My French teacher was 50, short and wore thick glasses. He had a shiny pate, suits to match and smelled so strongly of garlic that kids would swoon when he leaned over to correct a subjunctive. The weakness in my own knees was something different. I was 13 and totally smitten.
At 17, it was my poetry tutor. I cried when I overheard him ask another girl to babysit, and kept folded in a special box the one brief note he wrote about an essay. Neither infatuation was remotely romantic — these men had simply shown an interest in me, had appeared to care. They had given headroom to my futility-of-life phase and excruciating verse, or touched my arm sympathetically when I failed to conjugate avoir.
I met Mr Poetry again after I’d left the sixth form and he — clearly thinking he might as well capitalise on my blatant adoration — tried to kiss me wetly. I was repulsed. I didn’t want to see him post-four pints, with a stain on his T-shirt. Where was his tie and quiet voice of authority?
I would like to tell you I look back now with an indulgent smile at such vagaries of youth, but nearly three decades on I’m still at it. There has been a string of doctors, dentists, garage mechanics, friends’ fathers, bank managers and clergy who have touched my heart with that raw emotion that is a curious blend of adrenaline and sweet melancholy. In my 20s I was obsessed with a builder who caught me as I almost fell from some scaffolding. My heart used to thump when I saw him. My then boyfriend was horrified and threatened. I tried to explain that, while I certainly dreamed of my hero sweeping me off my feet, it wasn’t about sex. It is entirely about fantasy. But nothing brings one out of a reverie about one’s gynaecologist quicker than seeing him walking round Sainsbury’s in old tracksuit bottoms with holes at his elbows and a whining toddler at his feet.
The object of a good crush must be remote and unobtainable. For me, the hook is in craving their attention: if they finally suggest dinner, I quickly backtrack. There have been times when I have considered therapy, but I know the enlightenment that it would bring would be outweighed by the angst of a desperate love for my therapist. A female would be no safeguard — I am perfectly capable of crushes whatever the gender.
It’s not even necessary to know what they look like. I am an old hand at the e-mail crush. I find myself scanning my inbox anxiously for replies from people (of both sexes) I have never met, fretting ridiculously that they no longer like me or have lost interest in the conversation, then feeling my heart leap when their name lights up in the special folder I’ve created so I can easily reread their missives.
I even do crush by proxy. There is a teacher at my son’s school whose blend of wit and wisdom, compassion and authority has a profound influence on my offspring. I see the signs, and at our one brief meeting I recognised a figure for whom I, too, would have fallen hopelessly back at school. I tried hard not to simper, but in the car my son was giggling, ”Ooooh, you fancy him!”
”No, I do not,” I said truthfully. But I’m looking forward to parents’ evening … — Ã‚