Thursday, November 18, 2010

52. Bushey Heath

Air Ministry had bought a few semi-detached houses scattered among a very nice housing estate in Bushey Heath near Watford and, as Tom was working in London at Air Ministry, one was allocated to him and, although I had no kindred spirits or service facilities round me, I was delighted. Tom drove into London every day in the Taunus, which disgraced itself one day by breaking down on a three lane motorway in, of course, the centre lane! Poor man, I don’t know he got out of that one. With my dependents now reduced to one, and with time on my hands, I called in at the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Services) to see if there was any voluntary work that I could do. I was surprised that they had no need of my services, but left my name and phone number anyway. A couple of weeks later they called me, saying that a painter working on a block of flats was worried about an old couple he could see through a window. Apparently the old lady was crippled with arthritis, and was getting round the flat by leaning on a tea trolley while the old man seemed to be sick and just sat in an armchair all day. They asked me if I could do anything. That was a bit of a tall order; one cannot just knock on the front door and say “Good afternoon. Can I help you?” On the other hand, why not? So I made a note of the address and the following afternoon, I did just that. After a very long wait, the door was opened about four inches and I could vaguely see the face of an old man. I said, “Hello, I’m Cynthia Winter and a little bird told me that you might need some help with your shopping.” He was about to close the door when, risking having my wrist smashed, I pushed my hand through the opening, handed him my card and said, “Well, if you do need any assistance, just give me a call.” I reported back to the WVS that there was nothing more I could do. Actually, it was more a case for the Social Security Services than the WVS.

About a week later the old man telephoned me. They needed some prescriptions collected from the chemist, would I get them? Of course I would, so I went to the flat to collect the prescriptions, which were handed to me round the door. I collected the medication and there was nothing to pay because they were pensioners, so I delivered the medication round the door again, and that was that. After a few more little shopping trips they began to trust me, and I was invited into the flat, which had an internal staircase from the street, and it was all indescribably dirty. Daisy and Arthur were in their seventies and been married only a couple of years, both for the first time and theirs was a strange story.

Daisy had lodged with a chemist and his wife "Mumsie” for over forty years, Daisy never told me what she had done for a living, and I never asked her. I never knew Arthur’s occupation either. The chemist died and Daisy and Mumsie continued living together until Mumsie had to move into an old age home. Daisy visited her friend as often as she could and there she met Arthur who was also an inmate, and they began a secret “liaison”, which resulted in Arthur running away, well not exactly running, from the home and eloping with Dolly. It was the talk of the home for weeks. Mumsie was furious!

A few weeks after their first call Arthur, who had been ill for some time, was admitted to hospital, so I took advantage of his absence to clean the flat. I must confess to wearing rubber gloves to strip the bed and when loading my washing machine, giving everything two washes and pints of Lavender Stay soft. There were plastic imitation lace mats on furniture which disintegrated when I pulled them off to dust and polish. I needed a paint scraper to get the grease off the cooker and draining board, and I will not describe the bathroom and toilet! I took Daisy to visit Arthur and they exchanged secret letters, hers were addressed to “Big Chief” and his were addressed to “Squaw”. Well, there is no accounting for pet names. After some surgical procedure he was eventually discharged.

One day Arthur called me to say that he could not do anything with Daisy. She wanted to go to the bathroom but could not stand up, let alone walk. I hurried round and, on examining her medication tray and questioning him, I found that he had been giving her one pain killer at night and four sleeping pills during the day instead of the other way round. No wonder the poor creature could not stand up! Much more of that and it would have been goodbye Daisy, goodbye. There was other medication as well and I stood each bottle on a piece of paper with the instructions written down in large letters and told him not to mix them up again. Squaw was a sweet little lady, but Big Chief was a stubborn old fool and they were absolutely incapable of looking after themselves.

The next employer to have the advantage of my business expertise was the confectionery marketing division Nestle, a chocoholics dream come true. I was a Merchandiser. We had just bought a second car and the advantage of this job was that I would be paid mileage. As a Merchandiser I had a ‘round’ of about twenty stores which I had to visit at least once a week. The stock of Nestle had to be checked, the manager advised of promotions, and the Nestle allocated space neatly packed. I learned aspects of marketing about which I had been ignorant as a shopper. Shelf space is allocated according to turnover and, as Nestle was one of the less popular brands, our shelf space was about eighteen inches. Merchandisers were a ruthless lot. As I was leaving a supermarket on one occasion I saw the Cadbury rep arriving, so I went for a cup of coffee and then returned to the shop. The wicked man had stuffed all my chocolate bars into a box and hidden them under the stand and used up all my space! So I did likewise! So there!

The hourly rate, plus mileage, was excellent, but it was all so boring and, as I said to the area manager, I was padding my record sheet in order to make it pay. He said that he had not expected me to stay longer than the four months. There were one or two amusing incidents, like the time I went for a meeting at head office, somewhere in Middlesex and, as usual, lost my way going home. Thoroughly frustrated, I saw an ambulance marked Harrow Hospital and so, hoping it was going to the hospital and not to an accident, I followed it. You see, I knew my way home from the Harrow hospital because Tom had been a patient there. It was while working for Nestle that I thought I would buy a wig so that I would always look smart and well groomed. This worked well until I bent down to load a pagoda with chocolate bars and when I got up the wig stayed on the pagoda. Another time I was carrying my brief case in one hand and a large cauliflower just purchased from a barrow in the other. As I turned a corner the wind blew under the wig, lifting it off my head sideways, where I impaled it with the cauliflower, wearing it like some expensive hat. These days my hair is extremely sparse, but I remain wigless.

My next job was with the Education Department at Boreham Wood, which I enjoyed because for the second time I had a middle aged, single female boss whom I respected. So what with the job, Daisy and Arthur, and Tom’s nephew, Alan, who came to live with us for nine months, I was pretty busy, but I missed the African sunshine, I missed the family and I missed Jeni who had no desire to return home. Who could blame her? She had a good job, a nice life and was very involved with Patrick, who wrote asking for permission to marry her. Tom refused because she was only eighteen, away from home and we knew nothing about the man, apart from the fact that he played the guitar, worked for the British South Africa Police and was Irish. The letters became more persistent, and Tom very reluctantly gave his permission. I should have packed my bags got on the next plane and looked at the whole romance in person. But I didn’t, I just cried buckets as I packed a trunk containing Willie Wabbit and his basket chair, some of Jeni’s books and treasures and shipped them off to Bulawayo.

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