During World war II, the English suffered many shortages. Rationing of food and luxuries was severe, leading to much black marketeering. Imported goods in particular, were in short supply. Tobacco, sugar, tea and so forth. Sex was also in short supply, with most young men sent to fight the enemy, leaving sex-starved wives and girl friends at home.
Johnnie grew up during the war years.
Herbert Johnson and his wife Emily, owned the local newsagent and sweet shop. From being fourteen years old, Johnnie earned his spending money by delivering papers in the early morning, the afternoon after school and on Sunday mornings. Being wartime, the newspapers were only a few pages so many could be packed into one paper bag and Johnnie would leave home at quarter to six in the morning, returning at eight o'clock after delivering two rounds, in time for a wash, a slice of bread and jam, before shouting 'Tara mum' up the staircase as he left for school.
As soon as he got back home at half past four in the afternoon he took a further round of papers - sometimes two if another paper-boy hadn't turned up. He was paid 7/6 a week for three paper rounds and a Sunday round. He kept 2/6, giving the other 5/- to his mother to help out with the housekeeping expenses. By this time the three elder brothers and sisters had left home. Two were in the armed forces whilst the eldest sister had married and was living in a small house a mile away.
Mr Johnson was unfit for the armed forces but was a warden in the local ARP. This involved being on duty in the boiler room beneath the infants school. Johnnie would keep him company where Mr Johnson taught him to play chess over pint mugs of strong sweet tea. The heat from the boiler kept the basement cosy with the constant acrid smell of the burning coke in the background.
When Johnnie was eighteen going on nineteen it was arranged that Mr and Mrs Johnson would take their usual separate holidays. The couple who usually helped on these occasions were not able to cover for them this year so they decided to ask Johnnie if he would be willing. It was during the school holidays and they would pay him two pounds ten shillings each week. For this, he would help to mark up the morning papers and help behind the counter.
There were two morning paper rounds to deliver and two afternoon rounds. He would have to be at the shop by six in the morning until six in the evening with the afternoons off. Johnnie already knew most of the regular customers to whom he was allowed to sell cigarettes. Non regulars who asked for cigarettes were told that they'd run out of stock.
'There might be some coming in tomorrow' they were told.
When the wholesaler called with their supply they'd try to persuade him to let them have a few more packets of the popular brands. Woodbines and Capstan full-strength. They might be allowed a few extra if they were prepared to take some of the less popular brands. Turkish and Balkan varieties perhaps!
Johnnie's parents had no objections to him helping out the Johnsons and, besides, they would be in St Annes themselves for the second week. And so it was agreed. On the Friday before Mrs Johnson and Graham left for their week on the south coast Mr Johnson suggested to Johnnie that he should sleep at the shop to avoid waking his family at five in the morning.
There was Graham's bed, but it would be more convenient all round if Johnnie shared Mr Johnson's bed. So this was also agreed. They spent cosy evenings in front of the fire playing chess or other board game until the time came for the evening news and bed. Mr Johnson wasn't a drinker, allowing himself a night cap on some evenings. Towards the end of the week, Mr Johnson had drunk rather more whisky than usual and had given Johnnie two glasses of red wine.
As they clambered into bed, for some reason he couldn't explain, Mr Johnson decided that Johnnie should be given some advice about sex. Johnnie didn't know why, either, but he was told in a voice which was a little slurred, that although self abuse was sinful it wasn't as terrible as molesting girls or raping women for gratification, which was worse by far.
'If you feel the urge, as I'm sure you do being a young healthy lad, then a cold bath or a good long walk can help to expel the Devil's temptation. There are times, though, when you just have to give in to him for your own peace of mind. I suppose you feel the need every week or so and I'm sure God will forgive you if you are repentant.'
As he lay there on his back, sinking in to the soft mattress, Johnnie thought himself some sort of freak, feeling the need to masturbate daily - sometimes more than once in a day - rather than every week or so. But he grunted acknowledgment of the awareness. He was glad the light was out and Mr Johnson couldn't see his deep blushes.
'And as you get older, you'll find the urge still comes upon you, but perhaps not quite as often. Even when you're married, there are times when you need to satisfy yourself. It's a personal thing. But don't forget what we are taught by the Old Testament - that it's the women who are the temptresses and we can still thwart the Devil by not giving in to them.'
Johnnie became aware of Mr Johnson's arm movement and in dawned on him with acute embarrassment that he was quietly and deliberately stroking his prick. After a brief silence broken only by Mr Johnson's breathing, he was asked
'Don't tell me if you don't want, but I wonder if you've ever held another man's penis?'
Johnnie's mind was racing but he told himself that if Mr Johnson thought him adult enough to be asked the question, he was adult enough to answer, particularly with the courage the wine had given. However, he wasn't sufficiently experienced in adulthood to realise the hidden implication in the question. Besides, Mr Johnson was too much under the influence of the whiskies he'd drunk.
'Well, when I was a bit younger I suppose. Once or twice. With my mate.'
'Not with an older man?'
So Johnnie recounted the story of the stranger in the cinema. The stranger had come to sit in the next seat to him near the front of the cinema one Saturday afternoon. This seemed odd to Johnnie because, the cinema was sparsely attended, there were plenty of seats. As the main film had got under way, whilst he peered up at the silver screen, the stranger took hold of Johnnie's hand and placed it in his lap.
The stranger's flies were open, Johnnie's hand being firmly laid on the stiff penis sticking out from his trousers. Johnnie glanced down out of the corner of his eyes without moving his head, but the stranger had draped his raincoat over his lap. The hand wrapped Johnnie's fingers round the shaft before moving it up and down.
At first, Johnnie wasn't sure what was happening. When the penny dropped, he didn't know what else to do other than pretend that nothing was happening. It wasn't very long before the stranger put Johnnie's hand over the top of the stiff shaft to feel a gush of warm liquid flood his fingers and palm. After a few moments of stillness, the stranger released Johnnie's hand sliding his own hand over Johnnie's lap to begin fumbling with his trouser flies.
He decided that this was the time to get up and go. He did.
During the telling of the story, Mr Johnson had taken hold of Johnnie's right hand, repeating the action of the stranger in the cinema.
'Here we go again!' thought Johnnie still in a befuddled state with the alcohol. 'Oh well!' he shrugged mentally and he continued to recount the end of the tale.
Mr Johnson had turned back the bedclothes in the dark, opening his pyjamas jacket. As Johnnie reached the end of his story, Mr Johnson started to intone 'The Lord is my shepherd'. When got to the bit about 'rod and staff they comfort me' his bottom left the mattress as he squirted his offering over his ample belly.
Johnnie could see the vague picture in the dark and became suddenly sober. He was deeply embarrassed. As Mr Johnson took a handkerchief from his pyjamas jacket to dry himself, Johnnie turned onto his right side, comforting his own hard erection as he closed his eyes.
The next morning his head was throbbing and there was very little conversation passed between them as they prepared the paper rounds. After breakfast Johnnie felt better. Mr Johnson said that they had perhaps drunk rather more then was good for them and had perhaps behaved in a way which they would not have done had they been sober. But he had asked the Lord's forgiveness and hoped he had Johnnie's, and that the matter was closed never to be mentioned again - nor even remembered.
Emily Johnson was a tall, heavy-hipped, watchful woman of few words. When she did speak, her voice was soft but firm. She took no nonsense from any of her customers who had long ago stopped trying to ask her for goods on credit.
'Our policy has always been and will always continue to be cash with goods' she would tell them, 'but there's no harm in asking; providing you don't ask a second time.'
She had a large pallid face with a straight, well-proportioned imposing nose with watchful brown eyes which would often gaze at you without any expression as though trying to bury into your thoughts. It was certainly not possible to tell from her expression what she was thinking.
Her mouth was of generous size with full, though strangely colourless lips and her jaw was heavy. She rarely smiled, and was never known to laugh, perhaps to hide her large, irregular, teeth, though more likely because she saw little to smile or laugh about. But when she did manage a smile it was usually a sad one, though occasionally a real happy smile would light up her face with an unexpected radiance which suggested that perhaps she was once an eager, happy girl.
A photograph of her wedding, which took pride of place on the sideboard in the living room, showed the bride and groom with the new Mrs Johnson, all in white, in one of her happier moment. But now, her greying mahogany hair was combed back into a bun with unruly wisps escaping the arrangement. Her back was straight and her bosom, which had the appearance of a misshapen cushion stuffed inside her dress, was well hidden behind the inevitable flowered apron over an old woollen skirt, cotton blouse and dark green, home-knitted cardigan.
She reminded Johnnie of one of those stern ladies he saw occasionally in the cartoons of Punch addressing a small insignificant-looking customer across the counter.
'Chocolate? Cigarettes? Don't you know there's a war on!'
Johnnie had no idea of her age guessing she must be about the same age as his mother.
The week following her holiday with their son, Graham, it became Mr Johnson's turn to have a week's holiday on the south coast, in the sun. Johnnie was to continue helping in the shop in a general way, making up paper rounds early in the morning, delivering two rounds morning and afternoon, and dusting and cleaning the shop when not serving customers.
The day came for Mr Johnson and Graham to leave with suitcases and a camera - a pride and joy of Mr Johnson's - and to take a taxi (a rare treat with the petrol shortage) to the railway station. Mrs Johnson and Johnnie waved them off until the taxi was lost in the distance.
'Time for a cup of tea before the afternoon papers arrive' said Mrs Johnson as they returned into the shop and locked the door behind them.
They went into the little side-kitchen behind the shop counter, separated from it by a curtain, where Mrs Johnson put the electric kettle on, put two spoons of tea-leaves into the tea-pot and cut a small slice from a fruit loaf, scraping a little butter over it. After the kettle had boiled and the tea had brewed, they sat in the living room, in front of the low fire, with their tea and cake.
Mrs Johnson brought up the question of sleeping arrangements.
'Unless your mother has any objections, you can sleep here this week as well. It'll save disturbing your family at home, getting up so early in the morning. If she has any worries, ask her to come and see me about them so that I can put her mind at rest.'
Johnnie said it seemed a good idea. With his own parents being away, he wouldn't have to worry about hearing the alarm clock.
'Right!' she said, 'I suggest you have a good bath at home after we've shut up for the night and come back when you're ready after you've had your tea.'
Johnnie's mother wasn't too keen on the arrangement.
'She can't stay in the house on her own, mum.'
'Why not? There's plenty others what do. An' if there's a burglar what good d'ye think you'll be?'
'Look Mum! You and dad'll be away and you know what I'm like getting up in a morning. If I don't hear the alarm I'll be late and, in any case, I'm getting paid for it so you'll be better off.'
That argument touched the mark.
'Ay, well, I don't like it. It's not right, an' am surprised at Mrs Johnson even suggesting it. What'll folk think?'
'Nay folk don't bother about that sort of thing these days. They've their own lives to worry about. It's 1946, mum, not 1846.'
'An' more's the pity. Folk knew how to behave in them days. An' what yer dad'll have to say, I don't know.'
As it happened, his dad had very little to say.
'A've never liked them Johnsons, as you know, but that's not to say there's owt wrong wi 'em. She's alright I suppose; better ner 'im. Don't ask me why.'
So the discussion was closed, Johnnie settled down to his home-work and, when the time came, went back to the shop for the afternoon papers.
'Mum doesn't mind me staying with you' he told Mrs Johnson 'providing I'm not a nuisance to you.'
'You'll not be that, lad, I'll see to that.'
After the shop closed for the evening, Johnnie went home for his tea, did a bit more home-work, had a bath and washed his hair. He packed clean pyjamas, socks and other clothes into a paper carrier bag with 'Joe Fellows, Family Butcher' printed on it's side. He stuck his toothbrush in his coat pocket, said tarra to his Mum and went across to the shop and down the side alley to the back door. Mrs Johnson opened the door to him.
'You can use the outside lavatory Johnnie and wash in the wash-house.'
He glanced over to the corner of the small flagged yard where the brick water closet with sloping stone slate roof was set back to back with the wash-house.
'Alright' he said. After all, it was summer and warm. And he wouldn't be in Mrs Johnson's way when he wanted to use the lavatory, or be embarrassed having to use the lavatory.
Mrs Johnson went into the side-kitchen to put the kettle on and prepare a small pan of hot milk. As she stirred the mixture of milk and water into the cocoa mugs she said
'You shared Mr Johnson's bed last week Johnnie, didn't you? Do you snore, or make other rude noises in bed?'
He said not that he was aware of. and was sure that Mr Johnson would have said something to him if he did. She brought the two mugs of cocoa into the living room and put them on the table.
'Ah, but Mr Johnson's a heavy sleeper and wouldn't waken if a bomb dropped, but I sleep very lightly and even the tread of a cat's paw's enough to waken me.'
She handed him an oatmeal biscuit.
'Do you fidget in bed and toss and turn?'
Johnnie said he didn't believe so. She sat and looked at him carefully over the rim of the mug as she sipped her cocoa. He felt vaguely uneasy but put the last piece of biscuit into his mouth.
'Very well then,' she said 'I sleep as still as a log so, providing you have no childish objections, you can share my bed as well.'
She munched her biscuit silently. 'Though I don't think we'll tell your mother, or Mr Johnson.'
Johnnie didn't know what to think or say.
'It'll save having to wash and iron two lots of bed sheets and pillow cases in these days of shortages.'
Johnnie didn't ask which shortages she was referring to, but there it was. He didn't know how to react, thinking it might seem churlish, if not childish, to refuse. So he said nothing. Mrs Johnson turned up the wireless as the chimes of Big Ben started to listen to the nine-o-clock news.
'That's agreed then' she said, 'but I think it would be best kept a secret between us.'
Johnnie certainly had no thought of saying a word to anyone. If he had mentioned to his mother the fact that they were to share the same bed, she would have been horrified and absolutely refuse to allow him to stay. (This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the nine-o-clock news and this is Alvar Liddell reading it.) Johnnie didn't hear much of the news. He was too apprehensive about going to bed. He habitually got an erection in bed and invariably woke up with one. This worried Johnnie.
His predicament mustn't be noticed by Mrs Johnson.
'Right!' said Mrs Johnson taking her empty mug into the sided-kitchen and swilling it clean, 'I'm off up. Turn all the lights out and make sure the back door's locked and bolted before you come up.'
Johnnie went outside to the lavatory and wash-house whilst Mrs Johnson used the upstairs bathroom and put on her long winceyette nightdress and drab woollen dressing gown. A hair net completed the picture. By the time she had finished in the bathroom, Johnnie had already quickly changed into his pyjamas and clambered into bed. He was curled up on his side cradling himself with his back to the door, when she returned.
The bed gave as she sat on the edge and slipped off her dressing gown and slid under the sheets. He could smell the perfume of the soap she used. His soap was 'Lifebuoy' but it smelt clean and fresh. The light switch was an egg-shaped polished wooden object at the end of a length of flex hanging from the ceiling above the rosewood bed-head.
Mrs Johnson always went to sleep on her back, her shoulders well supported by pillows so that she was almost half sat up. She drew the sheet up to her chin and switched out the light. Within a few seconds she was breathing deeply and evenly. Fast asleep. Johnnie sighed with relief and himself drifted off into a deep sleep.
Nothing stirred all night until the alarm clock went off at half past five. Mrs Johnson was straight out of bed and put on her dressing gown. She returned some minutes later with a mug of steaming strong sweet tea for sleepy-eyed Johnnie which he drank whilst Mrs Johnson picked up her clothes and went into the bathroom.
Well, Johnnie thought, that wasn't as bad as I expected. He waited until Mrs Johnson had left the bathroom and gone downstairs. As he got up and dressed the smell of the toast drifted up from the side-kitchen, and by the time he got downstairs and used the outside facilities, Mrs Johnson was already busy with the morning papers, sorting them into piles on the counter.
'Did you sleep alright, Johnnie?'
'Yes thank you.'
Apart from such pleasantries, few words were exchanged at that early hour other than talk of paper rounds.
'Will you make-up the top round Johnnie whilst I do the Lords Lane round.'
The shop opened at six for the regular early lorry drivers who came in for their paper - usually the Daily Herald - and packet of Woodbines. The daily routine was the same as it was the previous week with Mr Johnson.
And so the week wore on. The weather remained warm and fine and they would often remark to each other that Mr. Johnson and Graham were having good weather. Each morning Johnnie took two of the paper rounds and sat down to toast and jam. In the afternoon he would take two more paper rounds, and each evening after tea, Johnnie would go across to the shop and, at nine o'clock Mrs Johnson made the usual cup of cocoa with half milk and half water and they would sit listening to the BBC news on the wireless whilst drinking their cocoa and eating a digestive biscuit.
Then it was time to go up to bed. It was the same each night. The same routine. Johnnie would go out to the corner of the yard whilst Mrs Johnson was in the bathroom. She would wait until she'd heard him come back in, locked and bolted the back door, and had time to get into his pyjamas before she left the bathroom. He would be already curled up in bed on his right side and she would climb into bed and switch out the light. Almost immediately she would be asleep and breathing deeply. It was tiring work in the shop, and Johnnie did not have the afternoon nap, so he was not very long after her in dropping off to sleep.