Stephanie’s Autobiography – Stephanie – A Girl In A Million – Chapter 1
Stephanie’s Autobiography – Stephanie – A Girl In A Million – Chapter 1. This is Stephanie’s Autobiography. It tells the story of Stephanie Anne Lloyd, one of the first openly Transgender Women to speak out about the struggles and achievements of someone who is openly transgender.
At the age of 68 I have lived just over 50 % of my life as a woman and the other half as a man. If women knew how much easier it is for men I am sure there would be a revolution. Hopefully this very personaland honest account will give a unique perspective of the real differences between the sexes and also make the path of those who follow in my footsteps somewhat easier in these more enlightened times.
As I undressed and changed into my hospital gown, I tried to avoid catching sight of myself in the mirror that stretched the entire width of the wall. I couldn’t bear to look at my body and see the evidence of what I had become – an in-betweeny, with the full, firm breasts of a women and the genitals of a man. I felt, and looked a freak. That thought alone was enough to make me realise that tomorrow couldn’t arrive soon enough.
Was it really only twelve hours since I’d left my house to embark upon what I could only describe as the greatest journey of my life! It seemed like years ago. My memories of the taxi journey to the airport, the brief flight to London and my underground ride to Hammersmith Station were hazy; I’d been far too preoccupied with my own thoughts to take much notice of what had been going on around me as I had journeyed south to London for my appointment with my future – if indeed I was to have a future, I mentally amended.
The staff at the Charing Cross Hospital were wonderful, as they took me through the normal admittance procedure before showing me to my room. Of course they knew who and what I was, but they were far too professional to display any prurient interest.
Now, at long last, all the necessary first day formalities had been taken care of and I was alone in my hospital bed with just my thoughts for company. Soon, one of the night staff would come in to offer me the obligatory little white pill that would provide a merciful night’s sleep, when I would be spending the next few days heavily sedated, I couldn’t quite work out. I hoped they wouldn’t come too soon, for I needed these few precious moments of solitude to sort out my conflicting emotions. It wasn’t that I had any doubts about my decision, for those had all been resolved a long time ago. I simply knew that, before I could face the future, I had to come to terms with the past. Tears slid slowly down my face as I recalled the hurt and pain I had inflicted on others in the years during which I had selfishly avoided coming to terms with my condition. If only I had known that, no matter how I tried to fight the truth, I would still end up in this hospital bed facing the most dramatic moment of my life! Perhaps than I would have been better equipped to spare so many people I loved the anguish that I had unwittingly subjected them to. But here I was and nothing, not all the regrets in the world, could change the past. All I could do was try and change my future but I had no idea of the rollercoaster ride I was about to embark on which would eventually would turn in to the mantra I would come to live by:
“The people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind”
I have long been a keen reader of autobiographies and have never before thought to question the exemplary lives the authors seem to have led. It was only when I came to write my own autobiography that I discovered the almost overwhelming compulsion to omit all of the parts one is ashamed of, or to censor the mistakes and errors that, with hindsight, reflect badly on one. We all have a natural tendency to gloss over the darker aspects of ourselves as well as those unhappy circumstances that are of our own making – yet writing an autobiography inevitably creates a dilemma: not only have I been forced to relive my life, but also to lay that life bare for public consumption and possibly even condemnation!
It has been extremely difficult to produce, but here you have a painfully honest account of my life. The story you are about to read traces my life in excruciating detail. In forcing myself to record all of my mistakes, I have relived the torment and endured the pain of incidents that reflect my inadequacies and thoughtlessness.
Yet nothing can undo the past and no one, I am sure, could judge me more harshly than I have judged myself. And so, as my story unfolds, I would ask you to remember that my increasingly inexplicable, irrational and sometimes outrageous behaviour was a confused and emotionally unstable person’s reaction to a problem of sexual identity that was growing ever larger and more terrifying with each passing year.
Sadly my estranged parents who were dedicated Jehovah’s Witnesses are now dead but I fervently hope that this painful honest account will help my beautiful and loving ex wife and my three irreplaceable children truly to understand the complex and wholly untenable condition that I fought to come to terms with and which rendered them innocent victims.
If, in addition, my story serves to educate to help minimise the mystery and prejudice that surrounds transsexuals and provide some solace to those unfortunate few who are forced to follow in my footsteps, then it will be an added bonus.
My birth was an accident. Just how much of an accident no one fully appreciated until many years later. My father often used to say that I walked to the beat of a different drum – although I’m sure he had no idea of how prophetic his words would ultimately prove to be.
My father’s family, the Hulls, originally came from Redhill in Surrey, where they owned a successful chain of fish and chip shops. Successful, that is, until one of there trusted managers absconded with the takings.
After moving to Harpenden in Hertfordshire and finding himself unable to get planning permission to open a fish and chip shop there, my grandfather started a decorating business in which my father, Frederick, assisted whenever he was not working at his other job, on the railways.
One of four children, my father later grew apart from his brothers and sister, so I have few recollections of my paternal aunts and uncles.
My mother, born Gladys Beryl Minall, came from far humbler origins. One of eight children, she lived in a small terraced cottage in an area know as The Folly on the outskirts of a picturesque Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead. My mother’s childhood was by any standards a hard one; on more than one occasion she and her brothers and sisters were placed in an orphanage when their parents were too ill to look after them. However, despite their poverty and the problems of having to sleep eight to a double bed (girls one end boys the other!) Despite their straightened circumstances with no running water, outside loo & only gas lighting downstairs they remained a close-knit, loving family.
My parents married when they were both nineteen. (as with most of my aunts at short notice when they discovered they were pregnant) Six months after the birth of my elder sister Pearl, Dad was struck down with a mysterious disease. My poor father had to endure over ten years of painful traction, repeated lumbar infections, numerous operations and at one sage the total encasement of his body in plaster for a period of three and a half years, before his doctors were able to diagnose the mysterious disease as ankylosing spondylitis and arrest it with a series of gold injections. Unfortunately, by the time he was finally allowed home to live with his family, all the main joints in his body had become rigid, unable to dress himself or bend down and was thus crippled for life.
At the time, social security and the welfare state were not yet in existence, so my mother was forced to experience again the poverty and deprivation of her childhood as she struggled to bring up my sister alone. In addition my father was unable to work on his return home and dependent upon my mother to dress him and help perform all the personal tasks that the healthy take so much for granted. A variety of cleaning jobs.
enabled my mother to produce just enough to cover the rent and food and though life must have been very difficult, Mum did what she has always done: she coped.
The one thing about my father’s physical health and that remained unimpaired was his virility. Within weeks of his release from hospital, an unforeseen and unwanted complication arose which forced him to ignore the doctor’s pronouncements that he would never walk again, as well as their warnings that he was medically unfit to work, because my mother was pregnant with me. Obviously, Dad’s disability made it extremely difficult for him to find work; even when he did, a succession of employers proved only too keen to exploit his situation by paying him very low wages. Undeterred, he developed a tenacity and strength of character that were to typify his lifelong fight against his disability – the same inherited qualities of courage that enabled me to make the greatest journey a human being can undertake.
My original birth certificate attests that Keith Michael Hull was born at the Oster Hill’s Hospital for the Poor a St Albans, Hertfordshire on 25th May 1946. Although I was originally an unwanted child, when my parents took me home to 21 Weybourne Close, Harpenden, where I was to spend my first eleven years, they were delighted that I was healthy, whole and very obviously very male to complement my sister Pearl.
My father was a strict disciplinarian. A tall man, whose disability caused him to stoop and reduced his height to five feet nine, he propelled himself around with the help of two walking sticks, rarely allowing a smile or any warmth to lighten his countenance. This, coupled with thinning hair and spectacles which gave him the appearance of being older than he was gave an impression of a remarkably formidable and forbidding sort of character. I lived in fear of him until the day I got married. I don’t know whether he was ever aware of how very much I longed for a display of love or even affection from him and how disappointed and rejected I always felt at receiving none. To this day I am unsure whether he was totally without emotion or, as I would rather believe, someone who considers showing emotion to be unmanly.
My mother, at five feet three, was fairly small, very slim and never still. Always concerned with helping others (who were usually in a better position than herself), she nevertheless has always been a strong, determined character who, once committed to a course of action, is completely unmoveable.
Home was a typical ‘two-up, two down’ terrace. The back door, which was reached through an alleyway separating the two middle houses, opened straight on to the living room, which contained my father’s special chair sandwiched between a large valve radio on a shelf and the dining table. The floor was covered in linoleum, which extended into the tiny kitchenette with its walk-in cold larder and old-fashioned gas stove. The stairs to the upper floor, which housed my parents bedroom and the one which I shared with Pearl for seven years until she left home – and a draughty, basic bathroom. The house was always freezing cold because rationing was still in evidence and we couldn’t get enough coal. Despite the fact that my father had found a job as a sheet metal worker, luxuries (those things that today we call necessities) were still conspicuous by their absence –
fruit, in the shape of half a banana, was a weekly treat, while a bottle of Corona was a cause for celebration!
Pearl was undoubtedly favoured by my parents – particularly my father who, having missed the first ten years of her childhood, would often make a great fuss of her. But despite the fact that she was always being held up as a shining example, Pearl and I were very close until she left home. My father often berated me with comments like, ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister? – though I don’t suppose he ever dreamed I would take him quite so literally! Pearl was a paragon of perfect behaviour. One of life’s naturally good people, she was appointed Head Girl at school and never seemed to do anything wrong. Unfortunately by comparison I was considered the black sheep of the family. Certainly, my father would derisively condemn me as a sissy whenever I displayed cowardliness at the prospect of my weekly bath. It wasn’t that I minded water, or even the bath itself. What filled me with dread were the terrifying antics of our ancient geyser, which was incapable of dispensing hot water without first undergoing a series if death-defying rituals before it would ignite. Its blood-curdling sound effects would have me petrified for hours afterwards.
Weekly baths aside, life up to the age of five was fairly uncomplicated. We kept in close contact with my mother’s relatives and were frequent visitors to my Auntie Elsie and Uncle Rays’s house. My mothers parents, who were extremely frail and hard of hearing, were looked after by my Auntie Kath and Uncle Reg, who lived with them a the same house that my mother had grown up in. My grandmother, a large lady with thinning hair, wore dentures, which she couldn’t abide and would spit out at every opportunity and a hearing aid which she took great delight in turning off whenever she had her say and didn’t want to hear the response.
Because Auntie Elsie and Uncle Ray were both so involved building up their garage business their youngest daughter, my cousin Barbara, who was just a year younger than me, spent a great deal of time at our house, often staying with us for such long periods that we regarded each other as brother and sister rather than cousins. Young as I was then, I can still recall the Christmases we spent at Auntie Elsie’s; the presents, the silver three penny bits hidden in the Christmas pudding and most memorable of all, settling down after lunch in front of that rarest of luxuries – a vintage TV set with a tiny, pink, nine-inch screen which was the envy of the entire neighbourhood.
Strangely enough, although I can’t recollect the precise moment, it was around the age of five that I had my first conscious memory of the dream that was to haunt me continually At first my recollections were minimal; I remembered only that in this dream I had been a girl. Later, I was to discover that in my dreams I was always a girl and only in my nightmares was I male.
I don’t think anything can adequately prepare a small child for the trauma that is their first day at school especially in an age where pre-school was non-existent. By the time that day came, I had already made up my mind that the prospect was not half so attractive to me as it obviously was to my parents and so, like many other children of five, I was a fairly reluctant recruit to the education system. With me perched on the back of my mothers bicycle, we laboriously climbed Pickford Hill, at the top of whose steep incline stood the imposing house of horror that was Batford Primary School. Too frightened to put on a brave face, I was discharged, crying, into the playground where, in common with my equally bewildered companions, I surveyed this vast, new noisy, baffling world.
Like timid sheep we were herded together towards the cloakroom, where an intimidating teacher ordered us to select a hook upon which we were to hang our coats and satchels. The girls, on one side of the cloakroom, had hooks identified by a variety of teddies, dolls and fluffy, cutesy animals. Predictably, the boys hooks had boats, trains and planes. Dutifully, I selected a train and claimed it with my coat. Just at the moment I noticed the approach of what was obviously from his demeanour the school bully in training. He was looking for a suitable target and the inferior specimen he chose was me. Lunging for my coat, he threw it on the floor, replaced it with his own and then shoved me over. Stumbling, I fell backwards on to an object so painfully sharp that I immediately yelped, propelled myself forward and accidentally cannoned straight into my opponent. What happened next couldn’t have been more bloody (or more fortuitous) had it been staged and rehearsed by a master stunt-arranger. Caught off balance by the impact, my hapless assailant tripped over his own satchel and fell heavily against the very peg he had fought for, gashing open his head so badly that he immediately collapsed at my feet in an unconscious bloody heap.
Chalk-white and still unconscious, the poor boy was carted off by ambulance to the local hospital. A peaceful week passed before he was well enough to return to class, by which time (and completely by chance), having gained the totally undeserved respect of my new school pals, I’d become a local hero and established a reputation that, while unfounded, was nevertheless to provide me with the protection throughout the remainder of my six years at primary school.
Thus began eleven years of state education that were, supposedly, specifically designed to prepare this young lad for adulthood. Needless to say, thought they weren’t entirely wasted, they were hardly designed to prepare me for what life had in store.
Batford Primary School was a good two-mile walk from my home. Every day, summer and winter, no matter what the weather, my friends and I trudged unescorted to and from school. The shortest route took us down the steep slope of Crabtree Lane which, come winter and the much prayed for snow, was transformed into the perfect toboggan run. From there we would cross the ford of the River Lea at the bottom of the hill, skirt round by Batford Mill and then nip through the old deserted prisoner-of-war camp with its tall watchtower and rusty Nissen huts to emerge half a mile from Batford Primary.
With my new friends and our exciting adventures to look forward to on the way home, it didn’t take long to settle in. Towards the end of my first Christmas term I reached the highest primary school achievement: I was chosen to appear in the annual nativity play as one of the Three Wise Kings. Although fairly central to the storyline, my part and the four words I had to memorise for it hardly constituted adequate qualification for an Equity card in later life. Since our teacher was not one to give praise, I never knew whether my performance had come up to the exacting standards demanded of a troupe of five year olds – and much good would it have done me even if it had.
I had just passed my sixth birthday when I fell ill with Yellow Jaundice. It was an illness with unfortunate consequences at school felt decidedly queasy one morning and more than usually dreaded the school dinner. As I stared miserable at the lumpy mashed potatoes, pulverised meat and mushy, boiled vegetable adrift in a sea of watery gravy, I suddenly broke out in a sweat. This was in the days when there was no choice and you were forced to clear your plate.
‘Please, miss, may I be excused? I don’t feel well, I managed to squeak.
‘Certainly not!’ came the peremptory reply from the dinner table supervisor. With a sadistic smile she advanced to my table and positioned herself menacingly beside me as I slowly forced the revolting mess down my throat and into my protesting stomach. No sooner was the last forkful in my mouth that the inevitable happened. I threw up with projectile vomit with so much force that I managed to cover my plate, most of the table and everyone within three feet of me. Revenge was sweet – my only regret was that I didn’t fell well enough at the time to enjoy it.
Once diagnosed. I was ordered to stay off school for several weeks, which neatly enabled me to evade any form of retribution. Pearl caught disease too and unfortunately suffered far worse than I did. However, once we were over the worst we were able to spend a great deal of time amusing each other. Eventually I recovered and was sent back to school to enjoy my second Christmas there. And although none of us was aware of it then, that Christmas was also the last we were ever to celebrate together as a family.
This year 1953 was barely underway when a stranger by the name of Douglas Joyce called at our house. That knock on the door – just one of the many doors Douglas Joyce risked having slammed in his face every day of his life – was to prove both unexpectedly fruitful for him and enormously influential in the shaping of my family’s life. For he was a Jehovah’s Witness and before long he became a frequent and welcome visitor. My mother was the first to embrace the religion and though my father was much slower to make the conversation (which meant he would have to forswear smoking), eventually he, too became so staunch a member that he was ultimately elected to hold office. Having become fired with religious fervour, my parents naturally observed all the rules. Thus Christmas and birthdays like so many other celebrations, became something that only other people’s children were allowed to enjoy.
The common perception of a Jehovah’s Witnesses central philosophy is that they should embrace the Bible wholly and literally – good and bad. It’s by no means an easy religion, but I have always found them to be very sincere people who aren’t in the least hypocritical. While many do undertake the biblical commandment that they should go out and preach to others, I think their courage, perseverance and continual good humour in the face of hostility, abuse or, at the very least, a series of closed doors, are much to be admired. They still believe that the earth is just 6 thousand years old Interestingly enough at precisely the same time as my parents became converted, out next door neighbour, a DIY freak who made our Sunday’s unbearable with his noisy banging and sawing from dawn to dusk, also found religion in the shape of the Plymouth Brethren. From the moment on he gave his Sundays church, which earned my heartfelt approval as it meant that I could at last enjoy a peaceful, albeit very brief, lie-in before our newly acquired religious duties beckoned.
My parent’s conversion had a dramatic effect on our lives. Suddenly there seemed endless meetings to attend. Tuesday evening, eight till nine, we had group Bible study at the home of a Witness called Vera Fawcett. I always enjoyed these meetings tremendously, not so much because of what I was learning but because the moment we finished studying Vera would ply me with food. Thursday evenings, too, were entirely taken up with meetings and eventually our whole family life began to revolve around the church, Bible study groups and fellow members.
Celebrations didn’t just stop now we were converted – they went into reverse! The following Christmas was awful. In their attempt to ignore it, my parents went into overkill. There was no gaiety, no family get-together with Auntie Elsie, Uncle Ray and my cousins, no turkey, no Christmas pudding with silver three-penny bits hidden inside (in fact the food we ate that day was far inferior to what we would have had on any normal day) and worst of all, no presents.
The changes, coming so abruptly and overwhelming, were very confusing and as time passed, the rigid rules and disciplines of the faith forced me further and further apart from my friends and peers. In retrospect, it was the perfect preparation for a future in which I would be forced to stand apart from the crowd to a degree that few people experience. But even if I had known that then, I’m sure it would have brought little comfort.
Come rain, shine, snow and fog, I was made to tramp the streets besides my parents as they delighted in their new mission in life: the spreading of the word according to the gospel of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every Sunday afternoon we would attend a public talk, which was often given by a visiting speaker from another congregation and afterwards we would indulge in an hour-long study of the Watchtower magazine. Weekly reports had to be filed, stating how many hours we had spent knocking on people’s doors. The more involved my mother became, the more often I would be dragged along to strangers houses where my mother would lead study hour after study hour as she sought to convert and save as many souls as she could.
Every weekday morning I had to get up at seven to help Mum get Dad off to work, a journey he would make in open topped, open-sided invalid carriage. As our road was at the bottom of a hill, the only way to start this vehicle was for Mum and me to push it up to the top of the road and back down again with Dad inside. Once the motor was running, Dad would swing round at the bottom of the close and puff his way off to work followed by a plume of blue smoke. On one such occasion he overdid the turn at the bottom and to our horror, his invalid carriage turned over. Panic ensued for several moments as we roused the neighbours to help right the vehicle. To our relief Dad was unhurt but the accident had shaken him so much that after he was always extremely careful when he swung the vehicle round a the bottom of the close. The fact that it was invalid carriage provided the few moments of closeness Dad and I were ever to enjoy together, when he’s allow me to ride in front of him and even, on occasions, let me take the steering bar when the roads were quiet.
When I was seven, my parents bought me a bicycle. An ancient bone shaker, hand-painted in black, it was the most fearsome thing I’d ever laid my eyes on. After Dad had left for work, Mum, determined that I would learn to ride it, would lift me, protesting, on to its uncomfortable saddle. Her method of instruction was basic, to say the least; as I wobbled from side to side in an effort to find my balance, she would alternately smack my legs and shout at me to pedal. Needless to say I proved an apt, though unwilling pupil.
Pearl, who’d left school at fifteen and found a job at the same company where my father was employed, became more and more involved with the Witnesses, to the point where she even gave up one of her boyfriends because it was forbidden to marry outside the religion. When she was seventeen she decided to leave home and become a pioneer. Pioneers spend nearly all their time spreading the message by calling door to door. As the work is unpaid and often involves them being sent to live in another area, they have to rely on a part time job to support themselves.
Life was totally dominated by the church and gradually I found that the multitude of meetings were impinging on anytime I have available to play with my school friends. Naturally, this resulted in my becoming somewhat isolated and alienated from many of them.
Dad’s disabilities prevented him from fully exploiting his many abilities at work – though, to his credit, he did get promoted enough to control a large part of the production process. Obviously, his limitations caused him great frustration. But he was a determined man and he soon diverted his energies into his religion. I’m convinced that the very restrictions that prevented him from advancing his career were the fuel he burned in his fervent pursuit of progress within the organisation of our religion. Respected for his leadership qualities and his total commitment, he soon became overseer of the Harpenden congregation. More of our Sundays were devoted to travelling further and further afield as he began to receive invitations to speak to other congregations.
In time I grew used to the constant meetings and even to the way in which our religion encroached on every aspect of our life. I am sure that, as far as my parents were concerned, religion was their life. And even the drama of two particular events that stand out in my memory weren’t enough to interfere with their devotion to their religious duties. The first drama caused by my fathers newly found interest in brewing. Someone had given Dad a recipe for brewing ginger beer, a fairly harmless substance, he believed. Having assembled a collection of old Corona Bottles with china stoppers held securely in place by metal wires, Dad applied himself to his new hobby with almost the same fervour he applied to the sect. On this particular Sunday Dad and I were patiently waiting, immaculate in our Sunday best, for Mum to come downstairs. ‘Come on, son, we’ve just got time to nip down to the shed to see how the beer’s coming along, Dad said.
Once there, he inspected the bottles. However, as that did not reveal much, he then picked one up and started to ease the metal wire back to release the stopper. Suddenly, there was an explosive noise and a great fountain of gaseous, still fermenting ginger beer
shot straight out of the bottle with all the force of a rocket ship leaving earth. Unlike a rocket shop, thought, it met an impediment – our ancient, rusty, corrugated iron shed roof! With nowhere else to go, the sticky beer, by now combined with years of rust, rained down on us in an avalanche of indelibly staining, muddy liquid. We looked such a fright when we emerged from the shed that my mother did not know whether to laugh or cry. Instead, she shooed us inside the house, stripped our clothes off, scrubbed us until we shone and lectured us both all the way to the meeting house. The rare experience of finding myself accompanied in the doghouse by no less a person than my own father made me feel closer to him in those moments than I’d ever felt before.
The second dramatic event occurred when once again dressed up in my ‘going to meeting’ best, I was riding my bike up and down the close while waiting for my parents to come out. Suddenly I caught sight of Brian, the fourteen-year-old son of another neighbour, messing around with an old motorbike on the other side of our road. Intrigued by the noise and the smoke, I propped my bike against a garden wall and joined a group of other local children who were lounging against the wall avidly watching his antics.
Keenly aware that we were giving him all our admiring attention he started showing off by mounting the bike and kick starting it with a display of cool nonchalance designed to show us he was an experienced rider. To his horror – and our pop-eyed, cruel delight – the powerful machine roared into life, jerked off its stand and shot across the road towards us at lightning speed. By now totally out of control, the motorbike crashed straight into my bike. The problem was that, thought the motorbike stopped, Brian didn’t. Still in mid-flight and with me right bang in the middle of his flight path, Brian collided into me with such force that we both soared over the wall and crash landed in a heap in the flower bed on the other side. Thirty seconds earlier, or two feet to the right and my life – and my problems- would have ceased to be. As it was, although I was badly bruised and grazed, no great damage had been done to me. My parents, always anxious to avoid a fuss, promised his parents that in return for the repair of a replacement of my mangled bike they would not take the matter any further. Which was pretty fair of them considering that, as Brian was under-age, uninsured, untaxed and had committed half the motoring offences in the book, the police would have treated the matter far more seriously.
As vivid as that memory of Brian is, it was his younger sister, Linda Newbold who was to provide me with far more reason to remember the family. For it was she who was to play such a significant role in the furtherance of my sex education a few years later and to end up pregnant by my cousin.
All too soon, my life began to change. With secondary school looming large, we moved to a new three-bedroom semi bungalow my parents had had built just a few hundred yards away in Crabtree Lane. Having scrimped and scraped to afford the house, by the time we moved in we were flat broke. Still, at least we could look forward to a winter of relative luxury with part central heating and best of all as far as I am concerned there would be no noisy, frightening geyser to contend with at bath time.
Life had taken a turn for the better and even though I still came out in a cold sweat every time I crawled between the bed sheets at night, fearing what my strange dreams might reveal, I look forward to joining the ‘big boys and girls’ at Manland Secondary School. It never occurred to me that becoming one of the ‘big boys’ would mean having to contend with the horrors of puberty and the flattering (though privately puzzling) interest of girls -an interest that was to give me a wholly undeserved reputation as a prolific Romeo.