24: ON TAP:
I return to the Hostel after Christmas and at the beginning of the term, those girls who have school dinners call a strike. They refuse to eat at the school and instead bring in sandwiches or go out in the dinner hour to buy snacks. The strikers claim that the servers give preference to Handside girls, allowing them to go to the head of the queue and also in the portions handed out. I eat at the Hostel and regret that I cannot take part in this militant action.
I and a few other girls in my form, are interested in learning to type and we enroll at a local private evening class. Every Tuesday, after tea, Theresa Quinlan calls for me and we spend the evening learning the keyboard. At this class we are taught the keyboard finger by finger, the two index, the middle, the fourth, the little, in their turn travelling from the home keys up and down the keyboard: rut; tum; yum; rum; run; mut; deck; kid; low; pa; pap;, and so on. A method preferable to the usual which I am to find later, is learning one bank of keys at a time. To accompany Theresa to the class is an added pleasure for me because she is popular in the Form. each week, I worry that she will fail to call for me and go instead with someone else.
Nearly all the girls in my form are now ‘in love’ and with boys evacuated from Hastings Central School. These are tall, muscular lads who put to shame the thinner, smaller boys from St. Ignatius. Only Pamela remains faithful to her St. Ignatius ‘love’ whom she admires from a distance. The Hastings boys in their black blazers, caps and grey trousers are seen in groups returning home from school. Aware of the girls walking together behind, or in front, the boys attract their attention by talking loudly, laughing, mock fights, until the girls either catch up with them, or the two groups meet. More jokes, more laughter, names exchanged and the girls parcel the boys out between themselves as their ‘loves’. For that St. Valentine’s Day, I make some twelve cards, one for every girl ‘in love’, all of them apart from Pamela’s reading ‘from an admirer at Hastings Central’. In the previous year I had passed through a stage of hero-worshipping an older girl, a prefect, good at sports, active and quick in all her movements. Her hair short, her uniform smartly pressed. As I cycle along the road, I long for her to see and admire me. I see myself jumping off my bike to administer to a vague figure knocked down in a road accident. I am holding a hand, reciting the Deo profundis, the prayer for the dead.... This hero-worshipping I had kept to myself and when it came to boys, I professed to no ‘love’ for I did not think that any of these boys would be interested in me.
During the past months, my health has been good, but suddenly I come down with a series of asthmatic attacks. Gasping in elusive air, soon lost. No air in my lungs, I am forced once again to move by supporting myself against walls, hanging on to furniture... I long to sit. it is summer and in the garden I sit on the ground, leaning forward, my head down, almost touching the slim trunk of a young tree as if I am making obeisance to its spirit. "What’s the matter with you?" Sister Agatha has come up behind me. "You should be running about, exercising, it would be good for you." Healthy exercise, the cure for all ills! At last up onto the golf course to hide from prying eyes. Between bouts of asthma, which last maybe a week or more, I continue with my normal summer activities, cycling, playing games and swimming in the cold waters of the River Lea. The river which has almost killed Pamela Bloomfield. I have an asthmatic attack. At last my breath comes more easily, but I am left cold and shivery in the warmth of the day and I have no appetite. It is a Saturday and I sit close to the boiler in the kitchen. Sister Agatha bustles about, occasionally shooting at me dubious glances. At last she says "why don’t you go home for the weekend. Your mother would be glad to see you." Home! 9 Wilton Road. Of course! That is where I want to be!
"You aren’t eating!" says my mother and I try to push down the plate of food put before me. Food which has ceased to be pleasurable to the taste buds or sustenance for the body. Instead it is a mound. A pile which I must clear. To my mother, once again, I am the baby who had refused solids and whose skeleton softened and threatened to crumble. My mother is between jobs. Oonagh’s arrival home had precipitated my mother into leaving the factory where for the past year she had worked permanently on the night-shift. Arriving home in the morning to creep into a warm bed vacated by my father. In the evening going out to work as my father arrived home. Turning night into day had played havoc with my mother’s digestion, although she had enjoyed the factory. She had money in her pocket and the comradeship of the other women. She had worked in the Inspection Department, taking her work seriously, condemning those on piece-work who tried to get by with poor work. "It’s men’s lives!" said my mother, contemplating an inadequate part for a gun, or poor work which could mean that an aeroplane would fall apart. She had told me also of a Chargehand nicknamed ‘Gestapo Gertie’ because if a woman spent too long in the WC, the Chargehand shouted and banged on the door. However, apart from Oonagh’s arrival home, it is also her union activities which have taken my mother out of the factory. With enthusiasm, she had shed twenty of her forty-four years and had organised the Department into the Transport and General Workers’ Union, a union, which unlike the craft unions, accepted women and the previously unskilled, called dilutees. Of course, her union activities made her unpopular with Management. Whether pressure was put on my mother to leave the factory I do not know, and this is one of the many questions which I regret not having asked her. But she always claimed that her name was blacklisted by the Standard Cable Works. Certainly, my mother had been part of a great movement on behalf of women for on 26 January, 1940 the newspaper had reported:
"The government was today urged to give women workers the same pay and conditions as men. The call came at a special meeting of leading women’s groups which condemned current practices. Speaker after speaker told of wage cuts and worsening conditions as employers tried to use the high level of unemployment among women to get skilled labour at unskilled wages." (25)
Now I am at home and unwell, although my mother cannot tell the nature of my illness. She is sure that if I eat a good meal I will soon be better. And so, on the Monday after I have accompanied my mother into London on an errand, she takes me into a restaurant. I sit disinterestedly in front of a plate of food. "Why aren’t you eating?" my mother asks me, almost in tears. "I’m not hungry!" I snap. I am surly and resentful at this attempt to control my appetite. I pick at the food, but leave most of it on the plate and at last, unhappily, we return home. I go to bed and in the early hours of the morning awake to the pain of a knife striking into my lung, tearing me apart. Weeping, I run to my parents’ put-u-up bed in the press room to lie between them while they comfort me. There I stay until morning. I have pleurisy and pneumonia, the cause of which, my mother insists, is immersion in the cold waters of the River Lea. A river in which Heraclites’ dialectics insisted it was impossible to bathe in twice. While Cratylus, speeding up the process of change, said that it was impossible to bathe in a river even once!
My back and chest encased in kaolin poultices, for as yet there are no anti-biotics available, I lie in bed in the downstairs front room for a month or more. I am nursed by my mother and Mrs. Norah Taylor. The Taylors have moved into our upstairs flat as newly-weds, the Higgs having moved out. Mrs. Taylor, a slim, green-eyed woman in her early twenties had been a nurse at the Colney Hatch Asylum, but now she is pregnant. John taylor is in a reserved occupation and so not called up for military service. Every morning, my mother calls upon Mrs. Taylor for help in lifting me into an armchair while the bed is made and my lungs replenished by warm plasters. And so the days pass. I am not to return to the Garden City for my mother is angry that I have been sent home in such a condition, alone and with no prior warning to my parents. She has sent an indignant letter to the Mother prioress. This knowledge, however, passes over me without involving my thoughts for the future, for I am too ill and have only the present. At last I am convalescent and must learn to leave behind me my life in the Garden City and become at one with Muswell Hill. At first reluctantly, for I miss the noise and bustle of the Hostel, the being part of a large family so that I never lack companionship. In contrast, 9 Wilton Road is as quiet as the grave and I am friendless. "Please!" I ask my person God "send me some friends". But I do not wait for his reply. Instead, I join the Girls’ Training Corps, an organisation set up to involve teenage girls in the war effort. I join at a time when Rommel’s offensive in the deserts of Libya has driven back the Allies, while the USA and Japan wage battle in the coral seas of the Pacific. in the Warsaw ghetto, following the rising, the SS slaughter the Jews. Allied troops assault Dieppe, with much loss of life. The British ship Laconia carrying 1800 Italian POWs is torpedoed by a German U-Boat and at least 800 drown. The Nazis slaughter a Czech village in reprisal for the murder of Heydrich. In Bombay, Ghandi heads fifty Indians arrested by the British in dawn raids. A mistaken order by the Admiralty dooms one of its own Arctic convoys to be picked off one by one by the German Fleet.
On one evening every week, I go to Holly Park School, off Friern Barnet Road, dressed in a uniform of navy blue skirt, tie, forage cap and black shoes. There we march - left right left right, right wheel, left wheel, stand at ease, easy, form up and number from left to right, or was it from right to left?
"We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall never surrender." Winston Churchill June 1940.
At GTC marching is not all we do. There are talks on the application of cosmetics, map reading, how to make a street oven, how to use a telephone... Some of us are sent on a Saturday to help at a Day Nursery in which children are cared for while mothers are at work. This is in a wooden building erected on a green space opposite the park in Oakleigh road South:
WOMEN OF BRITAIN - COME INTO THE FACATORIES
"Those who do war work locally will be backed up by a huge expansion in day and night nurseries and child-minding systems. Special welfare arrangements are to be made for women who have to leave home." Poster.
Following a nurse, I take a line of toddlers across the road to the park, each child holding onto the coat tail of the one in front. "Come on, eat up or you won’t be fit for the next war!" says a nurse, trying to feed a recalcitrant baby. I do not appreciate the irony of this statement, nor the cynicism learned over the years. I am young and idealistic. There must be no more wars, the world must become socialist, co-operative, an international society where everyone lives in peace. I had looked to make a special friend at the GTC, but before I can do so, Oonagh says to me "Madeleine McCormac wants to go with you to the GTC - I told her you’d take her." Madeleine McCormac! The girl responsible for Miss Stranger kicking me out of the Maypole dance! Madeleine had left St. Martins for some years, but now she has returned. "I don’t want to take her" I say crossly, but as I go out of the house on the following evening, I see Oonagh coming down Wilton Road with Madeleine. Madeleine, about my height, with an old-young squarish face and light blue eyes which have no depth. I cannot refuse to let her come with me and so, both of us lonely, we become friends of a sort.
At first, Madeleine and I meet once a week only, she calling for me to go to the GTC, but later I become involved with her family. The McCormacs, an Irish family, live in a flat above a motor-cycle shop on the Great North Road, the name on the shop stated in bold letters ‘Percy Beecher’. The large, red wooden doors forming the frontage are permanently closed, for the shop had belonged to an Uncle killed in a motor-cycle accident. His widow, Aunt Kitty, has let the flat above to the McCormacs. This accommodation can be reached only by entering through a normal sized door cut through the large red doors and by walking over the concrete floor which had at one time contained row upon row of shining motor-cycles, their gleam long faded into the empty gloom. rickety wooden stairs lead up into the McCormac flat, a dark place. Madeleine’s parents prefer to make a second home in the lounge of the Green Man at Muswell Hill. They are not heavy drinkers, but are in need of the pub’s brightness and its comfortable impression of bonhomie. For one of their two sons, Madeleine’s older brother, went down with the HMS Hood, sunk in the Atlantic by the Bismarck in May 1941. Only a handful of the 1,421 crew survived, the McCormac son not among them. In their grey, drab flat, the McCormacs see his white face, his water-drenched hair, his flailing arms, his hands in spasm searching for a hand-hold in the fluidity of the ocean, and hear his cries "Mother! Mother! Mother!"
Madeleine spends most of her time at Aunt Kitty’s house in Grove road, near to Alexandra Palace and that is where we usually meet. Unlike Mrs. mcCormac whose face is lined and whose tall spare figure is a little bowed, Kitty, her younger sister, is round of limb and on her cheek remains the bloom of late youth. As she and her two children live in a large house, she is able to maintain the family by letting rooms to gentlemen. Here she provides a happy home from home. One of these gentlemen occupies a special place in the household and is referred to as ‘Uncle Rex’ by six-year-old Patty, 8-year-old Christopher and also by Madeleine and I. he spends much time with the children and on taking them out is proud to be mistaken for their father. Uncle Rex, a man of middle height, dark hair and bright blue eyes, is a Special Constable often on duty at Highgate tube station where he stands importantly alongside the ticket collector. The police uniform together with the specials’ flat peaked cap bestowing upon him an unusual authority:
"You can’t trust the specials like the old-time coppers
When you can’t find your way home...(47)
Spying his sturdy figure as I am lifted up to the final part of the escalator on my way home late at night, I greet him as an old friend. Unfortunately, I am to fall foul of Uncle Rex. Madeleine, I and the two children have been out with him for the day - to where I cannot now remember - and on the way home Uncle Rex begins to speak of a well-known building as standing in quite the wrong part of London. tactlessly, I correct him - and that finishes me with Uncle Rex. I am too clever by half, especially for a girl! His blue eyes flash, his full mouth drawn into a straight line and from that time on he ignores me.
Aunt Kitty’s large drawing-room, bright, comfortably furnished with armchairs, carpeted, large French windows leading out to the garden, holds a pianola. I am fascinated to watch the ivory keys rise and fall as they play a popular tune. It seems as if ghostly fingers, maybe those of the late Mr. Beecher, are drawing out the music. Aunt Kitty always makes me welcome, for everyone who enters her house becomes one of the family. However, one of her friends, a middle-aged loud woman names Stella, who has an eighteen-year-old daughter, takes a dislike to me. She tells me I am a Jew, but like St. Peter and the crowing cock, I will not admit to my heritage. "I’m a Catholic" I reply. "No, you’re a Jew." She looks at me with her dark eyes, her plump, short body aggressive in its stance and says again "of course you’re a Jew." Aunt Kitty is not happy at Stella’s attacks on me and when Stella is no longer present says to me "she’s got no right to say such things to you!" I murmur "I’m a Catholic". "What does it matter if you were Jewish" Aunt Kitty says "she’d still have no right." I like her for that. She continues. "Stella does it because a lot of people think she’s Jewish. She’s trying to prove she’s not." Maybe, I say to myself, she is Jewish. However, this is for the future and in the present these possibilities hover over me, waiting to see whether Madeleine is to become more than a weekly encumbrance.
While I am not to return to school, my other does not propose to end my education at the age of fifteen. Failing a profession, I must have a trade, and so she enrols me at Pitman’s Commercial College at North Finchley. My mother has always been fascinated by shorthand and as a young woman had attended evening classes in the subject. The diminution of words and phrases into light, dark straight and curved squiggles, to her was a miracle. In fact, during all my growing years, my mother had spoken of shorthand. Whenever she had the time and opportunity, she gathered together me, Oonagh, Twi, Colleen, Ena Macfarlane, Eva Willis, the Dawson boys.... into a class held in our living-room. each of us provided with a page of lined paper and pencil, we sit at the mahogany table inherited from Grandmother Rachel, while my mother makes strokes in the air with an index finger: p b t d chay jay kay gay eff vee ish zhee ess zee m n ing l r ray way yay aitch hay. We make it into a chant as we do grammalogues:
Had do different or difference
Much which each large....
Each of these grammalogues represented by one stroke only. And so I am no stranger to shorthand and, in fact, once I have mastered it at the College, words present themselves to me as shorthand outlines. As a person speaks, so the words appear before my eyes to in light or dark strokes, curved or straight lines, above, on, or through the line, the vowel indicated where necessary. Dancing out of mouths, including my own. I can even think in shorthand.
The College at North Finchley is contained within a square, yellow building in Ballards Lane, North Finchley, and the headmaster, a Mr. Pirrie, is a short, dark, glum man who rarely comes out of his office on the ground floor. At the side of the College, iron stairs run from the first floor onto the concreted ground. These stairs are important for at lunch-time, or at the end of the day, the boys wait underneath them and look up the girls’ skirts as they descend. The boys grinning and the girls attempting to pull their skirts around their knees. All official connection between the sexes at the College is banned and the little red book with which all students are issued states this in no uncertain terms. Male and female students must not associate in the College or within its environs on pain of expulsion. This means that boys and girls must not be seen walking or talking together within the area of North Finchley.
I am enrolled for shorthand, typewriting, English, French, German and book-keeping, each change of class marked by the loud buzzing of an electric bell, at which we gather up our books and writing materials to filter through into another classroom. This organisation is new to me for lessons at the Convent have taken place in one room and it is the teachers who have changed. However, unlike present-day Secondary schools, we are without a ‘home classroom and, therefore, our starting and ending point for the day is a metal locker and key in the corridor. Tap, tap, tap, tap, fingers at a manual typewriter, one of a number in a row down the middle of the room and on each long side wall. Our gas masks slung over the backs of the chairs, carried in their boxes or in the neater gas-masked shape bags. If we arrive at College without the gas mask, we are sent home again. I have an advantage, for at the Garden City I have learned to touch-type all the letters and I need only to learn the numbers and pick up speed. Tap, tap, tap, in time to the music in four-time playing on a record spinning on a turntable gramophone, wound up intermittently by the teacher, a sharp-faced sharp voiced Sergeant Major of a woman, for whom our fingers are squadrons of soldiers. Marche Militaire, Sousa marches, any bright lively tune which will drill our digits into marching swiftly and evenly over the banks of keys. Between our eyes and the keys a metal shield juts out to prevent cheating by peeping at the keys over which our fingers move uniformly. "Keep your wrists up - fingers on home keys...."
axs aga fxf fcf axs sex (sex!) vex tax..... We want a first-class employee. The junior office clerks were quite amazed at the extra reward given by their generous employer. Dear Sirs, Please send us a copy of your Invoice No. 246 dated 16th December for £5 (five pounds) the receipt of which we cannot trace. Your prompt attention will be appreciated...
There is no time for levity in the typing class, or time to greet each other or our teacher, for she sees her pupils merely as class after class of sharply advancing digits. tap, tap, tap space tap, tap space tap wham! The front of the typewriter, four banks and space bar, has shot out at me. Sybil, who sits next to me, a madcap of a girl, has relieved the oppression of the class by playing a practical joke, pressing down on the two clips each side of the typewriter which holds the front of the machine in place. My fingers jump off the keys and I nurse the machine part in my lap. "Miss Lahr!" shouts the typing teacher. We girls are all ‘Miss’ at the College and the boys ‘Mr.’ for we are being prepared for the office. And yet to the teacher I remain a child. "Miss Lahr! Leave the room and stand in the corridor!" I, still imbued with the school-pupil prejudice against sneaking:
Tell tale tit
Your tongue shall be slit
And all the doggies in the town
Shall have a little bit
but smarting at the injustice, open the door to stand outside, the fingers tap, tap, tapping out my exit. I expect Sybil to own up, for this too is part of school lore and I wait to be recalled. however, Sybil’s school was not mine and she says nothing. Instead, her fingers tap, tap, tap.
Shorthand lessons I attend at twice a day, morning and afternoon. The teacher is a short plump woman with a martinet of a face and manner. She dictates and drills us in consonants, vowels and grammalogues which are now called ‘short forms’. I am at home here, keep abreast of the class and pass the various tests held to check our progress and understanding. My father, who all through my growing-up years, and beyond, has provided the appropriate reading material for my activities, now brings me Pitman’s Office Training magazine, the front page of which is written in shorthand, beautifully set out in its printed outlines. I glance cursorily at it, picking out the outlines easy to read and peruse the page given to the reading and typing of corrected manuscripts. Of this, ‘stet’ is the only instruction I now remember.
The book-keeping class: Cash books, day books, ledgers... all to record the accretion or disbursement of money and I am confused. Why an entry in this book rather than another? My penned figures lurch this way and that as if they too are not sure of their place. Blots appear, or I smear the ink over the page. It soon becomes clear that the teacher, Mr. Brooks, a broad, bespectacled middle-aged man, regards me as unpromising material. He reserves most of his interest for Patsy James, the daughter of the footballer Alec James. While others in the class struggle with ‘income’, ‘outgoings’, ‘trial balance’ and so on, he recalls with Patsy, Alec James’ past exploits on the football field. Mr. Brooks’ tone is so doleful at the apparent demise of professional football in favour of the war effort, that I interpret his hushed voice as an obituary for Alec James. I imagine that Patsy and her small brother have lost their father who can be restored to her only by the teacher’s reminiscences. Eventually, I beg to be allowed to withdraw from the bookkeeping class in favour of an extra English lesson. To this, my mother acclimatised to my failure in math’s, agrees. In the English, French and German classes we work at our own pace, for the classes are very mixed. Apart from those intent upon learning office skills, there are a few eleven and twelve-year-olds enrolled for general education. For the College provides secondary schooling, denied to the vast majority of children excluded from Grammar or Central Schools. Farther along Ballards Lane, and on the opposite side, Clarks College fulfils a similar role and unlike the Pitman’s students, the pupils wear a College blazer. "They learn Greggs shorthand there" we say, wrinkling our noses, for we are convinced of the superiority of Pitmans.
Miss Cohen is the teacher assigned to the English class and one day I am taken aback to hear her remark during a conversation with a student "well, people like us are Aryans"! "Surely!" I say to myself "this plain, middle-aged woman with tightly curled hair as if the curlers are merely slipped out of their work each morning, must know that the word ‘Aryan’ is part of Nazi propaganda? And with the name ‘Cohen’ too!" But maybe she didn’t make the connection and like most people divided her life into separate compartments. In the English class I work from a text-book most of the time, but also begin to read Shakespeare’s plays, and enjoy them. At the Garden City, each of the girls were given a part from a Shakespeare play and we read around the class. Invariably, I was given the part of the Fool. This provided the other girls, and especially Pamela Davidson, with the opportunity to address me, with some glee, as "Fool!" I, of course, unable to make any reply except for the words set out for me on the page! Also, by concentrating on the words I must speak so that I do not miss my cue, I hear very little of the play. Now at Pitman’s I can become involved with Shakespeare and renew the interest first found as a child on going to see the film of Midsummer’s Night Dream. An interest developed also by my mother’s habit of quoting odd pieces from Shakespeare, almost as if he were a member of the family.
When the electric bell sounds, I make my way to the German class to work from a text-book printed in Gothic lettering. Das Büro, Die Rechnung, Die Stenotypisten, Der Chef.... Pitman’s teaches language for commercial use only and the words remain on the page. We do not learn to speak them. Of course, this was the general method of teaching languages at that time. As if it were intended to inhibit the population from communicating too directly with their opposite numbers abroad. The German teacher is a refugee from Nazism, a large, dark-haired, dark-eyed woman, approaching middle-age.
It is in the French class that I am to make my first close friend from Pitmans, in the person of Pat Moors. On my first day at College, at lunch-time, a pair of girls ask me if I would like to come to lunch with them. They are aware that I am a new pupil and cannot bear to envisage my loneliness. I appreciate their kindness and each lunch-time accompany them to The White Heather, a small cafe then at North Finchley. During conversation, I learn that Betty Love and her friend Rose live at South Mimms, rose having been billeted on the Love family and choosing to remain with them. Two very nice girls, a year or so older than myself and I am grateful to them, but they are without the ‘edge’ and vitality which I look for in a close friend. Pat Moors is the seventh child of a Flemish speaking Belgian couple who, in 1914, fleeing from the advance of the German army, came to England as refugees. Pat, some inches taller than me, light brown hair, heart-shaped face, pearly-white skin, slightly spread nose, green eyes. "She’s ruining you, that girl!" Max says reproachfully. He is a boy of about my age, who sits behind me in the French class. He is referring to the rouge and lipstick with which I have begun to improve my face, flaunting it as a badge of maturity. Pat, although some nine months younger than me, has used cosmetics for some time, the rouge bright upon her rounded cheeks. "You’ll go downhill" Max says gloomily, regarding me as if I am a potential whore. Pat he has no hope for at all! I shrug in reply and continue to make up carefully each morning in the large mirror nailed to the side of our coalshed outside the kitchen window. Marking a wide cupid’s bow around my mouth and, as I have been shown at GTC, brushing the rouge upwards on my cheeks. Max plays the straight guy to his brother Arnie, also at the College. Arnie is a handsome Jewish boy given to boasting of his female conquests (not, of course, within Pitmans or its environs!) The majority of the students at the College are Jewish and on Yom Kippur, the building is almost empty.
In the French class, Pat and I work together under the tutelage of Miss Kennedy, a smart woman somewhere in her thirties, and Pat and I encouraged by one another build on our school-girl French, so that by the end of the year we can both read a French newspaper without difficulty. a few years later, Pat is to learn to speak French by finding a boy friend among the Free French servicemen and attending at their Club. At the age of eighteen she is to marry her Free Frenchman and I attend the over-long ceremony at Our Lady of Muswell. However, when I first become friendly with Pat we meet only at the College, or I might meet her occasionally for a specific activity, such as going to the cinema, which we call ‘the pictures’. It is not until Pat and her family move from New Barnet to Muswell Hill Road that she becomes my out-of-school friend and I get to know her family. It is then that I meet her parents and her sister Hilda, nicknamed ‘Goo’. Goo had returned to the parental home after her flat had been destroyed by a bomb. Half-conscious, half-alive, she lie for three days under rubble, a hard bed, on which she breathed in dust from broken bricks and debris which bore down and oppressed her yielding, but unmoving, body - until, at long last, she was found by rescue workers who dug her out of the grave, and once more she joined the living.
The Pitman’s year passes quickly and I pick up a Pitman’s Shorthand Theory Certificate and two English RSA Certificates: Second Class, and having re-sat the exam, First Class. My essay for this exam is on the subject of ‘Your Favourite Historical Figure’ and so I write about Wat Tyler, which fits in with the period’s democratic aspirations and the promise that the era of the common man is about to arrive. This First Class Certificate is all but lost, for it falls out of my saddle-bag while I am cycling home. Fortunately, a kindly man in Sydney Road picks it up and phones the College and so I am able to go to his house and, with many thanks, collect my prize. I have always regretted that at the time I was going through a wish to experiment with my identity and so signed my exam form ‘Sheelagh G. Lahr’. ‘G’ for Gemma which is not my name, but while at the Hostel I had translated my Hebrew name Simcha as ‘Seema’. This was mistaken for ‘Gemma’ and, therefore, I had decided to be at one with Blessed Gemma Galgani! After all, who had heard of Seema?
The College year completed in September 1943 I am ready for the world of work. 70 wpm typewriting, 80 wpm shorthand (although I never admitted to would-be employers less than 100 wpm, or even 120 wpm). My mother would have enrolled me at the College for a further year if Mr. pirrie had agreed to reduce the fees. I sit in his small office, alongside my mother, Mr. Pirrie at his desk attempting not to meet our eyes while my mother pleads. I hear only the halting tone of her supplicating voice and wriggle in embarrassment, for all my experience has taught me that poverty is the most heinous of crimes. A nervous giggle works its way from my diaphragm, into my throat, to explode from between my lips. My mother looks at me angrily and Mr. Pirrie who has barely replied to my mother, his pale flat face impassive, rises to indicate that the interview is at an end. My mother is humiliated. "Laughing like that!" she says to me "you were very rude. No wonder the headmaster won’t let you stay" I am discomposed, but make no reply, for I cannot explain to her my hatred of being made to feel like a pauper.
Madeleine accompanies me to the Youth Employment Bureau at the Town Hall in Crouch End, run by a Mr. Kingswell, a grey-haired handsome middle-aged man of above average height. I had registered here in March on reaching my sixteenth birthday, cheerfully protesting that as I had been born three weeks prematurely I should not sign on until the following month. sixteen-year-olds registered for the purpose of being asked to join Cadets, Youth Clubs or any other community activity. But, as I am a member of the GTC, a Youth Club in Colney Hatch Lane and a Youth Parliament, there is no need for me to join anything else!
Now that I am ready for work, Mr.. Kingswell presents me with a form to apply for a junior post in the Civil Service. "This is a very safe job" he says kindly "with good benefits". At the age of sixteen I am not looking for a safe job, I am looking for interest and excitement. The Civil Service to me spells Boring and Bureaucratic! Anyway, I know that to be accepted by the Civil Service both parents of an applicant must be British, and I do not want to reveal to Mr. Kingswell my unfortunate origins! So I take the form home to worry my mother about it. A few days later, I return to the Youth Employment Bureau where I muster a confident voice to tell Mr. Kingswell that I do not want to join the Civil Service. He shrugs and sighs, then he searches through the cards on file for an appropriate job to which he can send me for interview.
In the August, Hamburg had been ‘wiped off the map’ by air-raid. The US attacking by day, have poured more than 10,000 tons of bombs on the City in eight days. Seven square miles have been wiped out... A greater weight of bombs has fallen on Hamburg in this period than during the whole of the 1940-41 Blitz...new phosphorus incendiary bombs creating such intense heat that ‘burning asphalt makes the streets look like rivers of fire’... A Danish consular official in the city has claimed that there are 200l000 deaths including 2,000 Danish workers. (24)
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