening, the coat hung up on a hook, having… well, probably not having that much fun. My 20s weren’t a hoot. When I left at the end of the night, I realised that my coat pockets were lighter than they should be. Someone had pickpocketed me. I think I even had some kind of brand new Nintendo handheld console in there, like an idiot.
The immediacy and savagery of my righteous fury – once again – took me by surprise. Someone had STOLEN from me. They KNEW it wasn’t theirs and they TOOK it anyway. What the ACTUAL FUCK how DARE they what could how is it even possible that I can’t what UNBELIEVABLE fucking THIEVES must have JESUS CHRIST I can’t believe it.
Incoherent with rage, I took it very, very personally indeed. It was the most violated I had ever felt – and yes, I know how staggeringly lucky I am for that to be true.
4) Nicola Dunham. From before. We were only in primary school, but she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Just… honestly, so pretty. You have no idea. Olive skin, huge almond-shaped eyes. I once had a dream where she wanted to kiss me, but my mouth was completely full of Digestive biscuit crumbs and I could only spray them at her, helplessly. But that’s not this particular memory. This one is when I asked her boyfriend, Dean, to ask what she thought of me. Relationships at that age were… transitory at best. Dictated by prepubescent whims.
We were on a school trip at the time, wandering around a ruined castle. I have no idea where, it’s Britain. We’ve got more derelict medieval fortresses than Starbucks. I remember looking down at a courtyard area, and watching Dean and Nicola wander through it. She spotted me, had evidently been asked the question by that point, and felt like it would be useful to give me my answer directly. “You’re stupid, fat, ugly, and you smell!” She shouted up to me. Those exact words.
5) Back to Bath. I don’t know old. 24? 25? It was a Future Publishing party. Hundreds of people there. I got drunk quite early. The last thing I remember is haranguing a colleague’s girlfriend about the length of her skirt. Odd. Not very like me.
The rest of it had to be pieced together from friends afterwards. Apparently I used my size and bulk to pin girls into corners, not letting them leave. Apparently I was coarse, and loud, and monstrous. Talking to a female friend on the phone days afterwards, I was trying to convince her I had no memory of the event whatsoever. She told me that our friendship was over. She didn’t want to be associated with someone who could behave like that.
Walking with a friend (the one who was telling me just how bad I had been), we passed a pretty girl who also worked at Future, but whom I had never met. She gave me a strange look as we passed. My friend told me that yes, I had met her. At the party. I had not been pleasant.
I don’t want to write about it any more. I didn’t quit alcohol entirely after that event, but it dramatically changed my relationship with booze.
6) I was at university, but home on a break. I went to a party with my sister, I think it was mostly her friends. I didn’t know anyone. I met two girls. One was this stunning girl called Emma. Emma Sutton? Maybe. That’s definitely a person. It might be the person I’ll talk about later in another memory. She looked very much like Jennifer Connelly, with long dark hair, curves… Gosh. Just amazing. I never dreamed I would ever kiss a girl as pretty as her. As I recall, nothing much happened that first night, but I got an invite to her birthday not long afterwards.
All I knew about her is that she loved wine, so I bought her a book. It was my favourite book, probably Donna Tartt’s Secret History. I wanted to wrap it in something a bit more interesting and unusual than the usual Paperchase stuff, so I think I used newspaper. I cut out a large letter E for Emma.
Everyone else gave her wine, so I think I dodged a bullet there. We snuck away in the evening. Snogged. It was all rather lovely. Her best friend was called Nia Gibbons. “What?” I laughed, not able to stop myself. “Like… in proximity to monkeys?!” She was not particularly amused. Apparently no-one had ever made that link before, to my astonishment.
I met Emma once or twice more, before heading back to university. At one point we ended up in her bed – fully clothed, but… Heady times. Heady times.
Walking with my friend Geoff, we passed a phone box. I popped in, rummaged around for some change, and gave her a call. “Hey! It’s Tom!”
7) Another Emma. Slim, long dark hair. A friend of my mother’s (although much younger, I hasten to add, my age) through teaching. Beautiful, smart, funny. Also freshly out of a very serious relationship. I had just left university (without a degree) and had no idea what to do with my life. We had sort of not-really-dates, including a meal at a pub that she had to leave before we had even ordered anything, because the Lightning Seeds came on and it reminded her so viscerally of her ex that she couldn’t bear it.
It was doomed from the beginning, but I had quite the crush. She loved one particular DIY show with a burning passion, never missed an episode. Grand Designs? Something like that. Our little romance, if it could even be called that, had already petered out, but I wanted to get her a Christmas present.
I went to Waterstones and found a glossy coffee table book of Grand Designs stuff. Wrapped it (proper stuff this time, not newspaper). I went around to her parents house as the huge, heavy snowflakes drifted down. I was nervous. I left the present on the doorstep, rang the bell, turned, and walked away. Felt like the proper thing to do.
“Tom!” I turned around, and there she was. Hugging herself, freezing in the December air, shoeless. She had opened the present immediately and rushed out to make sure she caught me. Best present ever. Love it so much. So sweet of me.
It was the one time in my life that I felt a bit like I was in a romcom.
I don’t think I ever saw her again.
8) Remember I said my French class had one other guy in it? He really, really didn’t want to be there. I think he picked the class almost at random. He wasn’t particularly engaged, or academic. I don’t remember his name. The only thing I remember about him is… okay. We had a Simone de Beauvoir book, and we were to take turns reading from it, translating as we went. Not easy.
He went first. He looked at the cover. Frowned. “Er… The Mandarins. By… Simon the Beaver.”