On the run

At the end of school in the summer of 1961 a few of us went down to the West Country camping.  A couple of people kindly 'lent' us their houses for a night or two but apart from that we were in tents roughing it, or when we were really tired we simply lay down in fields and covered ourselves with groundsheets.

Below, a house in Sidmouth.


From left to right are the author, 'Turner' top steps, Brandon, wearing a bobble hat, Tony Dingle, bottom steps, and Jim Johnson standing. Date: summer, 1961

Naturally, we regarded Sidmouth as a great source of talent. So one evening after Jim and I had chatted up a couple of French girls in the pub, we asked them if they wanted to go for a walk -

   'Where to?'  They were both amused. 

   'Along the beach,' I said.  'Don't you like the beach?'

   Marie laughed, 'It's dark.' 

   'I know,' I said, 'but the waves are nice.  Come on.' 

   We held out our hands, fully expecting them to follow us.  Angelique pointed at her watch and gave an exaggerated gasp of horror.  They were late, incredibly late, they'd have to leave immediately.  They'd get into terrible trouble if they didn't get back to their boarding house in five minutes.  The landlady would be after them, she was a terrible woman. 

   Johnson pleaded with her.  'Just half an hour.  We'll see you back.  You'll be safe with us.' 

   I was urging Marie too.  But it was no good.  They were sticking together like Elastoplast.  The only good thing is that Johnson managed to get Angelique's address and a promise that they would meet us at the pub in the morning.  Half past eleven sharp.

   Then all of a sudden we were out of Sidmouth like a couple of boys on the run from borstal.  We didn't care about those girls.  They were only dreams that we had involved ourselves with for a while.  We were off home, back to the house, back to the enchanted lanes again.  It was eleven o'clock at night and we took our shirts off and ran along singing and laughing at the tops of our voices...

   The dark was our sanctuary.  The night world took over us, full of mysterious lives and movements.  We stopped and listened and then passed on, leaving them undisturbed.  It was so beautiful I could have walked for miles and miles to the end of moonlit lanes altogether.

Lady of Spain, I adore you
Right from the night I first saw you
My heart has been yearning for you
What else could any heart do?could any heart?  

Lady of Spain, I adore you
Lift up your knicks, I'll explore you –

    It was the perfect moment of our youth.  Sidmouth dropped behind us.  We forgot the lights and the pubs, and the only thing that stayed in our minds was the image of Marie and Angelique disappearing round the corner of the street to their lodgings where we were as yet forbidden to follow them, looking back over their shoulders with the eyes that said it all. 

   They were ours, ours forever.  We weren't destined, as we had imagined in our worst moments at the Grammar school, to live in a world without girls altogether, as it had sometimes felt in that masculinized atmosphere that we would.  We weren't on the outside after all.  Soon those girls, or girls like them, would be ours to hold, to love, to cherish, to adore, to share intimacy with.  It was so close, we yearned for it to happen.

   The lanes ran on and on.  We raced under the roaring oaks.  The hedges loomed over us, the ditches swam by.  We tumbled for joy like otters. 

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