As It Were by John Connolley, Part Five
At the zoo
So in two weeks' time off to Whipsnade.
Not a bad move. I really enjoyed it there. The accommodation
was a "bothy" cared for by a lady cleaner. Once again all
found. The wages of £1-10-0d (£1.50p) week were very
good for those times and I had one and a half days off each
week. Not, however, at the weekend. There was a French chef,
an Italian headwaiter, a German manager and Bob, my friend
from the Albermarle days. I was so pleased to see him again.
I quickly settled in and Bob soon had me doing the chips and
anything to go with them, meals. He introduced me to his girlfriend,
a waitress. and they introduced me to a racket. His
waitress friend would give me chits for the meals she ordered.
She would also expect me to supply meals occasionally without
a chit... should I work with them? Why not? Next to the Zoo
was the local pub, The Chequers. We met there most evenings
to share the spoils. Lou the waitress told me she had learned
the racket during her 'Nippy' days in the Lyons Corner Houses.
Time went on and, on my days off work, I used to go round
the enclosures and watch the animals or maybe a walk on the
downs to watch the gliders. Eventually I obtained a second-hand
bike and began to discover the locality. In the bakery department
was a fellow I knew very well. He had attended the same school
as me but he was a little older. "Do you go home?" he asked.
"No, it is rather difficult." "Not at all," said he. "Leave
Luton at 1pm and you are in Chesterfield by about 4pm. Leave
Chesterfield at 4pm the next day and you are in the bothy
by about 9pm." We arranged to go the following week. A nice
time was had by all. Mum and Dad went to the local with me
for a drink. Never a dull moment. The season was coming to
an end. What next?
Somewhere in Soho
Cheers Bob and Lou. See you here next year. But no, I soon
found another job on my return to London. It was in the kitchen
of Maples, the big furniture store. Maples supplied all their
shop assistants with lunch and tea. The kitchen staff of four
prepared the meals. I joined them. The accommodation was a
large house close by and cared for by an elderly couple. The
conditions of service were very reasonable.
I settled in and became friendly with a Scotsman. He was
a nice enough chap, but at the time no one knew he was a deserter
from the Army. We spent a lot of time together and discovered
much about the Big City. He knew the ropes. Often we would
be walking down a street in the West End and a "floozy"
would join us. "Are you looking for a nice time?"
Jock's reply was, "not at your price dearie." "But
I could make it short and sweet." "No." A cursing
would follow. I was learning! I was glad to be on the same
side as Jock. Time was passing and I seemed to settle into
my present position, for the time being anyway. Another Christmas
came and went. Not so lonely this time round.
Jock decided he was going to celebrate the New Year. I told
him I was not into serious drinking. No spirits whatsoever.
"OK, have your pint and watch I don't get into trouble."
We had already told the housekeeper we would
be out late and she agreed, as it was a 'special night'.
We were doing fine until Jock said we were going into this
pub. He said it would open my eyes to the seamy side of London.
It was somewhere in Soho. It certainly did open my eyes. The
occupants today are known as gays. Oh la la. There was not
a female in the bar but, oh, the kissing and cuddling that
went on. One 'nice' boy tried it on but Jock said, "he's
mine deary," with a sly wink. We drank up and when we
got outside Jock said to me. I hate the b..... sight of those
guys." Such is life!
Time went on. The IRA was knocking hell out of the underground
and big shop windows. Jock and I spent a Sunday night or two
listening to the soap box orators just inside Hyde Park gates
at Marble Arch. If we did not fancy walking back a 9d taxi
ride would get us there. No tip. An occasional visit to the
'flicks' took place; the Odeon, Leicester Square or the Dominion,
Tottenham Court Road. We did go to the Hammersmith Palais
a time or two, but Jock was no dancer. So ended another year.
Now, though, there were murmurings of war.
Quite a number of strangers, young lads asking the way to
Waterloo station en-route to Aldershot. Call-ups were taking
place. At work, a fellow who was in charge of the directors
(meals) service room left and I was asked to replace him.
A cushy job but I had to be on my toes. I had to help the
waitress with keeping the dining room up to scratch, and then
at 11.30am go to the fruit room with the manageress to select
the fruit for the day. There was a dumb waiter, and the waitress
and I kept it busy during the lunch hour and teatime. The
chef brought the menu in and I sent it down in a presentable
manner. The waitress asked me if I drank beer. "Oh yes."
Thereafter a jug of beer came up daily at lunchtime. Must
get to know that girl.
Summertime was approaching. Do I move on? I managed to get
a date with Ivy, the waitress. She was a nice lassie. We went
on a Sunday evening walk or two to Primrose Hill via Regents
Park. However, the urge to move on became dominant.
A visit to Mr Marks again. "Yes, I have a situation if
you wish." This hotel, which I have completely forgotten
the name of, was in Swanage in Dorset. I said my goodbyes
to friends and was on my way. It was June 1st 1939 and the
headline news that day referred to the sinking of the submarine
I was assistant cook in charge of vegetables and breakfasts
at the hotel. Not a bad job at all. Most of my off-duty time
was spent on the beach very close to the hotel. The weather
was absolutely glorious. All was going well. It was July,
I was standing on the front one day and a guest drove up
in his car. "Son, would you like to wash my car? I know
you work here. Have you got the time?" "Yes sir,
I have the time." I washed the car and it looked a picture.
"Thank you." A £2 tip. "By the way, do
you back horses?" "Only if they are certain to win."
"Right, this one will win." It was Lovers Fate running
in the 3 o'clock race the next day. It duly won and I was
over £35 better off. Without giving any further thought
I gave a week's notice and returned to London. I was interested
in that girl Ivy.
I soon found a bedsit in Dean Street, close to Maples. It
was 10/- per week and pay your own gas bill. It suited me
fine. Now I needed a job. I heard that Maples bedding factory
had just received a huge Army order for 'biscuits'. That was
the term given to the mattresses used by the troops. I was
set on straight away. Now I had to find Ivy. Yes, she was
keen to continue our friendship but the war news was becoming
serious. I had to think about it. Our friendship developed
but we both realized that we would certainly part if war broke
out, and so our friendship remained just that.
That Sunday morning in September found me, for some reason,
down Euston Road when suddenly the sirens started wailing.
I followed other people who seemed to know where they were
going. They led me to a shelter in St Pancras railway station.
After a short while everyone seemed to accept that it was
a try out and not the real thing. My mind was made up. I would
spend the rest of the day with Ivy and later on catch a train
for home. No, not running away. I was just making sure that
I would be with my folks for a while.
After lunch Ivy and I went for a stroll round Regents Park.
We both decided it would be better if we went our separate
ways because it was fairly evident that this war was going
to upset life as we knew it. We said goodbye at about 9pm.
We agreed to write occasionally. I knew she lived in Bridhurst,
Kent, but I mislaid her address and that was the end of our
Goodbye London - it was nice knowing you. My train left St
Pancras about 10pm but, owing to goodness only knows what,
did not reach Chesterfield until 7am the next day.
I reached home and after a little chat Mum cooked me a lovely
breakfast. Boy, was I hungry. After five or six years I was
back with 'my ain folk', but for how long? We would see. Things
were much better at home now. One or two of my siblings had
flown the nest. Dad and my sister Margaret were both working
and the good old, bad old days seemed just a memory.
It was with a light heart and step that I set off for the
employment exchange next morning. They sent me to a railway
wagon makers' company, and I was immediately taken on. I started
work the next day. The work was labouring, and I found it
hard work compared to the easy life I had just left. I was
determined to stick to it though. The hours were 7.30am until
5 or 6pm. The wages were £2-10-0d (£2.50p) per
So life went on and just as I was settling down, in December,
I received a letter from HM Government. "Appear at the
drill hall in Boythorpe Road to undergo a medical prior to
entering the Army." It was January 1st, New Year's Day.
My dad said, "John, with your eyesight they will not
take you." They did, and in no time at all. On January
6th I was off to Leeds for induction in HM's Army.
As the train passed through the station it also passed by
the wagon yard and quite a number of my workmates gave a grand
wave. When would I see them again? On the train heading in
the same direction were the Robinson twins who were at school
with me. Life was not so lonely after all. We had a good natter
about days gone by. We tried to guess which branch of the
service we may be put into. Leeds here I come.
|As It Were - Part 6 (to be continued