Thursday, 14 May 2015
Oliver: The Field Mice - Think Of These Things (8 December 1991)
So picture me, sat in a French lesson at my secondary school, circa October 1991, a few weeks before the John Peel shows that I've taken as the starting point for this blog are going to be broadcast. I'm probably still running over the possibility of auditioning for Oliver and starting the hobby that will link the two together, 23 years hence. For reasons I can't recall, I've had a stressful day at school and even though this is the last lesson of the day and a subject I enjoy, my teacher has looked at a piece of work I've done and rejected it out of hand. Stupidly, I try and argue my case and am slapped down by her, tout suite (is it any wonder I got a grade B in the subject?) I stalk back to my chair, angry and harrased. The contretemps (I've still got it, haven't I?) between Miss Roberts and I would have been noticeable to the rest of the class. I sit down and gaze absently towards the window, reflecting on the injustice of it all. I can see the tops of the trees at the end of the field and the point where the science block seems to segue into the chain fencing of the tennis courts, when I am taken out of my reverie by a glinting, shining light. It's Carly, sat next to the window I'm gazing out of, and she's smiling at me. A warm, friendly, soul revifying smile which jolts me out of my daydreaming and causes me to smile back and look back down at my work. I've been caught in that way people are when others help them to snap out of a trance and back into the here and now. I recognise this straightaway, but as I try and apply Miss Roberts's suggestions, a conflicting thought is starting to grow in me. Why did she smile? Why was she looking at me like that? Why didn't she just wave while mocking my gormlessness, which happened to me a few times in the past when other classmates, some of them female, caught me going into shutdown. I look back over at her, she's working again, breaking off to chat to her friend, Michelle, she of the Living History and Neighbours recreation craze of 1989. I try to work on too, but I keep looking up and the image of that smile keeps playing in my mind. And I can feel it starting to ask me more questions - "You liked being the recipient of that smile, didn't you? You've always gotten on OK with her, haven't you? Remember in Year 8 when the English teacher, Mrs D'Alton (who will crop up again on my drama journey over the years) decided to restore order by splitting the class up into boy/girl sitting patterns and put you together with her. There's always been a sort of connection hasn't there?" Well there hadn't been, but a smile received at just the time I needed it, pitched me into my first fully fledged crush on someone I spent large portions of time around, rather than the TV star/pop star ones of times past. Indeed I spent most of early 1991 frantically looking in the TV Times for the LA Law listing so I could see whether the delectable Sheila Kelley, in the period before she became a regular cast member, was going to be appearing in that week's episode. I even wrote her a fan letter which to my amazement she (or her agent/publicist) replied to enclosing a signed photo.
The other object of my desire in 1991 makes her presence felt from 16:11 in. Video courtesy of jqueiros.
But now I had the real thing, 5 days a week for 6.5 hours a day. It didn't make any sense to me and I knew that it had been ignited by something pretty flimsy, but nevertheless when I thought about the
possibility of her being my girlfriend, I didn't see it as completely ridiculous. I was 15 years old and
puberty had been a relatively untroubled experience, this though was causing my emotions to yo-yo
all over the place. I was sure of two things though:
1) I wanted to enjoy this feeling for a while.
2) I would definitely make an approach to her.
I was not exactly a hit with girls. Up to this point in my life, I'd only had one girlfriend and that had caused something of a stir at my junior school. I was 8 and she was 11. This was 1984, another age. Her name was Victoria and I only knew her because she had been a childhood enemy of my best friend at the time, Kevin, a few years previously. For some reason she saw something in me that she liked and asked me to be her boyfriend. I said yes, because it was a nice surprise to be asked and it was something none of my friends and classmates had. Little did I realise what a can of worms I was opening. We got no peace whatsoever and were regarded as something "other". Mainly because we were the only boyfriend/girlfriend combination in the school. There was nothing wrong with her. She wasn't overweight, she wasn't ugly and she was in full possession of her mental faculties. But my friends couldn't get their heads around this. "What are YOU doing with a GIRL?!" Funnily enough, among 8 year olds, having a girlfriend was viewed as the height of effeminacy. It was for sissies. Holding hands with her was seen as an abomination, an act that no boy should do. We got some quiet time amidst the baying, I forget how long we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We didn't call it going out and we never saw each other outside of school. I think it was a couple of weeks, but it was probably much shorter. We kissed round the back of the school a few times, chaste kisses on the cheek and were happy, but eventually the barracking got me down.
It all came to a head one lunch time. Whether we gave off a special glow that denoted we had reached the kissing stage in our relationship, I don't know, but we spent the whole break pursued by a long snake of boys and girls demanding we kiss each other in front of them. It would probably go viral on YouTube by the end of the school day, nowadays. Eventually Victoria hatched a plan that a
couple of girls would cover us with their cardigans and we could have a kiss under that, so no one could see us.
Sat on the stairs to the boiler room with a crowd watching us, we suddenly found ourselves engulfed
in a canopy of cardigans. Having grabbed a moment's peace, we duly kissed each other on the lips, only to be deafened by a shrill cacophony of cries of "They Kissed!" The girls had lifted the cardigans and allowed what felt like the whole playground to see us partaking in this twisted and sick act. Everywhere, I heard laughs, hoots and derision. I felt humiliated and blamed Victoria who had talked me into the cardigan cover up kiss. I had been part of something exciting and singular but now I just wanted a quiet life and to stop being the centre of attention. She had to go. My mates welcomed me back like a returning hero. I was no longer doing something they couldn't do, I was back in the fold with them - run of the mill again. The bastards... And I cut Victoria dead until she left to go on to secondary school.
Some 5 years later, I danced with her at a party. We didn't speak about that time, but she was very friendly. Nothing happened that evening apart from a dance and a nice chat. Indeed nothing had happened from that period in 1984-85 up to that French lesson in October 1991. I kept my head down at junior school, and no one else called me to the bins asking me to be their boyfriend. Most of secondary school up to that point was spent vaguely fancying somebody in order to prove one's heterosexuality, but without ever doing anything about it or being minded to do so. It was a different atmosphere at secondary school. Couples were envied and given their space, rather than harassed. Furthermore, they were integrated into the male and female groups, rather than ostracised from them. It looked quite idyllic.
I think I spent two months harbouring my crush on Carly. It consumed me totally and I was grateful for being in a show for offering me a distraction, otherwise I would have thought of nothing else. I lived fairly close to the seafront in Falmouth and spent most of November taking long walks to think about her and relish the way I felt. That topsy-turvy, upside down feeling that made scents smell
sweeter and colours smell brighter - all that cliche which becomes so gloriously true and which, as I
would discover, is only surpassed by the way one feels when your feelings are returned. My
daydreams of her were romantic, if unknowable. If she did say yes to going out with me, what would
we do? Where would we go? I had a parental allowance, supplemented by a paper round, but I wasn't rolling in money and was still a year or so off going into pubs and clubs. Still, I didn't let such practical concerns weigh me down. Instead, I soaked up the feeling of romantic possibility and set out my plans to make my interest known.
I decided that I would make my approach shortly before Christmas. Not directly before the holidays in case she was going away, but a week or so before the Christmas break, so that the sting could be taken out of any rejection. Once I knew that I was going to see Ipswich play Plymouth on Saturday 7 December then the schedule worked itself out:
Friday 6 December - post love letter to her home.
Saturday 7 December - go to football.
Sunday 8 December - meet up to talk.
It was a huge relief to write the letter. It wasn't an epic but I explained how I felt and invited her to meet at Falmouth Recreation Ground, the gates of which had recently been rebuilt by her dad's firm, so I thought there was a nice connection, so we could talk in person. I used the "L" word which was probably too much, but when you're that age, if you don't get that out there, you'll burst.
She didn't live too far from me, so I waited till about 9pm before walking to her house and posting the letter at a time when I could be sure that lounge curtains would be drawn and no-one would see me. A long walk home, reflecting on what I'd done but overall feeling glad that some form of closure was in sight.
I did my best to put it out of my mind at the Plymouth-Ipswich match the next day, though Town did little to lift me out of myself with their insipid performance. As I said though, I could accept a loss if
it meant I won a greater victory the next day.
Sunday arrived. A pleasant, sunny December day. I'd set the meeting for 2pm and wondered up to
the "Recry" in a state between excited anticipation and sheer terror. I set my chances of success at 30-70. It was probable that she wouldn't be interested, I was ready for that. But I felt that the sheer surprise of my interest might at least provoke enough curiosity from her to consider a date. I took a seat in the main stand and waited. Just after 2pm, I saw a girl and a boy come in through the rear entrance of the ground. It wasn't Carly, instead it was Michelle with some boy I didn't know. I felt my hopes sailing off into the distance like a misplaced conversion kick. Michelle walked towards me with a smile on her face: a look pitched somewhere between "You sly devil, you" and "Oh David...What have you done?"
"Is she not coming?", I asked.
"She can't. Family do that she couldn't get out of. She asked me to tell you, she'll talk to you about it at first break tomorrow". I had uncomfortable flashbacks to myself and Victoria at junior school. It had also blown out of the water any chance to put myself forward, unhurriedly. It would all be a rush, unless she came in to tell me that she felt the same.
We talked for a little bit. I didn't ask about my chances, but wanted to know that I hadn't upset her. "Surprised her" said Michelle. Well, that was something at least. There was little more to add, and so I went home to await my fate.
I don't know if I slept that night, but I wasn't listening to Peel's show, broadcast on December 8, between 11pm and 2am. There are no words to describe my astonishment when, 23 years later, I heard the recording and reflected on how I spent that day, to hear him play Think of These Things by The Field Mice. Here in 4 minutes and 17 seconds was a song which reflected on how I had been feeling since that French lesson. It was all there, envy of those who got to spend time directly around her while I could only watch on and dream:
I'm jealous of
Those who've known you
Longer than I
Longer than I
Memories of you
With you they share
But I do not share
I do not share.
I'm jealous of
Those who see you
More than I do
More than I do
And isn't that the truth? When you love from a distance, you envy their family and friends beyond all reasoning.
The song does lapse into an unfortunate, possessive vein in its mid section:
You talking to others
Can make me feel jealous
I want you all to myself.
But the killer line and the one which summed everything up to me in terms of my approach and my feelings at that time was:
Please think of these things
As an indication
Of how much you do
Do mean to me.
This may be one of the finest love songs, I have ever heard and if I had gone to the depths of making a mixtape for Carly at that time, this would have been first and last track, I'm sure. Robert Wratten, who would later go on to form Trembling Blue Stars was a master of this kind of bruised, delicate love song. He wrote for those whose first crush simultaneously exhilarated and brutalised them. He spoke in certainties which were buried under awkwardness, longing and resignation. A true romantic aware of how difficult romance is to find and nurture. Peel couldn't have had any idea when he put this playlist together how pertinent this choice would be. He only put it in because he had read an interview in which one of the Pastels was attacking The Field Mice's record label, Sarah Records, for being, "a somewhat sexless bunch". In doing so, he's enabled the 39 year old me to hand this back through the years as a gift to the 15 year old me. Feeling in the dark, in matters I did not then understand, there was this song that was unknowingly serving as my guide. A guide to everyone during their first bewildering, astonishing, crush.
I was duly put out of my misery on the Monday. She was very sympathetic and kind, said all the expected stuff: "big surprise", "very flattered", "like you as a friend" but she didn't want a boyfriend at that time. I took it fine and didn't mope too much. It took till March for me to get it out of my system. I think what I missed more than anything was that surge of adreanalin which I carried on the walks around Falmouth seafront. That sense of new and endless possibilities. Other girls would help me to realise them, but the thrill of thinking about them was never greater than when it was first made clear to me at the end of that French lesson.
Robert Wratten strikes again circa 2002. This will be repeated on the blog one day, if I live long enough to get to 2002's selections.
Videos courtesy of BlissfulYears (Field Mice) and #TremblingBlueStars