27: HYDE PARK:
After some ten months at the Law Society, having found myself caught and imprisoned within mountains of files, and shut away in grey pop-up pictures, I struggle from out of the miserable morass of lamentable human relationships, breaking free and giving in my notice. On my leaving day, the girls present me with a silver charm bracelet. "They must like you a lot to give you that!" says John Hicks admiringly. He is a British soldier dressed in rough khaki, no more than twenty years of age, of medium height, with light brown hair. I cannot remember where we met, but we have taken to each other immediately. We go to the pictures or for walks on Hampstead Heath where I make him laugh by my antics of jumping up to touch the branches of trees. We talk and we laugh a lot, but I treat him merely as a companion. I do not want him to think that I expect any more from him than friendship. Employed at the Law Society on divorce, I say airily that I donít believe in love or marriage, as if I mean it. John murmurs that it doesnít have to be like that, but I pretend to hold to my view of marital disharmony. Soon after I leave the Law Society, John is moved out of London to another base, promising to write. But he never does so and each day I watch for a non-existent letter on the mat, or picked up by my mother and perched on the high mantelpiece in the living-room. Inside I hurt. I am surprised at this pain with me by day and night should I wake. I have never felt like this before. I have Johnís address in Exeter, but it is not done for a girl to write first, he will think I am pursuing him. I will make myself cheap. This is what I have been taught. and so I work through my misery and it is some weeks before the pain of loss eases and in relief I return to my normal life.
I find a job with the British Equitable Insurance Society at an office in Piccadilly, on an upper floor of a building next door to the American Services Club, the Stage Door Canteen:
I left my heart at the Stage Door Canteen
I left it there with a girl called Eileen......
A soldier boy without a heart
Has two stripes on him from the start
And my heartís at the Stage Door Canteen
I sit at a desk in front of a small peg-type switchboard and a typewriter. A little forward and to the right of me is a gated counter. Drawers of file cards are placed to the side of the counter and it is while looking through these that I come across the name of our family friend Ralph Hoddinott as an agent. He had, as a very young man, been a customer at the bookshop and Oonagh had always said that when she grew up she would marry him. He had written to my parents once or twice from Greece, while in the army, but after that we had lost touch and I do not see him again until the day of my fatherís funeral. He had come in response to Oonaghís announcement in The Times, his face in middle-age folded in upon itself.
Following the funeral, we sit in the rose garden of the John Baird pub at Muswell Hill Broadway and Oonagh asks Hoddinott for his address. He hands her a card which we examine later, to find that it sets out his name only. No address. He has come prepared for a day of nostalgia for his youth and in memory of my father, but no strings.
The Manager at the British Equitable, Mr. Pearson, handsome, grey-haired and middle-aged shares an office with me, but he is out a good deal and so I am left to my own devices. In the buildingís communal washroom, I meet girls from other firms and with the solidarity of youth we are immediately friendly. In the office opposite mine, across the passage, is an Agent who finds work for Variety artists. Two girls are employed here, crowded together in a small space in the midst of files. Most of the artists registered with this Agency are minor performers, but occasionally Mavis, plump and with shoulder-length fair hair, mentions someone of whom I have heard. One of these is an Irishman, Pat something or other, famous for a song which goes:
tooralooraloora, itís an Irish lullaby...
I have been working for British Equitable for a month or two only, when Mr. Pearson, driving his car to his home in Oxford, crashes into the back of a lorry. Crash! Bang! Mr. Pearson flung forward onto the steering wheel which pierces his chest and pins him to his seat. Barely conscious, there he stays until the ambulance, bell ringing wildly, arrives to take him to Radcliffe Hospital. A day or two later, Mr. Pearsonís wife arrives to hurriedly clear his desk. I know that note-paper in one of the drawers indicates that he is doing some insurance work for himself and have determined to hide such evidence from the prying eyes of the parent company, located at the Royal Exchange, but Mrs. Pearson beats me to it.
Previous to Mr. Pearsonís accident, it had been agreed that I go once a week to the Royal Exchange for training, now, much to my dismay, I must work there on two days of each week. The way I see it, the best part of working at the Royal Exchange is climbing up the impressive stone steps and walking through the neo-classical columns on either side, for I imagine silent watchers impressed at my importance. Once inside this gloomy building, I travel in the narrow lift, all mirror and gilt, to an upper floor which I am confined in a drab office, the windows opaque. Here I sit together with several older women and a dragon of a supervisor. They pay little attention to me, but when one of their fellows leaves the room immediately, as if a signal had been given, the women begin to tear her character apart. Soon the footsteps of the absent friend are heard returning and in that instance, when she takes hold of the handle to the door, and without a seconds hesitation or break, the conversation turns to other matters. The broken bits of her character kicked out of sight.
I am given schedules to type and now I must stay in my seat, no wandering around the building or talking to girls in other offices. If ever I do have a few minutes break, I express my frustrated imagination in writing poetry. With the result that later, when Mr. Pearson is well again, I must answer the small switchboard and, in putting the call through to Mr. Pearson at his desk, I hear the Supervisor exclaim "I found her writing a poem!" She is obviously appalled. On a Saturday, I worked at the Piccadilly office until mid-day and on one of these Saturdays Madeleine had arranged to meet me outside the building together with a GI and his friend, with whom she had made for me a blind date. I leave the office promptly and wait in the street, office workers hurrying by, couples sauntering past, their arms linked, GIs coming and going in and out of the Stage Door Canteen. Piccadilly, a hive of activity, in the midst of which the boarded up plinth on which Eros once stood, overlooks the Circus. I stand in the street for an hour, anxiously searching passing faces for Madeleine. Watching for two GIs either side of my short friend. I grow hungry and re-enter the office for a moment to consume a half pint of milk bought for tea, drinking it straight from the bottle, gulping it down in case Madeleine and the GIs arrive during my absence. The fat of the milk, together with my apprehension that Madeleine and the GIs have left me in the lurch, makes me nauseous and at last I go home almost in tears.
Later, in the afternoon, I decide to call at Aunt Kittyís house and there I find Madeleine and the two GIs sitting at a table in the living-room, talking, laughing and sipping tea. Stella and her daughter, Sybil, are at the house and it soon becomes clear to me that the GI assigned to me, named Bud, is interested in her. A girl of about twenty years against his twenty-six or twenty-seven and my seventeen. She is tall, almost of a height with Bud, slim and in my eyes, plain, but very lively. She plays the fool, as if she has based herself on one of the Hollywood comediennes, such as Joan Davis. A comedy routine perhaps first adopted to counter a commandeering mother. Sybil is given to little shrieks of laughter, she sits on a chair and acts as if it is about to collapse under her, grasping its sides and back, rolling her eyes... she jumps and grabs Budís arm and says "letís dance!" steering him around the furniture, kicking her legs up behind her. She makes him laugh and he loves it. I have no feeling about Bud one way or the other, for he is a stranger, but I am chagrined that Madeleine has put me into such a situation and has also, with no thought, left me standing and waiting in Piccadilly. She could have at least phoned me at the office, to tell me of the change of plan. This incident was the beginning of the end of our friendship.
Pat works also in Piccadilly, for she has left her job at Estates Gazette. Now she works for a firm which makes military uniforms for Officers, both everyday and dress. Golden braid, gold buttons, epaulettes, reds and navy blues, tartans, smartly pressed trousers, shiny black belts, insignia designating different regiments - all line up stiffly on parade, their materials cut by Mr. Barnett, a small bowed tailor, whose real name is Tuschneider for he is the father of Edith Tuschneider, whom Pat and I have met the International Youth Centre in Pont Street, Knightsbridge. Mr. Tuschneider, overawed by the brilliance and authority of the work in which he is engaged, on first entering the workshop to take his scissors to cloth, had been challenged by the would-be uniform of a General, who raps out at him "name?" Mr. Tuschneider hesitates, his eyes taking in the uniforms of Majors, Captains and other Officers lining the walls, symbols of the might of the British Empire, and he cannot bring himself to reply "Tuschneider". Instead, as he is balding and regrets the loss of his hair, he replies "Barnett".
Patís office is a small room off the workshop and she must use a three-bank Olivetti typewriter, instead of the normal four-bank. This makes a nonsense of touch-typing, but Pat doesnít seem to mind.
Pat and I go to Speakersí Corner at Marble Arch where we join in the Community singing, encouraged by the government as a morale builder. We sing our way through the war. Songs from the First World War: Keep the Home Fires Burning; Itís a long way to Tipperarary and songs from the Second World War: Roll out the barrel (changing the last line to "The Yanks are here!): The Quartermasterís Stores; Lords of the Air; Run Rabbit Run; Goodnight Children Everywhere; Bless Ďem All; Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major; Mister Brown of London Town; The White Cliffs of Dover; Maybe itís because Iím a Londoner..... (49) and:
Iím going to get lit up when the lights go up in London,
Iím going to get lit up as Iíve never been before,
You will find me on the tiles,
You will find me wreathed in smiles,
Iím going to get so blooming lit up,
Iíll be visible for miles.... (52)
And we sing sentimental songs about love and the moon in June:
Moonlight becomes you,
it goes with your hair.... (52)
One song following another, together a circle of men and women singing out their hearts while around us speakers, on home-made stands, shout out their philosophies, religious or political. We are lost in our own voices. On one occasion, Pat and I join a group singing in Welsh and as Pat had been evacuated to Wales at the beginning of the war, she sings:
Mae bys Meri Ann wedi brifo,
A dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach,
Maeír baban yn y crud yn crio,
Aír gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach,
Sospan fach yn berwi ar y tan,
Sospan fawr yn berwi ar y llawr.....
Airmen greet her as a compatriot. "You can always tell a Welsh girl" they say "theyíre prettier than all the others!" Patís eldest sister is married to a Welshman, the only one of the Moors girls to marry a man from the British Isles, although Mrs. Moorsí stated aim had been for all her girls to marry Englishmen.
Before returning home, Pat and I go into the Dorchester, walking through the foyer as if we belong there, and make our way to their swish Ladies, perfumed, soft lights, shiny mirrors. We use the WC, wash our faces, renew our make-up and comb our hair. In those days I was always combing my hair. Having renovated our faces, we walk nonchalantly through the hotel lobby, Pat hopeful of meeting a handsome millionaire.
Later, I am to go to Speakersí Corner with my cousin Seema, two years younger than me and who has grown into a pretty round-faced girl. She is an apprentice hairdresser in a salon at Temple Fortune and once a week I act as her model at an evening class at the Regent Street Polytechnic, where she washes and sets my hair. At Speakersí Corner we stand in a circle with some half-a-dozen others, including an American sailor:
"Is you is or is you ainít my baby...."
A tall dark handsome boy leads us. Having sung our fill, some eight of us go across the road to a cafe. We sit around a table and exchange names. Seema looks at Dave, the dark youth. "Youíre Jewish" she says smiling "so am I." "So am I" says the American sailor, "so am I" says a red-headed girl, and so it continues around the table, even I admit to having a Jewish mother. Until we come to a woman somewhere in her twenties, a little dowdy, a provincial accent. Desperate to remain one of us, she finds a Jewish forebear. "I think my grandfather was a little Jewish" she says. Later still, I am to go to Speakersí Corner alone to listen to the speakers and on 20 July 1946 Forward publishes an article I have written about Hyde Park. Forward is a left-wing newspaper published in Glasgow by Emrys Hughes MP, who is Keir Hardieís son-in-law. I wrote about Tony Turner, the Socialist Party of Great Britain speaker, who always has the highest platform and the biggest and most attentive crowd in the Park. He silences any would-be hecklers with wit. When, during the war, a soldier took exception to some of his remarks and shouted at him "Iím fighting for the likes of you!" Tony replied calmly "I give you my full permission to stop fighting for me this instant!" Prince Monolulu, the West Indian race-course tipster who dresses in long clothes, sandals and a head-dress of red, white and blue ostrich feathers. He appears in the Park carrying the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, Star of David, the Czechoslovakian flag and the French flag. He tells the crowd surprising facts about the countries these flags represent, for instance, that Anne Boleyn was really a Czech woman named Anna Poleyni! Monolulu punctuates his sentences with the word Ďbleddyí.
Sammy Marks who declaims "you say the Jews run the black market" Well, even if it were true, they could never make as much money out of it as the Salvation Army, the Church Brigade, Bible societies, Church schools and millions and men with their collars turned back to front, have made out of one dead Jew - and a foreign Jew at that!" There is also Mr. Norris, a right-wing speaker from the Individualist Society who attempts to prove the competence of private enterprise. But he gets a rough ride from the hecklers. The religious speakers also are the hecklersí delight, most of them regarded as cranks. Mabel, a middle-aged grey-haired woman, who rails against the young women in her audience, shrieking at them "painted hussies!" Or Daniel Forbes, who claims that America is the promised land, he knows this for a fact for he has spent time in almost every jail in the States! On one Sunday morning, while I am wandering at Speakersí Corner, a doodlebug buzzes its way across the park, above our heads. Everyone, including me, runs to shelter under a hedge. Later, I am to remark that the religious speakers ceasing their shoutings about the glories of heaven, had been the first to make for the bushes!
Everybody talkiní about heaven, ainít goiní there... (50)
Hyde Park is to become my University, for it is in the small Ďseminarí groups, especially one led by a large man named Carpenter, a customer in my fatherís shop, that I become interested in reading Karl Marx. I push myself into the group, making my way to the front, fearful that otherwise I might miss some great truth which will lay the world bare for me. And yet this same interest means that I write no more for Forward and, in fact, give up writing altogether for a very long time. Emrys Hughes, a square-set, grey-haired man with a pleasant smile, had invited me to the House of Commons to take tea. he had offered me a weekly column, but I have become involved in Trotskyism and am so blinded by names and theories of which I know nothing, thrown back and forth, dominant men forming the Ďleadershipí who appear to encompass all knowledge, that I convince myself that I am not competent to write anything worthwhile.
While I am wandering alone one day at Speakersí Corner, I meet Jean, a girl of my own age. She stands on the periphery of a crowd, a slim figure a little taller than myself, dressed neatly, her brown hair forced into curls, her face carefully made up with a little lipstick and powder. I am alone, but her aloneness crosses over into loneliness. She is a waif and stray on the edge of the crowd. She speaks to me and I register a cockney accent. An accent of which my mother would disapprove. At this distance in time, I cannot remember what she said, probably something innocuous like "do you come here often?" and soon we are walking together across the park on our way to a cup of tea. It must be almost summer, for Jean insists on carrying my coat. Not in a bullying manner. Now that she has found a friend, she is eager to prove her worth. We walk along the Edgware Road and she tells me that she was brought up in the National Childrenís Home and is at Marble Arch to visit one of the sponsors of the Home. "She werenít in". I see a large well-kept middle-class house occupied by a couple akin to Mr. and Mrs. Shillan, who are proving their right to be wealthy by patronising the Ďunfortunateí. We find a cafe to sit at a small table in the corner and Jean tells me her story. She works in a factory. "When I were fourteen and left school" she says "they put me in service, but I run away. They put me somewhere else in service and I run away again. So they asked me why I werenít happy and what I wanted to do. so I said ĎI want to work in a factoryí". I am shocked that Jean had not first been asked her preference, and yet pleasantly surprised that the Authorities had at last seen sense. "I donít like service" Jean adds "youíre at their beck and call all day long. They never leave you alone. I like to be independent."
I admit to Jean that I work in an office and hope that she does not think of me as a snob, but I need not have worried. At that time factory work was lauded as war-work. The old working-class/lower middle-class stratification of jobs had been eroded for the present and the pyramid of factory work at the bottom, shop work slightly above and office work at the top, now lie on its side. Jean lives in Hackney, off Mare Street, in lodgings used by the National Childrenís Home for its leavers. "Mrs. Adams is the landlady" Jean tells me "Iím all right with Ďer because I donít get in late and I keep myself to myself." She looks at me glumly. "Shirley, who I shared with, was out with boys all the time and didnít come in Ďtil two or three in the morning." As Jean speaks, the tone of her voice becomes censorious and I see behind her an army of stony-faced men and women, their mouths opening and shutting - you must not, not, not, not, not. "So Mrs. Adams slung Ďer out." Jean tells me that she isnít going to let boys take advantage of her. "Theyíre only after one thing" she says, pulling a face. She is a Ďgoodí girl.
I meet Jean outside her lodgings, a tall grey house, and we walk to the Hackney Empire. Jean points out some prefabs. "One of the women in there come Ďome and found Ďer husband and two daughters Ďad been killed by a bomb. The woman walked up and down Mare Street, up and down, up and down, no one could stop her..." I see the woman in a frenzy walking jerkily up the street, turning to walk aback again when too far from her destroyed home, moving quickly in the opposite direction... Her perpetual motion oiled by shock and grief. We speak about the disaster at Bethnal Green tube station on 3 March 1943 when hundreds of people had dashed down the stairs at what they thought was the beginning of a raid. A woman carrying a baby trips on the stairs, a man falls over her and within minutes 178 people have been crushed to death. In 1993 it is revealed that the army testing new booming guns in a nearby park had caused the panic.
At the Hackney Empire, we sit on red plush seats, gilt and gilded mirrors on every side and it is there that I see the Cheeky Chappie himself, Max Miller, dressed in a colourful silk jacket, plus-fours and spats:
Mary at the dairy...
I like a girl who says she wonít,
but looks as if she might!
I meet Jean about once or twice a month and on one of these occasions she tells me of a boy she has met. He lives down the road to her lodgings and she thinks he likes her. He is joining up soon, but has promised to write and see her when on leave. Her whole face lights up and I rejoice that at last she will be happy. And then I lose touch with her and it is only by chance that I meet her some three years later, after the war, once again at Marble Arch. But this time I am outside the gates to sell The Socialist Appeal. Jean appears before me as if from nowhere and I, not at first recognising her, pull a paper out of the bundle, but she pushes it away. "Sheila!" she is delighted to see me. But this is not the Jean I had known - neat, anxious, reaching out for a handhold or foothold. this Jean is brash, flamboyant, over-made up, skirt short and revealing, her movements exaggerated. "Come for a walk" she says to me and, tucking the papers under my arm, I accompany her along the Edgware Road. I walk hesitantly, Jean swaggers. Every now and then she greets a girl standing in a doorway and they exchange a few words which come over to me only as broad syllables. Jean is on the game, on the streets, a prostitute. At last I return to my sales pitch and Jean goes her own way. I am never to see her again and am left wondering that turn of fate had taken Jean into prostitution.
I join the International Youth Centre in Pont Street and occasionally Pat accompanies me there. However, it is not her scene for most of the members are left-wing students, or young Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany or Austria, also politically minded. The fact that most of them confuse Stalinism with socialism does not detract from their idealism and hope for a post-war socially just society. But I have many an argument with these members over the role of the Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War, or on other matters. When I become friendly with Ann, we go together to the IYC. Ann comes from a political family. Her father had been a member of the Independent Labour Party and she had grown up with a framed photo of Keir Hardie hung on the sitting-room wall. I know little of Keir Hardie for Marx and Engels are my parentsí mentors. Although my father has a favourite story about Keir Hardie who, it appears, had not long after my fatherís arrival in England, stepped off the pavement in front of my fatherís bicycle. My father dismounts, brushes down the bowled over Keir Hardie and sends him on his way. "I daresay that hastened his death" says my father, for Hardie had died a few years later in 1915. A pacifist, he was heart-broken by the advent of and support for World War I.
Ann, for a few years following the age of nine, had been sexually abused by an older brother, but she had not told her parents. It was a secret between brother and sister. She had told a friend at school and wondered why she didnít get pregnant. "Perhaps you canít have a baby with your brother" says her friend helpfully. Sex, therefore, has become no more than a part of Annís everyday experience and she expects men and boys to crown their dates by entering her. Eventually, her older sister, Jenny, who has found out about these affairs warns Ann that no one will ever marry her if she continues to offer her favours freely. Ann decides from then on to be more selective, but the first time she refuses a member of the IYC, a young sailor who usually Ďmakes outí with her on Hampstead Heath, he becomes very angry and never wants to see her again. "Do you think Iíd walk up here, all over the heath, with you for nothing? Youíve been leading me on!" Some time later, Ann who is lodging with a brother and sister-in-law decides to strike out on her own, and asks me to share a flat with her. I am more than willing, but unfortunately, puzzled over the matter of sexual morality, I had imparted some of the details of Annís lifestyle to my mother. Now my mother is convinced that should I share a flat with Ann, I would end up Ďon the gameí. She becomes so angry and hysterical I have to tell Ann, shamefacedly, that I canít leave home. I am a Mummyís girl. Eventually, Ann finds a flat-share with two other girls.
The IYV is situated in a tall house built for the gentry and covers several floors. It is open seven days of each week, providing a myriad of activities - folk dancing, ballroom dancing, discussion groups, music appreciation groups, speakers on various subjects and there are many places where members can merely sit and talk together. There is a canteen on the ground floor and a bar on the first, where I think of myself as blasé for asking for "half a pint of wallop"! I become active is producing the wall-newspaper, pinned to the wall immediately outside the open door of the bar, therefore, when a queue forms I am sure that someone must read it while waiting! The IYC is always a busy, lively place where I make acquaintances rather than friends. I can remember cycling to Hampden Court with Archie Moody, a red-haired boy and Hermann Essinger, a Jewish boy from Austria who lives in Muswell Hill. The photos in my album show me standing together with Hermann Essinger, his arm about my shoulders. My hair arranged in a frontal bang which is achieved by a ribbon tied at the back of the head, the front hair being rolled round under the ribbon. I wear navy blue slacks, a bomber jacket and sandals. Hermann dresses in baggy trousers and jacket. Archie, who took this snapshot, now hands the camera to Hermann, and poses with me. Archie wears long shorts and zipped up cardigan. he looks at me and I look ahead, my tongue in my cheek. In the background is foliage. The date of this photo is 5 May 1946. The war has been over for a year, but post-war organisation is slow to change. Only the bombs and threat of bombs, are missing.
I can recall few of the myriad of persons I met at the IYC. Except for Edith Tuschneider, the daughter of Mr. Barnett the tailor, who remains for me an 18-20 year old girl, attractive in face and figure, both of which have become shadowy in my memory over the years so that now I see only dark wavy hair, a round face and a figure taller than myself. Naomi, whom I see always as a pale, slim girl with worried expression, for I meet her shortly before she commits suicide by gas. At the time I am working at Transport House for the T & G W U and by chance meet Naomi at a bus stop in Whitehall. I greet her and speak only of myself, ignoring her white face and agitated movements. I do not know enough of her life outside the IYC to ask her about herself, nor have I developed any great talent at drawing people out. Naomi listens to me, she always listens and expresses admiration for observations and knowledge which appear to be new to her. A week or two later I meet Edith who tells me that Naomiís death had been announced in the Jewish Chronicle. I am left wondering whether the right word from me might have prevented her death.
Then, there was Amelia. A short, black-haired girl given to speaking without first thinking, always a little wild in her movements. On one occasion I call IYC while she is manning the phone. Instead of answering "I Y C" she gives an alternative phone number, which I do not recognise. "Wrong number" I say and hang up. Three times this occurs when, with astonishment, I recognise Amerliaís gravelly, yet peremptory, voice. "Is that you, Amelia?" I ask. I am amazed that of all the phone numbers in London, I should choose by accident to call her at home! Fortunately, the mix-up is eventually sorted out!
There is the fair-haired Jewish boy who tells a group of us that as he could Ďpassí he had joined the British Union of Fascists before the war, as a spy. Therefore, he was able to leak plans to the local Jewish Defence force.
Together with Ann, I go also to Youth House in the Camden road, Islington. Youth House is situated in a solid Victorian house, stone steps leading up to the front door and as I pass over the threshold I am caught up in a world outside time. The house is residential also and those men and women who live there seem to me to have no life outside it. Should they step outside the front door they would disappear, vanish! The members are in age from the Ďteens upwards and yet their style is timeless - hair-styles, dress... It is among the residents that the Stalinists can be found, clinging to a dogma with the intellectual tenacity of the religiose. The only time when Ann and I see a resident of the House outside is one day while we are having tea at the Marble Arch Lyons Corner House. "Look! Thereís Max" Ann says to me. He is waiting on a table dressed in waitersí tails. We are embarrassed for him because he is a well-read, well-educated refugee and we are sure that for him such a job must be demeaning. We deliberately look away and never mention to Max that we have seen him at work.
Outsiders bring some life into the House and many of these are African students, happy to find a welcome and a place to mix socially. Peter Abrahams, a slight yellow man from the West Indies, is a member of Youth House and he is later to publish novels set in the Caribbean. He meets at Youth House his second wife, a dark, part-Malaysian girl. Peterís first wife, Dorothy, is a customer in my fatherís bookshop and one day she comes home from work to find that Peter has abandoned her. Sunday after Sunday she cycles over to 9 Wilton road to cry on my parentsí shoulders. Dorothy is an ungainly plain woman, but she has worked hard to support Peter while he stayed home to write novels.
It is at Youth House that Ann meets a tall, dark young man. "My nameís Stan Johnson" he says. He is standing in the community room. I am lounging in an armchair. Ann squats on the carpet. Stan and Ann get into a bantering conversation and he remarks that his name wasnít always Johnson. "It was unpronounceable, so we had to change it" he says, wrinkling his nose. "I know what you mean!" says Ann. "I wish my father had changed ours!" Her surname is Pratt. Stan looks down at her with interest. Perhaps he thinks she is Jewish and by the time he finds this is not so, it is too late. I am working at the British Equitable when Ann phones to tell me that she and Stan are engaged. A pang of jealousy rips through me. Why does no one ask me to become engaged and now my friend will rarely have time for me. My emotions are mixed and for a moment, manufacturing an excuse that someone is at the counter, I put down the phone to collect my feelings and confine them within the shell of expected response. "I went to his flat!" Annís voice comes down the wire when I again pick up the phone, "and went to bed. We just felt it was right. Both of us."
I donít see Ann for some months and when I do, it is at a Common Wealth at Hornsey town Hall. The engagement is at an end and she is gaunt and very thin. She looks ill. Shortly following the engagement I had been on a bus with Annís sister Jenny and other Common Wealth members. Jenny says casually "Annís got engaged." "Whenís the wedding" asks an interested woman. "Never!" says Jenny decisively. Now that her prophecy had come true, I felt nothing but sorrow for Ann, who barely speaks to me at this CW meeting. We are never again to resume the old friendship.
I am bored at British Equitable and unhappy on my days at the Royal Exchange and so decide to give in my notice. Now I remember with nostalgia my days at the Law Society: my wanderings into Lincolnís Inn Fields, Staples Inn, Leather Lane, Ely Place, Furnival Street, Bream Buildings... the brash impermanence of the West End and its crowds of restlessly moving feet cannot compete as a working environment with the dignity and tranquility of Chancery Lane and its environs. The West End is for the evening only. "Itís people you chase after, not places!" my mother says angrily. My mother is worried by my restlessness and regards my friendships as distracting me away from achievement. But back to Chancery Lane I go. This as a result of an evening class in Marylebone where I take violin lessons. I am attempting to build on what I can remember from the lessons given me by Mr. Franks. I dream of putting the violin under my chin, moving my fingers up and down the strings, drawing the bow across and releasing beautiful music, music so spellbinding that all within earshot are bewitched! In conversation with the tutor, a pleasant man in his forties, slim, kind brown eyes, I mention that I would like to find a job in the Chancery Lane area. his face lights up. He has a friend, a Surveyor, who is looking for a Secretary and so an interview is arranged. The Surveyor, a Mr. Stevens, has an office half-way down Chancery Lane, comprising two rooms on the first floor of an old building, so that I must enter by a side door and make my way up a narrow staircase. These rooms are cluttered with files, piles of papers, bound books and office furniture, among which sits the Surveyor, a tall, gruff, grey-haired man. He asks when I can start and I say in the following week, but first I must obtain permission from the Ministry of Labour. At that time, from the age of seventeen everyone in the world of work must be engaged upon work of National Importance. I attend at the Labour Exchange and the clerk refuses me permission to accept the job with Mr. Stevens, at which the job becomes ever more desirable and Chancery Lane a paradise! I burst into tears, much to the clerkís consternation and she looks at me in embarrassment. "Iím asthmatic!" I wail. "Not everyone wants to employ me!" "If you obtain a medical certificate to that effect" says the clerk woodenly "weíll reconsider the situation."
I go to see my doctor at Muswell Hill, a Dr. Blackburn, a tall black-haired, black-eyed man, and he provides me with the necessary certificate. Permission is granted for me to work for Mr. Stevens, but this same certificate is to rebound on me at a future date. Once again I am in an office much of the time alone, for Mr. Stevens leaves me to cope with piles and piles of scribbled notes, the basis of letters, which lie beside my typewriter in this dingy, crowded room. Much of these scribbles date back to the weeks, or even months, when Mr. Stevens was without a secretary. I cannot cope. I do not have the relevant experience. a few years later, I would have sorted the scribblings into piles according to importance and dates etc., but at the time all I can do is plough through them, stumbling from one piece of paper to the next, often attempting without success to decipher Mr. Stevensí writing. I cannot explain my predicament to Mr. Stevens because I do not know how to speak to him. persons of his age have always been in authority over me and in many ways I remain a schoolgirl, unable to meet adults on their own terms. On one occasion, when I return from lunch, I am aware that there are two men in the office, Mr. Stevens and a friend. Mr. Stevens speaks to me, but I cannot meet his eyes and so look down to the floor, nervously twitching my fingers. "You didnít recognise me!" says my tutor at the next lesson and I blush.
Occasionally, Mr. Stevens dictates a letter to me and I must desert the never-diminishing pile. Some of these dictated letters are to the Conservative Party or to the Freemasons. "Heís a Tory!" I say to myself crossly, as I start upon deciphering another scribble. Once or twice only do I call on my old work-mates at the Law Society or go for a walk during the dinner-hour with Madge Roberts, but my heart is not in it and I can enjoy my old haunts no more. I am failing, becoming more and more behind with my work and often, in despair, when the Surveyor is away, I leave the office early, shutting away the piles and piles of paperwork. At last Mr. Stevens gives me the sack. This ends also my efforts on the violin, for I am too embarrassed to return to the class. In tears I arrive at my fatherís bookshop in Little Newport Street. I do not want to work for the Surveyor, but at the same time to be given the sack has shamed me, struck at my already low self-esteem.
On to Sowing and Reaping
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