GILBERTINE & THE EXCHANGE (Part One) — Chapter 2, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” June 1964 (Part 7)

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We went to Malibu in early June, where I’d not only swum in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, but watched real surfers in action, including a blonde, tanned pretty girl about my age, who not only surfed, but also snorkeled and scuba-dived.

She passed by me as if I were invisible – and, to her, I suppose, I might well have been.

Though she clearly ran circles around me in aquatics, I’d wished had Gramfer’s guitar with me, to get her attention with my playing and singing – until I heard her play the guitar and sing songs I’d never heard, much less sung and played, some in languages I didn’t even recognize. As she did, some of the adults and older teens she was with built a campfire and began roasting skewers of kebab and falafel balls.

At one point, she stopped a few minutes to discuss marine biology on a level that I was only beginning to read about, much less comprehend, with a tanned, blonde, athletic college boy.

I sadly looked away; for few seconds, a hundred feet down the beach, I thought I saw another girl, every bit as pale as I was, with large eyes, long, wavy dark brown hair, and a dark flowing dress, staring at me.

Then, she was gone.

At the time, I wasn’t sure if I found her presence comforting or disturbing.

I certainly found it confusing.

I was more relieved than let down when Dad hinted we take off, though a beautiful radiant sunset was descending on surfer girl and her beautiful radiant friends, on beautiful radiant Malibu beach.


Mum, Dad and I had ended up having a delicious seafood dinner as a luminous, radiant crescent moon glowed through a window by our table at an elegant restaurant near our hotel in Santa Monica. Since we’d be seeing Venice and Pacific Ocean Park next day, we made an early night of it, as the same moon glowed through our hotel window.



At first, I thought all surfers might be like those in Malibu that I’d just encountered.








Thankfully, I’d far better experiences with other surfers, both in Venice, the next day,






and at another beach campfire, next weekend, following our trip to Marineland of the Pacific.




But, I also realized, for the first time, that there were girls in this world who’d always remain unattainable, no matter what I did.

Of course, I’d improve myself, but so would they, and they’d still be beyond reach. I brooded over this for quite a while.

Would it, I wondered, be true of all California girls?

Then again, was it me?


I was uptight, “playfully” sarcastic, skin pale as a bucket, my belted, high-waisted, knitted wool swimsuit cumbersome and heavy once wet, hopelessly square, clunky and dated, whether wet or dry.

Was I some kind of creepy space alien to California kids?

This all made me miss my friends back in England so much more acutely.




Stan Gupta and Ian Tippins, of course, my two main mates and cohorts with whom I’d done so much – and gone through so much – for so long, but also steadfast, meticulous Jenny Yao. our collective friend, who’d pull the proverbial rabbit out of so many hats whenever we’d most needed one

And, how could I forget Bethany, my enigmatic, faithful ghost girl,

Any heartache I might have had over Rashmi Chaudhury had been mainly of my own making. If she’d led me on it was inadvertently, and I’d always treasure what a faithful friend and protective didi (older sister) she’d been to me.

And, there’d been her sweet, smart friend Lucy Gill, who brokered the peace and healed the rifts between me and the “Aston Quartet.” I could only hope she and Don Cutler could have a happy future together, if that was what she wanted.

And, Brenda Lawrence – shy, insecure, and a bit of a chowderhead at times, but with a good heart and generous nature. Once she was your ally, she was fully committed through thick and thin.

And what of the “Aston Quartet” (really from Ladywood, as was Lucy)? What would any of us (save Bethany, of course) have done without not only Don, their leader, but wily Mick Darrow, brave, clever Dexter Henry and loyal, strapping, if dim Wackford Willis?

An unlikely a quartet of allies as we could’ve conceived, yet none could’ve been more welcome or appreciated. Now “slum clearance” had taken Lucy, Don, Wack and Mick’s homes. Would the promised improved housing in the proposed new towers and flats come in time to avoid dispersing them?

I wrote ridiculously long – often communal – letters to as many of them as I could reach, trying to keep things all light and happy, but from their sympathetic replies, I think they knew better – and were often in a similar frame of mind.

I think we all wondered if – much less when – we’d ever see each other again.

Yes, Jonathan King – I looked around and found you were quite right – everyone had gone to the moon.
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