I have missed England these past weeks. It is the only time of year that I do . . . the seemingly interminable build-up to Christmas; the lazy workplace atmosphere beforehand; Christmas Eve in the pub; the great telly, especially the “Christmas Special” comedies (we Brits do it best); the festive season football programme; and for Jews (or good ones, at least), not having had a “kiss under the mistletoe”, the midnight snog on New Year’s Eve.
I came of age (and almost in another way, too, I seem to recall) on that New Year’s Eve, 1983.
I was 16, and never been kissed. My excuse is that I had only ever been in Orthodox primary and secondary (boys) schools, and a religious youth group. I only learned about “the birds and the bees” well after my Bar Mitzvah, over a game of table tennis with my next door neighbor, Graham. I was sure he was winding me up (as he usually did), until I confronted my parents with the revelation. It was a rude awakening from my constant marvelling about the wonder of couples being able to conceive by thinking about it.
And I’d spent considerable time thinking about that first snog (and more, after first setting eyes on Altered Images’ Clare Grogan [right] on Top of the Pops, and then in Gregory’s Girl). But it just never happened. Until that New Year’s Eve.
On the previous New Year’s Eve, 1982, I remember standing transfixed with jealousy, next to my cousin, as his older brother snogged the most desirable girl in our youth group year.
Even that New Year’s Eve started pretty inauspiciously. A party in Hendon, the dull North West London suburb where I grew up.
I am sure I didn’t initiate matters. I wasn’t yet familiar with the “Would you like to go for a walk?” code (was it just mine?) for “May I please stick my tongue down your throat?” Anyway, I would never have had the guts.
But who cares how I got there. What was important was that I was there, walking nervously up Allington Road, NW4 with Ruth . . . stopping . . . and then having one of those “first time” sensations that I wouldn’t have again until the 26th of April 1992 (the day Leeds United won the football league championship for the first time in my adult life).
Ruth, you were more Marilyn Manson than Monroe. And you wore a “train track” brace on your teeth (not a huge turn-on for non-train enthusiasts). But, to this day, I thank you for that moment.
My mate (for argument’s sake let’s call him Danny . . . that’s his name), however, always having to go one (two in this case) better, didn’t allow me to indulge myself – and anybody else who would have listened (most wouldn’t, as they’d been there and done that long before) – in my champagne moment. On the following day, New Year’s Day 1984, he recounted how his filthy (I was dead jealous) fingers had visited the “holy of holies”. He recalls, to this day, how I made him feel like he’d committed a crime (I thought he had). Anyhow, my next challenge was set.
I seem to recall having a rather long barren patch thereafter (the memory of that evening likely kept me going), until the following New Year’s Eve, 1984, when I snogged Samantha. It was at a party in St. John’s Wood. A lot more upmarket. Rather like Samantha, in fact. Definitely more Monroe, this time.
That first week of 1985, in the dusky thickets of Hampstead Heath, Samantha helped me discover how one could have sex (or something that felt like it) fully clothed. And, later that same year, a golden one, I met Caroline, my first “girlfriend”, who taught me an awful lot more.
So, now you can perhaps understand my sentimentality for the English New Year’s Eve. Israel’s “Sylvester” (the fourth century Pope Saint celebrated on the 31st of December, apparently) ain’t quite the same.
Nor does getting a snog these days present quite the same challenge, or excitement. Especially not off a Tel Avivit, but that’s another story (that I’ll get to) . . .