Although I was to make up for it later, I was rather late in waking up to girls. When I was about fifteen, and working in my school holidays in the Despatch Department of Cawdell’s, formerly Kennard’s store in Wimbledon Broadway, Dad cajoled me into my first foray into the unknown.
The Despatch Department, at the back of the building, was where suppliers made their deliveries. We would then carry the goods up to the various departments. Dad drove a van that took parcels out to buyers.
That summer, a young lady whose name I have conveniently forgotten, made frequent visits to my workplace from the perfume counter. “You know what she wants, don’t you?”, asked my father. “No”, said I, somewhat bemused. “She wants you to take her out”, was the frightening reply.
Plucking up courage, I made a date. On the appointed day I waited outside Wimbledon Town Hall for an hour. She didn’t turn up. I felt both chastened and relieved.
Her story the next day was that her grandmother was ill. I didn’t really buy that, and didn’t repeat the exercise.
It was two more years before my cricketing prowess was to earn me my first real encounter. Somewhere in North London I took seven wickets for twelve runs in a club match. Two child minders were watching on the boundary. I think they wore the suitable uniforms of the day as they guarded their charges’ prams. One of them in particular clapped and cheered each time I took a wicket.
As we left the field at the end of the game, John O’Rourke pointed to a stunning young lady all dolled up, standing silently on her own. “That’s your nurse”, said John. “No. It can’t be”, said I. Nevertheless, I did walk in her direction.
John was right. I borrowed the entrance money from Chris and took her to the cinema.
North London was a long way from Raynes Park, especially for a schoolboy. This was another exercise not repeated.
It had, however, given me a taste. Nearer to home, a little while later, came the excitement engendered by Angela Davies, the first girl who set my teenage pulses racing. We had met at the school dance, the only occasion on which we were officially allowed contact with the pupils of the Ursuline Convent. I had spent a very uncomfortable few days attempting to learn the waltz, at which Angela considered I still wasn’t much good. Nevertheless she didn’t seem to mind the last one, and we were to share a delightful nine months in 1959.
Towards the end of my schooldays, I worked in the holidays. My first such employment was in Morden industrial estate. During my fifteenth summer, at the beginning of the school holidays I had tramped the burning streets between there and Raynes Park in search of a holiday job. I landed one in a printing works where my task was to produce glossy brochures.
It was there that a beautiful girl told me that I looked like Tony Curtis. Not being sure whether that was a compliment or not, the gauche teenager I then was had no inkling of the opportunity I’d obviously missed out on.