Monday, January 26, 2009

Friday 10th March 1944

My bottle of ink is almost historic. The original contents, made by an excellent Cairo firm, had some shocking Syrian muck added when the bottle was 2/3 empty. When half of the result of this was gone, I added some ink bought in Palestine and some bought in Egypt. The bottle was half full of fluid when I reached England so I added, first some ink I found, and then filled up with Swan. To make at least a colourful mongrel of these blends I added, just now, a little Quink!

On this railway job one quite looks forward to the morning off and afternoon off which occur alternatively. I had Wednesday afternoon off and spent the time having a luscious hot bath at the Soldier's Home and in writing-up this book and answering letters. This afternoon is mine too, and tomorrow morning, unless there's some special parade for men on posting, or a dental parade. I hope to slip off to Pitsea, for an evening with Violet. I've already altered the dates on my last weekend pass and it now reads from the 10th to the 15th, which I shall say is special compassionate leave if I have to display the pass to any inquisitive MP's!

I was relieved early and – having washed and changed into clean uniform and civvie shoes at lunchtime – I was at Woolwich Ferry before 1 o'clock. I had my shaving and tooth-cleaning gear with me, so that I could do my overnight toilet at Terori and needn't hurry back. Also I had a parcel containing two bottles of sauce for Violet, some sweets for April, a spare pair of gym slippers for myself and a spare Army hair brush which might prove useful to anyone.

I had a pleasant feeling of freedom and stolen happiness when the cumbrous Ferry boat slowly drew away from the South side and waddled crab-like across the river – I was free of the bounds of Woolwich garrison. Bus to East Ham station, tube to Barking, where I found there was no train to Pitsea for more than an hour – and that went via Tilbury! However, there was a nice little canteen on the platform, with a glowing fire, and there I had cake and a cup of tea.

Afterwards I rang Brentwood Hospital, as arranged, to tell April that I was safely at Barking and was indeed bound for Pitsea. (This was in case she too could come along for an hour in the evening.) When I got through, thinking that “Mrs Dawson” might puzzle them, I said, “I want to leave a message for Miss Aiken, please...”
“Is that Mr. Dawson?” enquired a voice. “It is.” “Well, Mrs Dawson left a message for you! She's got the afternoon off and has gone herself to Pitsea – she'll arrive there by the 3:25 bus!” “Oh,” I said, dazed, “I'll meet her from the bus then...”

My train arrived about 2:15p.m., crawled through grey marshy villages and drab country and deposited me at Pitsea station long after 3:30, I should think.
Long walk to Terori, accompanied by two small boys with a soldier-complex, one of whom claimed proudly that I was his uncle and one of General Montgomery's men.

“Wish I was old enough to be a soldier,” one said wistfully. “Don't worry son,” I told him cheerfully, “The war will still be on in ten years and you'll be old enough then.”

At Terori I found builders men putting in new walls – there'd been more damage than we at first imagined from that bomb blast – and April had been there nearly an hour and had gone out to telephone the hospital for news of me. I located her in the call box near Gale's Corner. She put down the phone and stood laughing at me. “Have you still got a cold?” I demanded hopefully. “No!” she said to my chagrin, at the same time moving invitingly nearer. “Well, I have!” I cried in despair, “So we can't kiss! Infection!”

My God! What a journey it had been from Woolwich to April! Almost at once it seemed it was time to go back. April had not spoilt her weekend by coming today; I found she had been put on fire-watch for Saturday night – that damned fire-watching duty!
Resolutely, I did not kiss her. Once she stood high on a chair to put a shilling in the gas meter, which appeared to be in the roof somewhere. I stood below and put my arms around her and we laughed and I felt her loveliness in my arms as I lifted her down – but even then I heroically turned my face away, muttering the magic word “infection”.

We decided to catch the 8:50 train, April alighting at Upminster, I at East Ham, to catch the last bus to the Ferry.

Oh! Once my pixilated wife went out into the garden (presumably to the lavatory) and on returning mentioned confidentially, “I saw two ghosts out there.” “Oh, did you?” I responded calmly, not even enquiring what colour or category of ghost they belonged to. And once, whilst I was talking to Violet, the head, shoulders and in fact all of my mad wife down to the waist, suddenly appeared around the door for no particularly obvious reason. It's eyes were blazing and as all of it that I could see was in a horizontal position, I imagine that behind the door were several of the famous cobble men, holding up the legs and feet in a similar position about 3 foot clear of the floor!

We set off for the station together, leaving Violet alone (the builder's men had gone long since) and found ourselves in a semi-dark village of searchlights and many droning planes – ours. We didn't hurry. When near the station, sounds of a far-off chuff-chuff receding towards London, and little knots of people coming from the station, prepared us for the eventual information that our train had departed more than 5 minutes before. Whereupon we laughed, not very perturbed, and I for one rather delighted (after all, I wasn't on duty until 1:30p.m. the next day!) and strolled back towards Terori, arms around each other in the fashion of courting couples rather than married folks.

“There's always a bedroom ready for you at my digs, of course,” remarked April. “What! Not your green-walled bedroom?” I exclaimed in horror. “Oh no! We'd have to flit in the middle of the night! At least, I should, because you'd bump into things and make a noise, not knowing the way between my room and yours.”

“Good Heavens!” I said. “Oh well, you see they don't think we're properly married yet...” “Hasn't it been consummated, so far, in their opinion?” “No, I don't think so! They imagine it's sort of an ideal companionship – platonic – getting to know each other better...” That anyone could think this of our marriage nearly slew me, there and then!

At a call box, April rang up these strange Hacks of Romford, to say she'd missed the train and would go straight to the hospital from here, in the morning. Whilst waiting for the connection she had a lively conversation with the local night exchange operator who eventually, highly intrigued, said he'd come out and see her, but April said he'd better not as he would find some opposition here. “When will the Opposition go away?” asked the operator, and I felt inclined to seize the telephone and reply sternly, “Not until tomorrow morning, old man!”

When we reached Terori and said we had missed the train, Violet seemed quite un-perturbed and went on with her ironing. Afterwards, at high speed, the two of them prepared and cooked a savoury meal and I shaved whilst they both sat and watched me sympathetically.

After the meal (getting terribly late), Violet – apparently not sharing the Hack's views about our legalised platonic friendship – decided to have the small bed for herself in the kitchen, where it was warm. She and I dragged it in; it fell to pieces on the way but we eventually re-assembled it in front of the fire whilst her daughter undressed in a corner of the room – pausing occasionally to give a helping hand.

And so, eventually, April and I lay together snugglesomely, with a few hours of sleep before us. This was stolen happiness indeed! Never mind the infection!


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