Declan Hughes

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Eleven things in January

Years ago, in a column in the New Statesman, Sean French said that the tagline to the movie Love Story - love means never having to say you're sorry - was not just wrong, it was the precise opposite of the truth. In his experience, love meant always having to say you're sorry. This has been my experience also.

On Middle Abbey Street once, two old ladies, sheltering in the doorway of a shop, beckoned to me as I passed.
"Sorry to bother you," one of them said.
"We were just wondering," said the other.
"Do you think this is a shower?"
"Or is it rain?"
I took a moment.
"Rain," I said.
Both ladies thanked me, and then the second turned to her companion with the look that is second nature to old ladies the world over, the look of mild triumph that means, "See?"

My favourite book when I was a child was The Magic City by E. Nesbit. It had 333 pages. It's the story of an unhappy boy who builds a city out of bricks and blocks and ornaments and books and in the moonlight, the city becomes real and the boy enters it and finds a way out of his unhappiness. I read it fourteen times.

The first single I bought was Ride A White Swan by T. Rex. My first LP was Slayed? by Slade. I was in love with Marc Bolan when I was eight, so much so that I wrote poetry about hobbits and elves, just like Marc, and made the mistake of showing it to The Lads, who never let me forget it. I was not in love with Noddy Holder, or at least, not in that way.

Myles na gCopaleen numbered among the worst clich├ęs about Christmas "I do always think it is a sad time" and "Above all, 'tis a time for the children." (I quote from memory.) I took these to heart at seventeen, resolving never to utter anything so crass. In the last few weeks, I gave voice, with complete sincerity and no embarrassment, to both of these sentiments.

When I was seven, I refused to go to a magic show in Our Lady's Hall because older girls told me the magician had made people's heads disappear and they never got them back. Those naughty older girls!

The first time I got drunk, I was eleven or twelve. I bought a flagon of cider, without being asked my age or challenged in any way, and brought it home and drank it in my bedroom at high speed. And felt nothing. No flights of fancy, no wit or wisdom, no falling down, no seeing the funny side. An older boy had told me that vinegar was an antidote to alcohol, so I found a bottle of malt vinegar in the kitchen and drank as much of it as I could, and was vomiting by the time my mother got home. I got the next day off school. I never told anyone what I had done.

Wrangler jeans were the thing because of the patch on the back pocket. And a Wrangler jacket! I never had one. If there is one thing I could change about my childhood, it would be to have had a Wrangler jacket when I was twelve, so that, when I reached fourteen, it would have been perfectly faded. Although that is not the one thing about my childhood I would change.

My first kiss was in a stable. The girl is dead now. The boy she kissed straight after me is dead as well. We used to pick elderberries in the Gut by the railway tracks. I went to his funeral and met a friend in the churchyard afterwards, who had arrived late and thought it was the father who had died, not the son. When I told him, at first he thought I was joking. What kind of joke would that have been?

The NME, which I read every week between 1978 and 1986 without missing a single issue, once suggested a title for a great "lost" Pogues song: Sorry About Your Coat, But I'm on Antibiotics and I Haven't Had My Tea.

If I were king for a day, I would lay railway track so that no one was further than a few miles from a station, and I would make the carriages comfortable and the food delicious and the drinks superior and the railway hotels immaculate and the tickets affordable, and I would make it illegal, possibly a hanging offense, for anyone not to use them. As Johnny Mercer knew, there is nothing better than a train:
And you see Laura, on the train that is passing through,
Those eyes, how familiar they seem.
She gave your very first kiss to you,
That was Laura, but she's only a dream.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere. I hope you'll not be away as long this time.

Loved the "rain/shower" anecdote. That's fodder for a longer story if I ever heard one.

13 January 2010 at 20:44  
Blogger AnswerGirl said...

The E. Nesbit story is my favorite. Isn't it remarkable how often we do wind up getting exactly what we wished for?

13 January 2010 at 21:22  
Blogger Alan said...

That really touched me. Having grown up in Norn Iron in the 'seventies, so much of that was familiar - although I read Sounds and fell in love with Deborah Harry rather than Marc Bolan (when Blondie did Denis on TOTP and she appeared to be wearing just a man's red shirt). Thanks for the nostalgia.

16 January 2010 at 20:10  
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