It was long ago and far away

Johnny, Frank, Paddy, Mike

The first cut is the deepest run the words of the old Rod Stewart song, and no truer words have ever been written. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago when the four old boys ( pictured above ) met up for a quiet drink, a chat on current affairs, and an occasional stroll down memory lane. We all grew up together a long  time ago in war ravaged Bristol. With a combined age of 300 years, we share a million memories of our beloved city. We sat and watched the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. The conversation switched seamlessly back to 1948, for this was the year when London  last hosted the Olympics. Suddenly, we fell silent, all eyes turned to me, and we all burst out laughing.

You see,1948 was the year that I fell in love for the very first time. I was only eleven when it happened. She was a new girl on the block...Her name was Maria Theresa, a tall, slender, elegant, Italian girl who spoke no English. Like all the greatest love stories, my love was unrequited. It wasn't for the want of trying. I tried everything. I gave her my whole week's ration of chocolate. She took it, ate it, but remained aloof. I offered her my collection of Italian postage stamps. She politely declined. Then, I had my brainwave, and a cunning plan slowly took shape.
The 1948 London Games had just finished. There were no television sets in our world, and we had contented ourselves with some crackly commentaries from our battery driven radios, and some grainy images from the Pathe Newsreels. But it had still excited our young imaginations. From an early age, I had the ability to run. This, I decided, was the way to Maria's heart. I announced that we would be staging our very own Olympic Games.I spread the word on the streets with an almost evangelical zeal. Lord Coe would have been proud of me.
I could always run
Eugene Street was to be our Olympic Stadium. Neatly tucked away behind the Bristol Royal Infirmary, it was already our soccer pitch in winter and our cricket pitch in summer. Now it would be our athletics stadium.  Come the day, and 10 would be budding Olympians, of various shapes and sizes, turned up to take part. Molly and Mavis held their skipping ropes across the road to create a finishing line, and the street fell silent as we lined up at the far end.

Eugene Street today: The starting line
I was dresssed up for the occasion. White vest, new short, grey flannel trousers, and new black daps (plimsolls for non Bristolians). I was also sporting my new, trendy, royal blue and scarlet striped braces

I got away to a flier, and I sped down the road. I was the Roman God, Mercury, with wings on my heels. I was bearing a message of love from Romeo to Juliet. My Juliet was standing about 10 yards behind the finishing line, holding her younger sister's hand. She wasn't even watching. Then, when I was about 20 yards from the finish, she looked up and our eyes met. I threw both arms in the air in a victory salute. The buttons on my trousers parted company with my new braces, and my trousers headed for my ankles. Panic !! I was commando, and for a couple of strides, everything I had was on display to the world. I managed to grab hold of my trousers just as they were passing my knees, but as I stumbled to the finishing line, Ronny and Johnny swept past me. I fell across the line in a blurred flurry of arms, legs, trousers, braces and prepubescent genitals, in third place.

I doubt that I will ever forget the look on Maria's face as she stared down at me. Then she spoke quietly to her sister in Italian, and walked away. She and her family moved on about two weeks later and I never saw her again. But, I would always remember those final words. They sounded so romantic to my young ears.

Six or seven years later as I was about to enter the Royal Navy for my National Service, I was rummaging through some old books in Christmas Steps. I came across an English / Italian dictionary. I bought it, took it home, and slowly translated what Maria had said.

'Ogni volta che lo vedo mi sento male'
Every time I see him I feel sick

The first cut is the deepest. I don't think that I have ever truly recovered from that day, and even 64 years on, I still blush at the memory.


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