Monday, 29 September 2008


Sorry my next blog is a bit delayed. I am not too well at the moment, but will be back as soon as I feel better.

Thursday, 25 September 2008


The Government ran a scheme whereby people from Briton could apply to be shipped out to Australia for the nominal sum of ten pound per head. This would not only boost the population, workforce and future economy of Australia, but also ease the great burden of trying to re-house thousands of families in the UK after the war.
Emigration was very popular during the post war period. For ten pounds, you could make a brand new start in a brand new country. Of course, there were a few ground rules laid down by the powers-that-be. All applicants had to have someone in Australia ready to sponsor him or her and find them accommodation, prior to arrival. Another condition was that your trade or profession had to be one of those listed by Australia House. It was pretty easy to find someone who had a friend or relative in Aussie-land to help with sponsorship. And since Dad’s trade, building and decorating, appeared on the list, there was no problem. Dad got caught up in the excitement of it all, and he and Mum went along to Australia House to get forms and details. There were booklets to read and films about all aspects of life in Australia.

Arthur and I were very worried about it all. We couldn’t bear to be parted, but neither of us wanted to lose our family. The problem seemed to be insoluble and we could think of nothing else.
On the evening of August 22d 1949, three months before my eighteenth birthday, Arthur and I decided to go to one of out favourite places: Jack Straw’s Castle, a pub adjoining Hampstead Heath. We would sometimes go there for a glass of cider before walking on the heath. It was a beautiful, balmy, summer’s evening and we sat in the long grass talking of Dad’s plan to leave England, and watching birds hopping around in the trees. Suddenly, Arthur turned to me.
‘Would you marry me?’ he said.
I had been waiting and hoping for this moment for weeks and had rehearsed in my mind several romantic responses. Now, faced with the big question, all I could blurt out was: ‘I might if you asked me.’
‘I am asking you,’ he replied. ‘Will you marry me?’
I said ‘Yes’ we kissed, and then caught cloud nine disguised as a number 210 bus home.

Jack Staw's Castle where I was proposed to.
We decided not to say anything to out parents, but to start saving for an engagement ring. During the next month or so, all Dad’s thoughts of Australia were forgotten, like so many of his ideas that had gone before. The panic was over!
As a matter of fact, this was the second time that fate almost had me wrapped up and bundled down-under.
After I left school and before I started work, Daddy had yet another business partner, called Bert. He had a young brother called Joe, who was rather sweet on me. Joe was a very nice lad who happened to be a blonde. I had a ‘thing’ about blonde men: I didn’t like them. They tended to have pale eyebrows and eyelashes and look a bit insipid I thought. Nevertheless we went out a couple of times together and he wanted to buy me a new record, just released, called ‘Dance Ballerina, Dance’. Poor Joe, he didn’t really stand a chance with me. I hated this song so much that I wouldn’t let him buy me a copy, under any circumstances. Goodness knows why I didn’t just graciously accept his gift and never play it. Because of his insistence that I accept this gift of a stupid record, I gave him the brush off.

Anyway, I learned later from Bert that Joe had joined the Merchant Navy, jumped ship in Australia, and was doing very well as a sheep farmer. Just think: had I liked that rotten record, I might have turned out to be ‘Sheila the sheep-farmer’s wife’ in Australia!

To be cont…

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


The following February, our dancing teacher announced that the school would be holding a Valentine’s Day Dance in the upstairs banqueting hall of the Nightingale Pub that adjoined the school.
Arthur asked me if I would like to go, I said yes, and the tickets were bought. I met him inside the dance hall: this was our first proper date. We spent the entire evening dancing with each other. From then on we were known as a pair and always partnered each other at dancing lessons.
We started going out together every night and I took him home to meet the family. Mummy liked Arthur straight away and they very quickly became friends. She would have endless discussions with him on all sorts of subjects, and he found her a joy to be with.
We courted all through the long, hot, summer, spending many happy hours lounging on the grass at Hampstead Heath, walking around Virginia Waters and Epping Forest, and sitting in the grounds of Alexandra Palace. Life was wonderful and I couldn’t imagine it being any better. Then the fickle finger of Dad’s mad ideas struck again!
We had been ‘going out’ for several weeks, and Arthur was now almost a member of the family. Although he had previously had no dealings with little children, he took to our tribe like a duck to water. Even Gillian, the seventh and last of Mum and Dad’s children, at that time a small baby sitting in a cot, used to get the occasional poke in the tummy to make her laugh.
During all these weeks Arthur had never taken me home to meet his family. I knew they existed: father, mother, brother, sister-in-law and niece: but I had never met them. Every time I asked, he would reply that his family wasn’t like ours, and he never told his family much about his private life. This was good enough for me, I loved and trusted Arthur and knew he would ‘take me home’ when he was good and ready. Dad had other ideas, and being Dad, boy, were they bizarre! Because Arthur said he lived near Stoke Newington, a largely Jewish area and, because of the shape of his nose, Dad had it all worked out. He was convinced that Arthur was Jewish, married with several children, and I was his bit on the side! ‘You mark my words! He’s of the Jewish faith, and married with a family ’ said Dad. ‘He’s not going to make a fool out of me. I know what he’s up to. I’m a man and I was young once.’ When Mum and I laughed at him and told him he was being silly, he got even angrier. I told Arthur what Daddy was saying, and he couldn’t believe it. Of course, once he knew Dad a lot better, he could believe it!
Arthur now had the choice of not seeing me again, creating a bad atmosphere with Mum and Dad, or letting me meet his family. Of course, he chose to take me home to tea.
Mrs Chapman has prepared a traditional British Sunday tea, consisting of ham salad, fruit and cream, and homemade cake. When I arrived in the new dress bought especially for the occasion, there was Mr. and Mrs, Chapman, Arthur’s elder brother Bill, Bill’s wife Jean, and their little girl Wendy, all waiting to see what I looked like. We spent a few hours in strained chitchat, and then Arthur said we had to go. They seemed like nice people and I couldn’t for the life of me see why he had kept them and me a secret for so long. At last I could reassure Daddy that his eldest daughter’s new boyfriend wasn’t a bigamist, mass murderer or bank robber, but just a fine boy who he would learn to become very fond of.
Everything was chugging along very nicely for Arthur and I, when Dad had his next crazy idea. He and Mum had been idly chatting about life’s prospects, when they started to wonder what it would be like living in another country. Not having any ready money made this conversation a little like a ‘what we would do if we won the pools’ discussion, until the subject of Australia reared it’s head.

To be continued…

Thursday, 18 September 2008


During this period of my life, I was getting very frustrated at work and wanted to become a full time telephonist; not just a relief operator to stand in when Molly wanted to go to lunch or to the loo. At the time, this seemed a big decision to take and I was rather scared. But I went for it, and changed my job.
My new position was with a company called Williams Bros. They were very big in those days, rather like the Co-op. They had stores all over London and the Home Counties and owned chains of butcher’s shops, greengrocers, florists, grocers and furniture stores.
I was employed by them as a telephonist/receptionist, and loved being in charge of the switchboard all day. The pay was three pounds five shillings (£3.25), ten shillings (50p) more than my last job. Now that Dad was working and I didn’t have to give the whole of my wage packet to Mum, I felt quite rich. Each morning I would by a daily paper on the way to work, and each evening buy the Evening Standard to read on the bus journey home. This really was the working girl’s world!
Payday was always the day that I loved because it was on that day that I could buy Mummy and the children their weekly treats. The ritual was always the same, every Friday night, until I left home.
Firstly, I would go into the local cake-shop and buy Mummy two ‘Melting Moments’. These were little cakes in paper cases that truly did melt in your mouth as you ate them, and Mum loved them. Then, I would make my way to the sweetshop and buy an assortment of sweets, so that each of my brothers and sisters received a collection of sweets for themselve I don’t recollect Dougie or Billy’s reactions, but I can still picture Sandie, Tina and Babs jumping up and down with excitement, hands flapping at their sides, as they shouted ‘Treat day! Treat day! when I walked through the kitchen doorway.
They are all middle-aged ladies now, but I bet that they too can still remember those Fridays.
It was about this time that I gave up my amateur dramatics. Although I still enjoyed my hobby, my life was getting busier and I had lots of other things to occupy my time, such as going to Maurice Jay’s School of Dancing twice a week. No time for learning lines and dress rehearsals now!
I loved my job, loved my new dancing classes, and loved my new- found dreamboat.


When each Saturday night came around, I would curl my hair with dozens of small metal ‘Dinky’ hair-curlers (rollers hadn’t been invented yet), put on my ‘war-paint’ and, don my three inch, high-heeled, silver, dancing shoes and catch the trolley-bus to Maurice Jay’s School of Dancing in Wood Green.
One of the hit records of the time was by a band (the word ‘group’ would not be invented until years later) called Pee-Wee Hunt, and was entitled ‘Twelfth Street Rag’. This was our favourite record for dancing the quickstep to. Although we weren’t yet officially going steady, no matter who we were dancing with, Arthur and I would always get together as soon as this tune came on. Before I became Arthur’s girl, I went out and bought ‘Twelfth-Street Rag’ so that I could play it at home and dream about him. I still have this same original 78rpm recording that I purchased sixty-one years ago! It’s one of my most treasured mementoes.

By the time we left Maurice Jay’s, the last bus had usually departed. Arthur, myself and another girl called Jean would start the long trek home on foot. I lived the nearest, so Arthur and Jean would bid be farewell at the bottom of my road and the two of them would continue on until he dropped Jean off at her house.

I was still working hard to get him to myself, and was now halfway there. After a couple of weeks, I successfully persuaded him that two was company and three a crowd! From then on, he only took me home. This was wonderful as we then had plenty of time to talk. I would walk along beside him, my arm tucked lightly through his, his hand deep in his raincoat pocket. How I longed for him to hold my hand, but he didn’t. One evening, I linked arms with him as usual, and then decided to take the initiative. I let my hand slowly drift down his sleeve and into his hand. I was home and dry! He didn’t say anything and neither did I, but I felt that this was going to be ‘the start of something big’

To be cont…

Monday, 15 September 2008


Between leaving school and meeting my future husband, I once again became friendly with Lennie Waring from my days with Aunty and Uncle in Blackpool. I must have obtained his address from Aunty, and by now he was serving in the Army and stationed in Trieste, Italy.
We began writing long letters to each other , which inevitably became love letters. We would make pacts to look at the moon, at the same time, on the same night and we also exchanged photographs.

These were the photos we exchanged

One time he sent me a beautiful pair of pure silk stockings (nylons had not become available yet), and I showed them to Ruby, who was green with envy. Unfortunately for Ruby, no amount of money could buy silk stockings: they weren’t available. How she begged and cajoled me to let her have them. She made a fantastic offer of two pounds ten shillings (£2.50) for them, but I was adamant. How could I ever sell a token of love, even though I had no intention of wearing them! Lennie at last got leave, which he spent at his home in Bolton, Lancashire. We arranged to meet fleetingly as he passed through London on his way back to Trieste. We were to meet each other on the platform of Charing Cross railway station, before he was once again whisked out of my life. We only had a few minutes together and I got my first, long awaited kiss from him. It was also my last. We had no time to talk as the train was already filling up with soldiers and ready to leave. I stood and watched as Lennie and the train disappeared into the distance. A few months later the romance fizzled out. I was probably a lot younger and less experienced in life than he thought, and we gradually stopped writing. I never saw him again, but have often wondered what became of him. Someone once told me he worked for the Evening News in Bolton, but I don’t know in what capacity.
Because I had led quite a sheltered life as far as boys were concerned, I had never learned to dance, and had never been to a dance hall. This was quite a handicap to me, as a teenager. Most young people met on the dance floor, and it was one of the most likely places to find a boyfriend. As Mum and Dad didn’t like the idea of their daughter frequenting dance halls and getting ‘picked up’ this option was not open to me. I was almost sixteen when my friend Doreen suggested that we go to a place she had discovered where they taught you to dance. For me, it killed two birds with one stone. It was similar to a social club, where you could meet new friends, but I could also learn ballroom dancing. As it turned out, it was the most momentous thing I ever did, and it changed my life forever.
I didn’t know what to expect as I joined Doreen’s group of friends in the Lady’s Cloakroom. The conversation, amidst lots of silly giggling seemed to be mainly about this male they all fancied, and who’d playfully taken one of the girl’s headscarves home with him the week before. Since I didn’t know the girls, or the boy that they were talking about, I felt rather left out of the conversation.
Doreen said: ‘Let’s all go into the dance hall and wait for him to arrive.’ Having put on their lipstick and straightened their stocking seams, all the girls streamed back into the dance room to await this 'dreamboat.'
In due course, he walked through the door and the girls started giggling and nudging each other again. He walked over to our group and said hello. He was a couple of inches short of six feet tall, very slim and showing off the most wonderful suntan that I had ever seen. The two things that I noticed first about him were his eyes, which were very dark brown and fringed with thick lashes, and his long, slender fingers. He was dressed in a silver-grey suit, which showed off both his glorious tan and his broad shoulders. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘you are quite dishy, after all.’
The dance instructors separated us all into two groups, male and female, to learn our respective steps. A bit later Dorrie, the instructress shouted ‘Find a partner.’ Miracle of miracles, ‘dreamboat’ came over to me and asked: ‘Shall we?’ As we took to the floor, he introduced himself.
‘ My name’s Arthur, what do they call you?’
We danced most of the evening together and later, after we had said goodnight, I went home floating on air. I didn’t know if he would be interested in me, but I was jolly well going to try and make him so. I was nearly sixteen. I had never been out with a boy and all this was very new and exciting to me.

This is a photo of Arthur , taken just before I met him. He's the one in the foreground wearing sunglasses.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Sorry but this blog got overlooked and should have gone in before the last one so I'm adding it now, but it's a little out of order!

When Dad had returned to the fold and resumed work, life became a little less hectic. It was then I decided to join the local Youth Club, and became a member of the drama group.
The first performance that we put on was a one-act play by Noel Coward, called ‘Fumed Oak’. In this I played the Mother-in-law. It was tremendous fun rehearsing each week. The Youth Club’s venue was in my old school at Stroud Green, and one of the teachers ran the drama group. His name was Geoff and he was very enthusiastic, as were we all. The public performance of the play was a big success, so Geoff entered us in the Hornsey Drama Festival. This was open to all amateur dramatic groups in the borough, and ran in ‘heats’ over several weeks. Much to our amazement, we managed to get into the finals. The winning group were to perform a three-act play in the Town Hall Theatre, under the direction of a professional theatrical director. We didn’t come first, but we did come second, and considering this was the first production we had ever put on, it was quite a feather in our cap.

The icing on the cake came a few days later. The winning drama group (The Ansata Players) didn’t have enough members to cast the play they had chosen, so they decided to cream off the best actors from the runners up. I was the one they chose from our drama group!
It was great fun rehearsing with a real director and I made a lot of new friends. Having only acted on school and church platforms, it was quite a shock performing on a professional stage. The size of it took my breath away, and ‘Exit Left’ took on a different meaning when the wings were so far away from centre stage.
The great night arrived and the Town Hall was packed to capacity. All my family and friends were out there rootin’ for me on this very exciting night. All went well, and we had good press notices. Ansata asked me if I would like to join their company and I appeared in several more plays. It was great fun. Coincidentally, one of the company (who was rather dishy) was called Philip Chapman. Little did I know at the tender age of fifteen that Chapman would become my married name, and Philip the name of my first-born son.

To be cont…


As the year progressed I began to think once more about Art College. Then ‘Sod’s Law’ struck: Dad became ill again,
This time he was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital. He had some sort of skin disorder, an allergy to the treatment for his ulcerated legs. Naturally, as Dad was self-employed and the only breadwinner, this created a very serious and worrying situation for us, the family. Daddy was going to be away in hospital for quite a while, so I offered to go out to work. I didn’t expect to earn a fortune, but when you have nothing, anything is acceptable. Of course, I hadn’t planned for, or expected this to happen, but there really wasn’t any alternative. It was a bit scary, as I’d not even thought about a career, other than art,
Sixty years ago, choosing a career, if you were female, was quite unlike today. In general the upper classes went to University and became doctors, lawyers, politicians and the like. The middle classes went to grammar school and became secretaries, librarians, school teachers, bankers and so on. The working classes however, didn’t really have much choice: it was office- work, shop-work or factory-work. Even the working class girls had sub-classes. It was considered ‘proper’ to have an office job, and you were generally a ‘cut above’ the shop-girl. Factory workers were at the very bottom of the pile, and I would rather have died than work there. I opted for office work.

My first job was as a typist at ‘Kay’s Film Laboratories’. This was better than I had hoped for. The office was about 15 minutes walk from home (no bus fares) and meant that I would become involved, albeit in a miniscule way, with the film industry,
Kay’s Laboratories was responsible for developing, printing and editing commercial films. Most of the companies work was concerned with Ministry of Information films.. These films were made for distribution to the public and used for educational purposes. From them we were supposed to learn how to deal with living during, and after, the war. We processed short films put out by the Post Office, The Ministry of Food, Health, Education, and Housing etc. We also processed the Television Newsreel films.
Stan, the motorbike courier, would roar over to the laboratory, pick up the cans of completed newsreels, and roar back to Alexandra Palace in time to transmit that day’s news to the few fortunate people who owned television sets. At that time I had never even seen a television set, let alone watched one!

Occasionally, feature films were printed and copied. When this occurred, we were allowed to watch a private showing in our own theatre. On one memorable occasion, we had the composer Charles Williams visit the Lab. He wrote the background music as he watched the film. I was absolutely fascinated by this procedure. The film was ‘While I Live’ which is now one of those old black- and-white classics, and the theme music ‘The Dream of Olwen’, is still played from time to time on the radio.
I shared my office with three other girls: Molly the telephonist, Brenda the other typist and Dorothy, who was in charge. Molly fascinated me. She was an ex-GPO telephonist who spoke with a GPO telephonist voice and knew all the proper terms and phrases. It was from Molly that I learned the phonetic alphabet, the A-apple B-Bertie C-Charlie version that all telephonists used at that time. My little cog in this big wheel was to type out instructions to the various developing, printing and editing rooms. I also had to make tea and do all the other odd jobs a junior is landed with. Since I’d never even seen a typewriter before, a lot of my time was spent learning to type. I was also expected to learn how to operate the switchboard. This was the part of my job that I liked most of all.

Me in my first job at Kay's
aged fifteen

Friday, 12 September 2008


From the moment Babs was born, Nurse Jones the District Nurse was a regular visitor to our house. She was Irish, very friendly, and I liked her a lot. She used to sit and chat to Mummy while I made us all a cup of tea. On one occasion, I made a pot of tea and offered the nurse a slice of home-made cake that I had baked that very morning. She ate it with relish and had a second slice believing, naturally, that Mum had baked it. Mummy told her that it was all my own doing and Nurse Jones was amazed. She couldn't believe that at fourteen years of age I could make such delicious cakes. It was nothing out of the ordinary as far as I was concerned: I'd been cooking for some time.

Nurse Jones asked if I would like to come and work for her as a cook. She was a busy career-person and didn't ever have the time to cook proper meals for herself, let alone bake cakes. She enthused over how lovely it would be to return from work to home-cooking each day. I was really chuffed to think that, at fourteen, my cooking was good enough for the District Nurse, but I graciously declined her offer. I hoped to aspire to greater things!

It was time to think about getting Babs christened. Since the rest of us children had been bought up in the Catholic faith, Babs was to be no different.
Mum had to find two Godmothers and one Godfather for her, in accordance with Roman Catholic practice. I can’t remember who the Godmothers were, but Mike the American Sailor (who happened to be a Catholic) was chosen as her Godfather. I cannot conceive why Mum and Dad chose him, as he was due to go back to the States very soon. Perhaps they thought and hoped that he would keep in touch, which would have been beneficial to Babs in later life (another mad idea?), but Mike it was.
In the summer of 1946, before he went home, Mike asked Ruby to follow him to the States so that they could be married. Ruby of course got very excited about this. Unfortunately she was never able to obtain a visa and, though she tried very hard, Mike duly departed from Ruby and Babs’s life forever.


Probably the first time you have seen your Godfather Babs!

Mum never had a job outside the home from the day she married Dad, with the exception of one brief period during the late 1950s, when she did a short spell of temporary office-work. Since she was either pregnant and/or nursing small children most of her life, she really never had the chance. In any case, Dad was one of the old school who thought that it was the man’s responsibility to provide for his family, even if, as in his case, it was difficult to do so. However, there was just one occasion that Mum caused quite a stir by going to work. Dad got a contract to paint and decorate the frontage of a butcher’s shop situated in our local high street at Harringay. He needed a labourer to assist him, the money wasn’t really enough to split with someone else. Mum suggested that she go with him; that way they could keep all the money. Dad laughed and said’ Why not?’. He thought it would be a fun-thing to do, so he fixed Mummy up with white bib and brace, and a paint kettle, and off they went.
There wasn’t even the faintest whisper of equal opportunities in those days; so one can imagine how much it stimulated the interest of passing shoppers. Mummy shinned up and down the ladder and negotiated the scaffolding like an old hand at the game, much to the amusements of the butchers in the shop, and the passing trade below. All her life Mum thrived on attention, and she certainly received enough on that occasion. It was an experience never to be forgotten and she was, rightly so, rather proud of herself.

Have been asked what our lovely Mum looked like. Here are a few photos for those interested:

Sunday, 7 September 2008


Before I finally left Stroud Green Secondary, Inky (Mr. Stephens), the Headmaster, requested that my parents come to the school to see him. When they arrived, they were ushered into the Head’s study, while I was told to sit on a chair outside. I couldn’t think what I’d done to justify this visitation as I was a regular little ‘goodie-two-shoes’. My ears could just pick out the sounds of Mum and Dad’s voices mumbling away in the office and, finally, the door opened and Inky asked me to come inside.
His first question was: ‘How would you like to stay on at school and train to become a teacher?’ I was thunderstruck. Firstly, I never thought I was clever enough to do this and, secondly I hated maths so much that, for me, leaving school was equivalent to breaking out of Alkatras. In any case, I had set my heart on attending Hornsey Art College to learn designing. At that time, cash grants weren’t available to help students, as they were in later years. Dad would have to pay for me to go to college, so I didn’t think my dreams had very much chance of coming true. Still, becoming a teacher definitely was not an option, as far as I was concerned.
Mr. Stephens emphatically assured me that I was a very clever girl, and would do well if I stayed on at school. He also pointed out that, as I was consistently top of the art class, and obviously had talent in that field, I probably had a future in art, if that was what I really wanted. As I hadn’t attended grammar school, I would have to stay in my present school for another two years. This, I didn’t want. Mum and Dad said that it was for me to make the decision and choose for myself.
I was adamant. As I saw the situation, I was about to endure the torment of a lifetime doing maths! Mr. Stephens said I should think carefully, as it was a great opportunity for me,
I thought carefully, for all of ten seconds, and said ‘NO!’
Daddy’s next remark made it all wonderful again.
‘Leeta has set her heart on going to Hornsey Art College and, frankly, that’s what we’d planned for her. I know it will be expensive, but we’ll manage that, somehow.’
I was overjoyed and my cup ranneth over. But this was to be another of my Father’s well-meant, but rash decisions.
I left school and my parents shortly put my next career-move to me. How would I like to take a year off from education and spend it at home with my mum? This would give me a break from schooling and, at the same time, be company (and help) for Mum, who had just had her fourth daughter and sixth child Babs. After my sabbatical, I could then go on to Art College and start work in earnest. I agreed, only too happy to be with Mum and the new baby all day.
My father, who was self employed as a painter and decorator, didn’t really earn enough to feed all the mouths that he had created. However, he said that he would pay me ten shillings (50p) a week pocket money (a princely sum in 1945), to do various jobs around the house and help Mum with the little ones. Sixty-three years on, I still have his yellowed and tatty piece of paper listing the jobs, which involved me in running errands, making tea, doing shopping and taking babies for walks.
We were best friends, Mummy and I, and we loved doing things together. She was only about thirty-five years old and very young at heart. I was fourteen and very grown up, and we got on very well together. We shared the cooking and housework, and she taught me how to do dressmaking. I shared the looking after and bringing-up of Sandie, Tina and Babs.
Mummy and I went shopping together and how she loved it when the shopkeepers took us for sisters! She was always very attractive in a glamorous sort of way, and turned heads wherever she went. I was very proud of her, particularly since she’d had six children.

To be continued…

Saturday, 6 September 2008


It was customary for the top class at school to present a Christmas play for the rest of the school, and this year it was to be ‘Little Women’. I had been chosen to play Mrs. March and was dressed in a floor-length costume, with a crisp, white apron, my head covered in a white lacy mop cap. I felt very elegant and important. Best of all, I was allowed to wear make-up. This consisted of a little face powder, a scraping of mascara and some lipstick.
We got ready for our first full dress rehearsal, and I donned my make-up. The effect on the male members of the class was electrifying! Suddenly, I was transformed from an insignificant, shy classmate, to a femme fatale. This was the unforgettable highlight of my last year of school.
David H, together with Arthur P. (who were the two boys that all the girls fancied) chased me all round the desks, trying to kiss me. Although secretly thrilled, I was embarrassed and nervous, as I had never been out with a boy, let alone kissed one. What a sheltered life I’d led! Arthur finally caught me and kissed me. It was as if all the lights in the world flashed on and off and, at the same time all the bells started to ring. On the last day of term, we performed our play and it went really well. After the final curtain call, another boy in my class called Tony asked me if I would be his girl. I said ‘yes’ and got another earth shattering kiss. He said I could wear his ring over the Christmas holidays. It was a huge, silver skull-and-crossbones ring. Normally, I would have thought it hideous, but this was all so romantic that I took it and swore to keep it carefully until the start of next term. I couldn’t really wear it. It was so unfeminine; and anyway, Mum would have wanted to know where it had come from. So I hid it away until school started again in January. When I saw Tony again, it was as if nothing had ever happened between us.
He said ‘Have you bought my ring back?’
I said ‘ Yes here it is’.
He said ‘ Thanks very much’.
And we both went on our way. End of romance!!!

To be continued…

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Ruby started going out with an American sailor called Mike. We thought he was wonderful. He used to bring part of his rations each month to our house. One delicacy that particularly springs to mind was chocolate fudge. Because they were rationed, we had very few sweets, and certainly not chocolate. This naval ration fudge came in tins. I don’t mean tins that you could open and close, but tins that had to be opened at each end with a can opener, just like tins of corned beef. The fudge was then pushed out of the tin, and emerged in a solid roll. Mike would cut it into cubes and share it amongst us. The smell and taste of it was something not to be forgotten.
Having a real, live, American sailor around the house was to us young girls almost like living with a film star in our midst. At the tender age of twelve or thirteen, any one who had a genuine American accent was only one step removed from Clark Gable. The only time we ever heard an American accent was when it came from the silver screen. This one was actually in our house!
To add to his magical charm, Mike had told us that his sister was married to the singer/ film star Dick Haymes. He was a teenage idol (a bit like Cliff Richards was in his younger days). Mike promised us that he would get his sister to send us Dick Haymes’ autograph, but it never arrived. In retrospect, I think it was just a sailor spinning a line to impress us all. He probably didn’t even have a sister.
My last six months at school were great fun; at thirteen-and-a-half I was beginning to grow up, and the boys were starting to notice me. The main reason for this was, to my great embarrassment, because the first bra that I ever owned was a size thirty-four! Most of my friends had no boobs at all. The rest of me was quite slim and here was I, bustin’ out all over!
One of my out-of-school friends was Judy. She lived in the house opposite ours and I admired her very much. She was pretty and had a trim figure; her hair was long (which mine never was) and blonde, and curly. We used to ‘swoon’ over the same spotty, little boys, and go all wobbly when we listened to Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio. She was a great drama-queen and knew just how to play for effect. Once she ‘twisted’ her ankle while we were out with the boys. They and I had to support her on all sides, whilst she hobbled home in ‘agony’ all the time whimpering and almost collapsing in a faint from the pain! Strangely enough, she was quite recovered by the next day, and I realised that it was all done for to gain the attention of the two lads we were with.
We had a sort of eternal triangle syndrome. I had a crush on Colin, Colin had a crush on Judy, and Judy had a crush on Judy too! Such is youth. Colin’s dad died, and the family immigrated to Australia, and Judy’s family just moved away one day. I often wonder what became of her. She probably became an actress!

To be continued…

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Soon the spring of 1945 was upon us, and with the spring came VE (Victory over Europe) day. The war with Germany, at least, was over and at last we could think of going home. Three months later, the world’s mightiest and most devastating weapon of all time, the Atom bomb, was dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, ending the war with Japan. The two wars that had ravaged so many people’s lives had spanned six long years.
It was strange being back at Oakfield Road after what seemed like a lifetime away. But soon evacuation was all behind us and life returned to an even keel.
Dougie and I went back to Stroud Green Secondary School. I had been in the youngest class of the Senior School when I left, and was now in the top class with only a year to go before leaving school forever.
One of the first things I remember about returning to school was all my classmates asking me why I ‘talked funny’, and my spending snatched moments here and there teaching them Yorkshire-speak! For instance to be ‘starved’ in Bradford meant that you were cold, whereas in London you were hungry. A Yorkshire mother might ‘play pot’ with you (give you a good telling off) and anything good was ‘gradely’.
Now I was back in London, I realised how biased my education had been in Yorkshire. In Bradford my geography and history lessons had been primarily concerned with the north of England. We were taught all about the mills and the cotton industry. I knew all about the spinning Jenny and Watt Tyler and wafts and weaves and mill girls and clogs. I had been completely unaware of these parts of our heritage until living in Grange-over-Sands and Bradford.
What in London was called Domestic Science had been Housewifery in Bradford. These lessons in Bradford were out of this world! On Housewifery days the girls would board a school bus and ride off into the wilds of Yorkshire, to attend a special school that only taught that subject. The school was a one storey, stone building surrounded, as you might imagine, with dry-stone walling and fields. The inside of the school comprised of one large room that was very bleak and Spartan. There were deep Butler sinks and black, iron gas stoves that stood on curly, metal legs. The tables we worked at were wooden and scrubbed white. Here we were taught how to make our own soap and how to wash clothes using a dolly in a tub. A dolly was shaped like a four-legged stool with a long pole coming up from the centre, with a crosspiece at the top, all made of wood. The washtub was placed on the floor and filled with hot soapy water and dirty clothes. The idea being, that you stood the dolly in the tub on top of the dirty clothing and pounded it, lifting and turning the dolly by the crosspiece: obviously the forerunner of the automatic washing machine!

We learned how to iron, using fluting irons. These were like curling tongs that put ruffles around the frills on pillowcases and doilies. Everything we touched was like something out of the Victoria and Albert Museum!

How different it was from our domestic Science lesson at Stroud green School. True, we still has to travel to another school, but when we got there the facilities were better than home! We had a purpose-built, fully furnished flat that we learned to clean and maintain. There was running hot water, modern ovens, and we learned how to cook nourishing meals and wholesome food using rationed produce. These were, as the teacher used to say, ‘Meals fit to welcome your fathers home from the war with’.
When the Americans dropped the atom bomb on Japan and ended the Second World War, I had just three months to go to my fourteenth birthday. The war had started so many years ago, when I was such a little girl of eight, and here I was, almost ready to go out in the world and earn my living.