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Solo Looks Back

7 Remembering shifting

shiftOf all the life defining moments that we experience, everyone remembers their first shift. This, of course, has nothing to do with moving an object or furniture from one side of the room to the other. No, in Ireland, to shift someone was to kiss them open-mouthed. Shifting was what you did during the years of foreplay before you discovered actual sex. The slang term is apparently used elsewhere in Europe, namely Britain, to mean a more illicit encounter, however in Irish culture it simply means the extended kissing session you had with someone as a teenager. Someone, anyone really. It had nothing to do with love or even fancying a person, and everything to do with climbing the rocky ladder from childhood to near adulthood. Although having said that you could end up with a love bite, depending on the intensity of the shifting. And the following day you would be putting toothpaste and all shades of concealer and foundation on the offending mark in order to hide it from your parents.
Between the ages of 12 and 14 you were practically judged by whether or not you’d ever shifted anyone, and if you had who it was. God, how cruel was that? I was 13 and panicking that it was never going to happen when it finally did – on a balmy summer’s night at the beach. Very romantic really when I look back at it, although to be honest at the time I was quite appalled at finding someone’s tongue in my mouth. Even if he did taste of Silver Mints.
That was the thing you see. Contrary to what you actually said out loud, nobody really actually enjoyed shifting. This was mainly because of the length of time you had to invest in any proper session. For example, if you were at the local disco – where most of the formative years of shifting took place – you could quite easily waste at least half of the entire night with your lips locked against some random stranger, tongues swirling in one another’s mouths, round and round and round and round until you were nearly in a coma with boredom. Imagine? When all the time you could have been dancing instead?
Having said that, you didn’t have to limit yourself to just one shift per night at the same disco. It was more than socially acceptable, and not in the least bit slutty, to do the rounds, keeping count of your conquests in the process. Neither did it matter if you shifted someone your best friend had been shifting five minutes previously. Indeed, sharing was almost compulsory.
The postmortem would take place the following morning after mass, when you gathered with your mates outside the church gates.
“Who did you shift last night?” one would ask.
“Conor Murphy,” another would reply.
“Oh yeah, I shifted him before,” the first would say.
There was little jealousy, hardly any rivalry. It was a given that we would all take turns in the game. Especially if you came from a relatively small town where the shifting pool was a tad limited.
Of course the disco wasn’t the only place for this little pastime of ours. In fact a Solo contributor was just telling me the other day that when she was in secondary school they used to go and meet boys they didn’t even know at lunchtime for the specific purpose of shifting them. There wasn’t a relationship in sight as this kind of thing went on on a daily basis, with all parties involved gaining invaluable shifting experience when they were supposed to be in the canteen eating their homemade sandwiches.
Actually I seem to remember going to the park with a bunch of my friends one Sunday when I was 14 because I’d been ‘set up’ with some guy who wanted to shift me. Which he did. On a bench near the fountain while my mates waited patiently for me to finish. Again, there was no relationship here. In fact I don’t think we ever even said hi to one another again after that. It was what it was – a shift on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a park. Lord, we had no shame.
Still, lack of morals aside, shifting was a rite of passage that everyone had to travel through. Some of us had good experiences, some of us had awful ones. It was particularly disappointing if you had to shift someone who simply wasn’t very good at it. And there were a lot of them, probably because no one ever gave you lessons. You had to shift instinctively and hope to Jesus you got it right. Ah yes, them were the days.

Discussion

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  1. Ah, shifting. Fun for awhile but it really did get boring if it went on too long. This is the first time I’ve heard someone admit that. Well, I’ll admit it too.
    You know the kids these days actually call it ‘meeting’. Like, ‘did you meet her last night’. Makes no sense, not that the term shifting ever did but at least it couldn’t really mean anything else. Oh yeah, and when I say kids, this was a 23 year old that told me this.

    Posted by Deathstarkiller | February 13, 2009, 4:10 pm