My second year at Central High was similar to my first, not very good educationally but fun otherwise.
The school had a room which we could use at lunchtime to sit around, listen to records, chat to our friends, even dance, I seem to remember, rather than walk around outside in all weathers which seemed to be the case in English schools. And, of course there were the ‘formals’ which were held two or three times a year and gave us the chance to get really dressed up – for the girls to wear strapless, floaty dresses and the boys to wear their tuxedos with cummerbunds and bow ties.
I think my mother had already decided we would stay in England after that second year, as the next school year she sent us all to a ‘crammer’ – a wonderful school in Hammersmith run by a Mrs Hugh-Jones who had set it up to help girls pass their GCE’s or, as in the case of Jennie, help them to catch up with other girls their age so that they could go on to a state secondary schools or wherever.
I was there for one year and it was really helpful as well as being a wonderful place to go. The school was in Mrs Hugh-Jones’s little house and we had to wear ballet slippers when indoors so that we didn’t ruin the carpets. The French class was with a french woman and held in what I believe was Mrs Hugh-Jones’s bedroom. Six or so of us girls would sit on divan with our books on our knees while Madame Latour (I think that was her name) would sit on a chair behind a little table. History and geography were in a room at the front on the first floor which was kitted out with real desks and chairs as was the Maths room which was next to it. I didn’t do maths because I was so far behind and it would have been impossible to finish the course in one year. The hours were either 9-12 or 10-1pm, we could get there in half an hour on the tube or a London Transport bus and we had our afternoons free. I was able to pass three ‘O’ levels, as they were called in those days, and go on to an ‘A’ level college for the really important exams. (Best of all, there was no p.e.! No running around outside, no climbing up ropes, no playing ball games or any other exhausting pastime!)
It was at Mrs Hugh-Jones Tutorial Establishment that I met my best friend, Shaun. She was my opposite, in many ways – she was tall, busty, and very outgoing where I was small, flat-chested and really shy. We had a great time together, going out to parties and dance clubs at the week-ends and spending loads of time at each other’s houses listening to music, trying out make-up and talking about the young men we were meeting. We stayed best friends for around four or five years until she went off to Spain and I stayed in London. Years and years later I found Shaun through Friends Reunited and, though we lived eighty or so miles apart, we met up every once in a while and had a good laugh. When my mother died, Shaun came to her funeral. No one could have known then, in July 2014, that Shaun would drop dead just a few months later and I would never see her again.
After my ‘O’ levels, I went to City of Westminster College which was situated in a large red brick building in Francis Street, Victoria, not far from Westminster Cathedral and just down the road from the Army and Navy Stores. Every morning during my first year there I went to a café outside the entrance to Victoria Station where all the buses line up and had poached egg on toast with a cup of tea. I would then wander down Victoria Street to the college, go into the cafeteria and have another cup of tea with a cigarette. (The English nickname for cigarettes was ‘fags’ which will make my American readers laugh, I’m sure!) My mother was still working for the Navy at the time so I was still smoking American cigarettes – Pall Malls. This made me very popular among my college friends!
I wanted to go on to teachers training college so needed two ‘A’ levels and I decided to do English Literature and French. I had to study another subject at ‘O’ level so chose Logic. I quickly realised that Logic and I were not suited! I couldn’t get my head round syllogisms, which is the only word I remember that I was introduced to during the few weeks I stuck to it. (I had to look it up to see what it means and I’ve already forgotten!) So, I signed up for Latin ‘O’ level as I had never studied it and thought it would be helpful.
Although circumstances – and the fact that I am a lazy individual – meant that I never did pass my Latin ‘O’ level, the two years I spent studying it were, indeed, very useful in the ensuing years. Best of all, though, was the latin teacher! He was only about ten years older than his students and, when he wasn’t teaching latin he was busy being a jazz pianist. His name was Michael Garrick. In the 1990’s I went to a Pizza Express in Maidstone where I knew he was appearing and enjoyed an evening listening to him playing. I was very tempted to introduce myself to him during an interval but, in the end, I was too shy.
During my two years at the college I made quite a few acquaintances and a couple of good friends. There was a young man by the name of John Rasmussen whose family were originally Norwegian and whose television only received BBC1; another named Colin with whom I was in touch a couple of years ago; Valerie, whose dad was a vicar in east London; Susan,who lived in Denmark Hill; a young artist who had escaped from Hungary in 1956 called Peter Siklos; Tom, who died a few years ago; Fay, who became a famous food writer; Chris, who knew which piece of music I meant when I hummed (badly) the third movement of Brahms’ third and whom I eventually found through Facebook, living in Japan; Liam who was Irish and always seemed to wear a tweed jacket (the things one remembers!); and others, about whom I knew very little but their names; and there was Tim. I went out with Tim for about a year and have only recently been able to get in touch with him again.His mum and dad were very nice to me whenever I visited them at their home in Wateringbury, a village I was to live in thirty years later. His mother introduced me to sweet peas which I adore and to pheasant which I found revolting (especially with the shot still in!)
When Tim and I first met we spent a lot of time being rude to one another. As often happens, this led to attraction. Unfortunately, I was engaged to a lovely young man called Roger. It is now obvious to me that eighteen is far too young to make one’s mind up about a future partner but at the time I had truly believed that Roger and I would marry when we were both a bit older and live happily ever after. I imagine his mother was very pleased when, one night, I broke off our engagement. (Roger and his mum lived in the same block of flats that we lived in and several years later, he was very kind to me which I’m sure I didn’t deserve! He now lives in Paris with his lovely wife, Christine)
After my ‘A’ levels and my break up with Tim, all of which happened within a few months, I found a job for a year working for the then LCC (London County Council) as something which I am sure no longer exists. My official title was pre-trainee teacher and I was given a position at Avondale Park Primary School near Latimer Road tube station. I worked in the school’s day nursery with Gwen and an older woman whose name I am sad to have forgotten. I enjoyed those months, getting to know how a class of such young children is run, actually learning children’s songs and rhymes which hadn’t got to America so had passed me by, picking out tunes on the classroom piano while the children were having their afternoon naps on little cots in the room next door and learning about English school dinners! At that time they were DELICIOUS! We ate with the children in the nursery and each of us would sit at the head of a table, dishing out potatoes, carrots and peas, or cabbage and little slices of meat with gravy. ‘Pudding’ was the best! There was jam roly poly with custard, fruit and jelly, the occasional doughnut with warm jam sauce, gingerbread, biscuits, sponges of all sorts with sauces to suit – I’m making my mouth water just thinking of them!
During this time I was unattached and enjoyed being single. It was the early 1960’s and clothes, music, hairstyles were getting more and more exciting. I wasn’t earning much and naturally had to give something to the family purse so I didn’t have a lot of fashionable clothes but I did have one or two nice outfits. I went out with a young man called Dennis Rolfe who was hoping to become a photographer and whose ambition was to own a Morgan car. I lost touch with him during the following year but seem to remember coming across him in Queensway and he had managed to get hold of a Morgan. When we were going out, though, he had a Vespa motor scooter. In those days silly people, including me, rode round without helmets. I am not a risk-taker, though and decided I had to have a helmet so bought one from a friend. A few years later I found out that one should never buy a second-hand helmet as it might have been damaged and one wouldn’t know until it didn’t protect one’s head. Luckily, we didn’t have any accidents when I was on the scooter.
On the 22nd of November that year (1963) we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. It was the most shocking thing I could imagine. I seem to remember that I was going out that evening with a young man called Paul Caplan and we went on a bus to wherever it was (probably Kings Road, Chelsea). Everyone on the bus was red-eyed and talking in low whispers about the terrible news. Everyone in the pub we went to was subdued. It was a really sad time.
Every Saturday morning I went to Henneky’s pub in Portobello Road to meet friends. One time I heard that ‘Mick’ would be there but he didn’t turn up. It was a year or so later that I realised they were talking about Mick Jagger! Another regular at that time was the son of Joe Losey, Gavrick. He was very good looking and always surrounded by attractive women.
It was there that December that I met another Mike.
For American friends: Pudding = Dessert, Biscuits = Cookies, P.E = physical education