Up the creek without a paddle

by | Apr 23, 2016 | Creative Writing, Personal Memories | 0 comments

Picture yourself in a boat on a river. It is late on a lovely summer’s evening that was spent with friends. In this case it was on a very big river, the Thames at Twickenham, 1959. However there were no tangerine trees or marmalade skies, and certainly no diamonds in the sky for this Lucy. I was up a creek without a paddle.

That was way back, when I was a teenager. I often wonder if this day changed the course of my life.

Let me take you back to the late fifties, early sixties, before the permissive age. Parents were still in Victorian mode. Children were only allowed to speak when spoken to. Parents had rules, very strict rules. Mine especially.  I was fourteen and relatively innocent. Of course, I was a bit of a rebel. Well who wouldn’t be? I was hardly ever allowed out of the sight of my parents or my very Victorian grandmother who lived with us, but a big break through was when I was allowed to go to church on Sunday with a “nice” school friend of mine. “Nice” by my parents standards meant that she lived in a good area of our town, and spoke with a posh accent.

My parents weren’t church goers. They didn’t understand why I was looking for a religion. Maybe it was hereditary. My grandfather had been a Methodist minister. My father had rebelled about his upbringing too. He was an Atheist. My parents didn’t understand why I treasured the Palm Sunday cross I had been given at school, or why I set up a shrine on a cardboard box covered with one of my mother’s white damask table cloths. Our Scripture classes obviously had left a lasting impression on this innocent and receptive child. I voluntarily did Bible Searching at lunch times with Mrs Pope, an odd ancient teacher with a lived in face. For my efforts of answering questions on the Bible, in the words of scripture, I received firstly a New Testament and then a Young Sowers League Bible. These sat in pride of place on my makeshift shrine. I joined a local new Methodist church that had been built on our estate, but it didn’t seem to satisfy my religious needs.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to go to the Anglican church my school friend went to in Twickenham, because she went to a youth club run by the church curate and his church helpers. One of the youth club rules was that one had to attend the church on a Sunday morning, which I duly did. Getting my parents permission to attend the youth club was slightly harder, but as I was in such good company, my parents finally allowed it, to my surprise. Of course, my father used to take me there and fetch me back in his company car. Although I was allowed to catch a bus to school and back on my own, it was deemed that I couldn’t manage to bus to the youth club in the same town.

Time passed, I attended Friday night youth club and Sunday morning church for a year or so before I was Confirmed. I wore a white pleated skirt with a white cotton blouse and a wide white belt for my Confirmation on my 15th birthday, the day Princess Margaret got married. I became the Youth Club Girl’s Leader. I was deemed responsible by the church powers that be. However, that was later.

It was 1959, the year Buddy Holly died. Ricky Nelson was in the charts along with Cliff Richard and Marty Wilde. They were my favourites. All we ever did those days was listen to music. Halcyon days. Then along came the school summer holidays. The sun was always shining in those days, or so it seems, looking back.

By this time my father had lost his job, and his company car. I was trusted to catch the bus. I had to be home by nine after youth club, which finished at eight usually and was held in the church hall, except for one day when we all walked to Marble Hill Park to play a game of rounders. After the game most of the kids went back to the church hall to finish off the evening activities, but one of my friends was going with her boyfriend and his mate on the nearby ferry over the river to Ham fields for a walk and did I want to come too? Well, of course I did. Gillian’s boyfriend’s mate Nigel was quite tasty. I had been wanting to go out with him for ages.

How we managed to escape the watchful eyes of the curate and his church helpers who were supposed to be responsible for us, I have no idea. I think we said we were going to continue to practice our rounders near the tennis nets. They must have trusted us and  reminded us that we should make our way home well before dark.

As soon as the youth club leaders were out of sight we made our way to the ferry over the Thames. This was so exciting. I had never done it before, never even been on the other side of the Thames. When we reached the south bank, the four of us left the ferry and walked along the bank for a while to a secluded area, where Gillian and Pete sat under a tree and started snogging. That left me with Nigel. We sat down nearby and had a good natter whilst getting to know each other. We talked about music mostly. We liked the same songs.  Eventually we kissed. I didn’t need my rounders bat as protection. Things weren’t like that in those days. We were just kids out enjoying the fresh open air and each others’ company with the innocence of youth.

Time passed very quickly and suddenly I realised that it was well gone eight o’clock. Reluctantly we made our way back to the ferry, but where was the ferryman? There was no sign of him on the other side of the river. The boys stood on the jetty shouting and shouting, but the ferryman never came out of his boathouse. We thought maybe he had gone home for the night.

Gillian and I decided that we would have to walk along the bank to the next bridge at Richmond, and catch a bus home from there. It was not a great idea, as it was a good mile or so away, but in hindsight it would have probably have been quicker in the end. Just as we were about to set off, the ferryman came out of his boathouse and shouted to us to wait, while he came over for us.

By the time we got over to the right side of the river it was past nine o’clock. The nearest bus stop was still ten minutes walk away. I was going to be well late, and in dire trouble at home. We ran all the way to the bus stop and just got there in time for a 90B bus, but it refused to stop as it was full. Buses from Richmond ran quite regularly along that route, and I had a choice of two that I could take, the 90 or the 90B. The number 90 had a longer walk at the other end, but Gillian used that bus as she lived further along from where the bus routes split.  Normally buses came every ten minutes or so. As luck had it, the next bus never turned up but within another ten minutes a 90B, came which was also full and didn’t stop. Eventually Gillian and I managed to get on a 90 bus at about 9.45pm. I realised I would not be home before 10pm, an hour late. I was petrified. What would my parents say? What would they do as a punishment? I would probably not be able to go to youth club ever again. It was alright for Gillian, she didn’t have to be home until 10pm. She would only be a few minutes late.

Leaving Gillian to carry on to her destination I got off the 90 bus, the one where I had a longer walk at the other end, and ran all the way home, expecting to see my mother waiting at the front door. But my mother wasn’t there. Instead, my father was there, white with rage. My mother had apparently walked up to the bus stop to meet me. How had I missed her?

I recounted the story of how I came to be late. My father didn’t believe me. He was shaking with anger, calling me a liar. I disappeared up to bed, but he followed me upstairs and started hitting me. I hid under my bed covers, while he continued his battering through the blankets. He was out of control. I could feel him shaking.

Thankfully, by this time my mother had come home. She had seen me while she was waiting at the other bus stop, but obviously couldn’t catch up with me as I ran down our road. The battering stopped. Then the shouting started. I quaked in my bed.

The results of my misdemeanor?

My grandmother told me I was wicked. She was always saying that. I was wicked if I breathed. My mother was in tears, which was a very unusual occurrence, and apparently my father wouldn’t speak to her again for months, saying that it was all her fault I was a rebel and that he washed his hands of me.

My father caught the bus to Twickenham the next day and went to see the church curate, where he obtained the address of the boy I was with and went round to his house to confront his parents, alleging that the boy had been up to monkey business with me. He also visited Gillian’s parents to tell them what he thought we had been up to, and to ask Gillian what had actually happened. Gillian obviously corroborated my story, which was the truth, but it made no difference. In his eyes we were both liars.

I was called to see the curate, who also accused the boy I was with of getting up to monkey business with me. When I denied it totally, I was given a lecture for an hour on the dangers of being alone with a boy.

Then I was banned by my father from going to the youth club or church for six weeks, which took me all through the school holidays. On my return, Nigel had unsurprisingly found himself another girlfriend.

I never spoke to my father much after that, nor did my mother.

Creative writing homework April 2016 Prompt: Picture yourself in a boat on a river.
Who on earth decided we should write a story using this prompt? What memories can be conjured up from a simple prompt! If anyone called Gillian or Nigel ever gets to read this story and remembers the incident, I humbly apologise for my father’s accusations, and those of the curate.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
by the Beatles

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high
Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Picture yourself on a train in a station
With Plasticine porters with looking-glass ties
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds