Cosy Corners in Depression and War

Autobiography of Joan Hughes

The story of one person's nests


I was sitting in the office thinking, after one week's work as a filing clerk. Next to me was Pauline. Opposite me was Mrs Langdon, a middle-aged woman who was the manageress of this Telephone Sales Office. It was an all-female office. I did not speak to the two other assistants, sitting at another desk at the far end of the room, but sat quietly, sometimes talking quietly to Pauline when their was no more filing to be done that day.

"My father is seventy", said Pauline one day.

"I can't understand that," I said. "My father is 48. I did not think fathers could be more than forty years older than oneself, and you are seventeen, like me. Most fathers are about thirty years older than oneself, like mine is."

"Fathers can be fathers at a very late age. Didn't you know that?" said Pauline. They are not like mothers.

"I see", I said but I got the feeling that Pauline was somewhat unhappy about having this older father, otherwise she would not have brought the conversation up.

We were both bored. I asked Mrs Langdon for some more work.

"It's your fault that there isn't any work", Mrs Langdon told me. Usually the office is full of papers lying about needing to be filed, but you have done the work too quickly. Before you came, things were normal."

I did not realise that it was possible to do work to quickly. I had always liked to get a job done as quickly as I could. There did not seem to be any sense in dawdling and wasting time.

We were not allowed to do anything else in the office, except sit quietly and chat, even if there was no work. One was not allowed to open a book in the office, for example.

I did not enjoy the work, as I was not used to doing the same boring thing all day.

At the Grammar school, we also sat quietly at desks, but studied a different subject, every hour of the day. We seldom had a two-hour period doing the same thing, with the exception of the one two-hour period for general science. Even sports or drill did not last longer than three-quarters of an hour.

I could hardly stand it, but dare not complain, or ask to be taught any of the work that Mrs Langdon was doing, as I could see that she did not intend to teach me anything about it. Moreover it appeared that I was unpopular with her.

I went home and that week told my mother that I wished I was back at school.

"You could ask to go back," said my mother, but this did not seem like a serious option. I hated asking for any special favours from any adult, and I did not know how we would manage financially, if I had to be kept. I did not make any serious contribution to the family finances, but at least I was keeping myself in food and clothes, and now I was buying a few luxuries like the new bicycle I intended to save up for.

This was the one attraction about working, but I missed the variety of activity that school had provided, even though, according to 1992 standards, the teaching may have been regarded as inadequate, and the subject matter out of date with the latest developments in science and there had been no attempt to teach any history beyond 19th century. Queen Victoria, mentally was still on the throne. Having said all that I missed it, and wanted to have had the chance of "Higher School,Certificate" desperately badly.

After six weeks in the telephone sales department, Mrs Langford was complaining that I did the filing too quickly, and they could not find me anything else to do. I asked to be allowed to learn some of her work, but she said that they had no time for training. I was an eager 17-year old, anxious to learn all I could about the office, but it seemed that I was to be disappointed.

The Sales Office was on the ground floor, it had a pleasant aspect; the older staff were kind, but they let us two juniors know that we were only there for the routine work. The other junior was called Pauline. We talked about our respective fathers. She said that hers was seventy years of age. As mine was 48 years old, this surprised me, for I had not yet learnt that men could be fathers long after it was possible for women to be mothers. Pauline and I chatted a little over the filing but I did not get to know her very well. We had our "tea-break" together, and were both eligible to receive a free drink of "National Milk Cocoa". This was a delightful form of cocoa; I have never tasted such good cocoa since. It was issued to all under-eighteens who worked.

In the Sales Department there was muttered talk about the Accounts Department, situated in a different building.

"Why do they have to weigh their work?" Mrs Langford asked.

"It is the only way to get the girls to work fast enough to get the work done over there," said the male supervisor.

At present I was being told off for working too quickly; I did not know that in the Accounts Department, I would be told off for working too slowly. But I just could not imagine how the work could be weighed. That was something I was to find out in a later stage of my career.

Meanwhile, at home, the situation was not good. My father had arrived home from the army on six weeks demobilisation leave. He also had a gratuity, a "Demob" suit and 200 clothing coupons.

Sadly, my mother's health was failing. As winter [1945/1946] started asthma attacks became more frequent, and she often had to resort to inhaling "Rybarvin". The inhaling went on for half an hour or more so that relief did not come quickly.

This seemed to make my father angry. He started to blame the inhaler for the asthma attacks. One day he threatened to smash it. I stood by helplessly until he had calmed down. This was doing no-one any good.

He did not mean to be unkind. When he had calmed down, he would go to make tea.

With the optimism of a 17-year old I believed my mother would get better. When summer arrived she was usually fairly well for the whole season, and the winter misery would be forgotten. But she was painfully thin, which was partly the effect of wartime rations. Rationing was still in force; the meat ration had actually decreased, and bread rationing was introduced for the first time. Bread rationing was never too severe; we worried more about what to put in the sandwiches my father took to work. I was luckier as I could afford to have a subsidised meal at the "Cottage Cafe" in Colchester each lunch-time and this did not count as part of the ration. But at seventeen I weighed eight stone seven, fully clothed, which was the same weight as I was when a podgy twelve-year old.

In September and October 1945 my mother was still attempting casual work in the fields of the apple farm, but this came to an end by mid- October and for a short time I was the only breadwinner in the house.

My father got very depressed about his unemployment and this sometimes resulted in family rows. He could not do without cigarettes and these were the most expensive item in the weekly budget. Fortunately he was not going out drinking at this time. I think he was too depressed for that and did want the men's company as the other men in the pub would have been those in work. Most of the men of his age in the district had not been soldiers, had been in reserved occupations or were too old for the call-up, and none had volunteered as he had done.

As winter approached and his gratuity money had all been spent, Dad took a labouring job. I believe it was in Parson's brickyard. This made him unhappy. He was now 48, had taken pride in being an Army Sergeant, and before that a foreman painter and decorator, always in charge of a team of men, and never before a labourer himself. Moreover he was becoming unfit for rough work.

Rex, the dog caught distemper. Out of my wages, I paid for vet's fees, but it was my mother's careful nursing which brought him through this illness. But he remained ill for the following six months, having a frightening fit almost every day. We thought he would never get better, but the frequency of the fits diminished to one a week. With the help of drugs, eventually he had a month free of fits, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. However from this time onward, when he sat in front of the open coal fire looking into it, a tremor remained in his right front paw. I remember this very clearly, and also my constant attempts to turn his nose away from the fire, because I believed in the "old wives' tale" that staring into the fire made dogs go blind.

I joined Colchester library; this was my first opportunity to read adult books apart from the few set works of literature at school. I read the life of Marie Curie by Eve Curie, and this made me all the more determined eventually to study science. What impressed me was that Marie Curie had a compassionate as well as a determined character. She had to leave school at about 15 to become a governess and helped to pay for her older sister's higher education. This older sister became a doctor. She was about 26 before she received her first lessons in chemistry and physics. Later on, after she had become famous for her discovery of radium, X-rays had become developed as diagnostic tools, and Marie Curie with her daughter Irene became radiologists themselves, driving a medical van to help front-line soldiers in France during the first world war.

Apart from this I loved the books on astronomy and gazed often at the photos of spiral nebulae and faraway stars and galaxies of every kind. Then I discovered the periodic table and delighted in reading the lists of chemical elements with the exact numbers of protons, neutrons and electrons. This large tome I showed to someone else in the office, as I thought myself "rather clever" in understanding it. This older man was not particularly impressed; he was a Higher Clerical Officer, but told me that he had also studied chemistry in his youth.

I had to start work at 9 am, and needed to catch the 8.30 am bus. To help me to get up at 7 am, my father started to bring me tea in bed at 6.30 am. I got up at 7 am and sometimes went to the outside shed to fill up the coal scuttle before I went to work. I got my own cornflakes and milk or whatever I had for breakfast. It was a sketchy affair and I cannot remember quite what I had.

My mother became more ill in the winter of 1945/1946 and did not get up until both of us had gone out to work. But she always had a good hot meal on the table for us shortly after we returned home from work. I arrived home first at 5.45 pm. My father may have got in by 6.30 pm but I'm not sure.

Dad did not last long in that labouring job. After three months he broke down from exhaustion. His next job was at Edme Maltings. The hours were long, the pay was low, but when he described the work it sounded interesting. He had to test the specific gravity of the liquid malt in the vats, and perform other operations on it when it was ready to be sent off for bottling. In 1985, on the last occasion I visited the house Edme Maltings was still open and the malt still on sale in local shops. I think Dad worked about nine months at Edme Maltings, but became very tired of it. We barely had enough money to pay the quarterly mortgage on the house and other bills.

I was luckier financially because by summer 1946, I had saved enough money to buy a new bicycle. It cost £13. I discarded my old bike which was falling to bits, and enjoyed roaming the country lanes, especially on Sundays. It was handy when I wished to visit my Great-aunts Kate and Annie living in Colchester Road. I could be there in 5 minutes. The walk probably took quarter of an hour. Disgracefully I sometimes allowed Rex the dog to follow behind me on the bike. He quickly became out of breath. He was never a very fast mover. So I had to keep waiting for him to catch up. Luckily there was very little traffic. Private cars were a rare sight along these quiet roads just after the war.

In those days, I had to work a five and a half day week. This meant that I had to catch the bus into Colchester at 8.30 am on Saturdays but did not get back much before 2.30 pm because of bus time-tables. I left work at 1 pm, and sometimes stayed in Colchester for the afternoon for shopping or to go to the pictures, but Mum liked me to come home for the mid-day meal.

There was a family row one week-end because I had spent £2 and fifteen shillings in old money on one grey skirt. After accounting for inflation this would be about £60 to-day.

At that time it represented my total spending money for approximately four weeks. Dad shouted the house down. I could not understand this. I replied that it was my own money, which I had earned and I did not see why I should not spend it. My mother remonstrated mildly saying that thirty shillings was enough to pay for a skirt.

"A single girl should be able to buy a skirt with two week's pocket money", she said.

Post Office Telephones Accounts starting January 1946

After three months in the Sales Department, I was transferred to the Accounts Department.

It was January 1946. One advantage of the new location was that it was nearer to the bus park and to the Cottage Cafe in the Arcade. Uncle Bob, Mum's younger brother worked in a Colchester Printing Works and also ate there. I saw him sometimes but he seldom spoke, always being deep in his newspaper when not eating. When I wanted a change, I had some fish and chips in one of the small cafes surrounding the bus park. The fish portions were small, always the same kind of indeterminate, bony fish covered in greasy batter. If I had any time to spare after lunch, I dived into the library. As a worker in Colchester, I was entitled to two general tickets plus one non-fiction ticket. I was beginning to prefer non-fiction to novels.

On my first day in Accounts, I realised what "weighing the work" meant. About twenty teen-age girls sat in rows, the oldest being about twenty. We sorted telephone tickets for operator-connected calls made from southern East Anglian Exchanges. This meant Colchester, Ipswich and most villages in Essex and Suffolk. These tickets were hand-written giving length of call, distance and price. Only very local calls were automatic and registered by a metering system. We were required to sort one pound of tickets in one hour. We weighed our batch of tickets when completed and filled the weight and time taken for sorting on to a daily timesheet. Sometimes girls were queuing to weigh their work on the one set of scales. "Ridiculous!" a modern worker would exclaim.

This work was less interesting than filing in the Sales Department. The girls were not encouraged to talk. I did not find any of my peers from Colchester Grammar School on the staff. Instead the girls came from "lower streams" though some had been to the grammar school.

In charge was Miss Frost, a woman of about 50. At first I failed the grades, which meant failing to sort one pound of tickets into numerical order within an hour. This was before I learnt the tricks of the trade, when filling out a time sheet, for a week including seven hours each day and four hours on Saturday. We were allowed 1/4 hour each day for "queries" and 1/4 hour for "sundries". This would no doubt be called "creative accounting" in today's world, for the time was allocated even if I had no genuine queries, but simply could not sort enough tickets in time.

After a month I was given meter books and an adding machine in another room for part of my time. As I was quick with figures and could work out percentages quickly and accurately, I could complete a Meter Book in two and a half hours instead of the three hours allowed. This was another opportunity to "gain time" during the week and atone for my clumsy fingers and slowness on the ticket-sorting job.

Miss Frost was firm but kind. She liked me and congratulated me on my work with meter books. Soon I had more variety in my work.

When another person, an older married woman, was away sick, I was allowed to "fill in" for her. She had a table to herself. Sitting there made me feel important. Her job was called merging. This meant merging seven separate batches of tickets for each exchange. Some exchange names remain in my memory, such as Nacton, Diss and Saxmundham, places I have never visited. In the smaller villages most calls were made from the General Practitioner's house, doctors being resident even in quite small villages.

Once a quarter bills were sent out. Preparing these, folding them and stuffing envelopes was done in a separate room. I was considered for transfer to this section, in particular operating the addressograph. I liked machinery and was glad to spend time with Gloria, a young woman in her twenties, who was in charge of this instrument which had a room to itself. Each metal plate had to be correctly aligned and a button pressed, following which the machine would make a loud clatter and one printed envelope or form would be ejected. The machine then had to be opened and the next plate inserted. It was mechanical but hardly automatic.

Unfortunately, I was clumsy with my fingers and had difficulty aligning the plates accurately. This may have been the reason for being taken off this job. I was disappointed as I thought with a little more practice, I would be satisfactory. I wanted to be in charge of something and have a room to myself. I was 18 years old then and thought I should be doing something better than ticket sorting and told my mother about my disappointment.

"Perhaps they don't think you are old enough for the responsibility," she said.

I thought I was quite old enough and that the job did not carry much responsibility. These machines have long since disappeared on to the scrap-heap of history and even senior managers often don't have their own rooms in modern open-plan offices. In Colchester, which was still old- fashioned in 1994, the buildings of the Telephone Accounts Department possessed a warren of small rooms, as well as one large room where the most routine work like ticket-sorting was done. I have always felt more comfortable in such solid Victorian buildings than in modern offices.

My evenings were free and in Spring 1946, I looked for some evening classes, especially as a late 9.30 pm bus arriving home at ten in the evening had just been put into service. I felt that I could go without my evening meal until late quite easily, if I had a good hot meal at lunch- time in the Cottage Cafe.

I found some evening classes in chemistry which took place twice a week. They were introducing us to practical work in analysis. There were no books and we had to copy out all instructions from the blackboard on to plain paper. I was not sure what I was doing and did not learn the principles behind the chemical groups until years later.

In the meantime, I was delighted to pour one liquid into another, get a white precipitate and say "Sulphate is present".

I had not been attending these classes for more than three weeks before my father raised objections.

He said, "You are making yourself too tired. You can't do a day's work and then attend classes at night."

I protested that these evening classes were the most interesting part of my life. They were what I looked forward to all week, and did not make me tired in any way. Nevertheless, I had to give them up rather than be shouted at by Dad. My mother thought I ought to be able to continue with the classes.

"If it makes her come in so bright and cheerful, why shouldn't she continue with them?" she said.

But she lost the argument and I had to give in to pressure.

The classes were mixed and I met boys there, unlike the segregated Telephone Accounts Department, staffed entirely by women, except for a few managers, tucked away in separate rooms, who rarely visited us. But I was not interested in meeting boys. I wanted to learn chemistry and have a career in it. In those days it was accepted that women were not able to have a career (as opposed to casual work) and get married as well. I accepted the received wisdom and decided that I did not want to get married. In any case, I did not have much opportunity to meet boys, especially as I had to give up my evening classes in chemistry. I did not want to go dancing, being too awkward for this kind of activity.

As my classes were frowned upon, I decided to study advanced mathematics instead, and ordered a correspondence course to study at home. This was expensive. When the books arrived, I realised that I did not have the stamina to study alone at this stage. Mathematics never attracted me as much as the practical sciences. The books were oriented towards engineering students, which was another reason that I found them dull. I wished to work in a chemical laboratory or possibly in physics.

In the meantime I continued to go to the cinema in Colchester on Saturdays afternoons, always alone. One day, I asked Mum if she would meet me in Colchester for the afternoon, and promised to treat her to lunch and a film. Dad would wait until evening for a hot meal, and probably visit the pub at lunch-time.

Mum met me after work on Saturday in the Arcade and lunch in the Cottage Cafe was successful. But as soon as she stepped outside, an asthma attack started and she worried about how to walk back down the Arcade. She stood in a shop door-way and puffed on the inhaler for ten minutes, which worried me.

She said, "I should never have come out. I will not try this again," and this upset me more than ever.

Eventually, she recovered enough to walk to the bus-park and we went home without going to the pictures. I was very disappointed as I wanted so much to take Mum out somewhere, because she stayed in all the time, had no money to spend on herself, and her life seemed incredibly dull. The only pleasure she got came from reading library books, obtained from the van which visited Lawford once per month and deposited a limited selection of books at Ogilvie Hall, which was about a quarter of an hour's walk away from us, on the road to Colchester. The Colchester bus passed by it.

My mother was becoming weaker. I did the weekly shopping whenever I could on Saturday afternoons. If I was at the cinema, Dad did this. However when the warmer weather came Mum was able to do the shopping herself from Cookson's, a corner shop where we were rationed for groceries. It was a mere five minutes walk from our house. Meat was delivered once a week, and we had the doorstep milk delivery. Milk was still unrationed; likewise green vegetables, but we rarely bought these, growing most of our greenstuff and potatoes in the long back garden. It was a busy life for all of us.

The boiler was lighted once a week for our baths. This was very temperamental. Only my father knew how to get it going and sometimes he had to be coaxed into lighting it, as he did not always feel like doing all these odd jobs.

I bought the bean seeds with my own money as he told us he was not going to buy any seed this year, so that meant he had to grow them for me. I was very fond of scarlet runner beans and always said that if my plate could be full of these beans and nothing else I would not mind. Mum would not actually let me try this!

A month or two passed and our supervisors suggested that anyone interested should take the Civil Service Examinations. I had not heard of these, but thought that if I could not study chemistry at this time, I should give them a trial. There were two examinations (for Clerical Assistant and Clerical Officer) under the Reconstruction Regulations. They were primarily meant for Servicemen and women who had been demobilised. The age limits (up to age 30) were wider than for normal Civil Service Examinations, for which, at 18, I was already too old.

We were given one afternoon off from work to attend compulsory lectures. My father could not say that I was making myself tired doing this, as it took place during working hours. So in June 1946, I sat for both the Clerical Assistant and Clerical Examinations. These examinations were quite straightforward tests in English and arithmetic. We had to wait six weeks for our results.

The hot summer days made our family happier as my mother's health improved. We even had a day out together fishing from the local river bank near Flatford. Rex the dog had a riotous bath with soap and warm water in a tin tub on the back lawn. I grew some geums and sweet williams for the flower border. The sweet williams were successful; but the geums were uprooted from my seed tray by Rex, the dog before I had the chance to plant them out. That day Rex was in the dog-house!

Our enjoyment and relaxation was short-lived. Dad returned from his week's work at Edme Maltings feeling unwell. He passed the whole of Saturday night in agony, with intense moaning and groaning. Mum decided that this was an emergency. It was early Sunday morning, hardly 7 am. Mum asked me to go to Cookson's the corner shop to phone for an ambulance. I had to go to the back door of their private house and knock until they answered. When I explained the situation, Mr Cookson, our local grocer got out of bed and made the call himself, and I went home to wait.

It may have been half an hour before the ambulance arrived to take Dad to Colchester Hospital. He had an emergency operation that same day, so we were glad that we had summoned help in time.

My mother had been having rows with Dad only a week before. She had been shouted at for having an asthma attack, and about the shortage of money, or for some other reason; always about misfortunes that came to our family, which she could not help. When Dad was like that we both said, "Oh, we wish he was back in the army".

But now Mum thought he was going to die and she said, "Well, we don't want him to die, do we? He is not really a bad chap".

We had the news that the operation had been successful, and that kidney failure had been prevented. We both visited him in hospital. He was now sitting up in bed, giving us the details of his operation.

"There was a cyst on my left kidney, and it had to be drained," he said. "It was a very clever operation. They saved the kidney, so I have still got two kidneys."

We were very pleased to hear this.

The drawback was that Dad was now unemployed again, drawing minimum sick pay temporarily. He had decided that the work at Edme Maltings was becoming too heavy for him, and decided not to go back to it.

For a time he entertained the thought of training as a cinema projectionist, but my mother and I laughed this idea out of court.

"They only want 18-year olds for training", we said. "Why should they consider someone of your age?" He was now 49.

At last he had a piece of luck. He wrote to the Army Ordnance Corps in Colchester asking if they required any civilian workers. He was accepted as Temporary Clerk, Grade 3, attached to the same depot in which he had served as a soldier while in Colchester. It was an ideal job for him. It was even better because he was now attached to The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) which was his favourite regiment. He regarded this as a step up from the Ordnance Corps.

His job was to issue parts from the stores, and soon he knew the specifications of every nut, bolt and screw as well as more complex items.

The same week my father started his work, I had the results of my Civil Service Examinations. I had passed both the Clerical Assistant and Clerical Officer examinations with flying colours. The Clerical Officer was the superior grade, so I was offered a post in this grade. I could not choose which department to which I would be assigned, but was asked to list the towns of my choice. I put Colchester at the top of the list and Ipswich second. Ipswich was a longer journey from our house. It meant three- quarters of an hour each way on the bus, and a good twenty minutes walk to the bus stop, including a steep hill.

Mother had advised me not to put Ipswich on my list but to stick to Colchester only, but I had been afraid that there would not be a vacancy in Colchester for an established Clerical Officer in the Civil Service.

My heart sank a little when I was assigned to the Ministry of National Insurance in Ipswich. I had to be out of the house by 7.30 am each morning, so I was very glad that Dad was waking me up at 6.30 with tea. As he stood and waited for the Colchester bus, I would start walking down Cox's Hill to catch the Ipswich bus near Manningtree Station, outside a Farmer's Co-operative Office. I often wondered what sort of work they did in there. To begin with the walk was pleasant. September air was balmy and I never once missed the 8 am bus. I arrived at the office just before 9 am, so the other staff were pleased. On my first day, I was introduced to our manager, called Mr Freear. He had a separate room and the principal event of my day was being taught to make his tea. He had a silver tray, a tea-pot with a silver cover, two cups, and a separate sugar bowl and milk- jug which was filled freshly each day, from the bottle left on the step of the office.

The four clerks in the office took turns in doing this. The other main job was keeping the coal fire in the outer office well banked-up.

What dismayed me was the lack of work. The post came each morning and was opened by the clerk who had worked there the longest. She was engaged to be married to someone called Geoff and kept talking about him. Then there was a daily squabble about who should do the small amount of work available. This was an absolute contrast from my experience in the Telephone Accounts Department which had always been overflowing with work.

The Clerical Officers were Barbara, Eileen, myself and Mr Frindle. Somehow it was the custom to call junior women by their first names and junior men more formally. But the manager always called me Miss Martin. I never heard him use a first name.

Mr Frindle, recently demobilised from the Forces was about 25. Surprisingly he was an expert typist and could type at about 50 words per minute, an astonishing speed on the manual typewriters of that period. I could type only with two fingers, so I did not get any of that work. Eileen was the official typist. There was only enough work to keep her occupied for half a day, so as she had been there for two years, and Mr Frindle had only just arrived, he did not get much typing to do.

We talked a lot to pass the time.

Mr Freear wanted his old staff to continue to do the routine work, so Mr Frindle and I had very little to do. We were given about thirty different information sheets to study by Mr Freear, who told us he would set an informal examination for the two of us in about three months' time. Soon we knew those forms almost by heart. The office was boring as we were not allowed to open a book or read a newspaper, even when we could find absolutely nothing else to do.

We had to sit and look "busy" in case there were any visitors to the office.

Tea-break at 11 am was an interesting diversion. Sometimes one of the two Executive Officers came in for tea. There were two of these, Miss Tanton a recent University Graduate and Miss Knowles, a woman in her fifties who had just returned from service in the Indian Civil Service. I met quite a few senior staff who had returned from India.

India sounded dangerous. Miss Knowles liked to talk about her experiences there.

"One day," she said, "a rabid dog got into the compound and bit my dog. Then my dog turned round and bit me. As a precaution, I had to go into hospital for a full set of injections. These were very painful, being injections into the stomach.

Then we had to wait six months, to see if we were all right. I was very lucky, as I was all right. There was someone else there who died. She stayed in the hospital six months and thought that she was all right as no symptoms had appeared. Then one day someone brought her a cup of tea and she could not swallow it. That was the first symptom. It was very sad, as we all thought she would be all right."

Luckily Miss Knowles stopped talking about that subject, as it was beginning to upset me. I wondered why the injections did not always prevent the rabies but did not enquire, as we clerks rarely initiated conversations with the Executive Officers, but just listened to what they had to say.

But I did say, " It was lucky that it was your own dog that bit you and not the strange dog."

The cold winter of 1946/1947

Mostly it is the snow which I remember. The winter of 1946/1947 was the severest I had experienced either in London or East Anglia. Snow covered the ground from about November and it did not begin to melt until the following March. [See weather reports: snow came in mid-December 1946 and returned in January 1947, lasting to mid-March]

When November began and the snows came, I started to wear Wellington boots to walk through the snow. Dad thought they were the right things to wear but I did not like them. Inside I wore nothing but thin lisle stockings and these did nothing to protect my feet against the cold. A pair of man's socks would have solved the problem, but I did not think of this, and in any case, they were unobtainable either through convention, or through lack of even small items of extra clothing. My top coat was warm enough, and I could walk quickly but my feet started to give me pain, which did not ease up until I was seated on the bus. In the evenings, fortunately, I did not have to repeat the walk back up the hill, because a bus travelling uphill in the direction of Colchester passed by a few minutes after the Ipswich bus arrived. I was usually home by twenty minutes to seven. It was a long day. I spent eleven hours out of the house. The odd thing was that during that time I had not done much actual work, merely fulfilled bureaucratic requirements.

The new Clerical Officers in the Ministry of National Insurance were assured that there would be fulfilling work for them once the new National Insurance Act became law. The trouble was that we had a year to wait. We had been taken on twelve months in advance in preparation for this new Act.

I became more and more disillusioned with the Civil Service as the year progressed. Mr Frindle also expressed his disappointment. One day he said, "When I went home I chopped some wood and that was the only real work I had done all day. It made me feel better."

Nevertheless, we were getting paid. I don't think I was paid more than three pounds per week. Fifteen shillings went on bus fares and lunches. I gave my mother one pound. Ten shillings were deducted for National Insurance and tax. I had fifteen shillings to spend.

College Gateway Bookshop, Ipswich, was opened by Tom Cook in 1944 in a late 15th century guest house. For many years it was one of three bookshops supplying East Anglia, with Tony Doncaster in Colchester and David Ferrow in Yarmouth. (source - archive)

In the lunch hour I found one of the old Tudor houses converted into a book-shop. It was a most attractive place to spend time, and occasionally I ventured to buy a book. My taste was unformed, and the books I bought were sometimes stupid. I looked at the title and bought a book.

One was called "Your number please". When I got home I found that it was a book on numerology, which is a kind of superstitious play with numbers.

But I bought a few books on real science, which were more worthwhile reading, such as one on recent discoveries, such as penicillin, sulphonamides and other drugs.

Then I found the monthly Penguin publication called "Science News".

There was an issue on atomic energy which I found fascinating.

Other issues on varied subjects like electricity and new drugs gave me basic insights into science and technology.

Usually I had lunch in a commercial cafe, but I no longer had subsidised lunches, being over 18, so my expenses were higher than when I used the Cottage Cafe in Colchester.

Sometimes I tried a cheap lunch in a "British Restaurant". These had been set up in war-time but were still running. The food was very plain and sometimes unappetising.

I went there principally to see my Aunt Kathy. She worked there. The system being that one paid for the complete lunch at a desk and received three or four coloured tokens, for soup, main course, sweet, and tea. Usually I did not bother with the soup. Aunt Kathy was the person who gave out the tokens in the Ipswich British Restaurant, She was far too busy to talk to me, so I went there very seldom. I preferred a more tasty meal. Though everywhere the food was plain, the vegetables in British Restaurants were usually overcooked.

before after

What does she do
when she is not drinking tea?
Find out even more
about Joan's work


Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.