John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Towards the first kiss

Early Days

Barbara Swann
 1. Chris lived in Ascot Road, Thornton, and further down on the other side of the road, past where the two-storey houses give place to bungalows,
[i] was where Barbara Swann lived. If Chris and I saw her as we passed, we would stop and speak, and sometimes have long conversations with her at her garden gate. She was older than we were, and was no beauty; but to me, despite my going to a mixed-sex school, talking to a girl was something new and exciting. It was an easy thing to accomplish when Chris was near, but much harder if I happened to encounter her when I was alone. Then I would feel embarrassed and start to fidget and turn my head as if looking around for someone.
[i] Ascot Road… where the two-storey houses give place to bungalows: This is written from the standpoint of going along Ascot Road from Chris’s house. Barbara Swann lived in the third bungalow after the two-storey houses ended. The photo below was taken facing in the opposite direction. Chris’s house, No.19, is toward the far end on the right. The hip ends of the first two bungalows can be seen on the left; and the third one, the Swanns’, is out of shot.

2003 photo

 Many home-owners give their houses names, even though they are sufficiently identified for postal purposes by their number, in this case No.52; and indeed the Swanns’ house was named “Takoradi”, after the capital of the Western Region of Ghana. By the time Chris got to know the Swanns, the father had already died, presumably quite young, but he had worked in Ghana. There was a younger brother, Alan, who was about Chris’s brother David’s age and was in fact friends with him (cf. David Charles Woodhead and David Charles Jones, par.4).

1A. Chris had no such problem of shyness with girls. Indeed, he was at the Swanns’ house one afternoon and was introduced to another girl, about his age, who said she was their cousin.[ii] She also came from the vicinity of Denshaw, near Oldham, from where the Swanns hailed. This first encounter took place in the drive which led to the back of the bungalow; and presumably it was summer, because most of the time was spent in the garden. The conversation turned to Jones, and it transpired that this girl, who also went to Fleetwood Grammar School, was even in his class and sat behind him; so Chris and she swapped their stories of him, with much hilarity. She had actually flicked ink pellets at him, she said; and she also claimed to be the one who had taunted Jones with fake declarations of love. (Chris was already privy to Jones’s version of the story, and to the fact that these declarations of love had deeply troubled him.)[iv]

[ii] When Chris first related this, he added: “Was she really her cousin? Or did she just claim to be because they both came from near Oldham? I think she was a ‘false cousin’; they just ‘adopted’ each other because they [both came from the same place].”
[iii] This part of the story has a rather “comic-book” feel to it; one wonders how the perpetrator could avoid getting messed up with ink as much as the target.
[iv] In and around Davelyshome, par.5

 2. Chris and I once spotted Barbara Swann and a boyfriend in Cleveleys. They were in a sea-front shelter and wanted to do some necking, but we started spying on them from cover not far away. We weren’t very discreet, either, and initially their awareness of our presence and soon their annoyance at it became obvious. Our repeated giggling must have given away our location, for all of a sudden he sprang up and ran over to us holding up a clenched fist in front of our faces, demanding abruptly, “Do you want toothing?” (which interpreted means “If you don’t stop pestering us, I shall hit you in such a way as to knock your teeth out”).

Christine and Pat[v]
 3. The impression I had towards the end of that year, 1964, was that Chris was an “old hand” at getting off with birds; I hadn’t even started yet, I hadn’t experienced my first kiss. However, it seems from what he told me later on, that it was quite a recent experience for him, too. Apart from once, at the age of 10, before he moved to Thornton from Grimsby, when he kissed Julie Woodhead, the first bird he got off with was Judith Wilkinson, when he was working at the Boating Lake, Fleetwood, during the long summer holiday from school in 1964. She was from Burnley but must have been visiting her cousin Pat. And they, and Pat’s friend Christine, used to hang around the Boating Lake. Chris fancied Judith, and he got a date with her; they went up to some gardens near the Mount, Fleetwood, necking.

The Mount, Fleetwood
 4. When Chris finished at the boating lake and had been paid off, he had saved quite a bit of money; and he thought it would be a good idea to go out for the day to Manchester. By now Judith had gone back home to Burnley, but Pat and Christine were still around. And he asked them if they’d like to come with us, and they agreed to do so. For me, it was a blind date; I was to go with Pat, whom I hadn’t met before.

 5. We went by train to Manchester; they must have come to Thornton by bus, because we boarded the train at Thornton Station. We went to the fun park at Belle View where Chris and the girls went on “Bob’s”, the notorious roller-coaster ride. Chris was probably “shitting bricks”, as they say, about going on it, but decided to, out of bravado. I didn’t summon the courage to go on it; I made no attempt thus to impress my date, whom I found rather plump and unappealing. Christine, in my view, was somewhat plain but (in comparison with the other one) acceptable; she looked fairly neat in a white blouse with vertical blue or black stripes. Pat wore a dark dress with a somewhat scooped neck.

 6. In the environs of the Belle View park, a middle-aged to elderly man approached us, gave us a tract, and told us he was going to heaven. He asked us if we were, too. We found this highly amusing and couldn’t stop laughing at him. We told people later on: “This bloke stopped us and told us he was going to heaven!”

 7. Christine and Pat were quite happy for us to spend money on them, but then they lost interest in us and were after other blokes on the train home. They were chatting up these other blokes, or trying to get them into the compartment with us. Also on the train going home, Christine rejected the amorous advances of Chris, and asked him, “Why can’t you just do what he’s doing?” I was merely contenting myself with leaning my head on Pat’s shoulder. As far as Chris was concerned, this was a fairly expensive fiasco, “getting off with”-wise; if I remember rightly, he paid all our fares, for I hadn’t been working that summer.
[v] Christine and Pat: This story is also told in somewhat abridged form in Concerning the “Second First Visit” to Manchester.
Brian Collinge
 8. At the beginning of the school Autumn Term, 1964, a new face appeared at Fleetwood Grammar School, Brian Collinge, who had just moved to Fleetwood from Burnley, and who was in Peter Gooding’s class. That is how I met him, through Peter. It quickly became evident to us that Collinge was an expert on birds—or that was his reputation, or what he wanted people to think—and Chris and I were content to tag along with him to learn what we could from him.

 9. We met up with him one night at Fleetwood, where he was going to teach us how to pick up birds. But as far as Collinge and I were concerned, the evening was fruitless. Chris had more success by his own unaided efforts, however, for as we were walking past the Mount, he espied a girl sitting there under the Mount veranda on a bench, and he sat down next to her and put his arm round her. Was she upset about something and he spoke tenderly and consolingly? I just have the impression of that sort of tone of voice. When he joined Collinge and me again, I asked him what he had got off her, and I think he told me, “A bit of ‘top’.” I may be mistaken, or confusing this with another event.

The Happy Land
 10. Collinge and his cronies used to frequent the “Happy Land”, an amusement arcade in Cleveleys;
[vi] and Chris and I, and sometimes Peter too, would go along there, often on a Sunday evening, in the hope of picking up birds. On one such occasion, we bumped into the “cousin” of Barbara Swann, whom Chris had previously met.[vii] And because she and I (and Peter, if he was there) went to Fleetwood Grammar School, and all of us knew Jones, he naturally became the topic of our excited and noisy chatter.
[vi] Cf. Pat Lomas and Elaine, par.2. See also David Jones, par.2.
[vii] Par.1A. Perhaps Barbara Swann was also there, for that would have made it easier to get into a conversation with the “cousin”. And the fact that Chris had seen her before in Ascot Road would also account for our talking about Jones.

Postcards of Victoria Road, Cleveleys, showing the “Happy Land”.

 10A. We also used to wander around Thornton, or hang around in the bus shelters at Four Lane Ends, in the usually vain hope[viii] that some suitable young ladies would pass us.

[viii] Usually vain hope: Cf. Doreen Tewson.

One of three bus shelters at Four Lane Ends, Thornton, in 1979

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