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.
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]
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”).
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.
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.
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