Dating in the old days

Olive and Arnold on their wedding day.

Olive and Arnold on their wedding day.

In 1950,1 was 16 and heading for a blind date after just ending a relationship of 12 months with a boy I had met when I joined a youth organisation. It so happened that during that 12 months, my father had been recuperating at a sanatorium, and mother, being more relaxed, I’d been left to my own devices, and my first boyfriend and I had taken advantage, going to midnight matinees at the cinema and staying out late at dances.

But now father was back home and I was having to behave myself. Truthfully I told him I was going out with two work colleagues. What I didn’t tell him was that we were going on a blind date, Mary having arranged for us to meet three young men. She knew them but for Rusty and me it was a blind date. Mine was to be Cliff, the same name as my brother (who was serving in Hong Kong at the time).

Our dates duly arrived, neatly attired in suits, ties and trilby hats. Three smart looking black men. You have to remember the year – 1950 – to imagine my thoughts, although I had formed no firm opinion of our new immigrants.

My father was another matter. I couldn’t risk him, or any of his drinking friends, seeing me walking along the street with Radcliffe – his name which, had I known it, might have given me some idea that he had newly arrived in England.

The three men seemed to understand when Mary asked them not to walk with us but to follow us to the fairground. But even at the packed fairground I feared I would be seen and reported to my father, and I refused to accompany them.

Radcliffe and his friends were soon with three other girls and having a great time.

We were then spotted by another friend who offered to introduce us to some boys. She had obviously already paired me up. “You’ll like Arnold,” she enthused, “and if you play your cards right he will take you home in his red sports car.”

A boy with a sports car! That was my wildest dream and Arnold was, as today’s teenagers would say ‘drop dead gorgeous’ – and he was of mixed race. I weighed this handsome boy and his sports car against my father – and father won.

Not to be split up, we were again three girls looking for three lads. And such was the demand for girls that night that we were soon being dragged along by an old school friend to meet some more boys. She was reeling off the names of these boys when I stopped in my tracks. “I’ve already met Arnold,” I told her.
“and I’m sorry but my dad would kill me if he heard I was with a boy of mixed race.” An exaggeration, of course, but in the climate of the day, race was a big issue.

“Arnold’s not of mixed race, he’s as white as you and me and has ginger hair.” And he
was, a very pale rookie on his first leave from the army and with the regulatory close cropped haircut. A tall, gawky looking chap with dark rimmed glasses and jug ears who had outgrown his sports coat and flannels. But in my father’s eyes he would be seen to be ‘the best of British’. The night was getting short and so Mary, Rusty and I teamed up with Arnold, Bobby and Charlie for the walk home.

The next day found me waving my new friend off at the station, and I must say he did look smart in his uniform. I saw him several times when he came on leave and even took him home before he was posted abroad and his 18 months National Service became two years.

I waited for him to come home and still I wait for him, only now I wait for him as he limps along behind me clutching his walking stick. Fifty-five years married with two children, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And you may be wondering what happened to my companions of that night at the fairground. I was soon to lose touch with Mary, Rusty and Bobby. Charlie married a local girl and visits us to talk over old times with his pal.

And the other Arnold? Drop dead gorgeous with the red sports car? I saw him often in years to come, still handsome. He opened his own hairdressing salon in town -and never married. *

Olive Hyett, Dudley, West Midlands