DIARY 17 November 1967 King’s Road, Chelsea. Part two

Swinging down the King’s Road, Chelsea. Part two

King’s Road or Kings Road? I go for the apostrophe; it was originally ‘The King’s Private Road’, literally. King Charles II had it built for his own purposes to allow him to travel between London and Kew.

Mary Quant opened her boutique on King’s Road in 1955 when young people were beginning to demand their own fashions. Property prices shot up as it became the boutique centre of London; gentrification set in, squeezing out the bohemian artists and writers. By the late 1960s, King’s Road became the place to be seen and its regular customers were the new celebrities of swinging London.

Many boutiques sold clothes designed and made by the shop owners, similar to established fashion houses. Prices (still in guineas[1]) were out of the reach of many people, especially students on a grant. My student colleagues at Chelsea College showed very little interest and I would walk alone past the colours and noise of the boutiques. King’s Road, however, had competition; Carnaby Street and Portobello Road were becoming even more lively and cheaper.

Carnaby collage.jpg

I was introduced to Carnaby Street by a young woman I met in a café one day. It was just a friendly encounter as we both tried to find somewhere to sit. She was shopping in King’s Road but said she didn’t like it because the shops were too snooty. She was about 19 and dressed in the short-skirted fashion that identified her as a ‘dolly bird’ in the sexist slang[2] of the time. I had finally met my first real Londoner, complete with East End accent. She called herself Debs.

This was not a pick-up ruse.  She told me about her boyfriend, Courtney, and I told her why I was in Chelsea. She promised to take me to Carnaby Street which she said was much more fun. A few days later we went there and she showed me the brasher, less pretentious boutiques. She headed straight for Aristos boutique and went upstairs saying she knew the owner. Aristos Constantinou[3] was sitting cross-legged in traditional tailor pose sewing the finishing touches to an orange mini-dress. We sat in the shop, drinking instant coffee and deafened by the pop music coming through the speakers. Despite, or perhaps because of, the noise, there was a steady stream of customers.

It was certainly more fun than Chelsea. The clothes were more affordable, made in the tailors’ workshops and sweatshops of the East End and Finsbury Park. This was where their customers came from too, rather than the well-heeled corners of Knightsbridge and Sloane Square. They developed their own fashions, including military jackets, trouser suits for women and patterned suits for men.

Aristos Constantinou became known as ‘the power of Carnaby Street’. He later joined up with his brother, Achilleas, and set up Ariella Fashions which supplied department stores and boutiques. The new fashions spread across the country at prices anyone could afford. And if you couldn’t get to a boutique, you could order fashion by post from Biba and many other mail order companies. The ‘rag trade’ expanded with old and new companies opening boutiques. A well-established fashion chain called Lewis Separates, selling women’s skirts, blouses and cardigans, opened a shop on King’s Road selling the new styles, renamed it Chelsea Girl; it became the first nationwide chain of boutiques.

Even then, I couldn’t afford the clothes. My mother offered to make me a dressing gown which she did after I had described the kaftan style and paisley pattern I wanted. I would wear it as a shirt but it still looked like a dressing gown.

I met Debs and her boyfriend a couple of times when we might go to a club such as the 100 Club. Once, she even arranged a blind date but there was nothing I could say to Sandra, a bouffanted, powdered trendsetter and she wasn’t impressed by me as a hairy scruffy student. I realised that I was out of place and let Debs and company drift away.

But, I had a taste of trendy London and it was pleasant. I was still alone but if I was lonely I did not feel it at the time.

[1] A ‘guinea’ was 21 shillings. A pound (£) was 20 shillings. This was a ruse to make prices look less than they were and was commonly used for fashion and high value items. The practice fell out of use with metrication in 1971 to be replaced by prices ending in 99p. 

[2] I never really got on with much of the slang of the 1960s such as ‘fab’, ‘groovy’ or calling everyone ‘man’.

[3] Aristos Constantinou became very rich and moved to Bishop’s Avenue, Hampstead commonly referred to as Millionaire’s Row. By coincidence, I lived near his factory in Wood Green in 1985 when I heard that he had been shot dead in unconfirmed circumstances. Despite hanging round these parts of London I never met anyone else who could be described as a ‘celebrity’.

Aristis collage

Aristos in the late 1960s, with his brother and his Carnaby Street shop

© Derek Perry 2017

Please get in touch if I have used your picture without acknowledgement.

 

DIARY 2 November 1967 Swinging down King’s Road Chelsea

If you are new to London, don’t bother with an expensive sightseeing tour bus unless you like an open top in the rain and commentary in 12 languages. Just take the number 11 bus. I would get on it near Manresa Road on King’s Road and it would take me eastwards towards Victoria and thence to the City. It would pass Sloane Square, Victoria, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Strand, Fleet Street and the Bank. Get off anywhere and within a short walk you will find most of London’s worthwhile sights.

Although I would arrive at South Kensington station in the morning and walk to college, the most useful bus was the number 11. It would take me to cinemas, clubs, demonstrations, galleries; or I could simply stay on until the terminus at Liverpool Street and take in the sights.

That is, if I wanted to escape from King’s Road. In 1967 it was the epitome of swinging London with new boutiques pioneered by Mary Quant and others, bars and clubs frequented by pop stars, lurid colour schemes applied to both buildings and vehicles, and bright young things in their mini-skirts and paisley shirts.

Collage Kings Road

Of course, I quite liked it. The vibrancy, the music that blared from shops, cars treated as art objects with two fingers in the face of stuffy 1950s London. Here I was in a place that seemed unique and promised to be the centre of a new expanding universe providing what some of us young people wanted.

It might have looked wildly chaotic to the staid observer but it was really not much more than a fashion statement, however revolutionary the mini-skirt and psychedelic colours appeared. The celebrities were pop stars or the entrepreneurs themselves such as Mary Quant and Alvaro Maccioni the restaurant owner.

There were some attempts to show that this was a dangerous place; but King’s Road was no Haight-Ashbury with its free love and drug-taking. I recall a popular sensationalist magazine called Titbits which asked the question ‘Are our girls in danger in swinging Chelsea?’. This headline was above a picture of a group of young women walking down King’s Road arm-in-arm. They need not have worried. These women were all known to me as fellow students and with their knee-length tweed skirts and sensible shoes they were completely incorruptible. King’s Road, with its new shops and restaurants patronised by some of the better-off was something of a breath of fresh air in a London still showing the scars of the Blitz, dirty buildings and grey streets. I had to go to Soho or Covent Garden (still a vegetable market) or the East End to find the darker places where there might be danger.

Collage My places

Not that I could actually go to many places in King’s Road. As a penniless student I could not afford the entry fee or the price of drinks and I knew no-one who could introduce me. Fortunately, there was a new concrete shopping centre called King’s Walk with a Boots and a supermarket where I could buy my essentials. The places I could afford were the Picasso Café where I ate my first proper spaghetti and the Six Bells which served ghastly Watney’s keg beer; I was forced to drink bottled brown ale. I chose this pub because Dylan Thomas had been a regular and they had jazz upstairs on Fridays; this was old bohemian Chelsea. I could buy a meal at The Chelsea Kitchen or The Stockpot. It was free to go into Gandalf’s Garden where you could lounge on large cushions and drink herbal tea. Late at night you could have tea and a sausage sandwich at a stall in Sloane Square; this is where I witnessed the cliched conjunction of a man in evening dress, a drunk, and a ragged homeless man all together at 2am one morning.

In the evening, I would meander back through the streets of South Kensington and take the Piccadilly Line back to Turnham Green and unremarkable Acton.

 

© Derek Perry 2017

DIARY 12 October 1967 First days at university

manresa001_1316065607

The impressive frontage of Chelsea College along Manresa Road[1], London SW3.

An open book

I joined the other freshers for our introductory talk in the wood-panelled lecture theatre which dated back to the 1890s. The lecturer must have been in his thirties and, due to his low status in the academic hierarchy, he was given the job of introducing the college to us oiks. We would not be introduced to the senior lecturers for some time.

This lecturer was dressed in the academics’ relaxed garb of tweed jacket, knitted tie and slacks. No academic gown but the college had only just become a university[2]. He was as bemused as we were; he commented on the fact that two or three of us men were wearing pink shirts which should not have been surprising since we were just one hundred feet from the boutique-laden King’s Road, Chelsea.

No register, no class timetable, no uniform, no compulsory sports, time off to read. We could even smoke in lectures although no-one did. It wasn’t much like school after all. I reckoned I could deal with this. I had a good education, passed my exams to get there, there was enough money to get by, and I had somewhere to live.

I tried to make friends but it was not long before I discovered how different I was from my fellow students. They, mainly men but a few women, appeared to have all grown up in the suburbs of London or Surrey. The first person I tried to strike up a conversation with had grown up in Surbiton which already had a reputation as the archetypal suburbia with social pretensions[3]. Several were the children of pharmacists or doctors; I decided to keep quiet about my origins.

They all had middle class accents; no sign of Cockney, not even the odd ‘gie us a butchers’. I was looking forward to meeting my first real Londoners but it would not be at Chelsea College. There weren’t many regional accents either. My Birmingham lilt confused some who asked if I came from Liverpool and did I know the Beatles? I admit to trying to change my accent, not because I was ashamed of it but because I was fed up with explaining that that I was not Liverpudlian. I did notice a distinct drop in interest when I revealed from whence I hailed so I just said I was from Acton.

I didn’t make any friends at college. They all went back to Surbiton or Wimbledon at the end of the day whereas I was on a voyage of discovery. No-one was interested in poking around the pubs of Soho, or the bookshops of Charing Cross Road, or slumming it in Covent Garden (still, at that time, a fruit and veg market, not the tourist trap it is today). I wanted to explore not just places and events but culture and ideas.

Chelsea_College_Library_at_Manresa_Road,_1970s_  manresa-road-ref-copy

The public library, Manresa Road, outside and inside, where I discovered much.

I had not read much as a teenager; science exams and spending evenings at a youth club left little time for inspirational or enjoyable reading. At school the fiction I read off-curriculum was a couple of Hardy’s Wessex novels, a bit of Tolkien and I quite liked Dylan Thomas. Whilst growing up, however, we had a small library at home; an alcove bookshelf next to the fireplace and behind the television. These had been bought by Dad either in bulk round about the time I was born or through a book club. Most were published by a company called Odhams whose books you rarely saw in shops.

My father will never know how grateful I was for this library. There were encyclopedias, history books, photograph albums, novels, popular science texts, how to make and do things. I must have read them all, several times. Then I would go to the public library in Bournville to find more books. When I had read everything of interest in the children’s section, by the age of ten or eleven, I was in the adult section absorbing anything that appealed at the time including Scottish history, steam engines, electronics, radio comedy scripts, Punch magazine, philately. Not much imaginative writing however; no novels, just a little poetry.

Diary 671002 First day at university

I devoured these brilliant books. And more, including Turgenev, Camus, Kafka, Anouilh etc.

In Chelsea, the public library and the college next door were symbiotic; I could borrow books using my college library card. It became my haven where I discovered French and Russian novels; German, British and American poetry, existentialist literature, absurd theatre, modern English and American writers and so much more.

I was on the road to ruin; I would never be the same again. In the evening I would go back to Acton, to Mrs Haggar, Jeffrey and Rusty. With no television or even a radio I would carry on reading.

[1] The building was sold off to property developers and by 2015 Manresa Road was considered to be the third most expensive street in England with average property prices approaching £7.5 million. As I write, a seven-bedroom flat is for sale at £25.5 million. Just a few years ago it was the home for students, artists, writers. Now it is an expensive sterile desert. I also think this is a photoshopped picture – the building was never this long!

[2] The college was built in 1895 as a high level academic institution devoted to science and technology, as opposed to the humanitarian objectives of established universities. Other advanced institutes were established as ‘polytechnics’ at the time, taking their inspiration from the Ecole Polytechnic set up by Napoleon in Paris. The college awarded degrees endorsed by the University of London until it was given university status in 1966.

[3] A popular British sitcom of the 1970s, The Good Life, was set in Surbiton. It contrasted the lives of neighbours, one couple attempting to be self-sufficient by turning their suburban home into a small holding and their upwardly mobile, snobbish neighbours.

DIARY 2 October 1967 Going to London

 

Manresa Road   

Destination: Chelsea College of Science and Technology, Manresa Road, London SW3.

Going to London

Monday 2 October 1967 was an ordinary day in Birmingham. There were rain showers, interspersed with occasional clear skies, about usual for the season. But for me it was far from ordinary. I was leaving home to go to university in London. It meant saying goodbye to everyone I knew to go to a place where I knew no-one. I was not daunted; my anticipation was high.

I put my few clothes and other personal items into an ex-Navy duffel bag; my wardrobe was still suffering from an excess of school uniform and regulation grey trousers and white shirts which I gladly jettisoned. I said ‘goodbye’ to Mom in the living room. We were not an expressive family but I kissed her on the cheek and felt as if I was abandoning her.

My brother and sister were at school or work; Dad was in hospital. I had already said goodbye to my girlfriend, promising to come back for weekends. I slung my bag over my shoulder and left through the front door. No-one was there to wave goodbye and I didn’t look back. I walked down the road and caught the bus to town.

Getting off the bus, I walked round New Street railway station to Digbeth coach station where I paid just over a pound for my one-way ticket on the Midland Red motorway express. I had twelve pounds in my pocket, saved up from my summer job at Boots, about a week’s wages for some. I had refused financial help from my family. I had opened my first proper bank account at Barclays and I had a grant cheque for £128. It was more cash than I had ever owned at one time although it included my rent and had to last until Christmas.

CM6T

Considering my current business venture (as a manufacturer of model buses), I could not miss this opportunity to include a picture of a bus. This is the Midland Red Birmingham to London motorway express 1967.

Although the motorway began and ended short of both cities, I reached Victoria in less than three hours. Compared to the decrepit steam railway, these coaches reached up to 80 miles an hour on the new motorway and seemed to be the future. I relaxed, temporarily, in its fast-moving luxury. Then, suddenly, I was pitched into the apparent chaos of London, all alone, heaving a duffel bag that seemed to be getting heavier.

New students were normally expected to live in a hall of residence but Chelsea College of Science and Technology had only just received university status and did not have enough rooms for all its freshers. I was placed in ‘digs’ in Acton. Although I had been on the tube (once) before it was perplexing to find my way to Turnham Green. Once there, I began to use my new A to Z to find my way to Hatfield Road, London W3.

Hatfield Road

Our room was the upstairs front bedroom.

I was introduced to Jeffrey, a third-year student of pharmacology with whom I would be sharing a room. We had little in common except our field of study. He came from Mountain Ash in south Wales and, I believe, returned there after his studies. I was surprised about how two years in London had changed him not at all.

Our landlady, Mrs Haggar, lived downstairs. She was becoming elderly and was not overtly friendly; she would spend her days in a small living room with her dog, a Labrador cross called Rusty. He, on the other hand, was wildly enthusiastic; we were two young men away from home and far from those who might show us affection. We were grateful for Rusty’s attention and I would take him for walks in the local park where we both enjoyed a feeling of freedom.    

Mrs Haggar provided us with breakfast every morning but we hardly ever saw her. She cooked eggs early in the morning and left them for us. By the time we partook of this feast they would have congealed into something unrecognisable as food. Rusty would snap them up but I worried for his health. Feeding them to the dog might have been a mistake because it looked as if we had actually enjoyed them and so they kept coming nearly every morning.

The next day Jeffrey helped me to find my way to the college. Back to Turnham Green station, we took the Piccadilly Line and got off at South Kensington. Finding our way through one of those typical London squares I noted that the houses were very palatial but still in a terraced row like Dawlish Road back home (but completely unlike in all other respects).

After a couple of confusing turns, we were in Manresa Road. To the left was Chelsea College of Art and to the right Chelsea College of Science and Technology. They might have appeared to be a matching pair but I later learned that there was virtually no contact, academically, socially or culturally between the two colleges.

College Manresa Road Door

Chelsea College entrance, Manresa Road.

I presented myself at the college door with the other new students, adjusted my red chiffon scarf, buttoned up my maroon cord jacket and registered.

 

Copyright © Derek Perry according to current law. Not to be reproduced in any medium without permission. Applicable to all pages published here.

 

 

DIARY 25 September 1967 Birthday boy

19 years old today

1967 Derek Perry CROP

Probably my ‘official’ photo from 1967 for my passport and ID cards. Possibly the only time I wore a suit and tie that year. Hair still struggling to grow out of my school cut but the sideburns are doing rather well. I hoped the spectacles would make me look intellectual but John Lennon style wire spectacles were much desired.

Nineteen today. Celebrations were overshadowed by the fact of me leaving home soon and my Father becoming seriously ill.

My girlfriend gave me a silver Saint Christopher medallion; a nice one, set in a silver ring and personally engraved ‘with love’. A gift for a traveller which I treasured for a long time. I can’t remember how we celebrated; we were not part of any group we could go to a party with, but we did occasionally go dancing. I would be leaving for London within a week.

The Station Inn opposite Selly Oak station used a large room for ‘socials’ which meant having someone play records to dance to and the occasional live band. I definitely recall seeing Jimmy Cliff. There was also a band called ‘Way of Life’ who appeared at the Station Inn earlier in the year with a great drummer called John Bonham[1]; by the end of 1967 he had joined up with a guitarist called Robert Plant to form ‘Band of Joy’.

The Station Inn had ultra-violet lighting which would make white knickers glow in the dark unless you wore a dark skirt. This lighting had other strange effects. At that time, there was an attempt to market dry shampoo which meant combing a white powder through your hair. This was impossible to remove completely and young women would appear with an ethereal halo due to the ultra-violet. 

Station Inn 1996

The Station Inn a few years later; behind the five windows was the music room. For a short time, this was on the Birmingham’s music club circuit. Now renamed ‘The Bristol Pear’ but I am not sure why.

My Father had been ill for several years with heart disease. About four years earlier he had suffered a heart attack which left him weakened and short of breath. He had to give up his job as a milkman; heaving full crates of milk had become impossible. However, Cadbury’s gave him a sitting down job measuring the size of chocolate particles using a microscope which required much less effort.

Nevertheless, he spent the next few years short of breath, occasionally in pain and on constant medication with warfarin[2]. There were several scares when he would be taken to hospital by ambulance. Nowadays, with the availability of better medication and surgery, Dad would have been restored to better health. For us teenage brothers and sisters, we had to avoid upsetting him in case of triggering a heart attack; this was difficult, at a time when we would be naturally rebelling, to have to tread so carefully.

Just before my birthday we had to call the ambulance again. Dad survived and was allowed home a few days later; at the age of 55 it looked as if he might be housebound for the rest of his life. It was not a particularly happy birthday.

[1] Do I have to tell you he was one of the greatest drummers in the world in one of the greatest bands in the world, Led Zeppelin? On this day, 25 September 1980 John Bonham died after consuming 40 shots of vodka.

[2] We only knew this as rat poison and thought it odd that something used to kill rats was keeping our Dad alive.

DIARY 18 September 1967 Whither university

Whither university for this boy?

BRISTOL RD, SELLY OAK 22-8-52  Dawlish Road 1964 JPG

Left: Birmingham University tower and the Great Hall. The clock tower is 99 metres tall and is the largest freestanding clock tower in the world. It dominated the skyline over Bristol Road, the main street through Selly Oak. Dawlish Road joins it to the right, opposite the white building. Right. Dawlish Road in the 1960s. Fifty years later many of these houses are let to students.

 

No-one in my family had ever been to any university. My father grew up in Dawlish Road, Selly Oak with the tower of Birmingham University looming over the terraced streets barely a mile away.  Despite its proximity it was a world away; I did not venture into the grounds until I was sixteen.  

I knew no-one who had ever been to a university among my extended family, friends or neighbours.  My parents had left school at fourteen with no prospect of further education. In the 1960s, you only had to stay in school until you were fifteen. With plenty of jobs and a pointless education, most young people were glad to leave. Your future was decided at age 11 when everyone took a school examination called the ‘Eleven-plus’. Those who passed would be offered a place in a grammar school or similar. The rest, including everyone at Raddlebarn School except me, went to a secondary modern school.

In a secondary modern school the pupils were not expected to take ‘O’ levels[1]; boys and girls were kept busy learning useful basic skills while they waited to be fifteen and left for a job in a factory or a shop. I passed the eleven-plus and took another exam to get into King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys[2]. This was an offshoot of King Edward VI School in Edgbaston, founded by the eponymous Edward in 1552. The Camp Hill school dated from 1883 and had moved into fine new buildings with extensive grounds and sports facilities at Kings Heath in 1956.

We were advised by a family friend who was a headmistress that this was a very good school and I deserved to go because I was so clever. She tutored me through the 11-plus. There was some reluctance from my parents because of the cost. My place was free but the school uniform would cost a fortune. Apart from the jacket and tie, they required a rugby shirt in school colours and even gym shorts in a specific shade of maroon only available from one shop. My Dad explained the problem but, as always, said that such choices were mine. If I thought it was a good idea then he would help as much as possible. Although I had only just turned twelve I got a job as a butcher’s boy to help pay for it.

While my old school friends went off to be factory fodder, I was to read Shakespeare, learn Latin and French, study nature and even a bit of philosophy. No use whatsoever at Cadbury’s or ‘the Austin’. No-one, including myself, understood what I was meant to do with all this apparently useless knowledge; I thought it was a reward for being clever. It seems that the middle and upper classes did not have enough intelligent people to manage their affairs so they selected a few of us brighter working class children to be trained up as managers and administrators.

Going to Camp Hill school was not an end in itself. After leaving school, you would be expected to go on and qualify as something else or go into your father’s business. For me, I had no idea what a useful qualification might look like; and there was no family business to aspire to.[3] When I passed my ‘A’ levels I had no idea what I would do. Going to university allowed me to put off the decision of how to obtain an income. I assumed I would go to Birmingham University so that I could live cheaply at home. In those days, there were no fees and I would get a grant[4].

My family was somewhat perplexed by my decision. I do not remember being congratulated on getting a university place because to them my future was now completely uncertain. It was put to me that with my ‘A’ levels I could get a damn good job with Cadbury’s or ‘the Austin’. However, my mental landscape was widening and the prospect of being stuck in a factory disconcerted me.

In any case, I was clearly a bright boy and deserved better. I had already excelled at church, at Boy Scouts, at the local youth club, as a paper boy. I was ahead of everyone at primary school.  At King Edwards VI Camp Hill School I was up against boys who had also excelled by passing the 11-plus. Winning first place became less frequent but I still won prizes and plaudits for biology and nature studies. Despite my lack of interest in sport, I was even selected to play rugby for the school (2nd XV) and cross-country team[5]. I was quite popular amongst my classmates.

It seemed natural that I would continue to aspire. I had achieved everything that could be achieved by a boy from Raddlebarn. Unfortunately, I had no idea what else I could do or how I would be received. Before I left school I found out that it would not be so easy. I was good at zoology and had a genuine interest in nature. Becoming a doctor (GP) seemed a good idea, and I had heard that Cambridge had a well-respected medical school. I was informed by the school careers master that this was out of my league; what he meant was that working class boys did not become doctors.

At the time I accepted this situation and opted to study pharmacy.  Becoming a chemist with a shop seemed more feasible; I could not imagine becoming like the only doctor I knew, our middle-aged grey-suited GP, Dr Donovan.

So off I went, to London, because that was where I had been offered a place to study pharmacy. I had been warned that university was not like school but I decided I could handle the different teaching methods. What I was not prepared for were the social differences.

[1] Education authorities later invented the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) for these schools which was a sort of second grade ‘O’ level; you could get a GCSE in typing or technical drawing.

[2] King Edward VI Camp Hill School would never call itself a ‘grammar school’. There was a grammar school nearby in Kings Norton which dated back as far as King Edward VI High School and even had the original half-timbered building to prove it. However, it was always considered somewhat inferior despite being a perfectly good school.

[3] In my family, working life would always mean having a job working for someone else. The idea that any of us might run our own business or employ our own workers was beyond our comprehension. When I was eleven years old, a regular school exercise was a spelling test in which I invariably scored 100%. Except once when a girl named Gloria came top because I could not spell the word ‘business’. The concept was so alien that I could not even spell the word correctly.

[4] The grant was £385 per year for living expenses during term time only; during vacations I would have to get a job (the Post Office at Christmas was useful for this). This gave me over £10 a week during term time, not much less than the wage an eighteen-year old might expect starting work in 1967.

[5] The main result of all this physical activity was that I developed muscular thighs which ruined the fit of slim jeans and slacks.

DIARY 1 September 1967 My lonely summer

lulworth-cove-and-durdle

Durdle Door, near Lulworth Cove. I came here for three years running 1965 to 1967 with friends, staying in a caravan site on top of the cliffs.

I spent a miserable week alone in a decrepit caravan at Lulworth Cove in September 1967. I should have been joined by my friend Rayner Bourton[1] but he wanted to be an actor and had been diverted by an opportunity. It took him three days to let me know but he had a good excuse, whatever it was. His absence did not increase my misery.

I spent my time wandering along the beaches and reading. I joined another boy of my age who was taking a boat from beach to beach along the coast selling ice cream. I went along for the ride and he seemed happy with my company. Otherwise, I was on my own.

My girlfriend was on a P&O cruise to the Canary Islands with her mother. Her father had died the previous year and this trip was meant to be either a consolation or a celebration. I had hitched a lift in her mother’s car to the south coast. I would see her off at Southampton, go to Lulworth and greet her as she returned. The ship’s departure was delayed for 24 hours so I was sneaked on board for the night and we watched The Manchurian Candidate in the ship’s cinema.

Next morning, I said ‘bon voyage’ to my girlfriend and she sailed off. Instead of a quick hug and a wave goodbye this enormous ship slowly heaved itself away from the dockside and down the Solent to the sound of a band playing, with flags flying and hooters hooting. Perhaps it was the theatrical nature of this departure but I felt as if I was saying goodbye to something for ever.

I had already thought a lot about going to London and leaving my girlfriend behind. Perhaps I should have been sensible and accepted that a long-distance relationship would not work. But, I was inexperienced in such things, and I was in love. I could still spend my weekends in Birmingham.  Was the feeling I had as the ship disappeared a premonition?

I got through my lonely week in the caravan somehow. I scratched her name in ten-foot high letters on the beach and watched the tide wash it away. I wrote love letters I never posted. I spent the last of my money on a bunch of red roses to be delivered to her when the ship docked. This extravagant gesture was not simply to welcome her back; it was meant somehow to obliterate the gap that was now between us.

I went back to Southampton to greet her as the ship arrived. I felt immediately that something had changed. Her greeting seemed perfunctory; I had expected something more affectionate. My roses had been delivered but they were in an untidy bunch and some had bent stems. I was put in the back of the car and felt ignored with mother and daughter in the front seats. I felt even more superfluous when she suggested we pick up a couple of hitchhikers.

I was devastated; what had happened to her? Why was she rejecting me? There were hints of a relationship with the ship’s photographer but how far had it gone? She had changed somehow in ways that I could not understand. I began to realise that my future with her may be uncertain. She would be seeking out new things just as I was would be doing in London.

Back in Birmingham I had a few days to sort out my luggage. It would be many years before I could deal with the emotional baggage from that summer.

[1] Rayner Bourton lived in Selly Park with his aunt. We were teenage friends, making a threesome with Roy Harrison. Rayner became an actor and was the first Rocky Horror on stage in The Rocky Horror Show. Roy became an estate agent and married Sue, the girl I wanted to take home one night from the youth club.