North Hertfordshire, 1965-67.
Sometimes I used to cycle to school because I was going to stay late at school for one reason or another; otherwise I caught the school bus. It was fifteen miles the way I cycled to school, but the bus went round all the villages picking up kids, and it must have been twenty-five miles the way the bus went. It took about an hour from my village – about the same as I took on the bike.
Mine was the second stop on the route, and the bus was still pretty empty.
The daughter of a friend of my parents got on at the third stop, and always sat next to me. We played pencil-and-paper games, or read a book or magazine together, or chatted about all kinds of things – very often politics, or environmental matters. The bus got very crowded towards the end of the route, and sometimes she sat on my knees to make room for another child to sit down.
We sometimes sat together on the way home, too, but often that wasn’t possible.
I adored her, and I think she loved me too, but I didn’t think of her as my girlfriend, and I’m sure she didn’t think of me as her boyfriend either. We never talked about things like that, and the school bus was the only time we ever saw each other, apart from very occasionally by accident here and there. She was three years younger than me – four school years, because I’d been pushed forward a year ever since primary school – far too much difference in age! Nevertheless, it was a special friendship, maybe a bit like big brother/little sister, but I never had a relationship anything like that with any of my actual siblings. (I have two older sisters, and a much younger brother.)
How many girls that age chew over Scientific American or National Geographic articles with a rather geeky sixth-form boy? (Her shyly asking if I minded her reading them with me was how it all began.) I’m sure other people were aware of our relationship, but I never heard anyone say anything about it.
I went off to university and never saw her again, although I’ve sometimes thought about her. I wonder how much she’s thought about me, if at all? I wonder what her life’s been like, these last fifty-two years?
Until my parents moved north in 1971, her father would occasionally happen to drop in while I happened to be visiting home. But he and I never talked about her, although we sometimes talked about the same sort of things that she and I used to talk about. I never talked about her with anyone else either, and I’ve never written anything about her until now.
When I think about it, he – at first indirectly through his daughter, and later directly – was probably a significant influence on the way I still think to this day. Thinking about it a bit more, it might well have been, to a large extent, her mother influencing me through both of them. I never really met her mother, only ever saw her at a distance, but I heard plenty about her.
You want to know their names, and more about them? I ain’t tellin’ yer. If her parents are still alive they’re doing well, but at just sixty-six she probably is, albeit most likely with a different surname.
Many places, 1984-date.
The age difference between my wife and me is considerably more – seven years – but we were thirty-four and twenty-seven when we met, not fifteen and twelve. We’ve been happily married for thirty-four years.
Her parents (RIP), mainly through their daughter but also directly, have also been a considerable influence on me.
Other important influences, both mentioned elsewhere on this website, were my physics teacher, Philip Titchmarsh, and the Head of Mechanical Engineering at Queen Mary College, Professor M W Thring.