Archive for October, 2008

Rainbow Magic

October 30, 2008


Rainbow magic lighting the gloom

Rainbow magic lighting the gloom

You have to look closely to spot the rainbow here. But like many things in life we easily see the gloom, sometimes preferring to see the dark side of life at any given moment, rather than accept the small pleasures that often come free. I know I like an occasional good moan. When I saw this rainbow almost over our house I could have wept for joy at its beauty! Here we have the contrasts of sun and shadow. Heavy rain has fallen for most of the summer. How much glorious then is a glimpse of what happens when rain and sun meet in brilliant spendour of colour! 

There is a lot of gloom in the world over the financial situation. Most of it has come about through chasing and grasping at rainbows of happiness. Living beyond one’s means was frowned on when we were young. To get a bank loan was a serious business and only those who could show their ability to pay it back would be given one. We worked and saved. Mortgages were not easy to come by and only one of a couple’s income would be taken into the equation. This was a good thing. It kept house prices affordable. As soon as both incomes were taken into account, so house prices shot up. Then loan companies vied with each other to give even greater inducements with 100% loans and more! Loans were given to people who could hardly afford the payments. House prices continued to rise. So did the divorce rate. Stress and worry. Credit cards handed out like confetti. Spenders taking little account that they would be paying back with interest – if indeed they could afford to make the payments. The lure of foreign holidays to relieve the pressure, eating out and swallowing one’s worries down with alcohol, all add up to the present situation.

Many people hardly realise that clothes, and what once were regarded as luxury goods, are cheaper than they have ever been. But it is only because men, women and children, sweat many hours for little pay. Much money is made by companies from their sweated labour.

We in the West are so selfish, worrying about our possessions when millions are dying all over world through starvation, dreaded diseases and in futile conflicts within countries where mineral wealth is paramount and human lives are of little regard. Who rules the nations? It seems to me those with the power of wealth. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So what if we have to buy cheaper brands of essential goods? So what if we have to go without a planned holiday, so what if the have to cook meals ourselves and eat up leftovers? And employ many other money saving strategies? Believe it or not it can actually be fun! A new lifestyle of discovery and self-realisation of what we can actually do and achieve and be happy with simple living. 

Rainbows do not last for long but how they can brighten our lives. They are not gold or jewels. You can’t possess them. That is their beauty in this throw-away society. And yet, they can change our whole perspective on life. There is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the joy is in beholding what is already there.

Still Waters Run Deep

October 29, 2008
Still Waters Run Deep

Still Waters Run Deep

“Still Waters Run Deep, and other tales of mystery and passion”

This is my latest cover idea (wrap-around) for my new book of short stories. Title in the clouds and author across the landing stage. Now to consider the book’s retail price!

Bassenthwaite/Keswick area comes into two stories but most of the settings are further South of Cumbria. The stories have an interesting mix of love and passion, light and dark humour. Any thoughts about the cover or better suggestions would be welcome!

See Magpies Nest Publishing for ALL Gladys Hobson’s books. Read the first chapters and reviews. Four of my novels now to be published by Turquoise Morning Press. The Dark Mirror now to be published by Storm Moon Press. All in the name of G B Hobson.

Ulverston – the festival Town of Furness, Cumbria

October 26, 2008

And the band played on

And the band played on

This photo was going to be for a story “And the Band Played On” in my new short story book, but it is not what I really wanted as, due to bad weather, they had a pavilion cover and not all their members are present. It certainly is not good enough for the book cover should I have decided to have the story for the book title.
The stories centre around this area, and are quite diverse – humour, horror, murder, mystery, love, passion, bizarre, beautiful. If I stress the local settings will l then put readers off? After all they could take place anywhere.
Getting title and picture right within the total book cover design is not easy. Bad enough thinking up a title that will draw readers like a magnet. I guess this is where cover artists are needed. But, if the book is to earn a little for charity, there will be no money for that!
Oh, decisions, decisions!

Magpies Nest Publishing
Writing For Joy
My Space Gladys Writes
My Space June Designs

In a hole?

October 9, 2008

Jess Is Missing.

‘Jess… Jess… Jess…’
We called and called but she did not come.
We searched everywhere inside the house. No Sign of her.
We looked all around the garden, calling and calling, but to no available.
Seemingly, Jess had gone off but we had no idea where.
So we split up and searched the surrounding gardens, then the streets followed by the footpaths where we took her for walks. No one we met had seen her. There seemed to be nothing we could do but wait for her to come home.
Jess was our lovely Border Collie, normally obedient but given to chasing squirrels on the few occasions we let her off the lead in woodlands where we occasionally walked on holiday. But, at that time, there were no squirrels around our home. And, she had never chased a squirrel beyond our site.
Everyone else went off to look around the area again, especially around the dustbins. I decided to do another thorough look around the garden.
I called and listened over and over, and then I got to thinking: is there a place where she could be hidden from sight, a place she could have dug herself into? I went straight to the bottom of the garden where, behind a hedge screen, old wood and other potentially useful items were kept. I knew she liked to sniff around the tiny holes made by field mice and several of them were around there. Then I noticed a narrow space under the wood. Not really big enough for her to get under, but I collected a torch and squatted down to peer inside.
A sad little face peered at me.
Jess had dug herself into a hole. She renewed her efforts to get out but the more she tried the deeper she became. I called others to help move the wood and soon she was free.
Why didn’t she bark to let us know where she was? That is a question that can never be answered. But she rarely did bark anyway.
Of one thing I do know, Jess was not the only one good at digging herself into a hole. It is something I have done on many an occasion — a different kind of hole maybe, but needing help to get out of just the same. I hate to ask for help though. Don’t we all?

Chapter Four…When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in RED BOXES

October 8, 2008

Continued from previous post…
When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes by Gladys Hobson.
A pick and mix assortment of childhood memories 1939-53

Chapter Four

Of war and play

By the time I left the isolation hospital, windows were criss-crossed with sticky brown paper but there was little else happening, as far as the war was concerned, in my own little world. The dolls house I had been promised while in hospital was never made. My father was too busy working long hours at the Ordnance Depot. He was also an air-raid warden and would have had the usual practice and patrol work to do in readiness for when the war started in earnest. The Chilwell Ordnance Depot, the local gun factory, the telephone manufacturers, and the nearby Boots pharmaceuticals factory were all to become targets for enemy action.
We were issued with gas masks which had to be carried at all times. Films at cinemas showed people how to use stirrup pumps. They were needed as an immediate aid to combat fires caused by the many incendiary bombs dropped from German planes. We had different kinds of air-raid shelters built. The ones in the park were half buried; the one at our corner was reinforced brick. We rarely left our warm beds to go into the cold shelter; cats and humans tended to use it as a lavatory.
Most of the time, the war seemed far away. We heard about it on the wireless (radio) and saw the news at the cinema. Tanks from the depot shook our house as they roared up the road from the depot, and everything was restricted or rationed, but I was not old enough to know much different.
We moved into our house in Beeston before the war began. It had two reception rooms, three bedrooms, a kitchen we dined and lived in, off which was a pantry with a cold slab (fridges were only for the rich). The bathroom had a rusting bath and was served by furred up pipes, which helped to preserve the five-inch water limit during the war. After the water reached a depth of four inches, our weekly bath was already too cold for comfort. There was a washbasin where I washed my hands and swilled my face. The lavatory had a temperamental pull-chain and an unsavoury seat. This was soon repainted with dire consequences for my sister who sat on it before the paint was dry! There was also an outside lavatory and a rough brick room that housed a coal-fired wash boiler and the coal store. Like most homes there was no central heating. In winter a smelly paraffin heater standing at the bottom of the stairs unintentionally provided heat to melt frost and snow on the roof. It certainly did nothing for us in our bedrooms!
Across the road some houses were being knocked down. We used to sit swinging on the gate (when the landlady didn’t catch us) watching the demolition, followed by the building of a cinema on the site. Before long, the red neon sign, Majestic, and light streaming out of the glass windows and doors of the foyer, told us entertainment was at hand.
Suddenly the light was no more. Street lamps no longer illuminated our way at night and we had to use torches with pencil beams. Windows had to be blacked out completely so that no light would pass through to guide enemy bombers. Moonlight was magical and stars were like diamonds in the sky – that is, when smog was not blotting out everything around us and clotting our lungs! I was six when the war began. What had been before, soon faded.
Coming out of hospital at the beginning of February 1940 was a new beginning for me. I had been living in a no-man’s land, from which the only escape had been in my imagination. Now I was free.
I recall watery winter sunshine and heaped up snow on the edge of pavements. The slush thrown up by passing vehicles splashed my legs and coat with dirty water and compressed snow. But after being in hospital it was fun to be in my home environment for another six weeks, when most children were at school. I was ready to go back but worried that I had a lot of catching up to do. The school I last attended had closed while air-raid shelters were being built, and the infants were sharing another school further away. It was a long, lonely walk. Because of lack of space, children were only getting half time education: one week of mornings followed by a week of afternoons.
My sister was now at junior school and I felt very much alone. Everything seemed so strange. The teacher was pleasant, but by now I had a fear of authority and tended to withdraw into myself. The first morning of our half-day schooling, I just sat at my desk and did as I was told. The last lesson of the morning was arithmetic and we were given two lots of sums to do. I finished the first side of the card and made a start on the second. By this time the bell had rung. Those who had finished their work were allowed to go home. Gradually the children left, leaving me on my own struggling to work out the sums. Tears began to run down my face as panic set in. The list of sums seemed endless. The harder I tried, the slower I got. I would never get home. I was a stupid child who could not do her sums! Seeing my apparent distress, the teacher came over to see how I was getting on. She looked at my work and then at the card.
“Gladys, you are doing tomorrow’s sums. You only had to do one side of the card today. Off you go.”
Relieved, I went home. But I was feeling even more stupid.
Soon after returning to school, something really dreadful happened, the shame of which was to be with me for a very long time. It was a cold wet day. Playtime, spent in the classroom, was over and it would not be long before it was time to go home. The lavatories were across the other side of the playground – cold smelly places, usually devoid of toilet paper and with brown marks streaked down the walls! There had been no rush to go there during the break. Before long, children were asking to go to the lavatory. At first, permission was given, but after a while the teacher said we must learn to go at the proper time. She sounded very cross.
I needed to go urgently but was afraid to ask. I would just have to hold it until the end of the lesson. I was terrified that I would wet myself. I sat with my legs tight together, utterly miserable. I knew that it was too late to plead with the teacher, I was so uncomfortable that just moving might start the water flowing. I became more and more nervous, and such was the pressure that it was beginning to hurt. I was in agony trying to hold on. The inevitable happened. The warm fluid began to flow into my thick school knickers. Some of it soaked into skirt, socks and shoes, but the rest hit the floor with the sound of splashing water. Alerted, the girl sitting next to me quickly jumped up, afraid of getting wet herself. Gleefully, her hand shot up.
“Please, Miss, Gladys has wet herself!”
There was a shocked silence. All eyes turned towards me and then rested on the tale-tale puddle. Whispers and giggles broke out as the teacher approached the evidence of my dreadful deed.
“Why didn’t you ask to go to the lavatory?” she said, with a mixture of anger and incredulity. She turned to my classmate. “Fetch the headmistress, Marjory.”
The headmistress arrived. With a look of shocked disbelief on her face, she approached me as I stood in painful distress.
“Why didn’t you ask to go to the lavatory?”
“Teacher told us no one else could go”
I stood head down, my face scarlet with shame, as the tell-tale fluid continued to drip from the desk seat onto the floor. My thick knickers were now cool and clinging uncomfortably to my skin, my skirt was wet against my thighs and my socks and shoes were heavy with fluid. The dark stain of liquid told the world that I was a dirty little seven-year-old.
My teacher was not going to accept the blame. “Of course she could have gone. Gladys only had to say it was urgent.”
“Never mind,” said the headmistress. ”Gladys, go and fetch the bucket and mop. In future go at playtime.”
My clothes dried on me during the rest of the lesson and on the long walk home.
I lived in fear of my family finding out. Eventually, a child told her elder sister, who passed it on to one my sisters, who then told my mother.
“Our Gladys wet herself at school.”
Eyes turned to me. I shrank in my chair. Mother looked puzzled.
“Gladys would never do such a thing.”
“It was someone else,” I lied.
I felt sick with guilt but I could not let my mother, and the rest of the family, know that I had done something so shameful. She trusted me, and I had let her down badly. I did not want to disappoint my mother, nor did I want to get into more trouble. I would have to live with yet another lie on top of the dreadful shame I was already suffering. As my mother always said: “There’s no rest for the wicked.”
One day when the school was working afternoons, my mother had to go out to work for most of the day, which meant that I had to see myself off to school. When the time came for me to set off, I couldn’t go. I clung to our dog and told her my problem. I allowed tears of self-pity to roll down my cheeks. Jenny licked my face and comforted me. I stayed that way until it was too late to get to school on time. When my mother returned from her work later that afternoon, I gave the excuse that I was not well and so nothing was said. Another lie! More guilt!
But there were happy times at that school. Close by was an abandoned building site. It had lots of partly built walls and a curious flight of steps going downwards for no apparent reason. The children used it as an adventure playground. It became my greatest achievement to leap over the wide space above the steps, defying my fear of falling, and to run along the fairly low walls. I was being no different to the rest of the children. If I was being stupid, so was everyone else!
Within the same area of ground, and elsewhere, there grew sweet flowering nettles. I followed the lead of others and picked the flowers, sucking out the sweet nectar, ignoring the little beetles and ants that ran around inside the flowers. I chewed the young leaves of the hawthorn bushes, which we called bread and cheese. Thankfully, before trying out mushrooms, some concerned person told us they were poisonous. But we picked many blackberries and knew which wild berries not to eat. We even chewed on chunks of pitch, but I wasn’t keen. With sweets being rationed and few treats available, we didn’t get fat and we kept our teeth!
We had very few books at home. Sometimes I would scan the dictionary looking for naughty words. The only one I remember finding was hospital – it said spit in the middle of it. How shocking! At Christmas we sang carols at school about a virgin. The Salvation Army sang about a virgin; people on the wireless sang about a virgin. What was a virgin? I looked it up. I was none the wiser. It said something about intercourse. I looked intercourse up. Connection by dealings? I was completely baffled. I asked my mother.
“What’s a virgin?”
“A woman who hasn’t had a baby.”
So how could Mary be a virgin mother? Simple. Evidently, God gave her the baby.
Apart from the weekly library book, I did very little reading. We all followed the adventures of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, and Christmas would not have been Christmas without the Rupert annual. We received Dandy and Beano every week. And later on, Radio Fun and Film Fun broadened our vocabulary. They helped me to read. By matching phrases to pictures, the written word was beginning to communicate in a way that school books had not done, and the comics helped bridge the gap between infant readers and more challenging reading.
My sister Phyllis and I both liked the Alison Uttley books. So when an elderly friend of my parents gave each of us a half crown, we went off to the bookshop. On the way we dropped the money and it rolled down a drain. We looked through the grating and could see one half crown resting on a ledge. We both stood crying bitterly at the loss of our precious money. A lorry stopped next to us. The driver jumped out to ask why we were crying. We pointed to the money in the drain. He dropped to his knees and lifted up the grating. Down went his hand into the filth. First he picked up the coin he could see. Next, he fished around in black smelly sludge until he found the other one. He wiped them both on a rag and then gave them to us. We were overjoyed and thanked him most sincerely. He smiled, returned to his cab and drove off. I can’t see it happening today; such a person seen getting out of his cab to talk to children might well come under suspicion.
We knew not to go with strangers but we did not live in fear of them. We had a lot of freedom to play where we wanted. Not far from home there was a little brook flowing between trees where we used to play. We used to call it the dyke. It was murky and muddy. There were no fish but frogs spawned there, and we knew that leeches waited to suck our blood! In the trees there was a little den with a bendy branch to sit on. We would take some pop and spend some time there. There were a few planks across the brook and I would float sticks to watch them flow under the bridge.
I fell in.
It was like a slow motion film. One moment I was bending over the planks, the next I was looking at the sky through filthy water. Within those seconds I imagined myself covered with bloodsucking leeches and drowning a horrible death. I rose the few inches to the surface, spat out the foul water, and yelled for my mam! I clambered out and ran home.
My mother had just finished washing. The dolly tub was about to be emptied when I turned up soaked to the skin and disgustingly smelly. My mother was furious. After a morning of ponching, scrubbing, boiling, mangling and hanging clothes to dry, she had to start again. She stripped off my wet things and dumped them, and me, in the warm soapy water and gave daughter and clothes a good scrubbing. We were going out that afternoon and I had been wearing my clean clothes.
Poor mother, she had her own private war with a big family of three youngsters and four adults – my dad, my elder brother and two elder sisters – to look after. By the time Jack was in the Air Force and Betty and Barbara were married, Mother had to put up with the temper tantrums of my distraught father as he grew more and more disabled. By that time she was cleaning the cinema to earn much needed housekeeping money.
When I was old enough, I thought about joining the Guides and went to a few meetings. We had to line up and answer questions. The leader asked each person if they had a clean handkerchief. I said that my hanky was always clean (handkerchiefs were boiled white at our house). She smiled and said she meant a spare one for emergencies. I went red and felt very silly – nothing new!
One day we went for an adventure picnic. Rain poured down, I nearly ate the leader’s sandwiches by accident, a fire could not be lit, and I was cold and miserable. I did not go to the Guides again.
A year or two later I joined the Girls Life Brigade. We did a little cooking, sewing, craft work, and were offered various useful activities. One night we had young army cadets come to teach us how to read maps. The older girls were giggling and making eyes at the young lads, and that really annoyed me. I thought the boys were rather horrid. One of them was obnoxious and told rude jokes. All they did was flirt with the girls. The boys had masses of teenage pimples, which I thought quite revolting. I had no reason to like cadets anyway. When I was going home one day a group of them dragged me into a garden and forced me to kiss one of them. They all thought it great sport. I was utterly humiliated. After the cadets’ visit to the Life Brigade, I was put off going again.
During the war we children liked to do our bit for the war effort. We were asked to collect books and magazines for the troops. We were given army ranks according to the number we collected. I was very enthusiastic. I went from door to door, determined to make it to General. When a cousin called one day with a great pile of education magazines, I was overjoyed. I was about to become a Field Marshal!
To save food crops from destruction, posters were around to tell you to look out for certain beetles and butterflies. We formed a club and got rid of hundreds of them. Unfortunately, pretty butterflies were killed too. I doubt if we made any difference to the availability of food in the shops. Fortunately, we came to see the error of our ways by killing indiscriminately and we gave up the club. We took to watching nature, rather than killing wild life.
Throughout our childhood we had a common stock of games to play. Whips and tops, skipping, and ball games. Some children were quite athletic and liked to perform cartwheels and handstands in the school playground. I was not one of them. We had our playground games, which we played in groups or gangs. ‘The farmer in his den’ was one of them. It should have been dell, not den, and we also ended up patting the bone rather than the dog. But then games did not have to make sense to us. ‘Poor Mary sits a weeping’, ‘A hunting we will go’, ‘In and out the windows’, ‘There’s a little sandy boy sitting all alone’, were all games we regularly played. No one organised us. We children rounded up those who wanted to play and, before long, others would want to join in. If it was a gang that had got together then intruders were not welcome. Occasionally this led to fighting. I could pull a girl’s hair as good as I got!
Skipping was always a favourite game, whether at home or in the playground. Some children had posh ropes, with handles and jingling bells. I was quite happy to get a piece of old washing line. We would count to see how long we could go on for, sometimes doing little hops and various routines to make it harder or more interesting. Sometimes we would skip in two’s, or a number of children would skip together, running in and out while two others turned the rope. It could get quite competitive; I won one or two prizes. Sometimes the skipping would be accompanied by rhymes or singing.
Ball games of every kind were played as they are today, but the ordinary little hand ball was in constant use, especially by the girls. Usually we had our dress tucked into our knickers so that we could bounce the ball under a leg before it hit the wall. We would clap in various ways between throws and catches, and all together perform a great variety of movements. Sometimes we would sing to accompany the movements:
“Charlie Chaplain went to France, to teach the ladies how to dance, heel, toe, under we go, heel, toe, under we go.”
Hopscotch was another favourite game. Belinda had paving slabs in their drive, which were just right. The slabs were numbered in the usual way and we would develop complicated ways of hopping and skipping up and down. We usually competed against each other but sometimes we played with others and occasionally formed teams.
If there was one game that brought together children of all ages, it was marbles.
During the war the traditional glass marbles were in short supply and greatly valued. We could buy brown clay marbles as a substitute, but there were glass ones to be won or swapped. We had a great variety of games to play, but children were pretty good at devising their own. The ‘wide-boys’ of the marble game soon devised ways of increasing their valuable collection.
Objects that cost nothing but gave enormous pleasure were conkers. Once it was discovered that the nuts had reached maturity, the children did not wait for high winds to dislodge them, but rather began an onslaught of heavy sticks and stones. Sometimes more pleasure was found in getting the conkers than playing with them. I felt rich if I had a pocket full of conkers. They were smooth and round to the touch and such a rich colour. I do not recall ever having one that gave me victory but I just liked to have them. They soothe out tensions in the body.
Snobs or jacks were good games, but it was usually boys who played them. We had board games such as draughts, snakes and ladders, and ludo to keep us amused. We used counters from board games and little buttons to play tiddlywinks. Homely paper and pencil games, such as noughts and crosses, hangman, squares, and battleships and cruisers, kept us amused for hours. As we became older we grew in knowledge and that enabled us to compete in making alphabetical lists of flowers, towns, countries, rivers, vegetables, and so on. We also painted, stitched, embroidered and knitted. But when my friend’s family bought a game of Monopoly, that really did interest me. Sometimes I was invited to play with them. I thought it quite a privilege to handle the paper money and be given £200 every time I passed go! All our games were simple and without the expense of modern toys. Dolls prams, roller skates and Meccano were the toys to dream about, but new cycles or ice skates were presents for the better off.
But, with few cars and restrictions on petrol, any kind of cycle was a must for those who wanted the convenience of their own transport. Not having a cycle, I always walked or used a bus. So many people used cycles to get to work, there were times of the day when it was impossible to cross the road. You would hear the hooter of the local firm and know that you had about two minutes to get to the shops across the road before columns of cyclists completely blocked your way. No use going to the traffic lights. As soon as one army of men on two wheels came to a halt, another battalion, from a different factory, were already coming round the corner.
I couldn’t ride a bicycle and I didn’t really want one. I liked dolls but they were expensive. One Christmas I was given a life-size baby doll. It had a china head with eyes that could close. Delighted with my present, I ran next door to show it to an old lady my mum kept an eye on. The ground was icy and over I went. The doll’s head was smashed to pieces. I was devastated and ran back home in tears. I knew I would never get another doll. Money was scarce in our family home.
My father told me to collect all the pieces. He spent ages gluing the parts together. To cover the cracks, he repainted the whole head. I could not say so, but I hated that doll afterwards. It no longer looked like a baby. With the hard paint colours my father had used, it looked like an ugly shrunken adult head dipped in chocolate! And yet my father had spent so much time on it. I felt a very ungrateful child. But, when the doll finally came to pieces, I had terrific fun pretending the arms were telephones.
Throughout all my childhood, one thing soon became clear. Women were born to serve men. The men always came first in our house, and probably in most other homes. They never poured out a cup of tea for themselves. They always had the best portions and we girls just went along with it, in fact we helped keep up the tradition. When Bill was younger he had his share of washing-up to do, but I strongly suspect that after the hospital experience Bill had reached the ranks of manhood. When my mother was in hospital I had to take time off school to make sure the chores were done, and the men’s meals were cooked and on the table. All I got from them was criticism.
“This cauliflower isn’t cooked. I’ll get constipation,” complained Jack.
“This salt needs drying out,” grumbled my dad.
I put the salt cellar in the warm oven and I got: “You’ll crack the glass! How did I ever breed such bloody stupid kids!”
My sister didn’t escape the whiplash of my dad’s tongue. Although she started work at fourteen, she was always helping at home, including assisting Dad with his motor repairs. She made the mistake of swearing in his presence. Men swear; ladies never!
Dad’s eyes flashed. “I’ll have none of this bloody swearing. If another daughter of mine goes into a factory, I’ll bloody cut her throat!”
It was normal for dads to swear. One friend’s dad not only swore at his daughters, but slapped them too if they did not behave ladylike.
No doubt, when we played mothers and fathers, we reinforced all our early training. Likewise our subservient attitude to those in authority. I remember playing school in our garden. I was going round whacking all the dead flowers with a cane.
“You naughty, wicked children,” I shouted, as I vented my suppressed anger on anything that got in my way. “Take that! And that! And that!”
Mother always said, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” I don’t know who I thought was being so very wicked!

To be continued…

When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes
Published by Magpies Nest Publishing IBSN 0-9548885-0-2

The print run was sold out but it may be possible to get a second hand copy. Unless there is a big demand there will not be another edition.
Visit Magpies Nest Publishing for other books by Gladys Hobson (aka Angela Ashley and Richard L Gray)

Chapter Three…When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in RED BOXES

October 5, 2008

Continued from previous post…
When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes by Gladys Hobson.
A pick and mix assortment of childhood memories 1939-53

Chapter Three

Of God and bananas

“For thou wilt be done,” I recited every morning at school.
How could we say that God would be done? Mrs Mop of BBC’s ITMA, said in every programme, “Can I do you now, sir?” and everyone would laugh. Whatever that cleaning lady did to Tommy Handley was a cause for mirth. Was God, too, in for some hilarious treatment? It all seemed highly irreverent to me. Just saying the words made me feel slightly wicked.
Throughout my schooling, every day began with some kind of religious assembly and, most days, with a religious education lesson. In those days, in my schools, God was not discussed or questioned. God was. Why doubt the fact of his eternal existence? We had our oldest textbook, the Bible, assuming his presence. No matter how bad the war reports reaching us via the radio or newspapers – they were just a few sheets in those days – we never doubted the outcome. After all, God was on our side. He knew when we were bad and he knew when we were good. He was an all-seeing, all knowing presence, the headmaster-on-high ready to punish but also the heavenly father who loved us. For years I could live with this dichotomy. After all, my own father was just the same. Dad may never have thrashed us but the threat was there. In those days, it was probably true for most children. I certainly knew of no other kind of child-father relationship within my circle of friends. And I said my prayers at night as a matter of routine. What might happen if I did not do so?
As far as I can remember, I had never been inside a church until the day my sister took me with her to Sunday school. It was a Four Square Elim Church. Though what it meant I had no idea. I know now that it was a Pentecostal Church, but at that young age it was merely a pleasant place to go on a Sunday.
A lot of children went to Sunday school in those days. With nothing else to do in particular, it was somewhere to go. We had picnic outings, occasional treasure hunts, and the annual Anniversary. We had stories read to us, followed by quizzes. We sang jolly songs and did all the actions that went with them. The Pastor taught us a song in Spanish, which I remember to this day. We thought it great to speak a foreign language. It was all good fun when I was very young. I enjoyed the stories and the singing. But eventually, as I grew older, I became tired of songs for the very young and, not being old enough for the Bible class, I drifted away. By that time I had found more exciting things to do.
As a young child, with no such things as televisions or electronic games to keep us at home (nor did we have a family car to take us on trips) the Sunday school outings really meant something to us. They were also a substitute for the holidays we never had. A furniture van would take us off into the country and we would picnic and have races on a farm. What did it matter if it rained? There was the barn. What did it matter if the field was full of cow-pats? It was fun decorating them with flowers, twigs, and stones, to make them look like the birthday cakes we never had.
In 1941, I was given my very first Bible. I still have it, complete with my first attempts at joined-up writing stating my name and address on the inside cover. The Bible was seldom used, but twenty years later it took on great significance in my life.
The Bible was offered to children who had made a promise to Jesus. It was this promise that has powerfully affected my life, although at the time it may not have appeared that way.
One Sunday afternoon at the Sunday school, instead of us going into our individual classes, all the children sat together in the pews where the adult congregation sat for services. It was a special day because the Pastor wanted to talk directly to all the children. He was a nice friendly man and was good at telling stories. That day, he told us a story that I have never forgotten – at least, not the essential thread of it.
The Pastor told us about a sick little boy called Billy. Billy had always been a happy child who loved his home and especially his parents. He also loved Jesus because the Bible told him that He was his special friend. The lad always knew that Jesus was close to him and sometimes he would talk with Him. The pastor said that talking to Jesus was called prayer. But to little Billy it was just talking and being with someone who loved him. In a very special way, Billy had given his heart to Jesus and he knew that Jesus would be his friend for ever.
Billy’s parents knew from the day that Billy was born that their child had not long to live. They were told to love and enjoy him and make the most of the time they had together. Billy was their only child and they believed that he was a gift from God. Although deeply sad that Billy would leave them, they knew that God would look after him and that one day they would all be together again.
Billy did not want to leave his mummy and daddy but he knew that he was dying. He was getting weaker and weaker every day.
Sitting in my pew, I followed the story in minute detail. I could see the sick child in a bed like mine, in a room like mine, in a home like mine.
“Boys and girls, was Billy frightened?”
A few whispered yes but some shouted, “No!”
“Quite right. Billy was not afraid of dying because he knew that Jesus would be near him wherever he went. He trusted his friend to be with him forever. Billy would never be alone.”
That meant something to me. It had not been so very long since I had been lonely in hospital with no real friend to talk to. I was listening intently.
The Pastor continued. “One night Jesus came into Billy’s bedroom. He lifted Billy into his arms and carried him to another room to live with him forever. A place where he would no longer suffer and where no one could harm him. A place where he would always be happy.”
That sounded like a pretty good deal to me.
“Now, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. Put up your hand if you would like to give your heart to Jesus, and I will say a prayer for each one of you.”
I closed my eyes, put up my hand, and heard the prayer. I repeated what I was told to say and it was all over. I had given my heart to Jesus and He would always be my friend.
Excited, I ran home to tell my mother that I had given my heart to Jesus.
“That’s nice”, she said, and that was that.
But something else happened that had a powerful influence on the early growth of my spiritual life.
One day Grandfather Brock, my father’s father, came to visit us. It was the only time that I was to see any of my grandparents and the memory of doing so is clear in my mind.
I knew that Grandfather was a very special person and that it was something to do with him working in the church. What he did, I could not really fathom because ‘church’ was a big mystery to me. Actually, he ran the Seamen’s Mission in Scarborough. My father said that he was a parson, something like the pastor at the chapel. We were told to behave ourselves and keep out of the way as he’d come to talk to our dad.
I did not see Grandfather arrive but I knew that he was in the sitting room because I could hear voices. It all seemed very mysterious and since there was no one around to see me, I listened at the door.
Grandfather was talking about heaven. He told my father that he had been there and what a wonderful place it was. I heard him say that he had met friends who had died, and that death was nothing to be afraid of. I thought he must be very special. I asked mother if I could see him. She told me to knock at the door.
An elderly gentleman with a white beard stood up and gently shook my hand. He seemed kind and friendly and I was very impressed by his stature; he towered over me. I was rather awed to be in his presence. This was someone who knew all about God and heaven, and he was my grandfather! I did not see him again but he was now a part of my life. Later, I read a book containing a chapter about my grandfather, of how he had been in William Booth’s Christian Mission before it became the Salvation Army, and I was even more impressed. My grandfather laboured to save souls and heal their bodies in the name of Jesus. God was beginning to emotionally connect with my life. The hymns we sang at school took on a deeper meaning.
I may not have questioned the existence of God, but one day, early in the war, I decided to try out the efficacy of prayer. At the time I was sitting in the outside lavatory, a whitewashed nook of a place, with only the customary strung squares of newspaper and an old banana box for company. It was a private retreat, fine for dreaming while waiting for stubborn muscles to perform. The pictures of bananas on the top of the box made me long for one. It had been ages since they were available. The last time I saw one was when a girl brought one to school. Her soldier brother had brought it back from abroad. She had eaten the fruit herself and divided the skin between her friends. The rest of us had to make do with just the smell.
I decided to ask God for a banana.
“God, if you can do everything, turn this picture into a real banana.”
I slowly opened my eyes and, of course, there was no banana. I suddenly felt a wave of shame spread over me. What a wicked girl! We can’t tell God what to do. We don’t ask for things we do not need, and we do not put him to the test. I may not have received a banana but I had a deep inner conviction of his holy and powerful presence. I did not have to trust that God existed; I somehow knew he did. Of course, my feelings may have been reflecting my relationship to my father!
I once heard my father telling someone about his near death experience. Evidently, while working at Chilwell Ordnance Depot, he was trapped between two trucks. When he was released, having no signs of life, he was thought to be dead. They spread him out on the ground and waited for the ambulance. My father said that he was floating above them listening to what was being said about him. When medical help arrived, he was brought back to life.
Mother used to say that little pigs have big ears. I had the biggest of the lot. Picking up information in snippets can be a bad thing. When I was young, I imagined a world of ghosts existing with and around us. I became frightened of the dark. With the wartime blackout and lack of lighting in and outside the home, I dreaded dark nights. I would close my eyes going down the passage from the kitchen until I felt the electric light switch at the bottom of the stairs. And repeat the process to get to my bedroom. When I had to put a shilling in the meter because the light had gone out, I would have my eyes shut tight until light made it impossible to see my imaginary ghosts. During winter, I did a lot of feeling my way in the dark with my eyes closed.
In my own mind, my fear was justified because I had seen a ghost. At least, I thought I had. I awakened in the middle of the night and saw a woman’s face looking down at me. She was smiling as though she knew me. I didn’t see the rest of her body. I didn’t want to either. I pulled the bedclothes over my head and trembled until I fell asleep again.
“You were just dreaming,” my mother told me afterwards. I was not convinced.
When an old lady who lived with us died, I could not go near her room. I was expecting her ghost to pop up sometime, but it never did. But then I was keeping my eyes closed in the dark! It took another spiritual experience to rid me of the fear but that was some years later. By that time there was more concern about being mugged or otherwise attacked. I was not in the grip of such fears when I was young, even though I had a man try to sexually abuse me in the cinema when I was twelve. No, it was the world of the unknown that caused the fear when I was young. But then, we did have our imaginations stimulated by the cinema. As Snow White ran away from the wicked wiles of her stepmother, trees clawed at her hair and clothes. Later films told us of zombies that roamed and mummies that cursed, and disembodied hands that sought revenge. During the war we had air raids and bombs falling not far away. But I cannot remember being worried about such things. After all, God was on our side – at least, that is what everyone seemed to think.
When I was about ten, Christine, a girl in my class at school, died suddenly with a burst appendix. A friend, who had seen her body, told me that she looked lovely in death. She was dressed in white with a bunch of violets in her hand. I walked past her house with a kind of numinous awe, thinking of her in the front room, seeing her in my mind’s eye with those flowers in her hand.
But death was not something that I’d had to face personally. I had a vague idea of heaven because of my Sunday school teaching, but the actual loss, or the possibility of loss, had never hit me until I witnessed my dad having a heart attack.
He was sitting where he always sat, in his big wooden armchair at the kitchen table. Suddenly he gripped his chest and bellowed out in pain. We looked up shocked as he fell to the floor twisting and turning, yelling in agony. I was sent to the front room to sit with our elderly lodger. But I wanted to know what was happening. I could hear the yelling and I was very frightened, so much so that I was crying out in sympathy with my father. I thought he was dying. Someone had gone to the telephone box to ring for the doctor. By the time the doctor arrived, my father was recovering. But it made me realise that nothing was permanent. Even the strong were vulnerable.
I was badly hit when the old lady who lived with us died. Mother went to her room one morning and found her dead. I refused to see her and was almost afraid to pass by her window. During school assembly we were singing a hymn when I suddenly burst into tears. I was almost wailing. It had been a double whammy that morning. Not only had the lady, who had been a sort of grandmother to me, died, but also my name had been read out from the nurse’s list of dirty-headed girls. The domestic science teacher took me out into the playground. When I told her about the death at our house, she talked to me about life and death of flowers and plants and how they came up to bloom again. I guess she was telling me that something within us never dies but lives on. I felt comforted, not so much by what she said – as young as I was, I could see flaws in her argument – but because somebody cared enough to talk to me in a kindly, gentle manner. After being bereft and branded that morning, it was exactly what I needed.
Odd things began to happen that increased my sense of awe. There had been some talk of four-leaf clovers being lucky. But I was told there was no such thing. I poked around the clover in our garden knowing I would find one. At each place I looked, one was waiting to be picked. No doubt there is a natural explanation, but being a kid I saw something deeply mysterious about it.
My friend had borrowed my paintbrush. Such things are very valuable when you have very little. Needing it myself, I went to get it back, but no one was at home. In those days doors were not locked, except at night. So I went along to Belinda’s room but I had no idea where she had put it. I looked on some shelves fixed to a wall, but no brush. Then I somehow knew where the brush was. I felt quite strange as I slightly pulled the shelves away from the wall. The brush had fallen down the narrow space at the back. There could have been many places all over that very big house where it might have been, but that was the first place I looked. I felt really strange as though I had been given special knowledge. As I left the house I felt I was not alone; unseen eyes were watching me!
Such experiences, and there were many, primed me well for a much later happening. A group of American evangelists visited Nottingham. Being concerned for my father, who had lost the use of his legs, and hearing about the miracles of healing that were supposedly going on, I went along with a friend to see what it was all about.
The church was packed and we had to crowd in the room below. The service was relayed to us and we could hear every word of the preacher. It was highly emotional stuff. A drunken father pressing his little girl’s face to a red-hot stove, followed by the story of his redemption through the blood of Jesus. We heard about our sins and prospects for salvation. They didn’t sound good. So we repeated the words for forgiveness and claimed our salvation in the name of Jesus.
The next day being Sunday, we visited the church expecting to see pews filled and overflowing. We wanted to hear the testimonies of those who had been healed – or so it was claimed – at the evening meeting. The pews were not filled and there was no healed person there. But one lady was convinced she was getting back her sight; she had seen a vague red at the traffic lights. Everyone praised God. Years later, I was to truly witness God’s spirit at work, but it had nothing to do with manipulation and emotionalism.
My mother always said that God helps those who help themselves, and even we kids had done our bit for the war effort. God had answered our prayers by bringing us victory. We now had the National Health Service to bring us health and happiness, and everyone was expecting miracles of that too. But, like my banana, some miracles just cannot be realised!

When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in RED BOXES
by Gladys Hobson ISBN 0-9548885-2
Visit Magpies Nest Publishing for other books by Gladys Hobson (aka Angela Ashley and Richard L Gray) Read first two chapters of all her books.

When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in RED BOXES continued chap.Two

October 2, 2008

When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes by Gladys Hobson.
A pick and mix assortment of childhood memories 1939-53

Chapter Two


If ever I feel like grousing about our National Health Service, I dig out of my memory bank of how things used to be. Fortunately for our family, my dad paid into something or other that took care of some medical bills.
During the Second World War we had a lovely old doctor, Dr Bonner. He had served as an army doctor during the earlier war, and was well beyond retirement age. He loved children and gave us little pieces of fruit cake sent to him from South Africa, and let us pick the bluebells from his vast garden. He also showed us inside his underground air-raid shelter, built in a clearing a little way from his huge house. He always gave us time and made a fuss of us. If he had been practising today, the way he examined me when I had chickenpox – as if it had invaded my intimate parts – might well have brought his motives under scrutiny.
But he wasn’t the only dodgy friendly doctor. Some years later I had to visit a consultant chest specialist. Alone in his room, he had me sitting in a chair opposite him. We were in front of a roaring coal fire. He slipped my vest straps off my shoulders while he examined my chest in fine detail. Then, still sitting in the chairs, he pulled me up to him while he examined my back with his stethoscope. I was practically on his knees, pressed hard to his chest with my head on his shoulder, his Brylcreem strong in my nostrils.
One day, when I was getting better after a serious illness, Dr Bonner came to see me. Afterwards he took me with him in his car while he visited a few sick people. A girl sent me out one of her precious oranges. It was the first time I had been in a car and I had not had such exotic fruit for ages. Only infants and the sick were allowed to have oranges. Like all food coming from abroad during the sinking of supply ships, they were in very short supply.
With Dr Bonner’s casual approach to time, it was hardly surprising if patients could wait for two hours or more to see him. The situation was made worse because he dispensed his own medicines: counting out pills and pouring out colourful liquid – usually pink linctus, iron tonic or brown cough medicine – out of huge jars into small bottles. Of course, there were no antibiotics, and for painkillers we just had aspirins. Mother made bread poultices to draw out boils, rendered goose-grease for chesty coughs, and we all had good old TCP to gargle with and tackle any other problem. We only went to old Bony, or he came to us, if all else failed or we were very poorly indeed.
But if there was a long wait, there were compensations. Our doctor had dramatic pictures on his waiting-room walls. These were no tatty posters concerned with health warnings, or advertisements of groups and associations there to support and advise. I can only remember such things existing in public lavatories where we were all expecting to get VD if we sat on the seats. No, these were framed prints hung on each wall – a veritable picture gallery.
The one I liked the best was of a man being punished by being publicly sawn in half. On reflection, it may be that he was going through the last stages of the traitor’s fate – the dreaded drawing and quartering. On the other hand, it might have been a surgeon’s very public demonstration of his skill with knife and saw. That, and the other pictures, set our young imaginations alight, giving us sober food for thought whilst waiting for our kindly Dr Bonner to give us his personal attention. Yes, it was worth the wait just to view the doctor’s art gallery.
Hospitals were places you never wanted to enter; people died in them! Surgery was not advised unless it was considered a dire necessity. When I was just turned twelve, I went with my mother to see my dad after he’d had his hernia fixed. He was in the large surgery ward of Nottingham City Hospital. It was packed with very poorly people secured in neatly-made beds. The nurses, in starched white uniforms, made sure there were only two visitors to each bed and that they all left at the ring of the bell. Young children were not allowed inside. Just as well perhaps, because by the door was a young man with meningitis. He was a terrible sight, his eyes wild and his whole body shaking. There was a strong smell of disinfectant about the place but it failed to hide all the other smells. My dad’s wound had turned septic and the pus was making a bit of a stink. The man in the bed next to my dad was dying. The whole atmosphere was depressing and there was no privacy. I expect the nurse had to be able to see around the whole ward. The only happy thing out of the visit was to see my dad and know that he was getting his nightly bottle of stout.
But I was not totally shocked by the hospital scene. I had been in hospital myself, twice.
I had just turned seven. It was December 1939 and the war had recently started. And my own happy little world was about to be shattered.
I had been sitting at my desk working away at my lessons, when the teacher came up close to me and looked at my face. She seemed quite alarmed and wanted to know how I was feeling. She sent for the headmistress. Between them, it was decided that I should be taken to the clinic for a medical opinion. No doubt they were mostly concerned to know if I had a contagious disease and wanted to get me away from the rest of the children. The clinic confirmed that I had Scarlet Fever. In those days, it was a notifiable disease and regarded as being quite dangerous. Years ago there were no antibiotics or medicines to cure such diseases. The body had to heal itself with the help of rest and healthy food. Complete isolation of the patient was needed. For the unlucky ones, like myself, this had to be in an isolation hospital.
My adult brother, Jack, caught the disease too, but he refused to go away. Mother had to nurse him at home, keeping him isolated in his bedroom until he was better. She had to take him his meals, water to wash with, and empty his smelly chamber-pot every day so he didn’t use the bathroom. It was the only time she ever smoked cigarettes! The whole house had to be fumigated to prevent the disease spreading.
After being taken to the clinic, I was taken home and handed over to my mother and our own doctor was contacted as soon as possible. By the time the doctor arrived I was tucked up in bed wondering what was going to happen to me. After the doctor had done his examination, he took my mother over to the window to have a quiet word with her. They had little looks towards the bed and I could see that my mother was looking very worried. I heard the doctor talking about hospital and eventually saw my mother nodding her head in agreement.
Sure enough, when the doctor left, my mother came back upstairs to tell me that I was going to be taken to hospital.
“Don’t worry, Luvvy, I’ll come and see you. You’ll soon be home again.”
But I did worry. It all felt strange and unreal. Soon the ambulance arrived. I heard it stop outside the bedroom window. There was a knock at the door, the sound of voices in the hall, footsteps on the stairs, and then a uniformed man came into the room. He rolled me in a blanket with my arms by my sides, threw me over his shoulder, and took me down to the street and into the ambulance. I began to live in a timeless world away from everything and everyone I knew and loved. I was very poorly and exceedingly unhappy, but I tried not to cry.
I was taken to the isolation hospital miles away into the country. There I was put to bed in the women’s ward. As a young child I had little control over my life but in that place, I had none.
I was put in an end bed next to a girl who was about twelve years old. I was too young for her to talk to me. Except for a baby in a cot, we were the only children in a ward of adults. I was next to the nurses’ small office. Since there was a window in the wall, I could just see into the room, at least, the upper part of it. There was a clock on the wall. By patients asking me to tell them where the hands were, I was soon able to tell the time. At least, it was a bit of education and the only sort I was going to receive for a while. There were no books to look at or toys to play with.
After the first night in hospital, I wet the bed. I felt such a big baby. No one was cross with me but I felt the shame of it keenly. What would my parents and the rest of the family think?
I was to spend the first two weeks in bed. Then, for another four weeks, I would be allowed to get up and dress each day. I was given a very odd garment to wear in bed. It had sleeves and legs, buttoned right down the front, and had a buttoned flap at the back so that I could use the bedpan without having to get undressed. I hated it, especially that silly flap.
The bedpan was quite new to me and seemed a very strange shape. In those days they were made of enamel and shaped like frying pans with a hollow handle and rim. I hated having to sit on them in full view of other patients. It was terribly embarrassing when I made a smell, then having to wait for the nurse to come and get rid of the pan and its contents.
It must have been the first day after my arrival at the hospital that I called for the nurse, as I thought I had been told to.
“Nurse, nurse, I need the bread pan,” I called. Afraid of wetting the bed, I yelled for the pan again. “Nurse, nurse, I need the bread pan.”
The nurse came with the pan, plus a broad smile on her face.
“What did you ask for?”
“The bread pan”, I answered, nearly in tears because everyone was laughing.
She burst into fits of laughter and so did the ladies in their beds.
“Bedpan, Gladys,” she said. “You use it in bed.”
I had, of course, merely repeated what I thought I had heard, without reasoning as to what it meant in the context of how it was being used. Since it was shaped like a frying pan, it was not unreasonable to think it was a pan for frying bread in. I felt exceedingly stupid. Knowing what went into it, of course they would not use it for cooking!
Every morning we had a banana for breakfast. They must have been some of the precious few available before the war was over. Funny, as I write, I can actually smell the banana and taste the bread that came with it. Early morning, a nurse would wake me up so that I could use the bedpan. She would ask me if I’d had my bowels moved. Bowels moved? What were they and who would move them? No doubt she explained. If I said no, then I was given some horrid black medicine and told to eat my breakfast banana with it. So I only had the piece of bread for breakfast. It seemed a long time until dinner-time. The food was terrible. Usually mince for dinner, and bread and jam for tea, unless the patients had their own eggs for the nurses to boil for them.
My parents were the only permitted visitors. They had to talk to me through the glass windows. Visiting was for thirty minutes, twice a week. Only my mother could get to visit me in the week and sometimes father would come with her on Saturdays. Although it was a two-bus journey and the weather was very bad, my mother always came. Once a week I was given a sixpence to buy pop. Altogether, it must have been a very expensive time for my mother.
I had been in hospital nearly two weeks and I was going to be allowed out of bed to go to the Christmas party. My mother had been asked to bring me some clothes to wear for the occasion. She forgot and I was bitterly disappointed. It must have been very hard for my mother because she would have known how I felt and she could not even give me a cuddle.
The nurse said that I could wear a hospital dressing gown to go to the party in. My parents thought that would make me happy and were able to go home feeling that all was well. But all was not well. I was feeling utterly sad and alone. I wanted to be home with my family, not in that strange place where I was continually being teased that there were crickets in my bed. I wanted to be back in bed with my sister and to have someone to play with. I did not like bedpans, or being woken up to take nasty medicine. I wanted my mother. But I did not say so. I did not say anything.
I put on the dressing gown and began the lonely walk to the party in the men’s ward, on the other side of the hallway. I felt utterly, utterly, alone and unsure of myself. Would they laugh at me in a dressing gown? I did not know much about parties as we never had any at home. There had been a school party once. We wore our best clothes and I knew the children and teachers. Now I was in a dressing gown and I had no friends. I was overwhelmed by misery.
Tears trickled down my cheeks as I passed the nurses’ office door.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked a nurse when she saw and heard me cry.
I did not know what to say. Wanting my mother and to go home, were things that must never be said.
“I’m cold,” I lied.
She threw a blanket at me. “What a big baby. Put this round you and stop crying.”
Stung by the rebuke, I did as I was told. Thinking that I looked even more stupid with a blanket wrapped around me, I pushed open the door to the men’s ward and walked up to the table where everyone was about to start the party. There was just the one empty seat.
Before long we were all pulling crackers. Someone helped me to pull mine. I looked for the little toy. There was none.
“Gladys hasn’t got anything in her cracker”, said the person next to me.
“Gladys doesn’t deserve anything,” said the nurse who had thrown me the blanket.
Now everyone would know that I was a bad girl.
I was beginning to experience the harsh realities of life beyond the security of my home and family. I must not cry. I must not show how I feel. I must be good. I did not know the word rejection but I felt it just the same. I did not know the meaning of isolation but I was experiencing it. That hospital was built to keep seriously diseased people apart from the rest of the community in order to avoid epidemics. But it also had an effect of promoting a deep sense of individual isolation, and of being unclean and unwanted.
The Christmas party over, I went back to bed in the women’s ward and waited for Santa to come. I had a brown baby doll in my bag. I was asked to let the crying baby play with it. The baby pulled its head off and then messed on its body.
When allowed out of bed, I watched snow falling outside of the window and looked for footprints on the soft white carpet. I waited for my parents to visit. I waited for the sixpence. I waited to go home.
At last, after six long weeks, the day arrived when my mother brought my outdoor clothes. The clothes that I had worn in hospital, along with my small collection of personal things, were stoved. I put my clothes on in the office. I had to wear almost two of everything. It was a cold day and snow still lay on the ground. It was my first time out for six weeks and there was a long journey home. I stepped outside into the sweet fresh air. I was free! I was with my mother. I was holding her hand. I was going home!
Later that year, my brother was rushed into hospital. He had been suffering a lot of pain with appendicitis. The doctor sent for an ambulance. By the time he reached the hospital, his appendix had burst and the whole area had become numb. The surgeon went straight ahead with the operation and only gave him a whiff of something when the feeling returned during the operation. I was very impressed with my brother’s bravery.
But it was only another year or so before I had another hospital experience. Before the days of penicillin, tonsillitis was a painful and debilitating problem. The popular cure was to have them removed, along with your adenoids. Lured by the promise of ice-cream and jelly, I agreed to be treated – not that I had a choice!
Along with my sister, Mother took me to hospital where she handed us over to a nurse. We were herded with other children into a ward that consisted of two rows of iron-framed beds. Before long, we were dressed in gowns and waterproof hats. When we were all ready, we were taken to a waiting room that had a seat running around all four walls.
Two nurses kept us singing with loud voices. Every few minutes a door opened and a child was taken out. So we had to sing all the louder. “Ten green bottles” might have been more appropriate than the “White cliffs of Dover”!
My turn came – not many of us singing by this time! The door opened. Someone took my hand and, trembling with fear, I was walked to the other side of a corridor. A door opened the way to the operating theatre. I saw the high narrow table, overhung with brilliant lights and surrounded by people in white gowns wearing masks and head coverings. I was lifted onto the table and had something placed over my mouth. I was frightened; I couldn’t get my breath. I opened my mouth and screamed.
I woke up lying on a bed. An enamel bowl was wedged against my mouth to catch the blood trickling from my nose and throat. I hurt badly. I looked down the line of beds. Each child was like me: head at the bottom of the bed resting on a rubber sheet, and with a bowl bright with blood. Some children were crying for their mummies; some were moaning or whimpering. None was eating ice-cream and jelly! Occasionally the sound of a bowl falling on the floor brought a nurse scurrying to mop up the blood. Someone would come round wiping mouths to see if the bleeding had stopped. To my young mind, it was a scene from hell!
Next morning we were all lying in bed the right way round and a doctor came to examine our throats. If we were healing all right, we could go home.
Not long after getting home, my sister was found to have chickenpox and a little later, I too had the same infection. I do not know which was worse, the sore throat or the dreadful itching!
Immunisation had arrived and we were given injections to save us from diphtheria and smallpox. The site of the injection swelled and spread out into a large painful circle and I felt a little unwell. But having suffered from all the other childhood diseases – and they were very debilitating – it was worth the price.
But disease was not the only public health concern. Wartime conditions spread parasites that lived under the skin. Not long after being in hospital, along with my mother and sister I had to pay a visit to a cleansing centre. I was in the grip of utter shame and humiliation. I had scabies!
I could not tell my classmates why I was not at school. My closest friend’s mother, possibly worried her children might catch whatever I had, continually quizzed me.
“Come on, Gladys, what’s the matter with you?”
“Summer rash, I think,” I would say, hiding my hands with their tell-tale scratch marks.
“Don’t be shy; you can tell us. We won’t think you’re a spy if you’ve got German measles!”
“I’ve eaten too many plums and they’ve given me an itchy rash.”
By that time I was not contagious. I had already been cleansed.
The clinic was set up in an old village school. We had to catch two buses to get there. I felt like an unclean outcast. The nurses were kindly enough but the procedure was very humiliating. I had to strip and take a hot bath. Then, while I stood in the bath completely naked, the nurse used a big shaving brush to cover me with a creamy substance. I had to part my legs while she worked the stuff into ever crack and cranny. I then had to wave my arms about to get the stuff to dry. Even while the cream was still damp on my body, I was told to dress and run around the old playground. Although in a fairly isolated spot, I was frightened of being seen by someone who knew us.
If I thought that experience humiliating, there was even worse to come. When I moved up to the girls’ school, I managed to pick up head lice. The headmistress had a policy of name and shame. The nit nurse visited the school at regular intervals. Fear gripped the whole class when she walked into the classroom. You stood in a line while she parted your hair, hoping that your name would not go down in her little black book. Knowing what was going to happen, some children would sit down crying. In the morning at the end of assembly, the head would read aloud the name of every pupil on the nurse’s list.
“These girls have dirty heads. Stay away from them.”
During the war years, many children were infected with head lice. We were constantly using a nit comb. It was a bit like going fishing. With a sheet of newspaper on the floor, we would kneel and comb through our hair, watching the lice fall and run. We picked them up and killed them between our thumbnails. How many caught today? Then the eggs, sticking on to hairs, had to be removed. With the usual hair washing, using soap with a vinegar rinse – no fancy shampoos in those days – we had a bottle of stuff from the chemist to help us clean up. But we still managed to keep picking up the little beasties. When my name was read out, I could have wept for shame. Girls close to me moved further away. Once more, I was unclean!
What joy when my name was no longer read out. I heard a girl standing behind me whisper, “Gladys is off the list.”
Worms too, became a menace. With the shortage of paper in the school lavatories and less-than-perfect washing facilities, it was easy for an epidemic to break out. London evacuees were always blamed, but that was unfair. With our cold damp house and lack of hot water, I could be just as scruffy as anyone else could. The nit nurse told me off for having a dirty neck.
“Well, soap’s on ration,” my friend’s mother said, when told of my disgrace. I thought she might have been thinking of her own neck.
No way was I going to strip down to wash in freezing cold conditions. Some nights the water pipes, which ran under our bed, froze. So much ice gathered on the window pane, it was hard to scratch it off. My sister would come home from night shift and snuggle up to my sister and me. She was incredibly cold. We had hot-water bottles and heated bricks in the beds, but we still put our clothes on top of the quilt to keep us warm. We didn’t want our clothes to be frozen either! As it was, I suffered severe chilblains every winter.
Having outside lavatories probably helped spread worms and diseases. Our baker, who called several times a week, always used our back lavatory. He never once washed his hands, even though bread was unwrapped in those days. Other callers – tea vendor, milkman, greengrocer, sweep, insurance man and various collectors of money – were just the same. Food was handled in shops but no one complained. People had their chamber pots under their beds, as did we, but there was no washing of hands afterwards. During the night, the bathroom was only used in summer. It was a cold dark trip to both
light-switch and bathroom. Many people only had an outdoor lavatory. So why bother going out in the rain and frost?
Unless there was an attendant, public lavatories left much to be desired. They could get very smelly. The containers for dirty sanitary towels tended to fill up. Having no bin liners or bags to put discarded objects in, made the situation worse. I once saw the refuse collector come out of the ladies’ lavatories carrying an armful of the smelly objects.
My father was disabled and there were no special lavatories or facilities of any kind. Every time my mother pushed him out in his wheelchair they had to carry an empty milk bottle with them.
There was little help for the disabled when I was young. Being so helpless after a very active working life, made my father very bad tempered. His wheelchair had a mind of its own and would occasionally veer to the right. Whilst being pushed around Nottingham University Park, several times he nearly landed in the lake with the fish.
“Your mother’s trying to bloody drown me!” he was wont to yell.
Unable to get to work to do his job, he was forced to retire on sick benefit – very little in those days. Mother had a number of cleaning jobs and Dad tried to earn money by working from home – shoe repairs, leather work, motor restoration, and relining baby prams. Weary with pain and immobility, he became very frustrated when things went wrong. The air became blue with his language and Mother suffered much verbal abuse. Home was not always a happy place to be. Even at night, I sometimes heard my dad yell with agonising cramp.
“Give me a knife so I can cut the bloody thing off!”
Sometimes, when he was poorly, we went out at night to find an open fish and chip shop where we would queue for hours to get his favourite food. Because he was hurting, we hurt too.
With others, my dad struggled to get disabled people motorised vehicles and, eventually, the government provided them. They were only single-seated and some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road but at least he was mobile. Thankfully, we now have a more caring society.

Published by Magpies Nest Publishing IBSN 0-9548885-0-2

Badge Of Life

October 1, 2008

Click on above video. From the Badge of Life program at

My friend Andrew F O’Hara suffered many a shattering experience during his duties as a Highway Patrol Officer (USA). On the day of his retirement he prepared to take his own life — such was the unremitting psychological pain that held him in its grip. That pain will never go away but now, thanks to professional help, it has become manageable. Many will know Andy as Jerry the editor of The Jimston Journall, a colourful Internet magazine, which he himself created — each one a theme collection of stories, poems and magnificent
Andy is presently devoted to saving the lives of potential suicides by making aware the need for all police officers to be encouraged to participate in annual ‘check-ups’.

This is what O’Hara says on his web site

“The Annual Mental Health Prescription (MHP) takes the focus away from “suicide-suicide-suicide” and begins targeting “mental health for police officers.” We call this nothing more than a “vaccination” of good, preventive self care–self care for people involved in one of the world’s highest stress occupations.

Beginning at academies, we suggest that officers be encouraged to visit a therapist or other mental health professional at least once a year with the same diligence they have their teeth cleaned, work out, check the fire alarms in their homes or get a flu shot. No one need know if they actually do or not–this must be voluntary.These visits can be within the department’s mental health program or through the officer’s personal health coverage. Officers are encouraged to make this visit whether they believe it is needed or not—in fact, we explain that if they don’t feel the need, they definitely should go.”

Red Boxes Chap.One… School-days: sewage, sex, sport and school dinners

October 1, 2008

Chapter One
School-days: sewage, sex, sport and school dinners

When I was young, it was normal to have single-sex schools. That suited me very well. Boys were loud, rude and dirty. Apart from which, their mothers favoured them, and that made them pushy and arrogant. I dare say we were jealous of our brothers, but why should they get extra helpings of pudding? What did they do that we didn’t? We girls were the labourers in the home. We were the good children.
But some senior girls let our school down – the rotters! They were thirteen and should have known better. However, I’m pleased to say the miscreants came from posh homes. They never had anything to do with us lesser mortals, and so we were not dragged into their criminal activity.
We had been given the privilege of touring the new local sewage and waste disposal works. The sewage was very pongy but it was interesting to see what was floating on top – certain rubber objects that were often found in alleys and in the park. Boys would blow them up like balloons. Why would people put balloons down the lavatory? The liquid in the final tank was supposed to be fresh water, and the man said they used it for their tea. As far as I was concerned, it already looked like tea.
We viewed the latest means of recovering scrap metal, had a peek in the fiery furnace and watched them bundling waste paper for recycling. The naughty girls found a package of private letters written by a soldier to his wife and were in fits of giggles as they passed them around for their buddies to read. ‘When I come home, you know what’ became words of awe, wonder, thrills and tremendous excitement. The girls were going around telling others that the wife now had a baby – apparently from doing ‘You know what’.
But what had the married couple actually done? The girls obviously knew something I didn’t and I found that irksome. We outcasts heard that the girls were in big trouble – the wife in question came to school and demanded action or the police would be called in. It was a case of “He-he!” as far as I cared.
As we were expected to leave school at fourteen, we were to begin lessons about sex. What excitement! We were to be introduced to the mysteries of our very existence and that gave us a tremendous feeling of awe.
We gathered in the biology classroom with its long benches and stools, its wall pictures and never-used equipment; its cabinets and raised platform for the teacher’s demonstration bench. Compared with the rest of the tatty school, it was a grandiose place of learning. There could be no more fitting stage for the demise of our ignorance and the birth of new knowledge.
Textbooks were given out. We were given the page number. A little embarrassed, but decidedly curious, in silence we turned the pages. What did we find? The life cycle of the single-celled animal!
What a let-down. The biology teacher did not get away with it though. A few pages away we found something very interesting – pictures of frogs mating. So that was how “it” was done!
But if our school was shy about sex, our dog wasn’t. Every time she was on heat, she did a lot of humping with her bedding and anything else that happened to be handy. Mother would worry about her. Poor dog; was she being denied release of natural instincts? Should Jenny be allowed to have puppies? Of course, we girls thought puppies would be a very good idea. A large brown and white spaniel-type dog was sniffing around the house at the time. Mother decided he would make a decent mate for Jenny. We opened the side entrance gate to let him in. He didn’t oblige. Mother went out and dragged him in! He was introduced to Jenny in the garden and we went inside to let them get on with it. After a while, Jenny started howling. Why howl when she got what she wanted? Mother was now worried that Jenny was being hurt and went out to rescue her. But the deed was over and the borrowed dog was trotting off home. A few days later, my mother saw the borrowed dog with its owner. She told the lady that her dog had got at our dog.
“Really? I would be very interested if she has puppies. He’s a very old dog.”
Jenny had a beautiful litter. They were all like their dad. Now, was that how babies came to be born? But that did not explain all the touching and kissing business that humans engaged in. Or did it?
Today, I see kids going to school labouring with huge bags on their backs. At my girls’ school, I had nothing to take except ingredients on cookery days. Our education was simple: English, arithmetic, geography, history, biology, art, domestic science, sewing, religion and physical education. All textbooks were kept at school and all work was done at school. We had longer hours but life in those days was uncomplicated, in spite of rationing, certain restrictions, and the occasional bomb and air-raid siren.
For a year we had a whole day for learning domestic skills. There was no book learning. It was entirely practical. Half the day, we washed dirty clothes, and ironed with flat irons heated on the range; only the teacher used the one electric iron, which was plugged into the ceiling light. Washing was by hand or by boiling. We rinsed, wrung, rinsed with dolly-blue, wrung, rinsed with starched water, then finally wrung and put to dry on a pulley airer. Dirty clothes were soaked, cuffs and collars scrubbed, and if you accidentally took to school a grubby handkerchief in your washing bag, it had to be given disgusting treatment. Salt-water helps loosen green mucus and it’s just not nice before lunch!
We cooked simple dishes. Being wartime, there could be nothing fancy. And with nothing wasted, it was a wonderful foundation for good housekeeping: economical cakes and pastries, nutritious stews and pies. To make our Christmas cake we had to substitute soya for almonds, dates for sultanas, and a mix of condensed milk for icing. It was that good, my brother ate half the cake as soon as I got it home – greedy boy! Sometimes there would be little else than vegetables in the meat and potato pie, but they always looked great with their scalloped edging. And what did it matter if I accidentally used ginger instead of pepper? They were days of making do, pulling together, no complaints and getting on with it.
We had blackberries from the hedgerows, windfall apples from neighbours’ trees, cabbages from the allotment, and eggs from our own few hens. My brothers got the double-yoked ones, of course. Occasionally, we had a small share of a pig kept in someone’s backyard. Sweets were rationed but we were all the better for it. Mother made our own jam with the sugar ration and she pickled eggs, preserved fruit, preserved the grease from the Christmas goose for our poorly chests in winter, riddled the coal dust to help our fuel ration, and did many other things to keep the home fires burning.
Unfortunately our fires seldom fitted the picture that propaganda merchants liked to get around. Coal rationing made life difficult. There was no central heating. We had no electric fires, and power supplies were uncertain anyway. The kitchen range needed coal for heating water as well as for warmth. Gas pressure was low and would often fall even lower when a cake was in the oven. Our coats hung on the back of the kitchen door – not just as a place to keep them, but to get them dry. Mother would often go down to the coal wharf near the station to beg the coalman to bring us some fuel. It was very rare to have a fire in a room other than the kitchen.
One winter we joined with a number of other desperate people, digging through the wharf’s waste heaps to sift out fragments of coal. When a policeman arrived, a stream of women and kids with baskets, mothers with prams and pushchairs with babies sitting on top of nutty-slack, would rush from the site. The policeman would wave his arms and issue threats but no arrests were ever made. It was from cold damp homes that we left for school. School was warm and dry and a good place to be.
Clothes were on coupons. No worry about designer labels in those days; all our clothes bore the utility label. We had been taught at school to make do and mend. So I darned, stitched and patched, unpicked and made new. Everything was a challenge. No worry over what and how much to buy. Bread was brown or white, bacon was lean or fatty, butter was butter and marge was marge. You were allowed your ration and when you shopped, you handed over your ration book and asked for butter, lard, marge, cheese, and sugar. You bought your meat ration and queued for offal and fish. We were taught how to make the most out of what we had, and encouraged to swallow our daily spoonful of free cod liver oil and malt. We never went without and were seldom hungry. When bread was in short supply, our domestic science teacher told us that potatoes were better for us. When the potato crop failed, bread was the healthier food. Our parents and teachers taught us to adapt to circumstances and be satisfied with what we got.
During the long years of food rationing, Mother usually only allowed us to have either marge or jam, but not both, on our bread. Blackcurrant puree became a delicious substitute for jam, and we had it on bread and sometimes on puddings. Some poorer people sold their clothes and sweet coupons; there were always people ready to buy them. In times of emergency, such as a flood, food parcels arrived from the USA. Occasionally, Yanks would hand out goodies and nylons for either favours or out of friendship. Everyone became familiar with SPAM and different ways of using it. We ate other tinned food, but it could only be purchased using your coupon allowance. Tinned salmon and tinned fruit were especially prized and saved for special occasions. We queued for hours for sausage rolls, pastries and bread, which for most of the time were free of coupons. When soya flour became a good substitute for just about everything, my mother made us sweets and we ate ourselves sick.
The introduction of school milk was great. Before little bottles arrived, it was served to us in beakers. We had it in the large art room. You went through the door, picked up your beaker, drank your milk while you were walking round the room and then went straight out, having put down your empty container. Milk in little bottles was wonderful. When not heated up by the hot radiators, we had ice to crunch.
Then came school dinners. Fantastic! For one shilling (5p) we had a plateful of dinner and a pudding with custard. You were not allowed to leave anything on your plate but that was all right most of the time. However, being a greedy girl, I went back for seconds of a peas and beans mix. They still had some left over. After another helping, I threw up in the lavatory! All that food was so very new to me, and how awful to see it going to waste down the pan!
School discipline was strict but you knew where you were and what you could get away with – nothing! Take a day off and the school-board man would be calling on your parents. Be cheeky and it would be a visit to the horrid headmistress. Pass a book forward or talk at the wrong time and the result was a whack on the hand from Miss Crosby. Stammer on your reading and receive a caustic comment from Miss Smith: “No wonder you failed your eleven-plus oral exam, Gladys. You can do better than that.”
A few teachers were warm and friendly and had more creative methods of teaching. School plays and concerts were organised, whereupon my friend and I were daft enough to put on our little acts. When asked to create a natural aquarium in the biology room, we were an hour late getting to another teacher’s boring lesson. Our biology teacher was a gem and we would do anything for her. But it isn’t what she taught that I remember her for, it is the witness she gave about her baptism. She told us how she went down into the water and came up a changed person. Angels came into it somewhere and the look on her face was quite something. She glowed.
Having failed the eleven plus oral (not surprising when I told them I wanted to be a dancer or an artist) I later passed the test for pupils in their fourteenth year to go to the Nottingham Secondary Art School. It was a two-year course; half the day spent on regular subjects and half doing nothing but art and craft. There were only thirty pupils to a class instead of forty-three or more. I blossomed!
I had a grant for a black blazer and badge, two shirts, a grey jumper and a tie. I bought a second-hand grey skirt for five shillings but it fell to my ankles when the zip broke. To save money, my disabled dad thonged together a grey leather satchel. It was a lovely bit of craftsmanship but everyone else had the usual tan leather ones. Because the uppers of my shoes were worn, my dad stitched on little patches. I felt the shame of poverty terribly, especially when, instead of the uniform navy gabardine, I had only a second-hand pea-green coat to wear. In the playground I stood out like a huge parrot. Needless to say, I wore my blazer throughout most of the two winters.
I had other essential items throughout my schooling: a vest to keep me warm and to give tenuous support to my growing breasts; and that inevitable bastion of defence – our navy-blue bloomers. Unfortunately, they tended to bulge the skirts of the yellow dresses we were allowed to wear in summer. Of course, elastic had a habit of perishing, or breaking free of the stitching, and could let you down badly. Sometimes you had to rely on the leg elastic to spare your blushes. Thankfully, skirts were at mid-calf length! Gym knickers were useful for PE and it was handy to have their secret pocket. With classes of boys at the art school, perhaps they were essential. The girls’ lavatory was on a half-landing and the boys had a habit of hanging around the bottom of the staircase. I guess, seeing a bare knee between sock and knickers must have been a very erotic experience, or they would not have risked being caught where they were not allowed. Girls today have got it wrong – too much on display is not necessarily alluring, but what is hidden can send boys wild! I should mention that the headmaster was a bit of a tyrant. He dragged two boys out of their classroom for whistling at my friend and me when we had taken in their crate of milk at playtime, and gave them a good caning for their disgraceful behaviour.
But boys will be boys. Some of them joined the photography club and made the most of the darkroom, or so a friend, who was a member, told me. Since I saw my friend in the arboretum, sitting in a shelter with a boy’s hand inside her blazer, I did not find it hard to believe. What did they do in the dark? Frankly, at that time, I thought touching was abhorrent – only allowed by tarts – and I could not understand why she allowed it.
The only time the boys officially mixed with the girls was during the last term of the two-year course. Since it was a two-classroom school with no hall – the other year’s two classes would be at the Art College – they joined us for dancing lessons in the YMCA gymnasium. What a lark!
Some of the boys may have acted macho to impress the girls in the playground but when it came to exposing their inadequacies in front of a whole class of girls they were all scared rabbits. They bunched up together one side of the hall while we girls were at the other. Of course, it has to be said that we had had a bit of practice. But it was not a good thing for us girls to dance together. Both my friend and I were well endowed in the upper regions; we couldn’t stop giggling as we constantly bumped our assets.
Being awkward with the dance movements was embarrassing for the boys, but being pressed up to us girls is what the they dreaded most. The teacher was without mercy. When the boys refused to choose a partner, she would grab a lad by the wrist, drag him across the floor, and slap him against a girl, chest to breast! Fearful of the same treatment, the rest of the boys would immediately speed across the room to find a partner.
“You can’t dance at a distance. Hold your partner close up,” she would bellow, frustrated by the boys’ obstinacy.
Of course, they did no such thing. Whatever they might have got up to in the arboretum, in that dance lesson they fought shy of close contact. So the teacher went around slapping the couples together. The boys’ hormones inevitably played tricks with their anatomy. Needless to say, we had some very hot and flushed young men in that dancing class.
I can’t say we were thrilled at dancing with coy stiff-limbed boys. They seemed to have a habit of practising football tackles in the middle of a quickstep.
But, I have to admit that dancing with the boys was preferable to playing hockey with the girls. One girl in particular had a reputation for knocking out the front teeth of her opponents with her hockey stick. Apparently she never fouled; it was the others who got in the way! She would carve a path through the opposition like a hot knife through butter. Scaredy-cat girls like me just ran out of her way and hoped she would trip up on her own hockey stick. I can see that girl now: reddish long fuzzy hair, a wild look on her face, a strong athletic build and a bombastic talker who seldom had a nice thing to say about anyone – well, at least, not about me! But I must admit I was useless at hockey. When I did get the ball passed to me I always managed to hit it straight to the opposition.
I was hopeless at swimming too. When practising a roll at the side of the bath to get us used to our head being under water, I would inevitably end up like a duck – head down, bottom up – and have to be pulled out. The teacher got used to receiving my not-well-this-week notes, and either thought I had a major period problem or accepted I was a serious risk to her teaching career.
At my previous school I was part of the netball team – that is, when the regulars failed to turn up. I must have been the only shooter that never scored a goal in a match. At least, I was keen. I practised shooting at my friend’s house. We found an old bent iron ring discarded from a netball post. My dad put it back into shape and my friend and I, between us, fixed it to a drainpipe in the courtyard of their big house. I don’t think leather balls were available in wartime – we could not have afforded one if they were. Plastic ones did not exist. So I made a ball out of oilcloth table covering. It was a trial and error method of making a pattern. Eventually, about eight segments roughly made up the spherical shape. I stitched it together on our ancient Singer, stuffed it with kapok, hand-stitched the gap, and we had the perfect ball to practice our shooting technique. Perfect, that is, to ensure remarkable accuracy in the courtyard with no opposition, and just the job to make sure I would never score in matches! The weight, shape and feel of the ball were all just too different. Of course there is a simpler reason for not scoring. I was useless!
I was no better at athletics. Fancying myself as a high jumper, I nearly injured my back. Entering for the hurdles, I did not even reach the finishing line. I managed to knock down every hurdle, bruise my legs and fall flat on my face. Try running and I always came last. But, one thing I was terrific at was the three-legged race. Unfortunately it was not a school event, but in local community competitions my friend and I won every time. It was not because we were good runners, but because we spent hours practising on their large lawn. It was a lesson in coordinating our movements, especially as we were a little and large couple.
I may not have been the athletic type, but I did well in all academic and creative subjects. Of course, lessons were totally different to today’s approach to learning. No computers, no televisions, and although most people had a wireless, it was not something we had in schools. It was mostly chalk and talk with the occasional visit. On one occasion we were taken to see Henry V at a city cinema but I was so bored I dropped off to sleep!
Our art classes were fantastic: lettering, nature drawing, memory and imagination, weaving, fabric printing, dress design, dress decoration, pattern cutting, dressmaking and others. We were a privileged few and proud to have been chosen. I guess being happy at school and rightly placed – perhaps a lesson for today’s education system – ensured we all worked hard. I shone in every subject.
Towards the end of the final year, the whole school of one hundred and twenty pupils went on a visit to London. We caught an early morning train and set off on what for me was a great adventure. I had never been so far away from home. But, although we had a very interesting time in the great city, what was most memorable was what happened on the way home.
Unfortunately, our group, along with two others, missed the train. This was more of a devastating blow for our nice teacher than it was for us. She was the one the head was most furious with. I can see him now, pacing the platform with wrath distorting his face into an ugly grimace. If he had had his cane with him I’m sure he would have whacked the lot of us. Buses that were meeting the train had to be rescheduled to allow for our late arrival. A lot of telephoning had to be done to change the arrangements. The majority of parents could not be contacted because few people had telephones in those days and there was considerable concern about pupils getting home very late.
By the time the train steamed into Nottingham station and we boarded our buses to take us home it was very late indeed. I was very tired but some of the pupils were being very lively; a lot of kissing was going on and a bit more besides. This in spite of having a responsible adult in charge of us. A student teacher nicknamed Mr Inkwell, who had helped supervise the groups of schoolchildren, was on the bus to make sure we got to our individual bus stops safely. We girls, now fifteen, thought he was fantastic. I sat there tired and dreamy, thinking about this gorgeous guy who was sitting up on the top deck.
I was also wondering why girls were coming down the stairs and going back up with one or two others. At first I thought it was just the lads getting a bit of what they wanted, but it soon became obvious what the main attraction for that evening was. Each time students left the bus, it was Inkwell’s job to make sure they did so safely. He came down the stairs and before reaching the bus stop, girls were giving him a final kiss before parting. They were nearly all at it. I was feeling quite jealous but I was much too shy to do anything about it. I never knew if the headmaster found out but we didn’t see Inkwell again!
I was never a popular girl at our art school. I was far too shy to make many friends and no other girls came from my area of Beeston. I had a lovely friend called Olive, but she left early when her family moved. I also had a friend called Mary. She was the one I danced with at school – you might say that we were bosom friends! Mary had a very close boyfriend called Pinter whose hormones were well developed, and who had a friend called Jake. It was inevitable that the four of us would occasionally meet up in the arboretum during our lunch breaks.
One lunchtime, the know-it-all Pinter was giving us the benefit of his knowledge concerning fighting and self-defence. He asked me to stand up so he could demonstrate a point. Gullible as usual, I obliged. He took my arm and twisted it round my back, causing me to howl in pain, and then cry like a baby as he held on to it. In absolute fury, Jake jumped on him and started to beat him up.
Swinging his fists, my hero yelled, “Leave her alone, you swine!”
It was the first time I had seen Jake in action – any action. I was very impressed and my opinion of him went up a few notches. It was a rotten thing that Pinter had done and I couldn’t understand why Mary went out with him. The fact that she was grinning throughout the whole episode probably meant that she enjoyed the excitement he engendered.
As you might expect from a sensual person like Pinter, he was always ready to tell dirty stories and raunchy jokes. I laughed along with the others, mainly because I didn’t want to show my ignorance. For in truth, being ignorant about sexual matters, I was not aware of the significance of most dirty jokes.
Every time Pinter saw a male with his hands in his pockets, he would laugh and say that he was playing pocket billiards. I twigged the possibility of a willie being used like a billiard cue, although the only male genital organs I had seen were those of babies, a young boy’s pencil-like object, and a man’s rubbery hose-pipe thingy (he was peeing up our house wall at the time). But billiards needed balls as well. Was Pinter saying that certain males went around with balls in their pockets to get their willies excited? Better to laugh than ask questions and become the fall guy for his jokes. I would be the laughing stock of the whole school.
Children can be so cruel. A few months earlier, I’d had a chair pulled away from under me when I was about to sit down. It had happened one wet lunchtime when the room was full of boys as well as girls. I fell badly and it was an incredibly painful and humiliating experience. The prefect told the boy off but the room was already full of shouts of glee and laughter.
In many ways I was a romantic young lady. With the cinema providing the main entertainment in the nineteen-forties, I saw a lot of films and I had my heartthrobs just like other girls did. In those days, actors in films were only allowed to kiss; touching and any other sexual activity was absolutely forbidden.
But eye contact and kissing was enough to stir the young female heart. I would fantasise about such things. Since I had nothing to put in my diary, I once wrote that I was not sure of my love for Jake. Of course, someone at school grabbed my diary and read out the only words in the book. It was lunchtime and Jake was in the classroom. I was mortified. Nearly everyone was laughing but he was looking very pleased with himself. Poor lad, what sort of message did it give him? No way did I love him.
Before the end of our two years, Jake raised the courage to give me a kiss. Pinter, who was doing very nicely with Mary, had been trying to get him to do it for ages. In a way, I wanted him to kiss me because he was a nice boy – even if he was stiff and awkward. But I have to confess that his pimples put me off. His face was a little bristly too, because shaving would have made his pus-filled spots worse.
We were in the arboretum when he finally summoned up enough courage. Pinter was having a sloppy session with Mary to show him the way. Not that Jake required showing but he certainly needed encouraging.
“Come on, Jake, it’s now or never. She’s standing waiting. Do you want me to show you how?”
Pinter grabbed hold of me, but Jake yelled, “No! You leave her alone.“
“Do you mind if I kiss you, Gladys?” he asked nervously.
I felt like saying, “Get on with it!” Instead I whispered, “No, I don’t mind.”
I closed my eyes and waited. He didn’t put his arms around me. He just came close up and bent his head to reach me. I felt the touch of his lips on mine, along with a slight brushing of the short bristles of his chin and upper lip. I knew the horrid pus-filled spots were close to my flesh but I tried not to be repulsed by them. And that was it. After we left school, we never met again.

To be continued…
When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in RED BOXES by Gladys Hobson
ISBN 0-9548885-0-2
Published by Magpies Nest Publishing