Guilt Trip

‘What’s your biggest regret?’ I’d put that question to one side for much of my life because, although I was always pretty sure I had regrets, they were all linked in with other things and difficult to make distinct enough to point to as regrettable. But I was thinking about it walking home from the station yesterday afternoon and I realised I do have two major real regrets where I want to say sorry really badly. Those regrets have names too. Because they’re people. Gillian Darby and Kenton Harding.

Gillian Darby was the first girl I ever kissed. Kissed properly I mean, like with tongues and stuff. I was at a party and 17–yeah, late developer. Or maybe not. I don’t know. We were drinking vodka and Coke or maybe it was straight brandy or even whisky. Who knows. You know what it’s like when you’re a teenager–some evenings you can drink anything until the cows come home and still not have a hangover. I’m sitting in a big chair in someone’s parents’ living room and the music is pounding loud enough to rattle the pictures on the walls. Their carpet is rolled up on the staircase to avoid it getting damaged. I remember sliding down it earlier that evening using a hairdryer as a ray-gun and being warned not to be childish.

So I’m sat in the big chair and looking around in that unfocused intoxicated floating on sound state and Gillian came and sat on the arm of the chair and we started talking. She was in the year below me at school and was a friend of someone’s girlfriend. I knew her because she was at Girl Guides with my sister and also she’d gone out with another friend of mine but they’d split up. She had long dark hair right down to her waist and wasn’t fully a woman yet if you know what I mean. Okay, small breasts. There. I said it. Anyway, it’s not like I was a man. We were both kids and she was there sitting next to me and of course we had to shout right into each other’s ears just to make ourselves heard. And that’s kind of awkward so before I knew it, she was on my lap.

Having a girl sat on your lap wasn’t so unusual in those days. It used to happen to me all the time in pubs and at parties. Maybe that’s just a measure of how nave I was. Anyway Gill is sitting on my lap and that’s good and we’re having one of those conversations where you can’t quite hear the other person distinctinctly but you really want to keep the conversation going so you’re being extra interested in how they’re communicating as much as the content. You’re following their body language really closely and looking into their eyes and, well, you know, you’ve been there. Around us other sweaty teenagers have turned the room into Make Out Central and the party is in full swing.

And there came a Moment, a place outside time, where I looked down at her and my arm is around her and she looked up at me and her arm is around me and we looked at each other and I thought, hey, I could kiss her. So I did. And it was good. It was way better than I was expecting. I think we came up for air about half an hour later and had another one of those looking in each other’s eyes Moments and a sip of whatever was in the glasses. And then we carried on. The hands went all over the place and we grinned big grins when we weren’t ‘snogging’ and her long plait came undone and it carried on like that for the rest of the night. It was great.

So why should I feel guilty about that? Well, I don’t. And it wasn’t anything to do with the Kenton character. That’s a completely different story. No. My regret that eats me up when I think about Gillian Darby is more what happened the next day. You see, I had this huge crush on a girl in my class who also happened to be a really good friend. She also happened to be the most popular girl in the school.

This other girl hadn’t been at the party and I felt like I still wanted to go out with her. So I gave Gillian the cold shoulder. The poor girl stood outside the sixth form common room crying her eyes out wondering why I wouldn’t speak to her and I rationalised it all by telling my ‘mates’ that she was too ‘uptight’ for me and really it was me who was too far up my own backside to even have the courtesy to go out of the room and speak to her.

I was scared. Scared of ending up having a long term relationship with Gillian–even though I had no idea what that meant at the time. Scared of not having a chance with the other girl. Scared of having to deal with a crying confused female and having to tell her that I didn’t want to see her. And I should have seen her. I should have gone out with her even. She was actually a nice person and we would probably have had a really great time.

Yeah yeah. I was young, dumb and full of come and what can you do? You can’t live your life over again and I’d probably screw up in all the same ways even if I did. But I want to apologise to Gillian Darby because she did nothing wrong and I behaved like a total ratfink a-hole. Hey, I got to be really good friends with the other girl, the most popular one in the school, and she’s still one of my best friends ever after twenty years, but that doesn’t make it alright.

So that’s regret number one: I behaved like a gutless dork and I never apologised. Gillian, I wish I had. I wish I could.

The second story is several years later when I was running a television station which involved quite a bit of community programming. I had a number of people used to come in and work alongside the full time staff. They researched, produced, directed and crewed on programmes and many of them were unpaid volunteers who I organised specialised training for.

The volunteers were all very talented individuals and all worked incredibly hard. I’d say they worked harder than anyone on contract because they had full-time jobs to do during the week days and sometimes at weekends as well as making television. So to recognise this I organised an awards evening. We got a local business to provide a venue at their sports club, someone spent several days cutting together programme highlights, I organised voting among the programme makers themselves and Kenton Harding volunteered to compere the whole evening.

Now, Kenton was a local club DJ and an estate agent who had also been assistant producer on our series of live music shows, finding local artistes with original (uncopyrighted) material who would appear for nothing and also organising venues for location filming on a similar zero budget basis. Plus we wanted catering facilities and parking and a whole string of other requirements which he and the other AP’s made sure got fulfilled. In addition, he presented fifty percent of those shows and he was extremely good at it. A natural.

Kenton also organised coverage of the local town carnival, including being front man for the procession and on a stage in the park and getting sponsorship for the TV station through T-shirts and give-aways–something the cable company who employed me should have done but they were less than useless. Their centralised marketing department was a hundred miles away and barely knew the towns where the cable ran let alone anything about television. The people appearing in the programmes were far more motivated to ensure people watched. Oh, and Kenton regularly stepped in to present sports shows at the last minute as well.

In short, Kenton was a godsend sorting out marketing, producing and presenting shows and just generally always being there to step in at the eleventh hour and save the day. He even sorted out most of the awards evening itself with a free PA and audio visual equipment. Now, I’m not saying he worked harder than anyone else. There were a lot of people there putting in the same 200 percent. I can name at least twelve off the top of my head. And I did. And that’s where I screwed up.

You see, I decided to add some extra discretionary awards of my own in addition to the ones voted by the programme makers for technical and production achievements. I had twelve made and I forgot about Kenton. Inwardly I just cringe thinking about this. He stood there dressed up in his dinner jacket and bow-tie doing a fantastic job, cracking jokes and keeping it all flowing while making the presentations. Then I asked for the microphone and handed out those twelve extra awards.

It was only afterwards when Paul Thompson, my head of advertising, came over to me and said, “Er, I think Kenton’s a bit disappointed he didn’t receive anything.” that I realised. The poor guy was crushed. I am surprised he ever came back. I mean, he put a brave face on it and smiled when I went back to the mic later to give a special thanks to our compere for the evening but it was just plain wrong. Ugh. I vowed to do something about it the next year but the station was taken over by the same useless cable company marketing department that didn’t provide carnival T-shirts to volunteers making programmes for their subscribers and in a fit of phone-obsessed profit frenzy, the TV station was shut down.

So that’s my other biggest regret. I never said thank you properly to someone who really really deserved it and I undermined some of their motivation and enthusiasm from that point onwards. If you ever see this, Kenton, please know that you did good. You were one of the best. Thank you.

2 Responses to 'Guilt Trip'

  1. paul jarrett Says:

    Re.: Gillian. Jeez Keith jus’ say it!
    P.S. That was *my* carpet you was sliding down
    and I seem to recall that you had a hairdryer in your hand that you were ‘zapping’ people with and like the whole school arrived and started to empty the cocktail cabinet!
    PPS The most popular girl in school wouldn’t happen to be Debbie T would it?

  2. Kenton Harding Says:

    I’m big enough and ugly enough to not let that get me down. All is forgiven, afterall, all my time spent at the TV station was reward in itself!