Recently, I was looking through my mother’s old photographs from when she was a teenager, and I was struck by how much her teenhood resembled mine. It made me really emotional to think about our parallel lives, filled with the same experiences but 40 years apart, and how I have unconsciously made my memories look just like hers. To confirm this feeling, I found a bunch of my old photos and compared them with my mum’s. Eerie, isn’t it? —Eleanor
Melanie (my mum): The school took us skiing in Switzerland when I was 13. I hate the cold and sports, so skiing wasn’t the best idea for me, but I went for the heck of it—and for the chance to meet boys! Alas, we were chaperoned by an ancient nun, who taught us German and kept watch over our moral wellbeing, thus spoiling any chances for teenage fun. I only went skiing one time after this, and I hated it even more.
Eleanor:I didn’t ski for the first time until I was 18, when my first boyfriend’s family took me to Switzerland over the holidays. I was really bad at it and spent most of my time shuffling up and down the baby slopes while my boyfriend and his family raced down sharp mountain edges without me. I preferred the part that came after: drinking hot chocolate and doing jigsaw puzzles in the lodge.
Melanie: Splashing in the cold English sea, running down a hill laughing and screaming, sunny days in our unkept back garden – these are things I remember from the early ’70s. None of us had much money, but neither did we have many worries. We took each day as it came with excitement and joy.
Eleanor: Swimming in the ponds at Hampstead Heath, day trips to Beachy Head and Southend-on-Sea, and sunbathing by the Thames with friends: You hardly notice these in-between moments as they happen, but they’re the ones you remember the most, I think.
Melanie: When I first laid eyes on Henri he was 15, and I thought he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. We met when I spent the summer staying in his little house in the French mountains—he was the brother of an exchange student my parents had hosted back in England. We spent every day walking through the mountains and going to the pool. He had a tiny record player and only a handful of records, so we listened to the Beatles’ White Album over and over and over again. He loved Jimi Hendrix, too, and played drums in a band. Henri was my first love, but unfortunately I loved him more than he loved me.
Eleanor: I met a French boy at a friend’s party, and we stood in a corner for about seven hours, just talking and talking and talking about music. He became the second person I ever fell in love with. He was so curious about the world, it was impossible to make plans with him because he would get snagged by the world’s distracting beauty before he had even made it out the door. Sadly, I couldn’t live up to his selflessness and his openness; I became a selfish person around him because I felt like I couldn’t possibly give him as much as he’d given me. While I am always looking for ways to fill the painful stretch of time that is life, he couldn’t find enough time to take in the world.
Melanie: Ken was the lead vocalist and writer in a band called Biting Tongues. Before I’d even met him, I knew that he collected dried leaves under his bed (I think he used them for sound effects). He spent so much time writing, he would forget to eat all day. He was very charismatic. He drew me into the bubble of his world for seven years.
Eleanor: When I met Robbie, my head tore in two and I stayed up late making him mixtapes. He wouldn’t return my feelings for another two years.
Melanie: My last summer as a teenager was defined by long days spent on Hampstead Heath. Gerry was a keen photographer, which was reason enough to go out and explore. He had a little blue car, and we’d go on drives through the countryside and take pictures. He’s still like a brother to me.
Eleanor: These days, Robbie and I like to dress up in matching outfits, go on road trips to the beach, or take silly snaps on days where we don’t do much, but they still feel special.
Melanie: When I was 20, I went to Paris for a year. I could only afford to rent a bedsit in the 19th arrondissement that had a battleaxe of a concierge. She would sit in her little office all day, scowling. For the first month, I lived off of French bread, Camembert, and cheap red wine in plastic bottles. Despite all that, I loved Paris.
Eleanor: We went to Paris earlier this year on a whim. We spent most of our time there in our own little world, eating food and skipping over the barriers for the Metro. I find Paris romantic not in the glamorous Midnight in Paris way, but almost as a resistance against that: The city is so impossibly expensive and busy that you have to constantly fight poverty and loneliness. That struggle is where the actual romance lies, I think. ♦