Puberty revisited by Trevor Plumbly and Susan Grimsdell

Once again, Trevor has taken it into his head that we should have a joint blog, each of us writing our own take on a common subject. This time he has chosen the topic of puberty. Devoted readers will be aware that Trevor often returns to this topic and we can only guess at why this stage in his development looms so large.

First flickers by Trevor

These days it’s an easy trip: you can blame anything short of climate change on puberty and get away with a sympathetic nod. In my day it was a bloody sight tougher! Knowledge of doing ‘it’ was purely anecdotal, peer based and totally useless for practical purposes. Rumour had it that Jumbo Mercer was halfway to going all the way with Spot Simpson’s sister (not a challenging task, by all accounts). Sexual education as such was conducted at the back of the bike shed by invitation only. It was a time of great uncertainty for me, largely due to a female driven dilemma. Carole had a poetical, romantic appeal, whilst Christine was earthy and definitely bike shed material; thus the birth of emotional turmoil. Put simply, ‘Byron or Bonk?’

Peace of mind became an abstract, measured only by pimple free days and consistent vocal patterns. Virtually overnight my brain morphed into what could best be described as a carnally operated pin-ball machine. Totally mystified by events, I hesitated and, of course, I lost both of them: Carole moved on with her reputably impregnable underwear still intact, whilst Christine continued to entertain behind the bike shed without me.

I tell you, dear readers, those were the good old days! Puberty was a personal enemy that could only be defeated by persistently wandering hands and weak protestations. It was a time for the brave: heroes, unassisted by formal training could unsnap a bra-strap with one hand, in the dark! We didn’t have lectures on the perils of doing ‘it’ when the mood struck, or diagrams to show us where each other’s bits were hidden, ours was ‘hands-on’ education (excuse the pun) and it served us well, so much so that, after a couple of trips to the bike shed, many in my class experienced blemish free complexions without going near a chemist and even spoke in monotones.

Take heed kids: bugger all that academic stuff about puberty! Get out there and find yourself a bike shed.

PS I am available for school lectures and seminars.

A rude awakening by Susan

Looking back (way back) I can see that puberty was nearly the ruination of me. Before – I was a sweet, studious, obedient girl, coming top of the class most of the time, wearing demure little blouses and dresses bought by my mother, the kind that had little tucks down the front, and peter pan collars.  One even had puffed sleeves and I would have been at least 13 at the time.

Then puberty hit. Overnight, it seems, I went bad. I smoked in the back of classroom between classes, getting myself suspended from school; I stopped doing my homework and brought home report cards that my parents despaired over. Cute dresses were out the window, replaced by the shortest possible skirts that I could only just wriggle into, worn with black tights and high heels along with matching thick black eyeliner and hair teased to high heaven.

As for boys – luckily my bedroom was on the ground floor, and many a time I slid the window up after the rest of the family was asleep and raced over to my boyfriend’s car and off we went to a nightclub. The really fun boyfriends let me drive, not from the driver’s seat mind you, but sliding along the bench front seat, snuggling up to the driver and leaning across so I could see out of the windscreen to steer. Seatbelts – never heard of them. Drinking and driving – everyone did.

The favourite pastime was necking. Really bad girls got into petting and worse and I don’t know how I didn’t become one of those. Pure luck, I’d say. Considering the risks my friends and I took, luck was the word. As time went by though, we did get a bit more sensible.

I’m forever grateful that I hit puberty and became a teen in the 1950s way before drugs came along. Our worst vices were smoking (but only cigarettes, like almost the entire population at the time), dancing till dawn, especially rock’n’roll and drinking sloe gin. I checked good old Wikipedia, as I can hardly remember what sloe gin tasted like, and they describe it as being sweet, syrupy and fruity.  But to me and my friends at 15, it was cool as.

We had all the “in” words – including the early days of the word “cool”.  We read “Catcher in the Rye” and Kerouac’s “On the Road”, we listened to Chuck Berry and Elvis, we saw “East of Eden”, swooning over James Dean and Natalie Wood, and one memorable weekend four of us drove all the way to Newport, Rhode Island to the Newport Folk Festival when Joan Baez was singing along with the fabulous Bob Dylan. That was one of the few bonuses of living in Montreal, that it was only an hour’s drive to the American border.  When I was 15 my best friend and I went by overnight train to New York City for a weekend, just the two of us. Talk about fantastic.

But all good things come to an end, and suddenly I was 19 years old, going to university, having to get serious about life. Puberty and those wild teen years became a distant memory. Distant but never forgotten!

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