Metro column 17

Richard Herring: Why summer always reminds me of my schoolboy crush

Summer is here and Richard Herring's thoughts are turning to love - or at least one particular brief encounter from his formative years.

The sun is shining and young women are wearing their skimpy summer dresses and an old man’s mind turns to thoughts of what might charitably be called ‘love’. I may be married but I am not dead and I am allowed to look. It’s all I have left. You can’t stop me looking!

To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ‘You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.’ I’m pretty sure ogling young women when he was married is what prompted him to say that.

But it’s put me in mind of a more romantic moment from an innocent time and one of my first dalliances with love.

It was 1978, I was ten years old and on the way to Switzerland with a school trip. I was staring out of the window on this long, dull coach trip when I happened to notice a young woman standing on the balcony of an old wooden house.

I don’t know how much of this is genuine memory and how much is romanticised, even slightly eroticised invention, but I believe she was wearing a flowing white skirt, with the sunlight shining behind her. She was maybe 18 years old, slim with long brown hair…there’s just no way this is an accurate reminiscence: I was young, on a fast-moving bus, looking at someone in the middle distance. I can only assume this story owes as much to a Timotei commercial as it does to any genuine recollection.

However, what is true is that I recognised this woman as beautiful and wanted to express my appreciation. So, being ten, I elected to wave at her. Somehow she spotted me and enthusiastically waved back: rocking from side to side, laughing, shouting some French greeting. It was truly beautiful. And, being ten, I was able to kid myself that she was as enamoured with me as I was with her.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think we can assume that her actions were not precipitated by some paedophilic lust. A small, chubby child had waved at her and out of a spirit of fun she had returned the salutation, not considering that the scene would have implications for that child’s burgeoning sexuality or that he might be writing about it in a newspaper 34 years later.

Of course, even if she had been sexually aroused by the tiny, plump child who had so subtly attracted her attention, then there would have been little either of us could have done to promote our blossoming and strange love: we spoke different languages; I was at least eight years her junior, with little or no ability to interact with girls of my own age; and I was on a bus, hurrying towards Lake Geneva. Even the most romantically minded driver would have been hard-pressed to stop to allow us to meet.

But any physical meeting would have ruined everything. It was the temporary and transitory nature of the interaction that made it so special. I spent the rest of the journey with a warm feeling in my stomach, bragging to my friends about how this mysterious and beautiful French woman on a balcony had fallen in love with me.

She, no doubt, quickly forgot the whole experience. I doubt she’s ever thought about it again. But more than three decades on, she still occasionally pops into my mind and I feel the same (almost) innocent visceral tingle of excitement. She is forever captured in that shaft of sunlight, young and untouched by ravaging time.

Richard Herring’s Talking Cock: The Second Coming will be debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

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