All work and no play makes for dull boys, and as the RAF was spending a shed full of money on us not to be dull, during our stay at Summer Camp we were allowed to spend one Saturday afternoon in Southport.
It was high summer and all the seaside resorts were crammed full of holiday makers -- this was an era when very few 'ordinary' people went abroad for their holidays -- so the vast majority of the great unwashed had no option but to chance the vagaries of an English summer. The weather at the time was remarkably hot and sunny for England, and I don't remember it raining even once during the time spent at Woodvale.
On the last Saturday before returning to RAF Halton a gaggle of randy apprentices set out to walk the three miles from RAF Woodvale to Southport.
The resort lies midway between Liverpool to the south and Preston to the north, and inhabitants of each city would swell the holiday crowds, including hordes of young women looking to have a good time.
The road to Southport ran alongside the railway line for much of the way, and we saw train carriages carrying flocks of colourfully frocked females heading towards the town. Those birds of paradise stood a good chance of being well and truly plucked when us lusty lads hit the resort; the extensive sand dunes in the area being the type of venue where plucking could be carried out in relative comfort and concealment. It was said in apprentice circles, doubtless gleaned from historical statistics, that if you couldn't get your leg over when at summer camp you had best re-muster as a monk or eunuch.
Among the pilgrims on the road to perdition were Tony Groves, Greg Rogers and myself; our destination Southport Pier, reputed to be the second longest in the UK. It is no wonder the pier had to be so long as on this stretch of coast the tide goes out for miles, and at low tide I reckon you could walk half way to the Emerald Isle, though of course you'd drown if you tried. Never mind, we hadn't come to see the sea way out of sight somewhere over the horizon but the young, available, and supposedly complaisant, local females who thronged the area. On one side of the pier lay the funfair area, PleasureLand. On the other side of the pier was the other pleasure land, the sand dunes.
The modus operandi for snaring a companion for the afternoon, and hopefully for the evening, was to promenade along the pier clocking the talent and making eye contact with those who you would like to have a closer, more intimate, contact. Of course the females would be doing the same but not as blatantly as the males.
Tram cars ran the length of the pier but they were for the old folk, and you only rode the tram back to the front once you had snagged a bird -- thus saving your strength for later labours. Those poor sods who didn't cop on walked the long, lonely, walk of shame back along the pier to Southport promenade.
It was only when we had walked about half way along the pier, checking out the talent, it dawned on us we had made a technical blunder when coming as a trio. All of the females we had seen so far were in pairs.
"You'd better sod off, Lanky," Greg Rogers said when the information hit home, "two's company, three's a crowd."
"So why don't you sod off then, Snozzle? You're the odd man out here; me and Tony are plumbers but you're a smokie."
Greg Rogers and I had never been mates, hence our disparaging nicknames for each other. I hated being called 'Lanky', although I admit to being tall and slender. Greg said I looked like long, skinny, beanstalk. My name for him was because he had a nose similar in shape and size to that of Jimmy Durante. The only thing in common between us was our friendship with Tony Groves. Tony and I were in the same tent at Woodvale as we were both armourers, and because our surnames began with G we were in the same class in workshops. Greg Rogers only knew Tony from the RAF Halton Cycle Club they both attended.
"No one needs to sod off," Tony said, pouring oil on troubled waters. "There are bound to be some girls in threes, and we will have no trouble getting off with them."
Tony was always the voice of reason.
We continued walking; Greg and I exchanging angry looks. In fact he and I were in a heated, whispered, confrontation -- "Why don't you bugger off, Green? You're a bloody ugly scarecrow who will scare all the birds off"
"Bugger off yer sen, Rogers. Your B.O will stun any bird that comes within twenty yards of us."
Tony intervened. "Behave yourselves; the both of you. I've just pulled a Natalie Wood lookalike." Tony had a thing for Natalie Wood.
He nodded towards his right where two girls were sitting on a bench, both looking our way and smiling. Tony led the way over to the pair. One, the so called Natalie Wood lookalike, was only ordinarily pretty and her dark brown hair was about all she had in common with Natalie. Her companion was fair haired and not even as pretty. But what the hell; they both looked to be above the age of consent and to possess all the necessary equipment for having a good time. The fair-headed bird's nose was a trifle bulbous for my taste -- I might have a proboscis phobia -- but being a tolerant sort of bloke I was quite prepared to ignore that if I could gain access to her appurtenances.
As we stood in front of the girls their eyes had briefly flickered over me and Greg before returning to Tony. He was a well set up, good looking fellow, and had a personality which appealed to men, women, children and dogs. He never had any trouble pulling birds, but wasn't the bumptious braggart or boaster some handsome males can be. He kept his amorous conquests to himself, and believed a gentleman never told.
"Hi, " he said, holding out his hand. "I'm Tony; these two are Jack and Greg."
The Natalie lookalike, obviously smitten, beamed at him and shook his hand.
"My name's Cynthia and this is my friend Brenda."
From the look on Cynthia's face it was clear who her companion for the rest of the afternoon would be, which left her friend having to make do with second best. Brenda scanned me and Greg with little enthusiasm, but as beggars can't be choosers had to make do with what was presented.
The two girls had risen from the bench as we made our introduction and both were petite. Tony and Greg were each about 6 ft tall whereas I am 6ft 3ins, and the three of us towered over the girls who couldn't have been more than a couple of inches over five foot.
From my vantage point I discerned Brenda was a suicide blonde -- dyed by her own hand -- and her roots needed retouching.
While Tony and Cynthia were deep in conversation, oblivious to the rest of the group, Greg Rogers made his move on Brenda.
"Where's the sea, dahlin? We've travelled all the way from Buckinghamshire and there's no blooming sea to see."
Brenda stared at him as if he had spoken in tongues. Greg's accent, although not Cockney was of London, and Brenda's ears weren't attuned to his Estuary English glottal stops and vowel splits.
I translated his question into the generic Northernspeak which I used. Although London born my family had moved up North when I was twelve and I, chameleon-like, soon blended into the local dialect. Little trace remained of my childhood speech patterns.
"Is he a Londoner, then?" Brenda asked.
I nodded. " 'Appen he is."
"By 'eck, they do talk summat queer down South." She said.
"'Appen they do." My Northernspeak brought a smile of fellow linguistic recognition to her face.
During this exchange Cynthia and Tony had re-joined the group, and Cynthia suggested we walk to the end of the pier and use the telescopes at the end to see how far the sea had retreated.
She glanced at her wrist watch. "The tide turns about six o'clock and takes several hours to cover the entire beach." She gave Tony a flirtatious look. "But the dunes are never covered."
As we progressed towards the pier end Cynthia asked what the device each of us wore on the sleeve of our tunics signified.
"I know from your uniform you're in the air force, but what's that wheelie thing you all have on your arm?"
She was referring to the Apprentice Wheel; a brass four bladed propeller within a 1½" diameter brass circlet, worn on the left sleeve of our tunic.
"We're trainee helicopter pilots," Greg said, with such smoothness and certainty the two girls believed him. He could tell porkies without turning a hair; which is a well-known London characteristic. Ask anyone born in the North if you don't believe me.
We eventually reached the end of the pier to find no sign of the sea.
It took a threepenny view through a telescope to catch a glimpse of the Irish Sea away on the horizon.
"Now we have seen the sea what shall we do next? " Tony asked. He had his arm around Cynthia's waist so it was fairly obvious what his and her plans were to be.
Cynthia giggled, and then whispered in his ear. Tony nodded.
"Cynthia and I are off -- Ah -- to catch the next performance of "Rebel without a cause" at the Rialto in Lord Street, see you later."
"I'll meet you at the station at ten for the last train." Cynthia said to Brenda, and with that farewell she and Tony climbed into a waiting tram car, which soon set off on the mile long journey back along the pier to Southport's main street.
Brenda stared after the fast disappearing tram. "Bloody great -- Cynthia always does this to me. She picks up the best looking fella' then leaves me high and dry." She turned her attention back to Greg and me.
"Okay; so which one of youz is going to give me a bifter?"
Cynthia and Brenda were from Liverpool; they lived next door to each other in the Croxteth district of the city, or Crocky as the area is known in Scouse, the local dialect. They both worked for Littlewoods Pools; Cynthia was a typist in the Personnel Department, being quite refined and well spoken for a Scouser, while Brenda worked as a football pool coupon checker and was as rough as a bear's arse, and spoke accordingly.
Both Greg and I took completely the wrong translation of 'bifter', thinking it had some sexual connotation, but fortunately for me it was Greg who reacted first.
He leaned, leering, in towards Brenda.
"I'll give you the biggest and bestest bifter you've ever handled. Where and when, dahlin'?"
"Don't you speak English, you divvy? I asked for a cigarette." Brenda's voice was heavy with scorn.
Greg Rogers quickly recovered from his gaffe and whipped out a silver cigarette case from his tunic pocket. He proffered her the open case.
"There you are, dahlin'. Passing Cloud -- only the best of smokes for my birds."
Brenda's eyes had widened as they lit on the oval shaped, lightly scented, cigarettes.
"What sort of blert are you, smoking poofters' ciggies?"
By now Rogers had run any esteem Brenda held for him down to zero, not that it had been very high to start with as he was from London: Scousers and Londoners don't have a deal of respect for one another. In contrast I sounded from the north, and had kept my mouth shut while Rogers kept opening his and putting his foot in it.
I hauled my packet of Capstan Full Strength out of my jacket pocket.
"Would you like one of these, Brenda?"
She gave me a huge smile and took one of the cigarettes.
"Now that's more like it. A real man's ciggy."
I took one myself, and Brenda brought a Zippo lighter out from her handbag and lit me.
"I got this from my bo -- brother. He works as a steward on the Cunard liners and brought it me in New York." She said. I managed not to choke as I took a drag.
"You don't say much, do you -- err – Jack. Are you one of them strong silent types?" Brenda asked after blowing a smoke ring, the show- off.
"No, he's more the puny, tongue-tied type." Greg Rogers sneered.
"I believe in actions not words." I tried to look lean, mean, and dangerous to know, although my narrow- eyed gaze was due more to smoke drifting into my eyes rather than trying to appear like James Dean.
"Right, then you can get us a bevvy while I go to the Ladies." She said, taking my hand and dragging me into the bar at the end of the pier.
I thought she would want a Babycham, the drink of choice for girls, but before making her way to the ladies toilet she asked for a gin and tonic. Rogers laughed when he heard her order.
"You're welcome to her, Lanky. She's a scrubber who will only drop her knickers after she's had all your dosh."
As he walked towards the exit I called out after him. "Sour grapes, Snozzle?"
"And the manky cow got made section leader when it should have been me." Brenda finished her third gin and tonic, and a long involved story of her feud with a work mate which seemed to have lasted since the Great Flood – the telling not the feud. I wondered if Greg Rogers had been correct in his assumption about Brenda. The gin and tonics had disappeared down her gullet in short order without any signs of her becoming more amorous towards me, and I hadn't managed to touch any part of her body other than a hand when passing her a drink or a cigarette. I had smoked three times the number of Capstans than normal, and drank far more beer than I was used to, and it wasn't my usual tipple but some locally brewed barley wine.
The barman had looked askance at me when I asked for a pint of black and tan.