New Book Highlights Personal Struggles Against Backdrop of 1960s Britain

John Cammidge

 

(Event takes place in the U.K. in October/November 1966)

 

The last day of my second week with the senior buyer coincided with some terrible news.  On my way to lunch, I chanced to meet a fellow trainee headed in the same direction. 

            “Have you heard?” he asked me.  “There’s been an awful accident in South Wales.  Lots of children have been killed.”

            I had heard nothing and asked for details.

            “A coal tip in Aberfan has collapsed and destroyed a school and many homes.  Over a hundred people are dead, mostly children, and rescuers are still digging out bodies.”

            The scale of the disaster was difficult to comprehend.  After very heavy rainfall, a man-made mountain of slurry from a colliery spoil tip had slid down a hillside and destroyed the community in the valley below.  For a while, I felt terrible that I was so anxious about my career when others were dying so horribly.  The disaster was the main topic of conversation with Jean-Louise when I arrived in Reading at Saturday lunchtime.  There had been an outpouring of grief among her class friends for the unimaginable trauma that the school children had suffered.

            To take our minds away from the tragedy, we visited Windsor Castle and detoured past the Langley truck plant to have a look at the factory that was unwilling to place me.  Jean-Louise told me that her mother’s condition remained serious, and how thankful she was to have decided to teach.  She was still worried about my job security because of the latest developments in Britain’s motor industry.  Nissan, a Japanese company, had been given government approval to start importing Datsun Sunny saloon cars at a time when British-based vehicle manufacturers were still announcing redundancies.  

 

           

On my way back to Upminster the following day, my thoughts returned to my future relationship with Jean-Louise.  In two weeks’ time, it would be Saturday, 5th November, exactly one year since we started dating.  Maybe this was the moment to propose to her, provided I could buy an appropriate engagement ring in time.  We had already arranged to meet in central London to see the film Dr Zhivago, and I thought it would be romantic to propose to her over dinner afterwards.

            Back at work, I sacrificed my lunch hour to visit jewellers in Brentwood.  I had no idea what I was looking for, but I knew that Jean-Louise liked opals; they were her mother’s favourite gemstones.  Eventually I was shown a gold band set with a medium-sized opal surrounded by a cluster of small diamonds.  The opal shone brightly in a multitude of colours, from brilliant reds to greens and blues, on a pale cream background.  My budget was stretched, but not broken, and the jeweller told me that he would adjust the band if it did not fit Jean Louise’s finger.  He placed it securely in a square, red velvet-covered box.

            My plan was to watch the film during the afternoon, and then propose over dinner at the Quo Vardis restaurant in Soho.  When we arrived at the restaurant, we were ushered to a window table by the headwaiter, and I nervously talked nonstop during the meal.  By the time dessert arrived, the fluttery feeling in my stomach was under control so, breathing deeply, I prepared to ask Jean-Louise for her hand in marriage.  I believed I sounded awfully nervous when I began.

            “It’s our first-year anniversary today, and I want you to know it’s been the best year of my life, thanks to you.  I know I do strange things occasionally, but please don’t consider this one of them.  I would like to ask you to marry me.”

            I reached across the table and passed the red velvet box to her, then waited for her to open it, terrified that she would turn me down.  She looked first at the ring, then at me, and then beamed in a way that I had never seen before.  She reached over, took my hand, squeezed it affectionately and to my intense relief said: “Of course I will.  I love you despite your eccentricities.  The ring is perfect.”

 

 

This is an excerpt from the new book, She Wore a Yellow Dress by John Cammidge. It’s published here with permission.

 

Highbrow Magazine

 

Image Sources:

--The National Archives UK (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Courtesy of the author

 

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