My only reaction to the news that the runaway lovers aged 12 and 15 discovered after 48 hours on the loose in a record shop in Milton Keynes have now been happily returned to their parents is - thank God I don't have 12-year- old daughters any more. This is when I should tell you with some complacency that when my daughters were 12 they were far too busy making doll's house furniture and practising the piano for their grade 5 music exams and cleaning out their hamster cages to think about boys but this wouldn't be strictly true.
They did think about boys, they just did not run away with them. My relief, I admit, has more to do with me than my daughters, all of whom at the age of 12 could perfectly well take care of themselves. It's the thought of having to field scores of telephone calls from tabloid reporters that terrifies me. I know because in another life I was a tabloid reporter and know how these things work. I can just hear their demands: how did I feel, did I have any inkling, what were my views on teenage sex, etc, etc.
I haven't been following the story that closely but I did hear 12-year-old Natasha Phillips' mother or possibly grandmother on a news bulletin saying how sympathetic and understanding we should all be towards young people in love and what a wonderful thing being in love for the first time is and so forth. Fiddlesticks. There is nothing as boring, from a spectator's point of view, as other people in love except possibly two weeks in Cephalonia on a Captain Corelli package holiday. You see why I wouldn't be too keen on speaking to reporters. Worried mothers, whose 12-year-old daughters run away with boys they met on holiday are not meant to say things like that. It isn't PC.
What puzzles me is why something that was essentially a private matter that would have resolved itself naturally after a couple of days got blown up into an international incident involving three police forces, a posse of reporters and a surfeit of newsprint. I dare say that I sound callous and maybe I am. But grannies hogging primetime air space with sentimental twaddle about calf love do not bring out the best in me, particularly when the calf in question looks more like a heifer. Twelve years old? You could have fooled me - 18 going on 25, I'd say.
Enough. I'm not really a curmudgeon and to prove my goodwill I'll go one better than Granny Phillips, who recommended that no one should be too hard on the young lovers. If the couple care about each other that much then the answer is staring all of us in the face. An arranged marriage of course.
The Phillips from the Isle of Wight and the Lampreys from West Yorkshire could arrange a meeting on mutual territory (Milton Keynes why not?) and draw up a contract. You can bet your life that before they reach the small print, all the magic and all the romance will have flown out of the window. Parental approval was ever the kiss of death to Cupid, maybe that granny was cannier than I thought. It's a long time ago but I still remember to the last eyelash what the fellow I fell in love with at the age of 12 looked like. He was an 18-year-old Royal Naval cadet called Anthony whose parents had a sweet shop in Lewisham. Unlike Miss Phillips, I was not slim, blonde and nubile. I was short and tubby with National Health spectacles and pigtails, but this did not stop me from believing that Anthony and I would one day walk into the sunset together. It was not a physical relationship. The only time he touched me was to lift me up to reach the bulls' eyes on the top shelf behind the till.
I covered pages in my diary about my secret love and wrote long letters to Anthony which I never sent. Pubescent love is certainly all-consuming. My daughters at 12 were certainly more sophisticated than I was. They didn't eat bull's-eyes for a start. They also preferred to talk about boys, preferably when they were doing each other's hair, than go out with them.
Bull's-eyes, hairdressing, this is a far cry from that paragon of romantic love whispering to Romeo on the balcony in Verona to whom every modern-day Lolita is compared. Girls in their early teens can certainly be ravishing. The author Laurie Lee saw his future wife when she was 14, the Conservative politician Alan Clarke married his when she was just 16. Clarke at least was consistent. His preference for schoolgirls lasted throughout his life.
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