In the rose-tinted soft-focus which hindsight lends to memories of happy times over half-a-life ago, it must have been summer. The sun shone --- I mean, really shone, which it only ever does in the summer --- and she wore a beautiful blue gingham dress. It was the first time either I or she had "been out with" anyone, though at the ages of 11 and 10 respectively, "going out with" meant absolutely nothing more than "hanging around in the playground at break and lunchtime with." No matter. She remains today one of the --- if not the --- most astoundingly pretty girls I've ever had the luck to know.
Beyond the sizable surprise that a girl so adorable could really like me, my awe was exclusively reserved for her: she was wonderfully coy, funny, happy, mischievous, sporty, so full of energy, innocence and life. Everything I'd like to think I was back then!
I can still picture us both outside Mrs. Edmonson's outdoor classroom (that's a euphemism for "hut"!), Claire wanting to kiss me, me being held still by Andrew Foley, Andrew Speight (yes, okay, it's a popular forename over here --- just because Elizabeth Windsor gave the name to her second son...) and Jonathan Mason. But, with me being at that age when girls are all well and good (and pretty and wonderful and blue-gingham-dress-wearing and lovely, in this case), you didn't want to kiss them, I didn't kiss her. Even though in retrospect (that bittersweet best friend of regret), I so desperately did want to. I struggled free and ran away. Why?
She didn't even mind and we continued "going out," mutually captivated and as close to being in love with each other as is possible when you're 11 or 10 years of age. For all this, it remains to this day a mystery to me as to why when Claire went away on holiday with her family for a week to Blackpool (at the seaside), I suddenly decided to "go out with" Alexandra "Sandy" Thompson, also from my sister's class. Sure, she was pretty, but I didn't have anything in common with her.
I can still recall first break the next week when Claire came out, hurt, to find me on the climbing frame. Words were said, but I didn't need to hear them to know that it was over. She thrust the stick of Blackpool rock into my hand and ran away, tears in her eyes. I think it finished with Sandy later that same day as she didn't care for me, nor I for her now that Claire was back...and yet gone.
The next year, when I'd left Newlaithes Junior School to go to high school (none of that "junior high" business in England), I slipped a homemade Valentine's Day card into the secret compartment of my sister's pencil case. She found it later that day and passed it on to Claire. The reaction had been, "that's sweet."
Almost four years later, I saw her fleetingly in Boots the Chemists in Leeds. She was already growing up, and I --- having entered my most insecure phase and being no longer any of the things she undoubtedly still was --- avoided her, yet watched her until she left. I never saw her again. Yet...