Every day my mother sent me to school with a green apple, a Jordan’s oat bar and a carton of low-sugar Asda fruit juice for my play-piece. When the break-time bell rang, most other kids in my primary class tucked in to jelly rings, kwenchy cups and chocolate frogs. I could try not to stare longingly at my classmates’ sugary sweet snacks from my safe spot on the playground wall, but I couldn’t do much to prevent my snacks becoming the subject of ridicule. Seemingly, to eat fruit at break time was, to the majority of my peers, tantamount to wearing diamond slippers to gym class. I still don’t really understand why.
Not only did my mother do all she could to feed me sensibly, but with no regard for playground politics or my class cred (or lack thereof), she made every effort to dress me sensibly too. What was the woman thinking? She also thought it her duty to protect my young ears from people (other than my dad) saying words like shite and fuck and to protect my young eyes from people cutting each others limbs off or shagging up against walls and stuff on telly. My mum was one of those those mums that paid proper attention to the BBFC certificate of movies. Sometimes – sometimes, even if the certificate wasn’t U or PG, I’d still get to watch (usually on recommendation from my older sisters) on the understanding that when I was told, ‘You! Close your eyes!’ or, ‘You! Close your ears!’ I did. But mostly my film and tv viewing was pretty heavily censored.
While other kids chewed delicious, fluoro rectangles of Hubba Bubba and swapped gruesome horror stories about V and Freddy Krueger and Night Of The Living Dead, I buried my head in my books so deep the staples in the crease of my jotter practically scratched my nose. Ill-equipped to contribute to these cross-table conversations (instinct told me not to share that I’d watched and enjoyed The Jolson Story 56 times at last count or that acoustically, practicing songs from The Slipper & The Rose in the bath was probably my number one pastime. I didn’t tell anyone that I was struggling to decide whether I liked Dallas more than Dynasty or that I wished Juliet Bravo was a real person either) there wasn’t much for me to do but to stay quiet and assume my designated role as ‘stuck-up brainy teacher’s pet snob bitch swat’, or whatever. I did tell the odd lie just to relieve the pressure now and again. I’d pretend to have seen the latest gore-fest, piping up every so often with comments like, ‘Oh yeah, when that guy’s head got chopped off by the zombie with the chainsaw? The one riding the motorcycle made of entrails? That was sooooo cool’. But soon that became dull and made me feel bored and stupid so I stopped. I mean, sometimes it was ok. Sometimes we all talked about City of Gold or Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. Or Jimbo. Or The Worst Witch.
Anyway, between the ages of 8 and 10, I’d’ve much preferred to sneak even just an eyeful or two of La Bamba*, Cocktail, Top Gun, Rain Man – or Dirty Dancing than any of the blood and guts Certificate 18s on offer in the video shop. You can keep your Freddy Krueger. Just show me Val Kilmer playing beach volleyball please.
One rainy afternoon, I was scuffing about with my friend Pamela. Pamela was a few years older than me. By now, outside of school, most of my friends were older than me. Her family had a caravan on the same site as mine and , as it happened, she had the place to herself for a bit. I can’t quite remember whether we engineered this ’empty’ specifically or not, but I do remember we took full advantage of it. When I admitted to Pamela that I’d never seen Dirty Dancing, she, like most other people, was horrified. Parent-approved, age-appropriate media content was all fine and well but Pamela clearly felt she had a responsibility to deliver some essential media education of her own.
Over one glorious weekend, Pamela introduced me to Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, Cocktail and Rain Man. We ate tomato sauce flavoured crisps, ate as many jelly sweets as we could cram in our mouths without permanently gluing our teeth together and we drank bottles and bottles of crazy-coloured, full-sugar juice from the Soda Stream. Sugar and e-numbers were absolutely allowed at weekends. When our mouths weren’t full and our brains not partially distracted by the squelching sounds of our own chewing, we squealed, we laughed, we shared eye-bulging looks and sometimes we pretended not to cry. We disguised our blushes as best we could and we tried, up to a point, to act cool. Like we’d seen shirtless boy bodies loads of times. Like Swayze was nothing special. Like we didn’t secretly want to swap our wellies and corduroys and caravan cagoules for pretty frocks and rockette hairdos. Like we weren’t wondering what it might be like to kiss a boy or to have someone think we were pretty.
I knew if I’d asked my mum’s permission to watch certificate 15 films with Pamela while her family were out, she’d probably have discouraged us; suggested some alternative, fun, outdoorsy activity instead. So I didn’t ask. But unable to keep my own secrets, I bounded home, hormones racing, giddy with teen movie excitement and promptly rattled out the stories over and over while my mum tried to watch the news.
“And, and then, right, Baby – she’s the girl – she dances with the boy – his name is Johnny – and then they fall in love. And then he says, ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ and his friends come and dance and he lifts her up in the air” etc.. Given how excited I was, she didn’t seem to mind. When I calmed down, we drank cups of tea, ate slices of chocolate fudge cake and watched The Golden Girls.
The movies Pamela and I watched that day threaded themselves tightly through the story of my adolescence and they remain stitched up in my brains even now. I’m sure gazillions of people feel that way about certain flicks. (‘Flicks’. How very J17 of me!). They’re always right there aren’t they? Big moving sackfuls of references and quotations and songs and in-jokes and memories. My obsession with Dirty Dancing was probably the one that got most out of hand. When I wasn’t watching the movie, I was reciting it in my head. When I wasn’t reciting it in my head I was daydreaming and plotting ways to make this story really happen for me. Is there a lake in Maryhill Park? Was Butlin’s kind of like Kellerman’s? Could I go there? If I danced in denim shorts on a bridge would the older boys fancy me? Would they sing to me? Teach me some Cuban rhythms, maybe? I wrote the entire screenplay out from memory and hung the script from a big peg at the bottom of my bed. I recorded my favourite bits of dialogue and all my favourite songs by holding a microphone up to the telly speaker and taping the hissing audio onto cassette (a cassette I then played and played and played until I accidentally recorded over it in The Great Compilation Tape Tragedy of 1989).
There is no lake in Maryhill Park. I went to Butlin’s. It wasn’t much like Kellerman’s at all. And dancing in denim shorts got me no nearer to dating a bad boy heart-throb.
*I still haven’t seen La Bamba.