Great Northern Railway - Belfast to Dublin express leaving Belfast, 1943
"And tell me, Mr Taylor, do you have a hobby?"
I was ready for the question. In those days being in possession of a hobby was routinely regarded as evidence of sound character. Only those who had devoted several hundred hours of their childhood to sticking stamps into an album or constructing precarious balsa wood models of warplanes could possibly possess the tenacity to hold down a proper job.
This had the effect of turning large number of teenage job applicants into accomplished liars. "Oh yes", we'd say, "I'm very much into philately. Or numismatics. Or brass rubbing".
On this particular occasion, when I was applying for a very ordinary job in the sales office of a brewery, I'd opted for an appropriately mundane hobby.
"I collect train numbers", I told my inquisitor. "Mostly LMS and LNER".
"That must take up quite an amount of your free time".
"Oh yes", I said. "It really fills the hours."
I didn't get the job. Someone told me afterwards that back in those days that particular brewery preferred not to employ Catholics so really my hobby was utterly irrelevant to my rejection.
Perhaps I should have simply told the truth about my real hobby. Perhaps I should have told the bigot behind the desk that nearly all my spare time was not taken up with collecting bus tickets or completing jigsaws or building Meccano battleships.
It was almost wholly spent looking for a place where one might be able to have sex with one's current girl friend, looking for what we always called "knocking places".
This was an almost constant topic of conversation among the randy sixth-form boys with whom I spent most of my evenings and weekends. Jim always reckoned that it was impossible to beat the Formby seashore. This did, however involve some complex negotiations with your girl friend who not only had to be persuaded to travel three stops on the electric train from Crosby, but then had to be additionally seduced into walking nearly a mile to the edge of the pinewoods which bordered the sandy seashore. (One or two of us who'd tried Jim's option also had disturbing news about the manner in which sharp pine needles could interfere with one's erotic coupling.)
Dave preferred more domestic options. Indeed, he'd acquired something of a reputation for effecting congress in out-of-the-way telephone boxes. I can't now recall the precise details but I do remember that they involved a skilful positioning of the telephone directories and a careful avoidance of any sudden physical movement which might lead to undue pressure on Button B.
There was also an allotment near Sefton Park where one could with luck manage to sneak into a wobbly hut and make love among the rakes and hoes and bags of horse dung.
It was around that time that Kevin Mack started to go out with Jill Ryder. He didn't have much competition. Jill was flat-chested in an un-reconstructed era which placed considerable emphasis upon girls being able to fill tight sweaters. She was also, in an age in which women were expected to defer to male opinions, rather too keen upon presenting her own views.
But, as we quickly learned from Kevin, she had one great advantage over every other young woman in Crosby. She could not only take her boy friends back to her home but could then - and I can still see the amazement on Kevin's face as he imparted the news - take them up to her bedroom, and then, if the last bus had gone, could let them spend the night with her. In bed. All night. And the parents knew.
It was extraordinary news. So extraordinary that it exposed the contradictions in our own moral stances. While we didn't, despite our Catholic upbringing, feel any guilt about having sex before marriage, we were frankly shocked by the idea of there being parents who condoned such behaviour in their own children. It was, as though, the pains of making love in telephone boxes and allotment sheds were accepted as costs of our own deviance. They were a necessary penance.
All those years of looking for suitable places to have sex, of course, interfered with our capacity for appreciating life's other pleasures.
I remember persuading Jim to join me on a Crosville bus for a day trip to Windemere. At the time I was studying Wordsworth for 'A' level and had some pretentious ideas about reciting bits from his verse about the wonders of nature as we tramped around the perimeter of the lake.
Jim had quite other ideas. No sooner had we left the bus station and found ourselves staring across miles and miles of empty and isolated verdant countryside, than he delivered his verdict on the scene.
"Look at that. One vast knocking place."
Also in this episode of Thinking Allowed - do parents really need all the advice they're currently offered by the growing legions of parenting experts?
Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed
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