Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 28 June 2014
Bigger, brighter, cleaner, younger
Being the youngest - by far - of four, I spent most of my childhood Summers alone.
In between the prolonged periods of lonesome melancholy, where I imagined people of my own age to be having a good time together as the sun went down, there were some truly dreamy, meditative times spent sitting by water, staring into the green murk of the Basingstoke canal, or the limpid pools of a woodland spring which was close to our house.
During one such session, I acquired my first grown-up bicycle, as my eyes focussed on the upper parts of its green frame in the gloom of the near matchingly-tinted water.
I hauled it out and took it to the nearest police station, and in three months it was legally mine. It had 'cow-horn' handlebars fitted. Any other style of handlebar was deeply uncool in the early 1960s, but the boys who sported them were usually of the type which my mother disapproved of. You know, Council Estates, etc.
"Although cow-horns give the wrong impression," I creepily said to my best friend's mother, "I do find them very comfortable as compared to drop-handlebars." That did the trick - as well as my Hook Heath address - she thought I was a very nice young man.
For the whole of the following Summer, I spent at least two hours late in the day, riding a figure-of-eight circuit up and down the private road outside our huge house in Surrey - with the same pop-song going through my head on a loop - until I rode myself into an escapist trance.
Halfway through this short route, there was a tall, Lombardy Poplar which almost cut the neglected footpath in two, and one of its thick roots had lifted the tarmac of the road to form a tiny ramp which I rode over repeatedly, the front wheel lifting a quarter of an inch off the ground as I did so.
I looked up the private road from space the other day, and the Poplar is still there. I can't tell you how reassuring that was to me.
Seated pillion on this bike was my girlfriend from America, who didn't really exist until I got her out of my system with the help of a series of real American girlfriends, about twenty years later.
The imaginary one was always blonde, with blue eyes and an unfathomable, inscrutable attitude to life, but the real ones were always very dark with eyes to match - but just as inscrutable.
I don't know where this obsession with certain aspects of the USA came from, but I guess it was our little, black and white T.V. and a yellow, soft-cover , pictorial book about an American boy who goes on a river-boat holiday with his parents, befriending an old man and a toad.
The uniquely American, 1950/60s concept of 'Summer girlfriends' and 'Winter girlfriends' was strangely fascinating too - they even had a choice of two, whereas I had none. Everything was in abundant excess in America.
I remember listening to or reading the sort of end-of-season conversations that took place between boys and girls, based on a mutual acceptance of the inevitable end to their relationship, caused by God and the weather, rather than the simple fact that they had ceased to like each other.
"It breaks my heart to have to leave you, but Fall is approaching - there's a chill in the air."
"Me too. I hope we can be boyfriend and girlfriend again next Summer. So long."
I would be thinking, 'I'LL HAVE HER, YOU BLOODY IDIOT!", as they said their fond, tearful farewells.
I was on this little road outside the house one day, when an enormous, 1950s, finned, American muscle-car pulled up with a very American-looking man driving it from the wrong side of the bench seat. It filled the private drive.
The man called me from the open window and asked if this was where I lived. I said yes.
"I have a son of your age and we have just moved to the area. He's lonely and could do with a friend to play with. Shall I bring him round at five tonight?"
I excitedly agreed - not only would I have a playmate, but it would be an exotic, American playmate to boot.
When I got indoors, my parents asked me what the conversation with the man in the big car was about, and I told them. They were outraged at the cheek of the fellow for arranging a visit to me without consulting them.
Five o'clock came around and the big car rolled into the drive, giving a mighty blast of its two-tone horns. Through the kitchen window, I could see the boy seated next to the man, with an expectant look on his face.
My parents told me to come away from the window and to not - under any circumstances - go outside. I begged them to let me go and meet my new, foreign friend, but they refused.
The man gave a couple more blasts on the horn, then gave up completely, crunching the car across the gravel drive and out of my life forever.
That was probably another reason why I found America so fascinating, mysterious and unattainable when I was a kid.