So there I was, aged thirteen and three-quarters or thereabouts, attending the Methodist Youth Club. All Around Me (as the ghastly Christmas song would have it) Children Playing, Having Fun…. Except that I wasn’t having fun and the Methodist Youth Club wasn’t anything like everyone cracked it up to be.
It was held in the back room of the Methodist Chapel in Station Road. The floor was uncarpeted boards and kind of dusty. Having moved the long metal benches to one side a handful of teenagers thundered about on it, aimlessly. In one corner there stood an out-of-tune piano. Every once in a while a brave or show-offy teenager attempted Chopsticks on it, very loudly and very badly. One or two could also manage a version of a tune I notice has come back again recently, in disguise. Now it’s hiding in a catchy rap-type thing called Play That Song:
The one that makes me go all night long
The one that makes me think of you
That’s all you gotta do
My baby’s favorite record she been waiting for a minute
She invited all her friends and I’m buying all the rounds…. etc
Whatever, they plonked it out on the piano for a minute or two before losing interest.
There were only other things to do to pass the time at the Methodist Youth Club, which as I recall was more or less unsupervised by any kind of adult. You could disappear into the back room to take part in a kind of seething mass snog in the dark, which was where ninety percent of them went. Or you could play ping pong. Mass snogging was obviously a total no-no for a girl of my mangy ilk. Nobody ever asked me to play pingpong and I would have been mortified if they did. I therefore stood around watching other people play pingpong.
I stood around trying to pretend I wasn’t the only person standing around with not a soul to talk to.
I stood around trying to look as if I could have played pingpong or disappeared into the back room for a snog in the dark – if I’d chosen to.
I stood around, a too-tall, spotty teenager who wouldn’t take off her blue school mac (why? why did I go round in my school mac all the time? I must have been so weirder even than I remember), her hair scraped up into two wispy school-type bunches. I had not only spots all over my chin all the time but, as it seemed to me, boils. People laughed at me. I dreaded going to the Youth Club. I dreaded not going. I looked forward all week to going. I hated actually being there.
On the subject of ‘why’. Why do mothers come out with stuff like ‘Oh you might get the odd little spot or two now you’re a teenager, but by the time you’re eighteen your hormones will have settled down…? Untrue, so untrue. It’s one of those absolute lies regularly told to women and little girls, such as:
‘Childbirth? Not nearly as bad as people make out…’
‘The change? Scarcely noticed it!’
‘No, of course old ladies don’t have hairs growing out of their chins. That only happens to wicked witches in storybooks…’
So I stood there week after week, one Airforce Blue school raincoat-clad elbow casually draped upon what had once been the mantelpiece, appearing to be reading with utter fascination the only other book in the room apart from a massive Bible on a lectern, which nobody would have been seen dead even approaching.
There I stood, week after a week after week after week, under the beady eyes of Jesus. He was a wrinkled print in a cheap frame. He was sitting on a hilltop somewhere, on a hillock or maybe a boulder. I remember he didn’t look a bit Jewish, more blonde, curly and wispy-brown-bearded. He had a halo of course, and all around him were children of all nations gazing up in longing and adoration. I believe it might have been captioned Suffer the little children to come unto me. I seem to remember little girls were perched on his knee and even at the time it struck me as a bit creepy and horrid.
However, He was Jesus and He was looking down on me and even at thirteen and three quarters or thereabouts I hoped that He might be looking after me as well and saw me as I stood there hideously self-conscious and awkward beyond all description. He saw the meanest sparrow fall unnoticed in the street, after all. Why not me and my many zits? It’s not at all fun suddenly being adolescent especially when, even before a tidal wave of hormones decided to envelope you, you were pretty screwed up.
The book was called The Midwich Cuckoos and it was by John Wyndham. I can see it now, a cream and orange penguin paperback somebody had abandoned on what had once been the mantelpiece to gather dust. It was a library copy – a paperback that converted into a hardback and plasticised, a torn date label inside. The plastic had gone brittle in the sunlight and was crackling away at the edges.
I can see that book so clearly, what I can’t remember is the plot since I never read a single word of it in all the months that I stared so earnestly and learnedly into its brown and faded pages.
I suppose I’ll have to read it now. Exorcise the ghost.
“In Oppley they’re smart, and in Stouch they’re smarmy, but Midwich folk are just plain barmy” (The Midwich Cuckoos: John Wyndham)
Featured Image: Piano Duet: Pamela Blaies