On the lasting effects of a proper crush

IMG_5483I blagged my way onto the sixth-form day trip to Calais when I was still in Year 11. The Calais trip, to be honest, was a bit of a joke. We ‘interviewed’ the mayor; every year the same questions – ‘Do you prefer the ferry or the tunnel?’ ‘Is tourism good for France?’ ‘What’s the hardest part of your job?’ – and then spent the rest of the day having lunch and hitting the hypermarkets. Not for booze. Too young for booze. 

In the full grip of an immense crush, France – even Calais – seemed magical to me. The object of my affections, Super Hot French Teacher, would load his basket full of brie, croissants and coffee, and it all seemed so grown-up, so sophisticated. I look back now and wonder what the bloody point was – good, authentic versions of those things can be bought easily in British supermarkets. But when *he* was buying them, France seemed the sexiest place in the world.

Fifteen years on, I can see that’s far from true. France is the country of dog shit everywhere, of supermarkets that close on Sundays, of endless meals of goats cheese salad if you’re a vegetarian (which fortunately I’m not). But it hasn’t lost that sparkle for me, that golden quality of having been sanctioned by someone I adored. I can find joy in the most mundane ways in which it differs from life in the UK.

Here are five random things I love about it:

1) Condom machines on every pharmacy – I’ll acknowledge that this is a weird one. After all, in the UK, many public toilets have condom machines. But there’s something about having them out there, in full view, and their often rusty, battered appearance, that I find super sexy. Sadly I’ve yet to ever have need to buy condoms from a machine, but this is definitely on my list of fantasies.

2) Wine – one of the most magical things about France is that if you order a glass of wine, a coffee and a Coke, the wine will almost always be second cheapest, sometimes even the cheapest. I associate France with daytime drinking, wine as a sign of doing things like a proper grown up and the promise that, one day, honestly, I will take wine tasting seriously. Just not this week.

3) Steak – I like steak all over the world, as far as I can tell, but there’s a particular kind, onglet, which you don’t find outside of France that often (or maybe I just don’t know what the English translation is), which is my absolute favourite. It’s a cheap cut which means it’s usually been cooked for a long time and it comes with gravy. And chips. Chips and gravy. Yum.

4) Openness about sex – underwear shops all over town, middle-aged couples kissing as they clink their glasses at lunchtime, topless women on the beach – sex, or symbols of sex feel like they’re all over the place here. Even the things that might piss me off in the UK, like billboard ads trading unashamedly on suggestions of women giving head, fail to bother me. They just make me want to give head.

5) Sea – again, there is sea in many places. I like it here though, for a few reasons. Firstly, because falling in love with the South of France has shown me that I’m in many ways free of the crush that started my love affair with the country in the first place. There are no links to him here, language aside. Secondly, because of the way the salt dries on my skin and in my hair – it reminds me of the feeling of come drying on my body – invisible to other people but undoubtedly there. And thirdly, because it’s scary sea – pebbles and jellyfish and occasional big waves – and I can handle my fear of all those things here now. By myself.

I’m not sure what the point of this piece is, exactly. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, it was about looking at the wider ramifications of crushes, which we dismiss so easily. I guess what I’m trying to say is that once upon a time, this was all filtered through my feelings for a man. And although the feelings for him have gone, my feelings for the place haven’t and they’ve been deepened by a new confidence, a new knowledge of myself and what I like. And that really does feel magical.

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Girl Crush (2)

I don’t fancy girls. Or rather, I don’t fancy fucking girls. Not really. I mean, never say never, right? But it would be untrue to say I don’t find them attractive. Because I do. Attractive, and often so much more interesting to watch than men.

I wrote about my official girl crush here, and she’s still going strong: she’s had her hair cut into a cute little pixie look now, and yeah, I still would. But noticing that I notice girls? That’s new.

It’s my inner magpie that can’t resist women. It’s the flash of the light on glitter eyeliner as she flicks her hair behind her ear, the soft roll of flesh above her jeans, the jewellery. Especially the jewellery.

I watched someone fiddle nervously with a stack of beautiful chunky silver rings today as she was reading to a group. My first thought was that her hands were stunning, my second was a recollection of a story I’ve been meaning to write since the end of the summer.

I was on a train, heading back to Geneva airport. In my gap year, the air in Swiss train carriages was so thick with cigarette smoke it wouldn’t been pretty easy to watch someone unnoticed. No longer, sadly.

I didn’t notice her first. I noticed her boyfriend. He wasn’t conventionally attractive but he looked … interesting. Skinny. All in black. Hair tied back. A tiny treble clef tattoo behind his ear. And it was that tattoo that I was still focused on when I spotted her.

She stood out less, truth be told. Skinny jeans. Ballet flats. Vest top. Enviably perky cleavage. And she had this gold necklace – I can’t remember exactly what now, but an ampersand or a delicate bow of some sort. It swung gently from side to side as she crossed and uncrossed her legs, reached over to stroke her boyfriend’s thigh.

It was just a necklace. She was just a girl. It’s funny how I notice some more than others.

Girl crush

A week or two ago, Alison Tyler posted this, about potentially wanting pieces for a sex and coffee themed anthology, and it got me thinking.

When you think sex and coffee, I think it’s normal to imagine inviting someone back for coffee, the strong, dark stuff that you drink at the end of an evening, and where that might lead. Less sexy, perhaps, is that first coffee of the day – the one that wakes you up, puts you in a position to face the day ahead.

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Educating Yorkshire or fuck, teachers are hot

When Educating Yorkshire was on, back in the autumn, the potential hotness of the teachers in it never really crossed my mind, which was surprising, because a) Caitlin Moran had quite a lot to say about it and b) way back when I was the queen of the teacher-crush. 

In my early teenage years, I went through crushes on teachers like most girls go through snogging boys in their own year group. There was the cute Geordie tech teacher who ended up being the reason I took Graphics GCSE despite not being able to draw, the history teacher with a penchant for Disney films and yet another tech teacher with amazing forearms. It was all pretty harmless though, until I got to my GCSE year and fell head over heels for the French teacher.

The French teacher was not hot in the way most teachers are hot (ill-fitting suits, intelligence, geekiness, a willingness to lavish attention on you not for how you look but for how you think); he was hot in the sense of truly, truly beautiful. With every crop of new starters, the rumours got more far-fetched – to start with it was claimed that he’d modelled for Next before he became a teacher, and in later years progressed to something about modelling Calvin Klein Y-fronts.

The latter was not totally improbable. He cycled to school every morning and he looked, well, as good as someone can look in lycra, largely because he was hung. Oh yes. He was hung, and I was sixteen, discovering masturbation and erotica, and god, I wanted him. Even to this day I can conjure up the smell of his aftershave just by thinking about it and remember how horny I’d get in 5th period A-Level French, which he taught sitting on his desk in shorts, because he taught boys PE the period before.

Despite some major breakthroughs on my part: I introduced him to my parents, who started inviting him to dinner, I managed to get myself invited along on upper sixth French cinema trips, nothing ever came of it. Oh, ok, I went from being a pretty average linguist to an offer to study languages at one of the best universities in the country, but was the reality of fancying a teacher any better than fancying a boy your own age? No. For me, at least, it was worse.

French was a bad choice of subject for me. I already had massive confidence issues, especially when it came to my body, and I just wanted to fit in. Ironically, my emotional instability at the time was such that everything I did prevented me from fitting in. He wanted to video classes so we could see the errors we were making with the language and learn to correct them, but the video camera sent me into total meltdown. My grades were on track, and I was interested and inspired by the subject still, but I’d storm out of lessons, throw stuff, burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Looking back, it was probably the first occurrence of the depression that’s plagued me ever since, but at the time I couldn’t understand how I could want someone so badly when liking them had such a devastating effect on my self-confidence. It was as if something about liking a grown up, who, let’s face it, was never going to reciprocate, sent me into total regression.

So, partly, I wanted to write about him here because I find it interesting that something which I’d now expect to boost my confidence actually had the complete opposite effect, but also because it’s not something I’ve succeeded in consigning completely to the past. A friend of mine has a dinner party game which consists of conversation starter cards (god, we’re middle-aged already, aren’t we?). We were playing it last NYE and I pulled the ‘Which relationship in your past would you like to revisit?’ card. Technically, it was cheating to say that, despite my hellish behaviour, I’d relive the years from 16-18 in a heartbeat, because it was never a relationship, just a *massive* crush. But do I wish I could relive those years again? Hell yeah. Because I’m still curious about what it would have been like to fuck him – I’d really like to see if what was under the lycra lived up to its promises.