Martin Parker: Acne

The needs of sixteen year-old boys are fierce and ever-present
and mine were known to all the girls who lived in Nelson Crescent.
The reason they resisted me so coldly, I was sure,
wasn’t lack of interest but, sadly, rather more

that despite a ton of Clearasil my suppurating acne
was visible in Chelsea from as far away as Hackney.
But, told by friends a cure would come once dates became climactic,
I sought to be responsible and buy a prophylactic.

The purchase of such items called for shameless self-assertion,
for teenage sex in ’59 was reckoned a perversion,
plus each day at the chemist's, I would swear upon my life,
the assistant at the counter was our next-door neighbour’s wife.

So every day I'd chicken out and shyly ask for toothpaste.
Then, redder than a beetroot, I would flee the shop in haste
while wondering if I’d a chance, perhaps, of ever touting
my surplus as a substitute for tile cement or grouting.

My efforts to buy condoms became punier and punier
until the chemist’s shop employed a weekend female junior –
a girl from school – with chronic spots! So, by a happy quirk
of Fate I’d found a girlfriend who could get her own at work.

We spent our final year at school in classroom escapology
while proving acne’s surest cure is mutual biology,
after which my stock of toothpaste saw us both through our degrees –
two BScs, two Masters, then two lengthy PhDs.