Eating at the White House

Last week, heading out to the tip, I drove along Wetherby Road in Leeds and passed a restaurant called The White House. These days it looks like a chain pub centred around food. But many years ago it was quite a classy place. And therein hangs a tale…

It was, as the song title goes, the summer of ’69. I was 15 and spending the summer holidays working at Laws Supermarket. It was the first summer I could legally work full-time and I had plans for the money I’d make. It would go in the bank for some big thing, to be decided in the future.

Of course, things didn’t work out that way. By then I was playing bass in bands, a youth for whom books and music were the fundamentals of life. So my days off were filled with trips into Leeds to spend my hard-earned wages on in bookshops and record shops, filling out my sparse collection of Penguin Classics and poetry and anguishing over which LP to buy.

And it was the summer I became interested in a girl. In the evenings I’d walked a mile to meet up with friends. We spent an hour or so on a bench in front of a shopping parade, just talking and acting the fool. A girl would come along sometimes, long blonde hair, that slightly ethereal look that was so typical of the late Sixties. I was smitten. But shy.

I came up with a plan. I’d impress her. Take her out to dinner. I’d never done that before, but I could scrub up a bit and act politely in public. It would be a costly do, I knew that. After all, you can’t impress without spending. So I saver my money for a fortnight, and one evening, just as she was leaving the bench, I took her aside and asked her out.

She looked more shocked than anything. Still, she agreed. On the night, we met and caught the bus to Oakwood, followed by an awkward stroll to the place. I tried to keep an insouciant, sophisticated front in the restaurant, to seem adult and worldly, and probably failed miserably. We ate, made a little small talk and left to catch the bus home.

The spark simply wasn’t there. We were both nice people, but…

Money wasted? I thought so at the time, and I certainly didn’t want my parents to find out about it and how much I’d spent. I kept the bill in my pocket and next day, walking the dog in the park, I buried on a hillside. Out of sight, although I took a little longer to be out of mind.

Not too long after I did take up with a girl, a romance that lasted nine months, an eternity in teenage terms. But that’s another story. One I don’t want to tell.

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