I'm learning the foxtrot at Jimmy Quinn's Dance School in, South Croydon. This is supposedly the most difficult of all the ballroom dances; it's definitely the best of the four main dances in my opinion, with the tango a close second.
Stella and Mavis are already in the hall waiting for the class to begin. Great evening, becoming wonderful.
The class ends later than usual with Jimmy Quinn and Patricia Teare demonstrating the finer points of the foxtrot. As we leave I latched on to Stella, walking her home. Mavis stays with us until we turn off Brighton Road into Brantwood Road where Mavis smiles goodnight and goes on her way home.
Stella and I stroll arm in arm up Brantwood Road. She asks: "When is your birthday?" "19th January" I answer. She waited, obviously wondering what birthday that would be. I make the stupid decision to tell a silly white lie. I say I am seventeen and will be 18 in a few months time. Why I did this? I still really don't know. I thought that narrowing the age gap by a year or so would somehow be more acceptable to her. Anyway, I could not bring myself to admit I was a mere 16 year old; I simply couldn't do that.
Stella, who is 22, seemed OK with my answer. I'm happy and relieved.
Arriving at her house, we stand in the porchway, just holding hands, whispering to each other so as not to disturb anybody in the house. And then I kissed her. Properly, this time, full on those lips that I'd longed to kiss ever since we first danced. Stella melts in my arms. I kiss her again ... and again. I'm now in love for the very first time.
Stella is thus my first love. First love never fades. Other loves may come along but the first is so strong in one's heart and mind as to be indestructible, unforgettable. I'm sure it is the same with millions of others.
This evening was the start of something new and bewitching for me. Stella responded in much the same way. Fearful of rejection when I first kissed her but that fear was unfounded. This evening would also be one of many where I linger too long with my first love; far too long ... I miss the last bus home.
Walking home, late at night, was something I got used to. It is a long way back to my home in Thornton Heath from South Croydon! I trek along the Brighton Road, past the Red Deer pub, then further past The Swan and SugarLoaf pub, along South End and into North End and the Croydon High Street. On and on, passing Kennards on my left, Grants and Allders on the right, then the Eros and Odeon cinemas and across Station Road, past West Croydon Railway Station with The Fox and Hounds pub opposite. Pressing on, past Croydon General Hospital with The Co-op stores and West Croydon Methodist Church on the other side of the London Road. Soon I'd be passing Nova Road and my old Hathaway Road, with the Savoy Cinema opposite. Across St.James's Road and past the Star Pub and the the Rising Moon. The road seems endless - but I am walking on air, not minding at all. Today, all those landmarks are gone!
Passing Mayday Road knowing I'll reach Thornton Heath Pond, which, in those 1951 days, was like an oasis. Why an oasis? ... Because old Joe's tea and sandwich stall at the Pond is waiting to greet me!
Joe, and one assistant, opens this stall late in the evenings. I don't know if he ever opens during the day as the only time I sample his offerings is after midnight! Joe was an old salt, a sailor of many years, who now serves tea and his speciality sausage sandwiches. This is all I ever buy from Joe's stall and both items were perfect. Strong tea is served in a half-pint mug and the sandwich is white bread with a fried sausage-meat and brown sauce filling. Hot and delicious, just what this young late-night traveller needs to spur him on to the last leg of his homeward journey. Joe's little establishment was always busy whenever I arrived there. His service was excellent; he must have been one of the first "fast food" outlets in those days. A big burly character, very friendly and efficient. A popular watering hole, probably long gone, possibly a casualty of Health and Safety rules!
After ten or fifteen minutes enjoying Joe's wares I would continue on the last lap of my journey home. I don't really know how many miles I walked back home but I guess it would be something around 6 or 7 miles. But I don't regret one yard of it. When the heart and mind is so light and carefree we are strong and invincible ... IMHO of course.