Playing It Cool - A Christmas Story

24/12/2014 04:46 GMT | Updated 22/02/2015 10:59 GMT

We've all got that one person we had a crush on when we were at school. That one person who stays indelibly printed on our mind and makes us feel weird every time we think about them for the rest of our lives. The person that will forever be fifteen years old to us, even though they must have grown up too. In my case, it was a girl called Niamh Lambert. I haven't made up a pseudonym for her. That's her real name. She's a real person that exists in the world right now. At least I think she still does. I can't be certain. I've tried looking her up on Facebook once or twice out of curiosity but I've never been able to find her. Maybe she doesn't have a Facebook account? Maybe she got married and changed her name? Maybe she's dead? Maybe when she created her Facebook account, she preemptively blocked every Christian Talbot on here? Who knows. Anyway, Niamh lived at the bottom of my street in Dublin and was for a lot of my teenage years, the embodiment of everything I thought was lovely in girl form.

Did I have a plan in place in order to win over this girl of my dreams? Yes. Yes I did. And that plan was to play it cool. So cool in fact that I wouldn't ever acknowledge her existence in anyway shape or form. I'd be so nonchalant that she'd be putty in my hands. By outwardly showing no interest in her whatsoever, she'd be driven mad with lust and desire.

The thing is, I didn't know Niamh at all. I mean I knew WHO she was but we'd never spoken a word to each other. We'd pass each other on the street every so often with me trying my best not to look delighted or we'd wait at the same bus stop where I'd pretend to be engrossed in a copy of Hot Press (so she'd be left under no illusion as to how insufferably hip I was). But she never once turned to me wanting to discuss a Liam Fay article or the merits of the new A House album.

One day, I was walking home from school and I happened to stop into the The Elk shop on the Tonlegee Road (it's no longer there) to buy the new issue of Hot Press. As I came out of the shop, I bumped into the sister of a friend of mine. She was walking home my way and who should she be walking with but none other than Niamh Lambert. She introduced me to Niamh saying "Christian do you know Niamh?" "No, I don't. Hi Niamh", I said, trying hard to sound like I couldn't be less bothered. "Hi", she said in reply, sounding too like it was no skin off her nose. I spent the 30 minute walk home talking to my friend's sister about Echo and the Bunnymen, R.E.M. B-sides and why Dave Fanning was such a legend. We were laughing and joking and I tried my best to be funny and charming. My friend's sister and I had great craic but there wasn't so much as a peep out of Niamh. Not a word or a giggle. Eventually there was a lull in the conversation and I asked her what music she was into. "Ah...A bit of everything I suppose", she said. A bit of everything I suppose! What sort of person says that? She could have said Living in a Box or Rick Astley, at least that would have been an opinion. I would have respected an opinion. But she didn't have one. She was the musical equivalent of the English guy who walks into an Irish pub and asking for "A pint of lager. Doesn't matter, whatever you have on tap". Yeah, that person! As we parted ways, we said our goodbyes and I didn't see Niamh again until Christmas morning.

At Christmas that year, I chose not to accompany my Mum and sisters to mass on Christmas Eve (my Dad never went to mass). Instead I'd hoped to get away with not going at all in the confusion of Christmas morning. I was disappointed to be woken by my mother at noon and told to go down to mass for 12.15. At that age, a lie in was more appealing than the excitement of Christmas presents I already knew I was going to get. I didn't have time to wash or have any breakfast before I was pushed out of the house and down the road to the chapel. Normally I would have gone around to my friend Jason's house to avoid going to mass but he was out visiting relatives. It was either stand on the corner in the cold or actually go into the church. When I arrived, I was five minutes late and the church was packed. The only space available was standing in the vestibule at the back with all the people hoping to make an early escape at communion. I stood for the entirety of the mass, my hair a mess and the only one not wearing their good Christmas clothes. Not having had breakfast, I started to feel a bit weak with my blood-sugar levels running low. I could feel the blood slowly draining from my face and my ears starting to get hot. I thought I'd be ok, propped up against the wall for the duration. I was doing fine until the rest of the church started to line-up for communion. With that many people, the line stretched right back to where I was standing and nearly out the door. I stood, trying to keep it together as people shuffled past me. I had no intention of going up to receive communion until Niamh joined the queue. As she paced steadily towards me, we both nodded in acknowledgement with me hoping she didn't notice my pallor or the sheen of sweat on my brow. When she reached me, she motioned to me to go in the queue in front of her. I didn't have time to think. This was an opportunity. A golden moment. Maybe later I'd have an excuse to strike up a conversation with her about it. "Hey Niamh! That was some queue eh? ", I'd say as she laughed, threw back her long blonde hair and took my hand. Instead what happened was that I took four steps forward in the queue, felt my legs go from under me, passed out and face-planted Miranda-style into the toddler in front of me. I came round a few minutes later in the recovery position, surrounded by a priest and a number of concerned parishioners with Niamh nowhere to be seen.

I saw Niamh a few times after that but only passing each other on the street with a nod and a "Hi ya". She never stopped to ask about my epic nose-dive onto the church floor. Maybe she didn't want to embarrass me or herself. I never found out what happened to her after that. About fifteen years ago, I was in Boston at a conference. I was on my own and I hadn't been there before so I headed out to see the sights. I went into "Cheers", the bar they used for filming outside for the TV series (it looks nothing like the TV series inside). As I stood there drinking my beer on my own, I spotted someone in the corner, surrounded by people. Blonde hair, same nose, same eyes. Was it Niamh Lambert? I couldn't be sure. I went over and stood near the corner to get a better look. It looked like her or at least someone who looked very like her. Was it her or was it jet lag making me see things? We made eye contact but there was no flash of recognition from her. Nothing registered on her face. I stood for a minute, wondering if she'd recognise me but nothing was forthcoming. And so, disappointed, I turned around and walked face first into a pillar.

Happy Christmas