“It’s a gorgeous day, Rachel!” Mummy said.
I lay in my mid 1950s bed with blankets and a sheet, instead of a duvet.
As a 14 ¼ year old girl I was about to leap enthusiastically out of bed to skip about the garden with gay abandon, when I suddenly remembered I was already a teenager, and then took a few moments to consider a suitable response to my mother.
“For Christ’s sake!” I retorted, turning inwardly red, having imitated my best friend’s young, handsome father – well if this expletive was alright for him – I supposed it was alright for me. Mummy just giggled! When “she” had gone out of the room, I heaved myself out of bed, and was thrilled to see in the mirror that my thin face looked appropriately pale, and my hair appropriately lanky.
I stomped downstairs, expecting Mummy to say, as she did: “It would be so nice for all of us to go swimming today.”
My automatic response was great joy at the thought of this activity. Then again I remembered that I was a 14 ¼ year old teenager, and it was now better to be considered a loner, and what we would now say, perhaps, to be suffering from the beginnings of teenage angst. So I demurred.
I saw the breakfast table nicely laid out for all of us, and fancied the thought of a relaxed three course affair – cereal, a hot middle, then toast and marmalade, and freshly brewed tea. Instead I searched and finally found a nasty piece of dry ryvita from the larder, and grabbed a glass of boring water.
I then shoved on my fully flared lime green and pink spotted skirt with the can-can petticoat underneath, a busty blouse, and “swanned” out of the house, slamming the front door in an appropriate teenage fashion. I heard faint giggles from my mother and younger brother and sister, Joseph and Deborah.
I tottered down to the shops, longing for the comfort of sensible 50s style Start Rite regulation school sandals, and shorts suitable for playing in the garden. The shopkeepers also looked as if they were suppressing giggles at my get up as they saw me approaching. They knew my mother well from her once a day food shopping. What was I doing dressed like this in an area devoid of boys, but quite full of mothers and grannies shopping with bags and baskets on wheels!
Suitably mortified, I immediately decided to totter home. I was then bitterly disappointed to find on my return that my mother and Jo and Debbie must have decided to go out without me. I then wondered how much fun would it be to go swimming on my own without my jolly family?
So I rather miserably gathered together my navy woollen swimsuit and rose petalled swimming cap, and went off to the pool, expecting my family to be there, but they weren’t.
Anyhow, everything looked so beautiful – the bright blue water of the large pool, with big white decorative fountains and sparkles of water at either end. I got changed and then I saw “him”! He had a sort of square shaped back and lovely curly hair. Looking back, I think I may have admired his way of walking – as if he was somehow padding the corridors of power, but the sensible and dependable type! Girls at school wouldn’t have fancied him, they preferred natty hairdressers, but if I was being true to myself – I was a genuine rebel by going after a man that Mummy might approve of!
Suddenly I remembered the rose petal swimming cap I was wearing. Mortified again, I raced back to my locker to leave it there, but by the time I returned he had gone.
My mother enrolled me for a one off tennis course some time later that holiday. (As befitted a teenager I was so slow getting ready, Mummy had to drive me to get there on time.) However, as I approached the courts I recognised that square back and curly hair. During our short break I saw that he had what I considered then were dark liquid eyes and the face of a cherub.
I abandoned the lesson I had learned from Mummy: “Never do the chasing” and I said to him: “I think I saw you at the swimming pool earlier this holiday”. I was immensely flattered that his expression offered encouragement, but then doom struck. His kid brother approached and demanded the return of his attention for the partnership of the first game, and the boy I fancied had to attend to this annoying kid. Mummy came to pick me up as soon as the coaching finished.
Anyhow, in high summer I was out for a walk with my mother, and my heart leaped in true corny style. We bumped into “him”. He introduced himself very nicely to Mummy as David, mentioned that we had met briefly at a recent tennis lesson, and then asked her permission for a date with me. She graciously, and I could see approvingly, and amazingly, agreed. As befitted a new teenager finding her feet, I had to act with indifference to his request. However I did make sure he could actually hear me saying yes.
At the appointed time, my heart leaped again when I heard the ring at the doorbell. I didn’t have to hide my joy, as Mummy had strategically enrolled Jo and Debbie in a game of Monopoly.
I can’t remember what I wore on this particular occasion, but imagine my surprise on seeing David with greased backed hair, straightened by the force of this application, large, showy and expensive sunglasses, drainpipe trousers, Winkle Picker (pointed) shoes, and his Dad’s open topped sports car. He slightly swaggered when opening the door for me, but even I had to suppress a giggle. I saw he read my face, and I also noticed that his newly acquired self confidence slightly dropped. He took the sunglasses off, but couldn’t very well remove the drainpipe trousers and Winkle Pickers!
Anyhow he took me to the local and famous beauty area of Hampstead with its gently rolling hills. Again, it sounds corny, but in spite of his earlier embarrassment, hand in hand we innocently spent an afternoon in Paradise on that day.
I know he too was overcome by the almost lyrical landscape we saw before us. From our joint emotions and utterances at this time, I hope I managed to capture our vision and ideas:
Tall green trees
Branches moving with heavy leaves
Surrounding gentle inclines
Of yellow prickly grass of uneven lengths
A great and heavy heat
But here the Englishness of the scene
Now has the romance of the Mediterranean
With the faint hum of the cicadas in the grass.
David eventually delivered me home at a very reasonable time. Of course I didn’t want to invite him in, in case the family was at home, and I did think I espied the slight twitch of a net curtain!
Mummy didn’t say anything, but my younger brother and sister looked at me quizzically, then tittered ever so slightly.
However, I didn’t hear from David again.
He was younger than I had thought and was starting A levels. I intuitively knew that his parents must have had an overly sensible chat with him about not beginning a deeply committed romance at this pivotal point in his education.
I didn’t get in touch with him either, although I absolutely knew that he would have been ecstatic. But I realised we would both have experienced great conflicts in carrying on a relationship in secret from his parents.
Indeed I felt a bit like Shakespeare’s Juliet with her dilemma, or perhaps like the heroine of Alexandre Dumas’ Lady of the Camellias, where the girl is requested by the hero’s father to renounce her boyfriend. Out of her love for this man, she does what she thinks is best for him, and makes this ultimate sacrifice.