When a drunken teenage girl makes it clear that sex is on the cards, how can our sex adventurer summon up the will to resist?
I wish it was a lie, but this is true: I got off with a 16-year-old girl. Of course, most people have done this, but it usually happens when they are teenagers themselves, snogging on the way home from school or groping behind the bus shelter. But with me it happened in just about the worst circumstances possible. It was in the back garden of my neighbour, a former Blue Peter presenter. And I was 42.
While it was perfectly legal – there may only have been a few months in it, but she was definitely on the right side of “the Chris Langham line” – I’m aware that you can’t make a confession like this these days without offering some kind of justification. So before I tell you exactly what happened, and prompt an angry mob of FHM readers to march up my street armed with pitchforks and lanterns, chanting, “Burn him!”, let me take you back to a time when I was 16 myself, when my own sexuality was first being formed. There, in a sorry world of masturbation and self-loathing, we will find the embryo of Smith the pervert, the monstrous preyer on young flesh, the first link in this chain of pain…
1978. The Pistols are in their pomp, Argentina have won the World Cup, and I am still a pupil at an all-boys boarding school in Somerset. I’ve never kissed a girl, or even really spoken to one. But I know what they look like naked. Oh yes. Through various mail order investments and heroic visits to newsagents, I have built up a vast collection of pornographic magazines. I wank a lot. Once, I even manage it nine times in a single day, including one through a hole in my pocket during double Physics. But though self abuse gives me some relief from the pangs of adolescence, I’m aware that it is not entirely satisfactory.
I would prefer to be like my pals, who brag of holiday romances, of getting “tops and fingers”, who have photos of themselves with pretty girls on beaches. But I can never be like them. I am cruelly cursed in two ways. Firstly, by my penis. It is small. Alone on a desert island I could probably cope with this, but at school I have no hiding place. Showers are compulsory – you are ticked off on a clipboard by a prefect as you enter – and take place in public. There are no booths or dividers between the jets of hot water.
You have to stand naked with boys who range up to 18 years of age, and who show it in the luxuriance of their pubic bushes and the freight of their fully developed members. Ribald laughter leaves you in no doubt where you stand on the xylophone of penis size. My only tactic is to huddle in the corner and swiftly work up a lather of soap over my groin, hoping to disguise my shame behind a Santa Claus beard of Imperial Leather.
Then there is acne. I have, if anything, even more pus coming out of me than semen. My face is a mountain range of glistening pimples. Each morning, I patrol my skin for fresh yellow peaks, and work at them with pinched fingers or – in difficult cases – a safety pin sterilised in Listerine. The more I do this, of course, the more spots I get. Once you pop, you can’t stop. But while it’s easy to joke about, the misery is real. I feel filled with poison, marked by God.
And, of course, rejected by women. Before our annual sixth form dance with the local girls school (think ginger beer, five coloured lightbulbs and a Showaddywaddy LP on permanent replay), I spend three hours grooming myself with astringents. I lay all my clothes out on the bed and experiment with various combos, eventually opting for jeans, Dunlop Green Flashes and a T-shirt that says “DELAWARE ELKS”. Arriving at the church hall, I ignore the sexier girls – aware that I have more chance of getting into the College of Cardinals than their underwear – and zero in on a cluster of mousy Plain Janes. Having made several dummy runs, zigzagging through their airspace while suavely staring at my shoes, I pluck up the courage to approach them. Well, enough courage to approach them from behind anyway, armed with a plate of biscuits. Just as I am about to deliver my killer opener – “Ladies. A garibaldi?” – I hear the nearest one say to her friends, “Just so long as that spotty one doesn’t come over…” My blood freezes. At that moment, she turns around and her mouth drops open. My face goes bright red, no doubt making the pus on it shine out even more, like radioactive custard.
I beat a retreat. Not just from the dancefloor, but back to the school coach, where I wet the tweedy acrylic of the backseats with my salty, shameful tears. Okay, okay, I know. What a queen. But I wanted all you amateur psychiatrists out there to have the full backstory before I launched into my confession.
As these things tend to, it began innocently enough. I’d met the son of the ex-Blue Peter presenter in the pub a few times, and he invited me to his 18th birthday party. It was a summer barbecue in their back garden, and I walked in to see a throng of youngsters lying on the grass, tucking into beers and hamburgers. The guys were mostly longhairs, and the girls pleasantly tanned and underdressed. It was like a slacker version of “Déjeuner sur l’herbe”. A normal, confident man would have strolled in, negotiated his way through whatever fuckwitted tomfoolery passes for a handshake these days, and joined the nearest discussion about Hard-Fi or snowboarding. But (and having heard the evidence, I know you’ll understand this) I am not a confident man. Walking into any social gathering, I bring not just my bottle of £4.99 Rioja, but also a punchbowl of neuroses, awkwardness and fear of failure. My small talk is woeful. The result on this occasion? The same as ever: I skulked off to the kitchen to get drunk as quickly as possible and to talk to the uncles and aunties, the people my age.
However, four glasses in I went to get a sausage from the grill, and was unexpectedly dragged into a conversation by two girls on the lawn. One of them was consoling the other because she’d been dumped by her boyfriend. “Hey,” she said, putting out her arm and stopping me abruptly for an opinion. “Don’t you think Sarah is pretty?” I glanced down. Obviously, I’d have to say “yes” even if her friend looked like a garden gnome, but I didn’t have to lie. She was fit. “Sure. She’s lovely.” “Well, sit down and tell her then.”
And that was it. The conversation flowed easily because I had a role. And, low self-esteem problems being my Mastermind special subject, it was one I excelled at. Within ten minutes I had her cheered up, and within twenty I could sense unmistakeably that she was coming on to me. When her friend wandered off to speak to some Australian guys, we were alone.
Except in my head, of course. There it was like a tense courtroom drama, with the jury listening as the prosecution landed one damning blow after another. “For Christ’s sake, she’s only 16!” said the lawyer between my ears, even as I snuck a glance at her perky breasts. “And you’ve only got her word for that. You haven’t seen her passport.” I lit her cigarette and nodded as she told me about her plans to go travelling. “You’re probably older than her father. And don’t pretend that would make it a rock ’n’ roll thing to do. You’re not rock ’n’ roll. You’re a tubby homeowner from Chiswick.”
“Yeah, Morocco. Morocco is nice.” “It’s wrong on so many levels. She’s on the rebound, she’s been drinking, she’s only a couple of years older than your niece. There’s no way you can justify this.” But then the defence produced their star witness. The voice of the teenaged me, the one who had been damaged by constant rejection. The geek who hadn’t lost his virginity until he was 20. All that hurt could be extinguished in one fell swoop. It would be like years of therapy rolled into an instant. Slay the demon!
As the garden grew dark, I decided to leave it to fate. Like the gambler who is beyond thoughts of mere winning and losing, who just wants to know, I put my money on black and left it there for spin after spin. As she snuggled closer, would anyone interrupt us? No. As I stroked her cheek, would anyone see? No. When I invited her back to mine, would she refuse? No. A minute later we were in my hallway.
I pushed the door closed and took a couple of steps towards the living room. I never made it. She thrust me against the wall and began to kiss me. Even though her kisses were as unsubtle as a woodpecker, I was incredibly excited. It didn’t matter that the sex was clearly going to be abysmal, because this wasn’t about pleasure, not in the normal sense. The feeling rushing through me was more like the one junkies must get at The Meadows, when the cure suddenly kicks in and they know – for sure – that a life-changing breakthrough is about to be made. They will never again take up the needle or the glass briar; they will lead healthy constructive lives fuelled by nothing more invigorating than Perrier water and cottage cheese. Once she had given herself to me I would be over the need to chase women to validate myself, to right the wrongs of 25 years ago. I was going back to the fork in the road, and taking the right turning at last, the one that led to fidelity, to marriage, to children, to happiness. Her hands slid down to the front of my trousers and pressed against the stiffening bulge of my genitals.
At which point my brass letterbox fell off. It was a full two yards away from us, and was bolted sturdily to the door, but it fell with a gigantic clatter. It must have been unscrewing itself slowly for months, and our slight vibrations had edged the bolt from the final millimetre of thread. The effect was instantaneous. The noise lurched me back to reality. I pulled away, horrified, wiped my lips and said she should go. She went.
That night, I called two friends and told them about it. The first was an ex, who told me I was a creepy loser. I could hear the utter disgust in her voice. She told me to grow up, and didn’t understand when I said that, in a way, was what I had been trying to do. The second was a male pal, who said I was a loser for different reasons. “Maybe it wasn’t God telling you to stop. Maybe it was God saying ‘go on, my son. This one’s on me.’ Get her back, you idiot!” Too late. The next day, I met my 18-year-old neighbour as he was clanking binbags full of bottles onto the pavement. I airily enquired how the party had ended. He told me that Sarah had gone home and had sex with one of the Australian guys. He was a surfer. He was 31. They are an uncomplicated people.