“Did you cry when she dumped you, Grandpa?”
“Don’t be so rude, Henry,” chided his big sister, Emily. “I’m sorry Gramps but he’s such an idiot sometimes. Most times, actually.”
“Blimey,” I said, “that’s fifty years ago. But I’m sure I did. I always did when that happened.”
“Aaaah, poor soul,” soothed Angie, patting my knee, “did I break your heart?”
“Yeah. I was desolate, bereft, inconsolable……for a day or two.”
I put my arm round her and kissed her on the cheek and wondered if she’d remember. She slapped me playfully on the arm and said,
“But we met up again ten years later, didn’t we? Fell in love, got married and if we hadn’t you lot wouldn’t be here.”
“Wow! I didn’t know you two had known each other before you met,” Emily said incredulously.
“Eh?” I grunted. “How could we have known each other before we actually met? Some kind of former life?”
“Stop teasing her, Ray,” admonished Angie, “you know full well what she means. Don’t listen to him Em, he’s only winding you up.”
“But how did you meet the first time? Emily asked.
This conversation had started when Angie had casually mentioned that our wedding anniversary was coming soon. We were keeping an eye on our grandchildren while their parents celebrated their tenth anniversary.
“Well, twice a year there was a funfair on Mitcham Common and this particular year was the first time I went there at night. I was fifteen and Mum hadn’t let me go before because she said I was too young. This time I was going with some school friends so that was OK with her.”
“So,” I said, waving my arms in front of my face to imitate the wavy screen of a film flashback and, putting on that sonorous American accent that introduces film trailers, continued, “let’s go back to 1965. Whitsun 1965……”
It was the noise and the lights that hit us first as we got off the bus. I’d been to funfairs before but never at night. Somehow the darkness concentrated the senses into that one small parcel of land. Above and beyond it was just blackness. Nothing else existed.
As the sounds began to separate I could identify each one: screaming girls; laughing and shouting boys; machines and rides crashing; generators roaring and the barkers, barking, I suppose. Then there was the medley of bangs, cracks, bells, sirens and claxons.
And the smells; mainly onions and candy floss with a dash of diesel and petrol.
For a few minutes the five of us walked and jostled our way around seeing where everything was. Mark met up with his girlfriend and we didn’t see him again until we were back at school. To tell the truth I wasn’t too sorry to see him go because he was the best looking of us and all the girls seemed to be only interested in him. That left Dave, Jim, Ian and me. I don’t know about the others but I felt overwhelmed by it all. The boys, men really, all seemed older, more confident and sharper dressed than me which made looking at the girls in their tight skirts and body-hugging jumpers all the more hopeless and frustrating.
We went on the dodgems first. That was always fun. Then it was the waltzer, though because we were all boys the attendant ignored us for the girls, spinning them round as fast as he could. To the ghost train, for a laugh and the coconut shy more in hope than expectation. We weren’t disappointed when we hit nothing.
“Let’s have a go on this!” shouted Dave, walking towards the “Test Your Strength” machine. He was the sporty one of us and always the most enthusiastic in the gym. Ian and Jim hit their way into the “Tough Guy” range while Dave went one better and was a “He Man”. As for me, I came between “Pathetic” and “Mr. Weakling”. They all fell about laughing and calling me “Mr. Weakling”. I was mortified but laughed along with them.
“My hand slipped on the mallet,” I protested, truthfully. But to no avail. For the next few days at school I was “Waymond the Weakling”.
Queuing in front of us for a cola at the drinks stand were three girls we knew from school.
“Oh my God!” cried Wendy, the Sandie Shaw lookalike. “It’s the four musketeers. Come to spoil our fun have you?”
“Yep,” said Dave, trying to put his arm round her as she squirmed away. “And don’t pretend you’re not pleased to see us.”
Dave, the unofficial leader of our group then asked,
“Who’s your friend?”
We all knew Wendy, Julia and Maureen but the fourth girl was unknown to us.
“She’s my cousin, Angela,” said Julia.
“Hello Angela!” we chorused. She smiled, looking a trifle embarrassed but she was a good looking girl. She had the looks I liked: long straight hair with a fringe; black eye-liner and mascara; pale pink lipstick; tight white polo neck sweater and a short black skirt. Capping it all, though more accurately, footing it all, with those sexy white Courrèges boots.
We hung around the stall for a while, laughing, joking and showing off. I didn’t say anything much, maybe the odd witty comment and looking at Angela a lot. Once we caught each other’s eye and exchanged sheepish smiles.
“Dare you to come on the waltzer with us?” challenged Wendy.
“Pooh! That’s not scary,” retorted Dave. “But I don’t know if Mr. Weakling here,” pointing at me, “wants to come.”
He explained, amid much mirth, about my ‘Test Your Strength’ debacle.
“I did it on purpose,” addressing the girls, “I didn’t want to show them up and make them feel inadequate.”
Dave and Wendy led the way while the rest of us trooped along behind. I wasn’t looking forward to this. I knew we were going to be flung round viciously because we now had girls with us. Jim and I shared a car with Julia and Angela. Although Angela sat next to me, our bodies pressing against each other, I remember nothing of the ride except wanting it to stop, clutching the safety rail until my knuckles almost burst out of my skin and in constant fear of being thrown out. Once back on solid ground I acted the fool and staggered around as if still dizzy until I saw the blank look on Angela’s face. She wasn’t impressed. However, I was delighted when she came on the dodgems with me. I thought I was really skilful with my dodging and bumping and I also had the chance to study her more closely. Her legs, her body, her hair and her voice and laugh. Yes, I fancied her.
After the ride was over I felt the ice had been broken and I asked her what school she went to, where she lived, what ‘O’ levels she was taking. I learned her favourite subject was French and she hoped to study languages for ‘A’ level. I put on my mock French accent,
“Ah oui, très belle. You look like Françoise Hardy où, peut-être, Marianne Faithfull.”
“That was awful. You’ll never pass ‘O’ level! But thank you, I love Françoise, I think she’s beautiful, but Marianne, I think she’s a bit of a scrubber if you ask me. Do you like her, then?”
“She’s not bad looking but I don’t like her songs or her warbly voice.” And I attempted to imitate that voice and set Angela off giggling again.
We passed a stall blasting out pop music.
“I like that one,” I said
“What is it? I’ve not heard that one before.”
“It’s the Dixie Cups’ ‘Iko Iko’. It’s a really unusual record. Almost bluesy. I love all that stuff. The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Them, The Pretty Things. Do you like that sort of music?”
“Yes, I like the music,” Angela said, “but I don’t like the way they look. They’re too scruffy. I think I’m a bit of a mod.”
“Me too. I’d love to have a Lambretta one day.”
The eight of us were still mooching around the fairground but in an ever increasingly loose group. We took another ride that meant Angela and I being crushed together again. I don’t think either of us minded that. I certainly didn’t.
“Oh look! Goldfish!” Angela pointed to the shooting gallery where goldfish swam as best they could in plastic bags.
“You don’t want one of them?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. Go on, try and get one for me.”
I was troubled. My first four shots all hit the target. The fifth would win Angela her fish. I aimed, fired and missed.
“Oh that’s a shame,” sighed Angela. “You were doing so well. Have another go. I’ll pay for it.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to win a goldfish. I think it’s cruel to keep them in a bowl going round and round all the time.”
Angela looked disappointed, then brightened up saying,
“We could set it free in the pond on the common.”
“No, I don’t think that’s good idea, it’ll get eaten by the bigger fish.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Angela thoughtfully. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“Hey, come over here,” I said, hastily changing the subject and dashed over to the stall where plastic ducks were swirling round in a tank. “I’ll try and win you something here.”
“Score five or under to win a prize!” shouted the stall holder.
Angela joined me and I said,
“Which one shall I go for?”
She studied them for a few seconds and then pointed saying,
Carefully, I hooked her duck under the beak and pulled it out of the water. On its bottom was the number three.
“Choose your prize!” shouted the barker.
“Which one do you want?” I asked.
“You choose,” replied Angela.
I chose a little golden bear with a blue ribbon round it’s neck.
“Ted,” I said gravely to the bear, “meet Angela. She’s going to look after you for the rest of your life.”
“Thank you,” said Angela as she hugged the little bear to her chest. “Nobody’s ever won anything for me before.”
We’d lost sight of the others by now and wandered around together. We had our fortunes told by the mechanical clairvoyant. Our fortunes on the cards the machine spat out were identical. “You will have ups and downs in life but it will all turn out well in the end.”
“I bet all the cards say that,” I said.
At a food stand I bought us both a coffee but we had to share a hot-dog because we were both getting short of money by then.
“There you are!” cried Julia, “I’ve been looking all over for you. It’s nearly time to go, Angie.”
Angela looked at her watch.
“Gosh, is it that time already?”
“Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself,” I added.
Angela gave me a push.
“Who said anything about enjoying themselves?”
“Well, I have, at least,” I retorted.
I finished my coffee and said to Angela,
“Let’s have one last ride on the Big Wheel before you go.”
I’m not a great one for heights but I was feeling high already when I got onto the seat with Angela and on top of the world when we reached the top of the wheel and stopped. The view was amazing. Far below us the dazzle and cacophony of the fair. A little oasis of humanity surrounded by the impenetrable blackness of the common. The wind had a chill in it and I put my arm round Angela’s shoulders. I rather took myself by surprise but it felt the right thing to do. To my great relief and excitement, she moved closer and put her head against mine. I whispered to her.
“It’s like we’re flying in space and looking down on the world. There’s no-one else in the whole universe but us.”
I turned and kissed her cheek. She looked up at me and instinctively we kissed on the lips with increasing passion. Later, Angie told me that Julia had said we’d kissed for two whole revolutions of the wheel. We were still at it when the ride came to a halt and we became aware of the jeers and cheers from our friends who’d come to watch our burgeoning amorousness.
“Take no notice of them,” I said to Angie, “they’re only jealous.”
“We’ve got to go now,” urged Julia. “Dad’s picking us up at half past.”
“Do you really have to go now?” I asked. “I could walk you home, it’s not that far or we could get the bus.”
“We’re all going now,” announced Wendy who, along with Dave, had just joined us.
Angie said, putting her arm through mine, “I’ll go home with Ray, if he doesn’t mind, that is.”
I said I didn’t mind as long as she behaved herself.
“So that’s how it ended, kids. Arms round each other we walked off into the night.
“Aaah. That’s so romantic,” sighed Emily.
“Yuck! Sounds ghastly to me,” grumbled Henry.
“What made you fancy him in the first place, Gran?” questioned Emily.
“God only knows!” laughed Angie, stroking my knee. “But I think it may have been because he wasn’t loud and ‘show-offy’ like the others and the bit about the goldfish stuck in my mind. It was unusual to be that way in those days. So it might have been that and the fact he looked a bit like George Harrison, my favourite Beatle, without the hair, of course!”
“Why did you break up then?” enquired Emily.
“Yes, why did you break up with me?” I said, poking Angie on the arm.
“Well, we were only fifteen at the time and after being together for a few months someone else took my fancy I guess. It’s what girls, and boys for that matter, did then. Probably still do for all I know. But thank heaven we got together again.”
“Yes, that old penny-in-the-slot fortune teller actually got it right.”