Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Beloved Bad Penny

HMS Ark Royal (later version)

After my first tentative foray into dating with Harry, (see my blog post Coronation year 1953) I didn’t have a boyfriend for ages The boys of my acquaintance didn’t seem to fancy me. Maybe it was because I was so stick thin with under-developed breasts. I was very lonely and spent all my time and pocket money on going to the cinema. It says something of the era too, that I often went alone without any kind of fear whatsoever. I’ve already mentioned about my home town having three cinemas (see my blog post Film Stars, Hair-dos and Reminiscences) so there was plenty of choice.
              Looking back, I must have seen hundreds of films in those years and it was my love of the cinema that gave Mum an idea that might help me make friends. Both Picture Show and Picturegoer ran a pen-pals wanted column. Why didn’t I, she suggested, put a request in myself to see what turned up?
              The response was phenomenal. I received dozens of letters, many of them from young men doing their National Service. I wrote to a number of them initially, but as the months passed, I found myself corresponding more and more with a Northern Irish sailor. His name was Bill Lyttle from Portadown in County Armagh and he was serving on the aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, which gave him a kind of glamour in itself. Who hadn’t heard of the Ark Royal? His letters were amusing, interesting, often accompanied by postcards from far-flung places he called at on voyage
              By the time we arranged to meet on his next leave, I was already more than half in love with him. He was to stay with us for part of his leave in order for us to get to know each other. Not knowing what to expect aroused feelings of both trepidation and anticipation but I needn’t have feared. We liked each other immediately. Perhaps as importantly, Mum and Dad liked him too. And little brother Mark followed him round like a puppy! He was tall, with broad shoulders and a slim waist which he tended to exaggerate with short zip-up jackets. His sailor swagger, extrovert manner and strange accent confused the neighbours and nearly everyone thought he was American. He talked excitably and volubly about his many adventures and I was totally smitten. Yet he frightened me a little too. He was so sophisticated, so mature, for his then 23 years that I, a naive sheltered 17-year-old, almost found him too much.
              That first visit lasted only a few days as he’d promised to visit his folks as well. After his return to the Ark Royal, he wrote to me every day and it was obvious from the tone of the letters that he felt as I did. When he came for his next long leave, the whole of which we were to spend together, we got engaged. I think I must have been 18 by then and we went to Prestons of Bolton (a famous jewellers in Bolton now sadly closed down) for an engagement ring, a two-stone small diamond set in some silvery metal. I learned later that it is traditionally bad luck to choose a ring with an even number of stones. Had I known then, I would have scoffed for I was deliriously happy.
              He was stationed at Devonport by this time and able to get up for a long weekend about once a month so I was seeing more of him. Then, surprisingly quickly, things started to go wrong between us. At the beginning, I’d been over-awed by his glamorous personality. After a silly argument about him wanting to take some fish and chips on the bus, which I didn’t approve of (still don’t), I decided I’d had enough of all the arguing and gave him his ring back.
              ‘We’re not through yet, you and I,’ he yelled as he stormed out. ‘I’ll keep turning up in your life like a bad penny.’
              A couple of years after I’d broken our engagement off, he telephoned. ‘Do you know who this is?’ I knew instantly, of course, his accent was unmistakable. Much had happened to me in the intervening period, I was older and wiser now, I thought. I was not, however, prepared for the excited flutter I felt as we spoke. ‘I’ve got some leave coming up,’ he explained. ‘Could I come and visit you all for a few days?’
HMS Ark Royal (1957) the ship Bill was on
              I hesitated. ‘Just as friends,’ he was quick to point out. ‘Besides, I’m married now.’
              Mum and Dad agreed that there didn’t seem any harm to the proposal and so he came. That first visit passed as he’d said it would, just as friends, although we knew we were still attracted to each other. He told us all that the girl he had married, Sally, was from his home town and he’d known her since they were children. I guessed he wasn’t happy in the marriage. Why else would he want to come and visit us?
              We soon realised we were still in love but marriage was out of the question. Bill was a Catholic and there could be no divorce from Sally. Eventually the strain became too much for me and we broke up again. ‘You can’t do this to me again,’ he begged but I knew I had to be strong. There was no question of us living together. Couples simply did not do that in the early 1960s.
              It wasn’t to be the end even then. In 1963, when I returned from the United States, he telephoned once again. ‘Is Ron Williams there?’ he asked. You don’t know someone for nearly 7 years and not know their voice yet I pretended not to. ‘Just a moment, I’ll get him for you.’ My heart was thundering so much I could barely speak so perhaps he didn’t realise it was me. I called Dad and shakily passed the phone to him.
              Minutes later, Dad was back in the kitchen. ‘Bill is passing through and wants to know if he can call and see us,’ he said. ‘What do you think?’
              Mum and I looked at each other and I shook my head reluctantly. I was pregnant and having an illegitimate child was something to be ashamed of then. Dad went back to the phone and told Bill that it was probably better if he didn’t come, although not the reason why. Our hearts were heavy with sadness that night for all the family were fond of him.
              There was to be a sequel some years later. I’d often thought of him in the intervening years, especially with the troubles in Northern Ireland, for Bill had been brought up a Catholic in the largely Protestant town of Portadown. I was by that time, separated from my husband and, on a whim, I decided to try and find out what had happened to him. I placed an advert in the Portadown newspaper asking if anyone had any news of him. To my surprise, his sister wrote to me, via a box number, understandably very cautious about why I wanted to know. I wrote back frankly saying that I still thought about him and genuinely wanted to know how he was.
              The reply, written this time by Bill’s mother, devastated me. He’d left the Navy a year or two previously and while cleaning out some boilers he’d been overcome by noxious fumes, the effects of which had killed him. She reported that he’d left a wife, whether this was Sally I don’t know, and daughter.
              I cried for a long, long time, unable to believe that Bill was dead. He’d been so full of life, so vigorous, when I knew him that it seemed impossible that he should be no more. Somehow, I’d always believed that he would turn up again in my life, like he’d always promised. Now it was too late.
              Yet, in writing this, I have realised that he lives on as a very treasured memory of my first love.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Autumn Ramblings - and a rant!

September was a frustrating month. For it, I’ve was without internet access and, to be honest, I felt like I’d lost an arm. I should point out here that although I have a smart phone, I don’t use it for Facebook or Twitter – if I’m honest, it’s because they would be too much of a distraction! Nor do I bank online.

Indulge me for a short time while I tell you the woeful story. Sometimes my connection was on, sometimes it was off – more often off than on. Numerous phone calls to my service provider, were frustrating, to say the least. Eventually, they arranged for an engineer to call – but it was a week and a half away. ‘But I can’t do without the internet for a week and a half!’ I squeaked. I had to, of course. Eventually, when the engineer came, he’d fixed the problem which had been, he said, because of routine maintenance work in the area.

For a day and a half, I had an internet connection. Then – nothing again. Knowing that the maintenance work wasn’t due to finish until 19th September, I deliberately didn’t phone my service provider again until Tuesday 20th September. I was assured that the person I spoke to would be personally monitoring matters for the next ten days to ensure that I had the best possible broadband service. Oh, and please, not to ring again until the ten days had elapsed. The call ended up with her saying ‘Have a good day’ to which I replied ‘I would do if I had an internet connection.’ Talk about being fobbed off!

On Saturday, 24th September, my daughter and son-in-law visited, bringing with them their no-longer needed router which had been from the same internet service provider which my lovely s-i-l connected. Oh wonders! I had an internet connection – and I still have it!

Why, oh, why wasn’t I asked how old my original router was? (It was ancient) Surely that should have been an obvious starting point.
Colchicum - Autumn Crocus

In the midst of all this kerfuffle, I had a phone call claiming to be someone from my internet service provider who said they could fix the problem over the phone. As they knew my name, address and account number, I had no reason to doubt them. I allowed them remote access to my computer and they did various whiz-bang thingies that looked pretty alarming. When they said they were going to give me £200 compensation providing I gave them my bank details, alarm bells started ringing. When I refused, the line went dead. The only consolation was that I’d wasted about 45 minutes of their time. I immediately switched my computer off and rang my pet computer chappie who came up within the hour to delete a couple of programs that had been installed. So no damage done. But just goes to show how plausible it all sounded. My heart goes out to those who have fallen for these scams because now I realise how easy it is to fall for the scam.

Two areas of concern remain, how did they know my account details and how did they know I was having problems? Is this a major breach of security? I have written a strong letter of complaint to my internet service provider and mentioned both areas of concern.

On a more positive note, I did manage to write a couple of articles, prepare an author talk for an event on 19th September, sort all my tax records out and started making notes about book number three.

All this has left me pondering though. Just how much of our lives are dependent on the internet, unknown 30 years ago? Today, most young people seem to live their lives through their smart phones. You see them at bus stops, restaurants and pubs, texting or scrolling through social media. What’s going to happen in 20-30 years’ time? Will any one actually be speaking to each other by then? Or will smart phones be a thing of the past? I doubt I shall be around in 30 years’ time to find out!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

A youthful revolution?

Me, late 50s, note the gloves!!

In preparation for an up-coming author talk, I’ve been giving much thought to that time between 1954 and 1960 when a momentous change seemed to be taking place. It was a time between the post-war austerity and a growing affluence.
              Up till then we were little more than an extension of our parents, almost but not quite expected to be seen and not heard. We didn’t question authority, instead we were taught to respect it. We were still expected to do what our parents told us. If we were working, we were expected to ‘tip’ up our wages to our parents and be allocated spending money. This didn’t change for me until I was about 20 and started paying ‘board.’
Even the clothes we wore were similar to those worn by our parents, including hats and gloves. Because of the severe rationing in the early 1950s, there wasn’t much choice either, or much money to buy goods. Make-up was very basic and limited to Pond’s Vanishing Cream, Max Factor Panstik, blue or green eye-shadow and red lipstick. Perfume was either ‘Evening in Paris’ or ‘California Poppy’.
              Despite the impact the television coverage of the Coronation on the nation, most people still stuck to their trusted wirelesses, as radios were known then. The latter had played such a vital part in people’s lives during the war informing the nation what was going on. In the late Forties and early Fifties, the wireless, especially the Light Programme, became the main source of entertainment for nearly everyone.
              I was brought up on a listening diet of Children’s Hour while Dick Barton, Special Agent, and Paul Temple brought excitement into our living rooms. Housewives’ Choice meant Ann Zeigler and Webster Booth as well as Victor Silvester and his strict tempo dance band. On Saturday mornings, we had Children’s Choice with songs like ‘Sparky and His Magic Piano’ while on Saturday nights, we had In Town Tonight, following by Saturday Night Theatre. Sunday lunchtimes were marked forever by Forces’ Favourites later to become Family Favourites, followed by The Billy Cotton Band Show with its clarion call, ‘Wakey, wakey.’
              We were all influenced, during the war and just after, by ITMA, It’s That Man Again, Tommy Handley, with the blurred-with-whisky tones of Colonel Chinstrap, ‘I don’t mind if I do, sir,’ and the doleful Mrs Mopp with her catch phrase, ‘Can I do you now, sir?’ This led the way later to wonderful comedy programmes such as, ‘Much Binding in the Marsh,’ ‘Take It From Here,’ and ‘Educating Archie.’
              Who can forget, either, the deep rumbling tones of the Radio Doctor, whom we later discovered to be Dr Charles Hill, one-time Postmaster General. He came on at breakfast time and for some reason, seemed to talk more about the need for ‘keeping regular’ than anything else.
              In the early 1950’s, music was still very much influenced by the music our parents liked, big bands and dance band singers like Anne Shelton and Dickie Valentine. Dickie had almost as much of a following as any of today’s pop stars and there were scenes of near riot when he married his wife at Caxton Hall in 1954. The prevailing influence of music can be seen in the choice of records Dad bought with a new radiogram (on the ‘never-never’, of course). They were Dickie Valentine’s ‘No Such Luck’, Eddie Calvert and his Golden Trumpet with ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, Ruby Murray’s ‘Softly, Softly’, and Mitch Miller’s ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’.
              In the later 1950s, Sunday evenings were marked with the ritual of desperately searching for Radio Luxemburg and the Hit Parade, which was then based on the sales of sheet music not records. How delighted we were to find the measured tones of the so-called football expert who would spell out ‘K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M’ for we knew then that we’d found the right station.
              We were so innocent too. Nor surprising, really, when one considers that film stars, one of the biggest influences of the time, were merely allowed discreet kisses and the only passion was in the accompanying music. The newspapers, too, were guarded, the only references to anything sexual were the scanty underwear of the Daily Mirror’s ‘Jane’ cartoon or a mention of ‘disarrayed clothing’ in the News of the World.
              We were unknowledgeable about the wider world too. The main source of what was going on in the world came in the form of Pathé Newsreels at the cinema, very often weeks behind the times. The fiasco that was the Suez Crisis in 1956 did impinge on our consciousness a little, largely because there was so much debate about it. Of course, everyone thought the gun-boats should go in to snatch the Canal back from the Egyptians. When they didn’t, it seemed only right and proper that Anthony Eden, the then Prime Minister, should resign. It took some time to realise that this was the point at which the once-glorious British Empire began to expire. It wasn’t until the late Fifties, when more people started getting television sets, that the immediacy of the news brought graphic details of events into our living rooms, making us less insular.
Ca 1960, Imitating Holly Golightly!
              Then, the mid-Fifties, in a sudden burst of primeval energy, Rock n’ Roll burst upon us young people in the form of Bill Hayley and The Comets from the United States. We first heard his vibrant sound in the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’, a film so violent that it attracted an X rating from the censors but young people who heard it went wild, causing an uproar in the usually sedate cinemas. The following year, the film ‘Rock Around The Clock, featuring Bill Haley and The Comets had us going wild and dancing in the aisles. Providing you could find a cinema that would show it, so great had been reaction to it. It was a phenomenon that had our parents clucking their tongues in disgust and forbidding their offspring (me included) to go.   
Bill Haley was closely followed by the gyrating hips and the sultry looks of Elvis Presley which shocked our parents even more. They shook their heads in despair at the haunting ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
              Meanwhile, in a Soho coffee bar called the Two I’s, a lively young lad called Tommy Steele was discovered and within a year had become big enough to star in a film of his own life story. We all thought, if a 19-year-old ex-cabin boy can do it, so can we, and we all wanted guitars. Even I could strum a few chords to the tune of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’.     Commercial television came in with the mid-Fifties and, by the late Fifties, advertising had really taken off. The jingles of certain adverts became as well known to us as the Hit Parade – ‘John Collier, John Collier, the window to watch’; ‘Murraymints, the too good to hurry mint’; ‘You can be sure of Shell’; ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.’ The advertising agencies quickly came to the realisation that we teenagers, a new word imported from America, had more money to spend than our parents and overnight, it appeared, we were a market to be targeted.
              This was reflected in the ascendancy of such programmes on television as ‘6.5 Special’ and later ‘Ready, Steady, Go’. Browsing through record shops became a favourite Saturday pastime, especially being able to listen to them in sound-proof booths before buying.
              The late Fifties, with more money and more choice available, saw the boys dressed in sharp Italienate style suits with winkle-picker shoes. We girls followed suit by changing from tight bodices and full skirts with starched petticoats to sack-like dresses worn with masses of beads and bouffant hairdos.
              We really thought we were ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ might be. Yet, though we were on the doorstep of the Sixties, we were still hemmed in and conditioned by our up-bringing. If ever a generation was ripe for the liberation which came with the Sixties, it was us children of the Fifties.