TTGU, Ep. 1, Ch. 10 – Excursions
The popular myth among National Servicemen was that every girl in Great Britain wanted to have a soldier as a pen-friend. It’s true to say that a lot of them did, but certainly not all.
I had a few girls who wrote to me from Wolverhampton at the request of my Auntie Rene. The correspondences were short-lived, I suppose because I appeared to be some sort of snobby bloke with my perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation. My interests and theirs never coincided, either. They went on about pop-music and fashion, things I found trivial, and I wanted to correspond about things which seemed – and still seem – deeper: politics, religion and jazz, for instance.
One day, Peter Scutts, the quiet lad who seemed out of place in the Army and who everybody ignored, asked me if I’d like to write to a girl from his home-town: Bexley in Kent. I wondered why he didn’t write to her until, after I had met her, I realised he was a little short bloke and she was over five feet. These pen-friend relationships held the possibility of the boy and girl becoming more than just pen-friends. Scutts could see, for he knew the girl personally, that his relationship with her wouldn’t go anywhere and they would look daft walking out together.
Her name was Pat and she and I began writing. After a week or two, we decided to meet in London as soon as I could get a 24-hour pass. We met, as so many couples did in those days, “Under The Clock At Waterloo Station”. If there wasn’t a pop-song called that, there should have been.
And that was how I got to know The Big Smoke. Pat knew how to find all the landmarks of which we Midlanders had only seen pictures or read about. Whenever I could get a Saturday or Sunday leave, we met up and she took me to all sorts of places.
I suppose we looked like a young couple as we walked here and there, eventually hand-in-hand. But there was no real spark between us, except the spark of friendship. We enjoyed each other’s company, but there was no romance.
I had, from that time, a vast knowledge of how to find interesting bits of London, from Buckingham Palace to the Guinness Clock to Soho. When Pat couldn’t make it, I would go up there with a few mates and show them around. It was good to see a bit of life as a change from an Army camp.
My friendship with Pat was to play an important part in my life later.
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