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Lynn Whatts lay back on the sun bed. She felt a bit self-conscious in her one-piece swimsuit. At only five-foot three inches, she thought of herself as short and dumpy. She’d put on a lot of weight over the years. Some of it came with age; she was fifty-four. The rest was her sweet tooth. Cakes were her downfall and cream slices were her favourite.
As sales director of a printing company, she had the opportunity to pick during the day. While on the road, Lynn would stop off at a baker’s, then sit at some quiet roadside spot with a flask of coffee and her Cosmopolitan. That was the daily treat; away from the continuous grind of buttering up clients, shaking sweaty hands, drinking their awful cappuccino while being offered stale biscuits.
As a kid, her mother initiated her love for cake. It seemed at the time her mother spent all day cooking and baking. With three strapping older brothers, she had to book her seat early when teatime came round. There was no money for proper evening meals. Cake was cheap, along with bread and butter, jam, fish paste and always a jar of lemon curd, her favourite. The times she’d had a slap on the wrist for licking the spoon before handing it on. But, the sweet things had taken their toll, in more ways than others. The playground groups that had giggled, taunted her, ‘fatty, Whatty, she’s so spotty.’
In her early teens, on the few occasions school friends were invited for tea, she remembered their frowns at the table. Once her mother was out of earshot, she’d tell them, ‘we usually have sausage and mash tonight but mum’s been busy.’ Any excuse to hide the facther dad cleared off years ago, leaving mother with four kids, two part time jobs and no money.
Lynn vaguely remembered her father; he was in an old photo album somewhere. It showed feathered black and white pictures of her in a baby swimsuit, making sandcastles on a beach in Margate. Her dad posed in his vest and cap, his trousers rolled up. With a toothy grin, he held a glass of brown ale.
Lynn peered over her book at the other couples. Some of the elderly lay snoozing all in a line; mouths open with red faces, stiff as a board on their sun beds. She smiled at the dark thought. Any one of them could be dead, no one would know. Rigor mortised during the hot afternoon, now looking like they were waiting patiently in a morgue for someone to tie an ID tag on their toe.
Then there were the young couples, touching each other with delicate rubs of sun tan oil; lying side-by-side holding hands, connected in a bridge of love. Others shared the same sun bed, curled up into one another like twin foetuses.
Lynn laid back. For some reason she’d done a lot of thinking lately -- her tortured school days, two failed marriages, her work, her son Lee who was about to move out and share with two mates.
She gently rubbed the sun cream in. She felt the hard line of the old scar below her left knee. Thoughts of Miriam flooded back. She touched the Star of David pendant at her throat. Lynn hadn’t thought of her for a long time. It had to be thirty-five years now...
Miriam had been a one-time school friend - a pretty Jewish girl with brown eyes and dark hair, who’d surprised everybody, including her strict orthodox parents, for getting expelled for stealing. Lynn smiled to herself; the growing pains of youth, wanting to belong, wanting to be accepted, wanting to be friends with Carol Remington.
In 1963 at sixteen years old how she envied Carol Remington. Carol had it all, long blonde hair, good looks, no, not good looks, she was beautiful, tall as well. Carol’s parents were paying for her to attend the Lucy Clayton School of modelling, and to cap it all, she was head prefect.
Carol was respected by all the teaching staff, and definitely Miss Soames favourite: the tweed suited, hair in a bun, starchy old head mistress of Scaynes Hill Grammer School for Girls.
Scaynes was a 1930’s built Sussex school with a high academic record. This compounded Carol’s popularity as she had taken more GCE’s than Field Marshall Montgomery had medals, Miss Soames had commented in the staff room, and achieved top grades. She was down for good A-Level predictions as well.
Carol, with the other eight prefects including Lynn and Miriam were Beatle fans. They had formed their own Fab-Four fan club. The Scaynes Hill Scousers they called themselves. Carol of course was secretary. Their strict rule being only prefects could be members.
Carol had already seen the Beatles. A year previous in the school holidays she’d been to Liverpool to stay with her cousin. They’d been allowed to visit the Cavern club during the lunch time sessions. That’s when Carol saw them. ‘They were hotter – hotter than molten steel,’ she had described to the rest of the girls in a state of near ecstasy. A year later the Cavern and its raw smelly atmosphere was just a distant memory. Now, Carol and the rest of her Beatles gang had to make do with the prefect’s common room.
The staff did allow them an old second-hand record player. But on strict instructions to be played only during lunchtime breaks, and, it mustn’t interfere with the daily prefect duty rota. Also they were allowed pin-up posters, with concessions; no Cliff Richard, Elvis or any other pop star stripped to the waist. So, there they sat, from twelve-thirty to one-thirty, with a window open, passing round a cigarette, chewing gum, drinking coke and pawing over Beatle magazines; in-between kissing the occasional photo of George or Paul with sudden shrieks of delight from the others.
The gangs Friday and Saturday nights were taken up going to the Melody Ballroom. A young teen’s non-alcohol venue behind a local public house, where parents would drop them off around seven in the evening and then collect them at ten-thirty.
As they tired of Cokes, Pepsi’s and orange, the girls, promising a snog, would get the older looking boys to forage cigarettes and small bottles of rum from the pub off-license.
At that age, they wanted to look cool. The ones whose parents could afford it bought them collarless Beatle jackets and wedge shoes. Most of the night they’d chew gum and dance in a circle around their Mary Quant look-a-like handbags, occasionally bursting into song with some favourite, especially, Love Me Do or Please Please Me.
Although Lynn was a prefect, she sat on the fringes. The only member of the group that really spoke to her was Miriam. They’d become friends sitting near each other in maths and French. Miriam did look Jewish; the other give-a-way was her Star of David pendant. Lynn had asked her once what all the symbols meant. Miriam said they represented the twelve tribes as mentioned in the bible.
Miriam was the only one that would listen to what Lynn had to say. So Lynn would declare her love of the Fab-Four, pretending she’d bought photos, mags, or badges from the official fan club, when in fact the money wasn’t there for such things. In reality, Lynn had to make do with a Beatles scrapbook filled with girl’s comic and newspaper cut-outs.
Truth was the gang had never really taken to Lynn. Her clothes said it all. Friday and Saturday nights the school uniform stayed on in various dress combinations. She’d mix it up a little, try and hide the fact she couldn’t afford trendy stuff. But the girls saw through it. Lynn was all too aware of the sniggers and remarks. How Lynn yearned to be cool, to belong, to be like Carol Remington.
Carols father was a bookings manager at the Empire Pool Wembley. In addition, it just so happened the Beatles were performing there on April 21st Sunday afternoon. Tickets were like gold dust but her dad had managed to get eight complimentary. The rest had sold out.
Carol, when she told the others, waded and oozed herself with popularity, like a Hippo’ in mud. But she reminded them, after keeping a ticket for her self, there were only seven to spare for eight girls. Of course all the Scaynes Hill Scousers wanted a ticket, they all wanted to see the Beatles more than anything.
Friday March 22nd was the expected release date of the new Beatles LP named after the hit single, Please Please Me. Record sales were going to be gi-normouse, as DJ Alan Freeman would say, especially on the first Saturday. Queues would form before stores even opened.
Carol had an idea for the ticket allocation. She suggested that those who wanted to go to the concert had to purchase the new LP and bring it into school on Monday morning and sign the prefect progress book. The first seven names with the LP would get a ticket.
In head girl mode she stood in front of them in the common room and made it clear once again, ‘Only the first seven names down in the book with the LP will get a ticket.’
So, the morning of Monday 25th March 1963 was going to be an important date for eight Beatle fans, apart from Lynn. Lynn got a flat, ‘No,’ by her mother. ‘Maybe for your birthday in June,’ she said.
‘But it’s too late then, mum,’ Lynn frantically explained. ‘I need the LP by this Monday morning?’
‘I don’t care when you want it,’ her unbending mother said. ‘Get yourself a part-time Saturday job in Woolworth’s. Then you can buy it yourself?’ With that, the door had closed. All avenues of hope cut off.
Monday came and it was raining. The bus platform was slippery as Lynn found out. While she was getting off she skidded and fell onto the kerb outside her school stop, badly cutting her knee. The bus conductor and some passengers helped her back on her feet. Someone else picked up her satchel and a couple of schoolbooks, including her mums Perry Como LP.
Lynn was crying with the pain. Holding a handkerchief against the wound she held onto the bus conductor. The driver in his cab was looking around, concerned, trying to see what the delay was about.
‘Will you be okay, young lady?’ The conductor offered his concerns. ‘That’s a nasty cut.’
Lynn gritted her teeth and stiffened, ready to take the weight on her knee. Choking back the tears with some sniffs and wiping her eyes, she concentrated on the matter at hand; hiding the LP so only the top two corners could be seen.
All at once, Lynn’s face brightened. She saw Miriam walking briskly towards her looking concerned.
‘Lynn, what’s up?’
‘I just slipped getting off.’
‘Oh, you poor thing,’ Miriam crouched down to take a look.
‘Better get her to school and let someone in first aid have a look at it,’ the conductor said as he eventually mounted the platform, to all the passenger’s relief and rang the bell.
With her arm around Miriam’s shoulder Lynn limped the short distance to school.
‘Nurse should be in soon. Her cars not there at the moment,’ Miriam said, glancing at the staff parking bays. ‘Let’s get you to the prefect room, that’s the nearest. You can rest up then.’
‘Thanks, Miriam.’ Lynn winced as she adjusted the red stained handkerchief, the blood still oozing down her shin onto her sock.
No one else was there when they arrived. ‘First things first,’ Miriam joked as she opened the progress book and signed her name. Then she offered it to Lynn. Lynn pretended a wince and told her she’d do it in a minute. ‘Well, make sure you do Lynn. You don’t want to be a Cinderella?’ Lynn stifled a laugh, then frowned as the pain came stinging back.
Miriam unpacked as usual and put her stuff including the new Beatles LP in one of the numbered lockers. The keys to them all had been lost years ago, so she just shut the door. From the windows the staff car park wasn’t visible. ‘I’ll check out if nursy has arrived,’ Miriam said, ‘if not, I’ll wait for her, let her know. Will you be okay?’
Lynn nodded and forced a smile.
Miriam disappeared through the door. Lynn heard her humming the strains of Love Me Do as she made her way to the nurse’s office. She’d be a time; it was on the other side of the school next to the canteen.
The next one in was Carol, looking gorgeous as ever with the new Beatles LP tucked under her arm. She looked mildly concerned, then listened with a plastic sympathetic smile as Lynn unfolded her accident.
Carol winced and put her hand to her mouth when Lynn showed her the wound. ‘That does look nasty. Can you walk on it?’
‘I guess so,’ Lynn said glumly.
‘Look, don’t move yet. I’ll check out if nurse is in.’ Carol said, turning to the door.
‘Miriam’s gone for her,’ Lynn cautiously replied.
Carol spun round, ‘Miriam! What she doing poking her Jew nose in?’ Carol had turned ugly. ‘It’s my job as head girl to sort first aid.’
Lynn tried to make light of it. ‘She helped me to school, she was only thinking of…’
Carol ignored her. She unpacked then slammed her locker door shut. Lynn flinched, then heard her mutter, ‘Trust that Jew to look good in front of me.’
Carol made for the door. She said with a mocking sneer avoiding Lynn’s gaze, ‘I’d better see if the nurse is in, get myself involved before miss long nose really flies her kite.’ With that, she slammed her way out of the prefect’s common room. Lynn heard Carol’s distant laugh as she realised all of a sudden, what she’d said.
Then, there was silence. It was still early. The others hadn’t arrived yet. Lynn looked at her knee. The blood had congealed at last. She dabbed the wound and flinched as it smarted. As pupils began to arrive she heard the clacking of shoes on the stone passageways, then the opening and shutting of doors. The excited exchanges with squeals of girlish delights, all peppered with running footsteps; someone singing Cliff Richard’s, Bachelor Boy.
Lynn felt alone. She looked at the common room door. Then she looked out the window. Rivulets of rain made their way down the glass in ever changing patterns. She looked at her almost concealed Perry Como LP. Her half feeble effort to convince the gang it was the latest Beatles album, so she could be one of them. She’d let the others show theirs. Sign her name at the bottom of the list. Let them collect the concert tickets. She didn’t mind not going. As long as they thought she’d bought the record; as long as they saw the shape sticking out of her satchel; as long as she could get home with her dignity intact. How these things mattered so much.
Finally, she looked at the locker doors, and she continued looking. She looked at them so hard her eye lids could have been nailed there.
Lynn spent most of the morning in first aid with the school nurse, Sister Watkins. It was suggested she should go to hospital, but by lunchtime Lynn could walk on it without limping. So, with a generous bandage around her knee she made her way back to the prefect’s common room. As Lynn entered she was confronted by a stern looking Headmistress, Miss Soames. Carol was at her side. The other seven prefects stood to attention with grim expressions.
‘Ah! Just in time, Whatts.’ Miss Soames turned to Lynn. ‘I’m afraid you have to be included in this.’ The Headmistress put her arm around Carol’s shoulder, then she continued, ‘We have a thief amongst us. Someone has stolen Carol’s long playing record, and, Miriam’s star of David pendant, from their lockers.’ She looked at both girls for confirmation then added, ‘I understand these items were discreetly hidden, not on show as there are no keys for the doors.’ Miss Soames paused then continued, ‘It’s highly unlikely other girls have been in here, this room is only for prefects; out of bounds to the rest of the school.’ The Headmistress looked accusingly at the seven remaining faces. ‘The thief knew where to look.’
No one moved, it was deathly quiet.
‘Right, all of you, empty out your lockers and then your pockets,’ Miss Soames said with a no nonsense tone. ‘I don’t want to call the police, but I will if I have to.’
After a few minutes everything was out on the large common room table in their individual piles. Miss Soames walked around the belongings and sifted through the usual schoolgirl items: gym clothing, books, magazines, hair brushes, combs, hair spray, mirrors, nail varnish, lip stick, tampons, bubble gum, cheap cologne, small change, keys, diary’s and of course, Beatle LP’s.
Carol leaned forward and whispered something in Miss Soames ear.
‘Are you sure?’ the Headmistress said.
‘Yes,’ said Carol. ‘I always mark my own. I decided after losing so many at parties.’
‘Sensible, girl,’ Miss Soames said with a half smile. Then she turned to the other girls with a serious expression and continued, ‘Will all of you who brought in a long playing record please remove it from the sleeve.’
The girls muttered under their breath at the continuing accusations. ‘…She can’t do this… I’ll tell my parents… don’t like being accused… my dad’ll sort ‘er out…’ They slowly began to fumble with their LP sleeves; on the cover it showed a photo of the Beatles leaning over the balcony of the EMI building.
Miss Soames caught a few whispered threats, ‘Now listen, you can moan all you like,’ she said, countermining the remarks. ‘Better this way than in front of the police?’ Then she nodded to Carol. Felt it was fitting as Carol, head girl, and a victim of theft, to verify the records in their paper sleeves.
Carol slowly moved along the table picking them up, one by one. At the centre hole she scrutinised the pound trade mark of the Parlophone label. Then she stopped; she held one with a look of disbelief. Carol looked at the owner.
Miriam shuffled uncomfortably then said, ‘What’s up?’
‘You know what’s up you thieving, cow?’ Carol held out the record for her to see.
‘That’s my record I bought Saturday,’ Miriam snapped.
‘You lying, Jew,’ Carol said with a dark sweet smile. ‘Look, my initials are on it, see, CR,’ her finger pointed to the spot.
‘Now, Carol,’ Miss Soames interrupted. ‘There’s no need for those remarks.’
Carol wasn’t listening. She slid out the record from its paper sleeve with a smug expression. At that moment something fell onto the floor. All eyes looked down. Carol bent and picked up the gold pendant. She held it in her palm, the chain hung down the back of her hand.
‘You conniving, Jew,’ Carol said to Miriam.
‘Now that’s enough, Carol,’ Miss Soames replied. ‘We can’t have -- .’
‘You said it was missing, but you hid it in the sleeve.’ Carol held out the Star of David pendant to Miriam. ‘You said it was stolen so nobody would suspect you?’
‘That’s a lie!’ Miriam exploded. ‘Somebody put it there.’ She looked in desperation at the Headmistress. ‘It’s a sick joke. I’m not a thief?’
‘Oh yea! So where’s your record?’ Carol said with a sneering grin. The other girls looked at Miriam.
Miriam lunged at Carol and grabbed the record, knocking two others girls off balance at the same time.
‘Girls, stop it!’ The Headmistress rounded on both of them.
Miriam stared at the initials in biro. ‘You could’ve written that on my copy, and hid my chain? You’ve never liked me?’
‘Because you’re a thieving, Jew.’ Carol spat out the anti-Semitism. ‘My dad says, all Jews--.’
‘Carol, that’s enough!’ Miss Soames held them apart.
‘You light fingered, bitch,’ Valerie Johnson said slowly, holding up something. Everyone turned to Valerie. Her belongings were by the side of Miriam’s. ‘My mum’s Horseshoe?’ She’d spotted her late mothers broach fastened to the underside collar on Miriam’s folded school blouse. ‘I lost that two months ago. How could you?’ Valerie folded the collar over to reveal the broach to Miss Soames.
Miriam screamed, ‘I didn’t steal your fucking broach!’ The tears started to flow. ‘Some ones playing jokes! Setting me up?’
She looked in desperation at the headmistress. With tears streaming down her face she said, ‘Honest, Miss Soames, I haven’t stolen anything?’
The Headmistress held up her hands to quash any further arguments. ‘I don’t want the police involved Miriam. But, I’m going to phone your parents.’
Miriam threw herself onto Valerie – kicking, screaming, clawing, ‘You fucking, bitch, you set me up?’ Valerie rolled with her on the floor fending off punches and blows. In all the commotion, while Miss Soames desperately tried to break them up, and with the other girls shouting, ‘bundle - go on, Miss Soames, give it to ‘em - put the boot in, Miss,’ Miriam’s pendant sat neglected on the table.
On that that Sunday April 21st Lynn and Carol did a high five amongst the screams as Beatle George Harrison finished with, There’s a Place. They were red and sweaty with the shouting and excitement. Then Paul McCartney went into, I Saw Her Standing There. They stood up with hundreds of girls singing the lyrics - sometimes breaking off and yelling, ‘Paul! Paul!’
After the show they were all going back to Carol’s house for tea. Her Parents would be out visiting later. Carol had smuggled in some booze, and then there was the promise of some boys turning up.
Lynn felt good. Lynn felt wanted. She was really now one of the gang. How these things mattered so much.
Lynn felt the pendant again and smiled. She lay back on the sun bed and concentrated. Slowly in the warmth of the afternoon, the eyelids drooped, then the holiday book slipped from her fingers. The discarded romance novel, rising and falling in time with her snores, now rode the peaks and troughs of her beach towel. Like a raft in a squall.