Well, readers of March’s post won’t be surprised to read that I’m now on to book two of Michael Marshall’s excellent ‘Straw Men’ trilogy (In my head I keep referring to it as a prophecy, I really hope it is not a prophecy), The Lonely Dead. Ward is back, he’s teamed up with John Zandt and at first they are walking around the place finding staged dead bodies. Then they discover a house…full of dead bodies. I have made no progress further than page nineteen, thanks to Pepper…I will make greater strides this week.
First of all, I may get the term indiscreet thrown at me for even writing this post…I can’t even calculate the odds of Joanne herself, or of anyone whom knows her, reading this post. If she does…I’m not apologizing, I’ll try to be as fair and objective as I can…I’ll TRY!
So, I first met Joanne via the CB Radio. For those of you who don’t know what this is / was, then watch the film ‘Convoy’ We Boltoners had a different take on the CB – essentially this was a bit like today’s ‘Tinder’ – although let me stress, I’ve never been on Tinder owing to the fact that I don’t need to do so. Anyway, on the CB radio we used to have ‘eyeballs’ – stop laughing! Eyeballs occurred when one person met with another person – I know it seems obvious to me, but some people will struggle with this innocent concept of two complete strangers meeting up in public…or then again maybe they won’t!
We met one summer evening, it was obviously so memorable that I have forgotten exactly which month! I do recall it was whilst I was working on the Community Programme Agency at Longsight Church in Harwood Lea. So I’d hazard a guess that I’m still 19. I can remember seeing her with her ‘auburn’ hair (anyone who knows me and my writing and characters will have just recognised one of them…if not more!) and thinking that she was kind of nice looking…or as I probably thought at the time, drop dead gorgeous! We got on quite well, a natural chemistry seemed to exist between us, but, she had already made me aware of her relationship status prior to us meeting up for this ‘eyeball’. She had a boyfriend, John. And here is where it gets weird because John was actually engaged to someone else! I’m thinking of a phrase here that sounds very similar to breedy gastard (I do love a good, or in this case bad, spoonerism).
So, like I say, we got on well but as she was already involved with someone and I’m essentially insecure in that I want to be the centre of someone’s world…not immersed in some kind of weird four-way triangle (because a four-way triangle is just messed up!). We spent around an hour in each other’s company and said our goodbyes at the junction of Turton Road and Bradshaw Brow. I crossed over to go into Tonge Moor and she headed up the hill towards Bradshaw / Bromley Cross. For some reason, a line from a Clint Eastwood film went through my mind “if she looks back, she’s interested” So, I turned around to behold, across the road, she was indeed staring right at me…result?
I was on cloud nine all the way home – around three miles or so, I hadn’t had much experience with girls/women, I think this was all post-Anne-Marie, Debbie, Sharon and Penny (I still talk to Penny via Facebook, every so often!). When I got home she was shouting me on the CB. Yeah, that’s going to need some clarification, ‘shouting’ is like telephoning someone…apart from well, it’s much more public than that. CB radio in those times was essentially divided up into forty ‘channels’ where people could talk to each other. ‘Ah, but how did one-another know that when the other one was around?’ Damn, that’s some good questioning, well, we used to go onto the unofficial, but everyone used it anyway, ‘calling’ channel – which was channel nineteen. One would simple ‘shout’ / say, one-nine for Scorcher. Okay I do know how daft that sounds and I’m not going to go into the history of CB radio communication, that’s just how we used to get hold of each other. So, I’ve made it back home, in spite of being minorly loved-up. For the record, I fancied Joanne, I’ll never deny that. I thought that she might be a bit interested in me, thanks to Clint’s advice and so I was willing to play along and chat back to her.
And that’s what we did. For over a month, practically every time that I switched on that damn CB radio, we ended up chatting. I should add here that the conversations were not private and that anyone who had a CB could go to whatever channel we were on and either listen in, or indeed, join in. And many did! Prior to Joanne I used to speak to other people and undoubtedly so did she. So, in actuality, we gradually spent less time talking to each other and more time talking to the interrupters ‘on the side’ (more CB terminology) of those people who really didn’t seem to care that we were very obviously into each other…technologically speaking. At first we used to take our conversation to a secret channel – well it was not really a secret, when Joanne used to say “Kloppa Castle” this meant ‘go to channel twenty-nine’. Obviously, this didn’t work for long as people would then simply progress through the channels until they found us. Aren’t people sometimes bloody invasive?
This reached a head when we swapped phone numbers, but obviously, as we both still lived at home and this was the 80s when nothing about telephony was cheap…we just didn’t stay on the phone long. Looking back now, it was kind of odd behaviour, but then so was CB radio in itself.
Fast forward a few months and without falling out, we seemed to have stopped talking to each other as much. I was now aged twenty and not really interested in having platonic relationships with girls / women. Sorry but Plato was actually gay so of course he didn’t want to have sex with women, the rest of us…I was being driven by hormones and they wanted sex, not light-hearted conversations with some girl who was playing the third part of a love triangle. A few weeks before Christmas, we arranged for Joanne to come around to my house! Woohoo!
And she duly arrived – she got her dad to bring her. She looked spectacular. We even sat in the ‘front room’, teenage boys’ bedrooms (okay I was nearly 20) are not the most romantic of all places to try and impress a lady (okay, she was 18) and I wanted her to be impressed before I tried to relocate us to upstairs (nudge, nudge). Well, what I said and did must have worked – even including deploying that awful immature line enquiring as to whether she was wearing tights or stockings (she’s 18!!! Why, oh, why would she be wearing stockings at 18???). Once in my bedroom, my confidence, my casual but slightly devil-may-care attitude that had so obviously won her over…eloped to somewhere else! We were both lay down, on my bed, talking about how good we were as friends and then lo and behold what did I do…I tickled her. Somewhere in the cosmos, I can practically hear the spirit of Casanova spontaneously combusting!
All the chemistry that we had been building up for around six months seemed to simply evaporate into thin air. To this day, I do not know why on earth I thought that might free Joanne from the restraints of her underwear (stockings, tights? Might as well be a bloody suit of armour from there-on-in!). Looking back now, if I had been more confident, I’d have nailed her (but, that’s not the sort of thing that I did, nailing anyone) I always cared. I wanted sex with love, whereas most of my peers were skipping the love part. Even after we’d exchanged Christmas cards there was no physical contact…not even a kiss and she even told me off for trying to ‘use sad doggy eyes’ on her. It’s only now, in my 50s that I realise what ‘sad doggy eyes’ are, hey, they got Anne-Mare to give up her goods (but that’s another story, and not a very interesting one)!
After that monumental failing we didn’t really speak for some time. I felt her disappointment as much as my own. We exchanged a couple of friendship letters (a procedure introduced into my life by one Miss Stephanie Leigh) where she often informed me of how much I loved her…and here’s me thinking I had some say in this! Then the summer of 1986 happened.
What a tumultuous year, she appeared to have one failed relationship after another, mine never really took off the ground neither. Joanne showed the sort of obvious jealousy over me having an annoying, tempestuous off-again, on-again fling with a girl named Marie…I did enjoy that especially as it was an entirely spontaneous thing. Joanne even went as far as to ring me just for the purpose of slamming the phone down on me. And when Marie and I went our separate ways, Joanne was there (on the phone and CB) with a sympathetic ear wanting me to talk things through (I was twenty for the love of God and had the emotional range of a bag of rice, there was nothing to talk through!).
It was during this summer when Joanne saw me in my work clothes(jeans and donkey jacket and steel toecap boots) and kind of got a bit gooey eyed when she saw me at the precinct in Harwood. This prompted another bout of her ringing me up to go and talk to her on the CB, a female friend at the time did comment to the effect of: ‘If you’d wanted to talk to her wouldn’t you have already been talking to her?’ – I don’t know about that, I just wanted to be with her in any way and was not streetwise, cocky, I don’t know a good adjective here but in hindsight I should have said ‘No’ a few times to get her even more interested in me. I truly did not understand the female mind. Then one fateful day she rang me up and suggested that we meet at Longsight Church Hall and go for a walk.
Once again, she looked stunning. (I’ve missed a section out about when we’d arranged for her to come around for a bottle of wine or two, but then the day after (whilst I was at work) someone got into her head and to cut a long story short she never came round…We met and walked around for a bit and then she hit me with THE LETTER. Joanne then played the old advanced defence mechanism of saying, “I don’t really feel like that anymore”. That’s a damned interesting way of presenting someone with a letter! She’d written down all of her feelings about me, but the line that I remembered the most (and it will haunt me forever) was “I don’t know if I want you, but I don’t want anyone else to have you”.
Any guys who read this, if a girl ever says or writes that to you, run, run a mile, run it quickly and for the love of God, don’t turn around. It’s madness. If you are regarding someone as a friend, an inter-gender friend, platonic, whatever, then ladies, you cannot say that to the guy! Stoppit!
As a writer I’m frequently bothered by my ability to write as a woman, to try and temporarily think ‘how would a woman put this across’. This has prompted me to do some googling around and one line from the film ‘As good as it gets‘ springs to mind when Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin is asked ‘How do you write women so well’, he responds “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
I’ve never really found that helpful at all, unless I consider Joanne and her letter! At the time, on that Summer’s night I wanted to take her in my arms and y’know…get a all romantic. As it panned out, we just had a nice time being open, without any physical contact. I know that some people will read this and think ‘he’s a bit slow on the uptake isn’t he!’ and that’s putting it nicely. And to answer that, as far as women go, I’m completely retarded, and Joanne Smith is one of the reasons why!
We carried on as tempestuous and sexually frustrated friends for a while. In 1987 I had a brief liaison with another Joanne – Robinson, which meant that a couple of times per week I got the chance to walk past Joanne Smith’s house. And yes she did let me know that she had seen me – the only alternative was to catch a bus there, or to get a taxi – which I did on the way back, but never on the way there. That relationship was one of the few ones that I’d be in where friendship really did seem like the better route to go down…I can’t say anymore than that!
Again the friendship between me and Joanne petered out. She passed her driving test and made a point of coming up to see me. I used to catch the bus directly across the road from the Bolton Y.M.C.A. when I worked (on a training scheme) there and Joanne used to catch the bus at the next stop along. I remember being all booted and suited on one occasion (might’ve been for an interview) and Joanne commented on how lovely I looked and didn’t I have gorgeous eyes. Seriously! By this time we’d known each other for two years and she’s only just noticed my eyes? Outwardly, I never bit. By this time she was going out with a much older freak of a man by the name of Ian who drove a black cab. They were set to get married, but for reasons that escape me, it never happened and she started to see someone named Simon instead.
At some point they too were due to get married. For a couple of weeks Joanne and I had got into a habit of meeting once per week to go to The Bobbins Restaurant for a coffee during our lunch break. I quite liked this and obviously she must have done so too. However, on the last occasion (well there you have it) she informed me that Simon was frighteningly jealous (okay I may have coloured that one in!) and that we had to stop. Here again, is where she confused me. Why tell me at all? We had only been for drinks three or maybe four times, it was no big deal, so why tell me about it at all and not just stop doing it? I have to admit to being a bit hurt. but, well this was more like compliance, like Joanne wanted me to be hurt and I duly was.
We didn’t speak again after that day until the autumn of 1990!
By now I was involved in yet another dysfunctional relationship (hello Yvonne), but I did used to like watching the programme Capital City, which was on every Tuesday. The fateful Tuesday came, I settled down to watch my Capital City along with mum as she kinda liked it too. After no more than five minutes there was a caller at the door which mum very kindly answered. I could hear a woman’s voice. ‘This is a bit awkward and please understand I’m not here accusing anyone…’
It transpires that Joanne had been receiving ‘poison pen letters’ and worse – condoms through her letterbox, the car had been damaged, and the handwriting looked a lot like mine. She had brought with her (along with a pitiful looking Simon – the future husband) one of the really deep and meaningful letters that I had sent to her (Hi Joanne, see I can write with both hands…Mills and Boon yeah?). To be fair the handwriting did look similar. The vocabulary certainly didn’t, the cheeky mare! As it happens, this had been going on for months. She voiced her suspicions that it might be Ian – the x who she was meant to marry prior to Simon. I was overjoyed to hear her blaming Ian as he and I had our differences – not least of which was that I believed he had a thing for my ‘other Joanne’. Mum was rational, I half expected her to toss both Joanne and Simon out on their arses, but if dad had have been around he’d have probably joined in on the accusatory front! As fate decreed, they stayed for about an hour whilst Simon looked ready to crumble and I felt like crap in my own home.
It was sometime before we would speak again after this encounter.
Eventually, I called around randomly to see how she was doing. Yes, I didn’t think that I would do that either, but a part of me wanted to see what had transpired after that fateful autumn evening at Red Lane. Imagine my surprise. Simon was gone. Married, divorced, his name scrubbed from the baby’s birth certificate – what the fuck? I think she was pleased to see me and metaphorically welcomed me with open arms. Guess who she was with now? John, two-timing, rat-faced bastard, John who now was down to just the one woman – her! Bloody hell, she’d done the rounds. Part of me was disappointed, another part of me was really relieved – I could have been really involved in this walking disaster zone’s love life. I remember joking to Joanne and her family that it was nice to see her settled and not busy giving me the warm greeting of ‘have you been dropping used condoms through my letterbox’ which made us all laugh – especially me! I did call in to see her again a few months later, she breastfed her daughter (Millie) in front of me – the first time in almost ten years that I had got into her bedroom and she had a frigging baby hanging off her tit!
Over the next few years I made a mental note to contact her, but then never did. Oh sure, if I was walking in that area then I would make a point of walking past her house, but she never came out or even called me up to say that she’d seen me. I phoned one day only to discover that she had moved to Darwen with her other half – his name wasn’t mentioned, so I’m going to assume this was no longer John. Finally, at the end of the century I walked past one Sunday afternoon and noticed that the house was up for sale. Terry and Margaret, her parents, were moving. There would be way of ever contacting her again – not that I had anyway. As you can tell, this was the single most rocky friendship – a dysfunctional one at that, which I’ve ever had. Even after nearly thirty years there are still times when I wonder what might have been, if only I’d have gone in for a kiss and not a tickle that winter night in 1985…
I’m so glad I met Chris…Joanne would have possibly put me in an early grave. Yet sometimes, even when I’m happy, she slips in, through a crack in my personal defences (I’m just being poetic there and don’t even know what that means – hey I can write like a woman!) .
In 2010, Katy Perry released her single ‘The One That Got Away”, I think this is the song for me about Joanne Smith, she simply vanished. I’m good at researching people, I’ve found all of the people from my past with whom I would want to stay in contact – okay it took Chez to find Will Hardman for me, but at least I found him. That is, all apart from Joanne, although I think I might have found her brother, Martin. In that, fate is definitely telling me that no good could ever come of finding Joanne. I have Chris (and Pepper) and for that I’m infinitely grateful.