My wage was 1 pound per week, out of which Mum took 17 and sixpence towards my keep, and clothing, and I had the remainder, half a crown (12 and a half new pence)My duties were to clean the shop, also to help, as an assistant, behind the counter, deliver any purchases to the customer, by using a carrier bike. This was specially purpose built, to carry large, heavy, parcels. It had a normal sized back wheel, and a small front wheel, which was underneath a steel frame that would accept a large wicker basket.
My first week was the worst week, as I had to serve customers, and if that customer was an extremely pretty girl, I would blush, and then start to sweat, the more I blushed the more uncomfortable I became, as the weeks went by, I would become more in control.
Mr. Tooke, the manager, seemed a decent sort of bloke, although his deputy, a woman, was at times, difficult, but provided I did what I was told, things ran fairly smooth, and once she and I had got to know each other, she was ok.
The shop in Market Row was one of a group of 5, all owned by a Mr. Joshua Fielding. there were 2 in Norwich, 1 in Lowestoft, 1 in Ipswich, and another in Yarmouth, although this had suffered in the bombing, and was now unusable.
Mr Tooke had a small car, and he would, on about 3 days a week, visit other shops, either taking, or bringing back, boxes of saleable articles to Market Row. On his arrival after one of his visits away, he would send me, with a small trolley, to empty his car, which would be parked at the end of the Row, in the Market place. Warning me to take care, especially if there were breakables in the boxes. He was granted extra petrol rations to allow him to use his car for his visits, although he seemed able to use his car every working day, going backwards and forwards to his home in Caister, about 3 miles distant.
I soon got into a routine at work, when out of the blue, Mother had a letter from the local education authority, telling her that I should still be at school, and that my leaving school time was August, not Easter,
She had a word with Mr. Tooke, who decided to keep my job open, allowing me to work after school, weekdays, and all day Saturday.
The first lad I was to meet on my return to school was Ray Stone, and we sat together in the class room. I found that a lot of my contemporaries that I had left behind when I was evacuated, had been killed in my absence, and the teachers were all changed, with the exception of Mr Corlett. We were well matched, as if Ray did not understand what the teacher was explaining to us, I didn't either. Both of us were trying to catch up with the rest of the class, and fighting a losing battle. As each school day was not often interrupted by German aircraft, we had longer to not learn anything. Mind you, I could have been top of the class if the teacher had asked about religious quotations. Basically my return was a complete waste of time, and the sooner August came the better.
Just prior to our leaving, Mr. Corlett gave us each, individually, a chat, reminding us of the school motto, "Play up and play the game" and that honesty to ourselves, and to others was important. He was the teacher who made the statement to us some time back about the child being the father of the man, and though you did not understand it at the time, you discover, in later life, just how true that statement was, as I've often reflected, when I got older.
Then it was back to work full time, and Ray and I parted company, not to meet again until I joined up. Within a few weeks, Mum had a letter from the Post office, asking me to go in for an interview, (She had put my name down when I was about 11, for a possible future employer)She asked me if I would like to work there, possibly starting off as a telegram deliverer, but I felt guilty about letting down Mr. Tooke, as he had stood by me when I was made to go back to school.
I spent a few sleepless nights, anguishing over what I should do, and loyalty won the day, and I rejected the Post office. The attitude amongst most parents of the day was to find a job with security, and there were only 2 choices, in Yarmouth, for the likes of me, and my educational standard, one the Post office, the other the Railway, (A friend that was at the Greenacre with me, did, after many years service, become Head postmaster)There was a third choice, once you reached the age of 18 or more, the Police, but that wouldn't happen, as you would be conscripted into the armed forces at that age. (I often wonder where my life would have led me if I had joined the Post office). I was allowed to take my work carrier bike home with me at night, and I would then join my new friends, in the evening, riding over rough ground, and treating the bike as a horse. We would emulate cowboys who, when a low branch from a tree presented itself, you would grab, and let the bike sail on until it either crashed into something, or fell over. This was definitely something that you wouldn't do on your own bike.
Mr. Joshua had a house in Yarmouth, at the posh end of town, and though he was living in Norwich whilst the war was on, the large garage of the house was used as a storehouse for goods, which would eventually be sold in the shop, Mr. Tooke told me to go down to the house, by bus, which was a good mile away, and pick up a threewheeler carrier, this was similar to what Geof had used when we were living in Ilford, except that the large box was at the rear of the trike. On my arrival at the garage, I discovered that all 3 tyres were flat, and required pumping up, and it also wanted a good clean. I set too, and within a short space of time, I was riding it out on the road, after I had filled up it's box, with the goods that I had been asked to get. I seemed to manage alright until one particular part of my route, where the road had a very severe cam. This is where the trike decided to go it's own way. I just could not control it, without really putting pressure on the handlebars. Then and old man decided he would step off the pavement in front of me, and I found that the one brake lever on the handlebars had seized up, and could not be pulled, the other brake lever was on the low cross bar, which meant me taking my hand of the bars, to operate it, this caused me to lose complete control of the thing, and I ran into the fellow, who told me what he thought of me in good old Anglo Saxon.
When I eventually got back to the shop, I told my boss about my journey, he told me to practice a bit before I went on main roads again. During our dinner time, I told Geof about my problems re riding the damn thing, who said that the secret was to lean over in the saddle, the opposite way to the cam of the road. Within a couple of days I could cycle away without touching the bars.
In the shop I was taught how to repair bicycles, starting off on mending punctures, sods law only allowed these repairs necessary during wet weather, or there was a glut of horse or dog muck on the roads. Then on to completely stripping a bike down to repaint it, and if it was a ladies' sit up and beg' type, the rear mudguard would need restringing. This was decorative string that ran from a number of holes in the mudguard edges, down to a multi holed plate, fitted to the rear axle. The idea was to stop ladies skirts from being trapped in the wheel spokes.
New bikes were a thing of the past whilst the war was ongoing, although they were being manufactured, in a limited quantity, for export only, mainly for the South African market. Sometimes, for one reason or another, the shipment did not go, and the bicycles were offered to Fielding's. There was a problem, though, about these bikes, they were all in pieces, with the frames, and loose forks and mudguards in one large wooden box, and in another were the rims, tyres, pedals etc, these had to be completely assembled before they could be sold in the shop.
Mr. Tooke, had a mate, Duggie Friend, who once did have his own cycle shop, but had given it up at the start of the war, and was now a special constable, his duties, though, gave him a lot of free time, so Mr. Tooke employed him to build the bikes up, using the garage of Mr. Joshua's house, as a workshop. When I wasn't busy in the shop, my boss would send me down to work with Duggie, to learn how to build up the wheels, fit all the ball races, etc, actually Duggie taught me how to braze steel, although it was not needed on the new bikes.
Two or three days a week, I would catch a bus to the garage/workshop, stop for a while, and do a bit of work, then bring back 2 fully assembled bikes, by riding one, and steering the other with one hand.
Duggie must have built at least one consignment of bikes, about 50, when he was forced to pack in working for Fieldings. as his police duty hours were extended.
A little time passed, and another box of 50 came into Mr. Tookes hands. Prior to this, he had looked around to find premises that were nearer to the shop which he could rent as a workshop, and came across what, at one time, were stables attached to Freddy Leek's blacksmith shop. This new shipment of bikes, in bits, were delivered there, and I was given the task of building them up. For encouragement, for every completed one, I was given an extra shilling in my pay packet.
I got quite proficient at the job, and I found that I could build up a pair of wheels, putting in all the spokes, truing the wheels, fitting tyres and tubes, completely assemble a bike, in 2 hours. Often, if work at the shop permitted, I would get a bonus of 10 shillings a week, and once all 50 had been completed, it was back to my normal wage, until a new load came in.
Whilst I was busy doing the building of these bikes, I would sing, creating my own "Music while I worked" going through all the pop songs of the day, "Don't fence me in, Cow Cow boogie, White cliffs of Dover" and many many more.
Mr Leek would occasionally call in to see me, on his way to the toilet, and he would tell me that I would be wearing out my tonsils, but I was just happy, I was working, doing something I enjoyed, and getting paid for doing it, what more could you want.
Because the shop sold radios, or did, when ever there were some delivered for sale, which was on very rare occasions, a lot of them needed accumulators, and the shop had it's own charging equipment, unfortunately this was one of my jobs, to put them on charge, a task I really disliked. Forever dipping in an hydrometer to check the S G of the acid, always seeming to flick some of the acid on to my dustcoat, and though treating it with bicarb of soda, it still managed to burn a hole.
Another of my jobs was cleaning the lavatory, the bowl of which was badly stained, and Mr. Tooke told me to put some sulphuric acid into the bowl, to clean the stain off, rather than buy some Harpic, which would have done the job better. The girls in the shop didn't like the idea of sitting down on a toilet that had had acid put into it, so hatched a plan to get the boss to buy the right cleaner. Their plan involved the leaner, me, suggesting that I leave a drop of acid on the seat, after making sure that none of the girls wanted to use it. They had one little problem, how to get the boss to sit on the seat, But their clever, ingenious minds came up with the solution. Every morning, about 10-ish we would all have a cup of tea, which because we had no facilities for making, a jug was bought from the cafe a couple of doors away. One of the girls brought in to work some other form of tea, made with senna pods, putting a good helping of this into the boss's cup. He did complain to one of them that the tea tasted a bit off, but they told him that they found no fault with it. A little time went by, and he got the call, and had to use the lavatory. On his return he was showing signs of much displeasure, complaining that I must have spilt acid on the seat. At this statement the girls jumped in with both feet, "We've been telling Roy that he ought to use Harpic, blah blah". Their plan worked, and the proper cleaner was then used in future. But Mr. Tooke had to go home straight after this, coming back some time later with a complete change of clothes.
Next door to Fieldings was a shoe shop, and one of the assistants, Jean, knew one of our assistants, Irene, and this girl kept coming into the shop to chat to her friend, who told me that she only came in to see me, and Irene would tease me rotten about it, so much so that I believed her, and asked the girl for a date.
We went to the pictures a couple of times, and when another girlfriend, of Irene's, asked us both to go to a party celebrating her 17th birthday, we went. The 17 year old had just had most of her teeth out, and I was stuck as to what to buy her. Chocolates were out of the question, because of rationing, and she lacked the means of biting it, so I settled on a scarf, but thought a bit of humour would not go amiss, especially as she, the birthday girl, had a good sense of one, I found an old tooth brush, and cut off the bristles, wrapped it up, in decorative paper, and on the night, presented her with her presents. On seeing the toothbrush she laughed, but her Mother did not appreciate the gift, and she took a lot of persuading that it was meant as a joke, nothing else. Even her daughter worked on her, to accept it as it was meant, eventually she too, saw the funny side.
I was still singing in the choir at St. James's, and on the day after the party, being Sunday, I did not arrange to see Jean that night, but she turned up at the service, which annoyed me a bit, as normally, after we left church, Jim and I would walk to the Ship for a drink, although we were not officially old enough to imbibe. So I walked Jean home that night, and we parted company, not to meet again until I was in the services, except when at work we were forced to meet.
Although prior to this, Jean would sometimes walk down to the workshop, and bring me my morning cup of tea, this saved one of the girls in the shop from bringing it, and Jean would stay for a little while, whilst we talked and so on.
Another one of my jobs in the shop was testing radio valves, all radios were operated by the use of these valves, which again were in very short supply. Mr. Tooke had a valve tester in his office, and he started to teach me how to check them, to a written set of tolerance tables, for their emission strengths.
We had a little workbench upstairs in the shop, this is where he would repair small electrical items, such as irons, fires, and heaters. He then passed this know how on to me, and showed me how to check and repair these items, and how to connect plugs on wire ends, properly.
Dougie Friend, the cycle builder cum policeman, was once, in his youth, the flyweight boxing champion of East Anglia, and was very keen on physical fitness, though I think more for others than himself. He had started a gymnasium, in one of the Church halls, and seeing that I was, at that time, slightly overweight, suggested that I join him a couple of evenings a week to get myself fit. I persuaded Jim to come with me, and we turned up, one evening, for punishment. Forward rolling, horizontal bar work, vaulting horses, you name it, we did it. Finally ending up the session sparring with Duggie, of course, he landed every punch on me, and if I hit him I was extremely lucky, though, as the weeks progressed, I managed to hit him a bit more. At the same period of time that I was having this training, I started using a skipping rope, as exercise, first thing in the morning, outside in the back yard of No. 10.
Mother complained that I was not doing myself any good, but I ignored her, and persevered, doing up to 300 skips each morning, and losing quite a bit of weight in the process. I was still doing this, when Dad went out of the back gate one morning, just missing being hit by the collapse of the dividing wall that separated our garden from the next door neighbours. He was convinced that it was the constant pounding, caused by my skipping, that made the wall fall. It was just after this that I packed up my exercising, as I had lost the amount of weight I wanted to lose.
There was another shop, not so far away from Fieldings, that was a competitor, but as the owner couldn't get any radios, cycles, etc, he diversified, and started making children's toys, in wood, these he would find to be very profitable, as no toys were now being manufactured, in the factories. He would call into the shop and have a chat with my boss, and occasionally with me. Once he asked me if I would like to
give him a hand with the toy making, he did this in front of my boss, who didn't seem to mind me doing just that. provided that it didn't interfere with my normal employment.
Mr. Pendle, I had better explain, was a cripple, having only one arm, which really surprised me when I saw him working a wood lathe. He could load the wood, tighten the chocks, and start shaping wheels, or horses bodies, one handed. Basically all I was needed for was to sand down the wood, screw legs or feet on, take the tops off tins of paint, and generally tidy up the workshop, I cannot remember how much I got for this, but I could have all the scrap pieces of wood, which I would take home, for kindling. He could do more with his one hand than I could with two.
This work for Pendle was just prior to Christmas, and once that had passed, I lost my extra pay.
As for my brother, he was still at the Co-op, and he told me an amusing incident that happened in his shop. As chocolate, and all forms of confectionery were in very short supply, when they did come in, they were snapped up. They had a delivery of some chocolate, actually it was broken pieces of chocolate, and unwrapped, which they put on the counter in a box for general sale, only allowing a limited amount to each customer, so in comes this woman, with her terribly spoilt brat of a child, who kept pinching the bits of chocolate, in front of his Mothers eyes. She didn't do a thing to stop him, Geof made a comment about there not be any left for others, and moved the box. Some time later, another small delivery of the same chocolate came in, with the same conditions of sale. Geof saw this woman, with little horror, coming towards the shop, and quickly thought of an idea to stop the little beggar from pinching the goods, and broke up some Exlax, (a chocolate that gave you relief from constipation)and placed these pieces in such a position that they would be picked up first. Although you could tell the difference, between that and real chocolate, he knew the child wouldn't. Geof watched him take a couple of pieces, then removed the box, from out of his reach, taking out from the box any of the medicinal 'treat'. A couple of days went past, and in comes the woman, with her son. Geof enquired if she was well, she told Geof that the boy hadn't been well. and had had the trots. Geof suggested maybe the amount of chocolate that he had taken from the shop, was possibly too rich for his young tummy, she agreed, saying that she would keep him off sweets for a while.
Geof had now reached the age of 17 and a half, and so volunteered for the RAF, as aircrew. He knew that he was not up to the educational standard for pilot or navigator training, but would settle for a position of Wop/Ag, (Wireless operator/air gunner). He was sent to Norwich for his medical, and failed it, much to his dismay, but to Mother's relief, as a Wop/Ag's life span was one of the shortest, even though pilots etc was not a great deal longer. He was found to be colour blind. On his return from Norwich with this news, we, Mum and I, kept asking him to pick out various colours in a rag mat, but he could not tell red from green.
Just before his 18th birthday, he received his 'calling up papers', leaving home the very next day after his birthday.
On his previous medical he was told to consult his dentist, as his teeth were in bad shape, this he did, resulting in the complete removal of them. The dental surgeon, and Dr. Blake, coming to No. 10, to do the necessary. This would be the second time he would have had all his teeth removed, the first time when he was 4 years of age. I came home that day for dinner, to find that they had just finished their extractions, putting a bowl of teeth on the scullery table, prior to Mum putting them into the dustbin.
Not a pleasant sight.
On his arrival at his first RAF station, he was given another medical, and supplied with a set of dentures by the RAF dentists, though he had to have some minor surgery to his gums before fitting his new teeth, to remove small pieces of bone. Once he had got his 'new look' he came home on leave, with a completely changed appearance, from when he had left.
It was on this leave that he met up with Bertie Hastings, a friend from childhood. Bertie was in the Royal Navy, and was on embarkation leave, so they, naturally, had some celebrating to do. They did the grand tour of all the pubs, Geof imbibing more than he was used to, whereas Bertie had a better tolerance for alcohol, and was less 'legless' than Geof.
Luckily for Geof, Bertie had to pass No. 10 on his way home. Approaching the bridge over the river, Geof decided on a short cut, his mate just saving him from a watery grave, grabbing him as he tripped at the edge of the river.
The front doorbell rang, I opened it to find Geof being literally held up by his mate, Mum, hearing the noise also came to the door. Bertie passed him on to me, and left. Mum and I managed to half carry, and half push, Geof up to his bed, Mum then left me to undress him, and put him in the sheets. Once he was safely in bed, Mum came in with a bucket, telling him to use it, if necessary, this he did, several times, after we had left him. The next morning, towards dinner time, Geof came downstairs, looking like death warmed up. he had a cup of tea, a couple of aspirins, and said that he felt like dying. "Never again, never again" "I'm off beer for ever, I'll not touch another drop". After the aspirin had started working, Mum asked him if he had meant what he said about not touching beer again. Geof thought for a moment, and told her that he would not drink any more beer for a year, and that he would swear that on the Bible. I fetched the family one, and he put his right hand on it, stating that he was off beer for 12 months.
He returned to camp a few days later, and a week or so went by, when we received a letter from him, telling us that he had been to a dance, locally, and met a girl, who's father was a butcher. He, Geof, had been invited home to tea, and to meet the girl's family, it did not take him long to get his feet firmly under their table. With her father being a butcher, he was able to keep a good cellar, or sideboard, which would be stocked with all forms of spirits, wines, etc. which Geof was plied with, by the girl's Dad. Evidently the Dad took a liking to my brother, who insisted on him having the odd glass, or two. A letter home told us about the girl, and her father's generous drinks supply, but he did say that when he swore his. oath, he only mentioned beer, and not any other form of alcohol. I believe he never broke his word, drinking ale only after his year was up.
We never met his girl friend, and the big romance did not last very long, she actually drove him away by constantly talking about marriage, and how she would like a family.
Geof only wanted La Dolce Vita, he had a lot of wild oats to sow before he would consider being tied down. Relief from this pressure came in the shape of a posting to another station, many miles away, allowing him to use that as an excuse to break with her. There were a lot of tears, but as he pointed out to her, there was a war on, and it really wasn't the right thing to do, as anything could happen to either one of them.
Robbie Burns wrote about the best laid plans etc. re parting with the girl, not expecting to see her ever again, but fate always seems to take a hand.
It was after the war, Geof was now demobbed, and engaged to Sybil, and was walking arm in arm along the sea front, with her, when out of the blue, a girl ran up to him, slung her arms around his neck, and kissed him. Sybil, naturally took umbrage, and immediately disentangled herself from him, and walked off quickly. Evidently the butcher's daughter was having a holiday at Yarmouth, and had been on the look out for him. He told her that he was now engaged, but promised to meet her later that evening, but only for a chat. He then hurried off to catch up with his fiancée, who was not at all pleased with him, but using charm, and a lot of flannel, she did allow him to explain all, although she had reservations about him meeting her that night. Things were never the same between them after that episode, and the engagement was broken off, leaving him, once again, foot loose and fancy free.
After he had finished with the butcher's daughter, he was, as I said, posted to another station, where he would now use the trade that he had just been taught, Aircraft rigger, any part of the aircraft fuselage, mainline, general framework, he should now be able to repair. His new station was preparing for the invasion of Europe, and his main employment was the repair of any damaged gliders, these had been used in practice 'drops' which often resulted in wings, or bodies, needing patching up. he also repaired aircraft that had been damaged by enemy fire.
Once the war finally ended he was posted to Italy, as part of the combined services of occupation, and would be there until the old enemies were getting on to a more non belligerent footing.
He had an extremely good life in Italy, finding that because of roaring inflation, money was no good, and the currency was chocolate, petrol, tyres, corned beef, cigarettes, etc. With these commodities you could get anything, and I mean anything. Wine, spirits, women, all could be bought with a tin of beef, a gallon of petrol. He had such a good life out there that he came home for demob with a problem stomach, that lasted for about 6 months before he got used to a more staple diet.
But back to my story, the working hours at the shop was 9 to 6 o clock, with a half day on Thursday, when we closed at 1, and by this time I was showing more interest in the opposite sex. Sex in those days meant something completely different to what the word means now. Some girls did, and everyone was aware of those, but the majority didn't, they were the ones you went out with. If you were seen out with the former, all and sundry would let you know that you had been seen with them, and knew why you were with them.
Nearby, in the Market row, were several shops, who had female assistants, I've already mentioned Jean, from the shop next door. If you happened to mention to one of the girls in the shop you worked with, that you were interested in a girl from another shop, your workmate would inform that particular girl. If she was available, and she, too, was interested in meeting you, she would start coming into the shop. Across the Row was a bakers shop, and a really attractive girl worked there, but alas, she had a list of suitors as long as your arm. One of my old school friends, did manage to date her, but got a lovely 'shiner' when he tried to get more amorous. Her name was Sadie, but she was also a lady, and was determined to stay that way.
Working in the shop did have it's advantages, with nearly everything that was not on ration, being in very short supply, in Fieldings case it was torch and cycle batteries, and bicycle tyres. Nearly everyone either cycled to work, walked, or bussed, and cycle spares were at a premium. And that was were the advantage came in. If you wanted some Brylcreem, cigarettes, salad cream, and your shop had batteries, then the good old barter system would come in, though each article would be paid for at it's normal price. Once you had got your requirements sorted out, the rest would go on general sale. At first it was difficult to tell white lies to would be customers, but after a while it became second nature.
I mentioned Brylcreem, anyone who was anyone put Brylcreem on their hair, all the RAF used it, in fact the RAF was known as the Brylcreem boys. As it was in such short supply, I, and others, had to eke it out, we did this by mixing equal parts of Brylcreem to liquid paraffin. It sounds revolting, but you then had double the quantity of grease, and still kept it's scented smell. Vanity, all is vanity.
One of the girls at work, Myrtle, a dead ringer for Dolly Parton, was married to a soldier, and she received the dreaded telegram, stating that her husband had been killed in action. She was off work for a fortnight, then returned, only to put her notice in. The change in her was awful to see, from a 'bubbly' person, to an old woman, the rest of us, in the shop, really felt for her. Though she was one of many who had had this news, we now had lost someone we all felt we knew.