Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Not A Great Deal In Common

As we girls who were not considered exam material prepared with both excitement and trepidation to leave Wombwell Hall, the mechanics of actually getting a place in the workforce were debated anxiously. Although initially it appeared to be daunting, the entire process was effected surprisingly smoothly, primarily I believe because in those days the kind of jobs we had been trained for were plentiful. Miss Hart spoke to us at some length about the sort of office we each thought we might enjoy working in and set up the interview processes with local businesses. It could hardly have been more streamlined. Pamela and Pauline were going to work side by side in Henley’s Typing Pool, the two Margarets and their cohorts were heading for upstairs offices in Queen and Windmill Streets and both Florence and Mavis were to give up shorthand altogether and become copy typists at Bowater Paper Mills. Miss Hart observed us at the end of that final term with an air of contentment and satisfaction. We were a job well done! She was therefore unprepared when the small sub-group of Joyce and Shirley led by me as spokesperson, told her that we were determined to work in London.

London, she told us could only be reliably reached by train and she managed to make the twenty miles that lay between us and the city I was so anxious to bear down upon, sound insurmountable. But when we insisted she asked for Miss Fuller’s permission to make a Toll Call and kindly arranged for us to have interviews with a large employment agency near Charing Cross Station. At around that point Joyce’s father turned up at the last shorthand class of the day and firmly explained that His Girl would be staying in Gravesend and preferably as close to Istead Rise as possible. It eventuated that he had already found her a position with a local builder. So in the end only two of us went together on the Eight Ten to Charing Cross during the last week of term, and I was in the fortunate position of having my expenses for the day funded by the mysterious Benefactors of Orphaned Schoolgirls. Shirley had to pay her own way.

Our excitement was intense as we waited for the Fast Train, stopping only at Dartford and Woolwich Dockyard before reaching the unbearably exotic London Bridge on that Tuesday morning. We were dressed in our best which for me was a black slimline skirt that was rather too tight and had been borrowed from my Posh Cousin Margaret. It didn’t really gel with the hand knitted grey sweater, feverishly finished by my mother the evening before and reluctantly worn under my somewhat shabby and now hated school raincoat which I intended to remove and hang nonchalantly over my arm as we approached our destination. Shirley’s mother had bought her a smart brown boucle suit especially for the occasion with bobble ties at the neck and waist, worn with a small brown felt hat. She looked every inch the office worker and inspected me critically and wanted to know why I wasn’t wearing make up. Not being prepared to tell her that I did not own any I simply shrugged and allowed myself to be persuaded to try hers with the aid of the Ladies Waiting Room mirror. When I did so I rather liked the effect and decided that a full range of my own should be put on my first wage earner’s shopping list.

I felt sick with the sheer exhilaration of being on a fast train heading towards the city of my dreams and with money for morning coffee and lunch in my pocket. With very little difficulty I persuaded Shirley that once we had Got Our Jobs we should spend the remainder of the day exploring even though it seemed that she was rather more in the habit of obeying parental instructions than I was and we had in fact been told to Come Straight Back. We found the agency in The Strand very easily and took the lift to the second floor to a huge room at the back of the building, overlooking the river where we were ushered into separate cubicles to be interviewed by separate middle aged women who both looked a bit like Miss Hart and had the same kind of jolly booming voices.

Mine asked me what my interests were which took me completely by surprise but I explained in great detail that working in an office was merely a stop gap idea for me because before very long I was intending to train as an actress, or failing that, become a writer. I felt after some consideration it would not be pertinent to mention that furthermore, I was also still seriously considering Entering a Nunnery. I had read quite recently somewhere that there was a splendid Silent Order at Marble Arch, which I now understood was almost in the heart of Central London and I intended to check it out at some stage.

The Miss Hart Look Alike listened politely with a small and patient smile upon her face and suggested that I might like to work as a junior shorthand typist in one of the nearby newspaper offices where I would rapidly become familiar with journalistic writing and what it entailed. As newspapers were considered a most unnecessary expense by my mother, I was not in the habit of reading them and so greeted this idea that sounded reminiscent of A Pool, with some alarm. I explained once more that I wanted something much more exciting than that. The Miss Hart Look Alike spent a lot of time trying to find a theatre or a theatrical agent in need of typing help but was not able to. However, we were both delighted when at last she came up with the idea of a Music Publishing Office. She had a niece it appeared who worked in the Music Publishing Industry and that lucky young person was in the habit of tripping over pop stars on a regular basis. I was more than anxious to meet celebrities so I set off up Charing Cross Road towards number 138 and the offices of Francis, Day & Hunter without further delay.

As I strode towards the Music Industry Enterprise I lamented the fate of poor Shirley who was, rather horrifyingly, heading towards the Typing Pool of a shipping company near Cannon Street. However, I knew full well that not all of we Wombwell Hall Girls were Cut Out For Fame and Fortune. I began to rather regret the fact that I had persuaded her to meet up later in order that we explore London together. Shirley was not someone I found easy to share confidences with. She had a boyfriend who was in the Merchant Navy and she wanted to Become Engaged and start saving to Get Married. Maybe we didn’t have a great deal in common after all.

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