The headmaster’s daughter had a surname that was very similar to mine. The headmaster did too, for that matter, but that didn’t seem so important to me as he was not the one I was in love with. I was in love with his daughter.
Because we sat next to each other on the register, so too were we sat next to each other in class. That was a mandatory requirement for the first day, but it was through choice any day after that. It wasn’t love at first sight – not really for me and certainly not for her – but we became friends immediately and it was probably as long as a year before it dawned on me that I was actually on the brink of being incurably and irreversibly smitten with her.
Being in love with one of your best friends is always a tricky thing to navigate, but what made the situation worse was that she was going out with another friend of mine – someone with whom I shared a lot of classes and spent a lot of free time. In my weaker moments, I was bitterly jealous of him for having snaffled her away from me but, for the most part, I realised he was no more an obstacle than I, myself, was.
I felt so awkward about this crush and was so aware that I was showing the symptoms of severe lovesickness, that I was sure that it was only a matter of time before someone would rumble me. Not wanting to face up to the complicated shift in dynamics that this would inevitably cause – not to say anything of the embarrassment – I did the only thing I could think to. I pretended to have a crush on her best friend.
As a pre-emptive measure, I mentioned this to a few select people and the rumour took hold with devastating effect. It was awful. Within the space of morning break, word had spread around the whole of the classroom. Nudges, winks and whispers swirled around me. Well-meaning well-wishers offered to put in a good word for me to boost my share price, while other amateur Cupids tried to orchestrate situations where this girl and I would chance upon each other and I could make my move.
As news of this nature often does, it had all but died down within a couple of days – except, sadly, exactly where it mattered. Where others became quickly bored, the headmaster’s daughter – the girl upon whom I had become dangerously fixated – remained determined. She was delighted by the thought of her friend and I hooking up and, although she knew it would be tough work convincing her best friend to become my girlfriend, she made it her pet project.
She saw her biggest chance in getting me an invitation to this friend’s birthday party. The friend in question didn’t particularly want me there – not least because she had absolutely no intention of getting herself fixed up with me (not knowing, of course, that I had absolutely no intention of it either) – but the headmaster’s daughter dug in her heels and my attendance was therefore graciously requested and patiently tolerated.
So there I was, trying to maintain the air of someone who was in love with the host yet fighting every possible opportunity to talk to her (which, I would later come to realise, lent a certain authenticity to my behaviour) and it wasn’t long before I did what I did at a lot of teenage parties – slink off towards the stereo and sift through the host’s CDs.
Finding nothing that I liked, I would invariably turn to the two or three CDs that I would have brought which, at this party, included Ash’s 1977.
Commandeering the hi-fi at a party and playing your own music is, in terms of etiquette, only marginally less objectionable than licking every piece of a person’s cutlery and putting them back where you found them, but I knew exactly the effect it would have. It drove everybody out into the garden and called the headmaster’s daughter in to me.
As long as Ash were playing, we no longer had to talk of her friend. We could talk of the music we loved and what it meant to us and how it made us feel – and it was brilliant.
“They’re playing in a few months,” she said. “In London. I really want to go.”
In my mind, it was settled. We were going.
Convincing my father that he should let me – his 13 year old son – take the headmaster’s daughter all the way to London to take her to a rock concert proved a step too far. My disappointment must have been clear however as he did (to my endless gratitude) agree to take the pair of us on the condition that he acted as chaperone – the anxiety of which, he has since admitted, was something that caused him to age a decade in the course of an evening.
It was, in one evening, my first gig, my first glimpse of London by night and my first proper chance to spend any real time with the first girl who really stole my heart. And just as it had been in her friend’s front room – it was brilliant.
As my father drove us home, the headmaster’s daughter insisted that we put the same album that we had just heard played live on in the car. When I looked over, two tracks in, she had fallen asleep. She had sausage roll crumbs in her hair. On and off, I would love her for another two years.