Sunday, 22 January 2017


That hall had never looked so vast. My back clung to the wall, beside the backs of all the other boys, while across the wooden floor, clinging to the other wall stood the girls.

To gain admission to a legendary Scout Hall Disco, we’d formed two long queues arching away from each other, boys in one and girls from two nearby schools in the other.

To us English Public School boys, females were an alien species. Across the Quad we eyed each other from afar, pointing and laughing now and then, daring to dream just a tiny bit, our individual fears still eased by the safety of numbers.

During the night we danced with - or as near as possible to - as many beings with different bodily bits as possible, but now it was the business end of the evening.

Time for the last dance, always a long slowy - the make or break moment of the evening.

Tension filled the air as powerful teenage urges collided with pure terror.

You had three ways to approach it: if you’d already ‘got off’ with a girl (as loosely defined a term as your own Irish ‘shifted’) you were sitting on the edge of the stage, ostentatiously exploring far-distant parts of her lung with your tongue.

However, if you were not superhuman and entwined with a lass from Northwood College, you either had to go for it or admit defeat, by uttering a barely believable

“Nah, don’t fancy any of ‘em!”

To the sound of that week’s number one (10cc’s I’m Not In Love) I decided the time had come. 

I’d identified the girl I was going to ask. Somehow I’d found out that she was called Christine, and I also knew that she was wearing Charlie perfume, so I could greet her by name, ask her to dance and then maybe make her smile by telling her my name.

As plans go it was far from great, but it was all I had, and man, fwooh-hooh, she was beautiful!

Despite being at that time an insecure unhappy boy, I was born with a daring spirit. As a gasp rose behind me, I strode out into the empty dance floor.

Driven by a teenage libido matched only by my huge inexperience, 
I felt as if I was rowing single-handedly across the Pacific Ocean.

She said yes. We danced slow, smooched in public and later kissed in private behind the carpentry workshop. My first proper kiss was tender and clumsy and mysterious and over way too quickly.

Many of you from my generation went through similarly terrifying rituals, but oh my goodness we were so lucky.

Yes, I could feel the eyes of all the boys on my back as I headed off on my mission, the stares of the girls as I approached them, and of course it was utterly terrifying, but that was as far as it went.

No texts were flying around that hall, slagging off my cheesecloth shirt and denim jacket. No boy was sending sly and sarcastic messages to a girl across the floor about me as I walked. 

My hair, in those days long but not in a good way, lost somewhere between a Jewfro and a Beehive, was not being trolled on Twitter. 

Nobody was filming me on their iPhone. 

When I finally inexpertly kissed her, our mouth to mouth encounter was not going live on Facebook, not being mocked on Instagram.

I’m so glad I’m not a young person now.

Yes, there was bullying, both mental and physical violence in my school, but when you were the victim, you tended to be there, physically present. If somebody had an issue with you, it was dealt with face to face.

After less successful weekend ventures with the opposite sex, I dreaded Monday mornings back at school, but while things occasionally became vicious, it was direct. There was no background group mockery in the ether.

Well, apart from the stuff my own paranoid nature invented.

Boiling bags of hormones, half adult half child, teenagers have never had it easy, but now, with all their peers eternally connected, their lives have become incredibly complex at a time when they are least able to deal with subtleties.

With diagnoses of anxiety disorders growing exponentially among young people, I wonder where they go for sanctuary. Back in the 1960s I used to find comfort in collecting football cards. They weren’t stickers. You had to use one of those rubber-tipped glue bottles to stick the cards in the album. I prowled the schoolyard with my piles of swaps, looking for Jimmy Husband of Everton and Derek Dougan of Wolves.

In a pack of Match Attax, today’s equivalent, I find a card showing what it describes as a unique online code, that will unlock free digital cards, so I can play for the chance to win exclusive Pro 11 cards.

I refuse to believe that our brains have evolved so quickly in 40 years that a nine year-old today would not feel satisfied by simply completing an album.

Now, however, children are not allowed to feel that’s enough. They must need more, to become solid members of our consumer culture.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. My encounter with Christine did not end well. Awaking with a telephone number on the back of my hand, I joyously dialled the numbers, only to discover she had betrayed me. Through dark hours of teenage angst I called different combinations of that number, but Christine was never there.

If the internet had existed, I might now have trolled her on several different platforms, but the family phone was all we had. 

Teens have always been cruel to each other, and are now provided with so many ways of going about it.

©Charlie Adley

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