Sunday, October 24, 2010

19. Dramas and liquor stores.

It was shortly after one of our 'run away from home, come back again' episodes, when things seemed to be quieter at home, that I went into mother’s bedroom to say goodbye before going to work. She looked dead, lying propped up against some pillows, I shook her and shouted at her but she did not answer. In a panic and not thinking about the telephone, or knowing how to dial for an ambulance, I rushed outside and ran up and down some streets where I thought I had seen a doctor’s brass plate. I found one and banged on the door. “Please come quickly” I sobbed “My mummy is dead.” The doctor followed me home, and then shut me out of the bedroom from where I later heard weeping. An ambulance was called and mother was taken away on a stretcher, barely alive. I was relieved and terrified in turns.

Back in the bedroom there seemed to be blood all over her side of the bed, great clots of it; in her slippers on the carpet, in the bed. It was the result of another self inflicted abortion and I did not know how to begin cleaning it up. Meanwhile downstairs, little Maureen, frightened and alone, was crying. Later Father came home and was crying too, saying “What have I done, what have I done?” I was angry and fed up with him, and told  him that I had Maureen to look after and a mess to clear up and he had better pull himself together and shut up. He took Maureen out for a walk. I filled the bath with cold water and threw the sheets into it. Then I got a broomstick from the broom cupboard and, sort of hiding behind the bathroom door and trying not to look, I pushed the clots down the bath drain. I don’t remember how I cleaned up the slippers and carpet, but it was all rather horrid. At that time abortions of any kind were illegal and thousands of desperate women took desperate steps to cause terminations. I think mother used quinine. The doctor told her that every time she did that to herself she shortened her life by six years. She had at least six abortions yet still  lived to be ninety eight!

Mother was in hospital for a while with septicemia; I stayed home to look after Maureen and later, Mother as well, so I lost yet another job. One result from this experience was that I vowed I would never, never have an abortion - self inflicted or otherwise - and thank God, I never had to.

I had to admire the way father always managed to keep a roof over our heads. The training as a publican failed but then he got the next worst possible job for him, he became the manager of an off license – bottle store - in Edmonton. I don’t know how it was possible to make booze in wartime but I suppose it was considered necessary for moral. The big advantage to having a liquor store was that people would exchange anything for a bottle of liquor, so we never seemed to be short of anything. Among the customers were a husband and wife who owned a sweet shop and, strange as it may seem, neither knew that the other was an alcoholic! I used to deliver bottles to them secretly and individually, and I wondered how they hid the bottles from each other. During that time we got extra sweets and other stuff that was rationed, but we always joined any queue we saw outside a shop and bought whatever was at the end of it. Father got some dreadful Algerian wine from somewhere; we poured it all into buckets, added sugar and some brandy, rebottled and labeled it as fortified port and sold it at a large profit.

There were two kinds of family air raid shelters, the Anderson shelter, which was built in the garden underground, and the Morrison shelter which was used inside the house. The Morrison was a large cage with a heavy metal top supported by a frame held up with six metal legs. The sides were covered in with wire with an opening to crawl through. Father installed one in, of all places, the bottle storeroom. Had a falling bomb failed to kill us the millions of fragments of glass that would have shot through the wire mesh would have done so. I refused to sleep there, preferring to take my chances upstairs in bed.

At this time I was working for Columbia Pictures as an invoice clerk. When cinemas hired movies the manager was sent a package of “stills” which were glamorous black and white photographs of the stars appearing in the movie, and one or two pictures of the scenes, and these are what I invoiced. How I longed to be in pictures! I copied the hairstyles of Rita Hayworth and Claudette Colbert as best I could. In one desperate attempt to look like a film star, I had all my lovely long, auburn hair cut off to half an inch all over just like Ingrid Bergman, who I had seen in “For Whom The Bells Tolls”. My father was not angry, but surprisingly sad. He said “A woman’s crowning glory is her hair”. Fortunately it soon grew back and I was able to make a coronet of plaited hair like Olivier de Haviland in “Gone With the Wind”. In the small cinema at the offices in Wardour Steet, we were invited to watch previews of unreleased movies, and to write our opinions on special forms, so I saw all the lovely Rita Hayworth movies. Then we were shown a short demo film of Frank Sinatra singing “That Old Black Magic”, backed by ten white grand pianos which stood on different levels in the background. We were told that this young man was causing a big stir in Hollywood and that girls were fainting and throwing themselves under his car to get attention. I wrote on my crit form that throwing oneself under a car was just stupid and that he was too thin. Like, what did I know? On my last visit to London in 2008, Jules walked me round Soho and we found the Columbia Pictures building where I had worked; the original entrance door was still the same. She took a photo of it.

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