Thursday, 9 August 2012

Waterloo Sunset

It was one of those warm Irish summers. Or do all teenage summers seem warm in the rear mirror?

I spent much of that August in Rosslare Strand hanging around my Aunt’s seaside caf√© while the jukebox pumped out future classics from scratchy 45’s.

Wexford was mad about music and moved to the inexorable beat of Luxembourg, Caroline, and the BBC. No one would be caught dead listening to Radio √Čireann, except when the county hurling team made it to the All-Ireland Final, and that was rare enough.

You can still catch echoes of those long-ago radio hits in the lanes and backstreets of Wexford town. Teddyboys on the cusp of 70 saunter by whistling Buddy Holly tunes; while skinheads who have long since hung up their bovver boots strut past in Ska unison.

I guess that’s why my Aunt Elsie’s jukebox was so eclectic for she encouraged the local aficionados to stock the machine, even while bemoaning the fact that they’d all “go deaf from the bloody volume!”

On hot days she hauled that jukebox out on the desiccated lawn that skirted the cafe. The teds, skinners, country chaps in their Sunday best, and townie girls abrim with peroxide curls followed, and soon that lawn throbbed and bopped to a host of different drummers. That’s where I first noticed the girl from Kelly’s Hotel.

She was so obviously from Dublin, down for a fortnight with her sisters and drawn to my Aunt’s by the magic of the music and the teenage compulsion to be as far away from her parents as possible.

You had to be of a certain class to stay in hotels back then, particularly luxurious Kelly’s. Through discreet inquiries I found out she was from Foxrock, for nothing moved on Rosslare Strand without my aunt’s knowledge.

Had it not been for the music I would have left it at that – after all there was a huge divide between the leafy avenues of Dublin’s stockbroker belt and the graveled back-lanes of Wexford town. But I loved everything that girl played on the battered jukebox. It was as if we were twins of taste separated by birth.

Twins we might have been but not in appearance. She had long dark hair, sea-green eyes, and moved with the ineffable confidence of a girl soon to be a woman. I, on the other hand, was a jumbled mass of red hair, freckles and every manner of doubt and insecurity known to a teenage boy.

All such concerns evaporated the day she played Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. Noticing my fevered approval she smiled at me; I was so taken aback that I turned a shade more vivid than a ripe beetroot.

What matter, I now had a plan! From that day on, the moment she set foot on my aunt’s lawn I played “our song.”

Her sisters soon caught on and teased her unmercifully, but it never stymied her sweet smile of appreciation. Many times I thought of speaking to her but I just couldn’t summon the nerve. Anyway, I figured I’d run into her at some teenage hop – where hopefully I’d be strutting my stuff in the coolest of cool beat-groups.

If music threw us together, it also kept us apart. As luck would have it I was hired to play bass in a professional band. It was a tough, exhilarating gig playing mostly to teds and skinners all hepped up on cider and testosterone.

By the time I got back to Rosslare, the girl with the sea-green eyes had gone home. The years passed in a blur, music took me to Dublin and eventually New York. Once, while home on vacation, I asked my Aunt what had become of the girl.

“She married young, a medical student; he’s a doctor now and they still come to Kelly’s every summer with their two children.”

She’s probably a granny now but I wonder if the girl with sea-green eyes ever thinks of a long-ago teenaged summer whenever she hears Waterloo Sunset? I know I do.

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