I was one inch away from my first kiss with Pauline Sidebottom when the police raided the party. If we hadn’t sat on the darkened stairway holding hands for nearly an hour we would have been alright. As it was our lips were so close and Pauline’s breath was misting my glasses when the constable kicked the door in. This was turning out to be some first date.
Mother said I couldn’t go to the Donnelly’s new year’s eve party and I knew from the moment I asked if I could see in 1974 with my friends I’d backed a loser. It sparked off a furious row the day before Christmas Eve, when Mother was busy with last minute preparations. I thought she’d be too distracted to disagree, but timing’s never been my strong point.
‘I’m surprised you want to spend your New Year’s Eve with that family,’ she said. ‘There will be drugs and trouble, I know there will’.
‘But Mum,’ I argued, ‘everybody’s going, all my friends. And I’m the only one who’s not allowed to go. Why can’t I go?’
Mother hefted the great frozen turkey onto the kitchen table and gave me her superior look.
‘I don’t think it’s suitable. You’ve just got to look at their boy. Jack’s his name isn’t it? All that hair, it’s hardly a good example.’
‘But Mum, Jack’s dad’s a teacher.’
‘And not a very good one from what I’ve seen.’
Mother hacked at the turkey’s polythene wrapping with a pair of scissors, jabbing to emphasise her point.
‘How would you know? Pete’s a great teacher. He treats us like grown ups and…’
‘There you go you see, what kind of a teacher let’s you call him by his first name? It’s not right that he should be teaching little children.’
She thrust her hand deep into the frozen carcase searching for the giblets.
‘I’m not little. I’m fourteen and I want to go to the party.’
‘Well you’re not,’ she waved the bag of giblets in my face. ‘I won’t have you going there when you should be spending New Year’s Eve with me and your Dad. I can’t see what the attraction is.’
There were plenty of attractions at the Donnelly’s party, but none I was going to share with Mother. For a start, the Donnelly’s seemed so exotic. As if having Pete as a teacher wasn’t enough, Jack, who was my age, was full of stories about his laid-back home life. I just had to see it. Then there was the party. At the last party I went to I’d played pass the parcel and brought home a slice of cake in a paper napkin. This was going to be a proper party with music and subdued lighting. And Pete said we could bring alcohol if we didn’t get drunk. But the greatest attraction was that Pauline Sidebottom was going to be there. Pauline was in my class and we’d been exchanging coy glances ever since half-term. Finally I’d summoned up the courage to ask her out. I’d got my friend, Richard Hampton, to deliver a note to one of Pauline’s friends asking Pauline if she’d go out with me. I got the answer back through the same route: yes she would.
But Mother wouldn’t budge about the party, so I started a campaign of attrition. I begged, then became stroppy and sulked after Christmas Dinner. Then, the day after Boxing Day, I revolted. I locked myself in my room and played the most rebellious record I had – Alice Cooper’s School’s Out – over and over on my tinny record player, until Mother screamed at me to stop. Finally Dad engineered a compromise, so his Christmas holiday wasn’t totally ruined, He suggested that Mother telephone Richard Hampton’s parents to confer. The Hampton’s lived in a better house than us, and Richard’s Father worked in an office. So Mother always deferred to Mrs Hampton. If Richard was allowed to go, so was I. Finally Mother capitulated.
‘I still don’t think this is right,’ she said as I was leaving the house. ‘You shouldn’t be going out late at your age so I want you back by ten o’clock. And don’t argue with me my lad or you can come straight back inside now.’
The Donnelly’s house was filled with people. Kids dominated the living room and sat on the stairs, but a few of Pete’s friends, had taken refuge in the dining room, where they drank red wine and talked politics. The party was every bit as exotic as I’d hoped it would be: Dark Side of the Moon played on the record player, and everywhere I looked it seemed as though there were kids drinking, smoking and kissing. Pauline was there and she looked lovely in a maxi skirt, with her fair hair unfastened from its plait. Her friend Janet – the one who carried the note for me – sat on the sofa next to her.
‘You got some cider.’
Richard Hampton looked envyingly down at the glass in my hand.
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘It’s been hidden behind some sacks in Dad’s shed since Christmas. He bought it for my sister and it sort of disappeared’.
‘Give us some then.’
‘No way, bugger off, I’ve only got enough for me.’
Richard tried to grab my glass and I pushed him away laughing.
‘Should’ve brought your own, instead of scrounging.’
‘I bet you’d give me some if I was Pauline.’ Richard jeered.
‘So why don’t you go and see if she wants any?’
It’s true. I’d managed to get to the party and I longed to be sat next to Pauline, where Janet was now, but I didn’t know how to do it. I hardly ever – well never really – went out with girls and I simply didn’t know where to start.
‘Coward,’ whispered Richard in my ear, ‘Wait there, I’ll be back in a minute.’
When Richard came back he had two thin smoking sticks in his hand which gave off a sickly sweet smell. He thrust one at me and held the other one under his nose.
‘Here, sniff this,’ he said. ‘It’ll get you going.’
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Drugs I think,’ said Richard. ‘They had a load of them going in the dining room, so I nicked a couple.’
I looked down at the smoking thing in my hand.
‘How the hell did she know?’
‘How did who know what?’ asked Richard.
‘How did Mum know there were going to be drugs at the party? She said there’d be drugs.
‘Well who cares anyway,’ said Richard sniffing at his stick. ‘Are you going to stand there all night or are we going to get on with it?’
So we took in great snorts of smoke from the sticks and I began to feel light-headed and faintly sick. Then, when the sticks had nearly burned down Richard placed his in an empty glass.
‘Here goes, wish me luck’ he said. ‘See you later.’
Richard swaggered across the room to Janet and bent down to whisper in her ear. She glanced at Pauline who nodded in answer to some unspoken question and then Janet stood up and followed Richard out of the room. There seemed to be some unspoken custom that courtships started on the stairs and couples didn’t return to the living room until they were well established. Pauline was alone now and I knew what I had to do. I felt leaden and sick but I went and sat down next to her, trying to look cool, but unable to even look at my date. I sat, completely upright on the edge of the sofa, staring miserably at the far wall.
‘I like your jeans,’ she said.
‘Your jeans. Did you get them for Christmas?’
‘Oh these, yes.’
I looked down at the wildly flaring denims that my Mother had reluctantly bought me. I stared at them with great interest for a few seconds as if I’d never seen them before, while I summoned the courage to carry on the conversation.
‘Your skirt, was that a Christmas present?’ I asked eventually.
‘Yes, it’s from British Home Stores’
Pauline smiled at me encouragingly.
‘I think you’re meant to say how nice I look in it’
‘Yes, you do. You look ace.’
After another long pause Pauline said,
‘Look, it’s a bit noisy in here. Should we go and sit on the stairs?’
‘Yeah, great. Do you want some cider?’
It was better on the stairs, we felt sort of tucked away. After ten minutes I was able to look into Pauline’s eyes without blushing. After twenty I held her hand and we sat there sipping cider from the glass I’d bought from the living room. Then, when someone went upstairs to use the bathroom, Pauline had to move closer to me to let them pass and I slipped my arm round her shoulders.
‘Look, this is great’, said Pauline quite some time later, just as my arm began to cramp, ‘but are we going to get to kiss this year or do I have to wait until 1974?
I glanced down at my watch. It was two minutes to twelve.
‘Shit. I’m late’
‘Late for what?’ Pauline asked.
‘Oh, nothing, just give me a kiss.’
I was one inch away from my first kiss with Pauline Sidebottom when the constable kicked the door in and everything went wrong.
Police seemed to swarm everywhere, and one of them shouted at us to stay where we were. The hallway full of young lovers turned into one full of screaming crying children, and Pete Donnelly, looking angry and confused, came to see what the noise was about. Pauline shrugged my arm off her shoulders as though our closeness had caused the raid and I just wanted to be at home tucked up in bed. Mother had been right and I was in trouble.
Two policemen herded us, snivelling and afraid, into the living room and as we were being lead away, I could hear Pete shouting behind us.
‘Incense, man. It’s bloody incense sticks you can smell, not Hashish. Fascist! It’s because the country’s run by people like you that we’re all living in a Stalinist state. Search the bloody place then.’
While the CID were busy ransacking the bedrooms, a policeman and woman took our names and addresses and telephoned our parents to come and fetch us. It was Dad who came for me which was a relief, because it meant a few minutes grace from Mother’s self-righteous fury. Dad spoke to the officer in charge for a few minutes and then we left.
‘Will I get arrested?’ I asked him on the way home.
‘No son. I think you’re in the clear. With the police at least anyway.’
That night I was sent straight to bed by Dad as Mother said she was too angry to speak to me. I spent most of the night awake in a weird state of mixed desire and fear thinking first about Pauline and then about the hell I was going to go through in the morning.
But hell never came on New Year’s Day. Mother and Dad had a few words about the party, but nothing was said to me. It wasn’t until January the third that the police called round to our house. As the sergeant spoke to my parents in the living room I tried to listen in from the kitchen, scared silly. But the door muffled the conversation and I only heard a few words of what was said.
‘Thorough search…pointless exercise…wasting police time…busy evening…no charges this time.’
That was it and then the police left. When they came out of the living room Mother looked shocked and indignant.
‘But I had to do it Joe, I had to call the police’ Mother said to my Dad. ‘There could have been drugs; the boy could have been dead for all I knew. I couldn’t just go round to that house and drag him out by myself could I.’
And that was my only date with Pauline Sidebottom. It might have ended badly, but there’s one thing I do know. When we were lined up in the Donnelly’s living room having our names taken, I looked like a condemned man, but not Pauline. She stood there still and calm as though she got busted by the police every day. And at that moment I was proud to be the boy who nearly kissed her.