A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 2
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
THE GREAT MOVE NORTH FOR SAFETY
So my sister and I were taken to the railway station and together from there, to slightly misquote “ we made the long day’s journey into North”; but not for a joint placement it transpired for we were to be billeted with two different families. Upon our arrival in Manchester we were met by the reception committee who checked our labels and then took my sister off to meet her billeting family, but I was taken into a building nearby. After some delay a man and a lady came to inform me that unfortunately I would have to go back to my mother and father in London. It transpired that the home of my intended evacuation recipients had been destroyed or at least badly damaged following a German air raid, so there was nowhere to put me. Oh how unfair is life, I thought, having to go back to my mother and father, when I could have lived in a strange place hundreds of miles away and surrounded by total strangers! Later that afternoon I was on my way home for a joyful re-union.
But of course things are never as simple as that, only about two months later I was again heading for Kings Cross Station with my mother, my next adventure was about to begin. Of course there had to be a little scare before that could happen though, otherwise life would be boring! At the railway station my mother having fastidiuosly straightened my collar and tie before buttoning my coat and ruffling my hair with her hands, draped my identifying tag and label around my neck. With an admonition to “Stay exactly where you are till I get back”, she then turned on her heels and disappeared into the crowd. After a complete adherence to her command for at least a whole minute while I looked at the clock under which she had stood me, my curiosity won the day and I made my way along the platform where the majority of people appeared to be heading. Most of them stopped, opened a door and climbed aboard before closing the door behind them, some stood and hugged or kissed and cried as they chatted to each other. My adventurous spirit urged me on however until I had passed all of the other people and came to the front of the train where a giant engine, hissing and puffing and wafting out smells and smoke, beckoned me on. I went warily to the bottom of the steps leading up into the engine, where a man stood twiddling and tapping dials and levers while another shovelled coal into a blazing fire. The former glanced around and seeing me, trundled to the gap at the top of the steps, where he smiled, reached out a hand and said “Hello sonny, do you want to have a look around?” I was up at the top of the steps almost before he could reach down to me, but having got aboard, shied hurriedly away to the right of the man, not because I was afraid of him but because the heat from the fire was such that I thought my face might melt or my clothes catch alight. In the meantime back in Panic Land my tearful, fearful and distraught mother clutched at people’s arms, tapped their shoulders or jumped in front of them beseeching “Have you seen a little boy?” This on a station ticket area probably populated by at least 100 boys and girls accompanied by either or both of their parents and awaiting departure to their designated places of evacuation. Within minutes a policeman an air raid warden and two railway workers, armed with a description of her stolen or kidnapped (maybe by the Germans?), angelic, blond haired blue-eyed boy, were scouring first the ticket area and then the nearest platform, assisted by my mother and a handful of concerned would be passengers. One of the station porters, being more streetwise insofar as little boys let loose on a railway station were concerned, made a beeline for the engine and with a triumphant yell of victory and frantically gesticulating arms, beckoned the hunting party toward him. The volunteer searchers dissolved back into their anonymity as my mother clutched me joyfully while smacking my leg for having disobeyed her, the policeman sternly reprimanded her for having let me out of her sight and the porter hovered expectantly in anticipation of a reward. This came in the form of a tearful word of thanks from my mother, a salute from the policeman and an exasperated if not irate demand from a nearby passenger, that he hurry up and put the man’s suitcase aboard the train. At the precise moment that he was lifting the man’s luggage onto the train, to the policeman’s complete bewilderment my mother thrust my hand into his and ran off up the platform clutching at her bag. Upon reaching the surprised porter she reached up and kissed his cheek, thrust something into his hand and then came hurrying back to myself and the bemused policeman. “I had to give him something.” She explained. “The only thing I had was a bar of chocolate” and looking at me with a glint in her eye, said “That would have been for you to eat on the train. Now you’ve only got a sandwich.” I was placed in the care of one of the evacuee dispatch team and put into a compartment with two adults and several other children. My mother, standing by a policeman’s side in the grey gloom of Kings Cross station, was to be the last view I had of her for about a year. I realised that she had only been kidding about the chocolate soon afterward when one of our ladies gave me a piece of chocolate that must have come from my mother; but I was quite annoyed when she then gave a piece to each of the other children as well. Why was she giving my chocolate away? I told her off and then sulked. She and her companion assured me that it was not my chocolate, they had brought it as a special treat for all of us and although I was sceptical at first they finally convinced me. I won in the end though because they probably felt guilty and anyway I was the youngest person in the compartment, so when nobody else was looking one of them gave me a second piece and then later on the other one gave me another piece too!
The journey north was good fun, we played some games and talked about ourselves to the others, with a bit of chocolate to the winning girl and boy storytellers, or the best game player, or the pair who saw the first river or forest or herd of cows or farm workers or horses, or anything really; it’s amazing how many ‘I Spy’ things grown-ups can think of. Even more amazing was that nobody seemed to win more times than anybody else! We spent lots of time looking out of the windows. We were all Londoners so the huge expanses of countryside, of fields and rivers and lakes and forests and even of little villages or small clusters of buildings, were totally new to us. Also the occasional stop at a railway station, where little clusters of welcoming committees waited to greet a group of disembarking children, gave us the chance to wave and call out goodbyes to children we had never seen before and would never see again. This action and incident filled day led us evermore north.
ADVENTURES IN MANCHESTER
Some hours later we arrived in Manchester and were taken to the distribution point. On my second departure from London I had been re-assigned to a family in Leavenshulme in Manchester.The new family to whom I was designated were named the Howells but they did not meet me at the station, I was loaded onto a lorry with a group of other children and we were driven around for delivery. The lorry stopped a few times where children whose names were called, were helped off the lorry before we continued on our way. Dusk was already falling as the vehicle was brought to a halt and the last few of us huddled into the back, all unasked ran to the back of the lorry and peered out over the tailgate. We were on a patch of grass at the side of a road which seemed to stretch into the distance forevermore as did the houses and hedges. Each hedge had its own gate leading to a house and each gate had one or two people standing beside it, all looking at us. Closer to us and almost beside the lorry, were gathered a cluster of children we had never seen before; they edged closer and then stopped, edged forward again then stopped again. Suddenly we all started talking to each other, not about anything in particular nor anything that I can remember though apparently I spoke despite my delicate years, more than almost anyone else from my group. Our exchanges were brought to a halt as someone’s name was called, a couple came forward from one of the gates, took the hand of the child who had been named and disappeared back through their gateway with that child. I was still chatting to some of the children when a lady came walking toward me, said “Hello Kenneth, you’re coming to live with us.” then took my hand and led me down the road past a lot of houses and eventually in through the gateway to her house, which was at number 3 Ivylea Road in Leavenshulme, Manchester. Upon our arrival at the house, a man standing by the open doorway ushered us in and I went unquestioningly and unconcernedly straight along the hall and into their sitting room where I met an older boy and another lady, although I was later to learn that she was only about sixteen years old. I was given a meal which I didn’t particularly enjoy partly because I didn’t know what it was but mainly because everybody else had already eaten and so I had to eat it while everybody else was sitting around the table and looking at me as though I was a new pet! Once I had eaten they talked to me for a while and I tried to answer their questions, then the girl took me up to show me my room and then the mother took me for a bath, I don’t think that I had ever seen a bath before but I did think it was quite nice. I was then tucked up in bed and told that I could keep the light on until I felt comfortable but within minutes I was fast asleep. When I woke up I lay in my strange new surroundings for a while, trying to remember where I was and then clambered down from the bed, made my way along the corridor and went downstairs. The lady who had collected me the previous evening, came out of the kitchen when she heard me, “Hello young Kenneth” she said “Did you sleep well?” “Yes thank you I replied, who are you?” “I am Mrs Howell Kenneth, but you can call me mum if you like.” She smiled. I pondered this for a moment or two before replying “Okay I will call you mum, but my mam lives in London and my name isn’t Kenneth, it’s Micky.” There were a few moments of confusion while she processed what I had said before her smile returned. “Alright then dear” she replied, “You have a London Mam and a Manchester Mum, I’ll try to remember that. Now though, I think it is time for you to have some breakfast, before we do anything else, you must be really starving.”
This setting of the boundaries, which was of importance to me, arose because my mother and father and their parents before them, had all originated in Wales, where the common term for a mother was “mam”, while in Manchester and probably most of England it is “mum”. The name issue regarding myself was because although my name is indeed Kenneth, my parents and sister had always for some reason always called me “Micky” and that’s who I thought I was. It’s funny what comparatively insignificant things become an issue to you, Mrs Howell persisted in calling me Kenneth for the whole of my time in Manchester, which always irritated me to such an extent that in my particularly rebellious moments, I sometimes refused to acknowledge the fact that she was addressing me. This was compounded by the fact that Mr Howell addressed me as “son”, while their daughter and the other boy, who was a fellow, but earlier arrival evacuee, added to the confusion by calling me “Mick”. Apart from that we all got along extremely well, I was always being pampered and spoiled by the Howell’s daughter when she came home from work. I also got along well with my fellow evacuee whose name I believe was Brian, although he, being a few years older than myself, went to school, so I saw little of him either excepting at weekends or school holidays. Mrs Howells later told my mother of her very first meeting with me, apparently I had alighted from the lorry and she was walking towards me and a few others who had alighted at the same spot. Some local children who had gathered to see what was happening, asked us if we had seen the “Vacees” who were supposed to be arriving soon. I, acting as spokesman for our little troop said “No we haven’t seen anyone, we’ve just come up from London.” She told my mother that my confidence at such a young age had endeared me to her right from the moment she had first seen me standing there, even though I appeared to be so full of confidence, although we had only just arrived!
This then was the stage upon which I found myself once ensconced in the Manchester setting. The first few days following my arrival, I was taken for walks in the immediate vicinity, parks, libraries and shops, as well as to the homes of various people of the Howell’s acquaintance. Once it was felt that I had become accustomed to and familiar with the surrounding area, Mrs Howell took me on a few bus rides and eventually into Manchester itself and all of these activities were reinforced with constant communications and interactions between myself and the Howell family at large. I think that this continued for about two weeks until it was felt that I was sufficiently comfortable to be exposed to and absorbed into a larger, more diverse experience. After breakfast I was informed that we were going to see Mr Howell at his place of work. We caught a bus into the city and walked along a few streets until rounding a corner we came to what I later learned, was the High Street which housed the largest shops I had ever seen, since our Leyton shops were generally small shops with the exception of a couple such as Lipton’s. Continuing along this street, we came to a huge and imposing shop which outshone even those around it and it was into this shop that we went. I was quite mesmerised, dozens of people hurried, scurried or loitered around a positive maze of counters laden or piled high with an assortment of items that I had never seen nor ever yet imagined. There were glass things, China, lace and embroideries, lamps, objects of wood, of metal, frames, crafts, Cloths and linens; an Aladdin’s cave beyond my wildest dreams. There were mirrors and pictures on the walls and a criss-crossing of wires above our heads and at the far end of all this, a glass fronted room hovered above our heads with a few people sitting there, looking down upon us while others scurried about behind them. While I stood in sheer amazement trying to take in all that I could see, a figure emerged from a side door and made his way toward us until as he got closer I realised that it was Mr Howell himself. He bowed quite formally to his wife then enthusiastically shook my hand before steering us both ably through the crowds and back through the door from whence he had appeared. We followed him up a flight of stairs and through a doorway into the floating room which we had seen when we entered the Emporium. This was the hub of the department store, the room from which all was observed, money transferred, instructions given and the manager ruled. This was Mr Howell’s own little kingdom and the people in this room were his most trusted and productive staff, they verified and approved all transactions, provided receipts, collected money and issued out change. They also acted as the “Eyes in the sky”, overseeing the involvement and great diligence of the shop floor staff, whilst simultaneously monitoring the shoppers to detect and thwart any attempts at purse snatching or shoplifting. On the left-hand side of the room as you faced the large window was a continuous ledge at desktop height and here sat four “cashier” girls each of whom were furnished with a cash box, a receipt book and pen. Facing the window that overlooked the shop floor was a similar ledge behind which sat four “dispatch” girls, each having three screw topped canisters and a wire above their heads. Another wire led from just above ledge height and out through a reinforced hole in the window in front of them and down to the floor below; the wires from the two outermost girls descended to the front of the shop floor, those from the innermost girls to the rear of the shop floor. When a shopper selected an item, the shop girl placed the details together with the shoppers’s money into a canister before screwing the canister onto a lid attached to the wire, then pulled a lever which projected the canister up the wire into, the window of the room we were in. The upstairs dispatcher unscrewed the canister, handed it to a cashier who took out the label, exchanged it for a receipt and the appropriate change, placed the supplied payment into the cash box and returned the canister to the dispatcher. It was like the fore-runners of modern day cable cars in miniature! The canister was then whisked back down stairs by the wire and the next transaction awaited. No money was held on the ground floor level and all labels kept the in appropriate cashbox upstairs so that they could be tallied at any time. The shop floor was divided into four units each with its own dispatcher and cashier so that accountability could easily be traced. The system was extremely efficient and more advanced than most other shops or stores in the vicinity but there were occasional glitches which proved to be quite amusing though sometimes alarming . The wires and therefore the canisters went to and fro over the heads of shopgirl’s and customers, so that both were equally vulnerable; if a dispatcher failed to secure a canister properly, it would depart its securing lid so that canister and coins would rain down on the unfortunates below, rather like heavy raindrops! Upon other occasions a kink in the wire or some other mishap would cause the canister to jam halfway through its journey meaning that no other transactions could take place on that wire until a maintenance man had been brought out with his hooks or sticks to free it. Although I was unaware at the time this was to be my early introduction to the world of advanced technology, I would have to wait many years before accessible technology could catch up with me! Mr and Mrs Howell had both become very attached to the idea of me and wanted to please me in every way they could. Mr Howell being the manager of this large department store in Manchester, was able to pander to my whims for the remainder of my stay in Manchester. I have a vivid recall of frequently being taken into the city especially on a Saturday and being the “son” of the boss, I was given total freedom of the office and allowed to pull the levers as and when I pleased. I came also to be constantly spoiled and pampered by the office girls, partly because I was the boss’s pride and joy but also because I was so young, many of the girls simply loved treating me as a younger brother. Life trundled on certainly until I passed my fourth birthday , when I began nursery school. I gained some kudos and enjoyed the envy of my school friends, many of who came into our store with their parents at weekends. My ability to pinpoint this particular piece of my life’s timeline, is thanks to the fact because of the generosity of my “evacuation parents” a party was held for me presumably at the nursery on the occasion of my fourth birthday which was recorded and photographed by one of the Manchester newsapers.
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