Coming Up for the Third Time

by Sandra Billington

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This might have been 1965, but it was still not swinging for women, unless your family was wealthy enough to use a private clinic. Not until the ‘70s was contraception generally approved of for unmarried women. The GP went scarlet with embarrassment and expressed, very strongly, his disapproval of her behaviour. Then, as though she were a prostitute, he sent her to a ward at Gray’s Inn Road Hospital, to check whether she had any sexual diseases. Prison-warder-styled beefy nurses tried to break her of her evil life. She was roughly handled and humiliated during the medical examination, and made to sit in a corridor in a state of undress, which made obvious to all walking by that the examination was for something sexual.

Needless to say, this did not cure her of her life-style, but it did cure her of the belief that the GP could help. To have returned to his surgery for the pill, which she would now have been given, would have been to agree with them that what she was doing was evil. So, although she went back for other reasons, she never mentioned the pill again and the doctor became the one to be terrified that she would ask for a PREGNANCY test. When mentioning things like cystitis, he would prompt her in a strangled, casual way:

“I believe you’re engaged to be married.”

“No I’m not,” she would reply severely.

What hypocrites they were, she thought. But she and Mark began to solve the problem with coitus interruptus and the rhythm method. He was inevitably unfaithful, and she was not altogether easy to live with, but then neither was he. And his infidelity was not at this point hurtful. It was a comment on her reserve, which led her to being more demonstrative. The result was that for about two months they were really happy.



During this first term she was not quite monastic. There was, in her group, a very erotic-looking New Zealander, Mark Squire. Inevitably she began to have amorous thoughts about him. To her, this was love of course, whereas it would be truer to say that he was quite simply stunningly handsome and sexy. Mark also had a scholarship, so they would go off into the sunset together as a famous theatre couple -- not married of course, marriage was still anathema. They chatted in the local pub after classes and, before long, Mark declared his feelings. Steph stood at the edge of a depth of emotion that terrified her. Survival had depended on being in control, and here was its total opposite for someone she knew nothing about. Strong emotion was something she knew nothing at all about: had not experienced as part of life. Her feelings only appeared when on stage. She took so long to reply that he was forced to ask her, but she did admit to the same feelings.

“But”, she added, “neither of us would have said anything if we hadn’t had a drink.”

So she took the bus to Islington, and he the one to Hampstead. The next evening (after some encouragement from Anna) she climbed onto the same bus as Mark and once at his flat she was, of course, frigid. For this was not a thoughtless tumble in the hay; this was a physical commitment of which the result could only be PREGNANCY! And Mark was a hedonist; he scorned the sheath:

“It’s like eating chocolate with the paper on.”

Once he realised it was either that or very little chocolate at all, he turned out to have a puritanical side to him, too. For a young man so proud of his sexual exploits, he was as desperately embarrassed as she at the thought of going into the chemist’s to buy the necessary. One afternoon they hung about the discreet little Hampstead pharmacy, and neither plucked up the courage. But something had to be done. So Steph went to the GP and asked to go on the pill.






  From Chapter 16 (RADA 1965)






Sandra Billington, Coming Up for the Third Time, published by Holly Books, ISBN 978-0-9553613-2-6, £12.99, pbk.