51 years ago, in 1964, Sheppey was still a green and pleasant land clinging on to much of the countryside that had characterised it for many, many years. Minster village was surrounded by narrow lanes with trees and hedgerows, wide grassy meadows and even the odd orchard. Despite living in Sheerness I spent a lot of my early teenage years in and around Minster because my best friend from school lived there, as did several other friends of both sexes.
51 years ago in 1964 I met and courted my first proper girlfriend (half a century ago - gawd!). It was the late Spring of that year and I was shortly to turn seventeen years of age and she was a year or so younger and in her last year at school. She was slim, fair-haired and had an appealing streak of rebelliousness about her that I knew from seeing her with a group of my Minster friends. Despite being almost seventeen I was still a tad immature and it would be another year before I plunged headlong into a whole new group of friends and the hedonism and music of the "Swinging Sixties" that grew me up and shaped my future life. But in that late Spring of 1964 we were still on the cusp of such things, our horizons were very limited and I was working as a trainee groundsman on the wide school fields of the Boys and Girls Secondary schools in Sheerness. Throughout my working week there I saw the girl quite regularly around her school and I think she made sure that I saw her and eventually I asked her out.
Our romance began slowly and tentatively, it was a whole new first thing for both of us, but I spent my whole 17th summer with her, we had no cares, we owned those summer months. There wasn't much of a social scene then, we walked the lanes and fields together, we went to the cinema and we visited other friends, one of whom was the much older groundsman that I worked with and his wife. They lived in a quaint old house in Minster, on it's own opposite the end of Love Lane and at it's rear, grassy meadows ran down to the edge of the cliffs and the sea. Today that house is still there but is surrounded on all sides by a multitude of big new houses and there is no field running down to the cliff edge. But back then, when we were out walking, getting to know each other and talking about our future as you do when all life is still ahead of you, we would call into that house and share coffee and cakes with the older couple. I was always fascinated by the fact that in his garden he grew a large number of tobacco plants whose leaves he dried and sent away for processing before turning them into the tobacco that he smoked in his pipe.
I met her parents and her older brother who had been in the same year as me at school and who didn't particularly like me. It became increasingly clear that her rebelliousness regularly caused a rift between her and her parents and so a lot of our evenings were spent out walking. If we didn't walk around Minster, we would walk the several miles down to my house in Sheerness where we could at least sit in my bedroom and play records. Later, before she had to be in, we would back to a favourite field near her house where we would lay for a while in the summer grass and kiss, cuddle and fumble, but little else.
For a time we were inseparable, her school broke up and she left school for good. One hot summer's evening we sat on the edge of the hill above The Glen, the "Bunny Bank" as it is known. We sat shoulder to shoulder like two doves on a bough. We held hands and snuggled up as the sky gradually began to fade from orange, to yellow and then to darkness and watched the lights of distant Southend begin to twinkle in the dusk. Bats came out and flew over the Glen, over the bushes and the pool below. "I love you" she whispered and I felt the same and could not of been any happier. The darkness gradually enveloped us and mosquitoes began to bite and so we reluctantly rose up and made our way back across Minster village. Past the bus stops, the library and New Road to eventually arrive at her front door, where within minutes, her mother sprang from - she had this strange and disconcerting thing about stroking my longish hair and telling me what nice eyes I had!
And so it went on, August was hot and sunny and much time was spent together, we were young and in love and loved being young - adult life was not for us. September arrived and one day we went on a bus trip down to Dymchurch. It was a lovely day and we had a great time there looking around and taking a trip on the miniature railway between the villages. But, two days later, she told me that she had found a new boyfriend and I was devastated, I spent a couple of days pleading with her to re-consider but to no avail, Clearly she had briefly over-taken me in the growing up stakes and needed new horizons and although we stayed friends, she was gone.
"I never dreamed you'd leave in summer
I thought you would go then come back home,
No, I never dreamed you'd leave in summer
and now my quiet nights are spent alone.
You said then you'd be the life in Autumn
said you'd be the one to see the way,
I never dreamed you's leave in summer
but now I find my love has gone away
-why didn't you stay"......................Stevie Wonder