Stephanie-a girl in a million-chapter 2
When I was made a prefect in my fourth year, no one was more surprised than my parents and no one was more disgusted than the games master! But even that accolade was earned more by default than merit, and it was my sister Pearl who was the unwitting cause: apparently the head teacher, Mr Bloxham, found it impossible to believe that any brother of Pearl’s could be all bad!
My first (and last) ambitious project in woodwork class was a tea trolley which took most of my five years at secondary school to complete and provided a perfect weekly excuse for “money for materials”- half of which went to support my newly acquired “habit” of illicit smoking. When my parents enrolled me in private music and singing classes with a lady called Miss Toyer, it didn’t take me long to discover a better use for my time and their money. Inevitably, after several weeks, non-attendance I got caught out and the tea trolley, which had been progressing at a cracking pace while I had an alternative source of cigarette funds, once more slowed down in production.
Our favourite haunt at that time was Le Capri café in Harpenden village. It was run by a chap called Benny who, no matter how much time (or how little money) we spent hanging around sipping espresso coffee and smoking umpteen cigarettes, remained unfailingly cheerful and chatty. My one and only period of truancy from school, which lasted a whole week, was spent almost entirely at Le Capri with Rodney and a few of the lads, plotting exciting (and foolhardy) escapades. It was there that we first dreamed up the idea of sneaking out of our houses in the middle of the night. As I lived in a bungalow this proved to be remarkably easy, though how the others managed to climb out of a second-storey window and shin down a drainpipe without being caught, I’ll never know. On one of these midnight excursions we decided to paint a slogan on the side of a big railway bridge that spanned the main A6 road. For years afterwards, whenever I drove down that road and saw the words “KEEP BRITAIN GREAT” in enormous capital letters on the side of the bridge, I would feel faint, wondering how I had managed to conquer my fear of heights to take part in such a dangerous prank.
Not long afterwards, the husband of a bible study acquaintance of my mother’s went to Spain, leaving his large motorbike safely (or so he thought) in storage at our house. The temptation proved too great, and before long Rodney and I had developed the knack of quietly wheeling the bike out of the garage at night and rolling it down to the bottom of the hill where, safely out of earshot, we’d kick-start it into life and embark on a hair-raising, heart-stopping ride at great speed around the Hertfordshire countryside. It makes me shudder now when I think of two fourteen-year-old boys with no insurance, no road tax, no crash helmets and no protective clothing doing seventy miles per hour down those dark, unlit country roads when our parents thought we were safely tucked up in bed.
Predictably, we got caught – not by the police, but by someone whose wrath was far more terrifying: my mother. We had sneaked the bike back into the garage, bidden each other a whispered goodnight and then, just as I had one leg over the sill of my bedroom window, the light snapped on. I froze in horror at the sight of my mother framed in the doorway with a grim expression on her face. Convinced they had given birth to the biggest sinner of all time, my parents refused to believe that my adolescent pranks were fairly normal for a boy of my age – if I’d been sneaking out at night, then it had to be for
some deeply illegal or immoral purpose. It must have been months before they were able to get a good nights sleep again.
So my nocturnal wanderings came to an abrupt halt. Not so my smoking “habit” concealed, I regularly got caught. If I’d been to the cinema, I’d rub my fingers on the brickwork outside the house to remove all trace of nicotine stains and stuff myself with extra strong mints to mask the smell, but my mother possessed the nose of a bloodhound so all my efforts were in vain, and time and time again I’d be on the receiving end of lectures about my evil ways as yet another lighter and pack of cigarettes were confiscated.
Outwardly, I appeared to be no different from any other boy of my age. Inwardly, however, I was becoming more and more confused. My friends were clearly acquiring a sexual interest in girls, and they’d talk about it a great deal which as I found was mostly derogatory and related to the size of their tits and how far they would go, the top of stockings was referred to as “the giggle line” as once you were past it you were laughing. This does not change as at any age men still express the same attitude. It seemed strange to me that I didn’t share their enthusiasm, but again I didn’t dare tell anyone how I felt-it was too private, too confusing and far too difficult for me to explain or deal with – let alone anyone else. Besides, I was sure everyone would think I was gay; after all, people are expected to be one way or the other, and if a boy’s not sexually attracted to girl’s there’s only one other conclusion that people normally reach. But in my case they would have been wrong. Although I was a very sensitive boy who would often be moved to tears in private by sad songs, books and films, I definitely wasn’t attracted to boys either.
For any normal boy, being brought up a Jehovah’s Witness would have been a heaven-sent opportunity as the girls of our faith were banned from dating anyone outside the religion and they far outnumbered boys. But for me it proved only to be a source for yet more embarrassing and confusing episodes – particularly as I was the only teenager male in our congregation. I had one or two innocent relationships with girls which involved a lot of hand-holding and a little kissing, which I didn’t mind in the least, but when I met Sandra I soon realized I was totally out of my depth.
Sandra was a full figured comely girl who lived just a few miles from us, and went to the same school. I enjoyed her company and was quite happy to go out with her, to hold her hand and even kiss her. But, as I soon discovered, that the tame stuff to Sandra, who was not only sexually experienced but had every intention of continuing her education with me. I tried everything I could to prolong the kissing and hand-holding stage, but it soon became clear that what Sandra wanted was sex – not a romantic little seduction, but hot, passionate sex.
My parents were away one Sunday so we ended up on the floor of my parents lounge. With mounting fear and apprehension I panicked as she insisted on dictating the pace. My first mistake was to display my inexperience when I fumbled with the hooks of her bra, which only caused her to push me impatiently away and undo it herself. My second mistake was in pretending to be so overwhelmed by her charms that I spent far too long exploring her breasts with my hands and mouth – silently hoping and praying that things
would stop there. Inside my head a million questions were vying for answers. Should I run? What would she do or say if I did? Should I give her what she obviously wanted? How could I? Should I refuse her? What would she say if I did? After all, it’s usually the girl who refuses the boy, not the other way round!
Impatient with my dithering, Sandra discarded her knickers. And then I knew I was really in trouble. What I needed now was either a step-by-step instruction manual or a quick run through an educational film. I’d heard stories in the playground, but I wasn’t sure how accurate or reliable they were. I knew the vernacular for the hidden parts of male and female bodies, but no one had even hinted at the existence of such a thing as a clitoris – and if they had, in my ignorance I would probably have thought it was a plant.
Eventually we were both stark naked, when Ray Taylor, our congregation overseer !! Unbeknown to me, my parents had asked him to keep an eye on me while they were away giving him a key to facilitate this, I was to be humiliated once again- it’s extremely difficult to remain dignified when someone walks in unannounced, switches on the light and finds you absolutely stark naked with a girl! Mr Taylor was so shocked that all he could do was order me to get dressed, take the girl home and come straight back. Quaking with terror and a sense of impending doom, I set off with her to walk the two miles or so to her house.
The girl was clearly far less distressed that I was, because as we passed the common she dragged me into the bushes and, despite all my protests, insisted we finish what she had started earlier. Convinced I would never get out of there until I complied, I decided the best thing to do was find some other way of giving her the satisfaction she so desperately sought. And that’s when I made the discovery that to give is far more rewarding than to receive-for some women, oral sex is not only a perfect substitute for the real thing, it can also earn a guy a lot of brownie points as a caring, unselfish lover.
After the Sandra episode I decided it would be far safer to stick with the girls who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, reasoning that, as all forms of sexual contact between unmarried people were banned, I would always have a “get out” clause. It didn’t occur to me until much later that a girl’s religious beliefs didn’t necessarily counteract the effects of nature and their libido!
One might think that after such episodes I would have steered clear of the opposite sex; but I honestly enjoyed the company of girls and, provided things didn’t get out of hand, I was still quite happy to have girlfriends-particularly as, for some strange reason, girls seemed to find me so attractive. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, in retrospect I can see that my submissiveness with women must have been partly due to the incident with Sandra. I was particularly anxious to avoid any situation which might call attention to my “difference”, and having so many girls chasing me helped provide the perfect cover. So many incidents with so many girls somehow or other came to light that everyone was convinced I had a Casanova complex. I’m sure my parents thought I was a sex maniac in the making, and the lads I knew were certain I was having the time of my life, which was really quite ironic. However, thanks to the next girl I met I was able to
sustain the notion that I was a full blooded, healthy male, and so nobody was any the wiser.
By now I’d reached the obvious conclusion that I just wasn’t physically equipped for sex. So when I met Margaret Oakley, who at fifteen was a year younger than me, sweetly innocent and painfully shy, I was enormously relieved-particularly when I found that nothing more was expected of me than chaste kisses and long, hand-in-hand walks. Margaret and I spent a great deal of time together over the next two years, though rarely alone as we’d either be in the company of our parents at one of our houses or surrounded by fellow members of our congregation at meetings. Perhaps it was our shared innocence that made me feel Margaret was particularly special; certainly, she was the first girl that I ever really deeply cared for.
My parents still insisted I attend all the meetings of our congregation, and these, together with my friendship with Margaret and my work for O-levels, left very little time for anything else. Mum and Dad were totally against my staying on at school. They believed that, as Armageddon was imminent, further education was a complete waste of time. Though Armageddon never came, they stuck solidly to this attitude throughout; later on, whenever I told them of my career successes, they would quote a biblical saying as “It’s better to store up treasures in heaven than on earth” and “It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle”, so I needed every bit of self motivation that I could muster.
During my last year at school I worked at Uncle Ray and Auntie Elsie’s garage in the evenings, serving petrol; as it was right next door to the local cinema I was able to provide myself with a constant supply of cigarettes and chocolates. My job also provided a handy excuse for not attending the evening meetings. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t have much time to see Margaret either, so gradually our relationship began to dwindle. When I saw her one evening walking along the road hand-in-hand with another boy, I knew it was over altogether. I felt devastated and cried copious tears over what I considered to be the ultimate betrayal, but as time passed I eventually came to terms with my loss and am now so thankful such a great girl had such a close escape.
Even after my exams were over we were still required to attend school until the end of term; the only exception was for job interviews. Rodney and I must have applied for every job that was advertised, just so that we could skive off school for a day. Rodney answered an ad for a lab assistant at Adhesive Tapes Ltd, famous for Sellotape. Pretending to have an interview too, I accompanied him on the day trip to Borehamwood. Immediately after Rodney’s interview I was called in and, though I protested that I had not sent in an application and was merely along for the ride, the manager not only insisted on interviewing me but at the end offered me a job at the princely sum of £5 a week.
Life at Sellotape was fun. All the lab assistants were young, we all got on well together and practical jokes were frequently played to relieve the boredom and monotony of the job itself. One of our favourite tricks was to smear the black, sticky mixture which was used to form the base of insulation tape all over the earpiece of a black telephone
receiver. We’d then go through to another lab, partitioned off by a glass room divider, and ring the extension. The unfortunate person who took the call invariably ended up with a messy ear that took hours of scrubbing to restore to its former state.
Another favourite involved the use of acetone which, when sprayed, evaporates into an invisible cloud of cold vapour. In the summer we’d climb up on to the flat roof of the building where, with the aid of a giant laboratory syringe, we’d spray the acetone over the side. As acetone is heavier than air it naturally descended to engulf anyone who might be enjoying the hot weather below, and within seconds would transform them into a startled, shivering wreck. On one occasion when some of the staff were horsing around we unwittingly discovered another, far more interesting result when one of the lab staff squirted acetone down the lab coat of an attractive female research assistant. Acetone has a dissolving action upon nylon, and we had accidentally stumbled on the quickest method of denuding a woman yet devised by man!
As part of my training I attended Welwyn college, where I studied physics and chemistry as a day release student. As both the college and the factory were quite some distance from home I’d bought myself first a 70cc Capri scooter to make my journey more convenient, and then, when that gave out on me, a second hand 125cc Lambretta. This vehicle served me admirably throughout the spring and summer months, but winter snow and ice made the journey far more hazardous. One day while travelling to work the roads were so treacherous that, when I attempted to brake as a bus cut across my path, I skidded straight into it, flew over the top and landed neatly on the platform. Fortunately I was unhurt, but my pride suffered a devastating blow in the face of the conductor’s and passengers obvious hilarity. Strangely enough, problems with my various modes of transport always seemed to bring out the best in my father, who never minded how much time he spent tinkering around with them. Sadly, though, they were the only occasions when I felt remotely close to him.
I continued working at the garage in the evenings, and my frequent visits to the cinema next door to stock up on cigarettes and sweets paid off when one of the staff informed me they had a vacancy for a part-time projectionist. Given my interest in cinematography, I jumped at the chance. The owner of the cinema was a grand old lady called Mrs Dempsey. The staff consisted of two managers, a cashier, a girl who worked in the kiosk selling sweets, drinks and cigarettes, a cleaner, a senior projectionist and two usherettes-Paula and Veronica, who were sisters.
Projection boxes in those days differed greatly from the modern, highly technological affairs of today. Each complete film took up several reels, which required changing every twenty minutes or so. The approaching changeover was signalled by a little white circle that would flash up on the right-hand corner of the screen to warn the projectionist that it was time to start the motor to enable the next projector to gather sufficient speed, followed by another circle which indicated that it was time to switch the picture and sound from one projector to the next. The changeover was always timed to coincide with a change in the scene, and if the switch was carried out by an expert it was virtually undetectable to the audience. Finished reels then had to be rewound and placed safely back in the can for the next showing. Obviously it was extremely important to be highly
organized and efficient, as failure to rewind or keep the cans of film stacked in the right order could lead to disaster.
The Projected light source was generated by burning carbon rods, with the necessary gap between the rods being controlled by a slow-moving, motor-driven track. This was subject to all kinds of problems as the rods tended to burn at different speeds, which meant they required frequent manual adjustments, and during a lightening storm they would invariably flicker out.
For younger readers a quick explanation of how what we called “the movies” operated. Cinemas were grand buildings decorated in crimson and gold with the “stalls” the downstairs seats and the “balcony” upstairs. The programme provided a whole evenings entertainment lasting from 7pm through to 10-30pm. Big heavy curtains became visible shortly before the beginning when the “asbestos fire curtain” was raised. The projectionist would play music (vinyl records) whilst the audience was seated. Next the heavy curtains would open revealing the screen (with adjustable blackout curtains set for normal or cinemascope mode) First trailers for future films, then cartoons, Pathe News, Pearl & Dean adverts and then the secondary feature film normally 60 minutes and quite often produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Close curtains, spotlight on ice-cream girl and the intermission. Then the main feature film and all of this for one shilling & nine pence in the stalls or 3 shillings and nine pence up with the Gods (less than 20p but there again a gallon of petrol was only 3 shillings and nine pence back then).
The projection box itself was completely soundproof, and there was an internal speaker to listen to the soundtrack when required especially at the end of the major feature where you needed to play “The National Anthem”. We also had our own secret alarm system in case of fire or other emergencies: fading in “Land of Hope and Glory” over the soundtrack signalled a major emergency such as a fire, which required complete evacuation of the cinema. The procedure was that the usherettes would throw open the emergency exits while the cashier would grab the takings box and run for her life to the garage next door. But these carefully rehearsed plans all went wrong one night just as we had begun to run through a new programme. Unbeknown to any of us, “Land of Hope and Glory” featured as part of the film’s soundtrack. This of course precipitated our emergency evacuation procedure, which all went very smoothly indeed. Unfortunately, as we’d had our speaker turned off in the box the senior projectionist and I were totally unaware that after that point we were playing to an empty auditorium!
Shortly after that event the senior projectionist fell out with the manager and handed in his notice; his job was offered to me. Fired with a sense of increased responsibility, omnipotence and a few extra shillings a week, I jumped at the chance and assumed complete control.
We were required by law to provide a secondary lighting system in case of a power cut, so that the “Exit” signs would always remain lit and enable the audience to escape safely during any emergency. The chloride batteries we used were frequently failing and the manager, who had been trying to work out a useful alternative, suggested placing night
lights behind the Exit signs. Theoretically it was a good idea; practically it proved to be disastrous.
I arrived one evening to find that the chloride batteries had suffered a total breakdown of the system. The night lights were duly lit and we had just begun the evening performance when the phone rang in the projection box. A panic-stricken usherette announced that there was a fire in the auditorium and begged me to rush down with a step-ladder and a fire extinguisher. It quickly became clear that the flimsy Exit signs, which were made of cut-out wood heavily gilded with a highly flammable material, had caught light. Quick as a flash I pointed the nozzle of the extinguisher at the signs and sprayed them liberally. Unfortunately the main lighting bulbs inside, which had become overheated from the flames, reacted to the cold dousing by exploding, and showering very fine shards of glass all over the place. To make matters worse, other Exit signs around the auditorium caught light at the same time as the spool of film ran out, which meant that all that hit the screen was a blinding white light. Some of the audience had lingered behind to watch the fun as the cinema staff ran around in blind panic, squirting extinguishers wherever flames appeared and then ducking and diving to avoid flying sparks as the bulbs exploded. It was like Bonfire Night and the Fourth of July all rolled into one, and though we eventually got the situation under control I’m convinced that most of our audience went home that night with far more vivid memories of the free entertainment the cinema staff provided than of the comedy film they had paid to see!
Although I tried hard to be diligent, efficient and professional, being the only person in the projection box meant that with a three-hour programme of cartoons, advertising and two feature films, lights to control, records to put on for the intervals, curtains to open and close and umpteen reel changes in between, I was on the go for the entire evening. And although I was a reasonably good projectionist, inevitably there were times when I either forgot to rewind a film or showed reels in the wrong sequence. Whenever these disasters occurred, I often wondered how many cinemagoers went home totally perplexed by the plot or convinced that they’d wasted their money on a rotten film, when in fact I had simply missed out one of the reels or played them in the wrong order! Eventually I had to leave the cinema-not because I was bored or particularly wanted to leave, but because the antics of Paula and Valerie, the two usherettes, were getting beyond control.
The more I resisted their advances, the more determined they became. Together they tricked me into turning up at the cinema one Saturday morning on the pretence that the manager wanted to see me in the projection box. The box door had a key on the inside as well as a bolt for added security. When I opened the door I found I was locked in with two man-crazy girls bent on a venture that I didn’t dare contemplate. What followed was akin to rape: I was held down and semi-stripped, with Veronica squatting on my face whilst Paula made every attempt to get me erect in order to achieve her aim. To say they were rough would be an understatement; it was weeks before the bruises and other marks subsided.
At seventeen I had just over one year’s full-time working experience and two part-time jobs behind me. I’d also had more sexual encounters than most young men of my age could ever dream of, but where did my future lie?
Although I regularly attended meetings at our church and still accompanied my parents on their missionary work whenever I could, over the years their attitude towards me had developed into one of total perplexity. I’m convinced that in their hearts they really loved me, but they never could approve of me. The main problem was their inability to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t be more like my perfect sister. Though I tried very hard to be the kind of son they wanted me to be, past experience had probably taught them that sooner or later another unfortunate escapade would occur to confound and disappoint them yet again and who could blame them? After all, they appeared to have all possible reason to imagine that I was as susceptible to the sins of the flesh every other young adolescent male of my age. Certainly, if the other lads in the neighbourhood viewed my apparent success with girls as a sure sign that I was a budding Casanova, why shouldn’t my parents – who believed they had real evidence to that effect – share that view? It was ironic when you consider that, now on the threshold of manhood, I was completely convinced that my total lack of any normal sexual responses meant that I was never going to be able to live a normal life.
I was about seventeen and a half when I got a new job as a costing clerk at the Murphy Chemical Co., just three miles away in the village of Wheathampstead. To my consternation, I found that once again the young women vastly outnumbered available men. But, having learnt a very painful lesson, this time I decided that if rumours of my sexual inadequacy were not to flourish I would have to be very careful to avoid any situation which might give people cause to speculate.
Now that I was earning more money I was able to part-exchange my Lambretta for a more powerful BSA 350cc motorcycle on which I lavished all my pent-up emotion and pride. Each weekend I’d clean and polish it till the chrome sparkled, and frequently I’d strip it right down and clean all its innards so that even the piston and cylinders gleamed like mirrors too. Reluctantly my mother agreed to be my very first passenger, gingerly hitching up her skirts as she hopped aboard the pillion behind me. All went smoothly until I stopped at an intersection and put my feet to the ground.
Unfortunately my mother, unsure what to do, decided to emulate me, and when I roared off she was left standing in a decidedly inelegant, legs-akimbo pose in the middle of the road.
That year the Jehovah’s Witnesses held a large weekend assembly at Luton Town Football Club. As I’d been asked to help out on all-night security duty, I went straight from work on the Friday evening and reached the ground just in time for the closing sessions of the Assembly. Two other lads and I took turns to snatch the odd hour of sleep in between patrolling the grounds. The following day one of my fellow guards introduced me to a bright, bubbly, young girl with jet-black hair. Sarah stuck by my side, chatting throughout the day until after the evening session when she had to leave.
I’d found Sarah’s company pleasant and enjoyable, but that was all. She didn’t attract me in the least, and I didn’t believe I had given her any encouragement to think otherwise. But, as I very soon fount out, I was wrong. I was shaken awake at around two in the morning by one of the guards whispering in a horrified voice that Sarah had somehow managed to get into the grounds and was demanding to know why I hadn’t
turned up for our prearranged date. Totally mystified, convinced there must have been some mistake, I none the less felt I ought to see the girl and find out what was going on. Anxious to avoid a fuss, I took her to the control box. But no matter how much I asserted that I hadn’t arranged a date, Sarah obstinately maintained that I had. In the end, and partly to pacify her, I kissed and cuddled her in the hope that, as a good Jehovah’s Witness, she wouldn’t be looking for anything more. But I was wrong again, for it soon became clear that Sarah was intent on seduction, and nothing less, than total surrender was going to satisfy her.
Once again my ingenuity saved the day and I took refuge in my old stand-by, allowing my tongue to accomplish what other parts couldn’t. Thrashing around in a demented frenzy, Sarah finally exploded in an incredibly violent – and incredibly noisy – orgasmic ecstasy that was, at that very moment, also being relayed, courtesy of one of the most sensitive PA systems in the counter, to the entire population of Luton! With one of her wild jerks Sarah had switched the machine on. The first we were aware of our unfortunate ‘broadcast to the nation’ was when we were alerted by the arrival of a breathless, panic-stricken guard begging us to ‘get your clothes on and get the hell out of here!’ I imagine a new world speed record was set that night for the time it takes two people to get dressed!
Living my life in fear of God’s – and my parents’ – wrath was by this time an all too familiar state. Since the age of five I had been brought up to believe that God had the power to strike me down should I even think bad thoughts – the fact that I’d not only thought them, but acted upon them and then allowed thousands of local residents to eavesdrop on them, had me quaking in sheer terror. I found myself imagining what horrors awaited me in hell and also, of more immediate significance, what horrors awaited me here on earth when my parents found out the culprit was none other than their very own son. I don’t believe I have ever been so scared in my entire life. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep (though given the nature of my disturbing dreams, that was a blessing). I didn’t even dare leave the house unless it was to go to work or to meetings. It seems to me in retrospect that my life was like a Woody Allen farce: every opportunity was there, but it always led to disaster. I blamed my parents for having brought me up to be unfailingly polite, particularly to women; I blamed Sarah for her stupidity in turning up uninvited, for her determination to seduce me and her mindless thrashing around that had accidentally switched on the PA system; but most of all I blamed myself for being to cowardly to say no. Why did these things keep on happening to me? What was it about me that attracted all these women so?
No matter how many times I asked myself these questions, I never could come up with an answer. Inevitably, each question led me straight to the most fundamental question of all: What was wrong with me? God’s punishment, as it seemed to me then, was not going to be long in arriving.
With my part in ‘The Luton Town Incident’ still undiscovered, over the next few weeks I gradually regained the confidence to resume my outwardly normal life. Having arranged to meet some friends one evening, I rode my motorbike home from work through torrential rain, stripped off my soaking protective clothing, changed into dry clothes and then dug out an old set of yellow oilskins which I hoped would protect me from the downpour.