Sometimes it’s easier to say yes. Somehow, some friends had managed me to go to a nightclub, called somewhat loftily, Park Lane. Every town has a place like Park Lane. The sort of awful shit hole where people are so pleased to have got past the bouncers without getting 'I.D.'d' that they seem to bounce with the energy of kids let off school early.
The kind of crass crap pot where I can guarantee you will see the following- at least four fights (that always end with the bouncer removing a red faced lad with a torn shirt using a headlock. The lad will be spitting threats along the lines of "I’m going to fucking kill you". (What are you going to do? Chew his elbows off?), three girls crying (maybe that’s why the carpets are always damp and a bit sticky), gangs of boys and girls dressed up to impress but ignoring each other, a dance floor surrounded by chrome railings and full of awful music and people dancing so badly that some poor member of staff has to cover the appalling scene with dry ice. And vomit-lots of vomit. The place was shut down a few years ago after the bouncers killed a patron by throwing him down some stairs head first. It has recently been re-opened as 'Onyx and Blue'. I heartily recommend you don’t go there.
So why was I there? My friends were so full of cocky knowing about a camera crew being there that it seemed like a good idea to go. I tried to dress as close as I could to fit in and made myself feel slightly sick and cheapened in the process. I wasn't selling myself out exactly, more selling myself short. Have you ever had one of those nights where you think "If I get really, really drunk this might be fun"?
I lasted until the second half of my second pint of fizzy lager. I dawned on me I had made a mistake when the guy stood next to me at the bar started to dribble down his checked shirt.
Closely after spending a fair chunk of my meagre wages on the said pint, a man (a mix of hair gel, fake tan and beer belly), 'took the mic' and said something along the lines of "...and remember girls the more of your body you show, the more we'll show you on T.V.". This was met by an explosion of grunting male cheers and excitable female shrieks. I took one last cathartic swallow of my pint and walked out.
I started to walk home, quite disgusted with myself, when I saw a girl. She was crouched down with her knees pulled into her chest, smoking a roll up. It dawned on me fairly quickly that she was the most beautiful girl I had seen in my life. Long shiny advert hair crowning a heart shaped face containing cheek bones you could cut yourself on, big brown doe eyes you could fall into and happily drown to death and a nose that was the shape and size of a small button.
Seeing as I had to literally walk past her, I tried to coax my brain into thinking up something brilliant to say to her, something that would leave her breathless on the pavement in intellectual awe. Something that would make her smile and her heart ache at the same time.
"Cheer up". Yes. Despite years of schooling and daydreams about being cool, about what I would say to girls given half a chance, that’s what my brain come up with. Cheer up. Fucking hell.
She looked up at me; head cocked like I may be a bit simple, and slowly blew the smoke of a roll up towards me. I jokingly apologised and told her about how tragic my evening was and how hers couldn’t have been as bad as mine. After being quite genuinely shocked after hearing about my night, she smiled and we talked. About where we lived, worked and what we believed. We talked about (gasp!) music. This being deep into Oasis's reign, she told me quite matter of factly that Radiohead where the only band worth listening too.
I told her about Doves. Their debut album 'Lost Souls' is a masterpiece of cob webbed grooves and cinematic atmospherics. It was the kind of music you could live inside for months, and I had spent the winter doing exactly that. 'Sea Song' in particular, with its chords crashing like waves and sad, pleading strings made you make a beautiful black and white film in your head.
Just as things got interesting, her friend had returned from the pizza place and we parted. The conversation lasted maybe ten minutes, but it was one the most fizzily sophisticated I had ever had. Within in minutes my night had gone from Cash in the Attic to Casablanca. From the Chippendales to This Charming Man. I looked up at the stars and the smiled their best smile down at me.
Woozily, I went to bed. Not dizzy with drink (even then I could handle more than a pint and a half) but with the romance and the expectation of being young. I smiled under my duvet thinking of how I had wrote down the name of the Doves album on her pizza box in her lipstick, and felt my heart sink as I realised I had forgotten to write down my phone number. Shit.
As luck would have it, and this is the sort of jamminess that could make you believe in fate, she worked in an office just over the road from where I worked and would sometimes pop in for lunch.
"A girl was asking about you" said my boss
"Not the one with the big brown eyes?" I asked "you have to get me her number"
A week later, just as was giving up hope, Neil the barman came in with a tiny piece of green paper. It had a phone number and in the most exquisite hand writing the word 'Amanda'. I stood looking it for so long I burnt the garlic bread I was cooking under the grill.
I called her that night. We talked for hours about music, books, life. What we loved, what we loathed. How our heads and hearts worked and what they wanted. I told her things I had not told anyone else (looking back, they were things I had bottled up). I felt like I was talking too someone quite brilliant and it was a release. We spent the next few hours telling each other exactly what we wanted to hear.
I felt grown up and it was a thrill to be listened too. I loved to listen her talk, her voice was like Joanna Lumley's if she had spent a week with Jack Kerouac. That voice. When she phoned the house, my dad would call "Shaun, your young ladies on the phone" and then, with his hand over the receiver, would whisper "sexy voice that one lad". When he said it, I noticed paternal pride in his eyes.
I met with her the next week. She came into the pub in a sexy explosion of glitter, hair and flares. I adored the way her collarbone would coquettishly poke through the neckline of her black jumper.
We talked even more. It turned out we suffered from the same kind of depression. Where I pulled out of it with the help of the Charlatans, she didn't. It gripped her and wouldn’t let go, stripping her of her independence and sense of self, two things she had an appetite for getting back. She was earthy, and used homeopathy as crutch to help her back to health. I listened politely as she told me how it was possible to use the essence of the moon as a remedy. She told, in homeopathic turns, I was a sulphur, and sulphurs where daydream intellectuals prone to being childish. A sulphur, she told me, where the kind of people who where capable of true genius, but at the same time would forget to tie their shoe laces. I was flattered to within an inch of my young life. I tried desperately to carve my own personality into this mould. This was a mistake. If a person cannot love you for who you really are then they should not have permission to love you. It’s really that simple.
She was a feminist, and as such insisted on getting her round in. This produced two problems. One was she was hammered on two pints. I discovered this on our first date. She stole a glass then told me the logo stamped on it was a symbol of repression and tried to throw it through the window of a furniture shop. Thankfully, it merely bounced off the window, shattering onto the pavement below. We ran off, hand in hand, scared and laughing
to the train station, just past the place I first met her.
I kissed her, amongst the pigeon shit and phosphoric vending machines on the platform four. She told me I was a "fantastic fucking kisser" and that's when I fell in love with her.
The other problem was that she lived deep into the country, so had to catch the train that left criminally early and be picked up by her mum or drive home. This one really frightened me. The amount of times I sat in her blue Daoo Matiz, Verves 'A Storm In Heaven' on the stereo, watching her with two pints in her belly pull the steering wheel with one eye open as the country lanes twisted and turned thinking "This is how im going to die".
Her home was on her parent’s farm. She seemed a little bit embarrassed by this, by its lack of cosmopolitan sophistication. She shouldn't have been. I loved the whole package. Her home was beautiful, full of nic-nacs and low flying beams just waiting for me to crack my head on. It was surrounded with massive fields where she walked her lovable if slightly dim looking sheep dog, Sky, the grass lush and as green as wine bottle glass.
I met her parents who were wonderful people, her mother the kind of woman who constantly cooked and wore a piny all day and her father who ate a supper of cheese and crackers in his pyjamas. I called him 'Sir' which tickled Amanda enormously. But felt he deserved it. This was his home after all. A farm he had worked hard all his life to make a both a business and a place to raise his family. I respected that.
Our summer consisted of gigs, the swapping of books, the compiling of cassettes, the exchange of ideas and arguments. At first they seemed almost exciting, sophisticated and urbane, but soon began to get serious and hurtful as the insecurities and foibles we had hidden so expertly came crawling to the fore. We were both stupidly sensitive, both moody. Not a good mix. There were thundering rows, silences that crackled with static. We took it turns to walk out of a pub or a cafe in a huff. Sadly we were not half as grown up as we thought we were. Happy to experience the full extent and wonder of our emotions but unable to handle them properly, like a drunk fifteen year old who calls to the stars with eyes and arms open wide, and will later cry and fill the pavement with puke.
The end came sudden but with little surprise. During one of our long talks, sat in her car before she dropped me off at home, she let me know that she had been involved in a "holiday romance" whilst she was in Spain and I was at home missing so much it hurt. She told me so matter of factly, so cleanly, that she could have just as easily told me she had bought a postcard. That hurt more than being cheated on. She seemed almost proud that she had enjoyed such an adventure. And that perhaps was the crux. We were young. Old enough perhaps to know, but not to understand. A curious time in anyone’s life. We both wanted to explore the world-the word, to experience, to feel and to enjoy. Only I wanted us to do it together, and she didn't.
We saw each other a couple of times after that. Some times it was OK, some times it was excruciating. Once you lose that intimacy, its time to let go. And let go I have. When her name pops up in conversation, or someone asks me about my girlfriends past, Amanda pops up in two scenarios.
One is walking on the beach in Aberwrstwyth. I watch her from the window of our hotel, but luckily she doesn't know I can see her. She is alone on the deserted beach, its half past midnight. The sky is mix of grey and dark blue, there is a wind that gently blows off the top level of sand. The clouds roll gently, as grey as battleships. There are stars. She bends down to inspect shells, tucking her hair behind her ear. She throws stones into the sea. She throws sticks to imaginary dogs and dances and twirls, drunk on her being alone. And I think to myself, if only she could see herself like this. How beautiful she is. How worthy and delicate and funny and wise. How free.
Scenario two is thinking of her alone in her car. It’s a minute after I have stormed out after hearing about her holiday fling. As I march home double quick, she rolls herself one more cigarette. She shrugs her shoulders in her little way as she starts the ignition in her car, ready to drive off to her future, her London, her destiny. As she does this the cassette player clicks on.
"Hello, hello, it’s me, its me calling out, crying out, are you there?"