I’m from South Shields. When I was fifteen, my friend Sheila and I went down to Bexhill to work at a guest house for the summer. It was called a Christian Endeavour guest house operating for the summer out of a very fancy boarding school, closed to its usual clientele for the holidays. It was staffed by young girls like me who didn’t know what they were doing, but were very keen to do it. There was a cook, an overall manager, and an excursion leader called Eddie who… .led excursions.
Sheila and I had been planning this summer jaunt for two years and were determined to get every bit of fun out of it. It was hard work as we had to be up and ready to start work at seven in the morning, and then did a split shift which meant we sometimes had the afternoon off, but often worked until ten at night. After that we were free to have fun with boys. The staff girls always had more fun with boys as there was that edge of unavailability, due to having to work all those hours. We also had the added benefits of being exhausted, but determined to go mad.
Eddie was a much older and more mature chap of 24, and pretty soon a friend of his called Ken Ohmura who was doing a year’s studying in England came to visit. He was 21 – wow, Japanese – wow, and delicious. I fell in love immediately and thought that he felt the same, but before we could start the kissing, he went to Paris where he had to pick up an umbrella that he’d left there some weeks earlier. I have no idea why he really went to Paris, the only thing I was interested in was whether or not he was going to come back.
Eddie assured me that he would return and gave me the lift off date. On that morning I got up even earlier than usual to wash my hair. So early in fact that the boiler hadn’t been put on so I had to wash it in cold water, then brushed my teeth with salt as someone told me it made your teeth really white. The only down side to this beauty regime was that during the time Ken was in Paris, I had developed my first ever batch of cold sores, which covered half of my lips. Nightmare! All I wanted to do was kiss Ken.
The night and the song
He got back from Paris pretty late, we got together even later and went down to the beach, just below the house. The song I remember from that summer of 1966, was ‘I want to spend my life with a girl like you.’ by the Troggs, because the beach visit became a late night routine. After serving supper to the guests, me, Ken, Sheila, girls who were working at the guest house and assorted young male guests would go down to the beach, join hands in the dark, and run along the pebbley beach yelling, ‘I want to spend my life with a girl like you.’ De de de de de …de de de de.’
For some reason there was a shop which sold Chinese and Japanese stuff in Hastings, and Ken said I could choose anything I liked and he would buy it for me, so I chose a woven jute bag – see my photo (below right) taken by Ken when he met me from school. I don’t look my best in the photo – if I’d known it would be on show 50 years later I would have made more of an effort, I didn’t entirely let myself down though, as I note I wore the proper mod gear of Hush Puppy shoes and nylon mac with the first three buttons undone, and carried the jute bag.
Ken visited me in South Shields and we went to the Theatre Royal and saw a very indifferent play which Ken applauded like mad, for effort, he said, not performance, and then he left, returned, then left again to go back to Japan. I think he thought we would get married and live in Japan but I got a boyfriend a bit nearer home and so we broke up. Although he wanted to spend his life with a girl like me, he didn’t, and three years later, I got a letter from a friend of his in Japan telling me that he had died from cancer. I still wonder if that was from the fall out of nuclear bombs during the war when he was a baby.
But the song and the memory remain.
Photo and story sent by Carol from South Shields, South Tyneside