A Groovy Kind Of Night
In her new small-town home in the swinging Sixties, a style faux pas was doubly painful for London girl Tessa…
A teen tale to make you smile
Tessa would never have gone to the tennis club dance with Alexandra in the first place if Aunt Connie hadn’t popped round to Nan’s the previous week and persuaded Mum it was a good idea.
“It’ll give her the chance to get to know some other teenagers before school starts again,” she’d said. “The club has an excellent social side – our Alexandra’s built up quite a little circle of friends. And Reg can collect them in the Sunbeam afterwards.”
Tagging along with a slightly older, rather patronising cousin didn’t sound like much fun to Tessa, but the decision appeared to have been taken out of her hands. On Saturday morning, she found herself accompanying Mum to Pollitt’s, Market Beesing’s one and only department store. Nan, with whom they now lived since moving from London, swore by Pollitt’s.
An ancient sales assistant, dressed entirely in black, directed them to what she called the “beeootique”.
Tessa knew no self-respecting teenager should be seen clothes shopping in public with her mother – on the other hand, five shillings’ pocket money a week didn’t go far and at least nobody here really knew her yet, other than her relations. Besides, she had a feeling that Pollitt’s wouldn’t exactly be top of the list as a place for Market Beesing’s in-crowd to hang out. Always assuming it had an in-crowd.
Most of the items in the “beeootique” looked as though they’d been on the racks since 1956 rather than 1966 but, after a lot of rummaging, she unearthed a yellow cotton mini-dress with white piping.
“Can I buy some make-up?” she asked. After all, she was fourteen now and knew precisely what she wanted – an incredibly pale, beige-pink lipstick, the kind Twiggy always wore, and some mascara. Perhaps even an eyeliner.
“Save your money,” said Mum. “A little bird told me Nan might have a surprise for you later.”
Tessa’s heart sank. Impossible to hurt Nan’s feelings, yet she just knew her grandmother wouldn’t have had a clue what to get. Though at least Mum’s hint meant she was prepared for the moment, at seven o’clock that evening, when a powder compact and lipstick in matching shiny cases were pressed into her hands.
“Come on then,” twinkled Nan. “Time for your first lesson.”
And she and Mum watched, smiling encouragingly, while Tessa dusted her nose with powder and carefully applied the lipstick, blotting twice with a tissue afterwards in accordance with their instructions.
“Thanks, Nan,” said Tessa. “It’s lovely. Mum, can I have a quick word with you about – um – something?
“I can’t wear this,” she whispered in the kitchen. “It’s too pink.”
“If it was any less pink,” said Mum, “you wouldn’t be able to see it.”
“But that’s the whole point. Lips are supposed to be nude. This might as well be bright red, it’s so unfashionable. Can I take some of your cleansing cream to get it off with once I’m outside?”
“Of course not, you silly thing. That’ll be Alexandra now,” Mum added as the doorbell rang. “Don’t keep her waiting. Try to look happy, for goodness’ sake.”
“My two beautiful granddaughters,” Nan was saying when they emerged into the hallway, and her eyes couldn’t have shone any more if she’d been waving them off to a ball.
“Nobody else will be wearing lipstick that colour,” said Alexandra as soon as they left the house.
“Nan gave it to me,” said Tessa, taking out her new compact and checking anxiously in the mirror.
“Did she give you the powder compact as well? My mother’s got one just like it.”
And, having delivered her killer blow, Alexandra walked the rest of the way in silence while Tessa trotted behind, surreptitiously rubbing at her lips with a hanky.
“Lips are SUPPOSED to be NUDE. This might as well be BRIGHT RED”
A t the tennis club, a small group of girls had already congregated in the Ladies – presumably this was the “little circle of friends” that Aunt Connie had mentioned.
“Why are you wearing that lipstick?” asked one of them. A glance in the mirror told Tessa her efforts had been in vain.
“My nan bought it for her,” said
Alexandra in a bored voice. “I wouldn’t let my grandma buy make-up for me,” said somebody else, and there was a general chorus of assent. “Mind you, I wish she’d kept her old clothes. That’s what everybody’s wearing in London – vintage frocks and big hats.”
“Yeah,” said the first girl. “There’s a boutique called Granny Takes A Trip where they sell nothing else.” And she shot a conspiratorial smile at Alexandra who frowned and shook her head.
They trooped out onto the dance floor. Tessa tried her best to forget about the lipstick and enjoy herself but it was no use. Although the disc jockey played two of her favourites – PaintItBlack by the Stones and Sha-La-La-La-Lee by the Small Faces – she felt terribly selfconscious. A couple of boys nearby kept grinning at her and nudging each other which put her off even more and, after ten minutes, she gave up.
“I think I’ll sit down for a bit,” she said, cupping her hands round her mouth and speaking into Alexandra’s ear so as to be heard above the music.
“If you’d rather go home, I could ring my dad and ask him to fetch you.”
“No, it’ll be fine.” Though touched by her cousin’s thoughtfulness, Tessa couldn’t face explaining to Mum and Nan why she was back so early. “I’ll have a Coke and maybe dance again later.”
“OK then.” Alexandra turned away and Tessa stole off to find somewhere to sit, well away from the public gaze.
Needless to say, she had no intention whatsoever of dancing again. Her sole aim was to get through the next couple of hours and then forget this evening had ever happened. H i,” said a voice. “I’m Maureen. My sister said I should come and talk to you.” A girl of about Tessa’s own age peered at her uncertainly from beneath a heavy fringe.
“That’s nice of her,” said Tessa, “but I’m all right, really. Do have a seat if you like though.”
Maureen’s eyes widened. “Is that a London accent?”
“Well, yes – my dad was a Londoner and I grew up there. But my mum’s from round here.”
“Are you related to Alexandra’s other cousin in London, then?” said Maureen who’d now settled herself comfortably.
Tessa blinked. “I didn’t even know she had another cousin.”
“Oh, yes,” said Maureen. “She’s about seventeen, I think, and her parents own this mews house in Chelsea, only five minutes from the King’s Road. Alex stayed with her over Easter and they visited loads of famous boutiques, ones where pop stars and models go all the time. They saw Lulu, and one of the Moody Blues spoke to them…”
She stopped suddenly and reddened. “Actually, Alex only told my sister this because they’re best friends. She was supposed to keep it to herself, only she never can resist bragging to me. You won’t let on, will you?
“Alex’s mother thinks this Cathy’s parents were there the whole time. She doesn’t know they were down in Kent, at their country cottage, so the girls could pretty much do what they liked…”
“Did Alexandra buy anything at these boutiques?” asked Tessa. Surely her cousin wasn’t claiming to have passed off something from Pollitt’s spring sale as King’s Road fashions?
“A couple of outfits,” said Maureen, “but apparently this Cathy’s looking after them ‘til next time she goes down there. So you don’t know Cathy at all, then?”
“She must be related on my uncle’s side,” said Tessa quickly, her fingers crossed behind her back. Uncle Reg’s family all lived in Nuneaton. “Don’t worry. I won’t say anything.”
Alexandra had spent last Easter in London all right – in the distinctly un-trendy suburb of Acton where she’d reluctantly shared Tessa’s bedroom between excursions to Madame Tussaud’s and Hampton Court.
“We might as well get a last bit of sightseeing in,” Aunt Connie had said, “before you leave London for good.” “Fancy another dance?” said Maureen. “I dunno.” Tessa glanced around. “There were these two daft boys hanging around before. They kept smirking at me.”
“Oh, that’ll be my brother and his mate, Tony,” said Maureen. “Don’t worry about them, they’re just shy with girls.” A huge smile spread over her face. “By the way,” she added. “I do love your accent. It’s fab.” D id you have a good time, love?” Nan asked as Tessa looked into the living-room door to say goodnight. “Yes, Nan. I had a smashing time.” The evening, she reflected as she climbed the stairs, had turned out much better than expected. She’d learned that
“It’s not MY FAULT you made up a LOAD OF TOSH to impress your CRONIES”
she and Maureen would be at the same school, so she’d have at least one friend. And then there’d been the muttered exchange with Alexandra while they were waiting for Uncle Reg.
“I bet Maureen’s been blabbing,” her cousin had begun crossly. “I knew this would happen. Why couldn’t you go home early like I suggested?”
“It’s not my fault you made up a lot of old tosh to impress your cronies,” said Tessa, stung for once into retaliating. “I wouldn’t care but, if you’d told me you wanted to see the King’s Road, we could have easily got the bus, like I used to nearly every Saturday with my mates. OK, we never actually bought anything but we spotted the odd famous face…”
“It’s different for you,” Alexandra hissed. “You’ve probably been hopping on and off buses since you were ten.”
“I wouldn’t say ten,” said Tessa modestly. “Eleven, maybe.”
“My mother doesn’t trust me as far as the end of our drive. Can you imagine the shame if she insisted on coming with us?”
Tessa tried to picture Aunt Connie in a Chelsea boutique with its psychedelic décor, weird music and a communal changing room crammed with leggy, fashionable young women. The potential for embarrassment would be endless.
“Thanks for not giving me away, though,” Alexandra had whispered, only slightly grudgingly, as her father’s Sunbeam pulled up. “Next time there’s a dance, I’ll do your make-up.”
It was the nearest thing to a conversation they’d ever had.
Now, before setting to work with the cleansing cream and cotton wool balls Mum had left out for her, she studied her reflection in the mirror and mused on the evening’s other important conversation.
The four of them – Maureen and her brother, his friend and herself – had just finished strutting their stuff, amid much giggling, to Satisfaction.
“We didn’t upset you earlier, did we?” Tony had asked over the introduction to GroovyKindOfLove. “We were worried when you disappeared – that’s why we sent Maureen to check if you were OK.”
“You?” exclaimed Tessa. “Not her sister? I thought you were laughing at me.”
“No,” said Tony. “I wanted to ask you to dance, that’s all, but couldn’t get up the nerve – and then it was too late! Why should we be laughing at you?”
“Because of my lipstick,” she said. “Because it’s the wrong pink.” He stared at her, seemingly baffled. “But your lipstick’s nice. It suits you.” So she’d decided to keep it. And not only because of what he’d said – or because it was a present from Nan.
Youneverknew, she thought. One day,beigelipsmightgooutoffashion.