22 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 10

Confessions of a Prude


THEY say that to get a girl you have to be indifferent, stern, even ruthless, because once she knows you may be interested in her, you might as well give up all hopes of having a good time.

But I've come to the conclusion that it's by no means as simple as that. For example, I knew a girl at school who might have strung along with me if I hadn't been such a prude in those days. She had a face, if I remember correctly, that fitted in with slight thin pretty figures and light, nicely shaped raincoats. Pretty enough, but not really beautiful. But her face had plenty of light. She smiled nicely, and she was good to be with.

When I look back (and it's not so long ago) I think she might have liked me—perhaps just a little. Anyway she was always hanging around glancing, at me. We had a debating society at school—you know the sort of thing : 'ITV should be abolished'; 'Capital Punishment should be abolished'; 'Nuclear Weapons should be abolished'; and we might even have had one on 'Sex should be abolished.' Sometimes the girls would come and listen—our school was a. Secondary Modern which housed separate de- partments for boys and girls. When I spoke (which was almost every time because they couldn't find another suitable sucker) she always thought I was pretty good—which proves there must be something in my suspicions.

After school we fifth-formers used to go into a 'superfine' café which had a high-powered help- yourself system. This café was always full of avant-garde fifth- and sixth-formers who thought they were solving the world's problems.by reading passages from dog-eared paperbacks by Bertrand Russell and sipping foaming coffee from plastic cups. Once in a while we might look up at one of those modern sophisticated (I know one or two longish words) clocks that they had in the café, a clock which was so modern that you had a job to read it and we'd wonder how old So-and-so was getting on back at school in the Orchestra room necking with a D-stream fourth-form girl who had plenty of bust but no brain.

Very often GCE-stream girli would join us and talk about their guitar-playing cowboy pin-ups and the square on the hypotenuse. It was all very nice, all modernly polite, and all very false. It often gave me the impression, when I bothered to think about it, of Ban the Bomb demonstrators with beards, tight jeans and duffel coats; of Trafalgar Square on a cold autumn Sunday afternoon, dead leaves scattering against wide display windows of empty, silent shops; of the Observer read by intellectuals and those who pretend to be; of old stone buildings with harsh steps and new steel buildings which house bombs and American soldiers. Perhaps you think I haven't expressed this very well, but the contrast always seemed to me to be very unhomely, with

a cold surface bluffing a more gruesome back- ground. I hope this doesn't sound pretentious because it's quite simple really: our discussions in that café were too precious.

When this girl came things were different. Somehow we talked as we felt—we didn't have to pretend anything. I'd notice her because I knew I liked her. But I was a prude, easily embarrassed —still am.

At Christmas there were school 'Socials' held for fifth-form girls and boys. We'd hold a party and invite all the girls—they'd hold a party and invite all the boys. It was properly done: we'd dress smartly (and, if we remembered, clean our shoes) and those who had girl friends brought them along:We were expected to act like gentle- men, and a pot-bellied sadist kept an eye on us to see that we did. There was always a tight atmosphere at those parties, I remember. The Headmistress would turn up to make sure every- one was behaving themselves (including the Headmaster) and we'd• play games such as a variation on musical chairs. There would always - be a pseudo-sophisticated Gregory Peck with his girl commanding the show. We'd just hang around the sides of the hall, trying to avoid being spotted. Sooner or later a powdered female with teeth like porcupine prickles would drag one of us on to the floor and set us dancing with a woollen-faced bitch who thought Robert Horton was smashing. When there were no girls left to palm off, she'd induce a kid who wished he was home with his mum into dancing with her. She probably thought it would be good practice for the dance at the, yacht club the following Saturday night.

The girls' party was a particular farce. Half the boys never turned up, and those that did, put in appearances at odd times during the evening and then went to hide in the cloakroom, or better still the lavatory.

Those of us that could put up with it for any length of time stood around eating paper-light paste sandwiches and sausage rolls. When we were grouped together one girl called Hilda, who had a face like a parsnip, said to me : 'I'd like you to meet somebody.'

And I met this girl for this first time. I can't remember her name and I wouldn't tell you what 'Oh, God, not another damn Western!'

it was if I could. I didn't think she was especially pretty—perhaps in those days I wasn't a very good judge 'or perhaps it was because I was fat and ugly and I didn't think any girl any good would want to bother with me. But she talked about the debates and lots of other things I can't remember. We had partners and she was mine.

I think 1 said to her : 'I can't dance, but I'm willing to have a try.'

And I did. She kept saying : 'You're doing fine,' as if she were a swimming instructress or something. Eventually, when we were 'starving hungry, we went over to the canteen (which looked more like. an air-raid shelter) to get some- thing to eat. We sat down at a table with food on it so prettily laid out that it seemed a shame to eat it. Four of us: me, the girl, Hilda and some other fellow—I just can't remember who.

She said to me : 'Are you a prefect?'


• 'Why ever not?'

'They haven't got down to me yet,' 1 said. 'First of all those that are good at sport get prefect badges, then come the teachers' pets and then perhaps those that may be some good at the job.' (So even in those days I wasn't the most amiable bloke in the world.) 'I'm becoming a prefect next term.

'If you'd been captain of the hockey team you'd have been head girl—or whatever they call you.'

As I sit here now munching bread and cheese and punching this typewriter, I find it hard to visualise that party clearly. I can remember we stuffed ourselves until we felt sick and then we sat and talked about nothing in particular. Some- how my weight came up and the girl said : 'Why don't you start doing some exercises?'

'I don't have the time.'

'But you must. Before you go to bed at, nights. Twelve press-ups. That'll soon tire you out.' 'I shouldn't keep it up.'

'Why not try? Start training tonight. I tried it once. The third night my father had to carry me back to bed !'

We laughed and joked and laughed and joked. Back in the hall the last hour of the party seemed more enjoyable, but the time when it ended came quicker.

We walked to the cloakroom and the parsnip-faced girl kept making immature jokes, at which we all did our best to laugh. We stood in the cloakroom—the girl, and I were standing close to each other.

Suddenly Hilda held a twig of mistletoe over our heads. The girl stood very still, looking up at me. I blushed and laughed nervously. Then, fool that I am, ducked away. Hilda muttered something with a superior smile. The girl had blushed to her hair roots.

In silence we filed out of the cloakroom. 1 followed a good distance away. Suddenly the girl turned and said : 'Nobody's going to eat you, you know!' She looked angrily at me and walked out. We all walked to the bus station in silence. That was it. There were the debates (in fact she was my seconder, I think, for one debate on Co-education), meetings in the café, parties, social functions. But that was it.

When I left school I never saw her again, and I don't suppose I ever will. Brother, if anyone missed his chance then, I did. Don't think I'm feeling sorry for myself, because I'm not. But these money-loving tarts who wriggle their

behinds and think every man should be like James Bond can still go to hell. She was my sort of girl and unlike James Bond I don't have to go to bed with her to find out how I feel.