Iris’s Ashes Part One.

My sister, Iris, aged ninety-four, has died after a short illness. The funeral, my sister Sylvia tells me, Is at Exeter Crematorium, in Devon.

We set off in good time on our long journey, as we neared Exeter, Wendy asked.

“Do you have the address Alan?”

“Yes, The Exeter Crematorium.”

“I know that, but what is the actual address?”

I thought this was one of her trick questions, as I was sure she knew perfectly well.

“Ah, you can’t catch me out on that one.” I said.

She gave me one of her looks.

Then she said in the very deliberate way, without looking at me, that lady’s have when they are displeased.

“Alan, we have been driving for over four hours, please tell me, you know where we are going.”

“Don’t you worry love, everyone will know where the ’Crem’ is, we will just ask in a garage.”

Just as I said this, we came to a jogger, I stopped and asked him the way.

There are times, when the answer to a perfectly reasonable question, makes the blood in your veins freeze, this was one such a time.

“Yes” he said, “Which one do you want?”

I felt the car shudder as Wendy sat bolt upright in her seat.

“Which-one? Which-0ne? How many bloody Crematorium’s are there?”

The jogger continued. ”The nearest one is a mile away, the other around six miles.”

“Six miles, I don’t believe it, I just don’t bloody believe it”

Wendy slumped in her seat, she looked at the end of her tether for some reason, but we soon arrived and I went ahead to see this group of people standing outside the chapel, hoping against hope that some-one would say. “Hello Alan.”

All I saw was sad people trying to work out, which part of their family I came from.

Most married men will tell you, that they have a sixth sense when all is not going well. It takes the form of wishing you were dead.

We went inside a waiting room, once again, no one stood out.

Then we heard a service in progress. We went in and sat at the back, and sang a couple of hymns. Wendy, having never met Iris, whispered.

“Is that a picture of Iris on the coffin?”

As I looked at the picture, I could feel the icicles returning to my blood stream.

In moments of acute stress such as this, I have found that humour is the best way out.

“Wendy, Love, now I haven’t seen Iris for a while, but the last time I did see her, she never had a beard, and I have a feeling this may be the wrong funeral.”

It worked like a charm, Wendy went into quiet hysterics, at least that’s what I thought, I may of course have been wrong.

We left quite quickly, with Wendy still shaking, the man at the door gave her a sympathetic nod, he must have thought she was too distressed to carry on with the service, which in a way was quite right.

As we drove away to the next Crem’, it was all too much for Wendy, she seemed a bit subdued, but after a while she started laughing, I mean really laughing out loud.

It just goes to show that my method, of making a terrible situation bearable, by making it into a joke really does work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An innocents tale part 2.

 

 

Sunday morning in September, 1942.

Mrs. Salmon had had just left, she had popped in for a cup of tea, and brought some seedy cake and a tangerine for the children.

Mum was doing the ironing, I love watching her as she picks up the iron from the gas hob, spits on it, to see if it sizzles then she holds it near her cheek to make sure it is OK.

She has two irons, a small one for shirts and such like, and a heavy one for sheets. She is very quick at it.

Ironing is just one of the jobs she does for Mrs. Snelgrove, in ‘The Golden Grove’, there’s a lot to do there as they have guests staying.

I have finished putting some white blanco on my plimsoles, It’s a bit pointless as they are completely worn out, I have no idea why I do this, every Sunday, white tennis plimsolls seem out of place with rest of my clothes.

I have just dug up some potato’s, and am now shelling the peas also from our garden.

Don, my brother looks after the garden and his favourite is the gooseberry bush, he says it has special powers. The gooseberries are not nice to eat raw but are nice in a pie.

Helping mum at the week-end is the only time I have her to myself, we talk about all sorts of things.

Today, Mum seemed a bit odd, she kept looking over her shoulder at me, then she puts the irons back on the hob, and says.

“Alan, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Of course I do, lots of them

“No, I mean a special one that you really like?

“No, not really, I have a two special boy-friends though, Dave and Tony.”

She kept looking at me, for quite a long time, then very quietly said.

“Umm, Alan, have they told you about the birds and bees at school yet?”

Oh, I thought, not that old rubbish, Dave and I reckoned it can’t be true, you have only to look at the size of a bee, compared to that of a bird, even a little Wren.

 

“Miss Weller did start to explain it to us, but Laury Zubiana kept interrupting her and asking lots of questions. Then she started to cry, and Mrs. Ayres had to take over the class.”

“Anyway, Don has told me all about it.”

“Did he now, and what did your brother tell you?”

“He said they were delivered by a stork, although I’m not too sure about that. There’s a lot of babies about, but I have never, ever seen a stork.”

“Wait till I see him, he’s always telling you stories, babies are not delivered by a stork, Alan.”

She gives a long sigh.

“Put the kettle on and let’s have nice cup pf tea.”

She says this, as if it was no good going on.

Now, I know I am a bit backward, but I just knew Don’s story about the stork was total rubbish.

 

On the other hand, the gooseberry bush, that he told me about. Was something that I can believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas version of Jersey Bounce.

                                 Christmas 1944.

            I am eleven, and am just beginning to realise, that girls are different from boys, in lots of ways, especially, the older girls, like that Jean Hutchinson, in the top class.

          Today, we have the school Christmas party. My mum is doing her best to make me look respectable, she stands back to admire her handy-work, but I can see on her face, that all is not well.

          Here I am, an eleven-year-old, nearly six foot, 9 stone boy, in short trousers, nothing seems to hang properly.

                            “Alan, do you have to stand like that?”  

                            “I don’t know any other way mum.”

                            “Pull your shoulders back, and take your hands out of your pockets.’

             I sigh, and to make things worse, Teddy Bolton is now at the door and looking really smart.

           Then, on top of everything, and right in front of him, mum spits on a hanky and gives my face a final wipe.

                            I am so glad to get away to school.

            Our lessons are much easier today, all the girls are admiring each other, and I must say, that for the first time, I think the girls are quite nice to look at.

           The dinner bell goes’, and we all rush into the canteen to see what all the fuss is about.

           We say Grace, and thank Mr. Denyer the grocer, and Fyson’s the butchers, for their kindness.

            And a special word for Mrs. Edwards, and her American soldier friend, who works in the kitchen of the local US base. American army ham is lovely.

              I stare at my dinner, there is more food, than I had ever seen in one place, let alone on one plate, ham and chicken, and is that a turkey leg? No, it turns out to be an overcooked sausage, but I can’t wait to get stuck in.

              We are all boys on our table, and there is such a racket as we dive in to our dinner.

              Then, suddenly it all goes’ quiet, I look up, to see what is going on.

   And there she is, the lovely Jean Hutchinson, arriving late, and walking down the hall like a film star, as if she has springs in her shoes

                She is wearing a fluffy woollen jumper, which seems to have something inside, a small rabbit perhaps, or possibly two.

                I now realise her nick-name; ‘Jersey Bounce, Hutchinson’ is nothing to do with her love of Dixie-land music.

                As she judders toward me, everything about her is moving so fast, I don’t know where to look first.

 

                Knowing, that in front of me, is a plate with ham, chicken and Brussel sprouts.

    A dinner, the like of which, I had never seen before, I have a lump in my throat, and a mouthful of roast potato and a few peas, and I can’t even look down at my dinner, let alone eat it.

 

                                            Is this what they call love?

 

                     If so, I would rather have my dinner, thank you very much.       

        

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

My First Selection, 1943

My mate Laury Zubiana, is one of those boys who seem to know everything. He was eleven and a half, and certainly brighter than me. So when we were walking to school, I thought I would ask him about my problem.

It was not something that I wanted to ask my mum about—she has enough on her plate as it is.

At first I couldn’t quite bring the subject up—he is a bit of joker and I thought he would tease me—so we were nearly at school before I told him.

To my relief, he took it all very seriously, but then, just as he was going to say something, the bell went and we all took our places for the register.

During the morning break, he was nowhere to be seen, I asked Alex Lees, the milk monitor—Alex was a monitor of just about everything, if there was a monitor for the monitors, it would be Alex.

“No, I haven’t seen him at all this morning.”

I began to worry then, that my problem may be serious and he had gone to see Nurse Ayres—better known as the ‘Nit Lady’.

After the break I saw him in class, he looked quite serious for a change. I now wish I hadn’t told him everything.

The dinner bell went, and I followed him to the canteen.

He must have seen my worried look.

“There’s nothing to get upset about Alan, because I had the same problem last week, when I was riding my sisters bike. So when you told me of your problem, I went to see her in this mornings break —his sister Jean, is nearly fourteen—and she said it’s just our age, and it called a selection and it won’t last long.”

That sort of rung a bell, so I said.

“I wonder if it’s something to do with lady’s bikes.” I said. He looked a bit puzzled until I told just what happened.

“I was pumping my sisters front tyre up, and all of a sudden it just happened.”

He nodded. “Yes, that could be it.”

That was such a relief. Mind you, I thought, ’a selection’, sounded a strange word for my affliction.

 

A week later, I noticed three or four warts on my hand, I showed them to mum, she looked very closely at them and said.

“That’s quite a selection, you’ve got there Alan.”

The panic came flooding back, if they grew like the selection I had last week, I’d have nine fingers on my hand. I’d be a freak.

 

And they say ‘Ignorance is bliss’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jersey Bounce Hutchinson. Winter 1943.

Jersey Bounce Hutchinson. Winter 1943.

At the age of eleven, although we had been bombed out two years earlier, I was quite unaware of the effect the war was having on anyone beyond our little clump of council houses. At school, prayers would regularly be said for some child who had lost an older brother or even a parent. It had become just a normal part of morning assembly.

Since our bomb—as we knew it— I still had a keen sense of my immediate surroundings, not afraid exactly, but expecting something to happen.

But not like this; The Americans had joined the war, and there were troop trains passing by. The soldiers threw packets of sweets out of the train as we cheered them.

A boy climbed the fence to gather the sweets and touched the live rail.

I saw at first hand, a broken family.

Up till that day, the war was exciting, things were going our way, now the Americans were stationed nearby. They had money to spend, they made the town buzz.

The Golden Grove, an old pub near to us was like a magnet to them, Jeeps were parked every where, as were lady’s bikes from miles around.

People were living for the moment, and it had an effect on us kids too. At school, girlfriends were becoming a problem, not for me of course, at first I never had one, but they began hanging about with my mates.

Some of these girls were from London, and were now living in ‘Princess Mary Village Homes’. This home was in the next town, Addlestone, and originally meant for girls at risk or for some minor offence. Now it was overflowing with evacuees and some of the girls were sent to our school for their lessons each day.

Although we were all of a similar age, they were so much more grown up, they were fluent in early Saxon, and were able to string together wonderfully long sentences that made your hair stand on end.

In our house, swearing was unheard of, so I never mastered the rhythm that these girls achieved so effortlessly

‘Shit, bugger’. Just didn’t sound convincing.

On the other hand, Danny Parker’s family had no problems with getting a point over with a few well chosen swear-words. After all, his mum was a railway porter at Chertsey station.

One girl from the ‘PMVH’, June Brown, from 62 Libra Road in London—don’t ask how I remember— did befriend me, she gave me an apple or biscuit in the dinner breaks. She called me ‘Blackie’. it didn’t last long though, she said my hair smelled funny.

This might have been the liquid paraffin—my sister was pregnant—that I put on my hair to make it shine, after a few weeks it probably did smell a bit.

This little success with the opposite sex, if you could call it that, made me aware of other girls in my class; Brenda Lamb, Anita Babbage and June Hollick, all from the top of the town and out of my reach.

Then there was Jersey Bounce Hutchinson, at first I thought this nick-name came from the Dixie-land jazz tune, ‘The Jersey Bounce’.

I soon realised it was nothing to do with music. She was a very popular girl, and she had an odd way of walking, it was as if she had springs on her shoes, this made it look as if she had a pet rabbit up her jumper. Our dinner table—all boys of course—would go completely silent when ever she bounced past, which she did continually during the dinner break.

Now I was beginning to realise what all the boys were talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monica Nodraws. 1942

There was no escaping the way the war was changing our school. Reclaimed jumper wool was knitted into six inch squares, then sewn together as a large blanket. For the life of me, I could not complete one square, and was soon moved to unravelling the jumpers.

My mate Dave produced perfect squares, he was good at everything.

Of all the things we did for the war effort, my favourite was helping the local farmers.

Bentleys, in New Haw was one of the farms. We were given a packed lunch consisting of lovely slices of meat or corned-beef in a sandwich, and a large slice of steamed jam pudding.

This was by far, more than our weekly ration, and most likely why I loved the work.

We were driven there in the back of an army lorry, very exciting and all of us singing.

The work was mostly weeding, a gang of about twenty kids in a huge field of carrots, it was back-breaking. We were rewarded with a star if we finished a row before any-one else. At the end of the week each star was worth a penny, it soon mounted up if you were quick.

Need-less to say the boys never got a star, the girls seem to be so much better at it.

The children were aged between ten and fourteen, one school was from nearby Addlestone, St Pauls, mostly girls, there was a lot teasing by the big boys from our school.

Up till then, I had never really thought about my clothes, I had what most of the other kids had. Most of my mates never wore under-clothes—our outfit, if you could call it that—was a short pair of grey flannel trousers, and a jersey with a collar and three buttons.

Some of the children were of course better dressed, you could always tell if a family was better off by their clothes, and in particular their shoes.

In the winter I wore a shirt under my jersey, with boots and socks, the boots were of the cheapest leather—I think it was more like compressed card-board. Needless to say they never lasted very long, and were then repaired with the cardboard from cereal packets. Shredded Wheat was the best, as it had a very shiny finish, this was nearly water-proof if you put the shiny surface in first, to cover the hole. I was always cold, with chilblains and chapped legs.

A couple of my mates wore proper shoes, always brown brogues, and polished until they wore away the colour and ended up with orange highlights. They also had under-pants and vests. In the winter they had jackets and overcoats, gloves and balaclava’s. We called them mummies boys, but we did envy them.

Another group of boys were almost as well dressed, but in a more industrial way. They would have heavy duty clothes, and ex-army boots, with studs every where, they never wore out and lasted for years. They bought all their clothes from Gilbert Jackson, a shop next to the Picture Palace that specialised in farm or factory wear. And army surplus. We bought ours from Mr Norman, the Tally man, and they hardly lasted the winter.

When I first saw Monika, a girl from the Addlestone school, it made me realise that some girls were also poorly dressed, she was a bit older than me but very thin, and to be honest a bit dirty. Her dress was too small for her and was simply held together underneath with a safety pin. This is what caused caused the nasty teasing by our senior boys.

It was quite a few weeks later that my mate Tony, told me that her name wasn’t Monica Nodraws, but it was what the boys were shouting, because of her lack of knickers.

 

It was OK for me and my mates not to be wearing pants, but a girl, that was too bad.

The poor girl’s family were just too hard-up to afford them, I suppose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monica Nodraws 1942

Frankie’s fandango, 1942

The war effort is in full swing. Posters were every where; ‘Careless talk costs lives’, ‘Dig for Victory’ ‘Put that light Out’, ‘A bomber can see you smoking’, and many more such as that.

Aluminium pots and pans were willingly surrendered to the council for making ‘Spitfires’.

Iron railings up the ‘Rec’ were cut down for guns and tanks.

Now it’s Saturday morning, Mrs. Salmon is round for her usual cup of tea, and says.

“I’m still waiting for the railings outside that big house, in Thorpe Road to be cut down.”

Mum just nodded, Mrs. Salmon is always going on about some-one not doing their bit.

“And I bet you, that they still have all their cooking pots.”

This is the best day, though, we do our washing in the morning. I like it because I help mum with the mangle—well named after I caught my fingers in it, that really smarts.

Mrs. ‘S’, is full of the latest gossip. But this time she can hardly contain herself.

She settles herself down in her favourite chair, leaning forward so far, that I’m worried she is going to slide off—the thought of trying to gather this huge lady up from the floor, made me shiver—I now know what is meant, when people say “I felt some-one walk over my grave.”

“Put the kettle on dear, and look, I’ve got some of your favourites, rock cakes with currants in.” I can read her mind about the tea, but the cakes are a nice surprise.

Normally, when there is something to say, that may not be for my ears, they will go into ‘gum talk’. But this time Mrs. ’S’ can’t wait—anyway they know I can now read their lips.

Slowly leaning back and folding her massive arms over her equally massive bosom. She has this odd expression on her face—not unlike the ‘Mona lisa’—As if only she knows a secret.

But that’s Mrs. ’S’ for you, she likes a bit of drama. I think she has watched too many silent films. She draws on her Woodbine so hard it flares—a bomber could easily see that fag, miles away, if it was dark.

“Effie, you know that good looking Italian bloke, Frankie? You know Effie, the one with the black wavy hair, who sells ice cream up the top of the town.”

Mum did one of her nods.

“Well, his wife caught him in the air-raid shelter with a young girl from Barker Road.”

Mum nodded again, this time she leaned forward as well.

“The cheeky bugger told his wife, he was just teaching the young girl a new dance step, it’s called the Fandango.”

They are both laughing, and she continues now rocking backwards and forwards, folding and unfolding her enormous arms.

“His wife went mad, and said she was going to cut off his whatchermaycallit.

She chased him all over Chertsey with a breadknife. They say, he was last seen running very fast up London Street, and she was following on her bike.”

“But Effie, this may just be a rumour. But it is funny isn’t it?”

Now they are really laughing.

“So Rosie, this may be just a cock and ball story then?”

They are both giggling as they drink their tea.  Mrs.’S’ reads the tea leaves in her cup.

“O0h, that’s bad news for some-one tonight. I wonder who it could be?”

Mum said. “It could be Frankie…… or on the other hand, his wife, if you know what I mean.”

Off they go again, Mrs.’S’ slapping her thighs, it is so good to see mum laughing again.