Sunday, 5 November 2017

An Indecorous Coming Of Age Story

1964. A-levels are over. Some school friends are going to university, some are doing an extra year. I am going to live like a modern-day Kropotkin on a kibbutz.

It is the summer holidays. My short stay on the Hashomer Hatzair “training” farm is coming to an end.
Graham, one of my school friends, has enrolled at a polytechnic, forgotten the name. Instead of commuting every day, he has rented a house near to his POLY with three girls. That was unusual then.
Some friends and I are staying over with him for the weekend.

It was a full house as his housemates also had visitors. Most of the people came from outside London. 
We had a pleasant first evening with lots of agitated discussions.
For a few of them I was a bit exotic. They had never met a Jew before and I was going to live on a communal farm in the desert.

Several of us slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the front room. I was still awake when a sleeping bag with one of the girls inside started shifting in my direction, in a kind of bouncing slither. As the sleeping bag covered her head as well, I had the impression of a giant caterpillar coming towards me.
She moved a bit, stopped, and then started moving again. Eventually she was pressing up against me.
I thought it must be something like sleepwalking and tried not to move a muscle, as I did not want to wake her, whoever she was. I fell asleep and when I woke up she was gone.

The next day I struck up a conversation with a girl who, like me, was visiting. She was the black stockings and black skirt type. A very intelligent and witty art student. It clicked between us.
She told me that her last boyfriend had been a Palestinian Arab.

In the evening we all went to the pub and came back tipsy. The black stockings girl and I were lying next to each other in a corner of the room. The others had fallen into an after-booze sleep.
I plucked up my "Dutch courage" and kissed her. That was the start of our relationship. We did not do much then as someone might have woken up. 
She was not wearing underwear and explained that was because all her underwear was in the wash.
With hindsight, I think she may have been my caterpillar. At the time I did not think to ask.

The following day we did not tell people we were a couple. We left separately in the early evening, but met up nearby and went back to her place. She had a room in a big house and told me to be quiet because she was not allowed to have men in her room.
As we came in the phone began to ring. She picked it up. It was Booker, one of my school friends who had been at the house.

The evening before in the pub, he had tipsily confided in me that he was in love with her. He asked for my advice. I said he should go for it.
Now he was calling to ask for a date. I was standing next to her and could hear the nervousness in his voice. She was very nice to him. Said that she was too busy just now, but would get back to him.
The strangeness of the situation flashed through my mind. He was calling her on my advice, and after the call was over I was going to have sex with her.

Her room was very untidy with washing hanging all over the place.
I had read the necessary books, so I thought I knew what to do. Then she asked me to punch her in the stomach. This had not been in my books and was not really my thing. I patted her stomach a bit hard, which was enough for her.

My first sexual relationship was with a girl who often wore no underwear because it was in the wash and who got off on being punched in the stomach. 
You cannot get more British than that.

From then on we saw each other as much as possible. We could not go to her room as her landlady had heard us. Fortunately, she had lots of friends and almost always found a bedroom for us.
We spent many of our nights together. I told my parents I was going down to the training farm or staying over at a friend's house.

Time cannot be stopped and the day to say goodbye eventually arrived. It was the day before I left for Israel.
Besides being a warm, intelligent and witty person, she was also possessive and prone to hysteria and melodrama.
I suspected she would break down when we said our final goodbyes.

Our final separation was to be on a platform at Piccadilly Circus tube station.  Afterwards I was going to meet up with a friend who I had asked to wait for me nearby. 
I hoped the idea of someone waiting for me at a certain time would be a constraint on her behaviour.

My schoolboy psychology did not work. She started screaming and crying. I went to my friend and asked him to leave, and then I sat there with her for hours on that platform. Shades of Thomas Hardy.
When she was finally exhausted from crying, we did say our farewells. I boarded my train and we went our different ways. 
Or so I thought.

She wrote to me on my kibbutz. She wanted to come. I told her not to.
Then I received a long letter from her. She had tried to come.

She had taken the ferry to France and tried to hitchhike down to Marseille. 
It was very difficult for a girl on her own, she did not get far. Drivers groped and sexually assaulted her. One tried to rape her.
Besides that, the little money she had soon ran out.
She was really down, exhausted and very hungry. 
Fortunately, a British couple stopped to give her a lift. They took her back to where they were staying and looked after her until she had recovered her strength again. Then they gave her money for the fare back to England.

Back in England she had taken stock of the whole situation and decided to give me up and get on with her life. Her long, last letter was her goodbye,

I hope she had a fantastic life.
It is a pity I cannot remember her name.

Fare thee well.

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