Alex Keegan

Alex Keegan, writer, on the Benybont website

The Laundry Girls


     Senior Boy Entrant Jimmy Clegg sat down on his bunk, and on the back of his laundry ticket wrote, "My name is Jim Webb. Cliff Richard is my second cousin. I'm tall for my age and I've got red hair. I like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, but I think the Kinks are rubbish by comparison. I like Dusty Springfield. I'd like somebody to answer."

      Then Jimmy had to rush outside for early morning parade. He left his parcel in the hallway of the block. All through morning tech-training he tried to imagine the girl who would get his laundry, and at lunch-time he bought a bar of Lifebuoy soap, some Clearasil spot-wash and a Gillette razor. He wasn't yet shaving but he had heard that hair could break out overnight. He was almost sixteen and according to his corporal it was about time he started. His friend Glen shaved. Half his friends already shaved.

      That evening, Jimmy took a wrong turning and was cornered by two lads from the 45th Entry block (Jimmy was 49th Entry). Jimmy was made to polish their billet floor. That was OK, but when he had finished, a big lad grabbed him and said, "It's laundry day, squirt. Have you been writing to the girls?"

      Jimmy shook his head. "I don't know what you mean."

      "Bugger off, you little wankbag," the big lad said. He tapped the side of Jimmy's face with a fist like a house-brick. "We know exactly how you little pissers think. Laundry girls, messages. We know all about you."

      "I haven't!" protested Jimmy.

      The big lad laughed, half to his mates. "Well you bloody well should, pal! Most of the blokes in this billet have shagged at least two of 'em."

      They let Jimmy go and he went back to his hut. After tea he played cards with Glen. Glen said he had a girlfriend. "You put your finger inside, there's a bone. If you rub it, a girl can't help it. Rubbing the bone makes her want to do it and she can't stop herself. She just can't help it."

      Jimmy put a card down. He couldn't believe it. You actually - with your hand? He wanted to ask but didn't dare.

      "My name is Jim Webb and Cliff Richard is my second cousin. I'm tall for my age and I've got red hair. I like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, but I think the Kinks are rubbish by comparison. I like Dusty Springfield. I'd like somebody to answer."

      Elsie Jacques read the airman's note again. She didn't know who had started the idea with the laundry labels, but this wasn't the first note she'd seen. She'd never had the nerve to reply before - even now she hesitated - but she had just had her seventeenth birthday and she had never had a proper boyfriend. So, at tea-break she asked her best friend.

      "He sounds nice," Sally said. "I would if I was you."

      Sally helped Elsie with the letter - they changed her name slightly - but they left Sally's name off it. If Elsie liked Jim, she said, maybe she could ask him if he had a friend. They pinned the note inside the laundry return labels, a brown paper parcel, two shirts, the usual stinky but now-washed socks and those awful RAF underpants. The RAF lads called them shreddies, someone had said, but according to the girls, they never wore them on weekends. With their civvies, the lads wore Y-fronts. So they said, at least.


      My name is Elise (pronounced Eleeze). My grandmother was French. I don't mind the Kinks, but you're right, the Rolling Stones are better. Do you like The Hollies? Do you like The Dave Clark Five? I'm average height and "comfortable". Do you get into Cardiff at all?


      I've got a friend, Glen. He says what colour eyes have you got? He thinks you've got blonde hair but I think it's brown. We both like The Dave Clark Five, but Glen doesn't think a lot of The Hollies. We get weekends off. We could hitch into Cardiff, but Barry is easier. Did I say I had red hair? Glen is darker than me, but an inch shorter than I am. We are trainee Airmechs.


      Jim. It's funny that you've got a best friend. Is Glen your best friend? My best friend Sally thought I was mad writing back, but I thought it would be a lark. She likes all the things I do. We could all meet up in Barry and maybe go to Barry Island or something.


      We've just had a new entry here, the 50th, green-badgers. Now we're not the lowest of the low. They get lots of tricks played on them. I don't know why that is but it's always been like that. You get a hard time from the senior entries. Glen thinks it's a laugh, but I don't know. It's like you're supposed to be nasty. One of the guys in the block has the new Johnny Kidd & the Pirates LP. Have you heard it? Tell me a bit more about yourself. Did Sally get the note from Glen?


      Johnny Kidd is great. That eye-patch is real you know. A guitar string broke and went in his eye. It was in the new Musical Express. Yes, Sally got Glen's letter. She'd like to meet him. A week Saturday then. By the way, you're right about being cruel. We don't have to be. It's a bit like that with new girls at the laundry. I didn't like it when it happened to me so I try to keep out of all the ragging if I can. We'll be wearing the clothes we said.


      OK, girls, agreed, next Saturday it is then. We'll meet you by the dodgems on Barry Island at one o'clock. Elise will be wearing a light blue skirt and a white blouse. Sally will be in cream dress, got it!

      Jimmy hitched into Barry alone, after walking up to the top road, riding with a man driving a mini, very fast. The man played Nutrocker by Bee Bumble and the Stingers and then Everything's All Right by the Mojos. The man was going on to Cardiff so dropped Jimmy at the top of Barry hill, above the town, about a three mile walk from the fun-fair on the island. Jimmy didn't mind the walk. He had been talking to Glen and had things on his mind.

      "Have you thought about what to say?"

      "What do you mean?"

      "Well, they're a year older than us. They've probably had loads of boy-friends. I don't want to look stupid, that's all."

      "The trick is to ask questions."

      "What kind of questions?"

      "I don't know, just questions. I read it. The trick is to get people talking. If you ask questions, people feel relaxed and they talk."

      "What if they're fat?"

      "How fat?"

      "Really fat. What if they're really fat and ugly? Do we still go on the fair?"

      "I think you shouldn't just walk up. I think you should sneak up and take a look, then decide."

      "In case they're fat?"

      "If they're fat, I mean really fat. We could just scarper out of there."

Then Glen had said he wasn't going.



      I'll be wearing my white blouse and my sky-blue skirt. Sally is going to wear her favourite cream-coloured dress. We were going to wear trousers but in the end we decided not to, even though we'll probably end up on the fair. What will you be wearing? You will come, won't you?


      Jimmy walked the long way round the fair, down by the sea wall, then back through the shooting gallery to where he could see the dodgems without being seen. Lots of people passed but then he saw them, two girls, one in cream and a stunner, the other one in white and blue, very fat.

      Jimmy waited. He knew they were Sally and Elise, but not which one was which. They had said, but he couldn't remember! One girl looked lovely, the kind of girlfriend he could only dream of, the other one looked nervous, almost tiny despite her size. He felt a bit sorry for her, but if she was Elise... There was no way he would go out with a fat girl. The fair would be full of Boy Entrants on a Saturday afternoon and he was bound to be seen. They'd take the mickey out of him for being out with a fat girl, and if they worked out she was from the laundry as well, his life wouldn't be worth living. Jimmy looked, he ached, he hesitated, but then he decided to slip away.

      It was right then that the pretty one looked in his direction. She looked straight at him. At first Jimmy wasn't sure if she had seen him, but then he saw her look sideways at her fat friend - guess - then look back at him. She knew. Jimmy knew she knew. The pretty one had seen him. She knew what he was thinking. She was speaking to the fat girl, and then something in the way the fat girl was standing seemed to change and Jimmy saw her turn his way too, slowly, and then he knew, even though he wanted to, that he couldn't run away. He took a deep breath, waved, and stepped into the light.

      "I'm sorry. I was waiting for Glen, my mate. He was coming with me but he chickened out. He said he wasn't sure, but if he came he'd meet me over there. I was waiting, you know. Sorry I was a bit backwards about coming forwards, but it was me on my own and two pretty girls…"

      Pretty girls? Did he say pretty girls?

      The fat girl's face lit up, and Jim's did automatically, in part reflecting her smile and partly because he'd spoken to a girl and the world hadn't ended. Then the pretty one smiled at Jimmy, a smile so wide he could hardly believe it. There was a delicious, delicious squirt in his stomach. "Hey," he said, a rush of air in his throat, "we could go on the Scenic Railway. It's better than the one at Porthcawl."

They both smiled again and then the pretty one said, "Where are you from, Jim?" Jim's stomach leaped again. He was tingling like before a fight.

      "Do you know Shrewsbury?" he asked.


      He laughed, "Well, I'm not from there!"

      Elise laughed. "You're mad!" and Jim grinned. He saw her face was pretty.

      "No, where are you from?" Sally said, "I mean really?"

      Jim looked a little more serious. "Web's End."

      "Web's End? Where's that?"

      He didn't even think of Glen.

      He was going to say, "Up the spider's arse!" but instead he said "I'll tell you later!" and just grabbed both the girls by the arms and headed for the scenic railway. Hey, two girls, and they were both pretty, just two different kinds of pretty. And the prettiest one - an absolute stunner - she really liked him. Jimmy couldn't stop grinning. This time yesterday he'd never had a real girlfriend, now he had two. If he met anyone, he could say his mate had gone to the toilet. If he didn't, better still. It was Saturday, it was sunny, he had five quid in his pocket and a girl on either arm. And all this for being nice to a fat girl.