I HAVE HAD TO CONTINUE MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY ON A NEW PAGE. THE CHAPTERS THIS TIME ARE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

MARRIAGE

As I lived in a out of the way village, the local pub became the focal point as I got older.  The village has always had military connections and to this day there is no gas because of the explosives that used to be stored there.  At the bottom of the road was the Upnor  Hard where soldiers were based and they manned the assault boats, which are used in war time to as landing craft.  They used to come to the pub and that was where I met my future husband. It turned out that he already knw who my mum was because he and one other pulled her off the mud when she got stuck a year or so back as I explained previously.

When we got engaged, the wedding was planned for  3 months later.  It had to be done on the cheap because we both came from one parent families and there was no money to be spared.  We got the rings from a jeweller  who worked in Hatton garden and frequented the pub,  and gave us a discount.  I borrowed my wedding dress from a woman at work.  My mother in law to be arranged for the cake to be made.  As there was only my mum and two brothers, we decided to have the wedding in Durham where he came from as he had a larger family.  My friend’s son was my page boy and they supplied his outfit   The reception was to be held in the  local pub for 30 people at £1 a head.  The photo album cost £30, the only thing we really splashed out on!  We arranged the church service and organist with the priest.

The day before the wedding I started to get cold feet, but my mum said I had to go through with it because the cake had been made and everything had been organised.  To this day I tell anyone who is not sure, not to go through with it whatever it cost.

On the way to the church, my mum  shut her fingers in the car door.  When I arrived at the church door with my brother who was giving me away, I got out of the car and as I walked along the zip went on the back of my dress.  Luckily it had a solid train down the back which covered it up. Arriving at the church door, I waited for the organist to strike up “Here Comes The Bride” and waited and waited.  My mum came up to the door with a big hanky around her bloodied finger and whispered that the organist had not turned up and she couldn’t play the piano that was there due to the state of her digit, because she would hit the wrong notes.  We clumped up the aisle and the hymns were sung a capella and we clumped back out at the end!

I forgot to mention that we were using my brother in law’s car as part of our economy drive and he was the chauffeur.  It broke down on the way to the reception and we arrived  long after our guests.  The food was lovely and so was the cake.

Oh yes, another part of our economy drive was to borrow my father’s caravan for the honeymoon. My husband had complained of not feeling too well after the reception and when we reached Hemsby,  he didn’t feel too great that evening.  The next day he had to go for an emergency appointment at the doctor’s.  I knew he was in pain because he asked a woman if he could go before her and she said no because she was busy.  The doctor took one look at him and rushed him off to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital for an emergency operation for a burst appendix and peritonitis.  As he was so seriously ill, it was obvious he wasn’t going anywhere soon.  I rang his mother and she came down and we went to visit him in hospital.  As she had been a nurse for many years, she cheered me up no end when she informed me that his bed was near to the door, which is where they put very seriously ill people so they can keep an eye on them.

Obviously, I had to let my mum know, who insisted she came up to see me and asked for the address.  Well you know where this is going!  She duly arrived, but I still didn’t let on who owned it, but she already knew because she had asked at the site office!

As I said previously “oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.  

 

CHAPTER 13 MARRIAGE Cont

My mum never mentioned any more about my father’s caravan, only that she bet he didn’t know she was staying in it.

My husband was in hospital for at least 7 seeks and I had to stay there.  I used to get the bus in to Norwich and then come home in the evening.  There was nothing to do in the caravan, and there was no TV.  I started reading the fictional Mandingo books about the origins of the slave trade, until they were freed.   They were big thick paper backs and I just read through them, buying one every two days.

Eventually he was discharged from hospital, albeit very thin and weak.  We were allocated a  ground floor flat married quarter and settled down to our new life.

From the start, when he was fit and well, he wasn’t a great big eater and I was used to my mum piling up my brothers’ plates.  I decided to make a steak and kidney pie and copied the recipe from a cook book.  I put it in the oven for the required time and when we came to eat it the meat was chewy and hardly cooked.  It was then I realised that you have to cook the meat before you put it in the pie.

I left Blaw Knox as we were due to be posted, but it was postponed so I did some temporary work.

Eventually the posting came through to Germany!  We had to be “marched out” of our quarter.  I hated every minute of it.  The flat was inspected thoroughly, pulling furniture out, etc.  I had even boiled some lemons in a saucepan which had become marked.  At the end of the inspection, he told me that he was fining me £2 for a burnt dot on the cooker.  He told me I could have scraped it off with a knife.  I hadn’t done that in case I scratched the cooker.  After that experience,  I vowed that I would never be present at another March Out, as that one had made me feel physically sick.

 I was terrified of flying and didn’t want to get on a plane.  When people asked me what I was going to do when I got there, I hadn’t even thought about it as I didn’t think I’d arrive.  I stood at the bottom of the steps to the plane and wanted to run.  When I got on board, my husband was put at the back and I was next to a mother with her little daughter.  I had tears streaming down my eyes. I tried to go to sleep, but they woke me up to ask if I wanted anything to eat or drink.  Eventually I head the pilot say that we coming in to land at Hanover.  I started to feel better and when we landed it was as if something had lifted off me from my feet upwards until it reached the top of my head when started to get off the plane.   I swore that I would never repeat that experience again, especially after my husband admitted that he only told me that we had to go by plane, so that we could go together.

Well, I wondered, what is life in Germany going to bring.

CHAPTER 14

GERMANY 

When we arrived in Germany we went to live in a flat in Hastenbeck, near Hameln.  The first thing I noticed was dried food on the serving hatch door.  I was really cross about that because of what had happened to me because of the spot on the cooker incident.

One of the soldier’s wives in my husband’s squadron was nominated to befriend me so I wouldn’t be totally on my own.  For the first week I hated it because I was so used to working and I was bored out of my mind as there was no British TV like there is now.  The shops closed on Saturday afternoons and only opened as full day  on a Saturday once a month.  

There was a strong social side in the evenings and she took me to play whist,  which I soon learned, and bingo.  She used to delight in embarrassing me by asking personal questions to make me go red as I was still very naïve.  She also applied this to other things.  At the whist drive which was held in a specially adapted room in one of the quarters, as well as a first prize, there was a prize for coming last, ie,havingthe lowest personal score , or at least there was until she put the kibosh on it.  The person who won it the previous week, had to provide it for the next week.  This particular time, my friend had to provide it and unfortunately, the Army Chaplain’s wife came last and there was a look of horror on my friend’s face.  As the Chaplain’s wife opened it, there was a deathly silence as her prize was an extra large condom!  That’s when this particular prize giving ceremony died a death.

One day my mentor was sitting outside her flat and  she told me that she had chapped lips, due to the sun.  I saw her husband on the way home and said I had been talking to his wife and she had sunburnt lips.  He said “well she should keep her legs closed when she sunbathes!”  Next time I saw her I told her what he had said and she went mad, saying he had showed her up.  I hadn’t expected this reaction, but I discovered that she could give it but she couldn’t take it.

Eventually I managed to get a job in the NAAFI, but had applied to the Regiment for work.  Three positions came up, telex operator, switchboard operator and clerk typist.  I had the pick of them because I could do them all since my motto when I first went to work, was to learn everything that came my way, regardless  whether it was my job or not, and this had paid off.

I took the job as the clerk typist in the REME workshops and I loved every minute of it for the 3 years I was there.

 

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE AND WAY OF LIFE

I soon learned that in Germany, you are bound by their rules.  No washing was allowed to be put out on a Sunday.  If any of your friends or family visited from UK, you were responsible for their behaviour and any trouble that they got in to.

There were two very strict rules that we had to adhere to.  

NO JAYWALKING  You couldn’t cross the roads in town unless you used a crossing.  If the man was green, you went, if he was red you stayed put.  Therefore there was no dilly dallying deciding to gamble and cross and therefore motorists and pedestrians knew exactly where they stood legally.   It was quite straightforward, you stood and waited until it was your turn to cross and as soon as the man turned green, you immediately strode across the crossing in the knowledge that the driver had to stop when he saw his stop light and was in the wrong if he knocked you over.  The same applied to the pedestrian walking across the road on red, if he was run over, it was his own fault.

An example of this comes to mind.  When a young soldier, on his first posting abroad, disobeyed this rule, he was quickly pulled up by a policeman (they carry guns).  The soldier told the policeman he didn’t understand what he was saying.  Grasping the soldier's collar with one hand and the bottom of his jacket with the other, he stood with him at the crossing.  “When man is red, we stop “ he said and stood there.  “When man is green, we go” and marched him across, but it didn’t stop there.  Three times he repeated it  walking him backwards and forwards holding him by the jacket across the crossing.  I don't doubt the soldier was a stickler for the rules after that!

 You were also supposed to carry 50 marks (money) with you at all times, for emergencies or be classed a vagrant.

The second very strict rule that I still abide by this day.  CYCLISTS HAVE PRIORITY!  We would be driving along the road in and out of the village with a cyclist in front of us and we couldn’t overtake if there was  traffic coming the other way.  You could only overtake a cyclist if you could clear him by 1 m, hence some back cycle wheels a plastic stick attached to them with an orange disc on the end.  This was the measure  for clearance.   You would carry one for miles at a snail’s pace, until an overtaking opportunty arose or the cyclist turned off.

I still apply this rule now when I am driving and there is a cyclist in front, regardless of what the traffic behind thinks.  I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Shops closed on Saturday afternoon and opened all day one Saturday per month.  

 

 

 There was a pub called Georges in Hastenbeck.  When my brother in law came over for a holiday with his mother, my mother in law, she was of the firm opinion that people wouldn't get drunk if they weren't rushing to beat closing time. How wrong she was!  He and my husband went out and didn't get back until the early hours.  They were both worse for wear, had a set to and a glass ashtray went hurling through the patio windows.  Luckily no one heard it and we managed to get it fixed. 
We were responsible for the action of any visitors, so got away with it. By the way, my mother in law changed her opinion regarding opening and closing hours!!

 

I  duly started my job job as a clerk typist at the REME Workshop at 35 Engineer Regiment inHameln (Hamelin), famous for the Pied Piper.   I worked with a German lady called Barbel.  She did all the typing for the workshop on their work sheets, etc.  She spoke excellent English but also understood the translation of technical terms of the vehicles from German in to English and vice versa.  She used to speak to me in German to teach me, but the sergeant clerk got upset because he thought we were talking about him.  I don’t know what possessed him to think that, as I only knew a few words and the German I was learning at the night school was very formal so she would help me out with short cuts and correct me.  At the night school I was told to speak to German people in German as it would be good practice, even if it was only a couple words. 

 

Taking this advice, I decided to try it for the first time when the water supply was being shut off to our flat for a while, I decided to go and ask the workman what time it would be turned back on.  My only problem what that  when speaking German, you have to know how to pronounce the words and letters and I hadn't reached that stage yet.   I decided that “what hour water” was a good start. “ Welcher Stunde wasser  bitte”? I asked.  The workman looked blankly at me.  I repeated it again.  Still a blank look.  He went in to his little hut and brought back his boss who came to help.  I repeated the same sentence in German, but he looked just as baffled and spoke to me in English and told me what time the water would be on.  The ironic thing was that I knew what time the water would be turned back on  but I had just decided to try out a little practice as my German teacher had advised.

 

Telling Barbel what had happened, I said I had asked what time the water would be back on.  “How did you pronounce it?” she asked. “ Welcher stunder wasser”, I replied.   “Well” she said “it is pronounced Velcher Schtoonder vasser!”   The poor workman must have thought I was nuts as it was gibberish to him as it was to Barbel.  I made sure I had thoroughly learnt German pronunciation of the alphabet before my next attempt!

 

That came when two German workmen arrived to paint the flat.  I moved everything on to the bed so that they could paint the walls.  Happy with my pronunciation and loathe to look in my German book I decided that tell them that that I couldn’t move it any further. “Ich Kannes nicht weiter machen”, I told them and pointed to the bed.  They looked at each other and then at me.  I repeated it, confident now I had practised my pronunciation.  They just shrugged their shoulders and got on with the painting. 

 

Deciding to give my very basic German one last try before I gave up on making small talk with German people, I decided to go and see my German friend (another perfect English speaking German married to a Scotsman).  The workmen were in my kitchen as I was leaving so I thought I would ask them how long the paint would take to dry.  I didn’t know the German word for dry (trochen) then so I thought I would ask them   “how long wet please?” and point to the painted wall.  “Wie lang nase bitte”, I asked.  Again blank looks.  I repeated it.  More blank looks.  I left them to it and went to see my friend, totally deflated and fed up.

 

I  told my German friend that no one understood it when I talked to them in German, even though I could pronounce it properly.  “What did you say”, she said.  I told her about the bedroom and she said that I had told them that I couldn’t go  much longer!  “What else?”  she enquired.  I told her about the wet paint, but the awful realisation hit me before she could speak.  I said “I should have said nass (wet) not nase.  “Yes, she said you asked them how long their noses were and in Germany the size of a man’s nose reflects on another part of his body!

 

They painted the flat in double quick time and were gone when I got back.  They probably wondered what other type of propositioning I would be trying on my return.

 

As time went on I improved a little and on the way to work whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change, I commented to the man next to me that the traffic was bad.  He looked at me worriedly and so I repeated to him schlect  Verkerhr (bad traffic).  He was by then trying to get away from me but couldn’t cross the road until the lights changed because of the strict jay walking German law.  When they changed, he was off like a flash.  Going in to work I told Barbel what I had said to him.   “Well”, she said, “ you were asking him for sexual intercourse, using a slang term”!  

To realise how important pronunciation is in German, zoo is spelled the same as English, but 'z' is their 's'.  I found this out when we went to Hanover Zoo and asked for directions to the zoo.  Blank looks, until I showed him the leaflet with the name on.  "Ja, Hanoffer Tsoo, geraderaus (straight on).  Ts together is z, and it is strange to think it it could sound similar but couldn't be understood.

I eventually improved and can get by in German if needed.  However, I have a strong view now on learning languages.  Yes, I can get by in German, but I can't speak any other languages so it is only useful if I visit Germany.  English is a second language to all countries, if they choose to learn it, so a Greek can converse with an Italian, French with a Russian, etc.

I would have to learn every language in the world to speak to the natives of every country I visited which is impossible.   I would consider myself lazy if I didn't bother learn a universal language, if there was one, so I could converse with all nationalities.

   

 

 

 

WORKING FOR THE ARMY IN GERMANY

 

The cleaner in the workshops was a German disabled man with learning difficulties.  He was always coming in to me crying.  I could not understand him at all and would ask Barbel to translate.  She was very loathe to do so, but reluctantly sometimes did.  The reason for this was the German class system;  she was an English speaking technical secretary near the higher echelons of the system and he was at the bottom.  “A secretary does not associate with a scheisse’ haus reiniger (shit house cleaner)”, she said.  So I used to try and help him if I could.  One day he came in to me with a bottle of Coty perfume he had brought from the duty free NAAFI, illegal for Germans to do.  I have still got the bottle and will never know how he managed to get it.  Another time I saw him cycling on the road outside my window and stop at the German supermarket.  A little while later he came in with bunch of flowers which he had had to hold and cycle with at the same time.   All Barbel would get from him was a scowl and he returned a rude German gesture!

One summer’s day Barbel invited me to lunch at her home during the dinner hour, in her garden.  She lived upstairs (she was divorced from her English husband) and her mother and stepfather  lived down stairs. This was the custom in Germany.   It was a very hot day.  She took off her bra to catch some sun,  showing everything, in front  of her step father and me. He said something to her and she turned to me and said he said that  you can take yours off  you want to,   I said “no thanks” and sweltered with all my clothes on for the rest of the dinner hour before we went back to work!  

 

Barbel was a very stunning, tall, tanned blonde and far from dumb.  One day one of the soldiers came in to my office which was separated from hers by a hatch and a higher standing floor.  She did his technical work.  He was obviously unhappy about something.  “What’s up” asked Barbel standing high above him at the hatch.  “It’s your fault, my wife came in here to drop off some of my worksheets", he said.  “What’s wrong with that”, asked Barbel.  “ She gets a bit jealous”, he said,  “and when she had previously  asked me what you looked like, I said you were dark, plump and not very attractive”.    “Well you were wrong”,  laughed Barbel, “and it was nothing to do with me.”    I think she felt his wife’s wrath was punishment enough for him. 

I loved my job and also got involved with looking after the Wives’ Club  while their husbands were in Northern Ireland.  They obviously were worried about them going but their husbands couldn’t wait because they said it was what they joined up for.  After 3 years, when I was leaving as my late husband was posted back to England, they called me to their Wives’ Club and gave me a present.  It was a statue of a little old lady holding a carrot for a bunny.  I proudly took it back to workshop and showed the sergeant clerk what they had bought me.   As I did so, I dropped it and her head fell off and rolled over to his feet.  “It’s best we don’t tell them about this”, he said as we hurriedly looked around for some super glue.

 

One of the corporals in the workshop always said “flipping” a lot when he was talking to me.   I came in early one morning.  No one, except the sergeant knew I was there because I had a large book case alongside of me and I hadn‘t started typing.  “Morning Corporal” said the sergeant, “how are you?”  “Morning Sarge” came the reply, I am @#@#@# not happy.  @#@#@# this, @#@#@# that and so on.  “Are you alright over there ”, asked the sergeant, mischievously .  “Fine thanks”, I replied.  I heard the corporal make a hurried exit, probably with a bright red face!  I realised where his excessive use of “flipping” came from.  In those days you would never hear a soldier swear in front of females. 

During the a hot summer, a  new craftsman was posted in.  He was blond and very attractive.  It was Shirt Sleeve Order (when the Commanding Officer would give the order to roll up their shirt sleeves in the Spring  and they would keep them like that until later in the year when he gave the order for them to be rolled down), at  the time, but also the REME craftsmen just wore their dark green coveralls with  no other visible clothing, due to the heat.  He came in with the front of his coveralls undone to his waist and smelling of Elizabeth Arden Aftershave for Men ( I know that because I asked him).    He said hallo to me and I said hallo to him, but could not look at him because I was all of a fluster and had gone all silly.  I certainly  couldn’t concentrate on my typing.  Luckily for me, he was sent off to another Regiment a few weeks later, enabling my work rate to improve.   

However, one of the Workshop Sergeants took a liking to me.  He was, dumpy, short, scruffy and always covered in grease.  He was also married with  3 children.  At that the time the new Sandhurst educated Education Officer had set up a  monthly newsletter and one month had put in a quiz on where the rich people shopped for their clothing, food, etc.  While I was looking at the questions the sergeant came over and asked me what it was all about.   I showed it to him and he took it and disappeared.  A little while later he came back with some answers:  shirts – Turnbull and Asser; bras Rigby and Peller, etc.  “Where did you find them”, I asked.  “In the library” he said.  I did win the quiz, but that was because nobody else entered, but it was very educational finding the answers and I think he did it for love!!!

 

His devotion to me was unrequited and I last saw him rather worse for wear, slouching, hands in pockets, beret askew outside the regimental gates.

 

I also attracted the attention of the Regimental Sergeant Major because he said I made him laugh and he liked to come and see me.  This was OK for me but very unnerving for the soldiers who had to stand to attention and salute him when he came in, which he did quite often.  The soldiers used to get on with their work, but obviously I chatted normally to him.   He always carried his pace stick tucked under his arm.  One day I asked him what it was for.  “Well”, he said, “you unclip it and open it out like a compass to measure the pace a soldier should walk”.  “Can you show me”,  I said.  I duly unclipped the stick, it opened out but one side fell off in to two bits.  The REME clerks and soldier gazed in horror.  The sgt clerk offered to put it back together.   “No”, he said, “I’ll do it.  He did and when he was ready to go he whispered to me,” don’t tell them but it has been broken for ages, it’s only for show”!   

 

The Regiment had its own Medical Centre.  The doctor and nurses were all officer status.  One day one of the craftsmen came back to the office and he said he had done a silly thing during his medical check up.  “What did you do?” I asked.  “Well the doctor gave me a bottle, asked me to do a wee, pointed to the sink and told me to put it over there and went out of the room.   “Did you”? I said.  “Yes” he replied “ but when the doctor came back he asked me where it was.  He picked up the empty bottle and asked me what I had done with it.  “Pured it down the sink Sir”, I replied. “What on earth for?” asked the  doctor.  “Well, when you pointed at the sink and left the room, I thought you were going to the room underneath and unscrew the bottom of the sink pipe and catch it in a container Sir”, he replied.  I was actually speechless and doubled up with laughter, but I would love to have seen the doctor’s reaction to his reply!

 

At one time the doctor was a colonel and was having many affairs with the Army wives, when he was posted on his replacement was a young newly qualified major with glasses and flat cap.

 

The dentist was also a colonel, but you needed to get your teeth seen to in the morning, because he wasn’t in a very fit state in the afternoon after he had had his liquid lunch in the Officers’ Mess. 

 

His replacement was also a young newly qualified major with glasses and flat cap.

 

I had quite a bit of a problem with one of my teeth and the new dentist decided on a different procedure.  It worked very well and the next time I saw him walking across the parade ground, I went over to him and said “it has definitely worked, look”.  I pulled my lip up over my nose and opened my mouth and pointed.  He looked at it and said “that’s good” and went on his way.  I was surprised he wasn’t more interested in his experiment.  Then it dawned on me, I had shown it to the new doctor!     

 

I went home to England for a weekend and when I returned to work the on the Monday, they told me that one of the soldiers, who lived in the flat opposite to us has been crushed to death by a lorry in the work shop while I was away.  Another married couple moved in to the flat his wife had vacated.  

 

On another UK trip home, when I returned I was informed that the soldier who had moved in to the deceased soldier’s flat  had driven in to a tree and been killed.  I kept my finger crossed for the next tenants when I came back to UK for another weekend, but thankfully they remained safe!

 

As time went on, I learned more and a more about the admin that the sergeant clerk used to do, ie travel warrants, arranging accommodation etc.  However, I was also very naïve and innocent of anything that would have been classed as worldy or streetwise.

 

One day two W. R. A. C. (Women’s Royal Army Corps), ladies came in to the office and because I was the only clerk there, they asked me where they had to go to book accommodation.  “Don’t worry”, I said, “ I’ll sort it out with the RHQ (Regimental Headquarters)”.   I duly telephoned the RHQ clerk there and said “There are two WRACs (racks) here who want accommodation please”.  After a silence, he said “are they there with you now?  “Yes”, I said, “they are standing right in front of me so I can give you their information”.  “Oh”, he said, “what do they need?”  I asked them and they requested a   double room although I said there were plenty of single ones if they wanted one, sorted it all out and they went on their way.  A little while later, one of the soldiers who had been speaking to them in the workshop came in.  He said to me that they had said  that it’s a good job we know that she doesn’t realise what she was saying of we would have punched her one.  “What on earth for?” I said. 

You called them “racks”, he said.  “Yes, I said, “ because WRNS Women’s Royal Naval Service are called “wrens”, so the army equivalent must be  “racks”.  “Well,  he said it, it is very insulting and rude to use that word, you got off lightly!” 

I’ll leave it to you to ask a soldier or WRAC what was so bad about it!  Suffice to say I never used the term again. 

The sergeant clerk hurt his ear drum when he was on shooting practice and was off for a couple of weeks, his deputy, the craftsman clerk was gone on a Commando course to see if he was suitable to join them and was also away for a few weeks.      During that time, a solder in the work shop needed to get to UK on compassionate leave.  Compassionate A was when a relative was dying and Compassionate B was when they had died.  He needed a travel warrant from Hanover Airport and then for onward travel to his home, open return.  I had seen the Sgt clerk do this many times and when the OC (Officer Commanding) of the Workshop, who I worked for, came out of his office and asked how we could get this done by RHQ, I said  “don’t worry”, I know how to do it”.  I completed the  necessary paper work and  off the solider went.  The OC was very impressed.  (This was to stand me in good in good stead in time to come).

 

One of the soldiers came from Northern Ireland and used to go back to see his mother.  As it was at the height of the Northern Ireland conflict, I asked if  he ever felt in danger when he went home, especially as he would drink a lot and usually had to buy his return ticket himself because he had lost his return warrant, usually leaving it in a jacket pocket and losing the jacket.  In fact, I tried to persuade him to keep the ticket in his trousers as I didn’t think he would lose them so easily.   He told me he was never afraid to go back as they were only they were only after people who were “up to something”.  He always returned safely.

 

I saw an advert for a shorthand teacher at the Army Education Centre.  I wasn’t a teacher but as I could do shorthand, I decided to give it a go.  I went to see the Education Major in his office.  Sitting by his side was a   beautiful soppy Labrador dog which he obviously  adored.  As there has been no applicants for the shorthand course, but he had had a lot of people enquiring about typing, he asked me if I could teach that instead and I said I would give it a go.  He went off to fetch a copy of the RSA Stage 1 typing book that the Centre held.  As soon as he was out of the room, the Labrador came over, gripped my leg tightly with his front paws and started humping it.  I desperately tried to shake him off without success, but as soon as he heard his master returning he ran over and sat dutifully by his chair.

 

I went through the book the major bought back and asked if he had the Stage 2 book available.  Off he went to get it and the not so soppy Labrador with the iron grip front paws  shot over and repeated the same procedure, again returning to his “faithful dog pose at his master’s chair” position, when he heard him come back.

 

The book was perused and the major asked if it was useful.  I said it was. “ Well then”, he said, “We have the final Stage 3 book, I will go and fetch it for you, it will be no trouble.  “Oh no, there is no need for that, I know it will be perfectly OK”, I said in panic.  I knew it would be no trouble for him, but it certainly would be for me. 

 

The classroom was well equipped with typewriters and I sent off for the typing records that I learned with.  Everyone got on well and I put them in for the first exam, Stage 1, they progressed to Stage 2 and one lady achieved Stage III and landed herself a job in the Regimental Headquarters.  I was really pleased with how it went and went on teaching for the 3 years I was there, either new pupils, or the ones progressing who had been with me from Day 1. 

 

They all enjoyed typing to music at the varying speeds of the records.  The last one was the William Tell Overture.  They realised that they were not up to that speed, but guessed I was.  Do you know how nerve racking it was to type to this particular piece of music with 15 people all gathered round watching you?!  I did get a round of applause when I finished though!

One day the new SSAFA Sister (Soldier Sailor Airman Forces Associaton) the equivalent of a district nurse to look after soldiers and their families welfare,  was brought in to be introduced to us.  She was a very well built woman but very attractive.  Afterwards Barbel said “she is exactly what the German man likes, not those skinny Page 3 girls”.  I thought this was rather odd as she herself was very attractive and slim.  It wasn’t long though before the Sister got engaged to an English man,  but he was,  funnily enough, the New Army Education Officer.  I never knew if he had a dog or not! 

I started the teaching thinking I would just get them on to typing a letter with paragraphs and basic typing, but it turned out so well that I put some of the class in  for RSA exams and was delighted when they passed.  One of the Army wives got a typing job with the regiment as well, considering they had all started from scratch with no typing experience.

 

There was a sewing class in the Centre on one of the evenings that I taught.  I used to lock up when we were finished and hand the keys to the guardroom.  One evening, a few weeks later, we were having a tea break with the sewing class and their teacher told us about an incident the week before. 

“We tried to leave the sewing room, but the door was locked and no one else was in the building”, she said. 

“What happened?” I asked. “We had to hang out of the windows and yell down to the parade ground and hope someone would alert the guard room, which they did”.  I sympathised with her but then the horrible realisation dawned.  Previously she had mentioned she would be having an extra sewing class on one of the other nights I was teaching and as I was in charge of locking up, it was me who had locked them in and gone home.  After that I always checked the sewing class room whether they were in there or not.

I had my evening class wages paid in to my account in the local bank in the village.  One day I went in to get some money and found there was quite a lot more in there than I expected.  It turned out that I had received the wages belonging to the German language teacher.  The bank clerk told me that as they were in my account they were legally mine.  However, I sorted it out with the RHQ and he duly got his wages paid.   During this time we decided to buy a car from another soldier and pay for it in two instalments.  My husband withdrew the cash and put in his top pocket of his shirt.  As it was hot while he was working, he took his shirt off and when he put it back on again the money was gone.  It was totally his fault, but it made us feel quite ill. 

My mother-in-law, her niece, her friend and sister came to visit us for a week.  As our car could only hold 5 people at a push, I went to work and my husband took them out for day trips.  They knew that five was “funf” as they ordered 5 drinks or meals when they were out.  One evening I took them into Hameln and we went to the bus stop at the quarters by the NAAFI to catch a bus.  Usually regular bus users would buy a little book of bus tickets and click them in on the bus ticket machine, using one end and the other end was for the return journey,  but we had to buy ours on the bus as we didn’t have any.  When you get on the bus, I told them, just say “Bahnhof bitte” as it terminated at Hameln railway station. 

 

First on was my mother-in-law’s friend.  “Bahnhof bitte”, she said and bought her ticket.  The driver pointed to the ticket machine on his little door and said “in”.  Not quite sure what he wanted, she looked quizzical and he pointed again saying “in”.  “Oh sorry” she said.  She then knelt down on one knee and shouted in to the machine “Bahnhof bitte”.  As I was the only one who knew the procedure, I told her he wanted her to click the ticket in to register it.  I was in hysterics and so were the others when they saw what had happened.  Normally the Germans were not renowned for the same sense of humour as us, but this driver was crouched over the steering wheel helpless with laughter.  Luckily we were the only ones on the bus and eventually, when he was in a fit state, we drove off, but I think he was running behind schedule that night.

 

We had quite a few laughs while they were there and when they got back, they said it was one the best holidays they had.  However, their limited knowledge of German meant that while they were waiting at Hanover Airport, they ordered “funf” 5 beers because none of them knew the German equivalent for  four.  You could have counted on your fingers to the waiter, I told them.  They hadn’t thought of that, but didn’t mind as they all shared the 5th beer!

 When the Queen came to Sennelager during her Silver Jubilee to visit the Tank Regiment and we all went to see her.  As she came into sight, the tanks were positioned in the field and at the same time each soldier popped up from the inside of the tank with his red and white hackle (little feather) in the front of his beret showing.  We stood against the roped off area with plenty of room and she came along on the back of an open land rover  with the Duke of Edinburgh.  She was dressed in a beautiful powder blue dress and I have never felt such emotion at actually seeing the queen.  My friend tried to take her picture but she was also very overcome.  For the rest of the day, everywhere we went, we saw the queen.  Funnily the novelty began to wear off.

We visited a few places while we were there.  In Austria we saw the Eagle's Nest where Hitler's Tea House was.  We had to get on a coach and drive round a steep mountain untile we reach the top.  It didn't stop there though, we had to get in to a lift which was decorated with plush red velvet upholstery and brass light fittings which took us up to the tea house.  We were actually above the clouds.  The tarmac winding road had been built by prisoners of war.

We also visited one of his bunkers which had a room for Eva Braun's dogs.

We wanted to see the Salt Mines, but the demand was so great that we had to pay and collect a ticket for a time slot the next day. They were certainly well worth the wait.  We had to sit on a kind of wooden slide with a leather pad which was tied around our waist to slide down on, as the original salt miners wore and wrap our legs around the person in front.  I happened to be behind a man who grabbed hold of mine pretty quickly and held on to my feet.

We then got on to a little underground train, luckily there was no leg wrapping needed.

The salt patterns on the rocks were beautiful and then we came across a little lake.  It was absolutely amazing. 

We also saw a castle which had a lot of comical features operated by water pressure from the hills next to it.  It was a clever feat of engineering in the 18 th century.   

The saddest place we visited was Belsen Concentration Camp.  It was eerily silent with no sounds of birds.  There were large mounds which depicted how many bodies were buried there.  No grass grew either.  The only information on it was contained in a document house.  No-one spoke; there were no words to describe it. 

I loved my time in Germany, due to the fact that I enjoyed my day and evening jobs.  My money was tax free then and it was all saved so we would put a deposit on a house.  

Then one day, I was in the office and the craftsman clerk, in the absence of the Sgt clerk, opened a letter.  “I think this  means you", he said to me.  There in black and white it said, workshop  allocation for April  clerk typist = 1 not 2. We both knew that it would not be Barbel as the German people got priority and were guaranteed the jobs, as well as the complexity of the work she did. 

I told the clerk to completely forget what he had read and not even to tell the Sgt clerk.  He took the post in to the OC who came out of his office looking very upset.  I asked him what was the matter, knowing full well what he had just read.  He didn’t say anything.   A few weeks later he had a big important meeting with a couple of men in his office and asked me to take tea and cakes in to them with the best silverware and cups and saucers.

 

After they had gone he called me in to his officer to tell me that, the allocation for the workshop would be 1 typist not 2.  However, he said that because I was so useful especially in the absence of the two soldier clerks etc, he had fought for me to stay and therefore the post would be gone in the following April.  I was really pleased and he was visibly relieved as he didn’t have to deliver bad  news.

 

Due to the fact, unbeknown to him, that I had prior knowledge, I had started putting a plan in action, my savings were mounting up, but then there was news that the interest rate was dropping.  We immediately came to UK for a long weekend and looked around 3 houses.  We  put down the deposit on the 3rd one and paid full price £9,500.  I knew  we shouldn’t haggle.   Eventually it was ours, after a nail biting wait with phone calls and letters back to England.    True enough, the prices started to rise a few months later.

 

Now I was ready.  My husband was given a posting date back to UK which tied in exactly with my my employment term, so I carried on working for Army until the sad day I knew I would have to leave.  I mentioned to the soldiers that I had seen something in a shop window in Hameln which I wanted to get before I left, but it gone the next time I looked.  I found a teddy in green overalls and got some “pips” (little stars of rank the officers wore on their shoulders) and made him in to the workshop mascot for them to remember me by.

 

I had a farewell do in the soldier’s mess that they put on for me and amongst the gifts they gave me was the item I had seen in the shop in Hameln.  They had nipped out and bought it that’s why it was not there anymore.

 

Feeling very sad to be going I sent a dedication into BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Services) which everyone listened to on a Sunday, thanking everyone I worked with for everything including lifts to work.     I asked them to play “We’ll Meet Again”.  I still think of my time there when I hear it.

 

I went to work on the day of the “March Out” when they come in and inspect the state of the flat you are leaving, with a fine tooth comb. It made me feel physically ill when they did it in England, so I left it to my husband to sort out.  I had started cleaning it and shutting off rooms 3 months before we left.  My husband said they thought it was immaculate, but that still didn’t stop them from throwing the old settee, etc, out of my second floor front window, which usually meant that the flat was in a bad way.  Of course, they were replacing it with new furniture and out of the window was the easiest way for it to go.

 

Then that was it we were bound for England again.  We moved in to our new house, which my brother had stayed it whilst it was empty.  The next door neighbour knocked at the door, to say hello or  so I thought.  “Well, I’m glad you’re here now, perhaps I won’t be woken up at 4 am every morning  by your ‘phone”,  she said.  I was totally flummoxed, what could she mean, then remembered that our phone was on the passage way wall which was the other side of her passage.

 

It turned out that my brother,  who was a milkman, was getting an early morning phone call at 4 each morning and it was vibrating on her wall.

 

Welcome back to England, I thought to myself, wondering what lay ahead. 

 

 

BACK TO BLIGHTY

I immediately started to look for work and after working for a an agency as a temp for a few weeks, I got a  permanent job at Kent Alloys in the Personnel Department working for the Personnel  Manager and Personnel Director.    The Personnel Manager was often off sick and I would see to the applicants when they came and when they started I would carry out their inductions with a tour of the factory etc. 

There was a factory next to us and one day they phoned me to say that they had 2 workers who couldn’t speak English and were asking for their wages for 2 weeks' work that they had done, but they hadn’t employed them.  It turned out that they had gone in to the wrong factory, instead of us and had worked there without knowing!

One day, the stores buyer told me that I could have a new electric typewriter and could choose either pica or elite type face.   I chose pica because the letters are bigger (10 to the horizontal inch) and not elite (12 letters to the horizontal inch).  I preferred the bigger type font.

It duly arrived and I was just getting ready to try it out, when along the corridor came the Sales Director with his secretary.  She stood in the doorway saying “she’s got my typewriter”.  I told her I hadn’t, this was the one I had chosen.  The Sales Director peered over the keyboard, not really knowing what he was looking for. “It’s  mine, it’s mine” she kept saying, stamping her feet like a child having a paddy. 

I was flabbergasted, but I wasn’t going to give it up.  “What type face did you choose then?”, I asked her.  She told me she hadn’t been given a choice and was just given a new typewriter.  Well that was the end of the argument, there was nothing more her boss and she could say.  I was not giving up my Pica typewriter for anyone, I had never been able to get on with Elite, probably because of the small print.   Off they went with her crying and stamping her feet.   I had never come across a mature woman behaving like that before, and to this day I never have.    

Life was never dull there and one day I was typing out an accident report about someone in the foundry.  As I read it, I couldn’t stop laughing.  Luckily no one was badly hurt, but the accident had to be reported as the Company nurse had been involved.  It started off “I was in a bin on a barrow”

One of the foundry workers, not very tall in stature had been persuaded to get in to a large bin (like a dustbin) for collecting scraps of aluminium from the fettling, so they could give him a ride to the other end of the foundry.  The bin was on a barrow (a kind of flat bed 4 wheeled barrow).  The other worker then pushed the barrow along with him in the bin.  The occupant of the  bin was very small in stature and the bin was big, he had his hands on the edges of the bin but he could’t really see over the top of it. Suddenly the barrow hit a bump on the uneven part of the floor and the bin rolled off with him still in it holding onto the sides.  It came to a stand still and as I said, he was not seriously hurt, just grazed fingers.

I had this vision in my mind, but eventually managed to type it out.  I dread what the Health and Safety Authority would make of it today.

They had an excellent canteen there and I would go for lunch and then for a walk in to the town  afterwards.  One of my favourites was date pudding.  One day as I was walking in to the town, I realised that I had to get to a toilet very quickly as I knew I would have a bad case of flatulence.  There were 2 cubicles in the public toilet for the ladies and the they were made out of stainless steel.  One was occupied and someone else was washing their hands.  I dived in and made an enormous noise which amplified by the stainless steel bowl, sounded like a very loud explosion.

When I eventually came out there some people looking at me and a traffic warden.  They asked me if I was alright and having ascertained that I was told me that they thought something had exploded and brought the traffic warden in as she was the only official person the could find!

These public toilets are long gone and have been replaced by one of the ones that close you in and play music.  I cannot be enclosed, so nothing would persuade me to use one!

TO BE CONTINUED

 

During this time I was still in touch with my German neighbour who had moved to Lossiemouth in Scotland.  I went up to visit her and caught the sleeper train which I was quite excited about, but then the week before there was a fire on a sleeper train so I was on edge during the journey.  Sharing the twin berth (bunks), was a very charming lady who couldn’t speak a lot of English, but we got on until it was time for bed.  I was on the bottom and she was on the top, but all night she was up and down the ladder and then walking along the corridor.  That coupled with fire the week before ensured that I got no sleep whatsoever and arrived in Fochabers absolutely shattered.

 

My friend met me and told me that we were going to an Indian Restaurant and it would be free as she knew the owner.  Now the only other time I had been to one was when I was doing temporary work in the school holidays (I was actually qualified, but stayed on to do advanced certificates).  I was at Pakistan International Airlines in London.  One of the young men there asked if I wanted to come with him to lunch at his favourite Indian Restaurant during the lunch hour.  I agreed and he asked me what I wanted.  I hadn’t got a clue and said I would have what he was having!

 

After one mouthful my whole mouth, nose and throat was on fire, or so it seemed.  The waiters were bringing me jugs of iced water which was only making it worse.  I can’t remember if he got to eat his meal, but I certainly couldn’t eat mine.  I thanked him very much but said I wouldn’t be repeating the experience!

 

Anyway I digress.  We arrived at the Indian restaurant  and my friend ordered something and I think I had something English.  Unfortunately the owner of the restaurant wasn’t in that day and we ended up with a hefty bill for something I hadn’t really wanted.  It turned out she had just spoken to him once on a short train and journey where the conversation was something like “when you are in town come to my restaurant and be my guest”.  She didn’t know him from Adam and I doubt he would have remembered her.

 

I had never been to Scotland before and was quite surprised to be called English.  It was the same when I went Durham and was called Southerner.  I had never thought of it like this before as I always thought of everyone being British.  

 

I hadn’t learned to drive then and one day my assistant picked a driving school out of the paper and made me take lessons.  I was very naïve then and when a battered old Cortina with a L plate stuck on the back arrived, I was none the wiser.      

 

 

 

 

DRIVING LESSONS

 

I got in to the Cortina and the lady said that we were going to learn first gear this week.  We duly went off up the Gravesend Road, which now has islands but was a favourite place for learners then.  I spent the whole hour using the first gear and the car seemed to do the rest.  The next week I learned second gear and the same thing happened as did the third and fourth weeks, until I had learned all the four gears.  I hadn’t even got round to using the brake and accelerator.

On my lessons, we used to stop off at various houses while she dropped off boxes of vegetables etc.  I didn’t know any different and assumed this way of learning to drive was what actually happened.  I told some people at work and they said I ought to go to another driving school.

I decided that the next lesson was going to be my last with her but her husband turned up instead as she couldn’t come.  The car didn’t pull away as usual and then when I was driving I went up to 4th gear, then he told me to change down.  I hadn’t a clue what he meant as I had never reached those lessons yet.  After him yelling and shouting at me for not knowing what I was doing, I parted company with that driving school and went to a very good one.

He was excellent and I actually learned all the gears, up and down, brake and accelerator before we started on off on the lesson.

I took my first drivng test in Gillingham but failed  because I didn’t go far enough out in to the road before turning right.

The next one was in Gravesend.  I set off and he told me that he was going to do an emeremcy stop in the next road.  When we got in to  it there was a lorry turning and I knew he wouldn’t do it there as it was dangerous.  We carried on and all of sa sudden he higt the dashboard and I braked and grabbed the gear stick at the same time.  I decided I had failed at that stage and carried on, rectifying a couple of mistakes as I made them.  We came back in to Gravesend and there was a yellow box in the road.  The traffic lights were about to change which mean I would be in the box, so I slammed on the brakes.  The tester had been lulled in to a false sense of security before this and nearly jumped out of his skin.

We we got back, he asked me what I should not hold in an emergency stop.  The handbrake I told him. he told me I had passed.  I told him Icouldn’t have done as I had made some little mistakes.  He told me I had righted them before him.  I was a gibbering wreck and went back to work to tell everyone as I had kept it a secret.

I took a little while before I would drive on my own.  We had bought a Plymouth Cricket (Hillman Avenger in UK)  left hand drive while we were in Germany.  I used to drive it with my alsation dog in the passenger seat and as the seats had high backs, you couldn’t see me in the driver’s seat, but my dog's ears stuck out over the top of the passenger seat and it looked as if a dog was driving.  I didn’t realise this until I saw cars slowing down to see for themselves.

I bought a Hillman Husky van from a woman at work.  It belonged to her boyfriend and she told me always to turn the ignition off as soon as possible to save the battery.  This seemed rather strange to my husband who was a mechanic, but not to me as I didn’t know anything about cars. 

As it was a van the back was flat and one day I got a call from my friend who had been taken to hospital after her moped had hit a pothole in the road.  She asked me to collect her dog and take it home.  This was a golden labrador.  I put him in the back and off I went.  There were a pair of boots in the back and at every traffic light we stopped at he started humping them in full view of the traffic at the side of me.  I tried stopping suddenly to put him off but he just got hold of them again.  What is it with labradors!

I took the same friend and her daughter down to Sussex to see her son at school and the engine blew up on the motorway.  We called the AA and were all towed back home.  To cap it all we stopped to get a burger as we were so hungry and sprinkled sugar on it instead. 

It needed a reconditioned engine which was ten time the cost of the car.

I then bought a little tiny Fiat.  The accelator stuck and I had to pull it up with wire.  When I decided to get rid of it, I called a breaker’s yard and two men came out to get it.  I realised who they were as they were notorious brothers, in to all sorts of dodgy dealings.  While they were attaching my Fiat to their truck, a policeman was bending down reading one of them his rights before then taking him away, leaving the other brother to sort out the car!

We then bought a brand new Austine Maestro in black.  To this day that was the best car I have ever had.  Basic 4 gears and a steering wheel.  I kept it for 16 years and was sorry to see it go.   

I was now able to drive and carried on working at Kent Alloys for few months, until one day I was looking at the local paper someone had brought in and saw an advert that was to shape my life for the foreseeable future.    

I never had the local paper, but one day someone had bought it in, and there was an advert for a Personnel Officer  for Sainsbury's at Chatham. As I had done 90 percent of the personnel work, due to the illness of the Personnel  Manager at GKN, I decided I had the confidence to apply, just as I did in Germany with teaching typewriting.  I took the details and applied.    Getting ready for the interview, I came downstairs and my dog had had an upset stomach and I had trod in it.   This was regarded as a sign of good luck!

The interview was in Bromley with the Area Personnel Manager. He told me he would be in touch.  I then received a letter asking me to go to the Chatham Branch of JS where the job was and be interviewed by him and the Store Manager, which I duly did.   

I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and then I received a letter.  It told me I had been offered the job.  I was stunned and as I was reading it on the bus, missed my stop and had to walk back to get to work.

I handed in my notice and was quite sad.  I had only been at GKN for 2 years and the time had flown.

Off I went to my new adventure at Sainsbury’s, where I would be for the next 20 years.

 

Prior to actually starting at Chatham, the Office Manager there  asked me to come in to the Staff Restaurant for a welcome meal. The Deputy Manager was moving to another branch, and leaving that week apparently so she decided on a joint meal.  The food lovely and everything was going well until she asked me if I would like a brandy afterwards.  Never having had brandy in my life, I thought I would be sociable.  She gave me a large tumbler full.  Well, I can remember sitting on the bus, obviously reeking of it and when I got off and walked up the road, it felt like I was walking on sponge.  I reached the front door and held on the front door and knocked.  My husband opened the door and I swung in holding on to the knocker.  Considering I had just gone for a social meal, he was quite surprised that I had come home paralytic.   I was ill for 2 days and when I said how much she had given me, it equated to 9 shots of brandy!

 

I was put under the wing of the Personnel Officer at Sittingbourne for my first month, as she was covering Chatham until I was ready to take it over.  As we were coming down the stairs from her office to the shop floor, the store detectives were bringing a young mother upstairs with her pram.  She had been concealing items in it while she was shoplifting.  I later learned that when they emptied the pram of the goods, there was a new born baby in there as well.  It never surprised me after that the lengths that shop lifters went to and the schemes they thought up.

 

I was told that I had been chosen out of over 250 plus applicants and the final test was to see if the Store Manager liked me.  He was an extremely immaculately groomed man who was very strict and he taught me so much.  To this day I never tell anyone that something cannot be done unless I have explored every single possibility before bring the problem to them.  He was greatly respected by the hard workers but the not the shirkers.   

 

Most store managers then had graduated from the shop floor, before the introduction of graduate trainees, and they knew trading patterns, busy or slack periods, like the back of their hand.  We never had any reductions and it came as a shock to me when a new manager came and food was being reduced by the end of the day due to over ordering, or not following the trend for that season.

 

As I said before, I got on well with the Store Manager, who was strict but fair.  Personnel Officers were put in stores to ensure employment procedures where adhered to for the protection of buth staff and management.  There were 3 ladies there who were always trying to wind him up and previously he would bite.

 

A Christmas dinner was held in the staff restaurant each year, it was cooked fresh from scratch  and the canteen was completely full, there was  not time to put another menu on.  In my first year there, 3 of the ladies wanted to be awkward and not have Christmas dinner, but eat their packed lunches in the canteen.  I knew they were trying to wind him up and as my job was to advise the manager and keep him out of trouble, I told him that we were obliged to provide a place where they could sit down and eat their packed lunches, therefore the management sitting room which later became a training room could have a table put in it and they could eat their food in there.

 

We duly called them to his office to give them their answer.  Before  they could say anything, he told them that he had arranged to have a table put in  the management sitting room and they could have their lunch in there undisturbed.  As they hadn’t succeeded in causing a problem with him, they couldn’t very well say they would have Christmas dinner instead.  The three of them sat around the table in the room with the door closed, while everyone else was having fun at the Christmas Dinner.   They never opted out again and never succeeded upsetting him more as he would come to me and I would tell him how to handle it.  They never said another word except thankyou.  A potential scene was averted and he always listened to what I told him after that.  People were amazed that I got on so well with him.

 

He had a deputy manager who I also got on well with especially when after me telling all the managers that they couldn’t just tell people to start work if they had a vacancy and I was not there as they had to be contracted, details given and also a full induction.

 

One afternoon when  I came back after a weeks’ holiday to do a late night, I found that he started someone that  morning.  I was gobsmacked.   However, before I could say any more we had to evacuate the building due to one of the many bomb scares that were happending at that time.

 

We all amassed outside the town hall, suddenly along came a policeman with someone in a Sainsbury’s uniform.  I had never seen before.  It was the young chap that had been taken on in my absence.  They had found him wandering about in an empty JS in the pentagon as he knew nothing about emergency evacuation procedures.

 

The realisation then hit the Deputy Manager of what could have been if there was a bomb blast as  we had no record of him being employed by us.  I duly backdated the paperwork to his start date which I had to do for his wages and sorted out his other details and induction. 

 

This Deputy Manager always listened to what I said after that and supported me all the way.  That is why were were there to make sure all management abided by employments laws.

 

One day we were having lunch in the canteen.  There were 2 management tables.  That was one of our perks.  These tables were always laid.  We were just eating our dessert when the Deputy Manager who was in charge due to the Store Manager's day off, got a call and was told that Lord Sainsbury was in the store on a surprise visit.  No warning of this was given. The two management tables looked liked the Marie Celeste as the managers all shot downstairs, leaving everything uneaten on the table. I stayed upstairs as the Staff Restaurant was my responsibility.  In came Lord Sainsbury’s PA, plus the PA’s of the other directors with him.  His PA gave me the requirements of the lunch that we should give him.  I put that in to motion with my store instructor and we got the tables ready.  He was a lovely man, the PA’s were a pain as they were all wanting his PA’s job and were fawning all over him.

 

When he was leaving he thanked me.  I was so in awe of him, I uttered gibberish (yes before you say it even more than I usually do)!

 

It turned out that he was thrilled with the presentation of the store which hadn’t been prepared for this visit. 

 

The Deputy Manager was soon on his way to bigger and better things and eventually became the Area Manager and he deserved this.  He had a charisma and his staff loved working for him.  If I asked any of the student employees if they could come in for an extra evening shift they always asked if he was on duty that night.

I loved my job as I like helping and looking after people and happily settled in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first got the job I was still in contact with my father and phoned him to let him know. He gave me a bit of lecture about big supermarkets putting little grocery stores like his out of business, but wished me all the best.

My responsibilities included staff training and also the Staff Restaurant.    I was quite young at the time and the ladies who worked in the canteen were all mature, experienced people.  I had to learn my duties and greatly respected them.  The cook told me that they were always in trouble every week for not making a profit.  It was only a small one but when they asked how they could make it, my predecessor did not know and neither did the store manager.  I wanted to get to the bottom of it and asked the Area Catering Specialist to come in to see me and she explained it all to me and it made so much sense.  It was all to do with spending and takings and a formula which came up with the profit.  (Worked out on a calculator obviously).  The percentage varied each week, but the monthly one was the important one.  

I sat down and explained it to them.  We needed to make sure we cooked from scratch as it was cheaper and barter with the managers for reduced goods.  After the first month we actually made a profit.  The cook was thrilled because she could do the calculations herself see how much profit or loss she was making on a daily basis.  As long as the monthly figure balanced out, she could make the profit in any of the weeks (or loss).  It got the stage where she was making a profit every week and we used to put steak and chips on at the end of the month or even a couple of times a month so that she just made the required profit.  If we hadn't done that we would have had to made more in the next financial year and we would also be subsidising the other branches, as no one except us ever bothered to find out about the financial side.

One day my cook was at an area meeting and the District Manager was berating them about profits and he stated that he didn't think any of them knew what percentage they had to make.  My cook chirped up that she had to make 5 % and he was stunned.  "How come you know that?" he asked.  She told him that I gave her the figures at the beginning of each month and had taught her how to calclulate the the required profit.  They were much happier doing the cooking now that they knew that they weren't going to be hauled over the coals every week.  It made so much sense to me to learn everything as how could I be in charge of them and not be able to help them when they asked for advice.

One day I was called down to the shop floor and told that someone had been taken ill who was having a baby.  They didn't say that she was actually having the baby.  The Meat Manager who was the First Aider actually caught the baby as she had it.  I brought some sheets down from the linen cupboard and a bowl  wrapped the baby in them and the ambulance took her to the hospital. The phone were ringing off the hooks with press and TV enquiries and I spent a few days with him modestly being interviewed.  

The Store Manager had risen to the position from the shop floor, a lot of the managers had before graduate recruitment came in they couldn't get their heads round the fact that I worked in the office upstairs and would call me down to the shop floor to weigh produce or hand out baskets when it got busy.  In the end I just got on with it thinking if you want to pay me the hourly rate that you do then I'm not complaining.

There were 2 telephone lines in to the store connecting to the black phone in the General Office and the white phone in my office.  If there was a call on the black phone for the manager, it could be transferred to the shop floor, but if it came through on my phone, he had to come upstairs to my office to take it. Therefore they would always ask, is it the black one or white one?

I was often out helping at other branches when they needed personnel cover and one particular time I was at Bromley.  There was a lovely black girl who had started there that morning, in the General Office.   Unfortunately she didn't yet know about the geography of the store phones, or the colour coding.  She took a call and spoke to the Store Manager on the shop floor.   "Your wife is on the phone", she said.  "The black one or the white one?" he asked.  "I don't know, she just said she was your wife!"       

 

During my first weeks at JS, I was sent on a course and stayed at The Royal Horseguards Hotel at Charing Cross.  We were all new to the company and came from many different walks of life.  One girl told us how she had got out of Beirut with her friends and how they had to try and get away under the cover of darkness.  We were enthralled listening to her story.  Another was an ex policewoman who was involved in the arrest of the member of the Royal Family who was caught shoplifting and the case was tried in the sticks under a different name.  All those involved had their notebooks confiscated.

The one who surprised me most was the girl who had once been in a relationship with Lance Percival.  She was very plain with gingery red hair, but she must have been oozing feromones that week because men were just drawn to her as we found out when we were in the bar in the evening, as a lot stayed there when they were in London on business. 

We could claim our train fares back obviously, or mileage, but there were 3  who shared a car journey together and they couldn’t understand why the driver claimed the mileage and they couldn’t claim train fares as well.  Considering they were all personnel managers, it seemed odd that they couldn’t get their heads around this.

The very first store that I was involved with the opening  of was Gravesend and I booked out a couple of days a week to help the prospective personnel manager of that store with recruitment.  She was an absolute stickler for putting correspondence and application forms in strict alphabetical order.  She would not allow A’s B’s C’s etc they had to be filed with the alphabetical order of the next letter as well.  It certainly paid off because if we had a query about any of the paperwork, we found it immediately and I have always done this throughout my working life  for quickness.

We had to go to the store when it was nearly finished and carry out inductions for the new staff.  These were held in the evening for the evening shift recruits.  I parked my car in the car park opposite the shopping centre where the store was.  When I had finished one night, I walked back to my car in this unlit car park.  I was in the Hillman Husky  and the passenger door wouldn’t lock from the inside.  When I put my money in, the barrier wouldn’t open and I didn’t know what to do.  Walking through the car park came 3 “bovver boys” with their shaved head, braces and Doc Martin boots.  I was really worried especially when one of them knocked on my window.  I hesitantly opened it and he asked me what was up.   “I” can’t get out of the car park, the barrier won’t open”, I stuttered, quite terrified.  He did no more than rip the barrier off and wave me through. 

“I don’t think you are supposed to do that”, I said.  “Well it is not supposed do that either”, were his parting words.

The next  opening I was involved with was the Canterbury store.  The personnel manager who going to be in charge of this mentioned to me she was worried about being doing it.  I didn’t think any more of this until the Area  Personnel Manager rang me up just before the we were going to start recruiting at the Canterubry Job Centre the following Monday and told me that the personnel manager had got herself in to a state and backed out.

He asked me to take it over, which I agreed to do.  I said I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t want to do it because she had told me she was worried.  “Why didn’t you let me know”, he asked.  Well I would have looked an idiot if I had told him that and she changed her mind.  I didn’t  think she wouldn’t go through with it.

The Personnel Manager from Ashford  helped me and we worked well together.  She had me in stitches telling me about some of things that happened at her branch.  At that time Ashford had a medical room and changing cubicles as this is where company medicals were held.  The JS doctor came in once a month to do them and the surrounding stores booked in our new starts with her.

Most of the stores had pool tables in the staff restaurants.  One day two of the male new starts came for their appointment and she told them to get underessed in the cubicles and put on the white gowns, ready for when they saw the doctor.  These gowns were standard hospital issue with the slit right up the back of them.

While they were waiting to be seen, they decided to have a game of pool together.  “When came out of my office”, she said, “all I could see was a large bare arse leaning over the pool table as he was taking a shot then the second one bared all as well as he lay across the table to take his shot, with the slit at the back falling open.  She hurried them quickly to the cubicle and told them not to move until they were called or their appointments.  I couldn't stop laughing because her description was funny as well.

During this time the branches were changing from blue checked uniforms into orange ones.  Myself and my store instructor had ordered all the uniforms,badges and anything else that was needed for the changeover which came in to place the following weekd week.  My Area Personnel Manger rangeme to ask me if I was able to cope with Canterbury while this was happened.  I told him exactly what had been done as above and wondered why he was asking, had I missed something?  He apologised  and said he couldn’t think of anything more that I needed to do, and I said that I had only only needed to be at Chatham for the changeover day.  I used to pop in to Chatham on the way back from Canterbury sometimes, but my store was being covered once a week by another personnel manager as I was at Canterbury full time during the recruitment period.

When the store was up and running I worked as Personnel Manager for the opening but said I didn’t want to leave Chatham, but would cover Canterbury until they appointed someone else.  The Store Manager was the same one who was deputy when I first started with the company, who had gone on to better things.  There was a large management table and the store managers always had their own seat and everyone knew not to sit in it. He liked to sit on the left with his back to the wall so he could see the whole of the restaurant.  One day, a new trainee manager started and came to sit down.  He asked where he should sit and mischieviously the others (not me I may add) pointed to the manager’s chair and down he sat.  When the manager walked through the door and saw his seat was taken, his face was a picture.  To give him his due he sat down on another chair and did not say anything to the trainee in front of us, but got him on his own and put him in the picture!  We were trying to stifle our laughter, he did eventually see the funny side, but that situation never arose again. 

During this period, my brother and his wife had twin baby boys.  I hadn’t spoken to my father for a while but at least I knew where he was. The last time I had seen him was when I went to Hitchin to stay with my brother and sister in law.  As I had passed my driving test, I drove to Luton to my father's shop.  His wife told me he was in Hitchin at an antiques fair.  Uncannily it was in the village hall in the next road to my brother and sister in law.  I walked in and he was stunned to see me.  He was selling some hand made jewellery and I got some orders when I went back to work and he would send me them and I would send him the cheque.

I rang him to tell him that he was going to be a grandfather, but didn’t get a reply. I sent him a him  letter to say that he was a grandfather and waited for a reply. This never came. Eventually, I discovered that his telephone number was discontinued and he wasn’t at that address any longer.  His new number was withheld from Directory Enquiries and the only one with that name and initials was in Sandy Bedfordshire, not far from Luton, but I had no way of finding out where.

I eventualyy decided that he obviously didn’t want contact any more.  I wondered it it was because of my mother and also the fact that I was working for a large supermarket which he said was putting small shops out of business.  I  just left it that that was his wish not to contact me and got on with my life.

Many, many years later, I was to find out what really happened.

Another duty I used to carry out was attending Job Fairs where school leavers could go and choose their chosen career.  We weren’t very successful at recruiting at them because they all wanted to have a much better career than shop work and I found this out when I held an open session at my store for school leavers and only one turned up.  I was informed that their parents wanted them to work anywhere other than a shop, which was a pity because if they were good, the opportunities for them were endless and they could rise through the ranks, so to speak.

At one of the Fairs I went to there was a representative from the Fire Brigade with nothing on show.   I asked him why he didn’t have a big recruitment stand and he told me that they had more potential applicants than they could ever employ.

There was something about the Fire Brigade which would make the lady employees lose all leave of their senses where they attended the store.  When we had a lot of false fire alarms at one store during freak weather conditions, I had a hard job getting them to leave the store when the firemen came.  I had to show them where the alarm panel was and was quite surprised that they actually reeked of smoke!! 

Another time, I arranged for the Air Ambulance, Police and Fire Brigade to come to the car park the day before the opening of a new store.  Cars with young women were all waving and shouting out of the window at them.  This went on all day!   

I think we were flogging a dead horse when myself and my store instructor went to a fair at a very expensive,  prestigious girls’ school.  We were on the stand between The Norland Nannies and The Prue Leith School of Cookery!

Part of my job was to go with other personnel managers and store managers to do some recruiting for graduate trainee managers.  We used to carry this out at  the Training Offices at Bromley and I enjoyed doing this, as it was a one day assessment course and it was interesting to see how they all participated and once they forgot about us observing them, sometimes the ones you thought would stand out didn’t and it was a good test of how they would work in a team.  After doing this for a couple of years in Bromley, there was a shortage of candidates, as graduates didn’t really want to work in a supermarket.

We were asked to go to Liverpool for a week to recruit up there.  They only thing was we were going to fly up.  Now after my decision not to fly ever again, I tried to get my head around how I would handle it.  I eventually decided that as it was a very small plane, it would be safer.  That was until the week before I was due to go when a small passenger plane crashed on to the motorway.

I sat at the airport waiting with the others watching the planes out of the window.  When we went to our gate to board, we could see the plane out of the window.  “Oh that’s good”, said one of the managers, “it’s a Fokker Friendship”.

“I don’t give a Fokker what it is, I’m still petrified”, I replied.

   

We duly arrived in Liverpool and booked in to the hotel to get ready for the week of interviewing. During the day we all worked together and in the evenings we used to go to the Adelphi Hotel and the disco downstairs, which as it was week nights, was empty except for us 8. We also liked the restaurant there and persuaded the Area Personnel Manager who was in charge of us to bite in to her budget each night.  

One of the managers was a lot older than us and didn't visit discos or night life and stayed back at the hotel.  He got a bit bored when we were actually watching the role play part of the internviews and spent his time staring out of the windows at the multitude of buses.  When a roller hand towel wouldn't work, he got a screw driver and fixed it himself and was always looking for something else to mend!    

The four managers were like big kids though, playing practical jokes on each other, he was one of them.   As he always went to bed early, on the last night the others asked if someone on reception could knock on his door very early the next morning to give him an alarm call, as they said he couldn't hear the phone.   Not satisfied with that they pinned a note to his door saying PLEASE COULD YOU KNOCK VERY LOUDLY SO I CAN HEAR YOU!

On the final day there, we all got together in the afternoon to discuss all the candidates.  In the morning the Area Personnel Manager was getting a bit upset about the budget she was spending and was in a bit of serious mood.  At lunch time the 4 managers went out but didn't say where they were going.  In the afternoon, they sat down with a bag each which they put under table.  When we discussed the first candidate, I think it was a rejection, but when the next one was discussed and she asked what the unanimous opinion was, the 4 of them bent down to the bags under the desk and and all together lifted up and blew 4 different coloured plastic post horns!  We were in stitches of laughter and they had done their job of cheering her up.  

We flew back in another FOKKER Friendship, but it still hadn't convinced me that I would fly again.

PARKING ON DOUBLE YELLOW LINES

As the store at Chatham was a bus ride away, and there was a stop outside my door,  I often went to work by bus.  We had double yellow lines outside the house and so I used to park around the corner of the newsagent’s on the hill.  Sometimes I never used the car for a couple of weeks and went round to it one day and found a parking ticket on the window.  The  wheels were slightly on the double yellow line, but obviously this was illegal I wrote a cheque out for the fine as I knew it would have to be paid.

A couple of months later, we arrived home to find a policewoman on the doorstep.  Panicking I asked her what was wrong and she gave me the summons to court for not paying the fine.  I told her I had paid it by cheque, so she asked to see the stub.   Then a horrible realisation dawned on me.  We were having lunch at work a couple of weeks previously and someone commented on all the rubbish in my handbag.  It was full of receipts, etc, and old cheque book stumps.  When I came home that evening, I cleared out my bag and disposed of all the stubs one of which had been for the cheque I had written out for the parking fine.

I phoned the police station and spoke to the Chief Constable to say that I had paid it and they had obviously not received it and I couldn’t produce the stub.  He told me to just pay the fine instead of going to court.  I was adamant that I wanted to tell the court what had happened and I duly attended.

I had been to a meeting at work in the morning so I was dressed in a black suit and white blouse.  Coming out from the courts where heavily tattooed  males, ladies complaining that they had to get back for the kids, etc and I really felt overdressed.

My name was called and I entered the court room and it was called again.  “I’m here” I called and waved my hand.  “Im sorry,I thought you were a solicitor” said the chairman of the bench.

The Clerk of the Court started the proceedings by stating that I was parked on a double yellow line.  “Actually I had parked the car in front of the double yellow lines, only the back wheels were touching it, which was the truth.  “So your back wheels where on the yellow line and this is an offence”, he said.  “I know but I wanted to give you the true facts”, I replied.  The magistrates were stifling a little laugh.

He then went on to ask me why I hadn’t paid it and I told him that I had by cheque.

“Well have you got the cheque stub”, he asked.

“Unfortunately no”, I replied.  “I was at work a few weeks ago and someone commented on all the junk I kept in my handbag including all my old cheque book stubs, so I had a clear out and they went as well”.

I looked at the bench and the lady magistrate had her head down on the bench with her shoulders heaving and she couldn’t hide her laughter, she obviously understood the importance of a messy handbag! Her colleagues had a little chuckle but the Clerk of the Court was having none of it.

“You still have to pay the fine”, he said.   “I know”, I said “but I wanted to tell you what actually happened.

Suffice to say, I always have a messy handbag now just in case!!    

 

Until they were phased out, we used to have visiting store detectives who went round various stores.  They were excellent at their jobs and would tell stories about how people shoplifted which were unbelievable, especially where a bottle of whisky could be hidden and a frozen chicken.

The staff used to have lockers and their own key.  Someone said that they had some money taken from their locker.  The only way this could happen is if the thief had access to a key to fit it.  We had to ask the employee to trust us, we would do something but we didn’t want anyone to get wind  get wind of it.  I emptied the locker and put an old purse with some loose change in it.  Sure enough, the purse and the money went.   Not wanting to risk more money, I decided to turn the slot for the key to 12 o’clock and look to see if it had moved on a daily basis, it did eventually, so then I had to narrow down the day, which turned out to be a Saturday, unless any overtime was worked by them.  I had my suspicions who the culprit was and it was confirmed when their manager said that some money was missing from a collection jar.

The store detectives arranged to come on the Saturday, but the person was off sick, so  nothing would happen that day and it didn’t.

One of them arranged to come the next Saturday and we had to keep her out of sight so as not to warn anyone she was there.  In the Staff Restaurant was a broom cupboard where the hoover was kept.  She sat in there with the door closed during the afternoon tea break.  When the canteen staff were getting ready to go home, the Saturday girl opened the cupboard to get the hoover out and it was handed to her by the store detective and she closed the door.  Not a word was said by the young girl and when she had finished the hoovering, she opened the door and the store detective took it from her and the young girl closed the door and said goodnight to me and never ever mentioned it.  What she thought, I don’t know.

Suffice to say, we couldn’t stop laughing when I let her out of the cupboard.

The next time, they fixed up a device in the locker which beep to them when it was opened and this time I hid them in the laundry room and locked them in (they also had a key) and the culprit was caught in the act and it was who we thought it was.   

One of the store managers was another one who rose through the ranks from the shop floor.  He had blue eyes, and a nasty temper.  You always knew he was angry because they turned a steely grey. 

I bore the brunt of his anger a couple of times.  I was in my office one Friday afternoon and had been unsuccessful in finding some else for the canteen as the cook was sick and my store instructor was off who usually stepped in and no branch nearby could supply anyone.  As it was my department, I put myself in there with the Saturday girl.  We agreed that we could manage sausage, mash and beans for the main meal and as it was mainly students on a Saturday, who loved this dish, it wouldn’t be a problem.  All of a sudden the door burst open and in he came with his grey eyes blazing.  “What do you mean by putting sausage and mash on for the main meal.  The men want a proper cooked dinner", (meaning himself as lived alone).  I explained the situation to him, that it would have been soup and sandwiches if the Saturday girl hadn’t  felt confident to do simple cooking.  Of course, there were no thanks for actually managing to provide a catering service at all the next day.

Some managers believed that I was in an office all day and not doing anything constructive. He was one of them.  One day he told his deputy manager to ask me to go up the High Street to get something.  I was busy and the time and said I couldn't.  Silly me, I should have known I didn't have a choice and the answer should be yes and he let me know it.  I decided that I would say yes in the future. 

One day he came in to my office and told me to take his car to Crayford branch to transfer some some goods.  This was common practice as the store managers’ company cars were also insured for this purpose.  He had a new Rover.  Not daring to disobey him and again and realising he hadn’t heard of my driving reputation or if he had, he didn’t mind, I duly did so and safely brought back the goods.  I did this one more time after that.  

A few days later, my door barged opened again, followed by the steely grey eyes.  “Why didn’t you tell me about your driving reputation”, he yelled.  I told him I thought he knew and also that if he asked me to do something, I had to do it.   I was stifling laughter though as it was so funny.  It worked as he never asked me to drive it again. 

One week I was off and I was also used as the secretary to the manager.  He was raising funds to build a pavilion and as I wasn’t there he  asked my store instructor to type out a letter for him to the fund raising members.  When I returned to work, she showed me the letter she had done for him which he copied to the members and sent off.

Unfortunately, when you have been doing secretarial work as long as I have, I am used to putting words right and also changing a sentence which could be misconstrued on paper.  He had written once such sentence, intimating that some weren’t pulling their weight as much as others.  In fact, when it was spoken, it made sense but not on paper.  I asked her if she had changed it as I would have brought it to his attention but she said no, she had done what he had asked.

Suffice to say, the ramifications caused a great falling out amongst the members and himself and he was telling me about it.  I did say to him that I would have drawn it to his attention.  He never asked anyone else to type for him again after that!

CHRISTMASES AT JS

CHRISTMAS AT SAINSBURYS

When I first joined JS, the shop closed at 4 pm on Christmas Eve and did not open again until the day after Boxing Day.  However, if Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on a weekend, it was closed for 4 days to incorporate the 2 holiday days in lieu.

It was all hands on deck on the shop floor in the week prior to Christmas Day.  The departmental managers used the information gleaned from the previous Christmas period to gauge orders and supplies.  It was the case then that if you hadn’t purchased what you needed in good time, the Christmas lines would be sold out by Christmas Eve, there were no reduced Christmas goods in those days.

The Grocery Manager at the time conducted the store opening on Christmas Eve like a military operation.  As he was of a slight build, he stood on one of the high sided roll pallets in front of the automatic doors issuing instructions on how to deal with the rush and give us any last minute instructions.

He then gave the signal and the doors opened.  Unfortunately, the roll pallet was no match for the hordes of shoppers piling in through the doors and knocking him off in the rush.  I don’t think that tactic was used again!

Dead on 4 pm, the doorman would close the door and more often than not, there would be a desperate man, having just left the pub, trying to get in to buy the turkey that his wife had sent him out for.  It cut no ice with the doorman.  “We’ve got Christmases to go to you know”, he shouted.  Anyway, as I said, there was no way that any kind of Christmas food would have been available at that time of day.

I used to love my time on the shop floor that week, with the hustle and bustle and people shopping as if the shops were never going to open again.  I mentioned to the Grocery Manager that Battenburg cakes were selling very quickly.  The next year I was up to my eyes in them.  I decided to keep quiet about anything else I noticed. 

During this time, any overtime worked was paid in the following week’s wages and it was so for many years.  However, it was decided that staff would get paid overtime in the week that they worked it.   Obviously a lot was worked in the week before Christmas so it was important that it was paid.  One Christmas, I was at another store and the manager wanted me to pack for the customers, which I was happy to do.  However, there was so much overtime for the office to get through and the staff were quite upset when they had some missing.  In the report we had to give to the Store Manager, I said that my time would have been better spent in the office assisting the admin staff with the overtime calculations.   Well that went down well – NOT!  Apparently, I was very negative and not interested in staff morale being boosted by my appearance on the shop floor.  He was correct – I was more interested in their morale being helped by getting their wages right.

 

    

CHILDBIRTH

I started to get some very painful stomach cramps which I was used to once a month, but these were lasting longer.  I went to see my GP and he said that I should do a pregnancy test to rule that out.  I was quite surprised because these pains usually meant that I wasn’t.  I did one anyway and phoned back the next week for the results.

“The test is positive”, the receptionist informed me.  I was gobsmacked.  I was nearly 3 months.  My mother had never discussed “the birds and bees” with me, only to tell me not to bring any trouble home when I was single.  Now that I was married, everything would be above board.  However, no way could I break the news to her myself, it felt it too embarrassed.  As we couldn’t tell anyone until she knew first, I though it only right, I kept putting it off.  In the end my husband agreed to tell her for me, so then we could let everyone know.

When I went to work, I told the District Manager and said I would be going on maternity leave.  He agreed with my suggestion that I work part time when I returned.  I actually had not had any staff go on maternity leave and return.  He asked if I would be able to cope with a baby and a job. 

I was extremely well over the next few months.  No morning sickness whatsoever.  The only time I had a craving was when I had got in to the lift to the car park after work, I felt slightly faint and had an urge for a pot of blue cheese dressing and celery and so got out of the lift and went back and bought some.

In my 8th month, I left work to start my maternity leave and put my feet up, literally, as my ankles were swelling a lot.  I attended for a scan and they noted there might be something on there and to come back the next week for my last visit.  I duly did and they said they didn’t need to see me until after the birth.  I mentioned that there might have something found on the last scan.  They checked it and it all kicked off.  It appeared that I might have Stage 4 Placenta Previa, which  means that the placenta was under the baby’s head and I could haemhorrage when she was born.  I was immediately taken in a wheelchair to a room in the hospital and they let everyone know so they bring my stuff in.  

My baby wasn’t due for a month, so I was put on complete bed rest, only being allowed to move by being pushed in a wheelchar.  The Ultra Sound Department was in the annexe next to the hospital, through the car park and up a ramp and then the floor inside sloped leading to the ultra sound area.   My mum pushed me in the wheelchair up the slope and into the annexe, however we hadn’t bargained for the downward slope.  She pushed me forward, but I took off downwards with her desperately trying to cling on to the handles.  I crashed in to a row of empty wheelchairs and started a domino effect.  Well, as I said, I was in the wheelchair for my own safety.  Unfortunately, they didn’t know that my mum would be pushing it!

At one stage my room became unbearable and hard to sleep with the heat at night and and I was desparate for a fan, but there were none available at the time.  When visitors came  and asked what I would like.  “A fan please”, I said.  I used to wait eagerly for their next visit.  However, all I got was grapes, fruit and squash.  Eventually I was moved to the opposite side to a room which was much cooler.

I passed my days make stuffed toy elephants to sell at the hospital fete.   One of them was blue and the other was pink, as I didn't know which one I would be keeping. 

Because of the possible placenta problem, I was due to have an elective caesarean.  These were carried out every Tuesday, so I knew the day and date the baby would be born.  I was duly taken down to the theatre on the relevant Tuesday.  The consultant told me they were going to break the waters by hand.  This would be by what can only be described as a long crochet hook and no anaesthetic.  They had inserted a drip and canula ready for the anaethestist who was standing by my head aseady in case I haemorrhaged.  There was were two nurses, one either side of me.  I was terrified and as they surgeon broke the waters I was screaming and the  nurses were trying to push my legs down.  I duly lifted them up from the floor, one on each leg, as they desperately tried to hold them down. That was the extent of my terror of the crochet hook.

The waters duly broke and the surgeon informed that it had been a false alarm, it wasn’t the placenta it was the baby’s hair and they were going to induce me instead of operating.   As the day went  on they asked me if I had fhad any labour pains.  As I had never experienced them before, I asked what they were like.  “Very bad period pains”, said the nurse.   “Oh yes, I have been having them, but didn’t take any notice as I had suffered much worse period pains during my life.  Things didn’t  seem to be progressing.  The midwife got the surgeon who fitted some wires on to the baby’s head so they could monitor it.  However, later, there was another hurried conflab and the next minute, I was wheeled hurriedly to the operating theatre for an emergency caesarean, 12 hours after the elective one was cancelled.  The midwife who had just trained didn’t feel right about it.  I wasn’t dilating and the baby was distressed.

I came round from the operation  with my husband showing me the baby – a girl.   I had wanted a girl and had already had a girl’s name chosen for the last few months.  She was healthy and beautiful, with a long swathe of hair from the back of her head.  The same hair that had caused all the anxiety.  That was all in the past and I settled down to sleep.  Little did I know my nightmare was just beginning.

POSTNATAL

 

Instead of drifting off to sleep, I suddenly sat upright as the thought came in to my mind that we hadn't finalised the paper work on the conservatory we were going to order.  I couldn't get this thought out of my mind and lay awake all night worrying about it.  The next morning I got out of bed, complete with stitches in my abdomen (a ceasarian is a major operation), and made a phone call to the bank.  I still couldn't rest or concentrate and was worrying about feeding my baby properly.  Suddenly, I looked at her in the the cot and the realisation hit me that I would be responsible for her for the next 18 years.  I could hold down a high pressured job, but had no idea how to look after a helpless baby.  
 
After that I descended in to a state of severe anxiety.  I couldn't eat or sleep.  They looked after the baby and let my husband stay on a camp bed on the floor of my room.  I was still worrying about the conservatory and waking him up to talk about it.   Then I worried myself that he might be late for work and urged him to get up and go.  He didn't need to, they were really understanding about the situation, but I wasn't thinking rationally and didn't want him to be late.  I was suffering not from  the baby blues or Post Natal Depression, but Post Partum Psychosis which was far worse and extremely severe.
 
The ward sent a psychiatrist in to assess me and they decided I would be better off in another hospital.  They arranged for myself and my daughter to be transferred.  There was no Mother and Baby Unit there, so they put her on a childrens's ward to look after her.  I was happy with this as I knew she was with people who knew how to look after newborn babies.
 
As I was getting ready to be assessed the next day, one of the auxiliaries told me that if I started taking any medication I wouldn't get my baby back.  Whatever possessed her to say that, I do not know,but with my state of mind at the time, that is what I thought would happen.  Hence, when they gave me medication, which I now know, would have helped me sooner, I went in to the toilets and spat them out.  If they knew, they would have sectioned me.  Obviously as the days went on, I was still in a state of severe anxiety, not eating.  I did manage to sleep all night which was rather strange, but immediately I woke up, the anxiety set in.
 
For anyone who been lucky enough to not have experienced anxiety, I can only liken it to waiting for a phone call from someone so you know they are safe, when you haven't been able to get hold of them.  Time stands still and you feel sick with worry.  Normally, when you get the phone call you have been waiting for, you are greatly relieved and happy.  With severe anxiety, you are worrying about nothing and there is no respite or relief from it.
 
As the days were passing, I was not getting any better, due to the fact that I was spitting the tablets out and the doctors couldn't understand it.    I became obsesses with the fact that my baby might get taken away by Social Services, causing me even more worry.  My lovely mother in law had come down from up north to help my husband and so they were allowed to her home to look after her.  That was another worry off my mind, but I still didn't improve.
 
I don't want to dwell on to say how I slowly got better, it is too raw and painful, but eventually I was allowed to go home.  The psychiatrist who discharged me, warned me it could happen all over again with any more children.  
There was going to be no fear of that, the experience was so horrendous, it would stay with me for life.  It took me well over 3 years to ever want to talk about it. She also warned me I might have a difficult menopause.
 
For any of you who watch Stacey Slater in Eastenders, her portrayal of Post Partum Pychosis was absolutely spot on.
 
When I came out, I was taking my medication and gradually got better.  I made up for lost time with her and looked after her by myself, but had the back up of my husband and my mother in law.  Bless her, she wouldn't return home until she was happy I could cope.  I owed her a great debt of gratitude.
 
For the first few months, my daughter slept soundly day and night, only being woken for her feeds and nappy changes.  I found it hard sitting indoors all day waiting for her to wake up.  I was used to a busy, responsible job, managing people, so I decided I would not take all my maternity leave, but go back to work after 3 months.  I spoke to my mother in law and said I could handle 250 people, but was terrified of looking after a baby properly, I needed someone who was an expert in motherhood.  She supported me and thought it was a good idea, to help me get properly back to normal.
 
I had a child minder who had brought up 3 sons of her own, and loved being a mother.   The only problem I had now was to tell my own mother who was vehemently against me going back to work, albeit 2 days a week, the third day being a Saturday when my husband would look after her.  I only needed a back up if at any time they couldn't do it.
 
Plucking up courage, I told my mother and asked her if she would be a back up.  She was not pleased with my decision, but finally agreed that she would.
 
However, she then said, "Are you sure you will be able to cope with work?"  I knew I could, but as I was still quite fragile, somehow it put a doubt in my mind.   I went downhill with a bang, doubting myself and losing all my confidence. It sent me back a week or so.
 

BACK TO WORK

I duly went back to work and it felt like I had never been away. My whole outlook on life had changed after the horrendous experience of PPP.  Nothing material matters if you don't have peace of mind and this has stayed with me still. 
 
An example of this was that I was getting settled in to my office on my first day back.  I had a large filing cabinet with hanging files which was about a foot away from the wall, leaving a gap at the side.  There was a knock on the door and two of my staff walked in.  I thought they were coming to say hallo.  No, they were arguing over the Chiropodist List.
 
Just so you know, one of the perks at that time was free chiropody for the staff.  I used to put a list up with 5 appointment spaces which I filled with  names and a spare 5 spaces for  the waiting list.  The staff would put their names down on the waiting list, so could I see that they hadn't been the month before and were also substitutes if someone could not make their appointment.
 
I don't know how it was run in my absence but apparently one reckoned her friend had got a extra turn and also she wanted a better time slot.
 
My face must have been a picture.   I had gone through an awful time, which I never thought I would get over and they were arguing over the chiropodist!.
 
I did no more, than lean over in to the gap between the filing cabinet and the wall and break in to helpless laughter.  I apologised and said I had dropped something.  I promised them it would be sorted for next time.
 
Prior to my maternity leave, I helped with the opening of Crayford which was one the large superstores that were being built.  We all came for a day or two per week to assist the personnel manager with the interviewing etc.  Things had moved on a bit since we opened Gravesend and Canterbury, we had the luxury of a full time clerk/typist and a trainee personnel manager seconded to help us.
RECRUITING FOR CRAYFORD
AT ERITH JOB CENTRE
 
On returning to work, my next opening I was assisting with was in Folkestone.  I used to catch the train and the Job Centre was near the harbour.  One day I was interviewing someone and went through the medical questionnaire like I always did and she mentioned that she had had a bad back which she had recovered from.  At that moment I wanted to sneeze and rather than sneeze in her face, I bent down to the side of the desk and sneezed and I felt something go in my back.  I hurriedly finished the interview unable to sit up straight. I then went in to our office and sat down, bent double.  The Personnel Manager in charge came in and said she knew it was stressful, was that why I wanted a rest?. I told her something had gone in my back.  They called an ambulance which came with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing which I didn't think I warranted, and  took me to the local  A & E.  They examined me and and gave me some ibruprofen, as I had strained my  sacro iliac joint and then left me to find my way to the local station and get the train home, which I did with a great deal of difficulty.  The next morning I was flat on my back in bed and couldn't sit up.  I just managed to get my daughter to call her dad who was just going out of the door.  He had to sit me up straight or I would have been in that position all day and my little girl was only 3!
 
The manager of the new Folkestone store was one of the only one actually asked how I was and I liked him. One morning, I went in to my own store and was given the news that he had been on his way to meet the District Manager and his car went under the wheels of a lorry and he was killed.   That was what it was like then, if the District Manager summoned a manager, they raced to get there.  I thought this would at least stop this practice, but I found my manager rushing off to see the DM, so nothing had changed.
 
My next job was to look after the Gravesend store which was closing to make way for the new superstore at  Pepperhill. I had worked with the manager oft his store when he was at my store as a deputy and he was the best one I ever worked with.  Each departmental manager had their jobs to do  in the run down and I was in charge of the staff.  He just let us all get on with it.  We all had a meeting in the morning with him and then went about our tasks.
 
Not all of the staff wanted to go to the new store. The small ones were friendly and everyone worked together.  With the event of the new superstores, this all changed as there were many more staff.  Some of the staff took the chance to retire as they were near the right age.  I spoke to the manager of Tesco in the high street and he interviewed those people who were interested.  He took quite a few and said they were really efficient and talked of JS as a family, where h;is staff just worked for Tesco.  The other staff were brilliant and covered the work with extra hours to allow staff who had got other jobs to leave earlier to take them up.
 
Everyone was accounted for and there was a group who had decided to go to the new store so when Gravesend closed that was no one without a job  to go to. On the last day, all the goods were clingfilm wrapped on to 
roll pallets and the managers from the other stores came and collected the dry goods. It had been so successful on all parts, due to the brilliant handling by the store manager.  Everyone was on Cloud 9.  
 
I arranged a farewell party at a local hotel and all past and present managers and staff attended. It went well and sort of finished everything off nicely.
 
The District Manager's Management Dinner and Dance was being held on that week and after the successful closure, all the management team were buzzing. The District Manager got up to make a speech, but we were in the phase everyone in the company makes it a success and no store was singled out, so no mention of the successful closure was made and I was really for the manager and the management.
 
Previously, JS was an extremely efficient company. Full training was given to all new starts. Any certificates we gained, ie Health and Safety, Food Hygiene etc were official ones from the local authority and not in house.
 
Apparently,how ever, they decided to get the advice of consultants and as far I was concerned, ruined something that ran really well and did not need fixing.
 
Changes were ahead.

MY MUM

You may have noticed that I have sometimes found myself in funny situations, well I think I inherited this from my late mother.

For instance, she was a brilliant pianist, classic to pub songs, the latter kept us going when money was scarce.  After she retired, she used to play for various organisations. One of these was a pub, where the landlord and landlady were going through a very messy divorce. Now my mum never took a break and as she was asked to play, that’s what she did.

 

In this case the landlord decided he was going to cut everything in half literally and came out with a small axe and starting hacking a way at a table. My mum carried on playing regardless and only stopped when he came over to start on the piano!   

 

She used to play for a senior citizen day care centre. She was sitting on the stage at the piano and there was an elderly man in a wheel chair on there too, as he loved to listen to her and she had her back to him. She started playing her repertoire of pub songs and again didn’t stop until she had finished all of them. She looked round and noticed that the man in the wheel chair wasn’t there any more.

 

She looked down and saw him on the floor with the wheel chair on top of him and staff giving him first aid. She asked what happened and they said, “Well he was OK until you played Doing the Lambeth Walk. He got so excited that he tried to do it himself and fell off the stage”. Considering the Lambeth Walk was quite near the beginning of her play list, he had been down there for quite a while!

By the way the pianist in the video clip is MRS MILLS, not my mum!

I went to Jersey with her and my daughter as it was somewhere she wanted to go. Whilst there, we went to the Jersey Experience, which was very interesting and the exit was a darkish tunnel, in which there were holes every now and then with something displayed behind a glass panel.

 

I had come outside with my daughter and was waiting for my mum. Next minute, a man came tearing out with my mum chasing him asking if he was alright. He seemed to be in a state of shock.

 

“What on earth happened”, I asked her. “Well, I was standing behind him while he was looking at the Ghostly Bride”, she said. Just to put you in the picture, the Ghostly Bride was a skull with deep round eye holes, with a white veil around it. My mum had thick white hair, white jacket and big round glasses. He turned to leave and saw my mum, just after the seeing Ghostly Bride, screamed and fled! He must have been terrified!

 

 

My mum loved boats and we went the Norfolk Broads on a boat trip with her and her husband. My late husband drove assault boats when he was in the army. She was desperate to have a go at driving the boat, but my husband said it would be too difficult as it was so big. This was unbeknown to me, as I was sitting in the bedroom. Yarmouth Harbour was looming up ahead. The boats, berthed side to side, were 5 deep both sides of the water. I suddenly realised that my husband had come in to the room. “Whose driving”, I asked. “Your mother”, he replied. The boat was swaying from side to side, narrowly missing a River Police Control Boat. I was petrified and begged him to go back and take over. Unfortunately, she had nagged him to have a go until he lost his cool and said to her, “Okay you win” and left her too it. 

 

Eventually, I persuaded him to take over again, hopefully preventing a collision!

On the first night, my mum decided that we should moor up somewhere quiet along the river bank, which we duly did. We had all just gone off to sleep when we were woken up by flashing lights, loud music and people drinking and dancing. 

 

The quiet place turned out to be the turn around spot for the large disco party boat!

 

 

  •  

    My mum never learned to drive but she had a moped, but never took a test. The furthest she went on it was along the army road to the barracks where she worked, over the footpath in the field to the hairdressers.  After she had had her hair done, she had to push the moped back as she couldn't put her crash helmet on as it would ruin her hair.

    I think she thought rules of the road didn’t apply to her and one day my late husband was a passenger in a very large army truck, when she seemed to appear from nowhere on her trusty moped, on the roundabout. The driver put on his brakes, and my mum carried on, oblivious to all.

    @@#@# yelled the driver, “who was that silly old bat?”. “My mother-in-law”, replied my husband, sinking down lower in to his seat.

     

     

    Someone started a hovercraft service which ran from Hoo to Chatham, along the River Medway, which is at the bottom of the road in the village where she lived. I was working at JS in Chatham at the time and she was coming to meet me one lunch time. The hovercraft would make a stop at the fore shore, where she oived, if someone was waiting there.

    When she arrived and met me, she had on a grey plastic patterned long coat, one side of which was covered in sand and mud, continuing up the side of her hair and face and down along her legs. She looked like one of those people who have different clothes and hair etc, on one side of their body, so they are two different people when they turn round.

    “What on earth has happened to you?”, I asked her. “Well, she said, when I saw the hovercraft arriving, I thought I would save him the trouble of coming all the way up the beach and walked down to meet him!"