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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Innocent and woundable

Sometimes - let's say, very rarely - I admire my younger self. Here I am with my bike, aged 16. I'm accompanied by a pal and I've stopped briefly in the middle of England. I'm en route from Bradford to London a distance of 200 miles and I will arrive on the morning of the third day. I will be staying in a squalid hostel in  Hoxton, sleeping in a dormitory and cooking my own evening meal.

Call that a holiday? These days I'd prefer to open my veins. But that's comparing then with now. The road in the background is the A1, then the main arterial from London to "The North". Note the grass verges; much safer for bikers. These days I'd be squeezed against a kerb before I reached Wakefield.

I didn't cycle for fun, only to get there, to wander round London streets spending nothing. After two nights in Hoxton I'd leave for the Isle of Wight, taking the ferry from Southampton. I can remember absolutely nothing about the IoW.

In retrospect it seems mildly adventurous but not then. In 1952 it seemed logical and - above all - cheap. I'm astonished by my teenage fitness; there were days when I covered 80 miles. The high spot occurred at a railway station near where this photo was taken. I was leaning on a gate watching school-kids - in blazers - getting on to a train. Especially one girl, perhaps a year younger than me, inspecting me through a lowered carriage window, finally smiling. Then the smile seemed conspiratorial; now I suspect she thought my beret was stupid. How wounded I'd have been had I known.


  1. Robbie - I found that picture very moving. I don't think I will elaborate.

  2. First impressions are quite informative. She may or may not have thought your hat was silly, if she noticed it.

  3. Ach, I imagine the young lass was charmed to see that you'd noticed her and that her heart yearned for a bicycle at that moment, to flee the train and ride with handsome young men, wind blowing through her hair.

  4. Blonde Two: I am utterly baffled. Nothing I ever did as a male adolescent could ever be described as moving.

    MikeM: We have here what may be described as a fictional proposition. Neither I, then, nor you, now, can say for sure what that smile meant. So let's gather what other facts exist and construct a probability. At 16 I was a despairing male adolescent in whom hormones alone were fighting a winning battle (ie, to confuse and torture me). All girls/women I encountered, from 15 to 60, had it within their power to reduce the pain I was suffering but none did. Given my age and sexual instability it seems likely I would seize on that transient smile and imagine a positive interpretation. But that was then. These days I'm capable of greater objectivity. I look at that gawky unformed youth in his shabby unwashed polo-neck, inexplicably wearing a beret (this isn't so apparent from the photo) and it seems far more likely that that young girl saw something she too was trying to escape from. What more natural than to smile in reflection on her plight and on mine?

    Ellena: I have no idea what that means.

    RW (zS): I think you should take two tablespoons of the dose I have prescribed for MikeM, above.

  5. I have been told on a number of occasions by women that they found me intriguing, handsome and otherwise attractive in my teens and twenties. Nothing could have been further from my awareness at the time...I felt as clumsy and helpless as you did. I suspect you were seldom rejected when your advances moved beyond the gawking stage, and boys were certainly expected to do the advancing then, weren't they? I too suspect that the girl was taken by your roguish good looks, and even more that you found her captivating.

  6. MikeM: Roguish good looks? More like a scarecrow.

    It's kind of you to speculate beneficially on my behalf but, alas, it wasn't like that at all. I was always scheduled to have a prolonged adolescence, but it was further extended by two years' national service with the RAF (an essentially childish organisation). Between leaving school just before my sixteenth birthday and moving down to London, now aged twenty-four, I had three dates all with the same increasingly reluctant young woman.

    And just to prove the point that I'm not over-dramatising the deprivations of my youth let me mention two other occasions when I spent a whole day - in each case - with two young women I was deeply attracted to. But these weren't dates. They involved visits to two rock-climbing cliffs. Aha, you say, that sounds different. It wasn't. Both YWs wanted to rock-climb and I had a motorbike. When I asked whether they might consider a dinner out or a visit to movies both immediately turned me down flat.

    Luckily for me, London was to offer solace.