In this fifth episode in the long life of my late mother Flo we find the war ending and her leaving school.
I'm not sure of the exact chronology of the next part of Flo's story, but at some time towards the end of the war she passed an examination which would have allowed her to continue her education, however as a Londoner she would have to take a place in London, even though her family were now all settled in Cambridgeshire. If she wanted to study here she would have to be a paying pupil. She decided to leave school and look for a job.
Another story which has appeared in this blog before must fit in around here:
At the end of the war Flo's father thought that she deserved a holiday and arranged for her to go and stay with her Aunt Bess and Uncle Bill in London and become re-acquainted with the city of her birth.
Very excited, she arrived at her aunt's house and was shown her room. It was a plain room and in the corner was a large white statue of The Virgin Mary. During the first night there my mother was awakened from her dreams by a deep rumbling which seemed to shake the whole house. She opened her eyes and saw a trembling ghostly figure moving slowly towards her. She screamed and Bill and Bess came running in dressed in their nightclothes. My mother told them what had happened.
They laughed and explained that the statue had moved because of the vibrations from the railway which ran right under the house.
One of the first jobs she had on her return was in Woolworth's. She often told how she was suspended from work for a week without pay for walking down the stairs whistling the tune "Bell-Bottomed Trousers". However she soon found a job in a kitchen which suited her much better as she had always loved cooking.
Working in the kitchen my mother became great friends with two other young ladies of a similar age, one of whom Mum always described as being strikingly beautiful with gorgeous red hair which was so perfect that it scarcely looked real. The language in the kitchen however was far from ladylike and the three of them vowed that they would put a stop to the bad language. Not long afterwards Flo was washing up when the redheaded one dropped something and swore loudly. Flo grabbed hold of the wet dishcloth and threw it in her direction striking her on the forehead. The result was rather more spectacular than anyone had bargained for - the red hair flew off and disappeared through an open window, for the perfect hair was in fact a wig hiding a quite bald head. Flo was so shocked and ashamed that she plunged her own head into the dirty washing-up water!
In those youthful days my mother would get into Cambridge by cycling the twelve miles or so twice a day, though in the winter she used the rather irregular bus service. Jack, who drove the bus, was a highly irregular bus driver. In wet weather, rather than stop at the proper stops he would pull up outside people's front doors to save them getting wet. One morning he was flagged down by his wife outside his own house. "I shan't be long", he cheerfully told his passengers, "I forgot to dig the potatoes for our dinner!"
Once the war was over some of the extended family returned to London for various reasons, Aunt Amy because she was pregnant and feared having a baby in a place where the doctor would have to be brought by pony and trap to attend the birth. But both Flo's mother and father were by this time enjoying their lives in the countryside and decided to stay.
Luckily for them The Fox Inn pub had become vacant and my grandfather was able to raise the money needed to take it over. His instinctive business sense and his Cockney humour and charm suited him for the job, even if the family frequently saw the more troubled side of his personality, probably made worse by some of his wartime experiences. But the mood of the times meant that he kept that hidden along with his inability to read and write. My grandmother ably filled that void and did all the paperwork connected with the pub.
She also was a very competent player of the banjo-mandolin and would from time to time sit up on the bar and lead a "good old sing-song", as my Mum always refered to it. Here's a little story about my banjo-playing Nan:
One New Year's Eve Nan made a phone call to her brother Arthur, a very fine banjo player himself. After the usual greetings Arthur says " Hey, 'ave you 'eard this one?" and proceeded to play a tune over the phone. " That's a new one to me, Arthur, but how about this one?" and Gran played a tune. Thus they went on exchanging tunes until Nan said, "Look, this call's going to cost me a fortune, I'll have to hang up." At this point the telephone operator from the exchange interrupted "That's alright, keep playing. All the telephonists here are enjoying the music. We won't charge you a penny for the call, just keep playing!"
Flo continued to work and also filled in as a barmaid in the evenings. By this time she was a slim, attractive, dark-haired young woman - I've seen the photos even if Flo always thought herself rather plain. Her brothers were, one by one, called up into the army to do their National Service which continued through the 1950s.
The Fox Inn was situated on the Old North Road which was a busy route even in the late 1940s. Flo's father, with his usual eye for business, had noticed that although many called in for a glass or two of beer (no drink-drive laws to worry about in those days), many more drove straight past. He spoke to Flo about it. "I've been thinking....you're working too hard, doing a job then working till late in the evening behind the bar. I could set you up with a tea-room, selling tea and cakes to people passing by. You'd be your own boss. Have a think about it".
The next day he returned from feeding the pigs, which he kept behind the pub, complaining of a pain in his chest. His wife summoned the doctor, who examined him and said it was just indigestion. The next day Flo's father died from a heart attack. He was 49 years old.