My Learned Friend
How do we define life? Ignore for the moment the physical aspects, the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and the basics that keep our corporeal substance alive and kicking. At what time we meet death is very much governed by chance and our personal lifestyle decisions. No, I speak about how we as individuals fill that time between birth and death. There are many criteria to evaluate a life. Did that person do well? Did they make other's lives better by living? Were they successful by whatever standards they looked for themselves, be those moral or corrupt. My position is that of moral rectitude although others with different standards may describe me as sleazy. I was until I retired a Barrister. Those who I helped to terms of imprisonment as prosecuting Barrister are likely to wish me ill, and those alleged victims of people I helped prove innocent when in defence would presumably wish me the same. Then of course there are those who but for me would have been punished unjustly. I would not care to say if those I prosecuted were guilty, nor that those I defended were innocent. All I could say is that on the day my marshalling and presentation of the facts added to my rhetoric won the day. I did not always win, but in the English legal system, you learn quickly not to dwell in disappointment and move on to the next brief with a spirit of enthusiasm. Those who suffered because I presented the case successfully or not may well blacken my name. Perhaps if they knew of my circumstances now they would smile. The grim reaper beckons me, within the next few months I shall succumb. It has been a life of highs and lows. I have managed my three score and ten nearly making four score so I cannot complain and, happy thought, I shall be reunited with Chrissie.
Christine, or Chrissie as I call her, tells me that we have known each other from when we were nine and ten years of age. I will not argue with her, most married men soon understand that arguing with their wives is futile. You may have all the facts assembled in the correct order, but women ignore facts, they argue with emotions, illogic, intuition and tears. Faced with that array most men will surrender, especially as surrender will very quickly segue into a very loving woman. I cannot remember our first meeting at school but Chrissie does, or imagines that she does. I do remember what I consider our first meeting. I was eighteen and she seventeen; it was the summer of nineteen fifty-eight and it was a dance hall in Newquay in Cornwall.
My brother, Ramsay had decided that a week in Newquay would be good and he would get there by car. Ramsay was two years older than I was and had anticipated his passing the driving test by buying a car. He failed his test, not just once but three times, whereas smug little sod that I was at that time passed on my first attempt. Ramsay had no means of driving on his holiday except by taking me or rather me taking him as although I had my licence I was not old enough legally to be the qualified driver in charge as he drove on learner plates. Therefore, I would be doing all the driving. Thus do younger brothers gain revenge on older brothers. I eventually agreed to go with him, after getting an admission from him that he owed me big time. The car in question was a ten-year-old Ford Popular, fondly known as the 'Perpendicular Pop', or the 'Sit up and beg Pop'. Our father had insisted on the car having a thorough check before we left, and with the knowledge that it was deemed roadworthy and in good condition I was content as we set off on the drive. I was soon to understand that Ramsay did not intend to spend his holiday with me as shortly after we left he asked. "Clem, what will you be doing with yourself for the week?" Clem was the shortened version of my name of Clement. Our parents were devoted to the Labour Party and Ramsay (MacDonald) and Clement (Attlee) were the first two Labour Prime Ministers, although Attlee was not actually Prime Minister when I was born, being deputy to Churchill in nineteen-forty. Sometimes your parents do you no favours at all. My father would never shorten either name, although I did favour the shortened version of mine to simply Clem. Ramsay encouraged his friends to call him Ram.
"I see, Ram. You are obviously not intending to spend time with me."
"Who would want to spend time with a worm like you?" He replied in a voice devoid of brotherly feelings. I knew what Ram was about, his thoughts rarely moved vertically above his belt. I too had ideas in that direction but I would not be looking for that sort of entertainment in the same place as he.
"Fair enough. But of course you realize that as you can't drive the car, I will have the use of it." There was a silence and I smiled inwardly. No! Ram would not have thought that far. The silence extended and soon I realized that he had fallen asleep. Well we had made an early start; four o' clock in the morning was much, much earlier to which he nor I were accustomed. We made good time until we arrived in the county of Devon. Here the elements and geography conspired against us. It started to rain and we encountered hills. The 'Pops' side-valve engine did not like hills, nor did it's windscreen wipers' rudimentary vacuum driven system. Slugging slowly up hills of any kind would result in the wiper becoming stationary for long periods only to become a dervish when the driver took his foot off the accelerator. One got used to lifting the right foot for moments to clear the screen and then getting the power back on before the car ground to a halt. It was an interesting journey to say the least only relieved when it stopped raining as we entered North Cornwall.
Newquay came as a blessed relief to me, as by this time apart for a short break to grab a quick breakfast; I had been driving for the best part of ten hours. The relief was only temporary, as we could not take possession of our rooms at the bed and breakfast we had booked until four o'clock. I slumped in the seat of the car to get some much-needed sleep while Ram went off to explore. At last, we could move into our rooms. We could have saved ourselves a lot of money by sharing a room, but Ram was insistent on separate rooms. I knew his thinking, that if he had his own room he would be able to invite back with him any girl he may meet. My brother did not think forward more than his immediate desires. The owner of the bed and breakfast made sure that no other person apart from the one who registered, and therefore paid, could spend the night in any of his rooms. Ram did try and he was foiled in the attempt.
The next day, after a good night's sleep I came down to breakfast at eight o'clock. The breakfast was filling and I tucked in with gusto. Plenty of cereal, eggs, bacon, beans, sausage, and a mountain of toast. The more I ate at breakfast, which I had already paid for, the less I would need later on. I was on a budget! As I left the breakfast room Ram came downstairs, late. Breakfast was served from seven-thirty until nine. I was certain that the woman serving breakfast would have something to say. With his words in mind, I did not ask what he proposed to do that day, nor did he ask me what I was doing. I got a sweater from my room and left for the day. The rules with bed and breakfast accommodation were you left the room before ten o'clock and could not return until four o'clock. You had to consider the weather carefully before deciding what clothing you would take for the day. I had decided that I would explore Newquay and try to discover where I would be mostly likely to encounter other young people, preferably of the female persuasion. I was particularly interested in finding somewhere where dancing would take place. Our mother had insisted that both Ram and I should learn to dance ballroom. Although Rock and Roll was the fashion, being able to dance ballroom was of great use when the band or disc jockey played slower numbers. That was when getting really close to a delectable young woman got interesting. I found such a place and of course, it was called 'The Palais de Danse', how original! I would be back that evening.
The rest of the day was spent walking and enjoying the sights. Newquay has a few beaches with different characteristics. Towan Beach and Great Western Beach seemed to be family oriented places, whilst Fistral Beach, more open to the seas emanating from the Atlantic was the lure for surfers. I got so involved that I forgot about having lunch completely. My stomach reminded me, as I was getting ready to go out that evening. The priority when I stepped out was to eat. There were plenty of Fish and Chip parlours, but I didn't want anything greasy, so I chose a coffee bar and bought a sandwich and a coffee.
Thus replenished I made my way to the Palais. It was a little early at just past eight o'clock although there were a few early arrivals so I wasn't alone. As the evening wore on the place became quite busy and the atmosphere was good. The disc jockey was playing many of the latest hits and with his sound system's volume turned up; it encouraged the patrons to dance. However making conversation was a problem. The music blared, lights reflected from the glitter ball, the girls wore pretty summer frocks, and the floor resonated from the many feet beating time. It was the perfect atmosphere for a good time.
I had danced a few times with various girls and one in particular with whom I wouldn't mind engaging for another, slower dance. Just off the main ballroom, there was a bar, and I made my way there to quench my thirst. I was not much of a drinker, but felt the need for more than a small glass of orange juice, ordered a shandy, and had just picked it up to take my first mouthful when I heard a girl's voice behind me. "Well, well, well. If it isn't Clem Marston."
Now it was doubtful that coincidence stretched so far that there was another Clem Marston in the Palais that evening, so I assumed that it was me the girl was addressing. Turning round I found the girl in question. I assumed it was the girl as she was smiling broadly at me. I was sure that I had never seen her before in my life. I could only answer. "Sorry?" Framed as a question.
"You don't remember me, Clem?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"It's Christine Ames. Don't you remember? We were together in junior school."
The light went on in my mind and I could recall a girl of that name. However, she wore glasses, her hair was in pigtails and I had never seen her in anything but her school uniform, a gymslip. This girl did not wear glasses, her dark bouffant hair was cut nicely to frame her face and she wore a full skirted frock, cinched by a broad belt, emphasising her narrow waist, the skirt boosted, I was certain by ruffled petticoats bringing attention again to her narrow waist. Not a gym slip in sight. My mind floundered for a while trying to match the picture I had in mind of the Chrissie I knew at school with the vision in front of me, and she was a vision! My mind caught up and instructed my tongue to say something. "I do apologise. I can distinctly remember a girl at school called Christine Ames, but she bears no resemblance to the lovely young lady I see before me." Chrissie's smile became broader.
"Wow! Now you have spoken I wonder if you are really Clem. He never spoke to me apart from grunts."
"That's true. I was a surly boy. However I hope I have changed for the better?"
Chrissie nodded slowly. "Let me see ... Yes I think on reflection that you have. Are you here with anyone?"
"At this moment no, but speaking literally I am here in Newquay with my brother, Ramsay." Her face darkened a little, my brother's reputation was quite well known evidently. "But he's not here this evening. Are you with anyone?" I enquired in return.
"Yes. I'm with some of my girlfriends, they are sitting over there." She gestured hazily in the direction. "Some of us reckoned it was you, but I was the only one prepared to get up and prove it. Would you like to come over and join us?"
"That would be great. May I get you drinks before we go over?"
"No Clem that's alright. We seem to be getting drinks all the time from men. I think they are trying to get us drunk."
We walked over towards the table she was sharing. As we got closer, I noticed the smiles I was getting from Chrissie's companions. Soon I was able to put names to the faces; they had all been at the same school as I. Janet Parker, Alice Brown, and Liz Hitchcock. Responding to the warm greetings of 'Hello Clem' I sat down. Chrissie made sure I was sitting next to and close to her.
Alice made a moue of disappointment. "I see that Chrissie is marking her territory."
"Well I was the only with the courage to go over and see if it was Clem." Chrissie responded. "You three just sat here."
"So you should have." Remarked Janet. "After all you were in love with him all those years ago."
"No I wasn't." Chrissie said heatedly.
"Oh yes you were." Chorused the other three.
"Ladies, ladies." I interrupted. "Is this a re-union of Cedar Park Junior School or world war three?" That stopped the catcalling and started the usual catch-up session, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Chrissie asked if Ram would be there later.
"I doubt it. I have no idea where he has gone. Although we are both here in Newquay he made it very plain that he didn't require my company for the week." I explained about my driving duty. This seem to cheer up the girls.
Liz explained their relief. "Your brother has too many hands. Fighting him off was a big problem." I was surprised they knew him that well.
"We have all had experience of Ram at various parties." Chrissie told me. "If anyone asked about you he told us that you weren't very sociable"
I shook my head. "No that wasn't true. Actually I was overloaded with homework, so didn't have much chance of getting out to enjoy myself."
"Of course!" Janet exclaimed. "You went to the grammar school after the eleven plus, didn't you? Have you taken your 'A' levels yet?"
"How did you get on?" Asked Alice.
"I did alright."
Chrissie grabbed my arm. "What does that mean? You did alright?"
"I passed in four. English Language, English Literature, History, and French, with an 'A' grade in English Language."
There was silence as they took the results in. "Wow!"..."Fantastic!"..."Oh my God!" were comments from Janet, Liz and Alice. Chrissie just squeezed my arm and smiled warmly at me. "Well done."
"Are you going to University?" Alice enquired.
"Yes. I have been accepted at Birmingham."
"What will you do, English?" That was Liz
"No. I shall do Law. I am thinking of becoming a barrister."
With the updating of our news completed, I thought to get back to my reason for being here, so I asked Chrissie if she would like to dance. Then later I asked Janet, then Chrissie again, then Liz and Alice and then Chrissie again. On this occasion, I caught the smirks from the other girls as Chrissie jumped to her feet with alacrity. A little later on, I was dancing with Janet again when I noticed Chrissie dancing with another chap. He was being a little forward with his hands and I could see that Chrissie was not happy. I guided Janet so that we danced alongside them and tapped the guy on his shoulder. "Mate! You are dancing with my girlfriend, so be respectful." My interruption was so unexpected that he didn't know what to do. He let go of Chrissie and stalked off the floor. Janet and Chrissie left for the Ladies facilities and I followed the guy from some distance until he left the Palais all together. I then returned to the girls table.
They were all there smiling and giggling as I approached. "What is it?"
"Well you have gone and done it now, haven't you Clem. Chrissie is ecstatic." Liz told me.
Alice answered. "Because you said you were Chrissie's boyfriend. Chrissie heard so did Janet, so you can't back out now."
"For Heaven's sake! You know why I said that."
Alice shook her head. "Circumstances don't come into it. You said the words so you have to live up to them. Now Liz, Jan and I are going for a coffee. Chrissie wants to go back to the hotel, so as her boyfriend you should walk her back ... Slowly."
We walked slowly side by side with Chrissie quizzing me about my career decision. I tried to explain my motives but was distracted because Chrissie would seemingly bump my hip quite often. If I moved slightly to give her room, she managed to close quickly the gap and her hip would bump me again. Eventually I realised that this was an invitation to put my arm around her shoulders. "About time." She chided me dryly.
"Sorry." I excused myself. "I didn't have much time to learn the social graces."
"Don't worry. We'll learn them together." We walked in silence for a while and I sensed that she was steeling herself to say something. Eventually it came out. "Clem! This thing about me being your girlfriend. It was just a joke you know."
"Good. So you don't have to see me again or anything."
"Yes, I understand that, but actually I wouldn't mind, that is if you don't."
Her arm went round my waist and she pulled me closer. "I think I would like that. It's strange, we live quite close to each other yet we have to come a couple of hundred miles away to get together.
"I know. I would like to keep on seeing you after the holiday." "Good." She murmured. "Will you be staying at home when you go to University?"
"Yes. One of the reasons I applied to Birmingham." We lived about eight miles from Birmingham.
"Your studying is important, Clem. I will understand if you can only see me occasionally and I won't put pressure on you if you have to study. Just see me whenever you can even if we can't go out. Your future is more important than anything else."
We arrived at her hotel. It was quite a posh place and I was surprised. "Dad decided that if we were going on a holiday alone, we had to have somewhere decent to stay, so he paid for us." Chrissie explained. She turned to face me smiling, so I knew what was expected of me.
"Shall we spend tomorrow together?" I suggested.
"I would like that. Come and pick me up about ten. Shall we go to the beach?" I nodded and stepped back. Chrissie shook her head. "We're boyfriend and girlfriend now; you are entitled to a kiss." She closed the distance between us and raised her face. Our lips met briefly. It was quite a chaste kiss, but nonetheless important, especially to me. This was the first girl apart from cousins I had ever kissed. I liked it.
The next day and the days that followed were good. Chrissie in her bathing costume enchanted me and my mind wandered into areas that it shouldn't. That Chrissie would have the same thoughts at seeing me in swimming shorts never crossed my mind. We were brought up in those days to deny that women were sexual beings. When I learned different, it was a shock and a delight to me. We swam in the cold Atlantic swells, held hands, shared ice cream between us and generally started that feeling of compatibility that inevitably led to Love. By the end of the week Chrissie was allowing, so I thought, more lingering kisses when I took my leave of her at her hotel.
Although I had teased Ram that I was the only one who could use his car I did not use it. If I had, I would have to put petrol in and my budget didn't run to that expense. However, I did notice that it wasn't always parked in the same place, so Ram was using it even though it was illegal for him to drive.
The day came when we had to return home. Chrissie and I promised to see each other the day following our return. I was invited to tea at her home. Her parents would want to meet the young man who was squiring their daughter. This was a trial that many young men would go through in that time.