This short story has a lot of truth in it, but it isn’t true. The village of Ettington does exist, it’s in Warwickshire, and I used to go to a youth club disco there when I was twelve. The cider is true, too. As is the best record ever recorded, Metal Guru.
I got to the club at about six thirty, more or less, dressed to kill. When I say club, I mean Ettington Youth Club, England, 1974. There are clubs I go to nowadays which you may have thought I was referring to: the sort of clubs which play French R&B; clubs where the girls have moustaches and the boys have tits. I love those clubs, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about 1974, about an English village with a church, a Post Office, a primary school and a youth club in the village hall.
I was wearing my new black satin-effect jacket, which had three red stars on the back and an elasticated waist. It was very cold and I could see my breath. I walked past the notice board and cleaner’s cupboard and into the hall. The DJ had already started, sending green and red lights spinning over the wooden floor, playing a record I hated. He was about eighteen or nineteen and was growing a moustache. Valerie Pollard was leaning against the wall beside him. She was wearing a short yellow skirt and brown cardigan and her fat legs had bruises all up the shins. I didn’t like Valerie Pollard, she had a reputation for being a bully and being cruel to animals. To my surprise it was only me and her and the DJ in that hall.
She stared at me, chewing her hair. I stayed by the door and decided I would go to the toilets because I needed to after my journey, but also because to be honest Valerie Pollard was looking at me in a way that said, ‘You are a piece of shit and if you come near me I will split you.’
I turned around and went to the toilets. It was even colder in there, and smelled of disinfectant and that slippery toilet paper smell. I went into a cubicle and locked the door. I had two cigarettes in my sock and half a dozen matches in my pocket. I pulled out one cigarette, a Senior Service, unfiltered, licked my lips and put it in my mouth. You have to lick your lips before putting a Senior Service in your mouth because in my experience, if you don’t, the cigarette can get stuck and when you pull it away it’s extremely painful. I got a match and leaned forward and struck it up the length of my jacket’s zip. It burst into flames immediately and I lit my Senior Service.
I sat there, finishing what I needed to do, smoking my cigarette and wondering when everyone else was going to arrive. Then I heard the toilet door open and someone coming in. Valerie Pollard said, ‘Oi. I know you’re in there, give us a drag.’
I opened the cubicle door and she was standing next to the sink with her hand out.
‘Give us a drag,’ she said again, not even like a question.
I said ‘I’ve only got two cigarettes and I’m saving the other one for later so I have to make the most of this one,’ and she said, ‘Give me a f-ing drag,’ each word getting louder and louder. I started to feel quite nervous of her, so I gave her the cigarette and she put it into her mouth and sucked hard on it. It crackled a little, then she tried to take it out of her mouth but because she wasn’t used to these sorts of cigarettes she hadn’t licked her lips, and the Senior Service was stuck. So she pulled harder and ripped a bit of skin off her bottom lip. Well, that made her really angry.
‘F- you,’ she said, ‘you stupid little bitch,’ like it was my fault. She turned away from me and looked at herself in the mirror, still holding the Senior Service.
‘Don’t let it burn out,’ I said, ‘Give it back.’
She gave it back to me and I smoked the rest of it down as far as I could, then threw the last bit of it into one of the toilets. It hissed and died there, floating on the surface of the water with little bits of grey ash around it.
Valerie Pollard turned back round and faced me and said, ‘Look at my lip, it’s bloody bleeding,’ and then for some reason I nearly started laughing. I suppose it was the bloody bleeding thing, which was almost like a joke except that it was unintended. ‘That’s going to ruin my bloody night now,’ Valerie Pollard said. ‘That’s just brilliant.’
I said, ‘It doesn’t show, you’ll be OK, just put some cold water on it.’
She turned back to face the mirror and slapped her hand hard against it, three times. It didn’t break but I stepped back from her.
‘I’m going back to the hall, then,’ I said.
She said, ‘No, you are not.’
By this time I could hear that the DJ had started to play a better record. I said, ‘There must be some more people here by now,’ but Valerie Pollard said, ‘I don’t give a f- about other people. You are staying here,’ and she moved to the door and leaned back against it.
I said, ‘I’d like to go back into the hall and see if anyone else is here.’
‘Then you’ve got to say a password to get past,’ she said, and folded her arms in front of her. She stared at me very hard and her chest was going in and out quite quickly.
‘How do I know what the password is?’ I said.
‘You have to guess, cretin,’ she said, ‘and if you don’t guess then you have to do a forfeit.’
‘What sort of forfeit?’ I said.
‘My rules,’ she said, ‘I will tell you when you have tried to guess the password. You have three goes. Go on then,’ she said. ‘Guess.’
So I said, ‘Senior Service,’ and she actually burst out laughing.
‘No way, you spastic,’ she said. ‘Second guess.’
‘Slade,’ I said, because of the record I could hear the DJ playing. Valerie Pollard shook her head, still smiling at me.
‘Not even close,’ she said. ‘One more guess.’
‘You’re just making it up as you go along,’ I said, feeling fed up with her now. ‘How do you expect me to guess one word out of all the millions of words in the world?’ Which was true, the odds were not in my favour, but Valerie Pollard did not move.
‘Guess,’ she said, not smiling any more. ‘Or it’s a forfeit.’
‘Ok, then. Lip,’ I said, looking at her mouth and the tiny red patch of skin.
‘Wrong,’ she said. ‘You lose. Forfeit.’ She put her hands on her hips and stared hard at me.
‘Fine, I don’t care,’ I said. I thought the forfeit would probably be something like putting my face in the toilet or giving her my other Senior Service but Valerie Pollard put her head to one side like she was listening to something.
‘I’ll tell you what your forfeit is,’ she said. ‘Your forfeit is a kiss.’
‘A kiss?’ I said.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘what are you, a f-ing parrot? A kiss, that’s what I said, a kiss.’
I was very surprised by this forfeit, very surprised indeed. I did not have any experience of kissing at all, apart from with my family of course, on birthdays and at Christmas. But I had never kissed a boy or even come close to kissing a boy and had certainly never kissed a girl or even thought about it. But there was Valerie Pollard standing in front of me, with her hands on her hips and she was not going to move or let me out of the toilets until I kissed her.
‘And you’ve got to do it properly,’ she said, ‘with your eyes closed, or else it doesn’t count. And then you will get another forfeit.’
I didn’t want to guess what the second forfeit would be. I looked at Valerie Pollard and wondered what it would be like to kiss her. ‘Ok,’ I said, ‘I don’t mind,’ and I leaned forward quickly and kissed her on the cheek. ‘There,’ I said, ‘I had my eyes closed, now please can I go back into the hall and see who else has arrived?’
‘That was not a proper kiss,’ she said. ‘Are you being deliberately stupid or were you born like it? I told you, you have to do it properly, with your eyes closed. You have to count to ten in your mind, and you have to do it on my mouth.’ She took hold of my wrists and held them hard. ‘You don’t want to say no,’ she said. ‘You really don’t want to.’
‘Ok,’ I said, ‘Ok. Here goes, then, I’m closing my eyes and counting to ten.’ I closed my eyes and stood still, waiting. I felt Valerie Pollard’s face get close even though I couldn’t see her, and then I felt her mouth settle onto mine. I could smell damp on her clothes and something like gravy, too. I kept my eyes closed, she put her hands on my shoulders and her tongue kept on moving around mine. She was breathing hard though her nose at the same time and I felt her hot breath on my cheek. Then she stopped. She let go of my shoulders and stepped back to the sinks.
‘Go on, then,’ she said, and turned to face the mirror, ‘F- off.’
I said, ‘What are you going to do?’
She said, ‘None of your business.’
So I said, ‘Ok, I’m going back to the hall then,’ and I opened the toilet door and went out. I decided I felt like a bit of fresh air for minute, even though it was very cold outside, so I went out and stood on the pavement. There was a fine orange drizzle coming down and it settled on the shoulders of my jacket making it look even shinier. I looked up and down the street and wondered how many more people were going to come. It didn’t look like there were going to be many, even though the disco had been advertised for ages. But it was too cold to be standing around outside for long, and the DJ had just put on a great record, Metal Guru, which I really loved dancing to, so I turned around and went back into the hall. I could see that in fact a dozen or so people had arrived and that there was a table with R Whites lemonade and other drinks on it, so I went over and got myself a plastic cup. I said hello to three girls I knew from the bus, and one of them said, ‘We’ve got some Woodpecker cider, do you want some?’ and she lifted up her coat which was lying under the table and showed me the bottle.
And I said, ‘Yes please,’ because I liked Woodpecker cider, and she poured me a cup.
She said, ‘Are you going to dance?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I love this record,’ so I put my cup of cider down by the coats and went to the middle of the hall and started dancing to Metal Guru.
The red and green lights flew over the floor and the walls and looked amazing. I looked over at the DJ. Valerie Pollard was walking up the side of the hall and then she stood next to him and he put his arm around her shoulder. He watched me dancing then leaned over her and put his face up against her ear. I couldn’t tell if he was saying something to her or what. She stared at me all the time. I danced and danced as hard as I could to Metal Guru, it really was such a great record.