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Authour’s note: This story is based on truth. All this happened, more or less. Not at the same time, not all to me. I nearly put it in Romance, but eventually put it in First Times. Helen used the word ‘first’ a lot, and that made my mind up, when I remembered. Names have been changed, or re used. The city is real, a lot cleaner now, it’s in a very wide valley, you can actually see from one side to the other now. I returned recently, and realised that I can see for miles from the university, looking south. I didn’t realise then, how dirty and polluted it was. Places are real, Helen’s place was still there a few years ago, when we drove by, it’s an architect’s office now, brass plate on the door.
This was the sixties, and music was important to me then, still is. So, there are references to songs, some obvious, some hidden. See if you can find them all, and which English city is it? If you want to have a theme song for this first part, try ‘Dirty Old Town’ — google it, wrong city though… Dubliners is the best version, sung in a cynical tone. Other songs, watch for the clues.
Take it away Bob:
‘If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine’
Bob Dylan — ‘Girl from the north country’ – thanks for helping get me laid!
Last night I dreamt I was in Springfield House again.
That night… Helen standing there naked, in the firelight, me looking at her, naked with me for the first time, she watching me, watching her. Sorry Helen, the word should be ‘admiring’!
I was just sat in my study at home the next morning, re-living that in my mind, when our son James came in to ask me a question. I was holding the small clear plastic box, with the cocktail umbrella in, smiling to myself. “Dad?” he said, breaking the spell, “Can I ask you a question about physics, please, I’m just stuck on my homework?”
“Fine,” I said, and went through Planck’s constant again. I laughed, “I didn’t do this until I was at college, nearly twenty, and you are doing it at sixteen.”
“Dad,” he said slowly, “why have you got a cocktail umbrella in a plastic box? You have it on the shelf in the study, and it always seems to have been there. I asked mum, the other day and she laughed and said it was a man thing and I should ask you.”
‘Sixteen, sixteen’ I thought, ‘old enough to ask, old enough to know.’ “It’s a long story,” I said to him, “but time you heard it, it’s the reason you’re here, so you should know the story.”
He looked puzzled, “Pass me the guitar, please. I’ll start with a song,”
“You’re not going to sing folk songs again, are you?” he asked.
I sighed, my musical prowess was not popular with our children. ‘First’ I thought, ‘first’.
“First, I’ve a question for you, man to man, as it were.” I replied.
James looked shifty, obviously wondering what was coming, the can of beer we’d found in his room? His friends smoking?
“That girl, from your class, “I asked, “who was round here the other night, when you were working on your science project?”
“Katie,” he replied, “yes, what about her?”
“Is she your girlfriend?” I asked, quietly. His mum had noticed the way she looked at him, as he practiced his presentation on me, the presentation they had to give to the class together, that proud sort of look that I knew so well.
“No, no,” he protested, “she’s just a friend.”
“Ah!” I replied, “this non-girlfriend, I saw you with in the shopping centre the other day, walking hand in hand?”
“Just a friend,” he said, defensively.
“Fine,” I said, “I’m going to be open with you, as we always have, but please think about your side of the bargain.”
I strummed the guitar and sang a few verses. “Bob Dylan — ‘Girl from the north country’, “Still got the LP.” I said, afterwards as I put the guitar down. Then spoke to James. Over an hour. At the end he said to me, “Why not write it down, it’s a good story,” Good idea, I thought, I hadn’t given him all the details, as you can imagine! This is what I wrote over the next few weeks, it’s in an envelope in the safe, next to the wills. The children will get the full version one day.
This is a story of my leaving home and getting an education, not all of it at college, thanks to Helen and her friends! This took place a long time ago, well the late 1960’s. I was an ordinary working-class boy, well my parents were working class, anyway. I read a lot at home, well not much else to do, radio and television were nowhere near as good as they are now. Computers, that’s almost another story.
Despite it being called the swinging sixties, it didn’t swing for me, not at first, anyway!
I did quite well at school, but like a few others like me, found it difficult to fit in with most of the other boys, who were articulate, richer and just different. This was a boys’ only school. Girls were educated separately, and canlı bahis to me were a foreign species. I met one or two at a youth club, but we always drifted apart.
To my surprise I passed enough exams to get to a Polytechnic when I was eighteen. This, at the time, was a grade below university, which seemed a little too daunting to me. This was to be in a city about fifty miles away from where I lived, so I had to go and live in the city. My parents lived in a small rural town in northern England and daily travel to the city was impractical and expensive. My ancient motor bike would never make it!
I was the only person in my family to go to college or university, or leave home except to get married or go to war, so there was a little pressure from parents to stop me going away to college, even though I got a grant to live on, and it cost my parents nothing.
Anyway, I put my foot down, and they couldn’t really stop me.
Fortunately, the Poly had an accommodation office who would find students like me somewhere to live. Only universities and teacher training colleges had their own accommodation then. I was ‘in digs’ for part of the first term, living with a family, paying rent and getting fed. They were nice people, and did this regularly, so they were used to boys coming to college being away from home for the first time and having to deal with loneliness and the strangeness of it all. They ‘didn’t do girls’ as they were too much trouble, sneaking boys into their rooms and staying away overnight, apparently. ‘Chance would be a fine thing.’ I thought. Then I found a cheap bed sit, just a bedroom with a shared bathroom and a communal kitchen. There were four other boys in the bed sit house, but the others were older, and had their own social life.
I hadn’t actually been away much from my home town before, my parents didn’t have a car, and just could not afford holidays, so the first time I left town except for a day trip was when I went for my interview at college, a few months before I went.
I knew nothing about living alone; washing clothes and cooking food were not skills my mother taught me. I did not realise until later how unworldly and naïve I was!
I settled into college quite well, enjoyed the new subjects, and got on well with my fellow students, many of whom were older than me, some married, as the course had no age limits. I didn’t realise this and expected all the students to be the same age as me.
Mature students were quite common, then, boys would do a trade apprenticeship, then after a few years, return to college to get a higher education. There were a few of us of a similar age and circumstances and we formed a loose group going out for a beer mid-week, and occasionally going to college discos at the weekend. Going to night club discos was out of the question, too expensive.
So, there I was, after a few months, settled, happy, new life, different people, new friends, and no baggage from school. No girls in my life, though, I met a few at discos, but nothing permanent.
Then others decided that my life was to change, everyone needs a kick to get into life at some time.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon, we had a break from lectures, and went down to the canteen for a coffee. This was a multi-purpose college, we were doing engineering, but there were departments for everything from accountancy to zoology! Two days a week, we were there at the same time as a specific bunch of girls, who were doing clothing design, or something. The city was then a centre of the clothing and cloth industries. They were a similar match to us, some older and some the same age. They were mostly what I would call tarty, rough and bawdy, well we weren’t much better, and there was occasional banter between the two groups.
One I quite liked the look of, but I didn’t know her name. Shorter than me, shortish brown hair, not quite touching her shoulders, with a fringe just above her eyes.
Occasionally wore her hair in a pony tail. Thin, but not skinny, nice pair of breasts as well, seemed to live in floppy jumpers and jeans. Occasionally came in what I called her hippy outfits, flouncy translucent blouses and T shirts, tie dyed as I later found out. Quieter than the other girls, but with a ready smile.
I was in the queue waiting for coffee one morning, the girl was sat nearby, I kept glancing at her, turning my head to see her, a female voice behind me said “Her name’s Helen.”
“What?” I said, “Who?” trying to act innocent, realising I’d been caught out. I turned, there was one of the girls from her group behind me, tall, not slim, not overweight, but a little chunky, long blond hair.
“We’ve noticed that you’ve been checking her out,” she said triumphantly, with a smile. She pulled me to one side, to allow the queue to pass us, “but we don’t know your name.”
“Paul.” I said.
“Paul,” she said, “nice name. Helen hasn’t got a boyfriend, not really had one, and I guess you are much the same?”
“I’ve had some girlfriends,” I said, proudly.
She bahis siteleri laughed, “If you’d had a girlfriend, you’d have had the confidence to speak to Helen, rather than just ogling her from afar.” She said. The truth hit home, and I twisted my mouth in wry acceptance.
“Ask her out,” she said,
“Not here!” I said, almost panicking, I’d never asked a girl ‘out’.
She rolled her eyes, “You see her around college, in the corridors, ask her then, don’t worry, she’s noticed you, after we told her, but she’s shyer than even you are. We think she deserves a nice boyfriend, and you’re the only loose one around! You’re a bit quiet, but that would suit her, we think.” This actually didn’t do much for my self-confidence!
We re-joined the queue, and bought our coffee, the girl joined her group and I joined mine. I was sat facing away from the girls group, in the only available chair. I was questioned about my conversation with the girl ‘What was her name, what were you taking about for so long, and so on.’
My replies of don’t know her name and talking about nothing were received with laughter. I wanted to turn and see what was going on at the girls table, but daren’t.
“The girls keep looking at you,” said one of our group, “are you after one of them?”
‘No, I protested, not at all’. We left and went back to lectures, when I stood up, the girls had gone.
That night, sat in my bedsit studying, I had a good think, why not ask her? I liked the look of Helen, and there was only one person who could make it go. ‘Be brave,’ I told myself. Her friend had given me a good hint that Helen would be receptive.
Next morning, I was in a corridor, walking to my first lecture, when Helen and the girl of yesterday came walking towards me. “Hi,” said the girl, Helen gave me a little smile. They passed me by.
‘Now or never’ I thought, turning, “Helen,” I said, the girls turned, Helen giving me a serious look. “Would you like to go to the pictures with me one night?”
“To see what?” she asked.
This wasn’t expected, I thought rapidly, “The Lion in Winter?” I replied. A popular film at the time.
“Seen it.” She said, turned and walked on. Her friend and I stared at each other in disbelief. I shrugged, turned and went to my lecture.
Break time, no girls, not that group anyway.
Lunchtime, no girls when we boys got to the canteen, I got my steak pie and chips — I knew how to eat well, once a day, all I could afford! Sat down with the others, finished my meal, and was chatting with my friends, the girls’ group came in and sat at the other end of the room, I saw Helen with them, she didn’t look at me. ‘Give up’ I thought. I could see the girl from yesterday, talking to Helen and her friends, the girl kept looking at me. From the body language, I could see that Helen was being pressured. One of the girls stood up, one of the rougher ones and walked towards us, towards me. I was still sitting down with my friends, drinking my coffee, wondering if I should get up and leave, before she reached me. She stood by me, looked at me, “Yer needed.” She said, jerking her head towards her group.
“What for?” I asked.
She sighed in exasperation, “Easy way or a fucking hard way,” she said, reached out, got hold of my ear and pulled me to my feet. I’d never heard a girl use language like that!
“Ow!” I said, she ignored me and led me to the other group by my ear, much to the amusement of my friends.
There was a vacant chair opposite Helen, who looked as terrified as me, I was told to sit.
The girls were unusually quiet, “Now,” said the girl from yesterday, “I was also a little rude, yesterday, because I got your name Paul, but I didn’t tell you mine, it’s Susan.” She turned to Helen, “Your turn, Helen.” She said, quietly.
Helen looked at me, still serious, “I’m sorry I was bad mannered, yesterday, I wasn’t expecting you to ask me out, it caught me by surprise.” She paused, “I would like to go out with you.” She finished.
“Oh!” I said, and paused, not really knowing what to say, realising that she had omitted a few very important words from my request: ‘to the cinema’, her statement was more open, I wondered if she meant it that way.
The girls all looked at me. Susan, began slowly punching one fist into the other palm, looking at me, “Thank you Helen, thank you.” I said. Susan stopped punching.
There was a silence, Helen and I just stared at each other. One of the other girls broke the ice, “My uncle has a sheep farm, it’s a lot easier with a ram and a field of ewes, you put the ram in the field and leave him to it, come back a few hours later. Tupping, we call it. Humans, getting them together is never so easy as Mills and Boone make out!”
“So when shall we meet,” I said to Helen, studiously ignoring her farming friend.
“Anywhere but here!” said Helen, looking at the others. Missing the point of my question.
“Why not meet in the college bar after lectures,” said Susan.
We agreed, and I left, bahis şirketleri my friends were just leaving, asked me what that was about, “Think I’ve got a girlfriend,” I said, trying to sound casual, as though it happened every day.
I went down to the bar after my last lecture, Susan and Helen were sat there, drinking lager, I sat down, Susan got up, “Pint?” she asked, I nodded.
“I hear that you’ve been watching me.” Said Helen, with a smile.
“Admiring,” I said.
Helen pursed her lips, Susan returned with my pint of beer, overhearing what we had said. “That will get you points.” Susan said to me, she didn’t sit down, reached for her drink and finished it. “I’m going, I only came you keep Helen company until you came. Bye!” Susan left, with a wink.
“What course are you on?” I asked Helen, to get the conversation going, Helen relaxed and told me about her course in fashion design, I’d never heard of such a thing and asked a few questions. She asked me about mine, “Mechanical engineering,” I told her, “engines and levers, gears and strength of materials.”
“I do strength of materials,” she said, “but different materials.” She said smiling, a nice smile, to be encouraged, I thought.
We got to where we lived in the city and where we were from, “I live at home,” she said, “my parents live on the outskirts.” I didn’t realise for a long time, that ‘live at home’ and ‘parents live on the outskirts’ were true statements, but not that she was referring to the same place. I told her where I came from, and about my rather rough bedsit.
We were getting on well, I thought, I got her to laugh a few times, when she did, she put her hand on my knee, something to be encouraged, I thought. I bought another round, not thinking of getting her drunk, just for her to stay, I told her that and she laughed again.
We finished our drinks, it had taken a while, neither of us wanting it to stop, drinking slower than I normally did, not wanting to get drunk myself. “Are you hungry?” I asked.
“What are you thinking of?” she asked, worrying that I was going to ask her back to my bedsit, this hadn’t actually crossed my mind, at the time, I was just enjoying being with her, not wanting it to end.
“I know a small Chinese restaurant, not far, near the cathedral.” I said, praying she would say yes.
“Fine” she replied, “I like Chinese.”
I walked her there, we were about halfway there, walking side by side, when she stopped, smiled at me and held her hand out, so we completed the walk hand in hand.
We enjoyed the meal, and sat chatting for a while, she looked at her watch, “Last bus in fifteen minutes, sorry.” she said. So we paid, she insisting on sharing, and walked to the bus stop on the main street. “I don’t want to meet every day,” she suddenly said, “but I’ve really enjoyed tonight,” she turned to me.
“May I kiss you?” I asked.
She smiled, “Well I was hoping…” she replied, and moved towards me, so we kissed for the first time, at a bus stop in a grimy northern city, it had started raining, city centre traffic rumbling by. A truck driver sounded his horn, seeing us there. She moved away, “That’ll dampen your ardour.” she said with a smile, looking up at the rain. She got on the bus, and waved as it drove away. I walked back to my bedsit, in the rain,
That’s the way the whole thing started.
Next day at college, I had a few questions from my friends about Helen, the others guessing what was going on. I fended them off, making light of it, only going to the cinema with her, nothing much in it and so on. In fact, I was smitten, but wasn’t sure how she felt.
Lunchtime, in the queue with my friends, looked around for Helen, no sign, then her bunch joined the queue, I looked for Helen, at the far end of the queue, chatting with Susan, no sign of her looking for me. Her friends sat down together, having trays with food and drink on. Helen picked her tray up, from the counter, looked around, saw me, smiled and walked to a table for two, looked at me again, and smiled, she sat down.
Looked at me and smiled again.
I took the hint, excused myself from my friends, and picked my tray up and walked over to her, “Can I join you?” I asked, rather formally.
She laughed telling me how silly I was. “I thought as I’d enjoyed our time together last night, and the meal, that we’d meet for lunch,” she said, “give our friends something to talk about.”
“I’ve got you a present,” she said, reached into her handbag and brought out… one of those cocktail umbrellas you put in drinks, I laughed, understanding. “You didn’t have an umbrella, and I can’t afford a decent one for you, yet. You must have been soaked, walking home in the rain, not even a hat on.” She finished, in a concerned tone. I never threw it away, then got the plastic box, chocolates had been in it.
The next morning at break time, my group was in the canteen first, her group came in, queued for coffee, when Helen got in view, she saw me and smiled, got her coffee, and walked over to my group and sat down in an empty chair, not near me, “I’m Helen,” she announced to the group, “Paul’s girlfriend, he’s met my friends, so I thought I’d meet his.”
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