Flirting with Soldiers.
It was my friend Barbara who introduced me to The Homestead a club run for servicemen. I think that the instigators were Methodist, at any rate the idea was to offer an alternative to the pubs for young Christian soldiers, many of whom were away from home for the first time in their lives.
"Why don't you come," she said. "It's good fun, we dance and some of them do a turn. The girls pay tuppence and the soldiers get a cup of tea."
In those days every one drank tea, my Mum's family were the only people I knew who drank coffee.
"I'd like to but I see Fred on Saturday nights."
"Oh well, if you change your mind the Trolley bus drops you right opposite the door."
I really fancied going but I couldn't let Fred down. We met every Saturday night under Staddons' clock. Staddons was a drapery store which stood at the corner of Gregory Boulevard where it met Radford Road known locally as The Green, though it had never had anything to justify that name in my lifetime.
To tell the truth I was beginning to get bored with Fred. He was great as a pal, the only lad I had met who wanted to spend time with me just discussing things. We talked about religion, politics and life. The other lads were only interested in my anatomy or one part of it. I developed breast very early in life and it seemed lads had one ambition to surreptitiously grope them. Not that I minded, I classed it with kissing, one of my fatal attractions and I enjoyed the attention it got me.
Fred was different, I don't think we even kissed goodnight, nor did I try to make him, I thought he was what my Dad would call "a decent lad."
I don't think it ever occurred to me or any of the lads that it would go further than touching. The only person at my school who was reputed to having "got into trouble" was a young teacher and that may have only been gossip because she left in a hurry. Nor did I hear of any of the girls in my neighbourhood becoming teenage mothers although there was talk of some "having to get married" but they were in their late teens or early twenties. A few years later a young local girl gave birth in the outside toilet. The baby was still born and she hadn't known she was pregnant.
I arrived at our usual place ten minutes late as he had kept me waiting the last two or three dates. He wasn't there. I began to wonder if he had been on time and gone. Annoyed, I decided to teach him a lesson so I caught the bus to Bulwell and The Homestead.
I had a whale of a time. We danced the St Bernard's Waltz and the Barn Dance both of which we had learnt at school in preparation for the first year party. Barbara and I danced together as most of the soldiers didn't dance but when it came to giving them tea I was quickly surrounded. I saw the organiser frowning at me and remembering the Church Youth Club I was careful to act shy and not to flirt.
No explanation or apology came from Fred, and I began to enquire after him. Although I enjoyed the Homestead and wanted to keep going I missed him dreadfully. I began walking by the chip shop where I knew his friends met. They welcomed me and two of them asked for a date but it was Fred I wanted.
At last a girl in Barbara's class gave me a message. She said Fred's father had died and his mother could only keep one son at school, his younger brother was at the same grammar school. As Fred was in his last year she had decided he should be the one to stay. He knew it would be very difficult for her and felt he owed it to his mother to concentrate on his studies.
I was overjoyed at the freedom this gave me never doubting that he would come back to me and in the meantime I could have fun. The soldiers I met all declared their love for me, proposing marriage and begging me to wait for them. "Don't let them buy you a ring my Mam advised, they are all after one thing and once they've had their way they leave you in the dirt."
I believed her for all the novels I read depicted fallen women coming to a bad end, although these lads never stepped out of line perhaps because when they proposed I told them I was only fourteen.
None of them were stationed here for very long and I collected a carton of love letters as each moved on. At this time I shared my letters with Mam who encouraged and laughed with me at their badly phrased and spelt epistles. I loved writing letters and answered them all. The only plea I can make in my favour is that I didn't pretend to be in love with any of them nor did I promise not to see anyone else and in each case the letters stopped coming and I never knew what had happened to them.
Soon after this we started going to the dancing schools. The best-known ones were Jepsons and Hanford and Richard. My brother Harry went to the former so we avoided that. He took Dad's line that I was too young for dancing and fellas. I wouldn't have put it past him to march me home.
Teenage parties were a regular event and in spite of rationing. Food wasn't important which was as well. Butter, sugar and bacon were rationed from January 1940. I don't know whether the butter ration was so minute it wasn't worth having but all I remember is a national margarine that we called "cart grease".
Our parties were petting parties. We played games such as truth or dare and dares were of the nature of "kiss the boy you like the best" or draw the name of a boy out of a hat and take him into the hall. It all sounds pretty innocent in retrospect and there were always parents in the next room who would not have approved of the clinches, we thought ourselves very modern and daring.
I'm afraid I gained quite a reputation for myself as I often found a new boy to date at these parties. My trouble was that I despised the male sex. The more they flattered and hung around the quicker I tired of their company, I knew I wasn't pretty and my boobs were the main attraction.
At my all girls school the girls gossiped about their sexual exploits. I heard of "French kisses', which were supposed to send you practically unconscious. I had no such experience; the very idea of someone's tongue in my mouth I thought disgusting. Nor did I believe in the effect. It was probably on a par with stroking a fella behind his ear, which was supposed to send him wild with passion. I experimented with that but without any discernible reaction.
Hot paperback novels were circulated in which the heroine was a victim of the white slave trade or the captive of a man mad with desire for her. She always took the only way out, cheating him of his passion by committing suicide.
I wasn't at all sold on this "death before dishonour" lark. Indeed I had already decided that if the Germans came I would play along with them and become a double agent.
Fred and I got together again for a short while but then came my mock School Cert and I failed in all seven subjects. My form teacher told me I was to go into the commercial class.
The proposed move pleased me. I quite liked the thought of becoming a secretary. Who knows my boss might be a rich handsome young man who would take me with him on business trips. We would stay in posh hotels and drink martinis like the film stars.
We went to pictures at least once a week and I imagined myself in all the most glamorous parts.
Dad would have none of it. "In ten years time," he predicted, "secretaries will be obsolete. They've got these machines now that you dictate to. I haven't kept you at school all these years to finish up as a typist. You want to get into the Civil Service like your Auntie Glad, a steady job with a pension at the end and you need your School Cert for that."
I daren't tell him that nothing on earth would get me into the Civil Service. "They won't let me take the exam now I've failed the mock," I said.
"Oh won't they. We'll see about that."
For the first time he went up to school and after his visit I moved up with those who had made a reasonable stab at the exam.
"You can do it Joan," my form teacher told me. "If you work at revision."
I hadn't much choice. Dad put his foot down. "No going out until after the exam." And he meant it.
Strangely enough I didn't resent my gating. I knew I hadn't worked at all since the first term when I tried really hard to get out of the "C" form all to no avail, girls with lower marks than me were moved up so I stopped trying. Now, if I had to sit the wretched exam, I wanted to pass it. I thought I probably could but I didn't want to do better than my brother somehow it was important he kept his reputation of being "the brains" of the family.
Dad was a heavy smoker and although previously he had forbidden me to smoke in the house now he made no objections.
Every evening I sat in the upstairs "sitting" room revising, making copious notes and smoking endless cigarettes. Mam took pity on me and if Dad was home in time she insisted on taking me to pictures.
The programmes were continuous. There was the news, one major film and one supporting film. No one worried about getting there for the beginning of the film. If you arrived in the middle you just watched the beginning on the second time round. Some times you sat through the whole film again. As we arrived late we rarely saw the whole of the supporting film but they weren't considered worth watching.
The shop was open from eight o'clock in the morning to ten o'clock at night seven days a week. If Mam and Dad went to the pictures I minded the shop and baby sat at the same time. It wasn't a problem for Johnny went to bed early and though he often took a long time to drop off, oce asleep he stayed that way.
Once the exams were over I resented having to stay in. I didn't object if Mam and Dad were going out but going out more than once or twice a week was regarded by Dad as loose living.
He was a stickler too about the time I had to be in. For a long time it was nine o'clock, extended to nine thirty for parties so that I never got to stay to the end. In a funny kind of way I was quite proud of my curfew although I stormed and sulked at home. I felt it marked me out as someone special.
If I was late home he imposed an evening's gating for every five minutes. This punishment was far more effective than any amount of slaps or words could have been. But luckily for me he wasn't often at home to enforce it and Mam soon gave way if I sulked and yet it was always Dad's affection I craved.
Mam continued to lash out at me until I slapped her arm. She was so shocked at my retaliation that she never raised her hand to me again. I threatened to hit her if she didn't leave Johnny alone too but although I didn't see her hit him again he tells me she often did.
I hated staying in with my parents. It wasn't so bad when they were out for I was an avid reader and if customers complained that I had my head in a book when they wanted serving I said I'd been doing my homework. Reading was seen as idling and yet Mam had her weekly magazine and Dad read the Daily Herald.
The library was an awesome place. A severe bespectacled lady, pointed to the notice "Silence." as I handed in my card and she laboriously copied the details onto three library tickets.
"You may keep them for two weeks." she hissed in a sotto voice.
Reverently I entered the magic kingdom of books, all uniformly covered in dark green. Here was the initiation to love and sex. For the first time my loins tingled as I read Judith Paris but I couldn't see what was wrong with Soames claiming his marital rights in Forsythe's "A Man of Property," after all that was why men got married wasn't it?
My reading was catholic; I devoured Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Baroness Orczy, Thackery and Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights." Catherine was a heroine I could empathise with. I too wanted the life an erudite man could give me, but I also wanted the passion of Heathcliffe.
I read indiscriminately like a man starved for food. In school I was always deep into the story and couldn't find the place when it was my turn to read. The Odysseys or Jayne Eire, Shakespeare or Shelley, poetry, drama and prose were meat and drink to me. But I did not distinguish them from my mother's collection of Ethel M. Dell or Edgar Alan Poe. And I began to prefer her "Secrets" magazine to Girls' Crystal.
Harry started staying out late at night and if the doors were bolted, he would climb up onto the lavatory roof and tap on the landing window for me to let him in.
Once when he got in using his key he bolted the doors not realizing Dad was in the lavatory. To make matters worse when Dad hammered on the door to be let in Harry greeted him with "What are you doing out there you silly boggar'?
It was about this time Harry and Dad had an awful row. At home our coats were hung up at the bottom of the stairs. Both he and dad had identical fawn raincoats. Apparently, Dad found a magazine in his pocket and pulled it out in front of his colleagues. It was a girlie magazine full of nude ladies. Harry had put it in the wrong raincoat. Dad was furious, not only because Harry had such a publication but because he had lost face at work.
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