Chapter 17 : Cherry Picking
1965 was a year of varied adventures – not all of them involving wild flowers. Some of them involved wild oats. My family were piecing their life together as it was now ten months since my father’s forced ‘retirement’ and in many respects my growing-up continued like any other boy.
For two weeks in the August after my first attempt at my Matric exams, George Amm, Garrick Fletcher and myself decided to go down to Beira in Mozambique. I was in the last few months of my 17th year, and it was the first actual holiday I’d ever really had away from my folks.
We’d booked a chalet at the holiday park in Beira which was basically an old army camp on the beach. At some point during the 1950s, a guy called Carlos Brito had bought the camp and converted every Nissan hut into two holiday chalets. Each chalet was basically a big open room with a three-quarter wall dividing a living area (with a very simple kitchen) from a double bedroom area. There was also a shower and loo in a small cubicle affair in the corner. Thousands of Rhodesians – our family included – used to go to Beira for their holidays; it was what you might call a ‘cheapie’. There was a rollerskating rink and a bar by the beach where you could get hot dogs and hamburgers and coca colas, although restaurants in Beira were so cheap in those days that even schoolboys could afford to dine out. Especially favoured, middle-class, white schoolboys.
So the three of us set off for Beira in Garrick Fletcher’s car.
At the start of the holiday, we spent the days hanging about on the beach. Maybe we’d go off and visit the Wreck, which was an old boat that had been shipwrecked on the sands. When my mum had gone there as a little girl with her uncle Dondo in the 1930s, the Wreck was still almost the whole ship. By the time we boys got there in the mid-1960s, it was nothing but a barnacled shell. There were no warning signs or ‘Keep Out!’ notices; everyone just clambered over the skeleton of this lethal wreck without giving it a second thought.
We’d been hanging about on the beach for three days, frequently playing ‘eyeing up the girls’. I’d never had a girlfriend. I’d kissed Penny Friend at the school dance, and I might even have felt her bosom underneath her blouse. But on that third afternoon in Beira Garrick came back with the news that he’d met this girl called Beverley and she was ‘a bit hot’. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but it was quite titillating to be told that someone was ‘a bit hot’.
I think you could say that Beverley was decidedly common-looking. Her parents were working class Rhodesians, and she went to Roosevelt school which made her even ‘hotter’, because Roosevelt was known as ‘Maternity Valley’. It was the Churchill school’s sister school in a white working class area of Salisbury.
Garrick had arranged that a couple of us would go that night and spring Beverley – who, like all 16-year-old girls in Beira had to be in bed by ten o’clock, having spent the evening hanging round the rollerskating rink. But tonight Beverley was going to break out, and while George tidied up the place and got some beers in, Garrick and I would go and wait for her. Clearly the idea was that either Garrick or George would have some kind of carnal knowledge of Beverley. After all, George was a bit of an ‘old hand’ (so one assumed). And Garrick always made out that he was pretty cool with girls and had had lots of girlfriends and done all sorts of things with them. (I never asked what.) Garrick had even bought a box of condoms that day and, putting them very purposely in an open sideboard drawer, said, ‘These are condoms, guys, in case whoever gets Beverley needs them.’ Three Durex condoms in little paper packets were eagerly examined by us all. (They hadn’t got as far as tin foil in those days.) I was particularly eager because I’d never even seen a condom before, let alone felt or smelt one. I took one out of its paper packet and, as I unrolled it, I thought, ‘My God, it’s big. What on earth would I do with all that rubber? It’s way too big for me.’
The prospect of the evening was very, very exciting. At ten o’clock that night, Garrick and I found ourselves sitting with our backs against another of the Nissan huts, waiting interminably for Beverley, whose family chalet was about a hundred yards away from ours. Hours seemed to go by, though it was only about half an hour. Then at half past ten, this girl appeared at her chalet window and proceeded to climb out of the window. She scurried over to us like a mouse in the night, and Garrick said something to her (which I couldn’t quite catch) and then he introduced me:
‘Beverley, this is Miles.’
We all shuffled back to our chalet and I began to get terribly excited, as I somehow thought that I’d be watching the whole seduction of this girl. And this idea was really, really exciting – it would be my first chance to become a real voyeur.
Back at our chalet, the crisps were passed round and the bottles of beer, and the four of us began to get very merry. But all the time I was slightly in the background, wondering what on earth Beverley was going to do and what was going to happen next. George and Garrick were very loud and very confident, while I just sat there quietly observing.
At last they all started talking about going to bed, and a bit of wink-wink went on between the two other boys.
‘Oh, I’m feeling a bit tired,’ said George.
‘Me, too,’ said Garrick. ‘Hey, Bev, would you like to come and keep me warm?’
Beverley made various remarks and pushed them both away. And slowly I realised that she was becoming more and more interested in me. A mild panic ensued as I didn’t know what on earth to do. I was completely and utterly at sea when it came to girls, and the last thing you’d have called me was a charmer or a cad. Beverley giggled a lot and seemed to be talking to the other two in a way that I didn’t really understand, but they were laughing loudly and it all seemed a rather strange.
Then Beverley began to make what I suppose would be called a ‘direct play’ for me. She started sidling up to me, and the other two realised that they weren’t in the running. There were various disgruntled gruntings, and eventually George said, ‘Okay, Miles, we’ll leave you to it, we’ll go to the bedroom. I guess you and Bev are going to stay up.’
And it so happened that Beverley and I ended up lying on the sofa bed together in the living room area.
She was a larger physical presence than me. She certainly wasn’t a little thing that I could sort of cuddle and mother. She was a big girl and – it appeared – a lot, lot more experienced than me. She giggled and muttered as my acolyte hands groped all over her bosom and clumsily wandered down to her nether regions. She seemed more than ready....
‘Oh God,’ I thought, ‘now what am I going to do?’
I had what appeared to be the relevant distension in the relevant area, so I kicked off my trousers and dutifully did what I was supposed to do. All of a sudden I heard sniggering and I looked up to see George and Garrick spectating over the three-quarter wall, saying, ‘Go on! Give it to her, go on!’ (I guess the fact that they hadn’t been favoured with Beverley’s attentions gave them the right to front row seats.)
I sort of pounded away furiously and Beverley seemed to be taking it all in her stride. She was laughing a lot and seemed to be enjoying herself. Then she said something to the two guys who mercifully disappeared. And I kind of climaxed and bashfully withdrew.
‘Oh, Christ,’ I thought, but the business wasn’t over. There was still the condom to get rid of and, as I tentatively peeled it off, I thought, ‘How do I get rid of this thing?’ (By now, I was feeling truly dreadful.) I glanced at Beverley, who was lying beside me on the sofa bed.
‘Jesus Christ!’ I thought. ‘What have I done? You filthy evil bloke, Miles! God is going to kill you! Christ!’
I stumbled off the sofa bed with the limp and sticky condom in my hand. I took it into the shower-room, wrapped it up in tissue paper and tried to flush it down the loo. Then I stepped into the shower and began to scrub my (now rather shrivelled) member raw with the scrubbing brush, thinking, ‘Christ Almighty, what if I’ve caught something?’ And all the while, I was hoping that Beverley would just go away and the whole world would just go away and I’d be swallowed up in a fire of Hell where little men with forks would jab at me for eternity.
I stepped out of the shower. I dried myself and got dressed, and then I went back into the living room. Beverley was still lying there on the sofa bed.
‘I think you’d better go,’ I said gauchely.
‘Aren’t you going to walk me back?’ she asked balefully.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on, please see me home.’
She pulled her clothes on and I reluctantly walked her back to her family’s chalet. Then I crept back into our chalet and peered over the three-quarter wall. In the bedroom area, Garrick and George were fast asleep. I wanted to wake them up and holler, ‘George! Garrick! Christ! What have I done?’ But they’d gone to bed obviously thinking, ‘It’s just one of those things. We’ve all done it. And Miles must’ve done it before.’ And I don’t think they had any idea that I was a complete and utter virgin.
The next morning I woke up on the sofa bed with a terrible hang-over from the Beira beer. Memories of my virginal fumblings crashed into my brain like a lead weight.
The chalet was empty. Garrick and George were nowhere to be seen. I lay on the sofa bed, thinking, ‘Oh God, Jesus Christ!’ I honestly felt like Lucifer. If Lucifer felt anything like I felt now…wow… Like the dragon before St Michael speared it…
I got up and chewed on a piece of pawpaw, feeling as if I was no longer a part of this world. I was one of the Damned.
I threw on some clothes and wandered out onto the beach. I looked around, but neither of my mates was there. I walked down to the water’s edge and thought, ‘If I just wander out into the sea and allow myself to float away, then God will decide whether I should live or die… This is absolute evil. A major commandment has been broken: “Thou shalt not shag girls who are only 16. Thou shalt not commit adultery…” Have I committed adultery? Yes, I have – in effect. I have in effect committed adultery. It doesn’t matter whether it’s strictly adultery or not, I – Miles Roderick Anderson – am no longer virginal. I have done things to a girl with my nether regions, and I don’t even know her properly. I know her name is Beverley, but I don’t even know her surname, for God’s sake! What will her parents think? What will she tell them? What on earth will her father say?’
I waded off into the water and I lay on my back. I began to let myself float.
There’s quite a strong current in the sea at Beira, and it soon began to carry me.
‘At any moment,’ I thought, ‘there’s going to be a low groaning call from the Heavens… “Miles! Miles! What have you done? You have sinned, boy! You have disobeyed the Almighty Lord! You must come unto Me – now!’
And as I was lying there, contemplating my damnation, sure enough, I began to hear a long low voice…
I cocked my ear.
I thought, ‘God Almighty! Jesus is calling me!’
I lifted my head out of the water and I looked around me to find that the current had taken me right past a section of the beach, where Garrick and George were lying on the sands calling out to me. And who should be with them, but Beverley! They were all waving at me, beckoning me onto the shore.
‘Oh no!’ I thought. ‘Now I’ve been well and truly washed up – straight back into the arms of my awful concubine!’
I clambered out of the sea and crawled up on to the sand.
‘How are you, Miles?’
‘Fine, thanks, George.’
‘Aren’t you going to give me a kiss?’ Beverley asked winsomely. (No way! I couldn’t bear the thought, even though I was pretty sure that I was now going to have to marry this girl.)
I lay down on the sand in the sun with these guys, feeling utterly dreadful and not knowing what to say. Should I say, ‘I’m really sorry, Beverley. I didn’t mean to…’ I just didn’t know what to say, I really was in a dreadful pickle.
Beverley’s family were fifty yards away up the beach amidst lots of other families, and her father called out to her. She got up and scuttled over to her family. She then came back and said, ‘I’m sorry, my dad says I’m not allowed to talk to you boys. He says you’re gigglers.’
‘Sorry? We’re what?’ I asked.
‘Gigglers. That’s what my dad says.’
I said, ‘The word is gigolo. It’s Italian. And we’re too young to be gigolos. I think you’ll find that gigolos have to be older than us.’
Garrick and George split their sides laughing that Beverley’s father didn’t even know how to pronounce ‘gigolos’. Yes, not only had I screwed this girl, but I’d screwed a girl whose father couldn’t even pronounce the word ‘gigolo’! And she was a Roosevelt girl! From Maternity Valley!
Two days later, Beverley left Beira with her family to go back to Salisbury, and our holiday continued – though not without incident.
One night we decided to go to a bar, where Garrick and George had heard there were hookers. Although we were only 17, Garrick and George decided that they wanted to encounter a hooker. And it was very easy to get a hooker, according to Garrick and George. You just went to these bars and the hookers arrived. So off we went to one of these bars, and we sat on the bar stools and sure enough, within moments, this girl came up to me and slipped her arm around me. (I was a something of a dude now, because I’d screwed a girl – yes, I had been to bed with Beverley.) And as this girl slipped her arm around me, she said in a sultry French accent, ‘You buy me champagne? Vy you don’t buy me champagne?’
‘Christ, no,’ hissed George. ‘Don’t buy champagne! It’s about ten pounds a bottle.’ And that was all the money we had on us. I only had twenty pounds for the whole of my two-week holiday. ‘Don’t even go there,’ insisted George. ‘She’ll rob you.’
With that, it all got a bit frenetic, and Garrick, who’d been fondling some girl’s bum, said, ‘Come on, guys, we’ve got to go.’ We walked out of the bar and got into the car. Just as we were driving away to our next haunt, I suddenly realised I didn’t have my wallet.
‘My wallet’s gone! Where’s my wallet? Where’s my wallet?’
‘I don’t know, Miles, where did you leave it?’ asked Garrick.
‘My wallet must be in the bar. We have to go back.’
Garrick whizzed the car round, drove back to the bar, and I ran inside and asked the barman, ‘Have you seen my wallet?’
He looked as me gormlessly and grumbled something in Portuguese.
‘My wallet’s gone, I think I must’ve left it here,’ I insisted.
‘Your wallet not here…not here,’ the barman shrugged.
I raced back out to the car, yelling, ‘Where the heck’s my wallet?’ We searched the car from top to bottom – under the seats, the trunk, the glove compartment – until George decided we should go all the way back to the holiday camp in case I’d left it there. Once at the camp, we turned the chalet upside down, but still we couldn’t find my wallet.
‘It must be at the bar, that’s where I paid for the drinks. I need my wallet! They have nicked my wallet!’ (In one short breath, I went from ‘My wallet’s gone’ to ‘They have nicked my wallet…’) ‘I’ll show them who I am! I’ll bloody show them who I am! Garrick, George – find the military camp!’
Beira was quite a big town, and we drove around from street to street asking everyone we saw: ‘Armée? Soldats?’ And they kept pointing up the road. Finally we arrived at the military base which was huge and full of Portuguese soldiers. We found the main guard house in the Salazar Barracks. (Salazar was the ruler of Portuguese East Africa at that time – quite a different Salazar from my father’s crazy parrot-shooting friend.) I walked straight in and said, ‘My name is Miles Anderson. My father is General Anderson of the Rhodesian Army. He’s a friend of General Nacimento. I’m here on holiday,’ I continued. ‘My friends and I have been to a bar and we’ve had a drink – and my pocket has been picked!’ (General Nacimento was the head of the Portuguese military in Mozambique, and I knew that flashing his name would impress them and I reckoned on the fact that they wouldn’t know that Jock had been ousted.)
Immediately one of the soldiers strode off and called the lieutenant of the guard. The lieutenant came straight in and said, ‘Scuzy, my English not very good.’
‘We’ve been to a bar,’ I said slowly, ‘and we’ve had some drinks…’ (Not: ‘We’ve been to a girly bar where you normally pick up hookers…’ I didn’t need to say that, he knew exactly what we were up to.) ‘My father is General Anderson –’
‘Oh! General Anderson! Christ Almighty!’ (The word ‘General’ was all that was needed.) The lieutenant immediately called out the whole of the Quarter Guard and sent them straight off to follow us to the bar in a jeep. There were six of them: four soldiers in the back of the jeep, the driver, and the lieutenant next to him at the front. And we led them all the way to the bar and we mrached in with the lieutenant. The lieutenant went up to the barman and started speaking in animated Portuguese, and the barman replied: ‘I don’t know where his fucking wallet is! Maybe one of the girls nicked it out of his pocket.’ (Which she probably had.) ‘But we don’t have his wallet here.’
The lieutenant came out of the bar to where we were waiting in Garrick’s car and turned to me, saying, ‘They don’t have your wallet. What do you want us to do?’
I said, ‘I think they should be made to pay. I want my wallet back.’
‘Do not worry. We will teach them a lesson. They will never take your wallet again.’
He and the Quarter Guard went back into the bar and they literally smashed everything in the whole place to pieces. The poor barman shook his head in despair: ‘Why are they doing this to my bar?’ The lieutenant said to him, ‘You don’t let hookers into this place to steal the wallets off 17-year-old boys. Now this is to teach you a lesson – to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ (At that time in Portuguese East Africa, the military were like gods. Nobody dared question them; after all, Portugal was a military dictatorship.)
So there it was: I had unwittingly succeeded in having this poor man’s bar smashed to pieces, and for the rest of the holiday, I led a quiet life. Fortunately, I’d stashed a small amount of cash beneath my mattress at the start of the holiday, and that’s what I lived on. No more beers for me for the next eight days.
At the end of the two-week holiday, we drove back to Salisbury and Garrick dropped me off at my house. My mother was in the kitchen.
‘Hi, how was your holiday?’ she greeted me.
‘Yeah, Mum…it was great…fine…’
Daph stopped what she was doing and looked at me. ‘What’s happened?’ she asked. ‘On your holiday?
‘Oh nothing,’ I replied. ‘We had a bit of trouble, that’s all… We went to a bar and I had my wallet nicked.’ And I told her the whole story. But she said, ‘No, I’m not talking about that. What’s happened?’ She looked at me inscrutably, but I said nothing.
Years later, I told her that I’d actually lost my virginity during that holiday in Beira and she said, ‘I knew something like had happened. I saw it in your face.’ I’d had my cherry picked and my mother could tell by my face.
After the holiday, I went back to school. It turned out that I’d failed most of my Matrics (except Maths) and yet again my dad found himself pleading with the Headmaster, Mr Owen, to take me back for re-sits. Every day for months and months, boys would come up to me in the corridors and say, ‘Hey, Anderson, saw Beverley the other day. She’s pregnant, you know.’
‘Oh, Christ, no!’ I thought. ‘I’m going to have to marry Beverley. What’s my dad going to say? After everything he’s been through, how’s he going to cope with the fact that I’m marrying this girl who’s big and plain and probably had half of Churchill school, and she’s going to have a baby who’s going to be called Dwayne or Elvis? Christ Almighty!’
After months and months of merciless ribbing, it slowly dawned on me that Beverley was a girl, not an elephant: the gestation period of a human being was only nine months and not two years! My bachelorhood was safe – for the moment…