FROM the moment of that first goodnight kiss to their first proper date the following Wednesday evening Derek counted every waking hour. So anxious was he not to be late for his rendezvous with Lisa, he caught a train from Lower Sydenham station that pulled into Hayes station at 7.41 pm almost twenty minutes early. He didn't mind though. Where any kind of important appointment was concerned, he much preferred to live by the simple maxim of being in good time, rather than rushing around like a headless chicken, playing catch-up.
Strolling up the incline towards the station's exit, he was lost in his thoughts and pondering, for the first, time the possibility that he might be stood-up, when he heard an unfamiliar male voice call-out, Is that you Derek?''
Glancing casually over his left shoulder, he was greeted by the smiling face of Lisa's father, who was walking a pace or two behind him. Derek offered a polite, Good evening sir.''
Mr Miller returned the compliment with an approving nod and added, I couldn't tell for sure on Saturday evening, but Lisa did say you were well over six feet tall, and she wasn't kidding. You're even taller than me, Derek, and I'm six-two. How tall are you?''
I'm six-four and a half Mr Miller,'' replied the young man with a friendly chuckle in his voice.
The two of them shook hands and, for a short while, they stood together discussing the advantages and disadvantages of living with above average height. Eventually, Mr Miller glanced up at the clock suspended over the station entrance and called a halt to the conversation.
Oh, oh, you'll have to excuse me Derek, I'd better rush or I'll get it in the neck for being late for dinner.'' He began to walk away, then stopped and spun to face the young man again. By the way, you're early, aren't you?''
Derek looked at his wrist watch and agreed. Yes sir, by about a quarter of an hour.''
With that, Mr Miller began walking again but, as he did so, he called-out, Okay if I see Lisa, I'll tell her you're waiting. I'm sure she won't be long.''
Suddenly, all notions of being stood-up were dispelled from his mind, and he called-back a courteous, Thank you sir,'' to Mr Miller who, by then, was some ten yards away. Without looking back, he waved his right arm in acknowledgement of Derek's thanks, and then disappeared from view into Hayes Lane.
Lisa arrived breathlessly a few minutes later. Daddy told me you were waiting, so I ran the rest of the way,'' she gasped, and she flung her arms around the young man's neck. I'm so pleased to see you Derek. It seems an eternity since last Saturday, don't you agree?''
You can say that again,'' he replied, planting a kiss on her left cheek. The days have dragged by for me too, so let's make-up for lost time. What would you like to do?''
Hesitantly, she revealed her plans for the evening in the form of a question. Er I hope you don't mind, but I've promised mummy and daddy I'd take you home and introduce you to them. Is that okay with you?''
He shrugged his shoulders. That sounds fine to me Leese. After all, I'm half way there already. Not five minutes ago, right here on this spot, your father and I had a nice friendly conversation. If your Mum's as easy to get on with as your Dad seems to be, I'm sure we'll get-on really well.''
He noticed that Lisa didn't respond to his enthusiasm, but he chose not to ask her why. Within the hour, he was wishing he'd done so. In the affability stakes, Mrs Miller turned out to be the complete opposite to her husband. Stern and unsmiling, with a slightly jaundiced and unusually lined complexion, the manner in which she held her head erect gave Derek the impression she had a bad smell under her nose. From the moment he met her he sensed he was going to have a hard task on his hands to win the woman over. It was almost as if she regarded him as being beneath her. At least that's how it felt to him. In due course, he was to be proved correct on both counts but, for the time-being, he chose to treat her with the utmost respect and courtesy, as one would a booby trap bomb.
Over the following few weeks, he and Lisa met-up at every opportunity and their affection for one another grew into a bond that appeared unbreakable. While apart, they both lived for those brief moments when they could speak to each other on the telephone. And when they met for their weekly dates, they became inseparable; almost afraid to be parted for more than a few minutes at a time.
Every Saturday evening, they returned to the Court Ballroom in Beckenham, while Friday evenings were invariably reserved for a date at the cinema. It was after one such visit to the Bromley Odeon, in mid-November, when their relationship found a new depth of meaning and a powerful expression through their almost desperate desire to be close for the rest of their lives. Emerging from the Odeon's ticket hall after seeing 'Move Over Darling' starring Doris Day and James Garner, the young couple stood for a while under the cinema's entrance canopy watching a fine veil of drizzle drifting lazily into the shaft of light cast by the canopy's brilliant illuminations. Turning-up the collars of their coats, they eventually stepped out into the coolness of the night air and strolled hand-in-hand the quarter of a mile to a bus stop close to Bromley North station. Ten minutes later, completely alone and oblivious to the pervasive dampness, they stood waiting for a 138 bus which would take them to Hayes and Lisa's home.
Laughing quietly, the couple shared recollections of some of the funniest moments from the film. Then Derek became more reflective. Look, sweetheart, I've just gotta say this. Okay, I know 'Move Over Darling' was a comedy, but I hope you and I can always remember the film's sub-plot. Those two leading characters were so much in love they just wouldn't allow anything or anybody to come between them, would they? You know, I'd like to think we're like that.''
Lisa caught her breath and looked deep into his eyes. Are you trying to tell me you love me?'' she whispered expectantly.
Taken completely by surprised by her question he knew what his answer was but, at first, all he could do was nod his head shyly. His spoken answer followed a few moments later. Yes, Lisa. Yes, I do love you. Very, very much. In fact, I'm crazy about you.''
With that, she wrapped her arms around his chest and hugged him close. Oh, I love you too, Derek. So very much. Please don't ever leave me.''
Swaying together in an embrace that both wished would last for ever, they kissed tenderly, then expressed in whispered tones their love for one another once again. Yet in that tender moment, neither of them could have known that exactly one week later, their lives, along with the lives of countless millions of their fellow post war baby boomers, let alone the rest of the world, would be dealt a cruel blow.
In contrast to the dampness of the previous Friday evening, Friday November 22, 1963 was dry and mild. Derek had eagerly anticipated this night because he'd secured two front-row, dress-circle tickets for a special showing of the film-musical 'West Side Story' at the Bromley Odeon. Many of the audience were in tears at the end of the film; all of them overwhelmed by the powerfully emotive scenes at its close. Lisa too had wept openly and Derek had fought hard to check the rising surge of emotion in his chest, as Maria, played by Natalie Wood, sang 'There's a place for us' to her fatally wounded Tony, played by Richard Beymer. Nothing, though, could have prepared anyone leaving the cinema that evening for the news of a world-changing event that had occurred on the far side of the Atlantic while they'd been watching 'West Side Story'.
Less than one hour later, and still talking excitedly about the film they'd just seen, the young couple walked into Lisa's parent's living room to find Mr and Mrs Miller engrossed in a television broadcast by Prime Minister, Alec Douglas~Home. Swivelling in his chair to greet them, Lisa's father placed his index finger against his lips.
Shhhh you two. President Kennedy is dead. He's been assassinated in Dallas.''
Derek stared at the TV screen in disbelief and felt a numbness envelope his whole body. At the same time, he was vaguely aware of Lisa gripping his upper arm, crying-out, Oh no,'' and burying her face against his chest. At the end of the Prime Minister's announcement, Mr Miller switched-off the television and sat shaking his head. Without a word, Mrs Miller left the room while her husband explained to the young couple what the news reports had revealed. As he finished, Derek was gazing blankly to the carpet at his feet, but still listening intently. Eventually he attempted to express his innermost feelings with a few words that crackled with a mixture of outrage and hopelessness.
I just don't understand what's happening to this crazy world. That man represented the hopes and aspirations of my generation. Now they've taken him away from us. It just doesn't make sense.''
Lisa and her father murmured their agreement. For the young couple, the joy of their evening together at the cinema had been crushed by the events in Dallas. What had been a memorable occasion for them, and for all the right reasons, had now become memorable for all the wrong reasons. Half an hour later, they kissed goodnight at Lisa's front door, and Derek began a long, lonely journey home in a mood of deep sadness.
In comparison, Christmas 1963 proved to be a time of great happiness and contentment for them; made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Derek was invited to stay at Lisa's parent's home for the two day holiday. Interspersed with the laughter and excitement of Christmas Day, however, were a few ominous moments of tension between Derek and Mrs Miller. Since meeting her for the first time, he had tried hard to establish a relaxed and amicable relationship with her, but she would not, or could not, respond in kind.
Tall, dark haired and slender like her daughter, she lacked Lisa's outgoing personality and warmth. Consequently, with the passage of time, she'd convinced Derek that she was an embittered, highly critical woman, and always quick to question the actions of others.
Increasingly, the subtle twitches of her head and the swift glances in his direction left him feeling that many of her outbursts were being directed at him personally. This was especially so when her favourite subjects of etiquette and social standing were the issues of the moment. More often than not, however, her comments were so well disguised under a cloak of ambiguity, he could not be certain whether he was the intended target or not. In spite of his discomfort in her presence, he maintained his policy of extreme courtesy towards Mrs Miller, for fear of alienating her completely. It felt to him like he was walking an endless verbal tightrope, but that tightrope was much more preferable to the prospect of life without Lisa.
One week after their short Christmas break, the young couple were ready to welcome-in 1964 at a New Year's Eve family party at Derek's parent's flat. Up to that point, none of his extended family had met Lisa but, true to their Cockney London roots, they took to her immediately and warmed to her marvellous sense of fun. Much to Derek's delight and relief, his girlfriend was embraced as one of the family from the outset and, for much of the early part of the evening she was fussed-over by his mother and her three younger sisters. Derek meanwhile, was chatting to his father in the hallway when his Uncle Eddie walked past and covertly pointed in Lisa's direction with his thumb.
I really don't know how you do it Del. As you know I've always had an eye for the girls, and I'm now wishing I was twenty years younger. Your Lisa is absolutely gorgeous. She's something really special. You look after her d'you hear?''
Derek reassured his uncle with a jovial wink and a nudge. Don't worry Uncle Ed I'll take very good care of Lisa. After all, with you around, I'll need to.'' Eddie aimed a pretend punch at his nephew's solar plexus and they both wrestled playfully for a few seconds.
The relief Derek felt over the way Lisa had been welcomed into his family was, however, tinged with frustration. Making his way into the living room, he sat beside her, placed his left arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. She reciprocated by clasping her hands around his waist, wrinkling her nose and casting a disarming smile into his eyes. Cupping his free hand against her ear, he told her of the exchange between him and his uncle a few minutes previously.
I'm so proud of you Lisa. You're a big hit with all the family, and d'you know something? I think I love you very much.''
In reply she whispered, I love you too Derek,'' but by then she'd sensed his mood had changed. She didn't have to say anything, because her beautifully expressive brown eyes did all the talking. Moreover, Derek knew the question they were posing.
Intuitively he replied, It's your mother Lisa. I do so wish I could get-on better with her. If only she could take to me the way my parents and the rest of the family have taken to you.''
Lisa placed her open hand on her boyfriend's face and caressed it gently. Don't worry darling,'' she replied. Mummy does like you. Honestly. It's just that she has some strong opinions and she tends to express them openly and sometimes without thinking them through.''
Taking hold of her hand, Derek kissed her palm. Yes sweetheart, I've noticed. Every time she calls something or someone 'common' which, you have to admit, is rather frequently, it makes my blood boil, and I have to stop myself from reacting to it. Something inside just snaps when I hear her going-on like that. And what makes matters worse is she often looks straight at me when she uses that word. I'm sure she thinks I'm common.''
Shaking her head slowly, Lisa softly stroked his face again with her fingers. No, no, you're wrong Derek. Even if she did think you were common, it wouldn't stop me from loving you as much as I do.''
Her words eased his immediate sense of frustration, but still the doubts lingered in the back of his mind. Like it, or like it not, he kept coming back to the belief that Mrs Miller disapproved of him and, more worryingly, wanted him out of her daughter's life.
Despite his misgivings, as the winter months of 1964 gave way to spring and summer, his affection for Lisa grew ever stronger and he was buoyed by the fact that she, by her own admission, felt for him the same way. They were a truly contented and devoted couple whose feelings for each other and the carefree approach to their relationship reflected the free-spirited enthusiasm of the times. It was as if all the young people of Britain were, as one, exorcising the ghosts of the appalling events in Dallas the previous November in their generation's individualistic way: through vibrant popular music, fashion, art and a sense of newly discovered freedom of expression. In common with many of their contemporaries, the young couple found themselves caught-up in the energy and excitement of the Merseybeat explosion that conquered the world in 1964. Keenly amassing a collection of recordings by The Beatles, Searchers, Hollies, Billy J Kramer and Cilla Black, among many others, they played them at home and at parties, and danced to them at every opportunity.
Not since the mid-1950s had so many young people expressed themselves through the latest trends in music and the styles that went with them. At last, the Baby Boomers of the immediate post World War II years were finding their feet and demanding a say in the world around them. As a result, what were to become universally known as the Swinging Sixties, had begun in earnest, and Lisa and Derek were part of them from the very beginning.
Copyright: Lewis Adler (aka David Lowe) 2011
All rights reserved
"Redeeming Factor" is available as an e-book for Amazon-Kindle, iPad, Kobo and all other e-books readers at 77 pence (GBP) and around $1.20 (US)