Vera’s Life: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 738 words.

After just two weeks in the factory, Vera no longer noticed the noise. The radio played over loudspeakers jangled with the constant clinking of glass jars and tins, and the women shouted over it all, their hair wrapped up in headscarves, and large aprons tied over their clothes. Very few men worked there, except those doing the heaviest work in the warehouse and the ones who drove the delivery vans. Mrs Oliver swapped the women around a lot, so they didn’t lapse into gossiping instead of working. That meant Vera met others of all ages, and from different boroughs too. She always went for lunch with Janet, who had turned out to be very grown up, even having a boyfriend called Frank. She would make Vera blush, talking about kissing and cuddling, smooching in the cinema, and finding places to hide in the park.

When Janet found out that Vera had never kissed a boy, she was determined to fix her up wth one of Frank’s mates. Frank was seventeen, and worked with his dad and brother as a plasterer. Janet said he knew a boy at the plastering firm who would like Vera, and she should fix up a date as a foursome. Feeling nervous, and hoping to get out of it, Vera invented an ‘understanding’ with Colin Lewis. She said that when he got back from Spain they would be seeing each other regularly, so she had better wait. Janet was suitably impressed, because Colin was so much older and his dad had a shop, so she let it go.

Not long after that conversation, the newspaper shop was closed when they walked past it on the way home from work. People were standing outside, peering through the glass panel in the door, and nobody knew why it wasn’t open. Elsie thought Mr Lewis might have been taken ill, and went around the side to knock on the door to the flat above where he lived. But there was no answer. When Vera’s dad got home, he was carrying an evening paper. Elsie mentioned that the shop had been closed not that long before, and Albert sighed. “He had some bad news earlier. Got a letter saying Colin was killed in February, at a place called Jarama. He had to open up again for the evening papers trade though, what else is he supposed to do?”

Vera felt the tears roll down her cheeks at the news. It was made worse by her lie to Janet earlier, which made her feel incredibly guilty. Albert spared his daughter’s feelings by not teasing her about Colin ever again.

Payday at the factory was on Friday afternoons. Vera got a brown pay-packet with the amount of her wages written on it in ink. On the way home, she would give it to her mum, and when they got in, Elsie would open it, take some money for Vera’s share of the housekeeping, and give her back the rest. Vera had opened a savings account at the Post Office, and used to pay in so much a week. Then there was the small payment to the Christmas Club at the factory, which paid out the week before Christmas day. What little was left was hers to spend, mostly on clothes and make-up.

Because Janet’s Frank went to the pub with his mates on Fridays, her and Janet started going to the cinema after work, always getting pie and mash in Tower Bridge Road before the programme started. Sometimes on the way home, Vera would share one of Janet’s cigarettes, but she didn’t let on to her mum that she was smoking.

That summer, there was more talk about trouble with Germany. Czechoslovakia was mentioned again, and Vera looked up a place called the Sudetenland in her atlas. Everyone was worried about the possibility of a war, and then in the first week of July, it got very real. Albert came home and said he had registered for the Civil Defence, and they were going to issue gas masks to everyone in the country in case Germany attacked. The masks were horrible; smelly rubber things kept in a cardboard box with a string to wear it on your shoulder. Vera’s dad told her that Londoners had to be careful to carry them at all times, because London was sure to be attacked with gas bombs.

That night she went to bed in such a state, she couldn’t sleep.

20 thoughts on “Vera’s Life: Part Eleven

  1. I haven’t had a chance to read your earlier comments, but I am caught up on this serial. My mother was born in 1922 in New York to a middle class family in a large city. She went to a private high school and then off to college with no expectation that she would work until after that. I am learning so much about an English working class woman who would have been her peer and am grateful for the abundance of specific detail, a strength always present in your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for that, Elizabeth. This is all based on recollections of my own family, and neighbours of theirs. College (university) was not even remotely a possibility for those people. All they wanted was a regular job, and the support of close family. Many of them never even left their own borough of London until WW2.Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I do family history, I see how ingrained the idea of college for women was in my family. My grandmother’s aunts even went in the 1870’s. So much difference in people’s lives and so out of their direct control.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. (1) Janet adjusted to jangling jam jars.
    (2) Frank used to work at the sausage factory. Vivian says Frank plastered her with compliments.
    (3) Overheard on police radio…
    “Callin’ Lewis! Callin’ Lewis! Be on the lookout for suspect Vera D and her henchman, El Cupido, who is considered armed and dangerous!”
    (4) “Got a letter saying Colin was killed in February, at a place called Jarama.” When Vera D heard this, she summoned her trusty henchman: “Next time, El Cupido, use a blunt tip arrow!”
    (5) “Vera felt the tears roll down her cheeks at the news.” They inundated the evening newspaper, causing light articles to float away, and heavy words to drown.
    (6) The Christmas Club held a jamboree the week before Christmas. Factory employees were presented with decorative cases packed with jars of blackberry jam. Oh, joy!
    (7) Vera seemed to be happy puffing on cigarettes and passing time at the cinema. But it was all just a smoke screen.
    (8) A war enthusiast in London was overheard saying, “Man, this war is gonna be a gas!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Don. Yes, if he closed his shop to grieve, nobody was going to give him any money for food or to pay his rent and bills. And they had a very different set of values back then. He would not want to have been thought ‘weak’, or to be seen looking for sympathy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. When I worked for Oxfam in the mid-70s to mid-80s we used to get gas masks in amongst the donations people brought in. I suppose it was an elderly person died and the family was clearing out the house. No one wanted to buy them then but I imagine nowadays they’d be a collector’s item.

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