Michael Harding: The first time a woman asked me ‘do you want to shag?’
New Year’s Eve, 1972. Of course we didn’t dare, but I’ll never forget the offer, or the girl
She brought her face up close to mine and I could feel her breath on my cheeks when she spoke.“Do you want to shag?” she whispered.
I lose the run of myself on New Year’s Eve. I get sentimental about people I haven’t seen for ages.
I knew a woman in 1972 and even now I often think of her. Out of the blue her name arrives with a vivid image of the black miniskirt she was wearing with red fur on the hemline when we danced in the White Horse Hotel in Cootehill at the New Year’s Eve disco that year.
We had hot whiskeys in the foyer, the height of sophistication, after we had danced for almost an hour. We had smooched on the dance floor to the sound of Leonard Cohen and, for no particular reason, exchanged a big kiss and lingered for a long time in that embrace.
I was wearing a big woollen jumper and she was in that black miniskirt, like the shadow of a tennis player.
It was an amazing kiss.
She brought her face up close to mine and I could feel her breath on my cheeks when she spoke.
“Do you want to shag?” she whispered.
Of course there wasn’t a chance in the world of us shagging because she was getting a lift home with her father, and I had the loan of my own father’s Morris 1100 and if I dared veer away on any scenic route or romantic adventure I knew that he’d read my face in the morning, when he interrogated me at breakfast.
So I didn’t dare leave anyone home, never mind shag them. Besides, my dancing partner’s old fellow was a solicitor, which in those days was worse that having a guard for a father.
A guard might arrest you for not having a light on your bicycle on the way home from secondary school, but a solicitor could get you off. Or on the other hand if the guard let you off, a solicitor in a small town could bring anybody’s feet very close to the fire.
So we didn’t shag and I had to postpone my end-of-virginity orgasm until the following year when I was a fully-fledged second year student at university rambling about the wilds of Connemara on New Year’s Eve with a young American woman whose father lived far away in New York.
But it was lovely to be asked, to have a woman say it for the first time: “Do you want to shag?”
I said “Sure,” in the way that boys can, though both of us were bluffing. It was a kind of spiritual shagging, and to celebrate it we went to the foyer. I ordered the whiskies, and she put one black stockinged leg across the other so that I almost dropped the glasses as I sat down beside her.
In college she met another student, which was to be expected, and they went to London and did a fair amount of their own slow dancing because they had three children before she was 30.
And in those early years our voices collided occasionally in the intimacy of a random phone call. Because there were moments when we were both adrift in our separate relationships, and we could hear across the phone line a sense of unfinished business.
The fear that there might have been something I didn’t say back then in the foyer worried me sometimes, but the reality that five minutes on the phone line might unwind all the silence between us stopped me from calling her. Although that anxiety dissolves as age creeps up on the human heart, and nowadays it’s comforting to know that the first young spiritual shag of my adult life had its fruit in a lifetime of affection and love for someone I hardly knew.
The song of the night was Space Oddity by David Bowie and as we swayed under the psychedelic lights she sang it into my ear. “Ground Control to Major Tom, you’ve really made the grade.”
I had just done the Leaving Certificate, got into college, passed the driving test and a woman was singing in my ear that I had “made the grade”. But I knew she didn’t think I was an astronaut. She meant that the shag we were having in our little spiritual bubble was a real achievement.
And when Bowie died, I looked her up on Facebook and we became friends in that virtual and dry familiarity that is the mark of digital communication. Although it’s fierce tempting to consider going further now. Taking it all the way, as we used to say, and daring to contemplate that this time round, I might just give her a buzz and wish her a Happy New Year.