Monday, October 25, 2010

20 Out in the cold hard world.

We were well into the war by 1943, and the underground stations after six in the evening were a pathetic sight. Londoners in their thousands carried their blankets, gas masks and few worldly treasures down underground where they would spend the night, never knowing whether or not their homes would still be standing in the morning. The platforms were cold and draughty and stank of body odor and urine. I felt so sorry for the children who had to be restrained so that they would not trip and fall onto the live tracks. Commuters had to step over the sleeping bodies to get into the trains.
The effects of the war came quite quickly. First there were the blackouts, then food shortages and the rationing of clothes and household goods. Everything manufactured had the “Utility” label. Meals in restaurants were limited to half a crown, no matter if you dined at the Ritz or Lyons Corner House, one learned daily to adjust. It is absolutely amazing that, although a besieged Island, no one in England starved while, later, in Germany, France, Holland and Russia etc. some people searched the fields all day in the hope of finding a potato. But we had rationing and we survived, we were never sick; in fact it is said that the nation was healthier then than ever before, or since.

The underground trains did not always run on time and one evening, after going to a dance, I missed the last train home. Foolishly, the next day I did not think to phone my parents to tell them I was alright (we were not allowed to use the office phones), not thinking that they would be worried in case I had been killed in an air raid. When I returned home the following evening all hell broke loose. Father was having a brainstorm and I was the centre of his rage, which I deserved for causing them a sleepless night and anxious day, although they could have rung the office to see if I was alright. Father chased me round the house, threatening to kill me, and I knew I had to stop him somehow. I looked round for something with which to hit him and saw that I had to choose between a heavy cut glass vase and a little pottery jug. In a split second I realized that if I hit him with the heavy vase I could kill him, so I grabbed the pottery jug which I smashed over his head - it barely slowed him down. Mother, Maureen and I fled to my bedroom where we pushed the wardrobe across the door. As we stood there, shaking and gasping for breath, Mother said “You know Cynth, I was very fond of that little jug!”.

When the worst of his rage seemed to have subsided, we emerged from the barricaded room only to find father standing there, with a small suitcase which he instructed me to fill and “get the hell out!” There wasn’t much to fill it with - a change of underwear, some old shoes and a dress or two, but fortunately it was summer and fairly warm. So, at nine p.m. with a suitcase, half a crown in my pocket and nowhere to go, I left home. I was seventeen years old. Somehow I found the telephone number of a woman I had worked with at Columbia Pictures, so I called her from a phone box and she agreed to put me up for a couple of days.

I must have looked a sight, sitting in the underground train on my way back to London. Tears were running down my face, which was none too clean. Two sailors sitting opposite kept looking at me and followed me when I reached my station. Going up the escalator the locks on the wretched case burst open, and the pathetic contents went cascading down the moving stairs with the sailors scrambling to pick them up. I was mortified. I don’t remember where my friend lived, or how I got there.

The following morning Father phoned me at the office, crying and full or remorse, asking me to go back home, I said no and Mother was desolate. I felt guilty at leaving Mother and Maureen alone but I simply wanted to get away. Somehow I would survive, although I had no idea how.

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