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A Shout From The Attic: Jezebel And The Invisible Man

Ronnie Bray recalls his first love - and the pain of having to become the invisible man.

To read more of Ronnie's expansive autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

The first time I ever knew the pangs of romantic love was in 1949 when the family went to Squire’s Gate Holiday camp at Lytham St Anne’s just south of Blackpool. Holiday camps were new, novel, and cheap, and the whole experience was wonderful. But especially wonderful was the love that I felt for a beautiful girl who I can only remember as Jezebel, whose face has haunted me ever since. The name Jezebel, that I called her with fondness, is due to the lung capacity and resilient vocal chords of once-upon-a-time World Marathon Dancing Champion brother of film star Jeff Chandler: and the fact that she was a beautiful young girl.

I met her in the table tennis room of the camp on the first day soon after we arrived. The loudspeaker was letting Frankie Laine have his way with

If ever the devil was born
without a pair of horns,
it was you …

We fell off the chugging, dirty steam train, lugging our battered ancient suitcases stuffed with never-enough-to-wear but too-much-to-carry-in-comfort, then struggled with the short walk from Squires Gate Station, to the Reception, followed by an impatient delay at the registration desk to sign in, pay the balance of our account, collect a key, a rule book, and then trek around the vast camp in subtropical heat to find the white painted hut that went by the excessively grand name of chalet, a French name that failed to dignify the flimsy white stuccoed shack that was as close as we ever came to a foreign holiday.

Five minutes after we had dumped the suitcases into a brown pyramid in the middle of the tiny floor, and I had the last cinder removed from my eye, a common hazard for those who peered even cautiously out of the windows of coal-fired trains, my feet found their way to the Ping-Pong room. No sportsman, but wanting to be off from the older folk in our party, I stumbled in and found a solitary Jezebel toying with a stubbled bat.

If ever a pair of ey-yes promised Paradise, it was you …

I should explain that I was a shy boy, not forward when it came to strangers, especially girl strangers. Fortunately, the dark-eyed Jezebel was not shy and we were soon laughing at our antics in an activity at which neither of us was proficient. We made friends and, after our game, crossed the sand-strewn road that ran along the coast and wandered through the sand dunes to look at the sea.

Jezebeeeeee-e-e-e-l …

The sea was always a wonderful sight as it rushed gently to shore with sunshine bright through translucent waves as they reared themselves before throwing themselves down to die on the wet sand. Jezebel and I sat on a grassy dune enjoying the sunshine. Being on a week’s holiday with all cares either left behind or remaining in our cases gave us a sense of freedom that money could not buy. I had seen romance onscreen, but being this close to it gave me a feeling of fullness that the biggest dinner had never achieved. We stayed there together; hands close but not quite touching, there on the dune, by the sea, together, and watched the dying sun.

What more romantic setting could anyone wish for? The sun went down across the water and the moon rose somewhere and moved to where we could see it in the deep purple of a summer night. I could feel the heat from her face, see the bloom on her cheek, and smell the scent of her soap. Heady stuff!

We sat until the evening chill froze us to death and then, admitting defeat, walked back through the dunes, and across the road, the backs of our hands brushing each other’s as we sauntered, gently bumping into each other now and then, both of us afraid to acknowledge and act upon the urgent chest-hurting intimations, and too soon found ourselves under the bright radiance of the holiday camp. Well, you know what bright lights do to romance, and they did. We arranged to play table tennis in the morning, doubtless each hoping for better things, and said goodbye with a throat-aching handshake.

Would be better had I never known the thri-hill of your charms …A hurried breakfast is not designed to facilitate digestion. However, I was young and had the digestive tract of a carthorse. I raced to the games room where Jezebel was waiting, smiling as I entered. We took ends at the table and the white ball began its slow spin across the net between us. Whenever our eyes met, she smiled. Her long dark hair swirled as she moved in play with the lithe grace of a young gazelle. I felt so very happy, but why did we have to have eight feet of green-painted three-quarter inch plywood between us?

Jezebeeeeee-e-e-e-l …

During the time it took us to change ends after the first game, the outside door opened and Bob walked in. He was a pleasant young man of our age and he fitted easily into our conversation. We played by taking turns so that each of us sat out one game and then played the one we had not played last time. We became a happy threesome, exchanging names and addresses so we could write when our holiday was over.

When we had squeezed as much fun out of the game as we could stand, we wandered across the road and onto the dunes where we sat in an incongruous threesome and watched the sea, talking in the comfortable way that young people have when they feel easy with each other. I enjoyed the freedom of expression available with my new friends. Somehow, with Bob there, it didn’t seem right that I should try to be too close to Jezebel, so I kept my distance, but not too far away. I estimated that I was close enough to say that we were friends in the peculiar body language of the young and hesitant, but not so close as to make any statement of ownership that was too self-assured.

Forsaking dreams and all for the sirens’ call of your arms …

Bob had no such reluctance. He moved in to her with the speed that water moves in to close the hole a salmon leaves when it leaps clear out. I noticed they were holding hands. As Bob looked out to sea, Jezebel looked at me and smiled. I sensed the sympathy and it felt good, but it was not what I wanted. I turned to gaze at the sea. You know how you have to do something when you are not doing what you want, but don’t want anyone to know how jumbled up you are inside. I pretended to be enjoying myself.

Like a demon’s love possess me, you obsess me constantly …

When, eventually, I looked around, Jezebel was lying back on the dune, and Bob was horizontal, snoring gently almost face down in the grassy sand, his head turned away from her. I lay down to look at the sky, pretending that it was the first time I had seen. Borne on the gentle breeze from out of the camp’s ubiquitous loudspeakers and across the road into the dunes came Frankie singing that song. All week long, it played: every other record, it seemed.

What evil star is mine that my fate’s design should be …

As I lay like a lemon, feeling almost as bitter, something brushed my hand. I turned to face she whom I adored. She looked into my eyes with a gentleness that no fourteen-year-old girl could produce unless it was genuine. She took my hand and squeezed it, holding on to it while Lucky Bob from Air Balloon Hill in Bristol slept, insentient to the wealth under his arm that lay across her neck, and oblivious of how much his prize had cost me.

Jezebeeeeee-e-e-e-l … Jezebeeeeee-e-e-e-l

I didn’t play much table tennis for the rest of the week, but I did learn the words of Frankie Laine’s biggest 1949 hit. Jezebel had found King Ahab, Ahab won his Jezebel. I became the invisible man and took as my prize only the words of a song and the bittersweet pain of losing my first sweet love.


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