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Heather and Ingrid started their travels almost immediately after their Finals, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, then spending one night in a posh hotel in Caen before setting out for real. The ground rules for that opening, European stage of their world tour were simple. Money wasn’t particularly a problem but they were going to behave as if it was. After Caen they set a small seven day budget for travel and accommodation and, when that was used up, they walked and slept in the tent until the start of the next week. That was the way to meet interesting people and have meaningful experiences, they believed; avoiding luxurious establishments, stopping off in hostels, camp sites or farmers’ fields, hiking or using the cheapest local transport.
First stop after Caen was Bayeux, where they saw the famous tapestry, toured the ancient cathedral and stood in silent awe in the War Cemetery, amidst thousands of brilliant white headstones. Best of all, they lunched at a crêperie, pigging it on the strawberry ones.
The Landing Beaches came next, starting with Utah, through Omaha, Gold and Juno to Sword. Being on Omaha made them think of Saving Private Ryan and they stared at the cliffs, wondering what sort of madmen would want to land there. The neighbouring “British” beach, Gold, was flatter and a much harder place for an enemy to defend; even two girls who hated warfare could see that.
Gold also had the remains of the mulberry harbour, Port Winston, originally designed to survive three months and still recognizably there after nearly sixty years. From the Canadian beach, Juno, they took time to visit Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer so Heather could send her dad a postcard. Her dad had only ever been out of Yorkshire a handful of times and abroad just once, on a prehistoric school trip to that very place. These days the farthest he got from home was Skipton; she knew the card would make him laugh.
Leaving the beaches and war cemeteries they at last set off south, walking and talking much of the way, keeping mostly to the coast and taking over a month to reach Spain. As they went they took in the cities of Nantes and Bordeaux but far preferred the countless small towns and villages, becoming self-taught experts on local food and wine. Being outdoors nearly all of the time gave them both their best-ever tans. All that walking gave them bottomless appetites for baguettes, fresh from the oven. And talking virtually incessantly fine-tuned their bonding . . . so much so that Heather soon knew more about Ingrid than she did about anyone else on earth, even Mary Rose.
Ingrid got her blue eyes and blonde hair from her mother, a Swede who had married an Englishman and was now proud to call herself a “Londoner”. For her part, Ingrid considered herself one hundred per cent English, except from the times she was supposed to feel “British” . . . meaning when she was watching the Olympics or Eurovision. She only ever felt European when watching the Ryder Cup and reserved the right to be Swedish when it suited her; saying her mum’s two all-time heroes were Bjorn Borg and Ingemar Stenmark, if anyone needed a clue as to how often that was. And she hated ABBA unless she was really drunk, when she was apt to tell everyone how marvellous they were.
On the subject of sex Ingrid would listen happily to tales of Heather’s exploits while maintaining she was cowardly herself. She would admit feeling attracted to a certain type of woman . . . citing Brigitte Nielsen as utterly staggering . . . and supposing part of that had something to do with the irresistible attraction that strong, Viking-like men had for her. She reckoned this had been her downfall in finding a decent bloke, adding that she didn’t know about Swedish Vikings, but all the English Vikings she’d ever met acted like cavemen. When Heather said she’d thought that was sort of the idea, Ingrid had laughed and said of course it was the idea, she just didn’t want to give up the dream: somewhere out there, there was a caring, romantic and loving Viking, waiting just for her.
Heather enjoyed their sex-talk enormously, not least because it was unpredictable. During the Easter planning stage she’d pro-actively emailed her companion-to-be, promising there would be no repeat of her indecent proposal. Ingrid had replied saying she’d secretly been flattered but okay, best keep things simple. But please, please, please tell her all about everything; they were going to be great friends and must never hold back.
So Heather told her about a boy who’d helped rid her of virginity before being her over-worked (but very willing) slave throughout a long-ago summer break. And about Mary Rose, who’d taught her that sex came in so many varying flavours. She’d confessed her two favourite were The Manor Sixth Form Schoolgirl (sweet, long-lasting and utterly wonderful) and Part-Tamed Neanderthal (rough but not too rough, shorter-lasting but mind-blowing in its own way), although she liked lots of others as well. And she’d confessed casino siteleri she’d gone to uni determined to be promiscuous.
‘I planned seventy-five per cent of my waking hours for degree work,’ she’d said, ‘twenty per cent for sports and five for enjoying myself. Five per cent obviously wasn’t enough for a full-time boyfriend or girlfriend, so I decided I’d just play the field for three years. And it’s been a big field.’
Ingrid said she’d had half a dozen boyfriends over the same period, mostly Viking-flavoured and all ultimately too rough and uncaring. She insisted none of them had been even remotely abusive, but Heather didn’t buy that; not entirely. It was obvious her friend believed she’d been too submissive. In Ingrid’s exploits her men had rarely shagged or made love; usually they’d just fucked her. ‘That’s how I like it,’ she claimed, ‘the harder the better. Lips and tongues don’t really do it for me.’
Except she couldn’t hear enough about Heather’s A-level in Cunnilingus. And two or three times she had admitted she wished she’d been more demanding that way with her blokes.
Talking about sex had always thrilled Heather. In her opinion, talking about sex was nearly as good as actually having it, especially when true stories were involved and gritty details abounded. Normally she with-held names, to protect the not-so-innocent, but Rachael had already told Ingrid more than she should have, and a lot of her other liaisons had hardly been classified information. Consequently some of her scenes were only too easy to picture.
‘Tell me more about Rachael’s piercings,’ Ingrid would say. ‘Tell me again about Emily’s favourite games.’ She couldn’t get too many intimate details and found it difficult to understand why Heather had bothered with men at all. ‘Girls sound so much more fun,’ she’d said one day. ‘And men can be such pigs.’
‘It was the emotional side that put me off,’ Heather explained. ‘I always seemed to connect with fellow female students before sleeping with them. It was like extra foreplay, and it made the shag infinitely better, even if it did eat up some of my waking hours. Trouble was, it also encouraged relationships, which I didn’t really need. Blokes don’t have to connect to shag. And shagging’s nearly as good with blokes, even if they don’t have the same skill and affection. Or the staying power.’
More than once Ingrid had laughingly accused her of behaving like a man; of wanting to fuck every attractive stranger she met. Heather accepted that as partly true. She had the same wild urges as men but believed she was more in control . . . apart from the occasional rugby semi-final, that is! And she’d genuinely wanted her time at uni to include “wild”. She didn’t drink heavily, only smoked the odd reefer and never did drugs. Sex was her sole indulgence. In fact, apart from sports, she had no other hobby and she was particularly good at it. She was telling the truth when she told Ingrid that every last one of her university lovers had come back, begging for more.
Uni was behind them now, though. The era of promiscuity was (in theory at least) over. Not that either of them intended to live the life of a nun. Their gap year ground rules left the door open for them to have casual encounters whenever and wherever they pleased. Yet neither of them took advantage of that freedom during those first weeks in France. From the off they had planned to take a break, way down the line, spending ten days or so pretending to be holidaymakers in Benalmadena. When actually having sex was ever mentioned, “I’m saving myself for Ben Maddener,” was the standard reply.
Or it was until they camped in a field outside Bayonne.
(Ingrid’s Interruption I)
Hi, I’m Ingrid. Sorry for butting in, but I’ve been worrying about the way I’m coming across in this little tale. In other words, knowing what lies imminently ahead, I’m trying to get my defence in first, before my reputation is totally tattered and torn.
Brave or cowardly? I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m being a bit of both.
Okay, here goes. For starters I have to admit I adore Heather. She is easily the nicest person I have ever met. And the most stunning. She’s tall with a mane of jet-black hair that, left to its own devices, flows halfway down her back. Her face belongs on a fallen angel, it’s so wickedly, knowingly beautiful. As for her body . . .
Heather honestly could be a supermodel, except she’s too perfectly built. To get a clue of the impact she has on folk, think Raquel Welsh wearing animal skins in One Million Years BC. That’s when she’s in her hiking gear and supposedly “fully dressed”. When she’s dishabille . . .
A quick enlargement about “perfectly built”. Heather’s more athletic than simply decorative. There isn’t an ounce of fat on her, but she’s got great tits and womanly curves in all the right places. She’s also got very noticeable muscles, in a tasteful sort of a way. By that I mean her legs and upper arms are visibly strong and, even relaxed, canlı casino she’s got a very impressive six-pack. God only knows what agonies she put herself through to end up like that!
If Arnie had a sister in the movies . . .
Well, she wouldn’t look as good as Heather, but her body would probably be a close match.
Right then, enough about Heather for now. I’m not going to waste much time describing my physical self. I have already been described as “scrumptious” and a “blonde beauty” so, apart from saying my travelling companion is prone to exaggeration, I’ll leave it at that. All I will add is that, at a healthy five foot eight, I’m the short-assed one in our twosome.
Character-wise I think I’ve been summed up quite well, especially the bit about ABBA. That said, I am a Londoner through and through, with little urge to ever be Swedish. I say “Londoner” because I was born in Bromley. My dad calls himself a “Cockney” because he was born within the sound of Bow Bells, although some of his mates scoff at that claim, saying his mum “must have had bloody good hearing”.
One slight wrinkle to iron out, then I’ll get on with my defence. My mum was indeed born in Sweden; in Malmo, to be precise. The claim about her all-time heroes is inaccurate, though. Yes, Borg is there at the top (it’s written into the Constitution of Sweden that he has to be top of everyone’s list), but poor old Ingemar only makes it in as Mum’s number three. Worse still, he isn’t even her favourite skier!
Marriage aside, Mum must have always had a sense of internationalism about her. Her number two superstar is the famed Austrian downhiller, Franz Klammer. All of her top three were well before my time, but Mum remembers them from her girlhood. From what I’ve gathered, she rather admired Herr Klammer’s swashbuckling ways. Come to that, I’m sure she had a jumbo-sized crush on him. In fact I suspect if Herr Klammer had ever come calling, my dad would have been left out in the cold.
Lucky escape, eh? And I’m lucky in more ways than one. As well as being in danger of not ever even existing, Mum’s surname was “Bergman”. Fancy that! I could have been Ingrid Bergman the Second! Not bad for cocktail conversations, I suppose, but utterly shit for an English schoolgirl.
The crap I took as it was, as “Ingrid Cooper” . . .
Skip that. Moving on, most of what has been said about me so far is accurate enough. But there is one glaring exception . . . the part concerning my sexuality.
Didn’t see that coming, did you? You did? Oh well, I’ll enlarge anyway.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but thus far I’ve been made out to be bi-curious yet cowardly. That was the case for a while, I must admit. Then, on Saturday the twentieth of April, everything changed.
I’ve known Rachael Brown since we were both five. We met on our very first day at primary school. That is to say, we started on the same day; I don’t remember being introduced. It wasn’t a Stanley and Livingstone moment. Or, if it was, I immediately forgot about it.
So, two Bromley girls going through the same schools together. We must have interacted over the years but my memory is hazy. Having said that, my memory is hazy about most of my other early school chums too. Perhaps that’s due to my schooldays being happy ones. My girl classmates all got on with each other and there were very few falling-outs . . . unlike the boys, who were scrapping in the yard every other afternoon.
What I’m trying to say is that I was aware of Rachael without ever being close to her. Like a lot of my peers, she was there but rarely affected my life, so I paid her little attention. Then, early on in the fifth year, she became visibly “different” and only too noticeable. I can see her now in my mind’s eye, standing in the schoolyard, her hair dyed black and red, looking as if she’d just stepped off the cover of Aladdin Sane, minus the lightning bolt. She had a small knot of admirers around her, about fifty-fifty male and female.
Wow, I thought. The balls on her!
Two, maybe three weeks later I noticed her again. That time her dye-job was a brighter red and her hair was spikier. She had a black patch over one eye but didn’t for one second look like a pirate. No, she looked like Ziggy Stardust, and her knot of admirers was larger, and biased towards girls.
Here’s a confession for you. I honestly can’t remember Rache’s natural hair colour. I want to say that it’s “mousy” (like the girl in Life on Mars), but I simply don’t know. Truth is, ever since she debuted her Aladdin Sane look, her hair has never been “natural”.
And here’s another confession. Back in those early days, when Rachael copied persona instead of creating her own, my favourite was her version of Siouxsie Sioux.
Now, every interruption should have an aside. Mine is about Siouxsie, in case somebody out there has never heard of her. As well as giving the world HG Wells and WE Johns, Bromley has blessed us with at least two rock icons: David Bowie and a young kaçak casino lady who became renowned as lead singer and songwriter for Siouxsie and the Banshees. And Siouxsie has an early claim to fame: her part in one of the most spectacular leaps from non-entity into superstardom ever.
In early 1976 a friend took a teenaged Siouxsie to see a new, unknown band called The Sex Pistols. Impressed, she recruited more friends to regularly follow the band. Before long her group of followers was dubbed the “Bromley Contingent”, and their outrageous fashions began to be aped. Then, on December the first of the same year, it happened.
Unlike a lot of other countries, TV in the UK has never been severely censored. All sorts is said and done on air, usually late at night. Daytime viewing is, however, expected to be relatively sedate. And, back in the 1970s, the very idea of certain profanities being used during an early evening chat show was unheard of. Especially on a regional programme, where the presenters were supposed to be nice and neighbourly
By then well-known to the band members, Siouxsie and a few others from the Contingent got to join the Pistols in their appearance with Bill Grundy. Apart from much-needed publicity, it’s not sure what was expected from the event: probably not that the interviewer would be drunk enough to proposition one of the hangers-on. Siouxsie pouted at his semi-lewd invitation and, leaping to her rescue, Steve Jones called Grundy (amongst other things) a “dirty old man”, a “dirty fucker” and a “fucking rotter”.
A fucking rotter! Absolute class by any standards.
The situation mushroomed from there. Clearly under the influence, Grundy actively goaded Jones and, barely an hour later, their exchange featured prominently on all the national news programmes. Next day . . . and for days thereafter . . . the tabloid newspapers proved they loved it just as much. All thanks to Siouxsie, who wasn’t exactly reticent in the exchanges herself.
Aside over. Let me tell you about Rachael’s copycat version of Siouxsie Sioux. The original look leant heavily on gothic and featured cat-eye makeup, blood red lipstick and . . . first and foremost . . . all the blackest of blacks everywhere possible: spiked black hair, black clothes, painted black fingernails . . .
Rachael was nothing if not faithful to her icon. She’d missed punk rock by almost twenty years but she definitely knew how it should be done. As a trendsetter, she was second only to the girl herself.
With the benefit of hindsight, I had felt vibes seeing Rachael in all that lace and leather. Vibes about me and vibes about her.
I truly didn’t know that we were headed for the same university. It really was a big surprise when I saw Rachael in the Union Bar, snogging the face off a fellow fresher. It’s fair to say Rachael was surprised to see me too. After mistaking me for a peeping Tom and snarling, recognition set in and she gave me a greeting worthy of a long-lost friend.
It soon transpired that Rachael wasn’t just “out”, she was in the process of taking over the world. By then, a month into our first term, she’d created the “Girls’ Society”. Members didn’t have to be lesbian, she explained, but it certainly helped. The crunch qualification was “feminist”. Her concept had been to create an organization that stuck up for women’s rights . . . with everyone having a good time while they did it.
Permit me a small chuckle. Didn’t Rache tell Heather and myself she was thinking about taking a year out?
Baloney! There’s more chance of me being elected as Pope.
In its three year existence the Girls’ Society has grown into a powerful force. Membership is such that a petition for any deserving cause is guaranteed at least fifty signatures on the morning of issue. And, if the Girls’ Society backs a cause, LGBT is sure to follow. Given the Girls’ Society’s support, a female petitioner nearly always wins her fight. And men petitioners have also been successfully supported.
Take a year out and let go of her baby? Absolute, utter baloney. Never mind me being elected as the next Pope, there’s more chance of me appearing on Come Dancing, partnered with Frank Sinatra and beamed live from Uranus. Believe me, Rachael will end up on the lecturing staff. As an undergraduate she’s already lectured as a guest speaker for “Gender and Feminist Studies”. And, of course, she was a roaring success. Give her a couple more years and she’ll be opening her own faculty.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I started to fancy Rache when I first saw her Siouxsie look. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
(Ingrid’s Interruption II)
Rachael’s birthday, then. I remembered the date a few days beforehand and asked her how she was going to celebrate. She muttered something about having already got her twenty-first piercing, giving the distinct impression she wasn’t going to bother. She even growled, “Bah, humbug!” when pressed.
I tried to shame her into throwing a party, but she refused. I offered to take her out for a slap-up meal and she refused that too. Finally, no doubt sensing she’d never hear the end of it if she didn’t agree to something, she’d said I could cook her dinner.
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