Friday, August 01, 2008

Saturday 30th December 1939 to Friday 5th January 1940

A lovely leave: how the days flew! I can understand how men are tempted to overstay leave. Although I didn’t object to coming back, my seven days seemed a terribly short time in which to do so many things. Now it is over and we are informed that it was embarkation leave, I look back.

Reunion with John, on Saturday. We stood in Piccadilly Circus looking at Eros – veiled by timber or stone, pyramid shape. We saw one of the latest flicks, “The Rains Came” (I wonder how long before it reaches Southwell Cinema?)

In the tube as we returned to Ealing, stood a girl terribly like Rio Brookes. She wore the same sort of clothes, even. After some time I managed to get her a seat. It was as though I were doing it for Rio! And I’d been trying not to think of her! This amazing resemblance made me feel shaky and upset – really!

The comfort of home! That night John and I slept together. There was a fire in the bedroom and I very sleepily watched the ruddy glow flicker on the ceiling whilst he told some unimportant story.

On New Years’ Eve (although it fell on a Sunday this time) John and I went to a dance in Staines at “The Pack”. Rather formal – chiefly civilians in tails, and officers; ladies in evening dress. John felt somewhat abashed in a lounge suit but I being khaki uniformed, was in order. Amazing how self-assured I became! Now that we live in times of physical danger, my moral courage increases. Rather too formal for the occasion however; we should have taken partners. Indeed, at 12:15, when the New Years’ merriment was at its’ height, John said, quite solemnly to me, “Aye, but it’s not the same as Piccadilly Circus”. It wasn’t.

Stayed the night – what remained of it – with the Armstrongs, at “Melville”
Seems funny that John isn’t in khaki. Actually he appears to have no intention of joining up, at all!

Waterloo Station rendezvous on Monday. Interesting place nowadays, full of Service men. Met Win, platonic friend, and went to a tea-dance at Lyons. Table on the edge of the floor. New experience, a dance and a cup of tea and then another dance. We essayed a tango! We waited vainly for a waltz. Eventually, “Well, Win, we’ll have to leave that waltz until next time we meet!” “Yes, in nineteen forty what?”

Afterwards, another of the latest films (“The Real Glory”) and then “Auf Wiedersein” at Waterloo.

Went to the Office on Tuesday. Mr Percy and Mr Val Randall; Baker and Mr Reddall, Pullen the head cashier. Everywhere a welcome! It was fine to be back awhile. Delightful even to hear Pullen’s doleful account of the Essex customers who had failed financially since war began. Mr Reddall gave me a marvellous lunch at a real city eating house (I had a curry dish!) viz Stones Chop House. An afternoon cup of tea at the Office before I left and damn me! As I walked out of the door having said goodbye to everyone, I met Packy coming in! Still hatless and with the same roué look. We had a coffee at The Austrian and reminisced a bit. All this was absolutely a feast of Auld Lang Syne.

In the evening, I called at Hampstead for tea. John was there. We came back part of the way together by tube. He alighted at Tottenham Court Road, not far from Schmidt’s, where we’d so often foregathered.

On Wednesday I eased a load from my conscience and made an expedition to Stock to retrieve my kit. Awkward journey but I was lucky in catching a bus at Billericay and reached The Cock at 1:30p.m. The Allens were not expecting me but dished up a ripping three-course lunch, followed by tea beside the lounge fire. There was a roaring fire, too, in my old bedroom, for a new digger was arriving later on. “Just until you come back, Mr Dawson” said Mrs Allen, as though I might be selling paint again within a month or two!

I suffered acute nostalgia as I slowly packed away my comfortable civvies clothes – blazer, crepe soled shoes, well-creased flannels, Harris tweed jacket… and my books – so many I’d collected, with such dear names! – and business stuff – so neat and ready for use – in three boxes and one suitcase. Brought two more suitcases away with me. All was done and the boxes were ready for collection by the railway van men.
I looked around my bedroom as I reached for the switch, standing in the doorway. Flick! And it was a fire lit room, with oak beams and a bed, just as when first I came.

Caught the 6:10 bus to Billericay. I telephoned Rio. Just had to after seeing that girl in the tube the other night.
“Is that Miss Brookes?”
“Yes! Stephen!”…
(“When we put the receivers down, the last link has snapped” “Oh no! I will come and see you!”)

A cold, gloomy night with a high wind. Dismally dark at Billericay Station. Awful rolling stock on the LNER railway. When I stumbled up to the platform at Fenchurch Street – after a weird walk through the black streets from Marle Lane – there stood Rio, looking as perfectly beautiful as ever, with a cheeky little beret perched on her head and the same naughty eyes.
“Terrible if we’d flickered out on a telephone line Rio”
“Yes Stephen. I thought I should die when you said that”

At a snug corner table in Lyons Brasserie we had Carlsberg lager; hors d’oeurvre (spicy, served from a trolley in bulk!) some amazing Neapolitan sort of ice-cream; and coffee, served with a box of State Express Turkish. We chatted, listened to the band – there was a very comical drummer – and watched the general scene. We had a humorous waiter too, who moved dishes in time to the music and made a noise exactly as of castanets with his mouth. The minutes raced. We went back to Fenchurch Street, always close together.

“But my heart belongs to Stephen” sang Rio, misquoting a popular song. She also murmured “Bouf!” and “Peek-a-boo!” and other delightful things she used to do. I collected my suitcases from the cloakroom, left them with a kindly ticket collector at the barrier and went on the platform with Rio. The dazed last minutes clicked… And suddenly Mick appeared!

Mick, the friend of Lois and Joan Pryor, found me at a London railway station at midnight, saying goodbye to a damned attractive girl. “Rio Brookes – Mick James” (!) He wished me luck, said he hoped to be in khaki soon himself (Mick, the pacifist!) and got on the train. “Good bye, Rio.”

Friday: I told my mother I was almost certain to have another leave (“Perhaps a weekend”) although I had little expectation of such an occurrence myself. The snow on Ealing Common was just melting as I walked to the station at midday.


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