An audience with Gloria An extract from Just a boy from Bristol Part2
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” said Dad quietly as he lit a cigarette and settled back into his rocking chair. Only a few minutes earlier we had been dancing around the living room, playing happy families, as we held hands and sang Auld Lang Sine together. Now, it was all over. The church bells had stopped chiming, the car horns had ceased beeping, and the dustbin lids were no longer clattering. The streets of Bristol fell silent again. It was 1st January 1950; another new year was upon us; it was time for yet another round of well-intentioned resolutions, but It was also time for a period of reflection. Time to look back on last year’s shattered illusions and broken dreams. “A new decade, which is rich with promise. Now, we will see and taste the fruits of victory.” Dad was waxing lyrical. He always waxed lyrical after a couple of pints.
I had been looking forward to 1950 with anticipation, because it was a particularly special time for me and all the other children of my generation, for 1950 was the year when we became teenagers. One by one our little gang reached, and celebrated the milestone. Patrick was first, at the very start of the year, and then it was my turn in May. Johnny, as ever, brought up the rear. Like many of the milestones in life it proved to be a bit of an anti-climax. The only changes I noticed were the blemishes, spots and pimples, the temper tantrums, the mood swings, and the ever increasing problems with that ‘little bit of skin between your legs’ that Granny Kelly had warned me about. But in truth, there were also many exciting changes. We now had our very own world. A self contained, special world in which we created our own collection of idols. We were no longer forced to worship at the altar of the past, we had our very own sporting, musical and screen heroes to fire our imaginations. All that I was lacking now was the elusive girl of my dreams. I needed that special someone to share my exciting new world with.
The girls of my generation had also become teenagers, and we watched with growing awe, wonder and lustful admiration as they developed the most delightful curves in all the right places. Sadly, most of them failed to make the most of the enhancements and the streets of Kingsdown and St James were awash with nervous looking girls who crept timidly around with slouched, rounded shoulders and folded arms, as they struggled to hide their burgeoning assets. One girl, however, was delightfully different. Her name was Gloria, and she wore her breasts with obvious pride. She walked the cobblestoned streets of Kingsdown with shoulders back, and chest out. She invariably wore a tight fitting, white aertex shirt, and sported a bow of pink ribbon and a white butterfly slide in her blonde hair. She swayed around the streets with an easy grace and confidence, that was normally only seen on the silver screens of the local cinemas. Her indigo blue eyes darted her, there and everywhere, closely studying every passing face, and if you were caught looking, she rewarded the admiring glance with a toss of her fair hair, a flirtatious smile, and a nod of appreciation. Sadly, she was from somewhere on the upper slopes of Kingsdown and as our paths rarely crossed, I was only able to admire her from a distance and infrequently.
Sunday night was cinema night for us boys. The Academy or the Scala were our usual chosen venues, and on this particular Sunday night, we had been to the latter. The film over, we chatted underneath the arches at the foot of Cotham Brow for a while, before saying our goodnights and then we made our separate ways home. I headed off up Cotham Brow with Tony Rees who lived in Victoria Walk. We parted company half way up the hill and I then headed alone for Somerset Street, which ran parallel and behind Kingsdown Parade. Somerset Street had always held a special fascination for me. It was packed with tall, impressive houses, and was narrow and cobblestoned, with a pavement on one side only. As I reached my destination that night, I remember it starting to drizzle, and I felt the soft summer rain brushing easy against my face. The rain grew slowly heavier and I started to run. As I turned right into Spring Hill, my thoughts turned back to earlier days when I had struggled up and down that hill with the heavy accumulator batteries which we used to power our precious wireless set. At that very moment Gloria appeared from the little lane where I had taken the batteries for charging. We almost collided as she stepped out onto the hill.
“Hello, my name is Gloria,” she waited for a response, but I had immediately turned into a blushing, stammering wreck, and there was no chance of a response. “What’s wrong, has the cat got your tongue? … Never mind, I will be here next week…same time, same place,” and then she was gone.
Bob Hope and Jane Russell were the stars of the film showing at the Academy the following week. We had already seen Paleface twice before, but with Jane Russell on screen, it was an easy task to persuade the boys to watch it again. The light was fading as we wandered out into the night after the viewing, and we lingered at the foot of Ninetree Hill, still chuckling as we talked about the film. Tony Rees, who never missed an opportunity to entertain, swung into action, and paraded up and down, his shoulders swaying and his hands hovering over imaginary holster and pistols as he re-enacted, word for word, the gun fight between Bob Hope and the gun slinging outlaw.
‘Hey listen, the man that's after you just killed my brother. Here's a tip: He draws from the left, so lean to the right.He draws from the left so lean to the right.
Son, I'll let you in on something. Along towards sunset there's a wind from the east. So you better aim to the west.
He draws from the left so lean to the right. There's a wind from the east so better aim to the west.
I know this Joe like a book. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes.He draws from the left so lean to the right. There's a wind from the east so better aim to the west. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes.
He draws from the left so stand on your toes... There's a wind from the east, better lean to the right... He crouches when he shoots, better aim to the west... He draws from his toes, so lean toward the wind. Ah ha! I got it!’For the umpteenth time that tight we howled with laughter. Tony bowed to his fans. “I thank you,” he said in his best Arthur Askey voice and made his way home.
The conversation switched to Jane Russell and, inevitably to her breasts. We fell silent for a while, before Patrick spoke. “They aren’t really shaped like that you know. Underneath her sweater there is a contraption built with tiny scaffolding poles, which holds it all in place.” It was a perfect conversation stopper, and we all stood and stared at Patrick in silence. I felt a wave of envy sweep over me. I wanted to emulate my cousin, Patrick, and I was desperate to acquire just a fraction of his knowledge of the female anatomy. But the talk about Jane Russell and her breasts had made my mind up. I mumbled some lame excuse, said my goodnights and headed off, at speed, up Ninetree Hill. I had an urgent appointment; I had an audience with Gloria