Do you ever think about your first love?
I do. I have often wondered whether that experience in any way shaped my life. It did and it left an indelible mark on me. To this day, I will always remember the first time I saw Miss Susan P.
She was a member of my tutorial group for the subject Economic History 1. It was semester number one, year number one of my Arts Degree at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I was 17 and she was 23. An English rose, beautiful and blessed with a gorgeous figure. Auburn hair, grey blue eyes and beautiful hands. I had no idea what she thought about me, but as the classes moved forward I found myself staring at her with an intensity that I had never known before. My infatuation was overwhelming and all consuming.
She occupied my thoughts morning, noon and night.
The attraction was extraordinarily powerful. Our age difference and her life experience which far exceeded mine, overwhelmed me. As I learnt later, she had lived with a former boyfriend. I think that I may have kissed 2 girls, one of whom was while playing ‘spin the bottle’. Does that count? A slight disparity in worldly experience? A veritable cougar, before the term was widely used.
I was still receiving “pocket money”, she had a part time job and “savings”. She had a car. I had to beg for use of the family car from an unsympathetic father. I had just got my ‘P’ Plates. Yet even at this tender age, my testosterone driven ego began to emerge and commence its life long work.
My ‘P plates for love’ began in the Autumn of my first year of university.
I spent many hours agonisingly planning the moment when I would ask her out. It had to be dinner and have some semblance of adult sophistication. This was an era when the only date night was Saturday night. I rehearsed my lines in my mind relentlessly. Academic study was my hobby. Practicing on my Love P plates was my life. What approach should I take? A meandering conversion that would lead into the topic, or a full frontal attack? It was a now or never moment. Tuesday afternoon, economic history tutorial 3pm, walk to the library, that was the moment.I had memorised her routine.It was now my routine. Clean jeans today. My heart was beating fast. I felt sweaty and awkward as I walked with her towards the library. I forced myself to commence the speech I had rehearsed endlessly for weeks. I wanted to be cool, sophisticated and nonchalant.
“Hey, Susan, are you planning anything on the weekend? Would you like to catch up for a bite on Saturday?”
She looked at me, I thought my brain was about to explode. Was it going to be victory? Or death? The agony of a rejection would mean embarrassment for months, every time I would see her in class. I had weighed all negatives but I was driven or drawn by a force the like of which I had never experienced. Finally the answer that I had dreamt, a thousand times… “Yes that would be nice.” The elation I felt was sublime. Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ was playing in my head. My ecstasy was short lived though.
Suddenly the reality of planning a date hit me. I literally had no idea of any restaurants. This was the era of the “yellow pages”. No internet, no google, no facebook. No computers. This was a voyage of discovery with my navigation technology somewhat akin to that of Captain Cook. He seemed to have made it.
First logistical challenge. Negotiate use of the family car for Saturday night. This involved a huge amount of tenacious and unrelenting groveling. My excuse was that I had joined a ‘study group’ that was meeting on Saturday and after we would be going out to a local restaurant for pizza. Terms and conditions: home by 10.30pm with not one scratch on the car. Supported by a financial guarantee of 6 months “pocket money” allowance. Clean and wax for a month. Harsher terms than the Versailles Treaty. I signed.
Next, restaurant choice. It had to be close to her home. Petrol was expensive and I had to fill up the car, and we had a real gas guzzler. Maybe not a sports model but a grand and elegant salute to British Automobile history - a Humber super snipe! Choice of restaurant with appropriate budget. I started ringing local restaurants and found an Italian restaurant within a short distance of her apartment, and they were licenced ! Alcohol !
Saturday night finally arrived, and I started what was to become a lifelong ritual.
I was so clean that I sparkled. I had applied so much after-shave that when I opened the car door every local cat and dog in the neighbourhood started towards me. Shaving was the only bloodsport that I practiced at the time. The drive to her place only took 10 minutes and when I arrived I was soaked wet with my own perspiration and I felt that I had left hand impressions on the steering wheel. I had to relax.
I waited 20 minutes to dry out but that was ok because I was so early. The next few moments comprised my very first introduction to the parents. Would they approve? Finally after some meaningless banter we were off to the restaurant. I was now under a dual sanction. Prang the car and my life would not be worth living, prang the daughter and I would have a Swindon hit squad after me. That was her home town. Pressure!
The first date had begun. Be cool, I thought, be cool! I parked opposite the restaurant and we were about to cross the road . Suddenly a car pulled out and I instinctively reached for her to pull her back. An heroic act of chivalry worthy of the Knights of the round table…. except that I had grabbed her breasts…. Oh my GOD!!! From King Arthur's court to Woody Allen farce in a nanosecond. She was a little surprised but appreciated that it was a totally accidental grope and well intentioned.
We made it to our table and made the selection of our courses and she asked “would you like a glass of wine?” I thought, Oh shit, alcohol, driving, underage over the limit… my cool response, “of course’. I ordered a bottle of the Mateus rose. It was one of the great cool wines of that era and the only one that came to mind. It tasted like kerosine,and actually looked like kerosine.
During our dinner, I kept calculating the re-calculating the cost of our meal. My fragile budget had blown out with the wine.
I had no idea how much a bottle cost. Would I have enough? I had factored in an emergency $20.00. No sweets for me. No coffee. But I wanted the after Dinner mints. There is no doubt that the wine took the edge off my anxiety and I was able to relax to the point where I almost started enjoying myself. Time vanished and before I knew it, we were in the car on the way back to her house. I felt fantastic. I walked her to the door, once again gripped by the terror of the prospect of the “kiss” goodnight. I had thought all week about this moment but when it finally arrived I was terrified. Thankfully, the first dividend of being with a more experienced partner relieved me of the burden as she leaned in and planted one right on my lips and long enough to enjoy. She said “I had a lovely time, we should do this again.”
Those words played out in my mind a thousand times that night.
I washed the car on Sunday with a smile on my face and pure joy in my heart. I replayed the date over and over in my mind. Pausing in memory to enjoy every nuance, every moment. The ecstasy and terror of that week in April 1976, the nerve-shattering build up to actually asking her out, to the sheer bliss of my first real kiss, were thoughts and emotions melded in my psyche. I can still remember the intensity to this day....
Image: The Graduate 1967
To be continued.... never give up on love...