26: LOVE AND MARRIAGE:
The Law Society is in Bell Yard, off Chancery Lane, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. The section for Services divorces part of the Admiralty, Probate and Divorce Division - a designation we type at the top of each Petition and Affidavit - is situated on two upper floors. The offices are large and some dozen shorthand-typists, all about my own age, rising seventeen, sit in rows at desks in front of typewriters. Large, long dusty windows look out on the Law Courts. For dictation by the solicitors and Managing Clerks, we go to their offices or cubby holes outside the main office.
I sit at a typewriter allotted to me, files piled alongside on the desk. I open the first and immediately a scene pops up in 3D, a picture of the lives of the petitioner, the respondent, the co-respondent or, occasionally, when a service wife is suing for divorce, the woman named. A wedding scheme outside the church, the bride in white, veiled and in a dress made by herself, her mother, or a local dressmaker. The bridegroom in his best suit, brushed and pressed. The bridesmaids, little girls in long dresses in a bright hue, flowers in their hair. These little girls tell themselves that they are princesses and one day they too will wear a white dress and be Queen. Relief shows upon the faces of the bride’s parents - their daughter is married, she is respectable. The bridegroom wears a lop-sided grin. He has crossed the threshold from boyhood to manhood. He is master of his own home. He is the equal of his father.
The bride has dreamed of this day; dreamed while servicing a machine in the factory, serving in a shop, washing in a laundry, or filing in an office. Her eyes are dreamy, her thoughts far away with a handsome man, her hero, tall and dark, masterful yet gentle. a scene from any of the romantic novels, or stories she reads in magazines: A Taste of Paradise; Passion Rekindled; a Wild Heart Tamed...
He was close to her. so close that she could look into his blue eyes to see a small mirror image of her own face. It were as if she were part of him. He pressed her closer, lowering his mouth to cover hers, crushing her red lips and a shudder ran through her body, an excitement, a pleasure never known before, and one over which she had no control. He pulled her body closer to his and a deep, sobbing breath escaped her lungs. this was madness... "No!" she denied hoarsely, dragging herself free from his arms. "No!" She could not look at him for she knew that it was her fault that things had gone so far, so out of control. She felt ashamed. She could have slapped his face, if she had really wanted to...
She is at the cinema and larger than life movie heroes, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper... flicker across the silver screen of her mind, turning her into a Rita Hayworth, a Merle Oberon, an Ann Sothern, an Irene Dunne... Films which reinforce the advice given by the ‘Aunts’ of the women’s magazines: "Save yourself for Mr. Right - and only for him. Avoid compromising situations which could give you the reputation of being a loose woman..."
"I don’t care what you used to be,
I know what you are today!" (48)
If you’re lucky!
To the married woman: "Keep your man by being part wife, part mistress, otherwise he will stray. No matter how tired, or drab, from the day’s toil, before He comes home, put the children to bed, tidy the house and for Him make yourself beautiful - a pretty dress, comb out your hair, replenish your make-up. Otherwise you will lose Him." Memories of the bride’s upbringing show in her face. Her father, respected as the main breadwinner, must have the best they can afford and his wife and children only what is left over. By divine law the position of man and wife are unequal. A law compounded by the revolutionary poet Byron who said:
"Man’s love is of a man’s life, a thing apart,
‘Tis woman’s whole existence."
A picture rises from the file in my hands of the bride and groom at the start of their married life, living in rooms. One day, the bride knows they will have a neat little house with front and back gardens, in the country perhaps, or at least in the suburbs. On marriage, she has had to give up her factory job, but she takes off her wedding ring and calls herself ‘Miss’ to find laundry work. At the end of a hard day, she runs home before He arrives, to cook dinner, tidy up, to make herself beautiful for Him. They are still in rooms when the first baby arrives, and the next. Her mother, who lives nearby, is her main support. "You’ve got to put him first" she says, emphasising the advice given by the magazine Aunties. "Don’t let him feel the children have taken over. You’ve got to give way to Him. He’s the breadwinner for you and your children." The bride finds a part-time job cleaning other people’s floors, private homes and offices. Mother minds the children, both women making sure that He does not suffer from her absence from home.
In this manner, the weeks, months and years pass, with dreams of a happy family in a neat little house, roses around the door and hollyhocks in the back yard. and so it might have continued if the war had not intervened, to throw everybody’s life out of kilter:
He was supposed to come home to her each day:
"You’d be so nice to come home to,
You’d be so nice by the fire,
You’d be so nice, you’d be paradise..." (48)
She was supposed to be able to flaunt her status of a married woman. Her marriage and her home were supposed to be all that mattered and the world outside an intrusion. Now, he has been called away to the Colours and home and family are no more than an interlude of photographs around which he can weave memories and dreams. Her man at war, her children evacuated, her value to society is her work at the factory on munitions and, as a poster announces, she is:
"The woman behind the man who mans the gun"
Can it be wondered at if the happy bride, in her white dress and veil, no longer feels that the old rules apply? What is more, she has some money in her pocket.
That the files at the Law Society contain sexual details comes as no great shock to me - although I close my eyes and do not look directly at the couple, for while my mother has been open with me about sex, she is of the opinion that couples deserve some privacy. not so some of the girls employed on this work. It is as if after years of reading nothing but The Girls’ Own Paper, they have been thrown the Karmassutra, The Perfumed Garden, or at least The News of the World! They sit before those files like a rabbit before a snake, and one girl is sacked for reading files all day long instead of typing! This red-headed Gladys whose eyes pop out of her head and whose mouth gapes. Conversely, Madge Roberts who has insisted upon joining me at The Law Society, commuting each day from the Garden City, reads only that amount of the file demanded by the work. She turns her face away from the cavortings of Petitioner, Co-respondent, Respondent or Woman Named. She does not want to know. Myself, I temper the reading with work, skimming through the files, but keeping my fingers moving on the keys. I note that when the husbands are first called-up, the wives write to them "yours, ‘til hell freezes." "It froze over pretty quick!" I quip. Of course, in some cases, such as the young Sarginsons, the marriage has long been broken, or unsatisfactory. Neither party able to live up to the stereotype of a happy marriage, but previously they had been tied together through lack of money and resources. In the Services, they grasp at the opportunity for a cheap divorce.
Opposite me in the office works Iris Irons. a small polyphoto of her in one of my albums show her as forever wearing her blonde hair tightly curled, a stray lock over her forehead. Her nose snub, her mouth wide. Polyphotos were the fashion then, providing some forty sights of the sitter’s face from every angle. The intention was that one or two would be enlarged. However, we were generally satisfied with the representation of our face from so many points of view and snipped out each snap to present to friends. Iris Irons’ father is an Edmonton publican named Ian, who has married a woman named Irene, this setting up a family tradition, for when Ian Irons noted his matching initials and those of his wife, he decided that his children must follow suit. Therefore, in addition to Iris, there is Ivor, Ida, Igor and Iolanthe. Iris has a cousin, Eileen, working at the Law Society. She is also an Irons, but as her father is named William that part of the family are not concerned with the incantation of initials. Eileen, also blonde, but with finer features than Iris, works on the floor above, the cousins meeting during the dinner hour and also travelling home together. In fact, they are inseparable, until one dread day they have a falling out which sunders the relationship forever. I suspect the quarrel was over one boy or another, but I cannot now remember. But I still see Iris’ closed face should Eileen come into the main office, and I see Eileen refusing to meet her cousin’s eyes.
Also working in the upstairs office is seventeen-year-old Jenny, a slightly built girl ‘five foot two, eyes of blue’, long dark hair. She is married to Bob, her childhood sweetheart, not much older than herself. For, when he received his call-up papers for the RAF, in a panic they rushed to become one. He would have a girl to come home to, she would be supporting with her love one of our fighting men. What a dramatic parting as he leaves her to join his comrades-in-arms somewhere in Britain. They promise to be faithful forever and to write often. Now Jenny keeps a daily diary into which she pours out her feelings. Crying out her adolescence which she confuses with the absence of her husband. Sometimes, Bob’s letters make her cry. He accuses her of going out with other men and in revenge for her imagined infidelities, of which he dreams as he lies in his hard lonely bed, he describes girls he has met and whom he magnetizes. When Jenny has received such a letter, her hands move wildly over the keyboard and she speaks of suicide. She will put her head in the gas oven, a facility which represents an empty symbol of the meals she would willingly cook for Bob. Lovers quarrels by post without the satisfactory resolution of forgiveness and concupiscence.
I become friendly with one of the girls named Margaret, also aged seventeen. She is a natural platinum blonde whose ruddy face, spread nose and light blue eyes do not fit the Hollywood stereotype of the blonde. A well-built athletic girl, she is a member of the Young Farmers’ Club which meets weekly at a church hall. This organisation having been set up to encourage young people to dig for victory. Margaret lives in St. John’s Way at the Archway, her father a paper and magazine seller, a sprite of a man, sits against a building in Holloway Road, his wares displayed on wooden boxes. Both Jenny and Margaret are often on my trolleybus in the morning on our way to work, the 517 or 617, for if we have to change buses the ticket is interchangeable. The streets well aired, for the office does not open until 9.45 a.m. - a concession, for pre-war the starting time had been 10 a.m. Sometimes, Margaret and I cycle to work, or else I meet her on a Saturday or Sunday and we cycle around the streets. She is engaged to a Petty-Officer in the Navy, a rank known as ‘Writer’ and he is stationed in Highgate Village. In such close proximity, it might be imagined that the course of true love would run smooth, but there are weeks when he makes no arrangements to meet Margaret, and does not phone her at work. Nor does the Writer, write. At time like this, the forthright Margaret shrugs and cheers herself with thoughts of the compensations of freedom: Pedalling along the road she leads me in singing:
"Give me land, lots of land,
Under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.....
Send me out forever, but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.....!
The only other girl I can remember now is Jean. Neat, soft brown hair, brown-eyed Jean, who has the confident manner into which the middle-class are born and raised and which the working-class rarely attain. A confidence bred from a secure financial, professional background and a private income from investments in the working ability of others. Jean is friendly enough, but we are never her friends. She comes to work each morning in Mr. Jobson’s car. Mr. Jobson, a lightly built man of medium height is one of the solicitors under the jurisdiction of the head of this department, Miss Eugenie Eulalie Spicer. Mr. Jobson and Jean and her family live near to one another in the Home Counties, the two families meeting socially. She sits at her work tap, tap, tapping without taking part in our banter. A few years later, Jean would have been at University, and even then we knew that she was destined for better things with superior people.
I had corresponded with Madge Roberts on returning to Muswell Hill from the Garden City and perhaps I made my job at the Law Society sound interesting. Or perhaps the bright lights of London beckoned. Or maybe Madge regarded me as a close friend. Whatever... one day she arrives at the Law Society for interview, she rushes into the general office, a wide smile on her broad face, to tell me excitedly that she is to start work on the following Monday. Some time later, I am to hear Mrs. Roberts say reproachfully to Madge "you wanted to work here, but they haven’t been exactly friendly..." I continue to hear her voice stirring my conscience, but cannot picture the circumstances. I suppose that I regarded Madge’s sudden appearance in my life as an intrusion. She belonged to another place and another time. Apart from which, she had remained very much the schoolgirl, in dress, hairstyle and interests. She had none of the sophistication adopted by me and my current best friend, Pat Moors.
Pat is working at Estates Gazette in Ely Place, not far from Chancery Lane. On some days, having eaten a hurried dinner in a cafe - for my mother insisted that a hot mid-day meal was essential for good health - I meet Pat who brings sandwiches to work, and we roam the Holborn streets. In Hatton Garden we dream of sparkling diamonds hidden behind the facades of shops and offices. In Leather Lane we pass the market stalls. Or we go into Gamages, rival to Selfridges. When I was at St. Martin’s Convent, other girls would boast of Christmas-time visits to Gamages or Selfridges. This was not part of my family’s tradition, nor interest, and so I either listened without comment, or, not to be outdone, inferred that I too would be making a similar visit. Now, at last, I have the freedom of Gamages for part of each week-day. So why do I recall only the basement in which the hardware was displayed? Perhaps my memories passed along with the passing of the store itself. Quite often, I accompany Pat back to the office buildings in which she works in Ely Place, for I find this cul-de-sac with gates and a lodge at one end, fascination. H.V. Morton writes in In Search of London, published Methuen 1951:
"It is just a short street of Georgian houses tenanted now mostly by solicitors and business firms. Until recent times Ely Place was technically speaking not in London, but in Cambridgeshire. It did not pay London rates and taxes, neither did its one public-house observe London times of opening... The City police have no right of entry and the lodge gates are closed each night by watchmen who until the outbreak of the last War were in the habit of calling the hours of the night..."
In stepping through the open gates of Ely Place, it seems to me that I am flying out of London, over Counties, through space and time, into this quiet backwater in which an almost sunken medieval Roman Catholic Church. St. Etheldreda’s is pressed between the surrounding London in which Mass is celebrated, for this church, formerly the Chapel to the long vanished Ely palace, was purchased by the Fathers of Charity in 1874. I creep down the steps into the low ceilinged, half-dark church, in reverence for the many generations who have entered there before me. A church now no more, for it was destroyed by an IRA bomb in recent years.
On some days of the week, I go to a cafe in Staple Inn where a good, inexpensive meal is served in a small space crowded by dining office workers. Pat would have loved this, she would have flirted outrageously with the men, testing her powers upon them, fluttering her large green eyes. But Madge would have eaten her meal as if she were alone. As it is, Madge, like Pat, brings sandwiches to work. On the morning I arrive at the office to find that a bomb had fallen during the night on Staple Inn, not only do I mourn this attractive, historic place, but I have to find another cafe. In fact, two bombs fall on Staple Inn during the same week.
Sometimes, a flying bomb, or buzz bomb, or doodle bug - call it what you will - flies over during the day. I can remember one of these chasing me along the Strand, the people in the streets watching its progress or hiding in doorways:
Buzz buzz buzz buzz
Honey bee, honey bee
Buzz all you want
But don’t sting me... (49)
A bomb falls during the night on the Law Courts, blowing in the Law Society’s windows, the glass littering the floor and desks. Should an air-raid take place while we are at work, we are called into a windowless corridor to sit and wait until the All Clear sounds. Male law students hurry past us, ogling the prettier girls. Mr. Jobson chuckles proudly "law students don’t change!" he says, carried back to his own youth.
Sometimes, I spend my dinner hour in Lincoln’s Inn Fields where I stand to listen to Sammy Marks, who speaks also at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park. He is a small, thin, shabby man of indeterminate age, black trilby hat pulled down over his forehead. He stands in front of the fountain, greenery and grass forming a back-cloth. "After the war" I hear him say "we won’t need bunting. No there’ll be no need for bunting. We’ll hang a landlord on every lamp-post." He is speaking of the perniciousness of landlordism which pushes families into slums and leaves others homeless. "There was a time when the Britons were men" he tells the few who have gathered to listen "and they met the landlords who had stolen the land, with picks and staves. Now" says Sammy, looking round contemptuously at his audience "you poor mutts meet them with rent-books - compounding a felony!" He is at one with the dispossessed and quotes a fellow Jew, Jesus:-
"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air
have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head."
(Matthew 8: 20 Luke 9: 58)
Maybe he, the visionary, sees about him in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the makeshift camps of the homeless of the 1980s and 90s. Cardboard boxes under which young and old crouch in a vain attempt to keep from the cold, blankets and ragged materials arranged to form crude tents. Do the homeless see Sammy Marks walking among them? do they hear his exhortations to resistance against a society which throws away human kind as if it were so much garbage? Sammy Marks, the patron saint of the homeless.
After work, on most evenings, and having eaten the evening meal cooked for me by my mother, I hurry to Pat’s house in Muswell Hill Road where the Moors family now live in the ground-floor flat of a house. Pat’s parents always make me welcome, for they are glad that their youngest daughter has a friend. Pat is an afterthought, a gap of some years separating her from the nearest sibling. The Moors had tried to adopt a child as a companion for Pat, but as Mrs. Moors states indignantly, they had been refused because they were foreigners. She says "a child can be starved and ill-treated in an English home, but not allowed into a good Belgian home!" Perhaps it is this sharing of a foreign background which has brought Pat and me together.
Mrs. Moors is short, plump and her dark hair, speckled with grey, is pulled back and parted in the middle. Mr. Moors is above average height, but now a little bowed and he has a mop of grey hair above a rugged face. Unlike the Lahrs who call the afternoon meal ‘dinner’, the Moors dine in the evening, the table laid beautifully with shining cutlery set out on a white cloth, in the dining room at the end of which are French Windows. Usually, I arrive at the house after they have eaten, but should I ever be there earlier, Mrs. Moors lays a place for me. From the Moors I pick up a few Flemish words, such as Gloska for glass and Boska for boy, a name applied to the Moors long-haired terrier. Pat and I spend one evening a week at her house in ‘beauty treatment’. We rub cold or Nivea cream into our faces, we experiment with cosmetics, lipstick, rouge, powder, mascara, eye pencil. Pat has an eyelash curler, a machine resembling a safety razor, but the eyelashes are caught between two thick rubber bands which kink them upwards. I have always sprouted long lashes, my mother, when I was a child, often lying beside me in bed to Vaseline. She says to me "you have such lovely long lashes." Too modest to declare that, unlike Pat, I do not need the machine, I take my turn with it.
Several times a week, we go dancing - the Paramount in Tottenham Court Road, the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, the Lyceum in the Strand, Covent Garden where the floor tilts upwards at one end. A long line of girls and men in uniforms wait in the vestibule to be admitted. Dance-hall officials stand to one side to watch the line closely and I am always called out to show my identify card, to show that I am seventeen, the minimum age for admittance, for I remain small, skinny and under-developed. Pat, who is nine months younger than me and for some time only sixteen, is never called upon to prove her age! Once inside, the bright lights beckon, the wide floor invites and we hurry to pass our coats over the counter into the cloakroom. For safety, we stow our handbags in a second cloakroom where we can request them at any time. The couples move around the floor in a perpetual dance, widdershins, many of the girls dancing together, but looking around hopefully to catch the eye of one of the men made handsome by uniform:
we joke. We call dancing also ‘cutting a rug’. "You wanna cut a rug?"
I dance with Pat, she as the taller girl playing the male role, not too successfully. Quicksteps, waltzes... Sooner, or later, she will be asked to dance by a serviceman - maybe an airman to whom Churchill referred to in a different context as ‘one of the few’, and I am left sitting against the wall with a row of girls. All of us trying to appear as if we are merely resting between hectic dancing and are certainly not wallflowers!
Wallflowers: Fully to half-hardy. Grow in any fertile soil in an open position. Short-lived species are best treated as biennials."
If I am asked to dance, it is usually by a weedy youth not much taller than myself, not yet in uniform, possibly medically unfit. Stiffly, I move around the floor in a formal dance, worried that I might put a foot wrong and throw my companion out of step. Once more on my seat, I look across to Ivy Benson’s all girl band, dressed in long frocks, breathing out into the room lilting dance music. The slow smoochy tune: I’m in the mood for love, simply because you’re near me...or the quicker tempo: Don’t go walking down lover’s lane with anybody else but me, anybody else but me, anybody else but me, oh, no, no.... or the waltz: I’ll be with you in apple blossom time, I’ll be with you to change your name to mine, some day in May, I’ll come and say, happy the bride the sun shines on today... or the tango, Jealousy, which only a few can dance expertly, the rest of us watching couples bending and swaying: T’was all over my jealousy, my fault was my blind jealousy... But we sing a parody:
T’was all over my S O P,
He gave all his kisses to me
He was my lover
Now I am a mother
T’was all over my S O P.
(an S O P was a sleeping out pass for the services.)
Sometimes, an old-fashioned waltz to The Blue Danube or another Strauss waltz, quickens the pace and I close my eyes to see crinolines spinning and swaying as the dancers are swept up into the tempo. ‘In the Mood’ takes me into the jive age, when it is no longer necessary to sit out and wait to be asked to dance. Now I can dance alone, or perform at a short distance from Pat:
What ya doin’ tonight?
Hope you’re in the mood because
I’m feelin’ jus’ right... (52)
NO JITTERBUGGING, dance-hall notices command. Throwing your partner around, over your head, your shoulder... Managements do not want such dancing taking up space, making their customers run for cover as arms, legs, heads, swoop among them. The newspapers speak of dislocated and broken limbs. Jive is OK and is reintroduced some time after the war as ‘rock and roll’ as if only just invented.
And so I dance round and round and round, with Pat, a pimply youth, the occasional serviceman who picks me from the wall. Dance while the band plays on and I swirl around the crowded floor, dresses of blue, green, yellow, pink, swinging in time to the music, trousered legs in khaki, Airforce or Naval blue, leading the way. a bright spotlight touches our heads, steadying every now and then to illuminate a dancing couple. Sometimes, during the interval, an appeal is made for a banana for a sick child, for this fruit has not been in the shops for a very long time and as if by magic, someone will always come forward to present this fruit to a good cause.
In Europe, Jews, gypsies and others shut into the gas chambers, twitch their limbs involuntarily in a dance of death.
After the dance is over, Pat and I take the tube to Highgate, climbing up the steep hill to Muswell Hill Road. If we have missed the last bus, the 11.20 p.m., we walk to Pat’s house, where I leave her, and continue alone. Sometimes, I hear flying bombs overhead and listen to their drone, but I feel safe when I am on the move. I imagine that I can outpace them. On one of these evenings, I hear a landmine fall on Crouch End Broadway, the terrific crash and explosion shattering the night. However, when I lie helpless in my bed at night and hear the buzzing of a doodlebug overhead, I hold my breath while I wait for the engine to stop, for then it must fall. I stiffen in fear. I make the sign of the cross ‘just in case’ and pray, "don’t let it fall on this house", adding guiltily, "or on anybody’s house. Let it fall on open land":
When they sound the last all clear, how happy my darling will be
When they turn up the lights, and the dark stormy nights,
Are only a mem-o-ry.....(52)
None of the Lahrs use our Anderson shelter now, for I have better things to do in the evening than spend my time under its tin roof. And, anyway, the Pearce tragedy has shattered my faith in shelters. "If your name’s on a bomb, it will get you" is the general fatalistic opinion. Make hay while the sun shines!
The brightness of the West End beckons to Pat and me, bright although the neon lights have been switched off and shine to me now only as a memory. My father, pre-war, having called to me to turn and look at the signs shining high up on Piccadilly. The words of their advertising lost to me, for the letters were no more than separate shapes of colour. Although Ann, who was to become my friend, always referred to Cambridge Circus as ‘Damoroid’ Circus, because of the large neon sign which lighted had advertised this sexual stimulant. However, to Pat and me the West End remains bright even in the half-light, or dark, because of the crowds walking through, or gathering around its precincts. Some aimless, others going to, or coming from, theatres or restaurants. Pat and I join the throng, down Charing Cross Road and into Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue, the Haymarket. We walk with the crowds, chatting to one another vivaciously, laughing a lot. Pairs of American GIs wander among us or lean against buildings as if holding them up. For the Yanks are not only in the war, but on our streets. Before Pearl Harbour and after the fall of France, the cry had been ‘Britain stands alone!’. Then Hollywood offered moral support.
Chin up Tommy Atkins,
Be a stout fella,
Chin up, cheerio, carry on,
There’s a whole world behind you shouting
I first heard this song at the Garden City cinema, having first waiting outside to ask an adult to pretend that I was with her, and so take me into an ‘A’ film.
Now that the Americans are over here, sooner or later, one of a pair of GIs will chat us up, walking behind us, talking loudly, their remarks obviously addressed for our hearing. or sometimes they speak to us directly ‘hi ya gals, where ya goin?" We allow them to walk with us. Sex is not part of the programme, for we are ‘good’ girls and, anyway, would not risk an illegitimate pregnancy. Looked at coldly, sex frightens me, the thought of being entered presenting itself as an invasion. No, all Pat and I want is the excitement of talking with men in uniform, to be admired, to be recognised as adult women. At the dance-halls we rarely meet Americans, for their method of dancing in their own space is not acceptable to British dance-halls where the object is to keep moving around the floor. The GIs, unable to adapt to our ways, and with no homes to go to, spend their leisure time in the streets, watching the passing show and calling out to girls.
British servicemen are piqued because the GIs, wrapped in Hollywood glamour, giving out largesse and dressed in smart uniforms, are able to snap up the girls. The British sneer: "The only thing wrong with the Yanks is they’re over-sexed, over-paid and over here." To which the Americans reply: "The British are under-sexed, under-paid and under Eisenhower." General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces. The Americans said also, referring to the large, whale-shaped barrage balloons high in the sky and surrounding Britain "if you cut the ropes, the island would sink!" Of course, the Russians also are in the war, the Soviet Union having been invaded by the Nazis in June 1941. the Communist Party deciding overnight that this was no longer a capitalist war, but one against fascism. However, we never saw a Russian. They were not on our streets.
Sometimes, we go with two GIs into a crowded pub, but if we decide that they are not for us. That they might demand more than we are willing to give: might become difficult to handle, Pat, rolling her green eyes says "we’re going to powder our noses." Then we disappear towards the Ladies, only to exit quickly and run giggling along the busy street.
I guess my parents put up with a lot from me, and at times they must have worried that I would be caught by a bomb, or something almost as bad, and never come home at all. But I didn’t understand how they must have felt until I had teenage children of my own. But there was one occasion in which, in their eyes, I went too far: Pat’s older sister, ‘Goo’. her brother Douglas and Pat are going to Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, Leicester Square, for an evening meal, and they invite me to join them. ‘Goo’ who obtained her nickname as a baby because, like Pat, she has large green eyes "like gooseberries" says Pat, had been married. By coincidence, her husband was a son of the Gruhn bakery family, and Goo had met my Uncle Henry. The marriage had failed and she is now walking out with a widower, Luigi Polessi, Manager of the Savoy Grill. A further coincidence ordains that Polessi is to receive a bequest of £100 in the Will of my father’s customer Sir Louis Sterling. Sterling, who, when we were children, had sent our family hampers of food on high days and holidays. The Sterling Library at University College, London, holding Hanley’s letters and many others to, and from, my father.
The evening out at the Corner house may have been to celebrate Douglas’ return home from war work in the Midlands, where he had been billeted on a family in Erdington. From there he had sent letters home exaggerating the strangeness of the environment in which he had found himself, and claiming that a girl, whom he insisted was named Faith Doom, was attempting to get him to the altar. Douglas, fair-haired and of average height, had failed the medical for the Services, due to a lameness in one leg. "He cried when he was rejected" Pat says to me, her eyes big, her mouth drooping. The family’s eldest brother is a Chindit in Burma with Major Wingate. Although our party at the Corner House consists of the four of us only, one table among the midst of many, the orchestra playing, the bright lights shining, the sound of crockery clattering and cutlery clinking, waiters bustling to and fro, our laughter, our merriment and expansiveness fills the space, to blend with that of the people at surrounding tables, and soon our party grows. To our table we attract two more girls, a young man and on older man named ‘Jigger’. A funny ha-ha name, because at that time a loose three-quarter length coat, which I myself wore, was known as a ‘jigger’. And as Lyons Corner House is open all night, the evening passes without anyone calling "time!":
I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire... (50)
We have missed the last tube train and the last bus. We will have to walk home from Leicester Square to Muswell Hill. My alcoholic haze lifts for a moment and I say in consternation "what will my mother say! She’ll be worried!" "You’ll have to stay at our house" says Goo. I look round for a phone. We are not on the phone at home - very few people were in those days - but a blue police box stands at the top of Wilton Road in Colney Hatch Lane. I find a phone box and somehow get through to ask a policeman to go to 9 Wilton road and tell my mother that I have missed the last train and will stay the night with Pat. At long last we arrive at the Moors’ house, having sung and danced for the first part of the journey, linking arms like Judy Garland (as Dorothy) the cowardly lion (who shares my surname) and the tin man. "Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow..." kicking our legs and feet forward. But soon we grow tired and the walk becomes a trudge. When we arrive at Muswell Hill Road some time after 2 a.m. I feel as if I have made the Long March! But, as we creep slowly down the hill, I spy the figure of my father waiting outside the Moors’ house and as we draw nearer he begins to shout and gesticulate. When Mrs. Moors opens the front door, he growls at her. Unceremoniously and protesting that I can’t walk a further step, I am dragged back to 9 Wilton road! No doubt, when the policeman had knocked at the door, for one dreadful moment my parents had feared the worst. I was lying somewhere injured, or even dead! or perhaps they thought that once again they were to be shipped away for internment. But, my mother expresses her terror to me by saying "how could you tell a policeman you were spending the night with Pat! How could he know that wasn’t a man! Everyone will think you’re a bad girl!"
This doesn’t end my friendship with Pat and the Moors, but I am a little shame-faced when next I meet them. Pat is surprised at my parents’ reaction and especially that they blame her for leading me astray. For, as she says, her own mother always puts the blame squarely on her, and not on her friends. of course, my mother is critical of my friendship with Pat, as she has been of all my friends, and now I am almost grown up, she wants me to be at the centre of a group of intellectual or talented people. She cannot bear for me to follow the frivolous pursuits of teenage girls, my peer group.
Pat and I go often during the day at a weekend to a Lyons Corner House, in Coventry Street, in Tottenham Court road or at Marble Arch. There are truly people’s palaces with their large rooms lit by chandeliers, an orchestra playing, the musicians in dress suits, their melodies blending into the chatter of people around the white clothed tables waited on by tail-coated waiters. Table d’hote or a set meal. Occasionally, we go into the Salad Bowl where half-a-crown allows customers to help themselves to as much as they can eat from various large bowls of salads. Pat and I go back to snatch a second dessert of gateau also, although I suspect that this is not included in the price! Once we have been served with a meal, Pat looks around at the surrounding tables to spy out what is now called ‘talent’. having marked her quarry, she takes out a packet of cigarettes which she keeps for this purpose, and holding one between two fingers, sways over to the young man to ask breathlessly, her green eyes flashing, ‘have you got a light?" Sometimes, this takes us into conversation with the man, at other times it wins Pat a smile.
In the first floor self-contained flat in the Moors’ house lives Mrs. Mary Harris, together with a ten-year-old daughter Sylvie, brown-haired and brown eyed, and a blonde baby boy. Mary is somewhere in her thirties, has soft brown hair, an anxious expression, a retiring manner and the most crossed eyes I have ever seen. The pupils and irises twisted out of alignment. Her husband, a civil engineer, works away. "She says we will meet him" pat tells me "he does come home sometimes. But he doesn’t like the baby because it’s a boy." Pat frowns. "He only likes Sylvie and they have to keep the baby out of his way." I envision this woman’s dilemma. I see her moving a small child around from room to room, shushing his cries. What does she do if he cries at night? "She says it’s because her husband was married before and has two sons, horrible boys. that’s why her husband doesn’t like boys" says Pat seriously. To me this is drama and in my head, behind my eyes, an emotional Hollywood script is played out leading to a reconciliation between father and son, or sons!
Mary Harris is acquainted with several Norwegians in the RAF and billeted together in a large house in Highgate. Each of them bearing the designation ‘Norway’ on their shoulder tags. These blonde, bluff Norwegians, escaped from their Nazi-occupied country, for whom there is no tomorrow, who do not know when, if ever, they will return to their native land and, therefore, console themselves with heavy drinking and womanising. Although, it might be thought that one precludes the other. Mary invites me and Pat together with Goo to a party at the Highgate house, but Goo maintains a sharp eye on our drinking and she warns the Norwegians of Pat and my ages. For a time Pat is enamoured with a Norwegian named Olaf, pronounced ‘All off’, so that I quip "is it all on, or all off with Olaf!" But she is never alone with him. she can flirt with him only in the company of others.
"Olaf says how much Mary’s baby looks like the children in Norway" Pat says innocently, and something goes click in my head. It is not until some time after the war that I meet Pat and she tells me that family knew now that a Norwegian had fathered Mary Harris’ baby son. The affair long over, the man returned to Norway. "Her husband wasn’t mean to her" Pat says. "He was very good, he always gave her money." She is obviously annoyed at Mary’s deception. I ask after Sylvie. "Her father’s sent her to boarding school" Pat says. A few years later, I see Mrs. Harris and her son, now aged about fourteen, at Muswell Hill Broadway, walking close together, as if they are the only people in the world.
On to Hyde Park
Get You Back Home