Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Darnley Road, A Place For Better People!

My mother started working for the Lovells early in 1952. It was still winter and the reason I remember that is because to prepare for the walk to Darnley Road to apply for the job she first had to stuff cardboard into the winter boots my father had bought at the market. They had been a Christmas present that she commented Hadn’t Lasted Five Minutes. She had told him they weren’t going to be worth the twenty five bob he paid for them but he wouldn’t listen and bought them anyway. Boots were quite uncommon at that time and under normal circumstances she would have been pleased because they certainly looked sturdy and warm. It was early December and my parents were not really Speaking because of the Tarts and Fancy Pieces on the local buses. Nowadays you would say they were estranged but back then we didn’t really have estranged, we only had non communicative combat. The same day they shopped for the boots that fell to pieces so quickly they also bought Christmas presents for me and my brother – an Art Compendium in a smart blue box for me and a Junior Meccano set for my brother together with a number of second hand books from the bookstall just inside the main market building. They were Rupert Bear Annuals and several Chalet School stories. My Cousin Margaret told me on Christmas Day, after he was already dead and buried that my father always set great store by books and once he had given her one for her birthday only she forgot what it was called and what it was about. Old Nan said she could never understand why anyone would want books in the first place and she was surprised we didn’t catch something from them old fly-ridden ones because it Stood to Reason. I wondered if that was why he died and I asked her if she thought he had caught something from a book but she just told me to button my lip. It was a cold and miserable Christmas what with my mother crying all the time and telling my aunts she would never forgive herself for never forgiving him. It did no good, she said, falling out over something so nonsensical as They Knew What. They seemed to Know What but I didn’t Know What and wished that I did.

In January the snow began to fall and she said she had decided to get a Little Job because what the Widows’ Pension gave us would not be enough to Get By On. My Aunt Martha was also a widow and said she Got By All Right but I knew because I had been told often enough, that was because she got a War Pension on account of Uncle Paddy getting drunk when celebrating the end of the War and falling off a balcony in Italy to his death. You could easily Get By on a War Pension and that was the reason why my cousin Pat had hand knitted Angora trimmed boleros.

It had taken a great deal of courage to answer the advertisement in the Gravesend & Dartford Reporter and my mother had shown it to and discussed it with a number of neighbours and several of my aunts before summoning up the courage to call at the address in Darnley Road where the Lovells lived. One of the problems was that she had never before in her life applied for a job of any kind. She had grown up in a large and decidedly dysfunctional family that sat firmly at the very bottom of the English class system but she and her siblings had never been sent to work outside the family unit. They for the most part took work that involved all of them largely field work, agricultural labouring and later when their father showed an entrepreneurial spirit after a win at the races, as cold fish merchants, each one of the many daughters and one son working within the family business, generally for no remuneration. My mother and her sisters were expected to live at home until they married when they were handed over to the responsibility of their husbands. That was simply the way it worked, a family group that without doubt nurtured an ever pervading familial distrust of each other yet were stuck together like glue. So, as I said, applying for a job in the same manner as the rest of society required a certain amount of mettle.

Old Nan, hunched over the first roll-up of the day said going for a Charring Job meant she needed her bleeding noddle examined and Aunt Mag observed rather more sensibly that the job would surely be gone to some other silly bugger by now but she was wrong because the woman who had initially been hired had inexplicably not turned up on the first Monday. In fact Mrs Lovell had just been about to re-advertise the position, but instead she immediately offered it to my mother, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week from nine until one, for two shillings an hour, an amount of extra cash that would make life a great deal easier for us. The Lovells lived in what I thought at the time was an exceptionally upmarket and lavish home with panes of coloured glass in the front door and a grand hallway partly paved with little black and white tiles. It was in every way superior to the houses at the bottom of Iron Mill Lane, Crayford, where all my aunts now lived in homes built in the 1920s as part of an early Council estate. The aunts all had entrance halls too; spaces much coveted by me with hooks on the wall where you could hang coats and enough room for Wellington Boots on the floor and in Aunt Mag’s case my cousin Margaret’s doll’s pram too. They also had inside bathrooms and none of my cousins needed to huddle into winter coats and hurry through the backyard to visit the lav after dark in winter. Until I ventured inside the Darnley Road residence of the Lovells I had thought the houses in Iron Mill Lane, conveniently close to The Three Jolly Farmers, were the epitome of social success and had decided that once I was grown up they were where I wanted to live. The Lovells of Darnley Road changed all that. My mother had been working for them for over a year and was much enamoured of the family when I was allowed to accompany her to help with the spring cleaning. My job was going to be polishing the silver.

Mr Lovell was a Solicitor and I was told he was a Very Clever Man and it was quite understandable that he sometimes Got The Hump because he had a lot on his mind and a great deal of responsibility what with his job and all that. There were three grown up children. One was Mr Christopher who was also a solicitor and he worked with his Dad but he went to work earlier so he went on a bike. There was a daughter called Miss Brenda who was a Proper Midwife and that took a lot of studying too because you were allowed to deliver babies all by yourself almost like a Doctor did. That gave me food for thought because Old Alice who for five bob came and delivered most of the babies in York Road also cleaned up and made the breakfast porridge if required to and I couldn’t imagine Miss Brenda doing that. I also thought her charges might be higher. When I pointed this discrepancy out I was told that Miss Brenda would be delivering the babies of Toffs and she was nothing like Old Alice whatsoever. Then there was Lawrence Lovell, the youngest who was Up At University and Very Clever though there had been a bit of a Rumpus recently because he Fell Out with his Dad on account of wanting to be a ballet dancer but then he did seem to be a Silly Young Bugger. He was obviously a Silly Young Bugger because one morning when his brother Mr Christopher had missed something on the BBC News, Young Lawrence had rung the BBC up on the telephone and asked them if they would mind repeating it. They took no notice of him though – well they wouldn’t would they? The Falling Out over becoming a Ballet Dancer happened when they were having their dinner because Mr Lovell came home every day at dinner time only they all called it Luncheon and sometimes just Lunch. Very harsh words were spoken that day. Three days each week my mother prepared the luncheon and had it ready by twelve fifteen and usually she cleared the dining room afterwards but Mrs. Lovell did the washing up herself most of the time and used yellow rubber gloves to save her hands. My mother was not totally enamoured of the meals she was asked to prepare and said in her opinion they were not Much Cop but the dining room itself was really lovely and I should just see the Silver, it must be Worth its Weight In Gold. So as you can imagine I was really looking forward to my cleaning job.

Mrs Lovell was a large and untidy woman with a booming voice which I could see she was attempting to moderate on my behalf so within minutes I stopped being completely terrified of her and gave her the benefit of my Learned From The BBC mode of speaking which I could tell slightly startled her. A little later in a telephone call with someone that might even have been her husband, she talked about someone being a Frightfully Funny Little Thing and Strangely Well Spoken Under the Circumstances, so I knew perfectly well she was talking about me and I was as Old Nan would undoubtedly have said, as Pleased As Punch. As we were engaged in the annual Spring Clean we were not going to leave at one o`clock as was usual but would stay until five, me just for one day but my mother for the whole week. She was delighted and told me it would put a Fair Few Bob More in her pocket and we might even be able to manage a week in a caravan down at Swalecliffe for Easter if We Were Lucky because God Knows we could all Do With A Holiday after all. I fervently hoped we would not be too lucky because for various reasons I detested the Swalecliffe caravan holidays. Today I sat in the back kitchen with the dining room silver on an old blanket in front of me and applied myself to vigorously cleaning and shining, determined to impress my employer who had already told me I would have two whole shillings all for myself if I did the job properly. The array of cutlery shone brilliantly by eleven am when I could hear my mother beginning to prepare the Macaroni Cheese that was going to be served for Luncheon followed by Stewed Plums. I didn’t know much about Macaroni Cheese that was clearly something Posh people ate but I liked Stewed Plums.

Mrs Lovell, as I had both predicted and intended, was more than satisfied with my efforts when she examined the silver and she suggested that after Luncheon I should make a start on the copper ornaments on the Dining Room Mantelpiece. I readily agreed and she said that she was going to ask Mr Lovell for his approval for raising my two whole shillings to three whole shillings because I seemed to be such a Splendid Little Worker. I told her it was a pleasure to be able to help. Then she took me into the Dining Room and gave instructions as to how to lay the table with the newly gleaming cutlery which I was entirely thrilled to do and immediately began to plan how I was going to tell Molly of 31 York Road all about it, in the greatest possible detail, possibly exaggerating just a little. The Dining Room was overwhelmingly impressive with a floor that seemed to be made out of little wooden tiles which Mrs Lovell told me was called Parquet, and a high ceiling almost like a Church. The oval table was of what seemed to me to be of vast proportions and I counted a total of eight curved back chairs around it, each with its own dark red velour seat. I told Mrs Lovell her Dining Room was quite the grandest I had ever seen, and tried to make it sound as if I had Seen a Lot in My Time, which of course I had not. She said it was very kind of me to make such complimentary comments – she greatly appreciated them. I skipped into the kitchen to inform my mother how well I had done to lay the impressive table for Luncheon For Five, to which she replied that I had got it wrong because Miss Brenda and Young Lawrence were not home so it was only Lunch For Three so to curb my tongue because I wasn’t nearly as Smart as I thought I was. Taken aback by this I referred back to Mrs Lovell, not skipping this time and in the politest BBC tones enquired if I had got the Five For Luncheon wrong on account of the missing Miss Brenda and Young Lawrence. She laughed and reassured me there would definitely be Five For Lunch and had I completely forgotten Mrs Hendy and myself? In that moment I became so totally suffused with Joy that it was like being bathed with a deep and penetrating saturation of sunlight. I was actually going to eat Luncheon! Not just Dinner like at home, but proper Luncheon and never mind if it was sometimes merely called Lunch, just like a person in a book! And not some ordinary everyday kind of Lunch either, but one in a Dining Room with a Parquet Floor and a very, very high ceiling just like a Church – AND with a real silver knife and fork! Who cared if it was something only posh people ate called Macaroni Cheese because I would definitely manage to force it down no matter what it tasted like. I skipped happily back to the kitchen to tell my mother just how wrong she had been.

To my abject horror she did not react well. No, no, NO, she told me in the kind of voice I knew Brooked No Argument, we would NOT be eating Luncheon in the Dining Room – Whatever Next? We would be having our Macaroni Cheese and Stewed Plums in the kitchen and I was to Button My Lip at once and Not Even Think of Talking Back and Giving Cheek or I would be getting the Biggest Backhander of my life later on Nothing was Surer than that!

Later on, walking home she said that I’d Knocked Her For Six with that nonsensical talk about eating in the Dining Room and why on earth did I always seem to go out of my way to bring Shame on her at every turn. Why couldn’t I be like Other Girls? Like Molly Freeman or Joan Bennet or June Dawson – even Kathleen Draper or Pat Turner? All of them were a Credit to their Mothers but not me! I always had to Stick My Neck Out and Go One Further didn’t I? I always had to Argue The Toss. Nothing was Ever Right for me was it? If I carried on like this she would Have Me Put Away if it was the Last Thing She Ever Did!
I felt incensed with a combination of fury and indignation and as we got closer to home and were passing The Dover Castle in Dover Road, and she had finally stopped berating me, I firmly clutched the three silver shillings in my pocket and risked asking why it had been so wrong to want to eat Luncheon in the Dining Room because after all, we had been invited to. She looked directly at me, bracing herself into the bitter Spring wind looking suddenly tired and old. She slightly shook her head and didn’t shout. She said, `Because they aren’t the same sort of people as the likes of us are they? Get that into your noddle for once. They’re just a Better Sort of People than us.’

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