ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL (PART 5)
By Tabetha Rogers Beggs
2 February 2018
Word count: 2754
Well, I’m on a bit of a roll with this thing now. I just calculated that I’ve written 8,874 words so far, and since I’m only up to 1991, this thing could become a novel by the end of it. Not entirely sure who’d want to read it though!
So Shelley arrived and while we’d been besties back home, except for the two week period when Matthew Jarmen, the boy of her dreams, decided to snog me at the bottom of her driveway on her 18th birthday, and she hated me for ruining her night. She copped the full brunt of the pash, as she’d walked down the driveway to wave someone off and she found us leant up against his Munaro, in a passionate embrace. In my defense, I had no idea he liked me until that night and I secretly liked him too, but I could never tell Shelley that as 1) I was already dating Jason, a boy a year younger than me at the time, and 2) You don’t hit on your friends dream man.
I dropped Jason the next day and started going out with Matthew. I really liked him but I felt so torn about what I had done to Shelley. Once Matthew and I had been together for a couple of months, and after numerous calls to Shelley trying to explain that it was true love and I never meant to hurt her, she decided to make up with me and started dating his best friend Chris instead.
One night when Matthew’s parents were away for the weekend, Shelley, Chris and I slept over at Matthew’s house. We’d told our parents we were staying at each other’s places. That was the night I lost my virginity.
I’d love to paint a romantic picture of how tender the experience was and how we moved into it slowly and cautiously. How I was nervous and he was patient with me. How he told me he loved me and I was the most special girl in the world and this was the first time for him too…but it was nothing like that.
We basically left Shelley and Chris in the lounge room playing tonsil tennis and went to fool around on his Mum and Dad’s bed. We were kissing and fondling for a while then he said ‘Do you wanna do it?’ and I said ‘Yeah, okay.’
All I remember thinking at the time was ‘well, now’s as good a time as any.’ I’d just turned 17.
When I arrived home the next morning, I felt like a completely different person. Like a switch had moved from childhood to womanhood inside of me. I was convinced it was written all over my face and that my mum would know instantly. She never said anything, so I’m guessing the guilt was internal.
So back to Shelley moving into the bedsit. I have to laugh now about the way we thought it was completely normal for her and Nick to sleep on one single bed while I was literally two feet away from them. It wasn’t like I couldn’t hear the sheets rustling and the groans and panting. I think the night that I really lost respect for her boyfriend Nick, was when after they’d done the deed he sent her to sleep at the other end of the bed saying ‘Sleep over there, you stink like fish!’
I thought it was the most degrading thing I’d ever heard a male say to a female and I hated him ever since. I felt like an intervention was called for, so I started writing a letter to our mutual friend back home, Kym.
I wrote about the creepy first guy Shelley started dating and that I was worried she was hanging out with people doing drugs and that she was such a different person and I didn’t know who she was anymore. It went on about Nick and how I didn’t think he was good for her and general concerns for her state of mind.
Foolishly I left the letter on the table where I’d been writing it, thinking she wasn’t coming home that night and she saw it. Second friendship fail between Shelley and me. She was so upset that I’d write home about these things and felt like she lost all trust in me. I tried to explain that I was worried about her but she took the high ground, saying it wasn’t my job to mother her and who was I to be telling friends back home about what she was doing.
I basically forced her next move because the next day she moved out of the flat and moved in with Nick and his parents. We didn’t talk for a long time. I felt like the worst friend in the world, for the second time.
The flat was quiet for a bit but before I knew it my cousin Nick lobbed on my door looking for a place to crash for a few weeks. I have two younger cousins and two older ones on my Mum’s side. Nick is the next oldest to me. He’d made his way through Pakistan and Afghanistan, Turkey and other countries you wouldn’t dream about backpacking around these days. It was dangerous even then, but he was always the adventurous loner type and he told amazing stories about the places he’d been and the things he’d seen. He met a journalist in Afghanistan, who said he could get him into this restricted area if he pretended to be the photographer traveling with him and carry all his equipment. He got to go behind enemy lines, meeting members of the Taliban and being given machine guns like kids get given a toy with their happy meals. I’m still fascinated today that he got to experience that and came out the other side to tell the tale.
Nick and I were never particularly close as kids, in fact him and his brother Tony were quite evil to me as a little girl. I think they thought I was a little privileged only child, so made it their job to bring me down a peg or two. They told me Father Christmas didn’t exist and Tony used to brag about combing his pubes, when I had no idea what pubes were!
But when Nick came to stay with me at Allseley Old Road, we bonded and we’ve been close ever since. All my new friends loved Nick, he had (and still does) the most wicked sense of humour. Very quick, very witty and very Aussie. He could make me laugh anywhere with his dry sense of humor.
I remember grocery shopping with him once at Sainsbury’s. We were buying the basic things we could afford; tins of baked beans, toilet paper, teabags and milk, he looked over to the next check out with a mother loading what seemed like luxurious treats onto the conveyer; chocolate biscuits, icecream, steaks and cordial. He looked back to our measly purchases and said very loudly. ‘Fuck our stuff, lets go home with her.’
We pretty much went to a different pub every night and Nick and I introduced England to the game ‘Psychiatrist’. It was never a small crowd when we went out. The whole YOG crew would turn up, half of them were under-age and we’d sit around in a circle and play this game that Nick and I played many times with our family and friends on water-skiing weekends at Waroona Dam. Basically one person was the psychiatrist and they had to work out what everyone’s combined problem was. It sounds a bit dull now, but what the problem was, was that everyone was adopting the persona of the person to their left. Via a series of questions, the psychiatrist had to work this out. Where it got hilarious was when people would start to reveal things they knew about the person to their left and start adopting their mannerisms. We were a bunch of thespians after all, so we were pretty good at acting and taking the piss out of each other. The problem with the game was you could only ever play it once with the same crowd, so we were always thrilled when a new person turned up, so we could make them the psychiatrist. Shit…I didn’t need e’s and rave parties, one night of ‘Psychiatrist’ and I was high as a kite on happiness, laughter and a few lagers.
Shelley was gone but cousin Nick was a good distraction. He still asks after all the old gang now whenever I see him. The last time I went to the UK in 2015, I facebooked him a photo of the petrol station where we had once piled out of NOB about six of us at midnight, starving hungry after a night on the turps. He’d never experienced the night-safe window before. They hadn’t arrived in Australia at that time. In fact, petrol stations in Oz were still on a roster system and you’d never find one open at midnight, never mind selling grocery items. Nick stood at the glass doors waiting from them to open until one of us said, you have to go to the glass window and ask for whatever you want. Not realising their was a speaker system for the service attendant to hear him, he shouted as if he was trying to get his request through the thick pane of glass ‘I WANT A POT NOODLE AND A PACKET OF EMBASSY NUMBER ONE, MATE.’ Literally you could have heard him from Sweden. The Indian sales guy just about leapt out of his skin, as the request amplified into the petrol station. Nick was like Crocodile Dundee long before Paul Hogan bought him to life. Just like saying Turdy Two Goseway in an Irish accent, I can’t say POT NOODLE without shouting it now!
After Nick left, everything went back to normal with the YOG crowd. When we weren’t rehearsing, doing a show or hitting any pub that was doing a karaoke, we were at someone’s place having a party. Every party consisted of a game of Spin the Bottle. It was an obsession. And when we couldn’t find a bottle, we’d spin whatever was available. Toothbrushes, pens and beer cans. My new gang were professionals in singing, acting, dancing and… French kissing. Heaven knows we worked hard at all four skills.
When we weren’t hanging out with the whole YOG crowd, the ‘Famous Five’ as we were known spent our nights together. Nick, Andy, Lisa, Sam and I were inseparable. We did everything together. Nick loved Lisa, I loved Andy and Sammie, well she was the baby of the group and we all loved her. Surprisingly though, Lisa didn’t love Nick and Andy didn’t love me but we all liked each other and the friendship worked.
Before I moved into the Allesley Old Road flat, when I was staying with Lisa, we all (except for Sammie) went over to the Isle of White together. One of our YOG friends, Natalie Mason had got a job on a holiday camp there, so we went to pay her a visit. My memory of it is so vague now, except loving every minute of being there because Andy was there. I thought he was the best looking, most talented guy I’d ever met and I desperately wanted to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately for me, every girl he ever met wanted to be his girlfriend. He had the charm, the charisma and the looks and I had ‘please please please love me’ written all over me. I think this was how I got hooked on Spin the Bottle..because even though I wasn’t his girlfriend, I still got to kiss him and man…I couldn’t get enough. That trip to the Isle of White was kind of my initiation into the gang.
We couldn’t stay with Natalie in her staff quarters, so we’d bought tents to sleep in. I remember trying to pitch our little two man tent in gale force winds, and nearly parachuting off the edge of a cliff when the fly of the tent filled with air and it took all four of us to hold it down and peg it in. It was supposed to be the English summer but it was fucking freezing. Nick, trying to prove his manhood, jumped in the resort pool, which was more like a recreational school pool than a fancy resort thing with swim up bar, and it was so icy cold that he reckons his penis literally disappeared inwards. He was always trying to impress the girls by doing crazy impressive things but unfortunately his red hair and pale skin were a disadvantage next to his blue-eyed, Mediterranean skinned, full of charm best friend Andy. Poor Nick never stood a chance with the girls when Andy was around, but in hindsight, he was probably the nicest, most caring person anyone could ask for but none of us recognised it at the time. I was blind-sided by his good looking friend and couldn’t see the nice for the totally shaggable.
I’m flashing back and forwards a bit here, but for context, Andy had me at ‘Hello’. After my first couple of nights in the UK, when I was still at Nanna and Grandad’s Nick had invited my brother Chris to bring me over for a sleep over at his house with a few other friends. There was Nick, Andy, Chris and a couple of others. Nick lived with his Mum and their dog, whose name will come to me later. Toby! The dogs name was Toby!
Nick’s Mum was profoundly deaf, so staying there was great because we could make as much noise as we wanted downstairs and she couldn’t hear us. Nick was proficient in sign language and it was always fascinating to watch him communicate, or especially argue with his Mum. As young teens we teased him about it and I feel incredibly insensitive about it now. His telly never had the sound on, only subtitles and his phone never rang, just flashed a big red light wherever a call came in. I still have no idea who or where his Dad was and he had an older sister that we never saw. She’d married and moved out. Our gang were his family and he was the big daddy of our little famous five, especially being the oldest. Looking back as an adult now, we treated him badly and he didn’t deserve it. He was the most loyal friend we had and he looked after us all. He needed us, because we were the best thing he had. We bought laughter and joy to his life and we gave him a reason to be happy. Ahh fuck…if he was here now, I’d give him the biggest hug.
Anyhoo..back to that sleepover night. I’d literally been in the UK a week and there I was with my new friends at a sleepover with people I barely new. Nick had pulled the cushions off the settee for me to sleep on, so I’d be comfortable, while the boys just bunked down with sleeping bags on the Toby dog-haired carpet. When everyone was asleep, Andy and I were still talking. I was the new girl on the block and all the boys were showing interest. But Andy got in first and by then, nobody else stood a chance.
I think the Aussie accent was a turn on and he lay next to me in the dark whispering questions about what Australia was like? He draped his arm across me and nudged in closer, until eventually we were both squished up, body to body on the settee cushions. We were fully clothed, talking and giggling and getting to know each other. As things do in the darkness, our lips finally found each others and we kissed and kissed and kissed and I never wanted those kisses to end.
I’d give anything to go back to that night…to kiss innocently, feeling his fully dressed body pressed up against mine. Our toes touching in sock-cladded feet and never wanting the sun to rise. That moment in time that was just ours. It’s those sort of moments that disappear with age and I’d do anything to feel the way I did that night again.