The first time hipness happened was 50 years ago. Pia was a Swedish au-pair girl who came to live with our family for several months after my brother was born late in 1962. She was blonde, had beehive hair and black mascara. She smoked cigarettes. She was 16. She was the sexiest person I had ever seen in real life. But I was only 8, so what did I know? Nothing. But I began to realise that she was the sexiest person anybody else had ever seen. She burst like a supernova into the rain sodden gloom of our postwar lives. And she seemed to have that effect on everyone she met.
Her duties as an au-pair were light; she had to do some ironing, and plenty of babysitting. I guess she probably collected us from school some of the time. But babysitting was the thing. As soon as my parents were out, a party would start. People would turn up, there would be drinks, records were played on the record player that played through the old valve radio in the lounge. The records were 45rpm singles. All the latest hits. The Beatles were just breaking, and there was a slew of other Mersey Beat bands to listen to. Everybody knew all the latest dances, the Penguin, the Twist. The excitement was palpable. These parties were cooking. And my older sister Judith and I got to join in. This was the 60’s, the real thing. We were there, we remember it. We weren’t even teenagers yet, but we were hip to all the latest trends.
Yet the parties were polite. Nothing got broken, there were no gatecrashers or any kind of bad behaviour. And somehow Pia would get everyone out of the house and the place tidied up before my parents came back. They never suspected anything.
Where did she get these friends from? I had no idea. She seemed to arrive with a complete circle of highly fashionable friends. Someone that attractive has no problem picking up friends, I found out later on.
Pia always had a boyfriend. There was a new one every week. Until at one point she picked up a young policeman. I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him John. He would come over before work. His uniform hanging up in the hall of our house was immense and threatening. Or during a shift, he would pop in, his partner sitting in the squad car outside our house, waiting. This boyfriend lasted longer than the others, stayed for meals in our house. My mother was generous about inviting anyone who was around to stay and eat. I guess there were so many of us that one more made little difference.
Pia slept in the box-room. One day my parents came home to find that she had acquired a puppy which she was secretly keeping in there. The stink was amazing (I can still smell it). They were horrified, and the dog was made to live outside. After a couple of days it disappeared.
In the summer of 1963 we went to stay in London for a few weeks. We stayed in a dark old flat somewhere in Paddington, full of bric-a-brac. And while we were there Pia disappeared. Gone. That was it. No message. No trace. I had the impression that my parents did nothing except express relief.
Back home in Manchester, John the policeman was broken-hearted. He came round to our house several times afterwards, presumably because this was the closest he could get to Pia. The last time he came over, he had given up his police job to become an actor.
I spent a lot of time visiting Sweden about 25 years after this. I was disappointed to find that not everyone in the country was like Pia.