Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The film we were watching when Joanna asked me if I'd ever been to a porn film (1974) Posted by Hello

1963 - By the left...

Carry On Sergeant

Even today I can still have trouble telling my left from my right.

I have to think about it very carefully and sometimes have to confirm my impression with what hand I write with (the left), I suppose it’s a blind spot I’m stuck with. I remember when I was at college several times confidently telling taxi drivers to turn left (meaning right) and then being too embarrassed to get them to turn round, having to stop them in the wrong street and having to walk the rest of the way home. Also, taking my driving test was a nightmare I was so worried I would turn the wrong way when asked by the examiner, my instructor stuck a stamp on the dashboard of the Allegro on the left side with an L scrawled on it to help me through this ordeal. But it was in those days at junior school when I first tried to conquer this left/right blindness, when left meant ‘the Bench’, and right meant ‘the Toilets’. This was thanks to my squad drill instruction at the hands of Mr Jones, an ex- sergeant in the Guards who joined the teching staff in my third year at junior school.

It transpired that what Mr Jones really enjoyed most at school was drilling the boys and only the boys, in front of everyone in the school playground, I think it reminded him of his square bashing days in the army. He drilled us just before and just after break times, put us into class squads and taught us everything he knew about close order drill: how to ‘about turn’ Guards-style, raising the knees high to the waists, arms to the sides; he taught us marching in step, slow marching (in the event of a solemn occasion like a funerals), standing to attention, all the correct procedures and all without rifles. I believe he would have loved it if we had rifles – he could have taught us to slope arms, present arms, ease springs or whatever!

We made very odd looking guardsmen decked out in shirts, shorts and sandals. At first, I was a complete non-starter with the drill because of my left/right blindness but eventually my brain registered that if I was facing the school building, ‘left’ was the outside toilets block where we had pissing competitions and ‘right’ was the bench where the girls sat (reversed if I was facing the other way). Even if Mr Jones had us facing the bench I could still visualise myself standing facing the school and work it out from there, it was a convoluted way to remember left and right but it really did work for me and due to my hard work and application getting left and right sorted I soon made it to Mr Jones’ crack elite drill squad of the best eight boys in the school. Sometimes, in the playground just before the school returned to classes, and to the embarrassment of most other teachers, Mr Jones would drill the crack squad and show us off in front of everybody, it became a bit of a show and I remember it was Miss Lewis who encouraged everyone to applaud at the end.

1973 - Porn Again

But to get back to Jo’s question, when was the first time I went to a porn film?

I was in the JCR bar at college drinking with Billy Cooper, and he had started to knock back the pints, beginning a typical session that would throw him into drunken oblivion. He started telling me a story about a porn cinema he’d been to in Leicester, his hometown and I had to admit I’d never been to a porn film.
“Never been? It’s easy – there’s one up at the Angel in Islington – let’s have a few more pints and go.”
In those days I was never quite sure if porn cinemas were legal or illegal and there were places I’d walked past in Soho that I was tempted by but it all looked a bit like a set up and I had visions of being forced to buy expensive drinks and then being ripped off, so I never ventured inside.

Billy was well-oiled by then and it was always a good idea to keep him just this side of drunk, because when he did get excessively pissed, he was unbearably obnoxious. He weaved around when we got off the bus and staggered to the back of Camden Passage and there it was, in a dark alleyway, no garish bright lights like in Soho: just a sign announcing the Adult Film Cinema, he pointed to the door just as a man came out looking furtive in the twilight and rushed away.
“Normally you’d have to become a member and wait an hour – Pete and I went for a drink in the pub there,” he pointed unsteadily, “but now”, he pulled out his wallet and showed me a slightly mangled membership card: Member Luke Sharp it said.
“You cunt, you used my name!”
“I couldn’t think of another one, never mind, I didn’t know your address so I used my brother’s in Leicester, but with this I can take a guest. Here, you’re my guest.”

We went through the open doorway and were greeted by a very big and broad bouncer in a long leather jacket.
“Hello lads – members?”
Billy slammed his card down.
“Thank you, …sir,” there was a slight gap in time before he said the ‘sir’ that was calculated to put us in our place.
“Guests sign in here,” he pushed a big ledger towards me full of scrawled names.
I signed in as Billy Cooper, just under Edward Heath and Donny Osmond residing at 123 Doobeedoo Avenue.
“£6 for the upstairs programme, another £6 if you want to go downstairs.” That was a lot of money in 1974 but £3 each was okay to see my first porn film. I looked at Billy but he didn’t look like he was getting any money out, so I handed over the £6.

The upstairs cinema was tiny, basically somebody’s converted living room and we walked past a small, and very noisy 16mm projector that clattered through the reel unattended. The films were silent but out of a crackly and intermittent speaker there was an accompanying soundtrack of Hits of the 70s Volume XX. I looked up at the screen and to accompaniment of Indiana Wants Me there was a close up shot of a very red looking penis moving in and out of a vagina, all in gory, badly lit, colourful detail, the man and woman’s bums looked incredibly spotty. Billy fell into the nearest seats and I joined him, there were about eight men there and some actually did have raincoats balanced on their laps. Crackle, crackle next record I looked up again and the penis kept up its rapid movement, suddenly there was a jump cut (very ‘nouvelle vague,’ very Luc Goddard, I thought) and the penis was pumping sperm all over a woman’s heavily made up face and bad fitting blonde wig. The film ended and then straight to the next one – no story, no development but this time the new film at least had a title: ‘Plumbers Mate’. Even by the standards of porn, the films were all very poor but I could not help getting excited about what was going on up there on the screen, I kept getting erections but it was all the same thing over and over again, the selection of short films were very gynaecological and the girls were not that pretty. After about half an hour Billy staggered off to the bogs, five minutes later he came back,
“Right, I’ve had me wank”, he said in a very loud voice, “let’s go and get a drink before they shut!”We left in the middle of Bum Buster and as I left I could see an unbelievably long, thin penis heaving in and out of a brown hairy anus in extreme close up to the strains of Wouldn’t It Be Nice? by The Beach Boys.

Boogie Nights 1974

Joanna and I had gone to the Casino Cinema in Old Compton Street to see Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and we were waiting for the film to start when she asked me if I’d ever been to a porn film,
“Yes…,” I said, cautiously.
“What sort of effect did it have on you?”
I didn’t really know what to tell her. Do I tell her that even though it was boring and repetitive it gave me a series of erections that made my balls ache and I eventually hobbled home for a painful and rather unpleasant wank? I tried to twist the question around.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I went to one with my boyfriend the other night,” my heart sank when I heard the word ‘boyfriend’, shit, I thought, another fucking boyfriend I knew nothing about, “it was awful, I wanted to get up and scream and shout. All these men were just repeatedly doing things to this one woman.”
“And it had a strange effect on your …boyfriend?”
“Well, I thought the whole idea was that he’d be desperate for sex after watching all that going on but he, you know, couldn’t do it. What effect did watching a porn film have on you?”
I was about to tell her the truth, because I was always very honest with Jo, but then the lights dimmed and the film started and we got caught up in the story.

Jo slid her arm through mine and held on tight, as she always did in the cinema and I could feel the side of her breast like I always did. Damn! I thought, another of those ‘boyfriends’ that keep popping up, I’ll never get the chance to… it was probably too late anyhow, once I got beyond a stage with a girl and we were ‘friends’ it was difficult to change it, to become lovers. And what was he doing taking her to a porn movie anyway? But Jo was like that, she was very pretty, an English Rose blonde, highly intelligent, a few years older than me, who was studying for her MSc. at the college. She had strong feminist views, and deliberately drank pints to annoy those barmen who hated serving her with a pint glass. On reflection, I imagined it was her that suggested going to the porn film.

I remember, the following year when I was going out with Charlotte and the same subject came up she said she’d always wanted to go to see a porn movie and so I agreed to take her to the cinema club I’d been to with Billy Cooper. She was the only girl in that tiny room and seemed to make the other men there feel very uncomfortable. To me they all looked like ‘City gents’ taking a sneaky afternoon off, sitting there with their coats on their laps, giving me filthy looks: ‘letting the side down, old chap, bringing a woman here.’ Charlotte really enjoyed the porn films – she was never shy about her body and neither were the rest of her family – but that afternoon, we just happened on quite a good selection of films, about ten minute in length and some quite well made with a good clear projection system and the performers actually looked like they were enjoying themselves. Charlotte couldn’t see a problem with porn films and thought them ‘funny’ and I’ll never forget as the second short film started she let out an involuntary gasps,
“What?” I whispered. “It’s making me feel very horny,” she said out loud, just as the man in front of us shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and his coat stopped rising and falling in his lap. Charlotte was extremely turned on by what she saw on the screen, needless to say so was I, but the fact that she reacted so strongly really turned me on. So when we left the cinema it was a bus ride back to her house, and straight to bed without supper.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Pitta Bread Tales (1977)

Pitta Bread Powered VW

Whenever I see a packet of pitta bread in the supermarket these days I think about those times (1976-77). I still think my father was responsible for popularising pitta bread in London. He introduced the Greek-style bread into Asian shops, into small supermarkets who took it up and eventually baked their own. Now all themajor supermarkets sell it as a matter of course. I was always quite proud of the fact that I helped a little. In 1976 I agreed to help my dad by delivering Pitta bread to the Earl’s Court area mostly to Asian shops. I had learnt to drive by then and had use of his car: a VW Variant Estate and the deal was I would go pick up the pitta from the bakery in Hornsey Road and drive to the shops and deliver it. The variant was a great VW, rear-engined it had a long boot at the front and because it was an estate I could get quite a few boxes in the back all around me with the back seats folded down. So I usually set off with just the drivers seat free of pitta. This was fine until I had to break suddenly and was showered in pitta (they came in packs of 6 in clear plastic bags) – this was sometimes very hazardous as pitta would drop under the pedals preventing me from applying the brakes. Earl’s Court at the time had a large Middle-Eastern population living around it so the existing Asian shops catered to them and so the need for pitta bread which resembled Asian nan bread. So there I was one Saturday morning in the Earls Court Road parking on the double yellow line, flashers on, delivering the pitta. I opened the front boot in front of two Arab gentlemen who watched me pull up the hood - they were interested to see if I had an engine problem but stood there aghast as they saw the engine was packs of pitta bread! They looked at me wondering where the engine was, I shrugged my shoulder and went, "Pitta, pitta, pitta, vroom vroom vroom!”

Pitta Bread Tales - 1977

Pitta Bread Powered VW

Whenever I see a packet of pitta bread in the supermarket these days I think about those times (1976-77). I still think my father was responsible for popularising pitta bread in London. He introduced the Greek-style bread into Asian shops, into small supermarkets who took it up and eventually baked their own. Now all themajor supermarkets sell it as a matter of course. I was always quite proud of the fact that I helped a little.

In 1976 I agreed to help my dad by delivering Pitta bread to the Earl’s Court area mostly to Asian shops. I had learnt to drive by then and had use of his car: a VW Variant Estate and the deal was I would go pick up the pitta from the bakery in Hornsey Road and drive to the shops and deliver it. The variant was a great VW, rear-engined it had a long boot at the front and because it was an estate I could get quite a few boxes in the back all around me with the back seats folded down. So I usually set off with just the drivers seat free of pitta. This was fine until I had to break suddenly and was showered in pitta (they came in packs of 6 in clear plastic bags) – this was sometimes very hazardous as pitta would drop under the pedals preventing me from applying the brakes.

Earl’s Court at the time had a large Middle-Eastern population living around it so the existing Asian shops catered to them and so the need for pitta bread which resembled Asian nan bread. So there I was one Saturday morning in the Earls Court Road parking on the double yellow line, flashers on, delivering the pitta. I opened the front boot in front of two Arab gentlemen who watched me pull up the hood - they were interested to see if I had an engine problem but stood there aghast as they saw the engine was packs of pitta bread! They looked at me wondering where the engine was, I shrugged my shoulder and went,
"Pitta, pitta, pitta, vroom vroom vroom!”

The legendary VW Variant that helped introduce pitta bread to Earl's Court in London. Seen here as a washing line camping in France with Ariane Izu. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Mews 1960 - 1968 Part 2 - More Field of Dreams

More of the Mews

The Mews was an endless source of adventure for us kids who lived around it.

We built tents with any material found such as tarpaulin or sheets or blankets, we built carts with any pram wheels (these were much valued) and raced the carts on a track that we’d scratched out in the rough ground; an oval shape with an uphill and a downhill section. We held racing competitions (all comers) with two man teams one to push and jump on when going downhill. We had contests of strength such as holding two heavy cobbles to our sides arms outstretched to see who could last the longest (influenced by one of the characters in the comics) and we practised Judo using mattresses to cushion our fall. We sometimes created our own special challenges such as when we built a ‘Stonehenge type’ structure and we had to run through it and push out the sides before a very heavy lintel stone fell on top of you. Naturally any umbrella found would take us to a game of parachutes: leaping off an 8 foot wall holding the umbrella to act as a parachute (it never did work and this was a guaranteed way to twist your ankles or break a leg). One day we actually spotted a real parachute drifting down and we got very excited and chased around trying to guess where it was going to land. It didn’t land in the mews but on the other side of my school, on another bomb site and by the time Sean, Ronnie and me had ran over there another gang had claimed it and warded us away by throwing rocks so we couldn’t get near (although we were sure we’d seen it first and had some rights of ownership!).

In our eyes anything made from plastic had to be set alight to create flame bombs that dropped off with an amazing sound: a great whoosh, and sometimes quite a rapid whoosh – whoosh – whoosh. I remember playing this game once and a flame bomb landed on my wrist and burnt me badly, it was agony but I couldn’t be a baby in front of Sean and eventually the initial pain went away and I left the burn to heal by itself but eventually it got infected, in fact, the wound turned green and began to hurt so badly that I had to show my mum and she took me to the doctor. I must admit did gasp when he saw the mess on my wrist and sprinkled some grey powder on it and I’ve still got the scar on my wrist to this day.

In the summer our campfires inevitably got out of hand and would set light to the surrounding tinder dry grass, add a little breeze and you could have a firestorm raging all over the grassy wasteland. When this happened we were content to sit on the wall and admire the power of the fiery devastation but then some busy body or other would call the fire brigade and they would arrive with their hoses to put it out. One summer when this had happened several times in various parts of the mews we got raided by the police who rounded us all up including the Sheenys and wrote down all our names after asking our ages and I think some of the older boys got a caution (or whatever) but that evening I was terrified of getting in trouble and that knock on the door, coming to tell my parents.

Come the change of season when it got colder and people began to light their house fires we could sit by our campfire and spot the chimney fires; watching flames leaping out of the tall chimneys high above the terraced roofs. Chimney fires were very common at that time and this was the key for more fantastic fun, for us to run out onto the street and watch the fire engines arriving with the firemen springing to action screaming at each other. They had great long ladders that were attached to enormous wooden cart wheels and these ladders could take them to the very top of the roofs from where they could position their hoses to shoot water down the burning chimney.

But there was more going on in the evenings especially at the weekends. In that part of Kilburn the police were never far away, there were always domestic disputes, family fights, stabbings and it was small wonder that the area was known as ‘Little Chicago’ and the police car was very common, especially after the pubs closed. They would roar up with bells ringing and lights flashing and sometimes break down doors and the neighbours, including us kids, would come out to watch the entertainment, and gossip,
“It’s her again, I told her once, if you go on like this, you’ll have them police round, and look at her now.”
We didn’t understand about the disputes or the domestic fights but we would enjoy the excitement as everyone milled around the streets eager to see what was going on and who would be arrested.

One day after school as Sean and me were having a stone throwing competition (and I was losing badly) we heard a whine and a crunch of gears and saw Rob drive a dirty white scooter, a Lambretta, into the mews, driving it through a large gap in the middle gate, he got off it, let go and it fell on its side. He looked at us standing there watching him and recognized who we were (we were ‘Our Enders’: on his side),
“If anyone arsks you, you didn’t see nothing, right?” he told us and we nodded as he scuttled off back through the corrugated iron fencing. The scooter was obviously stolen, this was my first brush with real crime in the neighbourhood, Rob was certainly ‘our end’ leader but what did he do to earn a living? I never thought about it at the time, we all knew that like Copper Holder he was part of a bigger gang of grown ups and some kids said that they did burglaries all around Kilburn. I remember once when our flat was broken into and the gas meter raided (there was nothing else of value to take) Rob was very interested in the mundane robbery and asked me a few questions about it (it was the first time he’d spoken to me directly). I didn’t know it at the time but he was angry that someone had stepped on his territory, it was his right to do the meters at ‘our end’ (in fact he wouldn’t but he still asserted that right), someone had muscled in on his patch and when that someone was discovered (as they always were in Little Chicago) that person would be beaten up. It was justice of a sort I guess.

The Vespa was lying on our cart racing track. Well what could we do with it? Rob had left the keys and so we hauled it up and jumped on the kick start to get it going. Sean sat on the seat and revved the throttle as it caught and spluttered and died, eventually it started and Des found a gear let out the clutch almost by accident and raced off trying to drive it around the track without knowing what he was doing, after a few seconds he fell off and the Vespa carried on for a second and then rolled over on its side again. I was too scared to have a go but Sean persevered sometimes taking off at high speed, hitting rocks and sliding about, he thrashed it until the petrol ran out and we left it. As we walked away Sean remembered fingerprints,
So we wiped as much of it as we could and tried to set fire to it but there was nothing to light it with. Eventually a policeman did turn up poking his head through the gap in the gate, he came to us and pulled out his notebook asked us what we knew but we didn’t tell him anything and took the scooter away

Sometimes you saw things that you could not believe when you were in the mews. It was that sort of place, like the time Sean and me were lying on our backs on a mattress looking up into the clear blue sky; it was a beautiful summers day in the school holidays – blue sky and light white fluffy clouds when suddenly we both saw a silent craft very high up above the clouds, it wasn’t an aircraft but had a round shape and eventually it disappeared into the clouds. Sean and me firmly believed we’d seen a UFO (or perhaps it could have been a lost weather balloon). And then again once when I was on my own, one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen – during a stormy early evening a thick cloud came over the block and from out of nowhere there was a flash of lightning and a loud crash as it hit the ground close to the glass track about 15 yards from where I stood (I didn’t quite believe this had happened). I went to the glass track to investigate and looked for the spot where the lightning strike had hit and found a blackened piece of stone.

The mews patrol route was just something that we began to do one day just to keep tabs on the stuff that was being chucked by the people who lived in the houses that made up our block. We knew that something could be thrown out almost everyday and sometimes people would dump things over the end gates, so Sean, Ronnie and me patrolled a route just inside the perimeter of the rectangle, keeping an eye out for any good ‘finds’. Most days there wasn’t a great deal to find and sometimes what was thrown out was disgusting such as used sanitary towels (although I didn’t quite understand what they were for). I didn’t believe in periods even in the second year at Ruston when I was 12 and someone told me women have to go to the doctor every month to have their periods. I told him my sister didn’t go to the doctors every month!

The patrol was something we did after school during the week. If I was the first out I would call for Sean a few yards down, calling involved standing outside and shouting ‘Sean!!’ very loud, and then we moved on to ‘Ronnie. If someone appeared from the ‘gang’ we would then take a (usually clockwise) patrol around the perimeter track worn over time by feet; all the way around the mews looking out for what we termed ‘finds’. The track was about the position where stuff would land if thrown over the fences or walls.
The excitement was never knowing what you were going to get: an old telephone, postcards, old magazines, it’s a thrill I never lost for picking up free things. I still have a damn good look at skips in roads for anything good that’s being thrown out and going to a recycling yard I always want to come back with more junk than I went out with. A ‘find’ could be anything anyone chose to throw away over their walls and ranged from books, magazines, papers, TVs to WW2 rifle ammunition. Sometimes full suitcases were thrown over the wall packed with somebody’s long forgotten possessions and this was extremely exciting; a whole world opening up for you as you open the suitcase lid.

On the patrol as we walked past the middle gate the mad Alsatian dog that lived in the Off Licence yard always barked at us, maddeningly, and once started for hours on end. Throughout my time living there we always made it bark by throwing things at a little hole where we could see its snout. It was obviously there to prevent kids like us from jumping over the wall and nicking the bottles from the yard and then going round the front and getting the deposit money from the till. It worked because we used to avoid that Off License. Actually dogs were a problem for me at the time. It was natural to see dog shit everywhere on the pavement and dogs were usually let loose out on the streets to look after themselves until they were called back at the end of the day when the owners returned. My school was only around the corner but I was usually terrified of the local dogs that roamed the streets and that seemed to know I was scared and chose to terrorise me. If I was attacked (well, barked at), I worked out my own ploy: I would freeze stock still in the street until the dog having circled and sniffed me several times (and sometimes peed on me) lost interest ambled along to shit on an unshitty part of the pavement. Once I found myself in freeze mode just in front of the glass walls of my school hall from where everyone could see me and laugh at my inaction.

The glass track where we smashed everything that needed a bloody good smashing such as all the bottles that didn’t have deposit money on them, TV tubes were particular favourites because they imploded with a very loud noise but you had to lob a cobble at them from a good distance behind something tall. Pianos were always appearing in the mews (god knows how) and we just had to dismantle piece by piece until we were left with ‘a harp’. The cobbles on the track were large dark blue hue about 3” by 3” and there were quite a few of them in the Mews to be used for all reasons. In the middle it had a heavy sewer manhole that we could just about heave open and drop inside and then enter the sewer system (this was very frightening because you had to know who your friends were and you didn’t want the Sheenys shutting you in and you’d have to wander around underneath the ground just like in the film Hue and Cry.

Friday, February 11, 2005

1963 Swimming in Granville Road Baths

We Dive At Dawn

Swimming was one of the few occasions during the week when we got out of the school, the playground at Kilburn Park felt a bit like Colditz, surrounded by tall grey walls and with high mesh fences backing onto tall surrounding houses and yards. The swimming pool at Granville Road Baths was not very far from the school so, once a week at morning break, a teacher led us there and we walked in pairs with our towels and costumes under our arms. Kids who were good swimmers would get changed quickly and race off to the diving boards and jump off them before the swimming teacher lined us up for the lesson.
“I’m going to jump the high board today,” I told Ronnie as we walked into the changing rooms.
“You say that every week – you never do.”
“I will, I’ll go up there and jump off the top.”
“How much do you want to bet you don’t?”
“I don’t want to bet.”
“You won’t jump.”
Usually Ronnie was right – I wasn’t brave enough to jump the high board; it was a very high board indeed! I wasn’t brave enough until the day Ronnie had enough of my boasting and told Jane and Anne what I’d said and then I just had to jump to impress them. I climbed the four sets of ladders and got to the top board and peered down, it looked very high from up there and the swimming pool looked very small, I couldn’t go back, by then all the girls were watching, I stood there frozen then someone screamed at me from behind that I was holding them up so, without much more thought, I jumped. It was a horrible feeling as gravity took hold and pulled me down fast. I slammed into the water with a massive booming splash and sunk right to the bottom; 10 feet under water my feet touched the tiles lightly and then I floated up to the surface in a torrent of bubbles, seemingly coming from my swimming trunks. I’d done it! I joined the ranks of the high board jumpers!
“I’m going to dive off the high board, next time”, I told Ronnie as we walked back to school.
“You won’t dive,” he told me confidently.

It took me several more months to psyche myself up to dive off the top board, but when I eventually did, and it was one of the most frightening things I’d ever done, my forehead hit the water as though I’d hit a brick wall, I slammed into the water like a rocket, sank to the bottom like a stone, chipped my tooth on a tile and came up to the surface with my swimming trunks around my ankles! I thrashed about trying to pull my trunks up and tread water at the same time as Ronnie pointed out to the girls that I was showing my bottom.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Mews 1960 - 1968 Part 1 - Our Field of Dreams

The Gang’s All Here

The old bombsite that we called 'The Mews' and the crumbling Georgian terraced houses that surrounded it are not there anymore. The site is now a huge roundabout with an ugly square shaped block of flats towering up at its centre. In 1968, the neighbourhood I grew up in (know as ‘Little Chicago’ to the locals and the police) was systematically flattened, and the families that made up that community were re-housed in newly-built flats that were soon to become the slums of the future.

When we moved into ‘Little Chicago’ in 1960, the mews became somewhere I could go, away from our cramped basement flat and yard, it was an enclosed space, somewhere my parents didn’t have to worry about my safety, a place where they believed I wouldn’t come to any harm. I was eight years old when I first looked out onto that open stretch of wasteland and 15 when I left it for the last time: seven important years that changed me in many different ways.

Nowadays, if I watch Hue and Cry, a film made on location on some of the post war bombsites in London, or if I re-read C. Day Lewis’ children’s book The Otterbury Incident, the story of gang rivalry in post war Britain, I get a deep longing for that patch of land and for those long lost days of childhood. A few years ago, I felt a more immediate thrill when I noticed that the film The Blue Lamp, starring a very young Dirk Bogarde, was actually filmed in my old neighbourhood and, by freeze framing any of the outside location scenes, I could travel back in time to look at the same houses and streets that I knew so well as a kid (in black and white).

Moving to that basement in Cambridge Road meant that we no longer lived in two rooms in a mouse-ridden flat in Kentish Town but in two-rooms, a kitchen and a yard in a mouse-ridden flat in Kilburn Park. We had a living room, which also doubled as a bedroom for my sister and me, with two beds that had to be folded away every morning and made up every night, a bedroom at the back for my parents, a passage leading to a long and narrow kitchen that had a cold water tap Belfast sink at its far end and a toilet positioned, almost as an afterthought, behind it. But we adored 144A because it was our very own space and most importantly we didn’t have strangers walking through it.

I don’t think anyone in that neighbourhood actually owned the flats they lived in, as far as I could tell, everyone rented from remote or unknown landlords. There were basement flats like ours with a yard, ground floor flats, first floor and second floor flats (with a small and lethal open roof terrace) and attic flats with dormer windows built into the roof. The flats were much sought after by the wave of Irish and Greek immigrants who, like us, had come to London in the 1950s and 1960s. All the flats were unfurnished and naturally there were lots of junk shops in the area who did a thriving trade with people looking to buy or to sell second hand furniture. If you stood across the road from 144 Cambridge Road you could see that it was falling apart: most of the plaster was cracked and chipped, some of the stone and brick underneath was crumbling, the windows were rotting, broken panes were filled in by sheets of cardboard and the guttering was broken and when it rained water would pour simply down the walls. Everything was covered by a dirty grey sheen, a mixture of soot and the toxic house coal smoke that seemed to hang over that neighbourhood in, not only the winter, but also the spring and autumn. But despite all that it was still possible to imagine those distant times when the terrace was a grand affair, serviced by footmen, grooms and maids: the ornate railings, the decorative foot scrapers, the huge impressive front door knockers, the bell pulls on the front pillars and the manholes in the pavement that opened to underground coal cellars.

The internal staircase leading up from our flat to the ground floor was blocked off with hardboard and a door was bolted on our side for privacy. The only bathroom in the house was on the first floor, a truly antique affair that had no actual running hot water system but had to be fed with kettles and which was hardly ever used. Above us on the ground floor, lived a Spanish family who, I remember, always cooked with garlic (my mother cooked with garlic but not three times every day) and who once had a very exciting snail escape, when their meal for the following evening made a bid for freedom. On the top floor lived another Greek family and on the first floor there was a mysterious old woman who rarely left her rooms and whom I would only glimpse fleetingly throughout those seven years. I sometimes saw her shadow as she shuffled around the rooms apparently holding a candle, but it was so difficult to see anything because her windows were very filthy, blackened with soot and dirt, with rotting rags pinned up against the frames to act as curtains. Old reclusive women such as her, living alone in squalor was not unusual in that neighbourhood in the early 1960s, usually they were war widows, who lived a grubby, filthy and very poor existence, all alone with no family around to care for them.

After three months of living in an attic and then nine months sleeping in one room on the first floor, we now had our own front door and our very own yard. The yard was about 6 metres long and 4 metres wide, was completely paved over and still had the demolished foundations of a war time bomb shelter right across its middle. My mother was disappointed when she first saw the yard because there was nowhere for her to grow fruit and vegetables something she always yearned to do. In Cyprus my parents had been used to a very large and productive garden with orange, lemon and fig trees, chickens roaming around and rabbits in hutches and runs, and it had been difficult to give all that up, especially for my mother. Eventually, I helped my father build two narrow beds with bricks and filled them with soil dug out of the mews and my mother could plant the flowers and vegetables she so loved to grow.

We moved to Cambridge Road during the school summer holidays in 1960, it was 15 years after the end of the Second World War and everyone I met there called the bombsite ‘the mews’ and, naturally I also called it the mews without any real notion of what a mews really was. In fact, I only made the connection while watching an episode of The Saint in 1967 when Simon Templar (Roger Moore) explains to an American girl he is about to seduce what his mews cottage flat was originally for.
“You see, my dear, it was somewhere for the carriages and horses to be put and for the groom, who looked after them, to live.”
“Gee, Simon,” cooed the mini-skirted lovely, “I didn’t know that.”
‘Gee, Simon’ I thought, ‘I didn’t know that either.’
The mews had three ‘gates’: two situated at either end and one in the middle of the far terrace, these gates I guessed must have been the original access to the stables and the cottages above them, but in 1960 they were closed off by corrugated metal sheeting nailed onto huge wooden frames to prevent anyone from wandering in off the streets.

The Mews was also where the two rival gangs in the area clashed.

Me in our Field Of Dreams - The Mews - a bombed out mews surrounded by ancient terraced houses built in the 1820s. I am standing in 'our end' - the rival gang the Sheenies controlled 'the other end' (left).  Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Day Trips 1960-63

Day Tripper

Much as I thought of myself as English at that age I always had problems with some English conventions. Take for example, the summer holiday: ‘What I did on my summer holidays’ was the standard homework teachers used to set us at the beginning of a new year at school. My family didn’t go on summer holidays; the idea of going somewhere by the sea for a week or two was something that didn’t occur to us and my parents had come to England to work and so they worked ALL the time. The first time we went anywhere as a family was when we all went back to visit relatives in Cyprus in 1965 when I was 12 but that was a great big family reunion, staying in our old house and making trips at weekends to see all the relations around the island. In England, we did occasionally take a Sunday day trip to Margate, Southend, Brighton or Hastings, all four of us packed into the front of my father’s bread delivery van, me sitting on the hot engine cover between the driver and the two passenger seats. So, when I was faced with writing about what I ‘did on my summer holidays,’ that’s all I had to go on, I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t go anywhere and write about my adventures in the mews so I tried to make those Sundays spent sitting in a van in a traffic jam heading for the south coast sound as though they were two-week long breaks.

After wading through the traffic jams to Hastings 1962 I get to sit on an elephant holding a large pint og Guinness. On the front Hastings with my mum, dad and sister. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 28, 2005

1965-66 Taking myself in hand (wanking tales)

Monkey Business

Masturbation, tossing off, wanking, call it what you will, unsurprisingly enough was a very popular hobby among 99% of my mates at school (1% of them were dreadful liars).

Some boys even revelled in boasting about what they did in front of the whole class at morning registration, proud of their excessive feats,
“I did it ten times last night till the end went bright purple and sore.”
“As I coming the spunk just shot up six foot and hit the light bulb in the bathroom!”
“I did it in my sister’s flannel in the bathroom and then she washed her face with it. ”
Chief among the boasters was Greg, a small, unprepossessing, grey-faced boy, who wore thick black-framed glasses à la Michael Caine and who always smoked Black Russian cigarettes upstairs on the No 28 bus home from sports afternoon and the only person I’d ever seen in those days who wore a Ganex reversible plastic raincoat like the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.
“I did it upstairs on the bus and a load spurted through the little window and it landed on this woman’s head, she wiped it off, looked up and swore at a passing pigeon.”
He was the past master of anything to do with wanking or spunk tales and would explain lovingly how he used to make himself come using hundreds of different methods and objects and where he used to rub it afterwards. His exploits, whether real or imagined, were something to look forward to every morning and naturally gave him a certain amount of notoriety and relieved the boredom of school life.

A lot of us, including me, arrived at Rushton innocent of any knowledge about the mechanics of sex but throughout the first two years at the school we went through puberty, our voices broke, our pubes and beards began to sprout and we got our thrills from looking up ‘Sex’ in the encyclopaedia or by scanning the pages of Stern and Quick; German magazines that sometimes actually showed naked breasts. In the first year we looked up all the rude words we knew in the dictionary, crowding round the well-thumbed sections and sniggering over explanations of Reproduction, Copulation and Genitals. We got to know all the important words,
“When did you last ‘copulate’?” we would ask some of the more innocent first years and then howl with laughter because they didn’t know what the word meant. The ‘Reproduction’ section in the encyclopaedia even had two diagrams: a sideways cutaway of a woman showing her vagina and a man’s penis/ balls cut in half, both made no sense to anyone who studied them but they still made us snigger. Poring over that encyclopaedia with a group of sniggering boys was my sex education in those years, and over that first term at Rushton the real story filtered through: erections had a purpose, I wasn’t deformed, sperm (or 'spunk' as we called it) was produced for a reason, the wonderful feeling you got during a wank was called an ‘orgasm’ and that was what sex was all about.

I wanked in one form or another from a very early age but had no idea what I was doing, assuming it was something I’d discovered and unique to me. When I went to Rushton and heard other boys talking about doing it, and learnt the right (and wrong) words for it, I was pleased that it was so very common. With the information available in a modern school library I could now look up ‘Masturbation’ in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and I’ll never forget being puzzled why it was always defined as ‘self abuse’ in those days without any real detailed information. I never quite understood the term ‘self-abuse’ because wanking never made me feel that I was abusing anything, in fact it made me feel so very good, it was a thing to be done as often as possible.

When I was about 10, I had two distinct types of fantasy that I would indulge in as I went to bed – the ‘loving type’ that came from the sweet feeling I experienced when kissing Jane or Anne; this made me feel good all over and there was no wanking involved, or the fantasy when I was naked among a group of women desperately trying to hide my genitals but failing; eventually this fantasy always made me have an orgasm.

Just as erections made me feel deformed, it was even more frightening dealing with the onset of puberty. I remember that terrible fear when I was having a piss one day and spotted small lumpy bits all around my balls – it was obviously a deadly disease and it would be too embarrassing to tell anyone about it. So I suffered in silence until pubic hair started to sprout from the lumps and I realised those lumps had a purpose.

Then came the ‘spunk surprise.’ I had taken to having a wank in the hot water at the Slipper Baths at Granville Rd on the rare occasion when I went there for a bath. It felt natural because I was naked, my prick was sticking out in front of me and the water felt good and so I would naturally rub it (for cleanliness, you understand). But on one momentous Saturday I had my first ejaculation! As I was coming under the water, I stared in utter amazement, fear mixed up with the pleasure of the orgasm as white stuff came out of the end of my prick into the water; a milky cloud. Whoa! That was really weird. What’s happening to me? I didn’t know what it was so I stopped wanking for a month thinking I’d damaged something inside but then frustration won out and I decided to refine my wanking style to take into account that new freakish phenomenon; by pinching the foreskin to catch the spunk (“that’s neat” said Ellen, a girl from college, when I showed her my technique as she tossed me off in bed and was expecting it to spurt all over her hand).

I had all those pent-up sexual feelings but no idea why they were there. No one told me anything. I remember once getting changed at Granville road after going swimming with Ronnie and watching a man walk past with what looked like a 12” cock hanging limp out of his swimming trunks, he was obviously proud of it and we stared at it swaying to and fro, taking it for granted that our cocks would be that size when we grew up, only to be disappointed a few years later.

If I had trouble understanding my own bits that I had no hope with girls’ anatomy, I never had the instinct to investigate the girls at junior school always preferring kissing, and I remember once Ronnie pointed out a woman getting out of the side of the swimming pool in that awkward way, without using the ladder. The black costume she wore had gaped open in her crotch right above our heads; and the dark hairy fleshiness on view was fascinating but did not clearly show how girls’ bits worked.

I remember once walking back home from Rushton in the third year with my mate Ronnie. We were crossing Hamilton Avenue, a very posh place to live, full of huge detached expensive houses and we spotted bits of a torn up colour picture, one piece looked like it had a breast on it. We collected most of the pieces and put together a great jigsaw, a pornographic picture of an orgy in full colour. In the foreground there was a hairy, flabby man wearing signet rings, his head not showing, standing behind a woman draped over a couch, his fat penis was sunk deep into the woman’s vagina. I just didn’t think it could work that way – how could he get it in from behind? Female anatomy was still a mystery!

1965 - School Sport's Day. Me winning the 400 yards but the most embarassing picture ever - it looks like my willy's poking out (it's somebody's knee!). Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Saturday Morning Tour

My ‘Saturday Morning Tour’

There’s something special about Saturday mornings and there has always been something special about the Saturday morning tour. Even today if I’m feeling a bit jittery or worse for wear I know that a little ‘tour’ would do me a lot of good. The tour remained my fetish and still is and I need to wander round the right sort of shops or market – just looking at nothing in particular but performing a strange ritual.

In the days at the Mews (1964-1968) I would have the half a crown (2s/6d) my dad left for me on the kitchen table before leaving for work. This was my pocket money and was quite generous considering how hard mum and dad worked for their money. I loved the half-crown coin it was a wonderful large thing that always felt solid trustworthy like real money and still only half a CROWN this made the crown a something really special but there weren’t any except for specially minted Churchill Crowns.

There’s something so special about Saturdays especially the build up to lunchtime – it’s something I always carry with me – even later when I was going to football matches at Highbury it was all part of the ritual: a tour in the mornings with the prospect of a football match at 3pm or, if we were 'away', the afternoon matinee on BBC2. I always really wanted to do something, meet people, see life being lived on the streets, it’s almost the approximate feeling of sitting at a pavement café and watching the world go by.

The tour was another thing that was devalued if I was with someone. Alone, I could do as I pleased, if a friend was with me I would have to take into account what they thought.

Kilburn High Road Tour
Usually I’d set off about 10.30 after paying the weekly rent and getting comics and magazines for my sister and me from the sweetshop. I walked along Cambridge Rd past the green where the buses stopped by Kilburn Park Tube and up the slight incline past the Grey Naval Cadet Training Hut to the High Road. Kilburn High Road contained a number of shops that I would visit and I would spend hours in Boots (record section/book section); D.H. Evans (Dept Store toys); W H Smiths – looking at paperbacks, then finally buying cashew nuts in Woolworths (known as ‘exapenni’ by the Greek-Cypriots ie everything was sixpence) and spending most of my pocket money (1/9d) on them. Woolworth's had old wooden floor that crunched and bounced as you walked on it.

At some point in time I began to buy books. ‘From Russia With Love’ a Pan Paperback the first book I ever bought; it had a special cover with film stills from the film especially of the women with film strip sprockets cut out of the cover – very snazzy.

In later years, I used to do the Portobello Market tour walking all the way up to Notting Hill and looking at all the second-hand stalls – I especially liked the old junk section on the Golborne Rd side of the market – the Portobello proper side was great fun in the mid-sixties flower power, military uniforms (where I bought my military greatcoats, strange ‘head’ shops amazing people hanging around, strange smells but I still preferred finding the bargains – something I found valuable stuff cheap but I was very picky.

When I lived in Inderwick Road the tour was based around Crouch End but was never as much fun but I would end up at the fishmongers and buy a pint of prawns (5/-) and would take this back home to eat in front of the TV Saturday afternoon matinee, watched with my mum which invariably starred Alice Faye or Dick Powell in a 30s black and white musical.

Portobello -Golborne Road Saturday Morning Tour 1968 - the miniskirt was the fashion. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

'Seeing Something' - 1966

Getting In

“Wow, look at the tits!,” whispered Ronnie, “you get to ‘see something’ alright.”
Zulu began by showing hundreds of naked young girls taking part in a Zulu courtship dance. A hush descended over the mainly young male audience and for the first time we got to see it all: breasts, bottoms and very suggestive sexual movements but still classified as a ‘U’ (and signed by Mr J Trevelyan the film censor).

As we got older, the urge to ‘see something’ became an important part of going to the films, it was also what motivated us to try and get into ‘A’ films and eventually ‘X’ films
“Oh shit, it’s an ‘A’!”
An ‘A’ meant you had to be over 16 or accompanied by an adult. If it was something we really wanted to see our next thought was: who can we get to take us?
Sean and I were always desperate to see the James Bond films but they had always been ‘A’s, and we found that so frustrating. James Bond films were never shown on the telly in those days so we had no chance to see them. We tried everything to get in and once, when From Russia With Love was doing the rounds, asked some older boys standing in the queue to buy the tickets for us. They agreed to the scheme and we handed over our cash and they cheerfully bought their tickets, kept our money and gave us the ‘V’ sign as they went through the foyer into the stalls. Another ploy was to sneak in to the cinema through the fire exits, this was easier at the ABC, Harrow Road where the exit doors never did shut properly and would sometimes fly open if the wind was blowing in a certain direction. We could just ease those doors open and slip inside, but going in that way meant we always had to be on our guard and be prepared to be chased off by a busybody usher or manager who thought we looked too young to be there and wanted to check our tickets.

Sean and I had already missed Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963), we’d been reading all the Ian Fleming books as they came out in paperback (Pan Books 3/6d) but that wasn’t a substitute for the real thing on the screen. So it was that in 1964, when the Goldfinger poster appeared on the billboards, with another ‘A’ rating, we were even more determined to get in.
“Mum, do you want to go to the cinema and see a James Bond film with me and Sean?”
My mother didn’t really have a choice.

In 1966 came the moment when I decided to try to get into ‘A’ films under my own steam. I’d always looked older, so by the age of 13, I felt confident and I chose a Saturday afternoon at the Gaumont State, Kilburn High Road to go to see Modesty Blaise starring Dirk Bogarde and Monicca Vitti. I told no one, not even Sean, what I was planning, in case it all went horribly wrong and I was arrested (or whatever they did to you if they found out you were under age).

I played the double bluff deciding I would have a better chance of appearing older if I went for the more expensive seats in the Circle, instead of the cheap Front Stalls. I joined the queue made up mostly of pensioners, my heart pounding with fear and excitement; I had my 2/6d ready and had already practised my deeper, grown up voice. As I got closer to the cashier I could see it was the old woman with the wart on her cheek. I’d seen her many times on numerous other visits and what was more worrying was that she’d seen me lots of times before.

The OAP in front of me picked up her ticket and I was next, but I couldn’t speak, I froze – it was obvious the cashier could see I wasn’t 16. She looked up at me,
I placed the half a crown on the shiny steel tray.
“Errm, shirkell, please!” unwittingly doing a passable Sean Connery voice.
She sniggered, I guess she knew I wasn’t 16 but she still pressed that 2/6 lever and a small purple ticket marked ‘Adult’ shot out of the slot, I picked the ticket up and raced on up the huge marble staircase. The first hurdle over with, I then joined another line of people showing their tickets to an usherette who was more intent on talking to her friend and who ignored me completely, so I trotted up the darkened stairs. I was in.

I’d done it!

The Gaumont State Kilburn - where I saw my first 'A' rated film 1966 and where Sean and I spent many Sunday nights 1967-69 watching some great films. Posted by Hello

Monday, January 24, 2005

Pauline: the girl who knew too much about sex - 1963

Fight Club

Pauline was frightening. Even Sean who was the bravest person we knew was terrified of her. Most girls usually kept out of our ‘mews’ but she was the exception.
‘Mary, Mother of God, it’s that Pauline again!’ Sean would declare looking skywards, as she clambered over the end gate with a group of her mates, all boys. She was blond and not very pretty with a hard, unforgiving face and she would sometimes turn up for no other reason it seemed but to annoy us. But the most surprising thing about Pauline were the words and phrases she used, words whose meaning we didn’t fully understand at the time but instinctively knew were rude or dirty.
‘I bet you can’t even get it up,’ or ‘you’re not even old enough to spunk,’ she would say to taunt anyone she didn’t like.

Pauline was responsible for my first real fight in the mews. As was usual, she turned up with her cronies to mock us and on that day we were racing our home made carts on the cobbled track.
‘What do you want?’ I asked her.
‘Not YOU! I wouldn’t even give you a rub!’ she said motioning up and down with her right fist. She made the words sound filthy but I still had no idea what she was talking about. Her hand movements meant nothing to me.
‘Hello Sean,’ she said mockingly, ‘fancy a quick snog?’ the three boys with her all sniggered.
Sean blushed, looked confused, stood back from her and, for the first time since I’d known him, was speechless.

‘Is that him?’ asked one of the three boys who had followed her into the mews, pointing to me.
‘Yeah, that’s him,’ she said, ‘you can beat him up for me. He’s no good at fighting,’
At first I thought she was joking, waiting for that dreadful raucous laugh and I stood there looking puzzled as the boy squared up to punch me. I didn’t want to have a fight, there was no reason to fight and I was frightened of fighting, because I knew I might get hurt.
I looked at Ronnie and Sean, and they stared back at me obviously wondering why she wanted to have me beaten up. I hadn’t done anything to her but she seemed determined that the boy should hit me, and it was clear to everyone there that he would do whatever she wanted.
‘Go on, belt him,’ she shouted, ‘or you’re getting nothing from me tonight.’
The boy seemed reluctant at first then raised his fists in a classic boxing pose. He lashed out at me, his knuckles slammed into my mouth, cutting my bottom lip. I felt the blood dripping down my chin and I wanted to cry, to run off home to my mum. Then I heard Sean encouraging me, taking the role of my second.
‘Don’t worry about the blood, go on, you’re heavier than him, use your weight, and fight dirty,’ he whispered menacingly.
I lunged with a fist to the face but the boy saw it coming and ducked away easily, then he hit me quickly several times in the stomach.
‘Grab him!’ Sean shouted, ‘Wrestle him down – don’t try to box, you’re no good at boxing!’
I got in close, grabbed him in a bear hug, pushed him to the ground, knelt on his chest with my full weight and, with Sean urging me on, pounded at his face until his nose bled and he started to cry. I guessed that was the end of the fight, got up and let him run away. Pauline stood there with her two remaining accomplices,
‘I bet you’ve only got a small one,’ was her parting shot as all three followed the other boy out of the mews.
Sean and I looked at each other,
‘What’s all that about?’ he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders,
‘Search me.’

Pauline plagued us that summer (and not just because of our stylish jumpers). Me and Sean in our back yard - the 'Mews' is on the right. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Nudes & Porn : Miss Lewis - 1963 Primary School

“Hey, look at this! They’re all naked and you can see their bushes!”
On one of our tours around the bombsite we called the mews, Ronnie and I found a photographic book of ‘artist’s models’ someone had thrown over the wall, a great big thick book that looked like a Freeman’s Catalogue with German captions, packed full of explicit nude pictures of women in ‘artistic’ poses. We flicked through the pages examining the black and white photographs carefully and giggled as we pointed to the tits and bums to each other,
“This is great, let’s show the other boys in class,” I told Ronnie and I decided to rip out some of the pages and take them into school.

“Come on, I’ve got something to show you.”
The next day at morning break, I passed the pages to Richard and William as we stood in the far corner of the playground and a crowd of boys soon joined us and I became very popular as the pictures caused a stir among the boys, in more ways than one.
“Cor!” was the general response.
“What is it? What’s going on?”
Some of the more nosy girls wondered what the fuss was about, broke into the group, caught a glimpse of the pictures and then went off to complain to Miss. The first thing I knew about it was when a group of them appeared grabbed me and dragged me upstairs to our classroom,
“Miss Lewis wants to see you.”
“Give me those,” standing in front of Miss Lewis, she took the pictures I clutched in my hand,
“Where did you get them?” I told her the truth.
“I found them in a big book of photographs, in the mews”
“Do you know who the book belongs to?”
“No, it had been thrown out – a lot of stuff is thrown over the wall in the mews.”
“Have you got any more pictures here with you?” I handed her the rest of the crumpled pages, she looked at them briefly then tore them up into little pieces and put them in her desk draw,
“And don’t ever bring anything like this to school again. Understood?”
“Yes miss.”

The next time I was hauled up in front of the adorable Miss lewis was for sitting on the bench in the playground with Jane on my lap. For no reason I could fathom some of the other girls complained about us doing this and once again I was taken to see Miss. I didn’t quite understand the nature of the offence and still don’t,
“You were sitting on the bench?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I couldn’t deny it.
“And Jane was sitting on your lap?”
“Yes,” that was also true.
“Well, don’t do it again!”
This was so unfair, after all, the girl sitting on my lap didn’t get told off, so why me?

Lap sitting wasn’t even my idea. At that time, I found the whole thing an extremely embarrassing experience because I always got an erection and what made it especially difficult was that I didn’t understand what erections were for! I just accepted the fact that I was deformed in that area and would be extra embarrassed if a girl should notice my appalling deformity. The week before I got ticked off for sitting on a bench, Anne was sitting on Ronnie’s lap, and Jane on mine when she started squirming about,
“Luke, what’s that hard thing in your pocket?”
Oh no, I thought, she’d felt it, I was mortified, it would get around the school that I was a freak.
“Errm. Just something… err.”
“No, what is it? It feels funny,” she squirmed about on it making it much worse.
“Ermm.” I didn’t know want to say.
Pauline, who’d already got me into my first big fight in the mews the previous year was sitting on the bench next to us, heard Jane’s comments and then became interested, she knew exactly what was happening and shouted out in her raucously loud voice,
“His willy’s got hard!”
Pauline called over to a bunch of her girlfriends, pushed Jane off my lap and they dragged me off into the girl’s cloakroom, I struggled for a bit, but it was hopeless, there were too many of them and they were real little toughies. I don’t know what they wanted to do with me but they held me down and Pauline stuck her hand up my shirtfront and was rubbing it over my nipples when Miss Lewis walked in through the door.
“Pauline, stop that! Get off him! And Luke, get out of the girl’s cloakroom!”
She gave me that look, as if to say ‘not you again!’

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Frank - As You Like It - March 1971

The Play's The Thing...

“Do you want to be in the school play?”
It was the first time I had been asked to be in anything. In the five years I’d been at the school, I’d always kept well away from after-school activities and had never seen any of the plays the school successfully put on every year. Now, standing in front of me, Mr Dougal, the new RE teacher, was asking ME if I wanted to be in the school play.
I quickly looked around in the corridor to check that he actually wasn’t talking to someone else.
He’d taken me by surprise, and I could only mutter, “Yeah, okay.”

Still regretting my rash promise to be in the play, I walked into room 23 at lunchtime to be met, not by Mr Dougal but by Mr Thomas. He was standing in one corner of the room looking out of the window. There was no one else there, so I tapped gently on the door to attract his attention and he turned round to face me.
He was in his early twenties, dark, slim, with long but curly hair, he wore a blue denim jacket that would have scandalised the old school. He was another teacher from the new intake who was also, I would later find out, homosexual.
All confidence drained out of my body.
“Mr Dougal said… about the..er… school play.. He thought I could be in it, Sir.”
“Ah, yes, the school… play,” he looked me up and down carefully and then picked up a green and white paperback book from a big pile and threw it at me, “catch!”
I dropped it and scrambled under the desk to recover the book.
“As You Like it… read for me… page 33.”
I found the page and stood there at the front of the empty classroom and read for him. He looked out of the window again, seemingly more interested in the trees across the road. When I finished the speech other boys began to arrive and Mr Thomas motioned to them to join in the reading.
“You’re Greek aren’t you,” Mr Thomas asked me out of the blue as we were leaving the room.
“Yes… wh..”
He didn’t explain and walked into the corridor to disappear into the staff room.

I was eventually cast as one of the minor leads.

Oh my God, what have I done? I thought to myself when I realised I’d have to learn lines and speak them in some sort of understandable order in front of a real life audience for five performances.
I’d never been in a play before and I had so many lines to learn. Why did I ever agree to be in it? I continued to panic for days and wished I’d never agreed to be in the play, that is until I began to realise what a different world I’d got sucked into: being in a school play had many advantages, especially the excuse for taking time off lessons; ‘Sorry, I can’t go to French class I’m rehearsing for the play, I’m busy at lunchtimes rehearsing and can’t do prefect duties, I’m learning my lines’. But then over the next couple of weeks, instead of using the play as a means to get off schoolwork, I actually started to enjoy the whole process. Jeremy and Frank, as they insisted we call them in rehearsals but never in class, treated us to goodies such as buns and cakes and drinks and sweets and after school we even went to their flats for coffee. This was a real eye opener for me; in my mind teachers were not human beings, they were dry people who inhabited schools, that they actually had homes and a life outside school was news to me.

“Come back to my place and we’ll go over that scene again,” Frank told a group of us who had been having trouble getting one of the scenes to work on stage in the school hall. This was so liberating. A teacher? His place? The school play was a well-respected institution in the school and everyone treated as special beings, different from the other boys; we were, after all, actors!

Both Frank Thomas and Jeremy had flats in the elegant back streets of Primrose Hill; they had smart modern rooms with real drawings by real artists on the walls in trendy frames and great hi-fi systems with large collections of LPs and lived a life that was just so different to mine. I remember that first time a group of us trooped up the stairs to Frank’s flat, we sat in his designer chairs listening to The Boy Friend, sipping real coffee made from freshly ground beans, and then we were introduced to David, Frank’s very ‘camp’ flatmate; that was when I suddenly understood what was going on; they were ‘homos’ (as we called gay men in those days). David explained to us that he was an actor in the repertory company of the National Theatre (then located at the Old Vic) and he knew all the famous actors and had a never-ending fund of backstage stories,
“…and do you know when Robert Shaw had all that body make-up on for Royal Hunt of the Sun, after the performance, there was nothing for it but to strip off and get into the shower with him and help him scrub it ALL OFF!”

I was not an actor but I learnt the lines and recited them in more or less the right order and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the experience. I knew my limitations but I had great fun being in the play; the rehearsals in the echoing halls; the line learning; helping with the lights and the set; getting drunk with some of the group in Mr Thomas’s flat; going to Mr Dougal’s place on a Saturday for more run-throughs and a buffet lunch (I never had ‘lunch’, I’d always had ‘dinner’). I got to see the tantrums from the leading players, tears from Mr Dougal when he clashed with Mr Thomas over the set and heavy drinking backstage from the seasoned sixth form actors who couldn’t go on stage without swigging from a whiskey bottle. But for that short period of time in my mind I became an actor and everything somehow felt different for those five very special evenings.

On that first night I found myself on stage with Rosalind, played by Wallis, a third year boy who had very long reddish-blond hair. He was a boy, playing a girl, very confusing, very Shakespearean and very Frank and Jeremy. Rosalind is a massive part to learn and perform and, on that first night, as Wallis made one of those long speeches, he suddenly missed out three pages of the script and leapt to a scene I wasn’t even in! I stood there frozen in terror wondering what to do, he stood there looking at me, not realising what he’d done and waiting for his cue. With the blood draining from my made up face (I’d never experienced such panic before), I looked to the wings and saw the other actors waving their hands at me, I didn’t understand what they wanted me to do so I decided to make up for all the missing information in my next and very improvised speech, I don’t know how I got through it but I summarised what should have happened by mumbling,
“Yes, you might well ask what happened I saw him leave here not that long ago clutching a …” It wasn’t Shakespeare but it brought us up to date, got me off stage, got Wallis/ Rosalind off the hook and allowed the play to move on. I walked off to a round of silent applause from the other actors backstage. Yes, I think that was my finest hour. That performance (“suitably rakish, a cross between Lionel Bart and an Italian waiter,” said the local newspaper review) was my first and last major role and, except for small cameos later at college while at the same time as doing lights and sound, I never performed on stage as an actor again.

By the last night, the Saturday, we had settled into the play. It had been going down very well and at that last pre-performance gathering we were all hyper excited. Led on by Hendricks, a group of us in the less prominent lead roles decided to perform the whole play with rolled up hand towels shoved down our tights (in deference to the many ‘theatrical’ friends of Mr Thomas and Mr Dougal in the audience that night); enormous, slumbering giant members. Hendricks decided to stuff a beach towel down his front and got very special applause from a certain section of the crowd when completing his scenes. Then, after the applause, the curtain calls, and the flowers for the leading boys - it was suddenly all over. We were all buzzing and didn’t want to come down from the high and Mr. Thomas invited everyone back to his flat for the after show party.

The party at Frank’s was wild, most of the English Department teachers were there including Miss Morrow and Mr. Kelly plus Jeremy’s friends from the Royal Ballet and David’s friends from the National Theatre. We all danced and got very drunk and watched in wonder at the antics of men dancing with men, men kissing men and women kissing women (we’d seen men kissing women before but I did notice that Mr. Kelly did spend a lot of time with Miss Morrow).

That was to be the first of many parties that mixed the sixth form with those new teachers and it was also when I realised that Frank Thomas really liked me. I’d had far too much to drink that evening and even managed to dance my wild dances with all the cast and once even with Miss Morrow but then there came that horrible moment when everything started to spin and I felt very sick,
“Are you all right?” Frank asked seeing me stagger.
“Yes, no, .. the room’s spinning.”
“Okay, come on, you’ve got to lie down.”
He took me to the bedroom next door and I lay down on the double bed and then he reappeared with a red bowl,
“Keep on your side and if you feel like being sick use this…”
I grabbed the bowl and threw up in it.
“Just- like- that.. thanks,” said Frank looking at the bits of sick that had splattered on his shoes. He went off to clear up the mess and I lay there on my side listening to the music, feeling a little better.

Half an hour later the party had quietened down a little and through the wall I could hear Leonard Cohen lazily singing Suzanne. I was very tired, dozing but not asleep, my mind racing, remembering all the events of that final night’s performance and with half-closed eyes I saw Frank looking in again, checking that I hadn’t been sick on his bed. He moved the bowl back in position and must have thought that I was asleep because he very secretly and quickly kissed me on the cheek and then left the room. I just felt warm and secure over that very sweet gesture.

The last night performance of As You Like It - before the party at Frank's. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Old Vic - My gay English teacher March 1971

(techinically not 'a girl I've loved' but a similar thing... read on)

The Boyfriend

A few weeks after the As You Like It party Frank Thomas stopped me in the school corridor and asked if I wanted to go to the theatre,
‘David gets tickets for all the National Theatre first nights, and there’s one on Thursday, so if you’re interested…’
After being in my first school play I was keen to go to the real theatre and, assuming there’d be a group of us invited, I agreed to go.

When later that week I turned up at my English teacher’s flat there was no one else there and I realised that this school outing was for just the two of us. I was curious: why did he just ask me if there were only two tickets? Then I remembered that furtive kiss on the night of the school play party and I felt awkward,
‘You alright?’ Frank asked as we set off towards the High Street. He was very matter of fact about the whole thing and behaved as though we really were on an organised school trip to the theatre. He flagged down a black cab we got in and he told the cabbie to take us to The Old Vic. This was a first for me because I’d never been inside a real London taxi before. As we got out I offered to contribute to the fare but he told me not to be silly, ‘my treat’ he called it.

The play was The Captain of Kopernick starring Paul Schofield, Frank bought a programme and we had seats right in the middle of the stalls. All around us were faces I vaguely recognised from the TV and Frank pointed out some of the newspaper critics,
‘Look there’s Kenneth Tynan,’
‘Who’s Kenneth Tynan?’
When the play had finished we went for a drink in the pub next door and waited for David to appear. Just as they were calling ‘last orders’ he came in accompanied by Laurence Olivier! I couldn’t believe it; I’d been watching Rebecca with my mother the night before on BBC2 and there he was in real life chatting to Frank’s boyfriend.

‘Do you want to share the taxi?’ Frank asked as he flagged down a cab outside the pub.
‘No, I’m alright –Waterloo tube’s just up the road, ‘night and thanks a lot.’

As I rode the tube home my brain was buzzing with excitement, the play had been really enjoyable but the rest of it – Frank, David, taxis, theatre critics, famous actors – it was a different world. I thought about what I would have been doing if I hadn’t gone to the theatre with Frank; probably sitting at home watching the TV.

At morning break the next day in the library prefects’ room I was flicking through The Times and found a review of The Captain of Korpenick. It felt especially satisfying to read about the performance written by a critic sitting a few seats away from me.
‘That’s the play I went to see last night,’ I couldn’t help boasting to Ronnie who was busy scanning the new copy of Stern, the German magazine that sometimes contained pictures of naked women.
‘Really? How come? Who d’you go with?’
‘Frank Thomas.’
‘Oh yeah, sore bottom this morning?’
‘He’s a good bloke, had a spare ticket.’
‘I believe you – thousands wouldn’t.’
‘It’s not like that.’
‘It soon will be I bet! He’s a homo and you know homo’s are like ghosts - they keep putting the willies up each other! Boom, boom!! Well at least you’ll get good marks for your Hamlet essay!’

Ronnie’s crude jokes made me feel awkward. Was there something wrong in going to the theatre with Frank? Did I have to be over 21 or something? That reaction by my mate made me decide not to tell anyone else about going out with him. I had to admit I’d enjoyed the experience but that was that.

But that wasn't that...

The first night programme - my first 'date' with my gay English teacher from school. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 07, 2005

Sexy Stassoulla - Summer 1968 Cyprus

Far from the maddening crowd

1968. In those days when I fell in love with girls, I always assumed that feeling of attraction was exclusive to me alone but there came a time when I realised that true beauty indiscriminately attracts everyone and anyone.

I was 15 and had gone back to Cyprus for the summer with my mother (we couldn’t afford for my father and sister to go as well) and it was when we were staying with one of my many aunts in Lefkosia that I saw Stassoulla.

She lived across the road from my aunt’s house in Ayios Pavlos and was the daughter of my cousin Mario’s godmother. She was the most beautiful Greek girl I’d ever seen: 17 years old, with dark gorgeous eyes, long black hair, with a thin, nicely tanned body, she was perfection in my eyes, the way she moved, the clothes she wore, the way she smiled and looked; she was so, so perfect.

Most afternoons, in the searing August sun, everyone would have a siesta after lunch and then emerge very slowly three or four hours later as the heat relented and the cooling early evening breeze started to blow. In those magically quiet moments of waking I would walk out onto aunt’s veranda and wait for Stassoulla to appear on her balcony across the road, she always looked so very sleepy and so very sexy, barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and cut off shorts, fanning her face with her delicate hand. She was so attractive I couldn’t bear it; the feeling was so intense I thought I would burst and could feel great by just looking at her.

I thought I was the only one entranced by her sheer beauty, until one lazy afternoon at the cinema when I fully understood the real power of beauty. Of course I wasn’t the only one to fall in love with her, she had the same effect on all the Greek boys for miles around. That afternoon, my cousin Mario and I went to the cinema to see A Man Could Get Killed starring James Garner and Melina Mercouri, more to avoid the oven like heat in the air-conditioned theatre than to see the film and we met up with a group of his friends, who joined us, ignored the film completely and started to make inquiries about Stassoulla.
“Hey Mario, have you seen Stassoulla recently?”
“What’s she doing tonight?”
“Can you introduce me? I want to show her something (snigger, snigger).”
“What do you think would impress her? Mine’s two foot long!”
“I hear she went out with Giorgios and his sister. Did he touch her arse, I’d do anything to touch that arse.”

They went on and on and groaned, literally groaned, when they talked about her and they were all interested in where she was going, what she was doing and whom she was going to do it with.

I suddenly felt cheated because I’d thought she’d been only for me, my love, my discovery and only for me to adore from afar.

Cyprus 1968 - when I fell in love with sexy Stassoulla from across the road. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Lady Macbeth and her nipples - Summer 1965

2B or Not 2B

In looks, our first English teacher Mr. Evans, or Capt. Victor Pearce-Evans to give him his full title, reminded me of the photograph of George Orwell from the back cover of the Penguin edition of 1984, a book we were given to read at home that year. He had the same moustache, the same hair, the same nose and looked about the same age: in his mid-forties. Mr. Evans was an Oxbridge educated ex-army officer and could, if in the right mood, easily be heard barking out parade ground orders from the other side of the school building in a fantastic piercing scream,
“Youuuuuuuu Boyyyyyy, to me, NOW!!”

But watching him walk down the school corridor did not betray any military bearing; he had developed a strange lop-sided walk, his jacket hanging off one shoulder as he held a cup of tea at a jaunty angle, spilling most of it in dribs and drabs on the floor. We knew him as ‘Vic’ and he was one of those teachers who can inspire and really bring the subject to life. I once wrote a creative writing essay for him called ‘The Sunday Newspaper’ and I was really surprised to find out that Vic adored it, and gave me top marks. In fact he loved it so much that he made me read it out for the class and then got everyone to analyse its structure. This was ‘heady stuff’ for a shy second year Greek boy. The essay appealed to him because I made reading the Sunday newspaper in bed sound like a sexual act, and he was always keen on analysing the sexuality behind anything we studied from Shakespeare to Byron. Vic was that rare thing: a natural teacher, his classes were always stimulating and I’ll always be grateful to him for the choices he made for our set books compared to the dry selection of the other English teachers; his were funny and light and something to savour and enjoy.

Unfortunately, like all the best teachers, Vic did have a chink in his armour, a chink we could probe at, delve into and exploit: in the wrong mood Mr Evans could be seriously wound up. On one occasion, a group of us who always sat at the back of the class decided to hum a jolly tune every time he turned his back.
“Hmm, hmmm, hmmmm, hm, hm, hmmm, hm.”
Vic kept a fixed smile on his face but we kept it up for most of a Wednesday mid morning double period,
“Hmm, hmmm, hmmmm, hm, hm, hmmm, hm.”
Then he cracked and lost it completely; enraged, he charged up to the back row kicked out at Ronnie’s desk, one of those solid oak things that weighed a ton, the lid flew off and the rest of the structure literally shattered and fell to the ground. But that kick did have an effect; it made the singers all shut up for the rest of the lesson! We had many good times with Vic but what stood out in that first year was the stand off we had between 30 giggly first years and Lady Macbeth’s nipples!

It was the fag end of the day, the last period on a Monday afternoon and we were reading Macbeth in Vic’s first year English class. We’d just come in from afternoon break and had 35 minutes to kill before we could go home at four o’clock and enjoy the rest of a sunny and very pleasant summer’s afternoon.

“Open your Macbeth on page 14!”
Vic spoke in that almost inaudible soft voice he sometimes used as a contrast to his military scream, he seemed quite mellow that afternoon as though he’d had a good weekend and was letting us off lightly, allowing us to read from the play in turn. Mentally, we 'took our shoes off' and relaxed, this was an easy coast downhill to going home time. The reading began all well and good but then we hit a stumbling block. The section he’d chosen on page 14 was from one of Lady MacBeth’s speeches and the problem was that no one in that class of thirty first years, could stop themselves from getting the giggles and sniggering when they tried to read a section that mentioned her BREASTS.

Act 1 Scene V
‘The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here’
“Hehehehehe,” the giggling began here.

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s BRE…,

“Hehehehehehe,” Mellon just couldn’t say the word ‘breasts.’

At first, Mr Evans was also amused, he joined in with the joke and asked someone else to read, but slowly it became evident that NO ONE could read the word ‘Breast’ without guffawing or giggling, and of course the more one of us tried, the worse it got, the whole class was waiting for it and no one could get through the speech. Vic’s mood darkened as he got more and more wound up by us. But he would not let it go and snapped into action,
“Right, you lot, we’ll go right through the entire class systematically from Alcock to Zacharias, from the front row all the way to the back row.”

But the anticipation of having to juggle with the B word made it much worse for us and then, of course that made every Shakespearean word sound hysterically funny, and Vic screaming ‘shut up, all of you!’ didn’t help either. There was no way we could get past those Breasts.

30 minutes later the bell went for end of class, we shuffled in anticipation of home time but Vic decided to make a stand,
“I’m not letting you go until we complete the reading planned for this lesson!”
“Oh, sir!”

As everyone else in the school left their classrooms and trundled noisily down the central first floor corridor with the usual screams and chatter, 1B English had to stay in that hot room battling with the Breast, and manoeuvring around Lady Macbeth’s mammaries. When all was quiet outside in the eerie way only an empty school can be, we realised the situation was getting serious and we all really wanted to go home. It took a supreme effort by Gossard who had a bad stutter at the best of times to stumble through to Vic’s satisfaction and manage to wade through ‘b-b-b-b-b- bbreast’ with a straight face.
“Good,” said Vic, “now let’s finish what we were meant to read in this class.”
We raced on without incident until we hit another obstacle: this time it was her damned NIPPLE that got in the way.

Act 1 Scene VII
‘What beast wast then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man,
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me...'


I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my NIP…'


We were there for another 30 minutes trying to work through ‘pluck’d my nipple’ but this time with absolutely no luck at all. Eventually, a shattered and very riled Mr Evans had to admit defeat and storm out of the classroom but he did say something before he disappeared down the long, empty corridor, he dismissed us with the words,
“Out, out, damned 1B, out!”

Sports Day at Rushton - the same week we got into trouble over Lady Macbeth's nipples. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

1964 - Anne and Jane - First Date


That day Ronnie and I were standing in the far corner of the rectangular playground when Jane and Anne, two of the girls from our class, rushed up and took it in turn to kiss both of us full on the lips.

I was 10 and it was half way through the autumn term of my fourth and final year at Kilburn Park Primary. Ronnie had been taunting me because someone had inscribed LS loves DW (true) on an upright pillar of the grey brick wall that surrounded the playground. DW was Debbie who, I must admit, wasn’t the best looking girl in the class and as usual Ronnie found this sort of thing amusing,
“You did that,” I said pointing an accusing finger.
“No I didn’t, I just found it and…”
And that’s when they suddenly appeared and kissed us.
I was struck by how sweet the kisses from those two girls felt, their lips actually tasted syrupy accompanied by another feeling like small bubbles popping in my head. Ronnie and I took it in turns to kiss them back and that sugary feeling stayed with me for the rest of that day and I couldn’t think of anything else except kissing.

Ronnie, Anne, Jane and I found quiet corners of the school playground at break times where we could concentrate on the kissing. It was sheer pleasure and I went home at the end of that day buzzing, my brain awash with a wonderful feeling.

“We’ll have to take them out on a date,” Ronnie told me.
“ A date? Where,” it sounded expensive, I had visions of restaurants and casinos.
“What about the pictures? On Saturday morning?”
“Great idea.”
This was my first real date with a girl but I didn’t tell my mum about it, leaving her to assume I was going just with Sean and Ronnie as usual. I knew my mother had very definite views about English girls which she would sometime recite to me: ‘they lay around all day polishing and painting their toenails and if I married an English girl they’d make me do all the housework and would not feed me properly.’ This was a serious threat because, like any Greek boy in those days, I never did any housework or helped to prepare any meal and so I thought I’d keep quiet about the date.

We queued up with the other kids at the ABC as normal but Jane clung to me and I put my arm around her and we kissed there in the queue to show everyone that we were on a grown up date. In those days it was expected that couples would sit in the back row, so we sat right at the back of the cinema, although I really preferred being near the front. I put my arm around Jane and we kissed some more and I bought her a choc-ice. It was exciting being out on a date with a girl and the kissing in the dark was just as exciting as before but perversely, I found I didn’t enjoy the actual cartoons and films as much; I couldn’t concentrate on my favourite serials and missed the best bits kissing Jane.

On Monday morning all the details (some made up) of our double date had spread through all of the class, even our teacher Miss Lewis got to hear about it,“Did you enjoy going to the cinema?” she asked, making me blush.

First date with Anne and Jane (and still in short trousers!) 1964. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Charlotte's Wedding 3 - August 1976

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning

Later we stood with our plates in our hands eating the barbecued ribs and the pepper, onion, mushroom vegetarian kebabs that would have shocked all my uncles and cousins in Cyprus. The disco had finally struck up on the far side of the courtyard, and it was still just light but the sky had that dusky dark blue shade that lets some of the brightest stars and planets shine through. I stared at a satellite describing its arc slowly across the sky above me and I looked down to see a hippy chick standing next to the DJ waving her hands to the music. I knew I wanted to get drunk that night.
‘What ‘yer drinking, Corrie?’
‘I’ll have a coke please.’
‘Come on Corrie, it’s a party, have a drink.’
‘A coke’s fine, thanks.’

The more I drank, the more I felt I had to prove something to everyone else there, I didn’t care about Charlotte, there were plenty of… well, there was always Corrie. Just then the DJ put an old favourite on the turntable: Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones. I grabbed Corrie’s hand.
‘Come on Corrie let’s dance.’
‘I haven’t finished my drink.’
‘Fuck it, I like this one, come on!’ Corrie looked at me as though I’d gone beyond the limits she’d laid down for that day. I could almost read her thought process: ‘he’s drunk, he’s upset, I’d better humour him.’
‘Okay, let’s dance,’ she forced a smile and handed her coke to Billy who downed it in one thinking it was alcoholic.

More people joined us on the dance floor and I went into my party dancing. I tried to dance with the kefi to forget about everything except the music. Then came a slow one: I’m Not In Love by 10cc. In my mind the words said it all: my feelings at the time and so I enveloped Corrie in my arms. I was far too close for her and she pushed me away a little, looking uncomfortable and flushed. I had to kiss her, everyone was watching me, and I knew it. I just had to prove I didn’t care about Charlotte. I peered into Corrie’s eyes and she looked a little worried. I reached up and held her head still and leant forward to kiss her but she still managed to twist her head away expertly. Corrie said nothing and we broke off and went back to Billy who leered at me, having witnessed my inept attempt at seduction. Corrie still smiled in her enigmatic way.

I picked up my wine glass and swilled it all down in one. Looking round for my next drink, I could see Delia standing on the other end of the courtyard talking to Mathew. Delia! I left my pals and staggered over, topping up my glass on the way,
‘Hi Luke, have you met Delia, Charlotte’s sister?’ Mathew performed the introductions.
‘No, always seemed to miss her last year, hello Delia.’
I looked at Delia with drunken eyes: Delia was Charlotte, the same build, the same shape of face and the same bright eyes but Delia had something more: an elegance and a great beauty; all her features were finely chiselled and just so. I understood why Charlotte was the way she was about not being pretty. Then in my mind it was obvious: if Charlotte had fallen for me, why not Delia? And there she was: Charlotte, a beautiful younger Charlotte and much, much more.
‘D’you wanna dance?’
Delia looked a little uncomfortably at Mathew, could see no way out and then smiled and politely agreed. We walked to the centre of the courtyard and joined the other dancers.
‘So you were at college with Charlie?’ She obviously knew about Charlotte and me and was watching my reaction to her question very carefully.
‘Yes – three years.’
‘What are you going to do now?’
‘Don’t know, haven’t thought about it, don’t wanna teach, that’s a crap job. What are you doing?’
‘Studying Law at Durham.’
‘Oh yeah, I remember. Charlie said.’
I looked at her face again – it wasn’t Delia, it was Charlie, I had to ... I held her closer and leaned down to meet her lips and kissed her.
‘What are you doing?’ she hissed at me then pushed me away with both hands, and barged through the other couples to safety.
‘Sorry… I…’ I stood there apologising but she was gone, ‘sorry.’
I walked off the dance floor, and took the path around to the other side of the house and sat down on a bench in the darkness in front of the Long Lawn.

I must have been there for a quarter of an hour before I heard a ‘Hey you!’ echo in the dark. I looked up to see the kilted mass that was Gordon standing there with James, Delia’s fiancé, both towered above me but it was Gordon who was doing the shouting,
‘Who the hell do you think you are? Coming here, upsetting Delia. I think it’s time you were taught a lesson. Get up!’
Obediently, I stood up and Gordon grabbed my arms from behind as James squared up to hit me. I should have been frightened but for some reason, probably the amount I had had to drink, I didn’t seem to be that bothered. Then everything froze, and I remembered that scene in Saturday Night And Sunday Morning: the two soldiers beating up a drunk Albert Finney in a dark alleyway one holding his arms the other punching him and I sniggered – it was exactly the same scene. I was in the film and I was Arthur Seaton. His first punch was weak, badly directed for a soldier, it was high up on my chest but it still hurt and I threw up all the barbequed food in my stomach over his shoes.
‘You dirty sod,’ he screamed and lined up for a second punch.
‘Chaps? Don’t you think the fight should be a bit more even?’ Mathew inquired politely from out of the darkness behind me.
‘Bugger off, you poof!’ shouted the fiancé with his fist clenched and raised ready to hit me again.
But Mathew’s calm statement had the right effect: he had shamed them into fair play. Gordon let go of my arms. Stood to one side and I was left to face the younger man with my arms free. He swung at me again, hit me in the ribs and I fell over, he kicked me in almost the same spot and then Mathew intervened,
‘That’s enough,’ he said authoritatively.
The anger drained from the faces of the two soldiers, Delia’s fiancé pointed his finger at me, and wound himself up into another fury.
‘Look, look, you stay away from Delia, that’s your final warning,’ he shouted.
‘Get out of here!’ Gordon chimed in, ‘Don’t you understand? You’re not welcome; you’ve never been welcome. You don’t belong here! Get back to your…your kebab shop,’ then they marched off in step.
‘You alright Luke?’ Mathew helped me to stand up.
‘Yeah, they just…’ I tried to walk, felt dizzy and sick, ‘I’ll think I’ll sit down for a bit.’
Mathew sat down next to me,
‘All in all not been a good day for you has it?’
‘Not the best wedding I can remember.’
We sat there for five minutes in complete silence we could hear the strains of 007 by Desmond Dekker coming from the courtyard behind us.
‘You know, I don’t think you realised what an effect you had on Charlotte last year.’
‘Did I?’
‘She used to be the third member of the crying syndicate at the house but you changed all that when you were there. She changed a lot that summer, lifted herself out of it, you made her more positive.’
‘Really? I did that? Positive enough to go on a trip to Australia?’
‘Hmmm, yes. Now you stay there, I’ll get your friends. Perhaps it would be a good time to get going.’

My watch said 11.33. I was looking out of the Morris Minor’s side window, staring at the bushes and trees flashing past in the headlights’ glow on the M4 going back to London. Still a little drunk, I turned my head to watch Corrie dexterously put on her driving glasses; it was a sure sign that she was tired. I knew she was sober. Billy was snoring drunkenly in the back. The cassette played through a crackly version of Desperado, a tape I’d made the night before when I was having second thoughts about going to the wedding. We were on our way back, me in my new grey suit, my waistcoat flapping open, my crumpled silk tie stuffed into the pocket of my creased, dusty jacket. As the Morris’s engine whined and hauled us up the long slow climb over Membury I shut my eyes tight trying to block out the pain in my rib as well as the events of that day but the flickering images were still there, playing over and over again on the back of my eyelids.