Looking for a Husband
Dad and Mam often took Momma to the cinema when there was a film they thought she would like. Momma really enjoyed these outings and I didn't mind looking after the shop while they went.
One day Mam and Momma were dressed ready to go and Dad didn't come home until it was too late. To make matters worse he was drunk.
His eldest sister, named May at birth but in later years called herself Maisie, had warned him against drink as she said alcoholism ran in the family. I don't know whether she based this on their father being a drunkard or if she knew something of their grandparents but it seems Dad went through a period when he let drink get the better of him. I was really shocked at him letting Momma down.
With the Americans gone I started dancing at the Palais again. I had various boy friends - one I remember was named Jack. I met him at a party at Barbara's. I recall wearing a green blouse I had made myself. It had a rather revealing sweetheart neckline and Jack said he would not take me wearing that.
Needless to say, I didn't change the blouse and we did go dancing. My ex fiancé, Fred was there with Nella his new girl friend. Her neckline was far more daring than mine.
Some time later Fred asked me to meet him as he had something important to tell me. I liked his Nella and I assumed he wanted to tell me he was getting married.
To my surprise, he asked if there was any chance, if he waited, that we could get together again. He looked so miserable that if I hadn't had my heart set on the first Fred I might have weakened but as it was I told him no. He then said he was going to marry and emigrate to Canada where he had an uncle. I was so relieved I didn't want him haunting my life. We parted with a kiss.
In 1946 Dad asked if Barbara would come and stay to help run the shop while he and Mam went on holiday. He said we could close at nine and at twelve midday on Sunday. I think one of Mam's sisters must have been working and the other had recently had her first baby. Barbara stayed with me and at night after we had closed the shop, we had to cook the ice-cream ready to freeze the following day. I don't think Dad had anticipated us being busy since it was the middle of the month when few people had sweet points left but we had a heat wave and ice cream sales soared.
We were so tired we ate baked beans straight out of the tin to save washing up and we still ran out of pots.
Cousin Joyce went to America in 1946 and I felt very sad. I liked her husband Rex but I couldn't see her being happy so far from her home and family although I knew she had always quarrelled a lot with her brothers.
My life was turned upside down when I heard Momma was in hospital! My Aunt Helene, the youngest of the sisters came in tears to tell us, before going to Aspley to let the rest of the family know.
Every one was deeply concerned; the sisters gathered at our house to discuss what was to be done about Granddad. He could not, of course be expected to fend for himself. It was decided to care for him on a rota basis with someone sleeping there every night. It was suggested I was old enough to take a share.
Aunt Violet refused; she had young children who couldn't be left. Aunt Rose worked in a pub at night but she offered to take his washing as she had a washing machine; Aunt Cis, Uncle John's wife, said she would alternate with the washing. Aunt Jenny couldn't help as she had a heart condition. In the end only three of us were left to provide in house care. Mam, Aunt Helene and me.
A rota was agreed and everything settled until Dad came home from work. "You can't leave the poor boggar on his own," he said.
The "sitting room" above the shop was turned into a bed-sit, and Granddad moved in. I admired Dad's prompt action but it was Mam and I who bore the brunt for Granddad was not a man easy to please.
Food supplies were still very restricted; we had dried egg, snoek and whale meat. None of my family liked whale meat it had a peculiar fishy taste. Dried egg wasn't too bad but a bit pasty. I really enjoyed snoek on toast with dried egg but the rest of the family didn't care for it. Granddad now had all the fresh eggs we could get. I wouldn't have dared to serve dried egg to him.
He was very fond of omelettes but maintained that they could not be made with less than six eggs and eggs were still in short supply. Nor could he be fooled. I tried to satisfy him with a three-egg omelette but he declared the result to be overcooked even though the yolks in the centre were still liquid.
Aunt Cis (John's wife) and Aunt Rose visited on alternate weeks to collect his laundry and Uncle John, the eldest son, climbed the stairs to share a drink with him. I don't recall any of the others visiting him.
A greater shock came after Momma's operation for a twisted hernia- she had an inoperable cancer. There were many tears shed and horror expressed. Helene said Granddad had done it when she had received a kick aimed at the dog. She also told them that Momma was still having "the curse," and that she had begged her more than once to see the doctor.
Granddad had chronic bronchitis and suffered a great deal of pain. He asked the doctor to put him out of his misery. His health deteriorated so badly that towards the end he could not wipe his own bottom. As compensation he became less irascible and although he often had me in tears over the inadequacy of my cooking (for which I received no support from Momma, although she never complained herself) we developed a rapport and he told me many stories of his background.
From Granddad I heard the details of his courtship and how the Pope had granted Momma dispensation to marry him provided they promised to bring their children up as Catholics. He had been prepared to agree to this but when he discovered he must attend confession before marriage, he refused.
Why, as an atheist, he couldn't have paid lip service to this is beyond my comprehension. However, they were married in a civil ceremony and after the ceremony the women of the red light area stoned them. He laughed as he recalled sweeping Momma in his arms and running to the awaiting carriage. He had been contracted to a girl prostitute promising to take her out of the brothel, an arrangement which seems very strange to English minds but which was apparently quite common in France.
I can't remember when Fred came home but I know I thought my future settled so I was surprised and hurt that all our rendezvous were with a gang. All his old friends with their various girl friends met at the Barley Mow and he never seemed to want to go anywhere else.
He did linger over goodnight kisses and once told me, "You're not pretty but you've got something."
I pretended to be cross and thanked him coldly. That annoyed him he obviously thought he had paid me a great compliment.
"Christ what do you want me to say? You're not perfect."
I knew that the "something" was sex appeal or "oomph" as we called it in those days but I'd known that since I was fourteen and found no satisfaction in one more lad recognising it. Of course, I wanted him to say he loved me, but he never did.
One of the girls said she was engaged to one of his friends but when I mentioned it to Fred he said she was kidding herself for the fellow in question was already engaged to someone else. I told her and Fred was furious with me.
Things didn't go well from the start. I had gone to a lot of trouble to get one of the youngsters at work to queue for cup final tickets for me. I thought all men were football mad. Fred wasn't impressed, he came with me but made it clear he wasn't keen. Moreover, he didn't see me home.
We had a terrible winter; the snow came in January 46 and lasted through until March only to be followed by floods.The buses stopped running and some days I walked to work so I could no longer get home for lunch. Granddad had to make do with sandwiches and have a cooked meal at night.
One day the factory floor was flooded and we had no heating in the lab. The boss brought in a paraffin stove. It was a round black stove that gave out very little heat. By the time we were allowed to go home the path by the canal was flooded. I saw a man looking into the water. "I reckon there's "summat" in that bag," he said.
I looked where he was pointing to a sack caught up in some flotsam. There was something moving inside it and a faint mewing sound could just be heard. I got my shoes sodden but with the aid of a stick I managed to get it out. It was a kitten. I was on my bike so I put it in the back carrier and rode to the P.D.S.A. Unfortunately nothing could be done for it, it was badly ruptured.
Whether it was my distress made me careless or the motorist was in too much of a hurry, I'm not sure but I had an accident on the way home. I wasn't greatly hurt but my face was grazed and my finger sprained. I was taken to the General Hospital and after treatment I had to walk home as I had left my purse in my bike carrier bag and I had no money for bus fare. The Nottingham Evening Post reported the accident in one line, which said I'd hurt my little finger.
Fred read the report and roared with laughter. He neither expressed nor, I'm sure, felt any concern for my trauma. Fortunately the Transport and General Workers" Union, of which I was a member was more sympathetic and they managed to squeeze £30 out of the driver's insurance for damage to the bike and for pain and suffering.
It doesn't sound much but it paid for a new bike. I bought a Raleigh bike with three speed gears and a dynamo. It was a mistake! The bike was so heavy, I didn't understand the gears and I had been far happier with my old bike that had no refinements.
My twenty-first birthday brought matters to a head with Fred. I had a party in the "sitting room" on the previous Saturday.
Momma was still in hospital so Granddad was moved to the small upstairs bedroom for the night. I took Fred up to see him and saw his face register disgust. Granddad must have appeared a poor neglected old man sitting on a hard wooden chair beside the bed that was pushed up to the wall. A spittoon sat in the hearth and the chamber pot had been used. I suppose Fred couldn't understand why he hadn't been taken downstairs but it would have been too much for him to climb back up to go to bed nor was he in any condition to use the outside toilet.
I had invited all my current boy friends to the party hoping to announce my engagement but instead of a ring, he bought me a locket. Foolishly, I asked whose photo I should put in it. He muttered, "I can see I nearly made a big mistake."
As we said good night, he asked if I was going out on my actual birthday, to which I replied tartly that I was hardly likely to be staying in. Apparently, my birthday fell on the day of the week that he usually took his mother to the pictures.
I suppose I should have said bring her too but it didn't occur to me, how could it? I had never known my brother to take mother out. I said not to worry as I was sure I would find someone to take me out. The upshot was he took me to the pictures but I sensed I had blown it. As we said goodnight I told him, "The next time you chuck me there will be no coming back, I shall get married."
"I'll never marry," he said. "I've promised never to leave Mother and two women can never share a kitchen."
I didn't believe either statement. I hadn't read Lawrence's Sons and Lovers then and had never known a mother-ridden lad.
I can't remember whether that was our last meeting but soon after he left me again. At least this time I was waiting at home instead of in the street. It seems strange that now I cannot remember clearly an event that ended the relationship but although I was hurt and disappointed I think in a way, I was relieved. The heartache was there but as Grandma Allen said, "As one door closes another opens." I have never been one for looking back. Besides Harry was home and had promised to take me dancing.
Dad said Fred would be back when all his friends were married but Mam said I'd be a fool to wait. I'm sure she was right for I knew of a girl who had been engaged for ten years to a fella who in the end threw her over to marry a girl of sixteen, besides which, I wanted "Love. 'Of course, I knew I would never love anyone else the way I loved Fred but I believed I could make any man happy as long as he loved me. I never entertained the idea of staying single because I wanted babies and for that a husband was necessary.
It was several months before Momma was due for discharge from the hospital. I was filled with disgust and disbelief when I discovered that not one of her daughters was prepared to take her in. They all said they could cope with her if they had the room but were not prepared to take Granddad. They knew, of course, she would never consent to be parted.
I wished then, with all my heart, that I was married with a home of my own to offer, as it was I could only offer to take a share in the rota system.
Once again Dad stepped in. There were tears in his eyes as he lambasted the family. She had been the best mother in all the world, carrying them all through the depression. Caring for the grandchildren - he was choked. Without any delay or discussion with Mother, he fetched Momma home.
Mam wasn't best pleased. She didn't see how she was to cope with running a home and the shop, preparing extra meals and caring for an invalid.
"Joan will help," Dad said.
Momma had a colostomy and her womb was totally external. For a while, the district nurse came in to attend to her but Momma was not happy about this and asked me if I could do it for her. Fortunately, my firm was very flexible about hours.
When I first started at the lab, I worked eight thirty until six on weekdays finishing at one on Saturdays, but after the director owner took to sleeping on the premises he told me to come in later as the lab was above his bedroom. He was a heavy drinker and liked to sleep in, so there was no problem in attending to her and giving them both their breakfast before I went to work.
At this time we didn't have a bathroom so water for washing Granddad and Momma had to be carried upstairs. Dad applied for a licence to build a bathroom over the kitchen but both grandparents were dead before permission was granted.
I had been used to eating a snack in the lab at lunchtime, poached or boiled egg cooked in a beaker, baked beans, or colwick cheese; now I took a longer lunch and worked later in the evening.
Harry came home at the beginning of May and he took me to a church hall dance at Sandon Street. At first I was delighted but it became clear his motive was to introduce me to his girl friend.
However, with Harry home things became easier since he could help in the shop while Mam attended to the grandparents and so I had my first holiday without my parents.
Barbara and I went to Torquay. The landlady had no idea how to feed two healthy young girls and used the excuse of rationing to serve us with half a sausage each on half a slice of toast for breakfast and yet she would put a whole cake on the table every day at teatime. We were so hungry we put the cake into our handbags to eat the following day.
To be fair, food was in shorter supply than than during the war and bread had been rationed since July '46 but it was a mystery where she got her supplies for the cakes.
Once again we met a couple of fellas who should have served in the forces, perhaps they were on demob leave. They lived in the area and gave us a great time and when we were late back one night and the landlady locked us out (she insisted no decent girl should be out after ten o'clock) they banged and shouted until she let us in. The next day she threatened to write to our mothers if it happened again.
We were twenty-one years old and I got very merry on scrumpy. One night to prove I was sober I walked along the harbour wall. The next day I was horrified to see the sheer drop below.
We both wrote to these fellas and arranged to meet them in London. Aunt Gladys obligingly put us up, they stayed in a hotel. I think we met them a couple of times in London and I was presented with a ring although I refused to consider it an engagement ring.
I had a skirmish with my fella but managed to dampen his ardour with a fit of giggles. After that weekend, he wrote a strange letter breaking it off. As I had not considered it "on', I wasn't upset. I thought the ring had been a ploy to have his way with me.
My school friend Barbara and I talked about getting a flat together but flats were in short supply and we couldn't have afforded it anyway.
Granddad's death, when it came, was easy. He asked for the pill left by the doctor, with a warning of the possible consequence, and slipped away in his sleep. (11/12/1947)
Until Granddad died, Momma rose from her bed each day to fuss over him. After he died, she stroked his head, murmured poor Johnny. She was moved into the small bedroom and she never got up again.
All her married life Momma had let Grandpa dictate to her so everyone was surprised when she said he was to be buried. His request had been for cremation but Momma believed in resurrection of the body, so it could not be destroyed.
Grandpa was buried at Bulwell Cemetery (ref10-xx15) in the plot where Alice was buried.
Momma was bitterly disappointed that the insurance she had saved wouldn't pay for a headstone. The aunts contributed towards an engraved flowerpot. Later Helen had the marble curbs placed round the grave and the area filled with white chippings.
I can't remember anything about the funeral but I think I stayed at home to prepare the funeral feast.
Momma died three months later. She had an agonising death, refusing to take painkillers and fighting for every last breath.
During the summer of 1947, I spent a lot of time in pubs. A friend of Barbara's, named Joyce, who was also at a loose end joined me in taking the bus out to various village pubs at the weekends. In the week we went to whichever town pub was open for there was a beer shortage and the pubs opened on different nights.
It was on a night out to a country pub with Joyce that I was subjected to an attempted rape. We had been drinking with a couple of fellas who seemed like nice country folk when we said we had to leave to catch the bus. They said there was a later train and that the station was just ten minutes walk away across the field.
As we were crossing the field, they attacked us. It must have been planned for we hadn't stopped for a cuddle or anything like that. I was terrified for I never imagined anything like this. I had always been careful not to let a fella get too excited even in town. I wouldn't have dreamt of going on a park with a stranger. My friend was made of sterner stuff, I don't know what she had in her handbag, but she wielded it with devastating effect first on her own assailant, then on mine. While they were wondering what had hit them we ran. They didn't follow and there was no train.
We decided to hitch and the gods must have been watching over us for the car we stopped held an old school fellow and her Dad.
Soon after this, Joyce became a Jehovah's Witness and I lost a friend.
Then I met a marine. I can't even remember his name, or where I met him.He was the antithesis of everything I was looking for but my head reeled under his kisses. (With Fred excitement at the thought of meeting him again was a matter of butterflies in the stomach and trembling at the knees) The Marine took me home to meet his parents. They lived in one of the poorest parts of the city in a little cottage that gleamed and sparkled with brass.
His father had an allotment where he grew magnificent dahlias and unlike any other parents I had met, they thought I was wonderful. They told all their friends and neighbours how clever I was and that I was a "grammar school girl" and his father gave me a huge bunch of dahlias.
I found their warmth wonderful but at the same time embarrassing. They were so eager to welcome me into the family and although I told them we had only known one another a few weeks, they insisted I was the girl for their lad.
In my heart, I knew he wasn't what I wanted. I had set my heart on a man who went to work in a suit, wore a collar and tie, and had clean nails. I had never really believed in "the world well lost for love" fairy tale. Dad had always said "When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out through the window," and that made sense to me.
Dad had been besotted with Mother before they married and yet the only time I saw them kiss was when he returned from convalescence at Stoke Mandeville. And I never saw my grandparents kiss. Nevertheless I might have found myself deeply involved save for an incident which shocked me into metaphorically "hitching up my skirts and running away."
I had often heard talk of "gigolos" and Dad roundly condemned any man who would ask a woman for money and my Marine did. He asked to borrow ten bob. (50p in present day terms) I had no objection to paying my share of nights out and in fact always stood my round with service men as I knew I earned more than they did.
I had been paying my board ever since my brother Harry had returned from the forces, which still left me with money in my pocket. More money than I could spend as I was able to buy supposedly "second hand" clothes from a little boutique specialising in coupon free models.
The owner was a small very ugly Jewess. She wore loads of make-up and very bright clothes. She made me feel uncomfortable by her extravagant flattery but I think her heart was in the right place. I remember buying a black suit with horizontal stripes; I must have looked like a bumblebee!
My Marine made the request as we were saying good night and all the warning bells rang. I gave him a ten-shilling note but when we reached my doorstep I put the key in the door before telling him I wouldn't see him again.
He knew why with out explanation and offered the note back, insisting he would have paid me back and begging me to reconsider but I didn't stop to argue and left him on the door step.
My heart was thumping wildly but any regret I felt was that in giving him up I had also to give up his Mum and Dad.
Barbara's haunted my youth. My next pal was another Barbara (W) she was the daughter of someone my parents met in the pub.
We began to meet at the Trip to Jerusalem, Monday and Thursday, my night school nights. Bodies like sardines in a can squashed up from bar to the door where there stood a brass nude the boobs polished lovingly by many lascivious hands. In the tiny room on the right the piano belted out war time melodies played by Bob a round-faced middle-aged man who passed round a green velvet bag for his wife and ten kids. When the Yanks came, he made a fortune.
We drank pints since there would not have been time to fight our way to the bar twice. Closing time was ten o'clock but sometimes they ran out of beer at nine. When they were open until closing time the last tune was "Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye" which was sung with many a tear laden eye.
Barbara didn't dance so going to pubs was our only entertainment. I met several fellas at this time, each one I coldly studied as a potential husband. Time was no longer on my side and I didn't intend to waste it going out with anyone who had no chance of fitting the bill.
However, a confession Barbara made, reminded me of something I had known and forgotten. She went away with a man who had proposed to her. He took her home supposedly to meet his parents but on arrival at his home, she found they were alone. He persuaded her to go to bed with him to make sure they were compatible. The next morning he threw her out because she wasn't a virgin.
I decided then that if I found a man I wanted to marry I would have sex before we wed. Not only because I knew he would not believe I had ruptured my hymen on the back of a cinema seat but also because I didn't want to marry anyone who saw sex as the most important part of marriage.
I wanted someone I could laugh and joke with and who could hold a conversation. The problem was opportunity for I felt love making in a park or against an entry wall too sordid for romance and even if I could go to a hotel they demanded your identity cards. But above all, I wanted to be loved for myself not just for my body.
Sexually I was either immature or frigid. I had indulged in plenty of petting but can honestly say I was never tempted except by curiosity. At sixteen I longed for kisses that would make me swoon with delight and passion that would sweep me off my feet but the nearest I got to actual sex was from the printed word.
I listened with disbelief when my friend said she lost all her will to resist when fellas stroked her nipples. Lads had surreptitiously groped my nipples since fourteen years of age, on top of my clothes of course, but even later, when hands reached inside it did nothing for me.
I would have liked to get away from home for I didn't get on with Mother and Dad still made rules about the time I had to be in and he waited up for me. He paid no attention to the time Harry came home but bolted the door without checking whether he was in.<
Comments powered by CComment