I remember this bench from my teens. Gosh. That was not far short of sixty tears ago. We used to meet up there most evenings after we’d made our daily attempts to break the world record for speed of doing homework. There were eight of us: four girls and four boys and we were inseparable.
We lads had no trouble; our parents just accepted that we needed to spend time with our peers and, my Dad especially, believed that friendships made at that age can last a lifetime. The girls’ parents had what you might call an alternative view. They referred to our special place as the ‘tarting bench’.
Perhaps I should introduce us. I’m George. My dad was a motor mechanic. John’s dad was a telephone engineer and then there were the twins, Paul and Roger. Their father was something in the government, but we never found out quite what he did. We convinced John that their dad was something in the bakery business because Paul and Roger said his watchword was ‘knead to know’. I secretly think he was a spy or something. All our mums had part-time jobs but were basically stay-at-home mums as was common in those days.
We boys had known each other since infants’ school and had no secrets (except what the twins’ dad did for a living). Of course, at those early ages, when conversations were simple and innocent and we shared so much detail about our home lives, there is no way we would have had girls in our group, right up until puberty hit. Even then, though, our own sisters, by common agreement, were not allowed in what we came to think of as the bench gang. All we really knew about the girls – Gaynor, Stephanie, Jenny and Sue – is what came out in our evening conversations. That rarely included family beyond referring what they would do to us if we stayed out too late. In our circle, at fifteen years of age, too late started at ten o’clock.
Over the course of the three or four years the bench gang was together, we were rather like the characters in Friends. Teen romances, what our parents called puppy love, came and went and pairings were short-lived but no less intense for it. Of course, we boys bragged amongst ourselves and I’m sure the girls did the same, but I don’t think any of us lost our innocence inside the gang.
Things changed when we left school and started jobs, college or university. That meant new friends, new loves, new benches. The gang slowly drifted apart.
Things have moved on a lot since then. Those of us that are still alive and in this country have been retired for some time and are contemplating entering our inevitable decline.
The twins left for South Africa when they were about seventeen; Gaynor was taken by cancer when she was only in her fifties. I haven’t heard from Jenny or Sue in ages, but I still exchange Christmas cards with Stephanie and John, who were married at twenty-one.
As for me – Stephanie was and will always be the only girl for me. I have never met her equal. Although I’ve led a full, happy and interesting life, I do now regret never even trying to find a mate.
All I have now are this cold bench and my memories.
This was written in response to Kreative Kue 289 published on this site.