We also wish a happy birthday to Christian Scott Mitchell who lives in Keighley, West Yorkshire, England: Evelyn Brogan who lives in Carlow, Ireland: Sindy Morris who lives in Wexford, Ireland: Patricia Pickup who lives in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire. Patricia (known as Patsy) attended the same school as me and my siblings and was the fastest athlete in the’ St. Patrick’s Catholic School’. No male ever proved fast enough to catch her; unless, of course, she wanted to be caught! Christian, Evelyn, Sindy, and Patricia, enjoy your special day, and thank you for being my Facebook friend.
My song today is ‘Penny Lover’. This the title of the fifth and final single released from Lionel Richie’s multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning 1983 album, ‘Can’t Slow Down’. The song was written by Richie and his then-wife, Brenda Harvey Richie. This song is another of his unfailingly effective ballads that have universal appeal.
I remember once being told a story which I was never quite sure if it was true or not. Nevertheless, it remained memorable enough to instantly recall when I was recently singing today’s song. If I remember, I heard the story during the 1980s, when a group of Probation Officers was discussing in a pub one evening about the small denominational value of one penny, and the merits of still retaining penny pieces in our currency today. Many of us were able to remember being able to buy something for one penny when we were children back in the 1940s and 1950s.
The occasion involved a close group of friends saying farewell to a retiring colleague who could not stand the traditional office party farewell dos, so a dozen of us met up in a local Huddersfield pub called 'The Sportsman' instead. One of the group mentioned that however small in value one penny was, she would not object to having a million of them. Another person in the group reminded us of the old proverb of all money people, ‘Look after your pennies, and your pounds will take care of themselves.'
The conversation then turned to playfully discovering what anyone would possibly be prepared to do for one penny after another group member quipped, “I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts!” Now, that suggestion appealed to me. I said that a penny would be a small price to pay for the thoughts of another at specific times in one’s life. Imagine knowing the precise thoughts of a member of the opposite sex you really fancied? It would also be nice to know what someone else was thinking about you as they interviewed you for a job or a university place, and were weighing up your potential?
The conversation in the pub tended to get more outrageous the more that was imbibed as the evening advanced. The high point of the social gathering was when one group member invited us all to declare ‘what we had ever done for the price of one penny in our wicked past?’ There were a few incidents the group related that merited a laugh. There was also some embarrassment when one male member of the group changed the question to “But, what would you be prepared to do for one penny today?”. The only gay in the social gathering readily replied, “With you, darling, anything!” I remember this colleague being disliked by some stuffy office colleagues for his homosexuality, and respected by the group of office colleagues he was with that night because he had the courage to 'come out of the closet' while other gays were hiding their skeletons in theirs at the time.
However, the best tale of all that evening was told by a group member called Penny. Penny indicated that the girl in the story shared the same Christian name as herself but had been born twenty-five years before her.
The tale told concerned a young precocious girl called 'Penny' who had not yet reached the age of thirteen years before her poverty of circumstances drove her to extreme lengths. Penny came from a large and poor family. Her parents, whose household expenditure always exceeded household income, were never able to give their children any spending money. The time was said to be sometime during the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and before the ‘Second World War’. A few of us probably wondered as our colleague Penny was telling the story, whether she was talking about herself and had set the story in an earlier time to throw us off the scent of what it was that she had done during her own childhood years to earn a penny.
The one thing 12-year-old Penny had going for her was her good looks. She was physically well developed for her age, and she looked to be around 15 years old. She stood about five feet four inches tall and was the most sought-after girl at her mixed school with her male classmates; all of whom wanted to call her their girlfriend. Penny also discovered as she grew into puberty, that her Lolita-like features provided her with a more seductive image that was an added interest to the older male.
The time eventually arrived when Penny began to realise that she possessed something of value that most males appreciated. It was something that she was able to put a price on, something that would earn her the spending money that her parents could never afford to give her weekly. Her collective assets involved the combination of her age, her attractiveness of form, her innocence in matters of the adult world, and a precociousness which also drew extra appeal. Penny was said to have developed the art of saying the simplest things in the most seductive of ways, and she consciously displayed an innocence of character; a trait which she had lost almost as soon as she had discovered it in herself.
It was during the twelfth year of her life when Penny began a business side-line on school grounds. When the school bell rang to signal the end of the school day, Penny would hang back until the pupils had passed through the school gates to make their way home. A few of the older boys in the class above her (13 and 14-year-olds) in their desire to add to their biological learning, would form a small queue to see Penny after school at the bottom of the schoolyard. After the bell had gone, the older boys would slink down towards the outside toilets and bike shed at the bottom of the playground. According to the narrator, each boy would be holding one penny piece which they would give to Penny in turn, in exchange for ‘one look’.
Penny would be wearing a dress, but she would not be wearing any knickers beneath her dress. The routine never varied. She would stretch out her left hand as she stood inside the toilet cubicle and the boy would place his penny in it. As he did so, with her right hand, Penny would simultaneously, and hurriedly, raise her dress up high enough for him to see; providing he was quick enough before the hemline of her frock fell back down to earth. It was what one might call a ‘fleeting flash’ instead of a ‘good gander'.
While listening to the tale, my mind immediately went to the bedroom scene in the 1967 American romantic comedy film ‘The Graduate’. In the film, Benjamin Braddock (played by a young Dustin Hoffman) has been tricked into fetching some item from his neighbour's bedroom by her. Whilst in her bedroom, the older woman, Mrs. Robinson (played by Ann Bancroft), with whom he would start an affair enters, stark naked. As Mrs. Robinson stands inside the bedroom totally naked, the film producer's camera focuses upon the eyes of the graduate, Benjamin, as he gawps in disbelief at the vision before him. As to what the eagerly awaited cinema-goers manage to see of the naked Mrs. Robinson, they got no more than the quickest flash of womanhood that even the slowest blink of an eye would fail to register. I very much suspect that the13 or 14 years old boys in the 1930s, being given the quickest flash of Penny’s budding womanhood could not possibly have seen anymore in their day than the cinema-goers of 1967 saw of Mrs Robinson in ‘The Graduate’ during mine!
In fact, I heard of many young teenagers in 1967 who went to watch ‘The Graduate’ several times in a futile attempt to see what they had missed seeing of Mrs. Robinson the first time around! I wonder if any of the young schoolboys who would spend a penny at the end of their school day during the 1930s were also foolish enough to keep paying the required admission fee for Penny to flash them again, in the forlorn hope that one afternoon the swiftness of her hand movement might falter as she raised and lowered her dress? Or perhaps, Penny went on to marry a well-to-do husband called Mr. Robinson in her later life? Who knows which way the wheel of life turns for each of us?
Love and peace