In August 1977, when I was 11, my brothers and I went on a church camp. Unlike the other two I went on, this one was quite brilliant. The group, about 40 kids from 9-15, was great, and the vibe was fantastic, in part because the youth leaders (themselves just kids aged 17-19 years, but they seemed so much older to me) were very cool.
Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I was in love. Her name was Antje, a girl with brown hair and little freckles on her nose. It was a one-sided affair; I was much too shy to do much about it, other than carving her name on my bed’s headboard (and anywhere else I found suitable), and she was very shy too.
A night or two before our departure we had a disco evening. I dressed in my tight white jeans (to what purpose did my mom pack tight white jeans for a fortnight in a church camp?) and navy t-shirt. I was pretty hot stuff, but a terrible dancer. Still, I was intent on asking Antje for a slow dance, as some way to seal my (oh, perhaps our) love. To be sure that I’d know what to do should my scheme come to fruition, I asked one of the youth leaders, the ample-bossomed Doris, to practice with me. She kindly did, to Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London. The next ballad would be my cue.
After a never-ending string of Sweet and T Rex songs, played by my DJing older brother, the opening acoustic guitar notes of Rod Stewart’s Sailing sounded. Memory might deceive me when think that my brother might have tipped me off with a gesture of the hand; I like to remember that he did, rooting for his little brother as he tried to become a little man. So, in my tight white jeans and navy T-shirt, I arose and made a beeline across the dancefloor for the lovely Antje.
Halfway down, approaching from the right flank, came a chap called Roland. He was an affable fellow, but I sensed that he and I were aiming for the same target. I don’t remember whether I actually knew that he too had taken a fancy to the lovely Antje, or whether I saw it in the menacing glint of his evil eyes. He might have had his sights set on any number of girls cliqued together in the lovely Antje’s vicinity. Still, whether by intelligence or intuition, I knew his intended target right at that moment was my Antje. Roland. My nemesis.
It was like High Noon; tumbleweed blowing as nervous eyes darted hither and tither. Little me and big Roland, both going after the same girl as we strutted across the empty dancefloor with the entire crowd watching from the sidelines. Our paths met.
Instinctively, I shoulder-charged my taller rival out of the way. As he bounced off my shoulder and ignominiously tumbled away, I arrived in front of the lovely Antje, stood before her and asked with a boldness that belied my natural shyness whether she would dance with me, to Rod Stewart’s Sailing. She looked inquiringly at her best friend for approval. Her friend nodded consent, with a faint but assuring smile, hopefully impressed by my heroic determination to present her best friend with my love.
So Antje and I had our awkward first – and, alas, last – dance, as all my pals gave me the thumbs up, and the hapless Roland licked his wounded pride by plotting a revenge which he loudly announced but which never came (and if it had come, I still won).
I would love to tell you that for the last day or so of the camp we were inseparable and discovered inner yearnings and feelings of the kind which the adult Kevin Arnold would recount in his narrative in The Wonder Years. Alas, we could barely look at one another, perhaps sensing the hopelessness of our nascent romance, what with her living a long 45 minute bus ride away from me (or maybe we were just very shy).
I never saw Antje again. But not a year goes by nor a broadcast of Rod Stewart’s Sailing when I don’t think of her, of the feeling of my hands on the back of her slightly clammy T-shirt and her soft breath brushing against my neck. I wonder if she remembers me…