We have now been back home in Pyrcroft Road for a few days, our house smells of paint, I have never seen it so clean and tidy. The council workmen had done a very good job. Even the blackout curtains and the strips of paper on the glass windows have been replaced. It’s a bit bare though, with no pictures on the wall, even the big one of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ has gone—there is a family story that one of our ancestors was there on that day, but I think it is just one of those myths that families have. Another one of these stories that I am suspicious of, was that he also finished the ‘Unfinished Symphony. It makes you think if any of it is true.
The big looking glass has gone, broken into smithereens, now just a little jagged piece propped up on a shelf. The dresser has nothing much on it apart from the alarm clock and that looks a bit sorry for itself, it sort of leans over so you have to look at it with your head tilted otherwise you will get the time wrong.
It is early for me to be up and dressed, Iris and Bernard have already left for work, Mum, and my brother Don are still fast asleep under the Morrison shelter, sadly the bomb caused Mum to have a breakdown, and she is still very unwell. Our evacuee, Mrs. O’Keefe is in the kitchen, they stayed in our house while all the repairs were being carried out—Londoner’s; they are so tough! She is very short and stocky, my brother Bernard, says all Londoner’s are like that because of all the smoky air, I think it’s because she causes most of the smoke herself, she lights one fag after another.
And talking of smoke, it’s Monday, most people’s washday. I can smell all the coppers in our road being lit, wood smoke hangs in the still air outside and now drifts into our kitchen, soon our copper will be lit, and our smoke will slowly drift into someone else’s kitchen. It will be just like London! Mrs. O’Keefe comes in with a big pile of washing—she never stops talking.
“Let’s put some music on, shall we? I like some music while I work”.
She laughs, thinking she has made a little joke, ‘Music while you work’, is a popular programme on the wireless—I suppose it is quite funny. The wireless is an ‘Ultra’ it’s very clear, I can hear every little sound, probably because it has no cover, Dad was going to put it into a nice cabinet, but now it just sits on its base, I love watching the valves glowing, it’s like magic, I wonder how anyone thought of such a thing, there were no books then to tell you how to make one, and you can’t see radio waves or what-ever they call them.
I hear the old alarm clock, it is starting to whirr, as if it is gathering itself ready to ring the bell, but there is no bell to ring, the poor old clock has never been the same since the bomb, then it just gives up, I sometimes think that the wireless and the old clock are living things!
“Alan, there goes the Lagonda hooter, it’s eight o’clock already, but just look at your mum’s old clock, no bell, no glass and it’s always wrong, no one ever knows what the time is”.
The Lagonda factory is in Staines, about four miles away, the hooter should sound like the ‘all clear’, a continuous note, but it sounds more like the air raid warning, rising, and falling. My brother Don, said we should call Mrs O’Keefe, Mrs ‘O’, I think it’s a bit rude, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so that’s what I do now.
‘Well, Mrs ‘O’, it’s a wonder it works at all, after being blown out of the window with the rest of the stuff on the dresser’”
“Anyway, it’s easy to tell the time, all you have to remember, is that mum puts the clock ten minutes fast at the nine o’clock news every night, because that’s how much it loses every day. Do you want me to tell you how to work it out?”
She looks over her thick glasses with a tired look, I think she knows what’s coming.
“No, I don’t, and to tell you the truth Alan, I haven’t got the time to, I must get this washing done otherwise it will never dry”.
“When I get the copper going, we’ll have some toast, shall we? there’s no butter though, only dripping”.
I start to explain how to work it out, but I think I have lost her.
“Jesus wept it’s no wonder every-one’s late in this house, if they have to do that all the time”.
I begin to tell her that it’s not a problem for them as they always leave twenty minutes early just in case. There are times when you start to say something and then wish you hadn’t, but you can’t stop yourself. This was such a time!
Mrs. ’O’ sighs, she leans forward resting her hands on to the table, she’s now looking very weary, I think she has lost the will to live!
“Ducky, if you carry on this, I will be as mad as the rest of you, wouldn’t it be better if they just bought a new clock, they can’t be that expensive”.
“Do you know, Alan, I really think I would be safer back in London than in this crazy house”.
The Lagonda hooter fades away, its quiet at last, just the sound of the crackling wood in the copper and the bubbling washing, I like the smell of washday it’s one of my favourites.
“Thank god that bloody hooters stopped, now I can listen to the wireless, it’s got such a lovely tone, it’s a shame your dad couldn’t finish the cabinet. Perhaps one day, Bernard might be able to do it, when he’s got time”.
“Bugger, now the bloody things fading, just when I was listening to that Anne Shelton. Now that is something you can do for me Alan, just take the accumulator down to Mr. Hyde, it only costs tuppence to charge it up again, the poor man, he’s got such a bad habit, jerks his head all over the place, maybe it’s all that electric stuff he deals with”.
The alarm clock is not the only thing that is not working very well, since the bomb I’ve got a twitch, a sort of a wink. Yesterday, I heard Mrs Salmon, and Mum talking about a boy at school who had something called St Vitus Dance, he can’t keep still. Then I heard them talking about me and my ‘habit’—until then, I never knew what a habit was let alone that I had one.
Mrs Salmon said. “He will soon grow out of it, it’s just the shock of the bomb”.
Mrs Salmon isn’t always right though, she was the one who said mum would be alright. Since I heard all this, I have been looking in the mirror every few minutes, all I could see was a funny sort of wink in one eye. I need to look in the glass to see if it is getting worse, but that means passing Mrs ’O’. As I walk towards her, I watch her eyes to see if she notices anything, she just smiles as I push past, but in the looking glass I can see the twitch, it’s getting worse!
“Alan! Just be careful in the scullery, the copper is very hot, it’ll scorch your trousers, then you’ll smell just like that dirty old army coat you’re so fond of”.
“Don says, army buttons must never be polished, shiny buttons make’s a target for sniper’s, I wonder what regiment he was in, and why it smells all burnt and where do you think the soldier is now”?
Mrs. ‘O’ looked over her shoulder at me for what seemed a very long time, her hands still in the sink, but then she turned away without saying anything, just slowly shaking her head.
“Just look at you, come away from that looking glass, pulling all those faces, one day you will end up like that poor Mr. Hyde”.
“If you want something to do, work out what the time is…………you’re the only bugger that can”.
She laughs so much at her joke, that her fag fell into the copper.
“Oh, Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! Now look what you have made me do”.
I think that if you took all the swear words out of her conversation, she would have very little to say.
I walk back into the kitchen, Mrs. ‘O’ has said nothing about my winky eye. I think she is too upset about losing her fag!
“Here’s your toast, it’s a bit burnt, and that’s because of all your chatter”.
I creep back under the dresser, pulling my old army coat up round my neck, and eat my toast. You can’t beat toast and dripping on a chilly morning. I am lying still, and just listening, I can hear so much now, Mrs Wades chickens cackling and the pigs grunting, I could never have heard them before the bomb. I would have thought a bomb landing so close would make you as deaf as a post, but it’s the opposite.
My winky eye only comes back when I am stressed—this has caused all sorts of misunderstandings!! My hearing is back as before. Mum gets better and we all soon get back to normal—or as normal as you can be in a war. We never thought the war would come so close to us, as it did that night.
Amazingly the dramatic events of these last few weeks did not really affect me, although I had been a witness to what a single bomb falling on a sleeping village could do, I was still an optimist. This was obviously something I had inherited from my mother, despite all the trauma she has had to endure in her forty odd years, she would always say.
“Never mind, something will always turn up”………. It didn’t always though.