Salut! North, I meant to say here, is not dead on purpose, just flagging a little because of other pressures on my time. Sadly, I got it wrong and said it at the main Salut! site by mistake. That should not stop this splendid tale by my friend Bill Taylor appearing where it was first intended. Look on it as a lovely piece of writing and reminiscence and also as part of Bill's untiring attempts to shame me into making Salut! north active again ...I’ve never been one to flog a dead horse (actually, that’s not at all true) but trying to breathe life into a dead blog is a different matter.
And it’s probably appropriate that this attempted Kiss of Life involves a real-life kiss… no yearning after an unattainable girl in a bus shelter for me.
It’s also mostly set in Shildon, Colin’s hometown, rather than my own, Bishop Auckland, a good three miles away. Strange how great a distance that seems when you’re 14 years old.
Which is how old I was when, for some inexplicable reason, my friend Peter and I decided to attend a performance of the school play at Bishop Auckland Grammar School. This would be two years before we were both invited not to return and only a year before Colin was to be kicked out.
Anyway, off we went and a pretty dull production it was, too. She Stoops to Conquer, as I recall. The headmaster, Dennis Weatherly – remembered more fondly by some old pupils than others – had heard me read for the part of Tony Lumpkin (the low comedian, for anyone unfamiliar with the play) and remarked sourly that giving it to me would be the most blatant typecasting he’d ever seen.
Come the intermission and we were out in the yard. I was looking around for a suitably remote corner to smoke one of the fourpenny Woodbines that the evil couple in the shop across the street sold singly to impecunious children. And then I was going to suggest we cut our losses, have a quicky froffy coffee in Rossi’s, the local hangout, and go home.
Peter, who I’ll admit was a bit more precocious than I, had other ideas.
Somehow we found ourselves talking to two…. girls. I didn’t talk much to girls in those days; I still regarded them as little more than boys who went backwards when you danced with them (a female teacher once tried briefly to instill the foxtrot into us) and giggled nastily in class when you hadn’t done your geometry homework and were knocked out of your seat by a blow across the head with all the exercise books Cosher Ibbotson had collected. That’s one reason I always sat at the front with the swots. It was far less painful.
Seeing these two, whom I knew only vaguely, out of uniform and into makeup – inexpertly applied, I’m sure, but your average 14-year-old boy doesn’t need much to stir his concupiscence – came as a surprise.
What was an even greater surprise was to hear one say, “If I’m with Pete (much cooler than Peter), you must be with him.”
Back into the play we went and, sure enough, his was sitting next to him and mine – her name was Margaret – was sitting next to me. After an agonising “should I or shouldn’t I” 20 minutes, I took her hand. And far from wrenching her fingers free, she put her head on my shoulder! At a school play!! In the assembly/dining hall!!
We didn’t wait for the end. Margaret whispered that she and her friend had to go and did I want to see her home to Shildon?
With the unheld hand, I did a quick count of the change in my pocket. Just enough for two bus fares to Shildon and one back to Bishop. So, yes, I did indeed want to see her home.
We got off the bus before Peter and his paramour and Margaret led me along a footpath by the railway line.
“This is as far as you can come,” she said, leaning disquietingly up against me. “Otherwise my dad might see you.”
Her eyes were half-closed and her lips were pursed. I leaned towards her, wafted in on her perfume, and murmured, quite intoxicated: “Is that the entrance to Shildon tunnel?”
I was still young enough to be interested in trains. And how often, en route to the metropolitan delights of Darlington, had I travelled through this very burrow. To be standing at one end of it… only one thing remained to consummate my delight. Margaret read my mind.
“You’d have to wait all night,” she said. “The last train’s gone.”
She seized me by the shoulders and applied her lips to mine. And, believe it or not, I quite forgot the tunnel and trains and railway lines. Your first kiss will do that.
It wasn’t Margaret’s first, as I discovered 20 minutes later when she came up for air and said, “You’d better go or you’ll miss the last bus.”
I said I’d see her in school next day and she shook her head.
“I wouldn’t say anything if I was you,” she said. “If Stu-y finds out, he’ll kill you.”
Stu-y? She nodded and named one of the school hard-knocks (as we called them), a strapping young thug with a tendency to punch and kick first and not bother asking questions.
“He’s my boyfriend. So be careful.”
I don’t think Margaret and I ever spoke again. I did catch her once looking at me from a distance with what seemed like a speculative eye. I turned away, in case Stu-y was looking, and speculating, too.
I don’t suppose she’s with him any longer. Hard to think that we’re all 63 now. Truth to tell, I’ve forgotten what that first kiss felt like.
But I’ve never forgotten the thrill that went through me when I first beheld the tunnel.