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Two Rooms And A View: 77 - Big Dame Hunting

...I eventually built up courage to ask her out and recall that our first date was to the Savoy Cinema in Ocean Road. It must have been a success because most Saturdays after that we went to one of the downtown cinemas. We also met at Church on Sundays...

Robert Owen begins the dating game.

After our joint efforts looking after our overseas visitor friends, Eddie and I saw a lot of each other. He was a year younger than I was and had two older brothers in the Company. Eddie was also a bit of an extrovert and after church on a Sunday evening, we used to go 'big dame hunting'. This involved going down town and spying out the female talent.

One Sunday evening in September 1954, we got really ambitious and went to Seaburn to see the illuminations and compare the talent. To use the modern jargon, we 'scored' by meeting two local girls. We enjoyed a coffee and a walk with them and promised to see them the following Sunday. Much to our disappointment they did not appear. We concluded that we were too innocent for them, something Eddie promised to put right as soon as possible.

Many members of St Andrew's Youth Club used to go to church on the Sunday evening, although in truth, most were more interested in the activities after the service had finished. A group including Eddie and myself used to visit Michaela's Ice Cream Shop on Boldon Lane, (fish shops didn't open on a Sunday in the Fifties) or perhaps assemble at someone's house and pretend to listen to the latest records.

It was after the annual BB Enrolment Service in October 1954 that we went to a young girl's house in Stanhope Road. Angela was a sixteen-year-old student at the local technical college and we were well looked after with music, tea and sandwiches. There is a saying that opposites attract. Perhaps this is true because Angela was lively and outgoing, which contrasted sharply to my quiet, serious disposition.

In spite of this, we got on well together and with others, went to a dance at Sutton Trust, Cleadon Park, the following Saturday night. I eventually built up courage to ask her out and recall that our first date was to the Savoy Cinema in Ocean Road. It must have been a success because most Saturdays after that we went to one of the downtown cinemas. We also met at Church on Sundays.

Although coming from the same mining and marine background as myself, Angela's father was a Chief Steward in the Merchant Navy. This made me extremely conscious of the problems of my family, our meagre resources and our humble abode in Marsden Street.

Fortunately Angela didn't see this as a problem, and a few weeks later, with my mother's co-operation, for the first time I took a female home for Sunday tea - even if it was with her friend Brenda and her current boyfriend. I recollect being extremely nervous and apprehensive about the occasion. I needn't have worried - it went very well, except for the fact that I had consciously stored my bike out of sight in the front bedroom, thinking nobody would be going in there this afternoon.

My lack of knowledge of the female sex was once again demonstrated when, after tea, the girls asked if they could use the dressing table before going on to church. They obviously saw my bike stored up against the bedroom wall, while I cringed in the other room.

In May 1955 we managed to get our first weekend away together albeit with about a dozen other members of the Church Youth Club. The event was a Whit weekend at a Church Holiday Hostel at Westgate near Stanhope. I remember the occasion because as the oldest member of the group, I was put in charge of an active mixed-sex group of teenagers. Fortunately there were no major problems.

About this time, John Chalmers organised a walking holiday to Germany and Austria for senior boys in the battalion. I put my name down for this great adventure but had to withdraw when I found out how much it would cost. Before that, however, it had some indirect advantages.

Angela had studied German at the High School and offered to teach me some elementary phrases. We arranged that I would go to her house one night a week - when her mother was out - and we could practise speaking German. This went well for a few weeks until Brenda, Angela's closest friend, found out and asked me to demonstrate some of my newly learnt skills at the packed Youth Club. When I hesitated, she said in a loud voice, "Aye! What you were practising is the same in any language!"

Knowing I had two years National Service to start in 1956, Angela and I mutually agreed to remain just good friends until I finished serving the Queen in 1958. She joined the choir at St Andrew's. We continued going out most Saturday nights, and occasionally met at a dance after night classes during the week.

In the autumn of 1955 we both had the pleasure of attending the wedding of one of Angela's cousins. The occasion was also like a mini reunion of South Shields School's football team. The groom was Les Carpentier, who was my inside left colleague on that fateful day in October 1949, and the best man was John Lascelles, our left-half.

Six months later, I was invited to be best man for a colleague at work. After that I was continually teased about being next down the aisle. I said, "Not for at least two years!"

On the 31st December, 1955, with a group of colleagues from the BB and Reyrolles and accompanied by girl friends, we ventured to a New Year Dance at the Majestic. After the dance we continued with a night of first-footing. This was completely new to me, and after several calls and drinks at various houses, including our own, Angela and I finished up at Jim McDowell's house in Jarrow at about 3 a.m. I remember the long walk back to Shields and eventually getting home just before daybreak. My mother was not impressed!

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