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Another step up

I was glad to leave the London and Manchester, in one sense. I was beginning to become embarrassed at the amount of money my mam was borrowing from Mr Deverill.  Things must have been improving at home, with all the lads except Mike working. But it was an improvement I just don’t remember noticing. The job at the Prudential was a step up; it paid more money, which was just as well because there were no cars to wash.

I gained the job at the Prudential in a more traditional fashion than that strange interview with Mr Deverill.  He helped me with the application to the Prudential and gave me a glowing reference.  I breezed through the interview. Once again I was lucky with my boss.  Mr Bowcher, the manager, was kind to me. He taught me a lot at work and helped me wherever he could outside.

One of the problems I had in these first two jobs was staying presentable. It was the first time I had ever had to be respectable on more than one-off occasions, such as my confirmation at church. So looking smart was a struggle.  I had hardly any clothes, and there was the problem of how to wash them.  There was no washing machine at home, only a sink.  We didn’t even have an iron.

At work, I always wore a green skirt and green jumper. The zip on the skirt was broken, but I could hide this by pinning it at the waist and pulling the jumper down as far as it would go. To save face I pretended that I wore these clothes for the office to save all my better ones.

This seemed to work until we came to the end-of-year party.  Obviously I couldn’t go and it upset me.  When Mr Bowcher found me in tears, I would not tell him why I was crying or why I was not going to the party.

He nagged me so much that in the end I confessed: I had no clothes. I couldn’t turn up in the green skirt and jumper and I had no money to buy anything new. But I didn’t tell him that the green clothes came from a friend who had got them at a children’s home.

His reaction to what I said surprised me.  His wife, he explained, would make me a dress.  All I had to do was go round to his house after work and everything would be all right.

The first thing his wife said when she saw me was:  “You can have a bath dear, and wash your hair.”  This immediately put me on the defensive.  I looked at the Bowchers’ children sitting on the couch staring at me. I assumed that Mrs Bowcher thought I would give them lice and that she would soon be checking my hair.  All my memories of the Plumpton Street Clinic flooded back to me and I began to leave the Bowchers’ home.

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