Readers, a question has flooded in! Here it is:
When you were 17, how did you spend most of your Saturdays?
Ooh, let me think… when I was 17 I’d be going into my final year of high school, so I was about to say I’d have spent my Saturdays locked in my bedroom, memorising French verbs, while listening to mournful female guitar music. Then I remembered Diamonds.
Diamonds was a bar in my hometown, which billed itself as a “fun pub”. The “fun” part was that they’d serve absolutely anyone who walked in – even those of us who were blatantly under-age, and who probably SHOULD have been locked in our bedrooms memorizing French verbs, rather than squeezing ourselves onto a tiny dance floor and trying to make one Moscow Mule last all night, because that was all we could afford. The clientèle was a strange mix of drunk teenagers, bemused old men who just wanted a quiet pint, and, of course, yours truly. Here I am, all dolled up for a night at Diamonds:
As you can see, I’ve cunningly removed most of my eyebrows with tweezers, and am – inexplicably – wearing a denim shirt, under a velvet blazer. Yes. Oh, and that’s Michael Stipe on the wall behind me. I was going to marry him one day. Any time I told people that, they’d immediately point out that he was probably gay – as if THAT was the only thing standing in my way. Because sure – if Michael Stipe was straight, he’d have been on the first plane to Scotland to snap up my chambray-shirted self, wouldn’t he? Don’t answer that.
I spent many a a Saturday evening in Diamonds, and it was there that I discovered my super-power, which was the ability to render myself completely invisible to the opposite sex. I, you see, was doomed to spend most of my young life as the Ugly Friend: the girl who guys totally ignore in favour of her Much Better Looking Friend. For this reason, I spent a lot of my teens and early twenties sitting in bars on my own, while the friends I’d arrived with all paired off with guys and had the time of their lives. Every so often, one of those guys would have an Ugly Friend of their own, who would be instructed to speak to me in order to get me away from the Better Looking Friend (there wasn’t just one of these, by the way: there was a whole series of them…). Because I only ever liked men who didn’t know I was alive, however – or who were blatantly gay – I would spur these advances with a single, icy glare, and return to my half-pint of cider. I was a real laugh riot in those days, seriously.
Anyway, of all of the Saturday evenings I spent being seventeen-years-old, two in particular stand out:
Incident One: In which I met Prince Charming
One day, my Better Looking Friend and I were sitting in our usual corner of Diamonds, when Prince Charming walked in. No, really: this was the best looking man we’d ever seen in real life, and there he was, on our turf. Now, we knew we didn’t have a chance with the Prince. Even my Better Looking Friend (The BLF, if you will) didn’t have THAT much more luck with men than I did, which is what made what happened next all the more extraordinary.
“That guy is totally checking you out,” said BLF. “I wonder what’s wrong with him?”
I looked over, and sure enough, Prince Charming WAS checking me out! He totally was! I almost choked on my drink, I was so shocked.
BLF and I put our heads together and discussed our tactics, finally settling on our usual method of flirtation, which was to get up and dance, while pretending we couldn’t see the object of our affections AT ALL. This tactic had never worked in the past – like, not even once – so there was absolutely no reason why it should work now, but we got up and headed for the dancefloor anyway… and Prince Charming actually followed us!
“OMG, I can’t BELIEVE he’s following you!” hissed BLF, who was really not happy at being overlooked in this manner. I mean, I was the Ugly Friend: my role was stand on the sidelines and be ignored. And yet, there was no denying it: Prince Charming was definitely looking at me – staring, in fact. I started to wonder if my skirt was tucked into my knickers or something, but nope – all was well, and now everyone else on the dance floor was looking at me, too (Many of them for the first time ever – which was funny, because I’d been going to school with most of them for six years at that point), wondering who the lucky girl who’d won the heart of Prince Charming was.
And it was ME! I couldn’t believe it! My moment had finally come, and as Prince Charming started walking across the dancefloor towards me, the crowds parting to let him through, I had never been happier. Finally, someone had noticed I was alive! And it had been love at first sight, too: he’d seen me, I’d seen him, and now here he was, being pulled towards me as if by an invisible thread – it was just like a fairytale, except one set in a grim “fun pub” above a tanning salon in a small, northern town. I continued dancing, ignoring the waves of jealousy coming at me from the direction of BLF, and sure enough, Prince Charming walked right up to me, and put his hand on my shoulder. OMG, he was actually TOUCHING me!
He leaned in. Time seemed to slow down: I felt his breath on my cheek, as he gently brushed the hair back from my ear and seductively whispered…
“Excuse me… would you mind if I danced with your friend? She’s absolutely gorgeous!”
And then I ran across the dance floor, jumped out the window, dug a giant hole in the ground beneath it, and crawled into it to die.
Except I didn’t, obviously. I had no choice but to slink shame-facedly back to my seat, and sit there clutching my drink and trying to pretend that, actually, I ENJOYED sitting on my own in a crowded bar! Preferred it, even! What’s that, you say? Prince Charming? Best looking man you’ve ever seen in real life? Oh, really? I mean, I can’t say I noticed…
(Nothing ever happened between BLF and Prince Charming, by the way. Like me, she was so shocked that he’d noticed her that she lost her nerve and couldn’t actually think of anything to say to him. SHAME.)
It was the first of many such incidents, but it’s the one that’s stuck in my brain, as has the second incident from what I think of as The ‘Diamonds’ Years…
Incident Two: In which I meet The Wise Old Crone
It was one evening towards the end of my final year of high school. Soon I would be leaving for university, and would – hopefully – never see Diamonds again. It had been a long night, which was just winding to a close: everyone was pretty drunk and disorderly, and somehow I found myself separated from my friends and sitting next to a much older woman, who I will call The Wise Old Crone. Let’s hope she never reads this, huh?
Now, I say “much older”: you have to bear in mind here that I was 17 at the time, so anyone older than 25 was ANCIENT, and also that The Crone was probably much younger than she looked. There’s no kind way to say this, however, but The Crone – well, she had clearly lived a lot. She was one of those woman who looks like she’s right out of a movie: she was chain-smoking (You could smoke in bars back then), plastered in make-up, and spoke like she’d been drinking whiskey all night – and then eating the glass. She was AWESOME.
Somehow The Crone and I fell into conversation, and all of a sudden she leaned forward and grabbed my arm with her claw-like hand:
“Listen, young Padawan,” she hissed urgently. “You have to get out of here!”
“What, Diamonds?” I said, confused?
“No,” said The Crone. “Well, I mean, yes: because I think it’s closing in a few minutes. But no, I mean HERE.”
She named my home town, which I hated with a fiery passion, and believed to be the main reason for my continued failure to write a best-selling novel, sign a record deal, or marry Michael Stipe.
“You need to get out while you can,” said The Crone, glancing around as if afraid of being over-heard. “For if you do not, you’ll never make anything of your life!”
“I thought as much,” I agreed. “Tell me more, oh Wise Woman.”
“Well,” she said, “For instance: what do you want to do with your life?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I was thinking I’d maybe be a show-jumping detective, but my parents won’t buy me a pony, so I guess maybe just a best-selling author? They say you have to write what you know, though, and I don’t actually know ANYTHING, so…”
“And you never will if you stay here!” replied my new friend, dramatically. “Take it from me: get out! Get out while you still can! This place is not for such as you!”
And then, in a puff of smoke, she was gone. (Literally, I mean: she really was smoking a LOT…)
Because the whole thing had been so much like that scene in a movie where the young heroine meets a wise sage, who sets her upon the path to enlightenment, and also because I know a Yoda figure when I see one (Albeit a very drunk, chain-smoking Yoda in this case. It’s the side of Yoda you don’t often hear about, isn’t it?), I decided to take all of this very seriously, and spent the next couple of weeks telling everyone who’d listen that I had been granted a vision of my future by my fairy-godmother (Yes, I was mixing my movie/literary references a lot in those days), and would subsequently be getting the hell of Dodge, ASAP.
And I did, too: I moved to Edinburgh a few months later to go to university, and now here I sit – a world-famous author, who is also a show-jumping detective. And it’s all thanks to Diamonds, and the wise old woman I met there when I was 17! Oh no, wait – actually, I’m wondering now if I heard that woman right? Maybe she said, “Get me a beer,” not “Get out of here”? That would explain a LOT, now I come to think of it…
There was also this one time when I met a wicked stepmother who tried to give me a really obviously poisoned apple, and there were also four more questions I was supposed to be answering here, but I’ve just written almost 2,000 words in response to the first one, and I’ll be absolutely AMAZED if anyone has read even this far, so I’ll maybe give the rest of the questions a miss for now. If you feel like indulging my curiosity, please feel free to tell me how YOU spent your Saturdays when you were 17?
(Actually, you know what would be cool? If you all answer that question and it turns out that YOU all met the Wise Old Crone too. Then we all band together to try to find her, and have hair-raising – and yet heart-warming – adventures along the way, featuring unicorns, bichon frise puppies, and maybe a quick stop at Topshop, because they have a skirt I like…)