Chapter 8

My Romances

There were very few true romances in my evacuation years. At the beginning, Brenda and her friends gave me all the female company I needed. After she had gone, Big Jean at home was very kind fora while, before reverting to her old, obnoxious self, and trying to make my life a misery. Girls were never included in "gangs", except for the one occasion when Buckett considered that a girl, or moll as he called her, was necessary to enhance his status as gang boss. And nobody of course disagreed with Buckett.

My love affairs were therefore very secretive; so secret that the most intense of them all was conducted almost completely by mail, made possible because the mother of the maiden in question delivered the village post, daily, for the duration of the war. I shall say more of this unusual amorous encounter later. But nature takes its course, and I felt I was getting on a bit at seven and a half not to have kissed a girl properly, not a peck on the cheek but a real kiss I mean - like they do in films. This was what we used to call a "film star kiss", long and lingering, to a count of four. Most of my friends had done it; David for instance, said he had been doing it for months.

"All you got to do is bend 'em back like this," he said, holding the handle of a kitchen mop in one hand and tenderly gripping the mop-head with the other, "then you comes down slowly and closes yer eyes, just when the lips meet."

Seeing my puzzled expression, he added, "If you closes 'em before, you might miss". He made it sound so simple - he knew everything about kissing David did.

I was thinking deeply about this kissing thing one morning during school assembly. After the hymn but before the blessing as I remember, when I first noticed Margaret Potts looking at me in a funny way. She had the blackest hair and the brownest eyes I had ever seen. Black hair had always attracted me; I never liked fair-haired girls, and my own hair, blonde and silky, disgusted me. Miss Pilchard, when I was in standard one, once held a contest in the classroom to see who had the fairest hair and I won. I hated her for that because for a long time after they called me "Blondie" at school.

At the morning break, Margaret's friend, Janet, passed me a note through a hole in the playground fence. This was the generally accepted post box for love letters, or just for looking through and talking, boys' and girls' playgrounds being separated by a high wooden fence.

"Margaret told me to give you this," she said brusquely, "and she wants an answer immediately."

I knew Janet had made the last bit up. She was always bossy and she had fair hair, so I didn't like her much anyway. In the distance I could see Margaret, her yellow sash contrasting perfectly with her navy blue gym-slip. She was standing, one hand on hip, in a pose showing to best advantage her new wellies - black and shiny. My eyes looked down at the note and my heart missed a beat; it read something like this:-

Dear George
Can I meet you at Fernhill, near the big chestnut tree tonight. I'll be there at 6 o'clock. I think I love you, do you love me?

with love from

(this was followed by many kisses)

I read the note again, hardly believing my good fortune. Everybody knew the big chestnut tree at Fernhill, you could climb to a height of six feet or more up it, and you were still climbing the roots. I nodded my head to Janet and mumbled something, which she assumed to be "yes".

"You would be silly not to turn up," she sneered, the tone in her voice hinting that only she was privy to what delights were in store for me....

I was almost late that evening for my date and had to run the last half mile to Fernhill. Margaret was there as arranged, and her friend Janet. We walked to a nearby field and sat by a haystack. Janet, to my relief, wandered off, her matchmaking complete. The musty scent of old hay was all around us, hanging on the moist evening air. I recognised the song of a thrush, giving his evening chorus and in the bushes behind us a hen pheasant clucked warily as three rabbits fed too close to her private hedgerow. I would never have seen or heard any of these things if I hadn't come to live at Wootton on the Isle of Wight.

Margaret moved closer to me - so close that all I could see were her eyes and hair, her gorgeous hair. She came forward as if to kiss me and I backed away, my face flushing with embarrassment. I didn't know what to do and all those lessons with the mop meant nothing now. Sensing my distress, Margaret had a brilliant idea.

"I'll run around the haystack and if you can catch me you can kiss me," she said teasingly.

Magaret's InvitationMagaret's Invitation

She set off, and I followed, falling over her as I turned the first corner. I strongly suspected she had fallen on purpose. We sat there, looking at each other; well this was it - there was no way out of it now. Margaret came close and shut her eyes. It wasn't quite like David had said, but at least she couldn't see the anguish on my face as our lips met. The bending back bit was impossible, as we were both sitting down, but it was nice - I suppose. We kissed three more times, then Margaret said she had to go because it was getting late. We walked to her house in Station Road, arranging to meet again the following night, at the haystack to save time. As we approached the house, her father was waiting at the gate, leaning over it with his arms folded. He was a naval officer, and wore the uniform of a submarine Commander with two and a half gold rings on his sleeves; Margaret told me all this as we approached him and I knew he must be a brave man to be going under the sea in a submarine, so he would probably tell me off. He eyed me up and down as he said sternly, "Where have you been Margaret, I've been waiting to go," he looked down on me accusingly. I felt the blood rising again and wished I didn't blush so easily.

"This is Georgie, he's brought me home." "Well - that's very nice of you young man, thank you very much."
"That's alright sir."

I turned and began to run quickly, back the way I had come. Nobody had ever called me "young man" before, and it felt good. I tried mimicking the way he said it, "that's very nice of you young man", it sounded so grown up. I'll bet David or Hugh had never been called that. The following night we met as arranged, but only kissed once. Margaret said she had a cold sore on her lip and had to get home even earlier. We bumped into Janet on the way home, so she walked back with her.

The next day at school Margaret avoided my gaze at morning assembly, but I still went to Fernhill that evening. I couldn't see her anywhere, so I wandered over in the direction of the haystack. Voices were coming from the other side and I distinctly heard Margaret's laughter. Janet was probably with her I thought. Then I heard Margaret's voice say, quite clearly. "I'll run around the haystack, and if you catch me you can kiss me." Round the corner she came running, closely pursued by a boy. He caught her easily as she fell down, and I saw his face clearly. From my concealed position I watched as he landed on top of her. Now I would see how to do it - he would show me how to kiss a girl from a sitting position, if anybody could.

It was David, yes David, my friend. He stood up slowly, pulling Margaret with him, then bending her back from the waist he brought his mouth down slowly on hers, closing his eyes when the lips were about to meet. I smiled, David made everything look so easy. He knew so much and it was great to have him for a friend. He had taught me so many things - about the countryside and fishing and everything, and now all about girls and kissing. Turning, I walked quietly away. Each evening the sun seemed to stay a little higher in the sky and it would soon be summer. A blackbird flew across my path, its chattering alarm startling me for a moment. I'd noticed some nice bluebells near the entrance to Fernhill, perhaps I could pick a bunch on the way home. There didn't seem much point in waiting for David - he could be some time.

My next love was Wendy. A period of some two and a half years had elapsed since my first rejection and why Cupid decided to shoot his arrow with such deadly accuracy and devastation after so long a time, I shall never understand. I must have been ten years of age at the time and she was six months older, her birthday being in November.

Wendy had everything. Not only what enchanted me most, long black hair, but also all the other things I admired in a girl. Her perfect teeth flashed white against smiling lips, and her skin was the colour of honey which darkened to a glowing bronze in the summer months. Eyes, brown and sultry, seemed to look right through you to your very soul. She was superb. I usually only saw her from a distance. She attended a private school at Ryde, took dancing and singing lessons, rode a horse frequently and belonged to organizations in which she excelled. There was one common ground, however, on which I could meet her; the stage of the village hall. Pantomimes, concerts and fund-raising shows were regularly held in this hall and were usually organised by the Hon. Mrs. Mitchison. Wendy was always asked to take part, which she did, performing one of her tap dancing and singing routines from the most recent of her large repertoire.

It was during rehearsals for the children's pantomime "Cinderella" that I first got close to her. She was doing a solo dancing and singing act to a "Little Bo-Peep" nursery rhyme. Her dress was peacock blue and she wore matching bows in her hair, with another large blue bow adorning a glittering shepherd's crook, which she twisted and twirled in the air with great skill. Heavy stage make-up accentuated her lips and eyes. I was enchanted by everything about her and fell instantly in love. But how does one summon up the courage to speak to a Goddess? The simple answer was not to. Why not write a letter instead? I could let Wendy know my feelings and wouldn't have to face the embarrassment if she spurned me. I knew where she lived in the High Street and would only have to pop it through the letter box. Then I realised that Iris, who was in my class at school, lived next door to Wendy. She could give it to her and save me all the bother, and risk of detection, in delivering it myself. Iris would probably make fun of me, even more so if Wendy read the contents to her, but it was a chance worth taking. And so, with well considered words, I wrote my first true sweetheart a love letter.

The contents of this letter I honestly cannot recall. It was probably on the lines of the ones I used to write to Margaret all that time ago. I know it was short. No point in prolonging a letter which, in all probability, would be torn up amongst peals of laughter. To my amazement, a letter came back from Wendy the very next day, via Iris, who smirkingly passed it to me with some comment or other in front of everybody. I hoped she and Wendy hadn't cooked up the whole thing together, how embarrassing that would be. I waited until I could be alone before opening the pink-enveloped communication, noticing only a large exciting 'X' at the point of its joining flap, guaranteeing its unopened status, (future letters from Wendy were sealed with sealing wax).

"I feel the same and have often noticed you. Of course you may write to me again.... etc." she wrote - amongst other adrenalin-pumping statements.

That day, if not the same hour, I replied to Wendy. After all, I had her written permission to say how wonderful she was, and I went to town. My second letter was given to Iris, for onward transmission. The contents are again hazy, but I'm sure that if the word "love" had been removed, it would have been half its length. The next day another letter came from Wendy, but not via Iris. None other than Wendy's mother delivered it to me, by hand, in the school playground during her postal delivery to the school. As mentioned previously, she was the village postlady at that time and she told me that if I wanted to answer it she would collect it from me at about this time any morning, at the school. This was perfect. I now had a direct line, via God, to my Goddess. I even excused Wendy's mother her blonde hair, it was too fair to be natural and in all likelihood was dyed or bleached. No relation of Wendy could possibly have fair hair.

From that day on, letters flowed to and fro, meaning two or sometimes three per week, per lover, weekends there being no deliveries of course. The content of these letters grew more passionate. I said I would brave anything for her - mountains, rivers, wild beasts - except on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, (Cubs, cinema and chapel). Sometimes a bulging letter from Wendy contained a couple of boiled sweets, sticky and folded in writing paper, other times Nuttall's Mintoes, which had their own individual wrappers and were much more edible. Once she sent a small chocolate bar, melting and soft amongst her passionate words. In return, not wishing to copy her sweets theme, I sent her a small booklet of Famous Railway Engines, which she politely sent back. As things progressed I also sent an engagement ring, purchased from Woolworth's Threepence and Sixpence store in Newport, which I seem to remember my mother financed on one of her rare visits. Later, I sent sheets and sheets of arrow pierced hearts, then drawings of Cherubs with wings and lovers kissing, which I had traced from my Bible or newspaper advertisements.

Her letters eventually took on a "when can we meet" vein. I excused myself from this, saying I was very busy, especially at weekends. These excuses grew thin after a few weeks, and the inevitable meeting grew closer and closer. This fear of meeting Wendy was unexplainable. I often ducked behind a wall or hedge if I saw her in the village. The only reason I can give for this behaviour was the awesome difference in our princess and pauper lifestyles. The day dawned when I was to visit her home for tea. My only decent walking out attire was a blue suit, consisting of a jacket and short trousers. It matched the colour of spring bluebells and that's what Buckett and all the senior Mafioso called me if they saw me in it - Bluebell. Those lower in the pecking order simply smirked and kept quiet.

It was a catastrophe. Not only was I tongue-tied but I had no idea of how to behave. Small quarters of paste sandwiches with the crusts cut off did little to satisfy my appetite, but I pretended that three of these dainty morsels were enough. Fairy cakes followed, with what passed for wartime buttercream holding the sliced off tops. I restricted myself to one, when I could easily have devoured the whole plateful. Jelly and custard completed the meal, I never was fond of this strange combination and failed to understand why parents thought they were a children's favourite, I much preferred prunes and custard which gave one the added bonus of counting (or flicking) the stones. I therefore refused a second helping of this as well, leaving the table almost as hungry as when I sat down. A game with playing cards followed. It was far too complicated for me to grasp and was a children's form of bridge I suspect. A small but vicious dog, a Scottie I think, attacked me at frequent intervals, especially if I even approached his territorial chair. There followed a discussion about the benefits of the Roman Catholic religion, which I had never even heard about at, chapel, let alone being able to pass an opinion on; then, most embarrassing of all, questions were asked about my mother and father. The final straw could have been the cup of tea which should not, apparently, be cooled with puffs of air from pursed lips.

Tea at Wendy'sTea at Wendy's

But final straw it must have been. I never had another letter from Wendy, and I never wrote either. She became just another mortal I tried to avoid. If I passed her in the street, she inclined her head sideways or stared straight ahead, right through me to something a mile away. On her horse she would swish her riding crop angrily, indicating that for two pence she would willingly thrash this upstart who had dared to trifle with her affections.

Our paths did not cross again, on stage or off, but for me there will always be the embers of a great big fire, which was my most memorable childhood romance.

The third, though hardly a love affair, was very short. I only include it because I think it ended all concept of childhood romances, introducing me instead to the adult world of mature relationships. Her name was Eileen, and she was much older than me. I was approaching thirteen years of age, having stayed at Wootton after the war for a time. Girls were by now accepted almost on equal terms to us boys and I treated them as such, respecting their sound common sense, good cooking, and in a wary way, their unusual charm and good manners. Games of rounders, cricket and tag could be played with them, and because we usually beat them - well - they were OK. At swimming they were sometimes better than an us and the costumes they wore for bathing showed to full advantage their changing, exciting forms. In particular, I had always been attracted to Eileen's outgoing, provocative personality, which together with my fetish specification for long-haired, overpowering brunettes, made me feel awkward and shy with her at times. This was a sure sign that romance was blooming.

It was near the great oak tree at Lakeside that I realised Eileen was taking on a different shape very quickly, she seemed to alter almost weekly. Her hair was, of course, black and she had a wild gypsy nature, able to hold her own in any scrap with a girl, and even with some boys. The game we were playing was simple enough, though hardly with much point. Catch one another, then hold down for the count of ten, then I forget how the game went. Severe physical punishment was meted out between boys, but lustful restraint only was given to the girls. The game was flagging a little, exhaustion starting to overtake us, when. at last I captured Eileen. Throwing her to the ground I pinned her arms and body to the floor and began my slow count to ten. She arched her body to break loose, several times trying to beat the count so to speak. Her efforts became slower and as I leaned close I felt the whole length of her body close to mine, yielding yet firm. Eileen's subjection in our contest was complete, but she continued to move with an almost imperceptible and ever so slight motion, causing a tingle to run up and down my spine such as I had never experienced before. Her breathing changed from a single deep intake to a strange double sound, almost like sobbing or distress. I was only inches from her face, which looked strangely different. The pupils of her eyes were enlarged, like two black mirrors in which I could clearly see my own reflection. She stared at me, unblinking, for what seemed an age, before lowering her eyelids in mock submission. Her skin was moist from her exertions, like the bloom on a peach damp with dew, and her lips were slightly parted showing the pinkness of her tongue. I knew at that moment Eileen was no longer the gangling schoolgirl friend of yesterday, but nearly a woman.

Did the earth move for you too?Did the earth move for you too?

What had David said? "You come down slowly and close your eyes just when the lips meet". I needed no more lessons now, it was easy - I wanted to kiss Eileen and it seemed as natural as breathing. I knew she would not refuse. She spoke, her voice was husky and breathless, her look unwavering. "I mustn't do it, I've got a boy-friend", she said. The fire in me subsided, as if drenched with water. I knew she had a boyfriend and he was big and strong and he came from some village or town nearby to see her every week-end, and sometimes during the week. Suddenly I could think of several good reasons not to kiss Eileen. But I knew she had wanted to, and that was enough. Her mother's lessons in morality - and other minor complications - had won through, but I would like to have had my first real kiss from Eileen. The oak tree under which Eileen and I almost kissed was struck by lightning a short while later, you can still see the damage. One large branch fell just where we had lain, and I sometimes wonder why.


There isn't much very special about my three romances, but they all helped me in their own way, in the lonely world of my boyhood. You, Margaret, introduced me to the first pangs of love. Wendy will always be my first true sweetheart, no matter how ridiculous it seems now. And you Eileen showed me how powerful is the force of physical attraction.

Bless you all - wherever you may be.