Thursday, February 24, 2005

Portland Road


Hot. Dirty. Tired. Hyper. Headache. Sore feet. Hungry. Not much to look forward to except the long trek up to Norwood Junction and then catching the always packed 196 red Routemaster bus outside Stanley Tech, which then ground it's way up the long 1-in-5 slope of South Norwood Hill to home and a uniform-free existence.

My first Secondary School had a good reputation, despite once being known as the Portland Road Pigsty. It was renamed South Norwood High School and a disciplinarian headmaster Mr Wickson was installed. To a certain extent this worked, but not without the active assistance of a cadre of hip and swinging teachers who somehow infiltrated the system and usurped our expectations of the institution by surprising us with culture.

This is the place I first read Samuel Beckett, playing Lucky in Waiting for Godot at age 12.

Some days I used to carry home 3 bags - a heavy one full of books, a larger one full of sports kit, plus a trombone in a case. It was agony, endlessly changing hands, moving thin shoulderstraps about on bony shoulders to minimise bruising. I learnt to stagger the journey by visiting first the nearby bakery, where I would normally be able to afford a slice of bread pudding. This stodgy concoction of old bread, fat, sugar, raisins and spice, would energise me to make the rest of the journey up Portland Road to the bus stop.

South Norwood was a poorer area than Upper Norwood, although for that reason, many of the state school kids lived in their own homes in the relatively affordable pre-war terraced streets. I intensely disliked the smell of my friend's houses, and could not stand the sense of depressing confinement in the architecture that seemed to squash all their expectations. Narrow hallways, rank plaster, and too many layers of gloss. Food smells that never left soft furnishings. The unmistakable smell of a damp inaccessible cellar. These houses were the lid going down on a coffin containing a still-moving body. There were some richer kids of course, living in the nicer streets, but many of these exited one by one as they swotted for the few available scholarships in the Borough, or their parents got them into fee-paying schools.

Those of us that stayed were a proper comprehensive mixture of accents and backgrounds and cultures. There was a group of us whose journey was north at the end of the day, and being formed only from this accident of geography, we had little in common, but it served us to share this leg of the plod home.

As we neared Norwood Junction, the group became steadily smaller, boys having peeled off homewards along the route at regular intervals. On the left before the rail bridge was a cafe which would let us in. Sometimes there were bigger boys in there, best avoided. But it was always worth a look, in case the pinball machine was free.

This is the place I learned to play pinball.

I was good, to my great pleasure and surprise, racking up big scores, keeping the ball back, carefully using the twin flippers to ding and dong and thwunk and whirr and kerchug-kerchug-kerchug and smack loudly sometimes on the top glass, and REPLAY, and never did I lose a game to TILT. You really didn't need to shake the table, this was just bravado to show off. I was a pale looking kid carrying too many books with my tie still on and knotted thin and shoes which were polished at least twice a week, and I would get a cup of tea and wait 15 minutes to see whether I could get a game. I was late home one day and got into trouble after a spectacular half-hour session when I maxed out the table high score and paid no more than 10 pence for the privilege. I felt nervous with the big kids breathing down my neck but I was on a roll and would not be moved, and they knew this and while I was winning, I was inviolable.

This is the place I lost my heraldry project, totally forgot it in my belated run for the bus.

In the summer, after school, sometimes we would head to the swimming pool, which was slap-bang opposite on the other side of Portland Road. This was a joy. Public near-nakedness, water, dares and bets. We would splash through the stinky footbath and stay in the big pool until our lips were blue with cold. Every 40 minutes, to keep congestion down and allow every member of the Great British Public to have a swim, there was a mass-ejection of one particular colour armband. "Will ladies and gentlemen with BLUE armbands please leave the pool" ... "Will ladies and gentlemen with RED armbands please leave the pool" ... cue hasty swapping/hiding of armbands plus innocent denials if the lifeguards caught on.

One time we ended up playing with a group of girls, some from our co-educational school, some from elsewhere, all of us either just on the edge of or just into puberty, in a game of tunnel-of-legs. The girls formed a line down the shallow end, we boys took the biggest breath we could, dove down and swimwriggled belly to the floor, squinting in the cloudy piss-and-chlorine mixture to find our way to the end of the tunnel and the next breath. Over and over again we extended the line, and the girls reached down and pulled us through their lengthening legs to encourage our exploits. After the 7th or 8th time, I emerged with a gasp, victorious and grinning, only to suddenly jackknife in the water, spasming in an incredible and unexpected way. What a feeling, wowowowowow, what the fuck was that? I was completely surprised. This was not something I could explain, and although later I attempted to re-create it, it wasn't until a few months later that I was able to.

This is the place I had my first orgasm.

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6 Comments:

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Ella quoth...

Wow - I don't imagine there are many guys who can claim the swimming pool as the place of their first sexual experience.

Now I remember why I don't like public swimming pools! Great story.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger transience quoth...

oh my god, deek. i am a fire sign but that water tale had me tickled.

 
At 7:29 PM, Blogger Blog ho quoth...

I was going to suggest you swim on your back, but I see the suggestion was not needed.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger I.:.S.:. quoth...

Did anyone notice or say anything? Did you leave swirling strings of semen trailing in the water?

Yeah public swimming pools make my skin crawl. Although the saunas and jacuzzis and that are nice. But what a place for a first orgasm.

If the moment of first orgasm is an *imprint-critical moment* (like the first thing the duckling sees when it cracks out of the egg), is it true you have an affinity for swimming pools or water or the smell of chlorine? Do they feature in your sexual fantasies? Or girls wet from the bath, or girls in 60s/70s style bathing costumes, or the sound of echoing pattering feet, or water lapping on tiles?

But look at transience! That's amazing!

Anyway, we miss you on the Socialist Wanker webzine forums. Have you noticed we regulary put up new material on the site these days? ;-D

 
At 1:48 AM, Blogger karma quoth...

wow, some people will do anything for an orgasm :D

 
At 4:02 AM, Blogger Lewis E. Moten III quoth...

This was a good read. At the end you had me laughing my arse off.
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