It’s our summer holidays and it’s already very hot this morning, I am waiting for my mum to come home from work. She cleans for Mrs. Snelgrove at the Golden Grove— about ten minutes away. Mum has promised to make me a swimming costume out of an old jersey. I had laid it out on the kitchen table with the needles and thread, ready for a quick job. Then I could go swimming at Chertsey Bridge, all my mates had already gone up to the bathing pavilion.
Now that we are in a war seaside holidays are not possible, because the coastal beaches are closed and barricaded to prevent the enemy landing. The swimming pavilion is always crowded on a day such as this, you would never think there was a war on. At last, I heard our garden gate open and my Mum coming down the path—I knew it was mum because she was the only one ever to use the gate, she is very superstitious.
“Ooh” she said as she saw me waiting at the door, “Put the kettle on love, and let’s have a nice cup of tea, there’s nothing like a cuppa to cool you down when it is so hot “.
“How could that be”. I asked, she just looked at me and sighed. I have noticed she does a lot of sighing whenever I am talking to her.
She took off her turban—a sort of headscarf that most of the ladies are wearing. A lot of local women work in the tank factory at Chobham. They all must wear these turbans when using the machinery there. She pushes her hair forward over her face and then back with a good shake, so that her hair tumbled onto her shoulders. Even at the age of seven I could see my mum was a lovely lady.
I put the kettle on, and even before it had boiled, there was a knock at the door, it was Mums best friend.
“You must have smelled the teapot Rosy”.
My heart sank, I’ll never have my cozzy made now. Rosy had very rosy cheeks, as shiny as an apple that I had just rubbed on my jersey. Everyone seemed to have a nickname in our area, some were cruel, like ‘Hoppy Wells’, who had lost a leg in the Great War, and others were just funny like ‘Porky Turner’ or ‘Chalky White’.
Rosy always sat on the only armchair we had, and as she sat into it, usually with a thump, a cloud of dust would rise, for a moment it seemed as if she had vanished from view. No such luck, for when the dust had settled, she was still there. I liked Rosy, she called in most days for a chat with Mum, always with a bag of apples or some vegetables, these were called ‘specks’, they had bad bits on them, that had to be cut off, but then they were fine. Her son Jimboy had a green-grocer’s shop, so we hardly ever had to buy fruit or veg. This time, Rosy had brought a fruit cake that she had just cooked.
“Here you are Ethel, I know you will like this one its full of fruit and it’s still warm”.
I made the tea and poured it out as quickly as I could, hoping Rosy would leave soon, but she had heard some gossip and was longing to tell mum about it. I just sat back and listened —or should I say read their lips—as they were using gum talk. My sister Chrissy had told me that when grown-ups want to say something in front of the children, they would move their lips without saying the word, gum talk she called it.
Of course, the grownups had not realised that we could easily understand everything, as long as you kept looking. Rosy was very easy to read as she had the habit of raising her eyebrows, folding, and unfolding her arms and lifting her bosom while leaning back or forward in the chair. Especially when she had something juicy to say.
This was a tale that she could hardly wait to tell mum about, a rumour was going round the town, and everyone was talking about it. She started the story in the usual gum talk way, but every now and then she forgot I was there and spoke normally. Leaning forward, and taking a long puff from her Woodbine cigarette, she began to tell her story. This sounded like a very long one, I would never have a swim today at this rate.