When I was fifteen years’ old, I was a regular red blooded male and very desperate to lose my virginity. My rampant desires were inflamed constantly by me attending a girls’ school ~ Varndean Comprehensive. It was still going through the conversion process from having been an all girls’ school to being mixed gender. Consequently, during my education there was a majority of girls in the school. An overwhelming majority. Despite its new found status, it still taught subjects more associated with its previous loftier position. Including Latin. I decided that it would be wonderfully erudite to be able to speak Latin, so I took this subject to O-Level. That can only be described as a romantic aspiration.
I was useless at Latin. It is, after all, notoriously difficult. During the O-Level itself we had to translate a story which involved some bloke rocking up in a hostile sea port and conducting tortuous political negotiations, which he completed with the use of lavish gifts. Proof of his success was his leaving with the local King’s daughter in his boat. At least I think that was what the story was about. It was hard to tell. Afterwards, those few stalwarts who had taken the subject to the level of formal examination discussed what the story had been about. Those who usually fared better in unseen work had a rather different story to tell but I had got the bare bones right. One problem, obvious even to me when the exam time expired, was that the names in my account of the story had changed places during the telling of it. The name of the boat became the name of the King. The name of the visiting diplomat had become the name of the City. Worst of all, the name of the King’s daughter had become the name of the ship’s captain.
People often claim that learning Latin has all sorts of indirect advantages. For me, it very nearly did have a direct advantage. The year before this hopeless effort, my parents took me on holiday to Italy. We toured around ancient sites but also stayed a short while in a campsite down the coast from Naples. The campsite owners had been reluctant to let us stay there because we were not locals. An entire district of Naples had literally decamped for the summer to this place. There they pitched up in an arrangement which was topologically identical to their home neighbourhoods, so that each person had the same next door neighbours. During the week the mothers and the kids lived there, whilst the man of each household stayed in their home to work. Each weekend, the menfolk came to join their families, escaping the heat of the city. The next campsite along the coast contained people from the next district in Naples and so on it went.
Being completely unknown to the neighbourhood, the kids quickly befriended me. They chattered away but I could not reply. I had tried to muster some Italian via a guidebook but I got tongue-tied when faced with this crowd. Instead of mumbling something in bad language about not being Italian, I chose to stay silent. Oddly, I could understand pretty much everything they said. I couldn’t understand the individual words but I had a proper grasp of each sentence. When someone suggested going off to the camp shop to get donuts, I would get up heading in that direction. If they suggested the beach, I knew where to go. If they suggested playing ping-pong, I picked up a bat. To begin with they thought I was shy but as I continued to fail to reply, they discussed what the reason was. After a couple of days, they decided that I had a medical problem and could not talk. They called me “the mute“. They were very nice to me. They included me in everything they did and often talked about how hard life must be for me.
One day a girl came over from the neighbouring campsite. She too was fifteen. The image of her is burnt into my imagination forever. I found her very pretty. She had long dark hair, beautiful dark eyes, and was wonderfully slim. She was very chatty too and seemed to take a definite interest in me. I’ll be honest, she also dressed very provocatively, wearing what I now know are called hot pants with a shirt tied at the bottom and unbuttoned enough that her breasts were permanently catching my eyes. We played ping pong, ate donuts and hung out under the shade of the trees together. She chatted away. I did not. The others explained my disability but instead of losing interest, she seemed to gain it.
This girl ~ Carla was her name ~ told me that the next day her parents were away from her campsite and she had the place to herself. She offered to ‘show me around the neighbourhood’ but also made a big point of repeatedly mentioning that we could take our siesta together in complete privacy. She even mentioned that she had a very comfortable lilo to sleep on. The offer was as clear as it could be. My newly acquired friends made doubly sure that I had understood what was going to happen. The girls smiled sweetly and reminded me to be a gentleman. The boys sidled up, confided that they too were still virgins and complimented my apparent success. They called me a lucky bastard. Well, words to that effect.
The following day I went to the place appointed for our date to begin but Carla was not there. I hung around for ages but she did not show up. I even went into the neighbouring campsite and wandered around looking for her; that was a risky strategy because these neighbourhoods were deeply suspicious of each other and strangers. By late afternoon I realised that I had been stood up. I slunk back to my own campsite, badly disappointed. One of the girls there came over and explained that Carla’s parents had obliged her to go off with them that day. Another said they saw them leaving the site’s entrance down the road and had managed to exchange a few words. Basically, she had been very upset. Her Father had been determined to stop her ‘getting into trouble’. He’d grounded her for the rest of the holiday. I was also banned from their campsite.
This news was oddly pleasing as much as it was devastating. She hadn’t rejected me at all! Far from it, she had been very keen to make love with me. This news transformed my time in Italy, lifting me up to new confidences. After hearing it, I began to speak some simple Italian. Inspired by her approval, I managed a gentlemanly regard to the situation and muttered, “Oh well, there’s more fish in the sea, though few that swim so well.” Suddenly hearing my voice, the camps kids literally jumped with surprise. “He talks!” they cried out.
There’s some things you learn in school which can’t be found books. That said, the Latin book learning proved especially useful, though not as the teachers intended.