I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to grow up in the midst of various bygone eras, such as the crazy 80’s and the Britpop-tastic 90’s. Imagine living through the days when Oasis were still together and releasing new tunes every other month! Imagine donning your lycra and leg warmers and rocking your perm, knowing your style was 100% on fleek! Imagine being at the pub with your mates and yelling, “Lager lager lager!” along to Underworld’s Born Slippy at the height of its Trainspotting fame. Imagine actually living on this planet with Freddie Mercury!
(... And there’s my generation spending our youth at the back end of 2010-11 twerking to Like A G6 while wearing Hollister t-shirts, reeking of fake tan and dubbing Pitbull as the most influential man of the decade...)
Love and relationships that were formed outside of my own generation captivate me.
I really enjoy asking couples – especially those significantly older than me – how they met. It interests me how the trends of dating and the values of relationships have changed so much over the years.
One of my biggest regrets is that I never asked my Grandma Barbara in-depth questions about her relationship with my Grandad. Their story would have no doubt been a captivating one – my Grandma was German, and met my Grandad during the war. All I know is that my Grandma thought my Grandad had very good manners! After the war, they ended up living in Malta together, where my Dad was born. I often sift through my Grandma’s old photo albums which depict Valletta in all of its glamorous glory back in the 50’s.
(I’m not too sure what went wrong between my grandparents, but I can only assume that my Grandad’s ‘good manners’ dissipated over time. One of my most prominent memories of their marriage is my Grandma yelling, “IGNORAMUS!!!!” across the house at my Grandad. She often informed me that if divorce were cheaper, she’d have done it ‘years ago.’ Being German, she was no-nonsense and blunt ‘till the end!)
We all have a favourite love story.
I’ve always been an absolute sucker for the film The Holiday, and I deffo cried when Tom Fletcher sang ‘It’s All About You’ to Giovanna at their wedding.
My all-time favourite love story, however, is that belonging to my Mum and her first boyfriend, Paul.
I know, I know – it sounds bizarre: this guy isn’t my Dad, and had things worked out between my mum and Paul, I would never have been born... But I still can’t help but feel enthralled by their tragically beautiful fairytale.
My Mum has always spoken so fondly of Paul; so much so that I have grown up feeling as though I actually know him.
Mum and Paul were 22 when they met back in 1981.
It was the era of the New Romantics. I adore looking back at old photos of my Mum during this time of her life – she looks so glowing. The style back then was stunning, and my Mum shines in every single photo in knock-out outfits consisting of flamboyant frilly shirts and paper-bag trousers. Her style has always bordered on punk, and her short, shocking black hair looked incredible against her pale complexion.
My gorgeous Mum! ❤
One evening, my Mum was out at The Little B pub in Sale with her friends. Her and the girls got chatting to a group of lads and ended up having a drink with them.
Mum’s first impressions of Paul were that he was very quiet, but that he had beautiful blue eyes and dark auburn hair. (I always imagine that he looked a bit like a young Rick Astley!!)
Anyway, Paul’s mate Gary fancied Mum’s friend Vicky, so they all went back to Vicky’s.
Mum and Paul spent the whole night talking. She said she thinks Paul might have thought she was a bit mad – she ended up having to smash open a beer bottle because she couldn’t get the top off! 😂
Mum wasn’t sure if she’d ever see Paul again. She reminds me that it wasn’t like this day and age whereby you can just give someone you fancy a cheeky follow on Insta or scrounge their Snapchat... Back in the 80’s, you had to swap landline numbers if you wanted to keep in touch or see someone again!
A week later, Paul and Gary showed up at the Axe & Cleaver pub in Altrincham where my Mum worked. He asked her out on a date.
Their first date was an epic night of pub-crawling around Altrincham. They started off in the George & Dragon, and then moved on to Paul’s local: The Wheatsheaf.
Mum tells me that their relationship was very centred around pub-culture and music. (I deffo don’t take after my Mum and will never be as cool as she was... My 20’s have largely consisted of farm shops and the local library. ‘She’s not like a regular mom, she’s a cool mom!’)
The pinnacle of their first date was Paul picking Mum flowers from somebody’s front garden!
That first date sparked off a five year on-off relationship which came with a fair amount of drama, confusion and heartache, but also a lot of love. I don’t think there is ever a love quite like your first. Emotions are so heightened as you step into the unknown, ruefully brandishing your heart for poaching.
(At least my Mum’s first love sounds a lot more dignified than mine, which involved 18 year old me whacking someone with a high heeled shoe and spending my entire first year of college weeping to Taylor Swift songs every night...)
Paul was very much a closed book. In the whole five years my Mum was with him, he never opened up much. He would disappear for weeks at a time, and then just resurface without an explanation.
Mum always got the impression that he might have struggled with his mental health – something that sadly wouldn’t have been as widely talked about back then. As she had sussed out on their very first meeting, Paul was a very quiet and private person.
However, the things my Mum did know about Paul paint such a lovely picture.
He told Mum that he wrote poems about her, which is the part of their story I relish the most. I wish I could see those poems.
“He loved music and was always singing The Rolling Stones,” my Mum said. “And he drove a Ford Anglia with a wooden dashboard. People mocked, but I thought it was a beautiful car.”
They met each other’s families and Paul’s friends told Mum how good she was for him.
Mum recalls New Year’s Eve 1981, when Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby?’ Was number one in the charts. She was working at the pub and Paul came in to surprise her.
I’m fascinated by memories sparked by music through the years, and the power it has to shape some of the happiest and most prominent times of our lives.
After five years of uncertainty, Mum and Paul arranged to go on holiday together. It was a last attempt to bring them closer together. Mum booked the week off work and planned to meet Paul at her flat on the Monday morning. He didn’t turn up until Wednesday and acted as if nothing had happened. By this time, Mum had already planned to go and stay with her brother in Cardiff instead. Paul seemed upset that she was going without him, but Mum was fed up and stood her ground. She loved Paul, but couldn’t put herself through the angst any longer.
She said she knew deep down that would be the last time she would ever see Paul.
Some months later, Mum saw a figure through the frosted glass of her front door. The figure was hanging around outside, almost as if they were contemplating knocking. Mum said she just had a gut feeling that it was Paul. She didn’t want to go out as she’d worked hard to move on from him by this time, and she also had her parents round visiting and didn’t want to make a scene.
Mum watched the figure walk away.
She always hoped that Paul had found somebody to make him happy and had gone on to have a family.
In 1992, over a decade since they met, Mum saw Paul’s death listed in the newspaper.
So many unanswered questions and such a harrowing ending.
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: there is nothing quite like the anguished, heavenly intensity of your first love. Those feelings take years to fully shed. Despite the heartache that inevitably ensues as a result of 99% of people’s first dabbling in love, most of us will always look back on those feelings with fondness.
Those memories are all the more precious to my Mum, because they are literally all she has left of Paul. It’s hard to believe that Paul would be 62 now, like my Mum.
Beautifully, in her mind, he has stayed that shy 20-something lad with auburn hair and snaffled flowers.
Mum & Paul in Tatton Park in the mid-80's ❤
Cara Jasmine Bradley