Saturday, February 07, 2009

Thursday 6th July 1944

I'm still struggling gamely with my analysis book. Each page has 93 vertical columns... This work gives me a nagging headache which lasts all day. Or maybe the headache is caused by the roar of road drills and a petrol engine in Glasshouse Street just below my window.

I sit in an office marked “Private”, with my own desk and telephone (A shock of horror hits me whenever the phone rings, as I don't know how to deal with people who ring up!). When I look over my shoulder I look down into Piccadilly Circus (the part where it is joined by Glasshouse street and Regent Street) and can see Eros, veiled in anti-blast walls, in the centre. Maybe Eros isn't there anymore. The wooden shroud of this possibly empty sepulchre bears many Government posters on it's sides – propaganda stuff.. This is England 1944, not 1938.

The sirens are moaning all day. There are certainly longer “alert” than “all clear” periods, here in central London. When a bomb flies uncannily over, one cannot always hear it because of the roar of traffic and those damned road drills. But if it comes close I can see the people below huddle and peer upwards. If it's very close and the motor stops (signal that it is about to drop) there is a mad rush for doorways and entrances to subways. Then Thud! a safe distance away, and people emerge, laughing at each other in their relief.

This morning, crossing the Circus towards the office, I heard a bomb drop and, looking down Lower Regent Street saw a gigantic column of smoke rise – fluff! - and mushroom out, hovering above the venerable buildings of Westminster Abbey. A picturesque sight if not so terrible. However, that particular one may have fallen in the river.

I don't travel up and down by that foul tube now, for I've discovered a bus which runs from Hampstead to Charing Cross Road. It is a longer journey and means a bit of a walk as well but that is pleasant enough. I always sit upstairs – yes! one gets a seat on the buses! As we jog along we take stock of the previous night's bomb damage. When there is evidence of fresh destruction, everyone turns and gazes down the stricken street and talks about the robots and how long it will last and how dreadful it all is.

At lunchtime I go out to find some cafe in Soho. Twice I've lunched at an old favourite – The Vienna in Denham Street. It is expensive, but the food is very good.
A high spot of the afternoon is when Woods, the war-time commissionaire (formerly porter at the Harrow Road Depot) comes in with my cup of tea. “Here y'are sir,” he says respectfully, putting it on my desk. He can't remember when I, dressed in dungarees, used to arrive at the depot and unload cans of paint from a lorry into his dark basement! Otherwise he wouldn't mistake me for a great business man.
The tea is well-sweetened and is provided by the firm for all employees.
It is a nice firm to work for! So friendly. I have not worked in any other office where the Managing Director tours the office with a friendly smile each forenoon, greeting each member of the staff. “Good morning Miss White, Good morning Dawson, Good morning Reddall...”

I worked a bit late tonight, trying to get that damn book finished. Mr Reddall sent a girl in who literally took the book away out of my hands! “Mr Reddall say's he doesn't want you to stay late. You can finish this tomorrow.”

I won't be sorry when my time at the office is ended though; it will be nice to be a sort of free-lance again and working irregular hours. I'm pleased to note that I'm not taken quite seriously as a member of the office staff – this takes away any sense of permanency. People are amused at my superfluous questions and occasional errors. “What? The India-rubber again? Put something down in the wrong column, I suppose!” And, “Well, Dawson, how are you getting on with all your big books?” “I'm not sir. And when I think you can hear the machinery clanking inside my brain.” At which Mr Randall goes away with a chuckle. He wouldn't be amused at my mistakes if I made them as a representative!

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