Sunday, 26 July 2015

I Am Sixteen, She is Twenty-Two

One of my earlier posts.

Palaces of Romance, The Cinemas of Croydon.

In the 1940s and 1950s Croydon boasted some of the best cinemas in the UK. 
The Davis Theatre was largest, seating almost 4000, probably the finest cinema/theatre I have ever been in. A truly magnificent building both inside and out it.  Demolished in the late 1950s and replaced by some nondescript pile of drabness - a disastrous loss to Croydon!
(Photo courtesy Google) 

Other cinemas of note were the Savoy in Broad Green, The State Cinema (later The Granada) in Thornton Heath, The Regal and The Astoria, both in Purley. These were well-designed and comfortable places, with the Savoy being the earliest of my cinema memories. The Savoy was almost opposite Hathaway Road, thus being a couple of minutes walk from my home. It was near Sumner Road, with a café on the corner, then a sweet shop and then the Savoy. 
Adjoining the Savoy, during the war, there was the Civic Restaurant where I sometimes had a very cheap midday meal. I remember the plates they used for us kids; they had a picture printed on the plate which encouraged you to clean the plate entirely to see what the picture was. Not that I ever needed any encouragement to clean every morsel from the plate! Young boys usually have gargantuan appetites and with rationing in place food was never wasted, (although I hated cod liver oil, yuk).

There were many smaller cinemas, such as The Eros and The Odeon in West Croydon, The Palladium on the corner of Surrey St., and Scarbrook Road, The Hippodrome in Church Street and, of course the wonderful little CLASSIC in South Croydon. This last named cinema will forever have a place in my heart and I'll tell you why (but please keep this to yourself, especially if my wife is around!).

In October 1951 Stella and I were cosily ensconced in the dark back seats of the Classic.
 Now a bit bolder than earlier as we'd been "going steady" for a few months and we had spent many hours in Stella's doorway porch kissing and hugging for far too long after an evening out. 
Stella is seated next to me, my left arm around her shoulder. Now and then her face would tilt towards me and we gently kiss in the darkness. 
And then it happened!

Stella slowly guides my left arm from her shoulder, pressing my hand on her breast. 
This was the most exhilarating experience of my life at that point. We kissed, passionately, with my hand caressing her breast. Time stopped it seemed.  A wonderful rapturous moment.

Of course, I was inexperienced in those days. 
Wouldn't have dreamt, or dared, to fondle a girl's breasts then, even though the temptation was usually quite strong. 
Things seem to go a lot faster today in the dating and sexual exploits of the youngsters but in my day we seemed, generally, to be more restrained.  Anyway, from that point onwards our lingering in the porch, or elsewhere, now included the caressing of Stella's bosom. 
No wandering below the waist, or stroking the thighs and stuff like that. Whether Stella wanted me to venture further I know not. Possibly she did, but being such a gauche or unpolished lover-boy, I just didn't feel it right to risk such a thing as groping "down below". So now you know. Keep this secret. I wouldn't want anybody else to know all this!

We went to the cinema about once every week or ten days. I remember one film in particular, at the Regal in Purley: "An American in Paris", starring Gene Kelly and Georges Guetary singing "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" - which fitted my mood perfectly as I felt I'd already entered Paradise.
I'm now 17. Stella would have expected my call-up to National Service because I'd lied about my age when we first met.
I decided to confess by writing her a goodbye letter, lacking the courage to tell her face to face.
We never met again until some 55 years later.
Pat and I had a nice meeting with Stella, her husband and family.
Sadly, her husband died of cancer; Stella died three years later.
Never look back some say. They are wrong!


PhilipH said...

Warning: contains sexual remembrance.

Fram Actual said...

Unlike the vast array of theaters for you to pick and choose from, Philip, I grew up in a small town which had but one. But, as the gods of film would have it, I lived across the street from it and it brought in three new films each and every week. You can see where I am going. More than one hundred and fifty motion pictures a year were part of my boyhood and teenage "educational system." While I did not have a number of theaters to choose from as you did, I think three films a week are just about enough for anyone.

This was an interesting tale, Philip. I do not recall any experience similar to the one you describe. I guess I was not particularly precocious in the ways of the world or the ways of young ladies. It must have been a fascinating experience to see her again all those years later. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to encounter a lost love from the distant past.

PhilipH said...

Thanks Fram A. Seems you lived as close to your cinema as I did to one of mine. I could not afford three visits a week though! My weekly film ration, as a boy, was on Saturday mornings, to the Savoy cinema at the children's film club at 6d (six old pence) admission charge. These matinee shows were exciting, noisy and fabulous. I remember the serial cowboy films, Hopalong Cassidy, (Bill Boyd), Roy Rogers and Trigger and others. The 'baddies' were booed and hooted like mad and the good guy always won the shoot-out.

Sometimes my friend's grandpa would take us to see a 'proper' film in the 1940s and my all-time favourite was Tarzan. Johnny Weismuller was the best Tarzan. As a kid I believed every moment of those films. I wanted nothing more than to go and live with Tarzan, Jane, Boy and Cheetah in their wondrous tree house in the jungle.

As for meeting up with Stella after such a long absence it was disappointing in that the memory of her was so vastly different from the reality of the now.

She was much shorter, plumper and of course older. I was stupid not to realise how she would now look. There was absolutely no way I would have recognised her at all.

It was, however, great to meet and chat about the past. I kept in touch by phone and letters until she died. I was told by her daughter that Stella had kept every letter I'd ever sent her, including the 'goodbye' letter and subsequent ones. These were found after her death and it saddened me that I'd been such a coward in not confessing my 'white lie' of 1952 face to face instead of in a letter.

All Consuming said...

Oh what a wonderful post! So perfectly described, those days of eager youth, the Stella then and then many years later, the changes (in both of you of course *laughs*. I think the fact that she kept all your letters means that you meant a great deal to her back then. You must have broken her heart! But we go down paths that meant to lead us in a certain direction, and you would never have met Pat had you done things differently, you Valentino you. Hahahahaa *winks*. I've watched "An American in Paris" many times, its a great film. And I've looked at some photographs of the cinemas you mention too, such a shame they knock down these architecturally magnificent buildings gah!

I don't know if this link will work, but it shows a drawing of inside of the Davis cinema when it was till standing.

Great post! Xx

PhilipH said...

Thank you Michelle. Although she is gone I think of her with great love and affection still, of those early days when young love overwhelmed me.

Every lunchtime I would phone Stella from the office of Charrington's the brewers. She worked as a shorthand typist in a London firm. Spent most of the lunch break just talking about whatever. It didn't matter; just anything to hear her voice.

The strong desire to see her again caused me to dream recurrently. Always the same: I am walking in the High Street, outside Kennards store. Stella approaches and walks on by, without a word or a glance. I still see her dark green coat as she disappears into the crowd.

With the aid of the internet and a people tracing firm ( I discovered her address after searching the marriage records for a long while. Cannot describe the elation felt when her whereabouts were discovered.

I wanted to rush to see her there and then. Idiotic? Absolutely. But I knew it had to be.

I wrote to her, not a goodbye but a happy 'Hello Stella'. Waiting and hoping for some response which may or may not come. It did, only a few days later. A long letter which I still have.

After our meeting in Sutton, Surrey, I phoned her once or twice a week during the evenings. She confessed that she was deeply upset when she got my goodbye letter. One morning soon after that she was taking dictation from her boss when she started to cry, trying to cover it up by saying she had a bad cold. Guilt hit me again.

I also spoke with Alf, her hubby, as he sometimes answered the phone. He was such a nice man and so understanding. He actually said that when he read my 'Hello' letter to Stella he felt it was one of the best letters he'd ever received. I think this is because I knew him, slightly, from the ballroom dance school we all attended. I asked him if he remembered what he'd said to me on our last meeting as we left the dance. He said no, he didn't recall. So I told him.

We'd left the dance and I was walking Stella home when Alf approached and said "Is it OK if I called on Stella when you're in the forces?" This was just after Xmas 1951 and I was supposed to be called up in January 1952, (a year earlier than for real of course). I remember saying that it would be alright if Stella wanted.
Alf and Stella married in 1956, the year I returned to Civvy Street.

My heart and memory holds so many silly little things about those months in 1951. Pat of course knows about my dalliances before I met her, just a couple, that's all. Sometimes when she wants to have a 'dig' at me for some minor misdemeanour or something she says "You wouldn't have done,said or behaved like that if I were Stella!". Even after 57 years I think Pat still considers Stella a 'rival' - OMG what carry on.

This is more of a confessional comment, but forgive me if you will.

All Consuming said...

It's a lovely comment and a lovely post. As we age, things don't just disappear, loves remain in some form, and there are moments so clear that they take us right there again. I'm glad you met up again, and I'm very glad she and Alf got married too. It doesn't matter if a torch is still burning, we can have more than one going at once, and for different reasons. *hugs him*. xxx

Sparkling Red said...

Ah, the good old days, when people spent lots of time kissing. I think things were better then. Those are some very sweet memories.

PhilipH said...

Thank you Sparkling. I concur, whole heartedly.