By Adrian Ford
I had thought, ‘falling in love at first sight’ is just a cliché. That is, until it happened to me. It was in the early sixties; I was an unworldly teenager at his first Saturday night local hop. Approaching the hall, you could hear the bass of
‘Great Balls of Fire’
trying to beat its way through the walls. I paid my entrance money, took a deep breath and reached out to open when the main door when it burst open in my face.
‘I Hear You Knockin’’
‘Watch out, kid.’ It was two of the village heavyweights dressed in flashy teddy-boy style suits with drape jackets, drainpipe trousers and crepe-soled beetle-crushers.
‘S-s-sorry,’ I stammered, making way for the boisterous two and their giggling girls, chewing gum ostentatiously. Their dresses were so short you could see their underwear.
‘I Saw Her Standing There’
Inside, I joined the writhing mass of humanity and saw her near the stage. A single spotlight played upon a revolving crystal ball hanging from the ceiling. Bubbles of light washed over the most beautiful face I had ever seen. I seemed to be gazing through a hazy tunnel, music diminishing to a whisper. She was tall, her black dress accentuating her hourglass figure, complementing her perfect pale face, black hair falling over exquisite shoulders. My mouth became dry; my pulses raced; I was in love.
‘Are you going to ask me to dance, Johnny?’ It was Sandra, the girl who lived next door. I was back in the real world.
‘Of course,’ I said, leading her into the throng.
Later, we sat with glasses of ice-cold coke. ‘Great to see you, Sandra, you’re looking lovely tonight.’ We had an ‘open’ relationship of close friendship; not at all platonic but stopping short of exclusive ‘going steady’.
‘Who’s that in the black dress?’ I asked.
‘She’s out of your league, Johnny. That’s Claudia d’Angelo, of the ice cream family. She’s with her brother, Jackie.’
I knew of him – and his side-kick, Eddie Smylie. They were not just reputed to be hard men. Undeterred, when Sandra was asked to dance I walked over to Claudia.
‘Hello, Miss d’Angelo, I’m Johnny Manson. Would you like to dance?’
Her brother stepped between us. ‘She doesn’t dance with kids, especially those from the Wimpey estate and who go to private schools. Beat it.’ He seemed a pleasant chap, quietly spoken; whose eyes never left yours.
‘The Ballad of High Noon’
‘With respect, Mr. d’Angelo, I am asking your sister to dance.’
He said, ‘Okay, but you have a problem.’
‘And what’s that?’
Two huge hands clamped me on the upper arms, turning me so that I was facing away from Claudia. Eddie Smylie then propelled me into the middle of the dance floor. I scuttled off, red-faced, wishing I were somewhere else.
‘Return to Sender’
Sandra took many letters to Claudia at their school for me; I telephoned her daily. Then Eddie called me and made it very clear that I should desist from annoying his girl-friend. ‘In any case, sunshine,’ he said, ‘she wouldn’t be allowed to go out with a non-Catholic.’
So there it was; my address, school and religion were against me. I was doomed.
Decades later, Sandra contacted me through a social website. She lived in South Africa and we began to e-mail constantly. She was divorced and had two grown-up children, just like me. When she said she was visiting England to visit her son in Worcester, we arranged to meet at the Randolph, in Oxford.
She was already sitting, reading at a cream tea-laden table and didn’t see me as I gazed upon her, smitten suddenly by something akin to when I first saw Claudia.
After tea, she said, ‘Not only have I organized the tea, Jimmy, I have taken a room.’
We married in Durban and honeymooned in Botswana where we were to take up teaching posts. Funny old world, isn’t it?
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