Paul Fitzpatrick: London, January 2022
I reckon most people can remember who they shared their first romantic kiss with… although perhaps we’re reaching an age now where some of us are struggling to remember who we shared the last one with!
That first kiss can be a defining moment, a conclusion to months and in some cases years of anxiety…. they don’t call it teenage angst for nothing.
For our troop of wannabe Romeos, any thoughts of engaging with the opposite sex didn’t emerge until the lead up to the Qualifying (Quali) Dance in primary 7. Up until then we had more important things to focus our blossoming brains on, like Football, Subbuteo & Airfix models.
Whilst the Quali Dance appeared to be the tipping point for this seismic shift in interests, the real catalyst I think was the onset of puberty which was having its impact on the fairer sex as well…. why else would they show any interest in a monosyllabic boy sporting a matching shirt & tie abomination hand-picked by a mum who thought Peter Wyngarde was a style guru?
The Quali Dance of course was a school ritual and part of said ritual was to ‘escort someone to the dance’… except it never really worked out that way.
There were no limousines, corsages, bowls of punch or live bands like the feted American high-school proms…. just teuchter music, unbranded fizzy-pop, dollops of awkwardness and an evening that seemed to go by in a flash.
Despite all the talk and bravado I don’t remember anyone from our year popping their ‘kissing-cherry’ at the Westerton Primary School, Quali Dance of 1970.
Not even our resident man-boy…. a lad with a voice like Barry White and a full thicket of short & curlies at age 11, who’s hormones were obviously running amok whilst the rest of us were popping champagne corks if we located a single strand in the nether regions with a magnifying glass.
I didn’t think about it at the time but looking back I imagine the dynamics in the girls changing rooms were pretty similar.
Our transition to the ‘big school’ several months later presented fresh opportunities and challenges. There were lots of new people on the scene now and more social events…. however, this just seemed to ramp up the pressure as you sought to avoid being the last in your peer-group to land that first smooch.
There was also some anxiety around the question of technique – kissing wasn’t something you could practice by yourself (or with a mate!) like football, so how could you tell if you were doing it properly?
What if you banged her teeth or bit her lip or she swallowed your chewing gum? The word would surely get out and no one would ever want to kiss you again.
You’d be kiss-shamed and canceled!
There were one or two awkward near misses before the big event took place, notably a spin the bottle session with an older crowd, resulting in a couple of consolatory pecks to the cheek and forehead… which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been sitting eyes closed, lips pursed, in anticipation.
As it turned out, my first kiss was with a girl I’d known since primary 3 and although it wasn’t articulated, I think we were both motivated by a shared need to get this kissing monkey off our respective backs.
In that respect I suppose it was more a kiss of convenience than an explosion of passion.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t chip her teeth or block any airways with my Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, but I don’t remember there being any fireworks…. just a joint sense of relief before we went our separate ways to share our news.
I think we appreciated we were in the same boat…. it was a rite of passage for both of us.
Fast forward a couple of years and the kissing floodgates were well and truly open now – I remember this bizarre ritual at local disco’s where revellers would just start snogging mid-song and I’m not talking about the slow songs at the end of the evening, as that was par for the course.
There was no verbal interaction, no please or thank you’s, no “you’re looking ravishing tonight”…. just a tap on the shoulder, two and a half minutes of shuffling around to 10cc or Cockney Rebel followed by a 30 second snog and then you’d be on your merry way before the DJ played the next song…. I’ve often wondered if it still happens today?
This was an era when you would go to the cinema ostensibly to ‘winch’ your way through whatever blockbuster was showing that week.
Bearing in mind that double bills were the norm in the 70s, that was a lot of smooching, particularly as you only came up for air when the lights came on for the obligatory half-time refreshments… Kia-ora and choc-ice.
I think it’s fair to say that the back rows of the local cinemas were always chock-a-block on a Friday and Saturday night and it wasn’t to get a panoramic view of the screen
This was also the period when ‘love-bites’ came into prominence (as did polo-necks, funnily enough) with girls applying makeup (and toothpaste?) to conceal their perceived marks of shame whilst boys strutted around like Mick Jagger, parading their vampiric contusions as a badge of honour.
There was plenty of anxiety around this practice too – what if I suck a bit too hard and draw blood, will I turn into a bat?
It was a curious phenomenon.
Some people even practised the art on themselves (well, I’m guessing the love bites on their arms didn’t get there any other way!) whilst others used the suction from a coke bottle or similar to make it look like they’d been party to an amorous encounter… when really they’d been in their bedrooms alone, listening to Gilbert O’Sullivan and waiting for the ice-cream van.
Looking back, love-bites were horrendous things but like tartan scarves, Gloverall duffel coats and first kisses, at a certain point, we all had to have one!