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Dolly

 

I don’t know why you want to talk to me anyway, my brother and I were illegitimate. My mother came from a good family in Camden. Granny used to let her house to lodgers and my mum fell in love with one of the lodgers. I never met him… I couldn’t tell you what he looked like or anything else. She left my granny’s and they moved in together. Then he told her he was already married. My mother got so up-tight ’cos she was suffering very badly with the gossip. They had a room together in a deep, deep basement… rat-infested as well… Mum bought two kiddies up in that rotten room… it was a blessing when my grandfather died.

Mum used to take us in the park a lot and we was in the park and this woman sat down beside my mum… and my mum couldn’t stop herself telling her how awful it is… two young babies and how she couldn’t cope… didn’t have the money. So the lady said, “Well, I’ll look after one of them for you for a little while.” So my mum said, “Oh I’d be so grateful if you take my little boy.” “No,” she said, “I’d sooner have the little girl.” So along I went with this woman… I just remember being taken away from my mum… it stuck in my mind that I was ill-treated… my mum didn’t sign any paper to say that I was with this woman for good and, when my mother went to bring me back, she wouldn’t let me go… in London this is… so of course this lady downstairs… a very nice lady, my mum was telling me… she had children of her own… and she could hear me crying of a night… "I want my mum, I want my mum"… anyway she told a welfare man and he came along, also my mother came along… and he said, “You must hand this girl over to her proper mother at once.” The woman said, “No, she’s mine now.” He said there was nothing, no signed thing to say that that I was adopted… anyway to cut it short I had my mum back. It’s a vague memory… I have a vague memory of the lady.

My mother was so upset… she didn’t have much money… the father belonging to us didn’t care. When he got my mother out of my granny’s house... he said he loved her and everything… turned out he was a married man with five children… so anyway, Mum couldn’t cope… she took me round to my granddad and my grandma and she begged them to take care of me and build me up… “She’s full of bruises down the side.” So my granddad stepped in and said, “No!” This is to mum. He said, “You made your bed, now you lay on it!” That was wicked, wasn’t it? Granny told me that she stood me on the table to show my grandfather how thin and ill I was… Mum begged him to take me in to build me up but he said no. He wouldn’t have it because my mum downed the family when she went off with a married man and had two kids. He didn’t want to know.

She was a lovely old fashioned mum… she wasn’t flighty or anything like that… she felt guilty right up to the day she died… it was on her mind all the time… she went a bit funny in the end… she used to look at me and say, “Oh Dolly, if only things could have been different, love. You and Frank, you needed a father.” I used to say, “Mum we don’t want to know about it… you’re a good woman and that’s all there is to it… you done no wrong… not really.” I used to get hold of her and give her a cuddle.  

As luck happened my granddad was killed ’cos he was a bit of a clever clogs… 78 and he was still working… the workmen where he worked said, “I bet you can’t put that flag on the highest building in London.” My granddad said, “You want to bet on that?” So of course my granddad went up with the flag but he came over dizzy and fell… he had multiple injuries… now this is funny how things turn out… he died... so then my granny comes to my mum and says, “Come on girls back home with me.” 

God, I can see my grandmother’s house as if it was yesterday… it had railings and it had a sort of plain black door with brass fittings… a knocker to knock on and the number ten… I never had a room to myself so I shared a single bed with my mother until I married… the next person I shared a bed with was my husband.

There was something special I can’t explain about my Grandma Hanna… she was wonderful… to me she seems more and more out of this world each passing day. She was very Victorian with her white apron and her bonnet and a little embroidered cape… a proper old-fashioned granny like you see on television. We went to Gran when I was four years old and we left when I was fifteen when we were bombed out.

When Gran said to bring the kids home my mum collapsed and she was in bed for a fortnight… it was what she’d gone through… she was worried sick about us kiddies. While she was in bed my dad came down to see us, apparently… I was only about four or five... I don’t remember a thing… he even sat me on his knee… Mum said he did… but I can’t remember him… honestly I can’t. I was so thin that he said to Gran, “Don’t you give her any jam?” So my gran said, “Like you care whether she has any jam! You couldn’t care less if she’s still alive or what she was.”

My brother got ill with rheumatic fever and it left him with a weak heart. They got him fairly well and then he had to go convalescent… he used to go away for six weeks and then come home for a few weeks and then go again. I used to go and visit him at the children’s hospital. The kids had to stand in a pen… we couldn’t go near the patients… my brother used to stand there waving to me. Mum said that he’d look after us when we got older. The boot was on the other foot. I never thought he was a very affectionate brother… when we had this photo done he never wanted to put his arm round me. No lovey-dovey and kissing like they do today… he’d always push me away. Actions speak louder than words.

If only I could prove to people that that was my life… I was a very active little girl… always running… getting errands… the woman next door used to mumble, “Your little girl’s never quiet.”  I was a right little chatterbox… I used to go out in the garden… this is taking me back… I’d dress up… put my mother’s furs on… and promenade in the garden. The woman next door saw me one day and I was chatting away to myself like an old gossip. I was always skipping… jumping… swinging round the lamppost. Kids today are just too fat… and… what was I saying?

I left school when I was 14 and got a job making novelties for budgie cages… like cuttlefish and little mirrors… novelties… I was there about five years but then he had to close it because it was unhealthy… they had stuff for the birds that wasn’t good for human beings... daphnia food. The governor used to have his wife’s sister working there… and she got right on my nerves… she used to do these little round mirrors with clips on the back… she used to stick on the clips… I was sitting along a bench with a friend of mine and I could see her watching us in the little budgie mirrors. I asked her what she was watching for. I said, “There’s a bloody war on. Do you think I’ve nothing better to do than knock off budgie bells?” I said, “That’s it, I’m off!” And I walked out… and then I thought to myself now what am I going to do now? Then I saw a note in the window, ‘Young girls wanted’. Perfect. I thought, that’s it… that’s the one for me… in I goes. I was there for going on 13 years in a manufacturing chemist… we used to do ointments for the soldiers and we used to put little notes in for them… ‘Please don’t worry.’ ‘See you soon.’ We used to have a giggle about it.

We lived with Gran until we got bombed out when a land mine came down… oh, I was very frightened… I was very, very nervous… I left my mum and my brother and I went running up the road with bombs falling all around. We were billeted out to a nice old couple in Hampstead… some mattress things they’d laid on the floor. At one bus stop by King’s Cross a bus was hit…  it shot right up and crashed through the roof… a double-decker bus on the second floor. I used to stand on that bus stop on a night… it could have been me.

I used to go to sleep down on the Underground… I had to go to work just the same… we used to be down the Tube and mum bought a soft little bit of something to put down. About five o’clock in the morning Mum used to say, “Dolly, come on let’s get out. There’s no warning on.” And when we used to get up to the top, the smell of smoke and water… you know, from the pipes and the hoses for putting the fires out… really heavy in the air.

I was going home one morning from work… dinnertime… it was very bad… the aircraft were going over… the bombs were going… and the guns were going and we was on this bus and we turned along Hampstead Road, and… the bus driver panicked because the bombs were getting too close… anyway this bomb fell… a shop and a post office both got bombed… all the glass was breaking… chaos… there was a young fella with his bike, he caught it… the people that served in the shop, they died as well… it worried me because I thought my mum might be in there. I think I was in shock. I started panicking a bit… so I ran home to where we were billeted out and I shouted, “Mum, are you there, Mum?” The lady downstairs gave me a cup of tea and a couple of Aspirin… I said, “I want my mum.”

It changes your outlook to get up everyday and think that a bomb might drop on your head… I was terrified… even in the underground you could hear them coming down… and the sound of the aircraft propellers, then bang and then the guns… my friend lost her father… they lived in a block of flats... a land mine went straight through the lot. Her father was an air-raid warden… he’d just opened the door of his flat and a land mine comes down and takes the whole block… it was my school friend… one of the girls that was going to beat me up outside the gates… the were like little gangsters… her name was Beatrice. Her father got killed, her brother was injured, her sister was injured… it was the landmine went right through the building… right to the street door where he was standing. He was found dead with the key in his hand. Some of us fell asleep at work, we were so tired. People who said it was lovely, well they’ve forgotten.

The bit of fun we did have was when then the Yanks came over and they really took us out of ourselves… they really did… I know they showed off with their money and their loud ways… nylon stockings, the Yanks gave us…  and sweets and chocolates. We thought they were wonderful. I had an American boyfriend but I didn’t take to him and I’m glad because I heard he caught the clap. My friend married one and had a little girl… I could have had one… I had plenty of soldier boyfriends.

My brother was invalided out of the army… he was a good-looking boy… perfect features… he died… they’ve all gone… he didn’t get married… we told him, Frank, if you get married you’ll have someone to look after you… he was frightened of his heart giving up making love… he had a thing put in his chest from the age of twelve… he loved sport and cricket and playing with the other lads and he couldn’t do it any more. I remember how it started one Sunday morning… we got the doctor in and they took him straight off to hospital… he just didn’t eat properly… no vegetables… only sweets. He could have had a different life… the girls liked him but he never had time for any of them. He went on one date to a restaurant and the woman kicked him under the table… he got up and walked out and that was that… women went right down the pan. Even with his weak heart he still tried to join up. One day he came home and he said, “Mum, I’ve joined up.” She says, “You silly fool!” She wouldn’t let him go. Of course the police come round for him… the Redcaps... my brother said, “Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll be alright.” “Alright! I’ll give you alright, you bloody silly fool!” They thought he was a deserter… but when he started to do the exercises… all the jumping and running… he passed out… collapsed and got invalided out of the army… he was so upset… he wanted adventure… he had a craze on Errol Flynn, pictures all over his room, and I think he wanted to be like him… he never got married but he always did the opposite of what he was supposed to do. In the end he moved in with a man friend.

I got married in 1953. Somehow I can’t remember too much about it… he wanted to go with me so we went out together and we got married. He was a good man. He died of lung cancer. I don’t remember much. Isn’t it funny that I don’t remember my husband? I’ve got one or two photographs from when I was a kid and I even remember them being taken.

[Dolly picks up a framed photograph from her bedside table] I know that my mum was looking out of the door at the side… my brother’s there, he’s got his friend at the side… his friend pinched his cap… it’s making him laugh… funny it’s like yesterday to me but I can’t remember my husband. That’s my mum in the photograph… she looks so ill there... I’m glad of the company to have someone to talk to… I can’t find anything here… isn’t it awful? When I lost my husband I still had my own home and everything… I had an accident… bruised all my face… they thought I’d been mugged… I fell down in front of the bank… a man picked me up… funny thing was I’d just helped an old lady across the road… I took her safely across and then tripped over… it was all building up inside me, losing my husband and so on… I caught my leg and it wouldn’t stop bleeding… they took me into hospital and I was there eight weeks… I didn’t like it when I came here… the carers do their best… they were saying, “This is your home now Dolly.” Like hell it is… home is where your memories are… this is just like renting a furnished room… where are the memories here? I felt as though my life had finished… I told myself, bear up girl, take it on the chin… you’ve taken enough in life, this is just one more hit. I never thought I’d disappear into a care home. I don’t suppose anybody does.