As part of my ongoing series of Firsts let me take you back to the Summer of ‘77. I can assure you this has nothing to do with the J-word which is currently dominating the holiday weekend here in the UK. The only J-word connected to the Summer of ’77 event I’m about to describe is the name of my first boyfriend.
I say ‘boyfriend’, but it was really a naïvely uncomfortable and fragmented relationship (I use the word ‘relationship’ loosely) and I didn’t realise at the time that there were about nine other girls in my town who simultaneously believed he was their boyfriend. That was the kind of boy he was. Anyway, don’t worry, there are no ‘firsts’ to do with him directly that I’m about to reveal here. However, his presence that Summer was significant when I decided to celebrate my fourteenth birthday with my first proper party.
It really should have been fine. My parents insisted on being in the house but said they’d stay upstairs, out of sight. We were allowed to have a few cans of shandy, which felt terribly daring but, with all the Coke we’d be washing them down with, seemed unlikely to get any of us swaying and slurring our words.
Plates of Cheesy Wotsits and KP WigWams were arranged on the table and a collection of singles stacked up by the stereogram. The turntable had one of those auto-changer things where you could pile them up and they’d drop down one by one – perfect – and I was very excited about the varied selection of 45s that my friends and I had pooled together for the big night.
We rolled up the rugs so that the parquet flooring was exposed, ready for the easy mopping-up of inevitable spillages and some non-slip dancing. By 7pm my female friends had arrived, smelling sweetly of Charlie perfume, made-up in powder blue eye-shadow and lip-gloss. Then the much-anticipated male contingent turned up: my boyfriend J, who I was keen to impress, and a small group of his mates whom I’d asked him to invite. My pal Helen was quite interested in tall, curly-haired Nigel, and their shyly exchanged glances across the mustard-painted living room gave promise of an exciting liaison later on. “When are you going to play some slow ones?” she asked as I rifled through the singles, placing the Alessi Brothers ‘Oh Lori’and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke’onto the long spindle. She looked longingly at my sister’s copy of ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ by Rod Stewart.
It was a beautiful, warm July evening, and it could all have gone so well, only I hadn’t banked on J telling a whole load of other people that there would be free drink, food, music and girls that night at Holloway Close. I must have been busy topping up the bowl of salt and vinegar Twists when somebody let them in. One big, older lad already seemed to have a bit of a sway and a slur and an air of arrogance about him. His name was Rob. But J said he was OK. And anything that J said was OK must be OK. He was my boyfriend, after all.
By dusk the party was in full swing but things had already started to go awry. Helen had disappeared and was found upstairs crying because Nigel had declined her approaches. This tragic rejection resulted in her downing two cans of shandy, then falling against the edge of the toilet and laddering her Pretty Polly tights, before fleeing into the bathroom to sob inconsolably. It was so bad she couldn’t even be persuaded to come down and dance to the bouncing beat of Joe Tex’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Bump No More With No Big Fat Woman’. (I later discovered, of course, that no party is complete without a girl ending up in tears before 10pm.)
I’d rather hoped to get some serious kissing practice in with J but he was barely talking to me. Every time I looked for him he was in the midst of the uninvited boys, including Rob, who were gathering in the dining room acting rather furtively. I consoled myself with DJ-ing duties and found to my excitement that one of the lads had at least brought along some good records. On went the Jam ‘In The City’ album; I’d never heard it before. ‘Art School’…’I’ve Changed My Address’… it was all sounding good.
But then the shouting started.
“THIS PARTY IS FUCKING SHIT!”
I looked out the window and there was Rob now in the back garden, flailing his arms and kicking the wooden edges of the guinea-pig run. There was something in his right hand – a bottle. A whisky bottle. It was nearly empty.
The guinea pigs started to squeak, anxiously. The neighbour’s head appeared from over the other side of the fence – I think he might even have shaken a fist. Rob continued to shout and swear and swig from the bottle. “YOU’RE ALL FUCKING ARSEHOLES! PISS OFF!” My friends and I edged nervously towards the back door as the Jam’s ‘Time For Truth’ started to play, Paul Weller’s voice drifting across the lawn…
…’you’re just another red balloon with a lot of hot gas
Why don’t you fuck off?
And you think you’ve got it worked out
And you think you’ve got it made
And you’re trying to play the hero
But you never walk home in the dark
I think it’s time for truth…’
And then my Mum appeared. She walked out into the garden and stood right in front of this drunk, swaggering sixteen-year-old boy, her hands on her hips. Time for truth indeed.
I later found out that far more dodgy things go on at parties of course, but at the tender age of fourteen this one couldn’t have been much more cringe-worthy. A boy who I didn’t even know was swearing at my Mum who had discovered that he’d found the family whisky hidden away in the dining room and had drunk most of it. Under the beady eye of the neighbour and my embarrassed schoolfriends, she kicked Rob out and closed the party down. Lights went on, music went off. And then J chucked me. I think I might have cried. Just a little.
The only good thing to come out of it was that J forgot to take his copy of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ with him. I kept it for several weeks before reluctantly handing it back, having taped both sides and decided that I’d never liked him that much anyway.
In case you’re wondering, the guinea-pigs were fine. I never had another party, though. Oh and I’ve just realised that my mum was the same age then as I am now. Perhaps that’s an even cringier thought.
With thanks to the person who inspired this post. You know who you are!