An A Grade in her ‘A’ Level Art secured Rebecca a place at Manchester College of Art. She was thrilled to be following in the footsteps of one of her design heroes: Ossie Clarke. She had studied the combined creations of Clarke’s cut and Celia Birtwell’s fabric design with something close to adulation. She had long been itching to get out of school and dive into the world of fashion. It was Rebecca’s cherished ambition to complete her Diploma in Art and Design at Manchester and follow her hero to the RCA; she knew instinctively that to have a successful career in fashion she needed to be in the capital city.
This ambition seemed rather daunting during her first few weeks in Manchester where she realised how sheltered her life as a farmer’s daughter in rural Cheshire and as a pupil at an all girls boarding school had been. Not one to be intimidated for long however, Rebecca threw herself into the maelstrom of LIFE.
Her sense of style had been developing over the last few years and she started to add her own handmade and styled pieces to her favourites; drainpipe jeans inherited from her much older brother Rob, abandoned by him after a brief rebellious spell as a would be Teddy Boy, and a khaki shirt from his pre-pubescent days as a Boy Scout.
Rebecca had a knack for stacking on just the right amount of accessories to personalise her look. She made jewellery from leather thongs and old buttons and beads, turned vintage tea dresses into tunics or scarves. She bought off-cuts of material from market stalls and made kaftans, hot pants, midriff baring tops, a long sleeveless coat, a cloak and many other items all of which attracted attention from boys as well as the admiring glances of her own sex.
It took a little while for her to adjust to her new associates. Most came from very different backgrounds from her own and no one that she met had been a boarder at a select girls’ school. Rebecca, chameleon like, adjusted her accent to sound more like the others, as she didn’t want to appear to be a snob. Her efforts to fit in soon paid off and she gained popularity. Rebecca looked cool and interesting and she found herself the centre of an influential clique that dominated the social scene in Manchester.
She mixed with students from across the college and an array of young musicians and writers who hung around the peripherals. There was never a day that she was not invited to some ‘happening’ or to party at someone’s pad. She took to burning the candle at both ends, as her mother called it, but Rebecca was also disciplined and focussed on what she wanted to achieve so she was never distracted for long.
There were plenty of males in her circle of friends and Rebecca found herself to be admired by several of them. Aware by this time of the necessity to lose her virginity (it seemed embarrassing to admit to the condition amongst her far more worldly associates) as soon as possible she embarked on the first of a number of unsuccessful relationships.
The chosen one to do the deed was in the third year of a fine arts course. Stan Rivers was pale of skin and dark of hair and had a very soulful poetic way of looking at her through his lashes. Rebecca took to sitting at a table near him if she spied him in the college refectory. Despite initial shyness on both sides they gravitated together and often hung around in the refectory after most had drifted back to classes. It was on one of these occasions that Stan had slipped his arm casually across the back of Rebecca’s chair and let his hand rest for a second on her shoulder. Rebecca felt a lurch of passion, or perhaps it was apprehension, but she leaned her body slightly towards him. He moved closer and dipping his head inside the curtain of her hair grazed his lips against hers. This time she was sure it was passion, it struck like a bolt between her legs and she felt her whole insides melt with molten desire.
The desire she felt had to be repressed for some time as the opportunity of fulfilling it was difficult to plan. In fact this circumstance added to the charm of the affair. When at last they consummated their lust in the rather seedy surroundings of Stan’s shared flat in Salford they were both desperate for it. They had sat uncomfortably together on the side of Stan’s single bed filled with desire and trepidation. Then turning to each other had locked into an endless kiss, tongues pressing into each other.
Embarrassment fled and soon they were fumbling and dragging clothes off each other and off themselves until semi naked on the bed Stan entered Rebecca with a groan. He thrust deeply a couple of times and fell onto her naked breasts with a shudder. For Rebecca the experience was much less satisfactory. She felt the ooze of his seed on her thigh and her throbbing unsatisfied core. If this was what all the fuss was about you can keep it Rebecca thought, she had enjoyed the thrill of expectation a hundred times more than the actual event.
They continued to see each other for a few more weeks but although Stan managed to prolong his erection for longer than the first time he got no nearer to satisfying Rebecca’s needs. Rebecca had no experience to draw on and was far to reticent to ask for what she needed, which she didn’t actually know, and she was too polite to wound his feelings. So their relationship drifted apart towards the end of the summer term when Stan left College to get a job.
Rebecca had packed her bags to go home for the summer holiday. She sat on her trunk amid a sea of carrier bags in her cramped bedroom study in the girl’s hall of residence with a sense of déjà vu waiting for her parents to fetch her. It felt so like the end of term at school that she felt quite sad and thought nostalgically of her school friends. She would definitely give them all a call and have a catch up as soon as she got home.
Rebecca reminisced about the visit she had made to the States in 1968 when she was sixteen. Caitlin’s parents had paid for her to fly out BA first class (amazing!) and she had transferred at JFK to a helicopter to fly her out to Easthampton. The family mansion, although very grand, was a disappointment for Rebecca. It and its neighbours were clearly modelled on English country houses that weren’t that different from her parent’s Georgian redbrick farmhouse except that Caitlin’s family home was bigger and more imposing.
She had loved her trip into New York although Caitlin complained of the heat and told her that only tourists shopped in the summer. Rebecca’s argument that she was a tourist prevailed and she had a great time trawling Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Sax Fifth Avenue amazed at the variety of styles and labels she had never heard of. French designers like Balenciaga, Yves St Laurent and Sonia Rykiel hanging adjacent to the American designer, Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis and Bill Blass. The Americans, Rebecca noticed, did not appear to have heard of any British designers.
The rest of their days were spent sunning themselves beside a vast swimming pool (definitely a big improvement on home) and attending barbeques and hog roasts around the neighbouring mansions. Rebecca fell in love for the first time. The recipient however, hardly noticed her having recently graduated from Yale he was bent on the pursuit of more likely pleasures than those he would get from an English schoolgirl. Rebecca jerked her mind back to the present she glanced at her watch, almost twelve. She decided to go out to the entrance to greet her Dad.
To Rebecca’s delight the summer holiday at home proved to be much more interesting than she had expected. Her parents had decided that it was time for them to retire and leave the running of the farm to Rob now aged 28, almost ten years Rebecca’s senior. Their plan was to renovate one of the farm cottages that had lain idle for some time. This was where Rebecca’s artistic skills were requisitioned and she was delighted to oblige. The building work had been well under way when Rebecca walked over the field with her mother to take a look.
A modern extension was under construction with plans for a large picture window to take in the impressive pastoral panorama of the Cheshire countryside. They walked around the building site, picking their way through rubble and builder’s materials, as Rebecca’s mother Mary explained the plans. For the first time in her life Rebecca felt grown up, her mother had never consulted her or asked her opinion about anything before.
Rebecca’s innate ability to see in her mind how an idea could look enabled her to add to her parents’ plans. She suggested that they could use patio doors instead of the planned window that would open up the house straight onto the garden. Rebecca enthused,
‘You could put the new kitchen in here, a big open plan one with room for a dining table and a couple of sofas. Open up the side wall too and maybe even add a sky light so that this room is bathed in light and is surrounded by these lovely views.’ Rebecca’s mother was looking around her taking in the new ideas and nodding her head,
‘Darling, that’s such a good idea’,
‘You could use the old kitchen for a snug or TV room and library for all of the books.’ Rebecca continued, seeing the whole place in her mind’s eye. The stripped wood floors covered in Persian rugs and Turkish kelims, the big squashy sofas, simple cream painted units. ‘Oh, Mum it’s going to look brilliant. I could do some sketches for you when we get home, if you’d like me to’.
That summer brought Mary and her daughter closer than they’d ever been. They planned colours and layouts, chose kitchen units, furniture and curtain material. Together they made several forays into Chester to shop and each time had lunch together. By the time the holiday was over Rebecca felt like she belonged in the family again but in a subtly different way. She felt accepted as an individual.
To continue reading this story on your e-reader click here.