Cosy Corners in Depression and War
I really wanted to do chemistry, but earlier on had been turned down when I applied for such posts. There had been one job in a hospital which appeared particularly glamorous. A set of tubes was suspended from a high meccano-like framework. These contained some continuously flowing coloured liquid. I was told that this was research into extracting protein from leaves. There were also many plants growing in pots indoors. It was envisaged that such protein could be used for feeding some of the hungry people in the world. This appealed to my desire to do "some good work" as well as my interest in science. I was so eager that I said "I will come in to work on Sundays to water the plants". However, the research scientist who interviewed me was not particularly impressed.
"I was 21 years of age and had no experience," he remarked. "However, perhaps you would consider training as a nurse? It is very hard to get enough nurses."
I replied that I would think about applying for nursing. But on leaving the room, I realised that I did not want to do this. I did not like a hospital atmosphere; it was because the research laboratory was in a hospital, but not really part of it, that made me feel attracted to it. When this application and a few others failed, I had become mentally tired, and desisted sending in applications to chemistry laboratories for the time being. Therefore I was very pleased to take the job in the dairy at Shepherd's Bush. I resolved to work there for a year and then try to get into a chemistry laboratory.
London Wholesale Dairies employed an entirely female staff in the microbiology laboratory and an entirely male staff in the adjoining chemical laboratory. Miss Pearman, aged about 50, was head of the female side. The men and women took tea together, made by the female staff. We sat round the table on which some of the women's routine work was done, each morning at about 11 am. The female staff consisted of Miss Pearman, Nancy who was 56 and Mrs Owen, who was 35. Miss Pearman had grey hair, but Nancy's hair was still very dark, bushy and curly. These two did the same work as Miss Pearman, except that Nancy did more of the routine sterilisation of glassware. There was also Betty, in her twenties with bushy fair hair, who was unskilled, and did all the washing up. This was a full-time job. Masses of glassware was used each day. Betty was quick and clean in her work and there were very few breakages. I was to be trained in all the work that Nancy did, except for the phosphatase test. To compensate for the routine aspect of my work, in the afternoon, shortly before going home, I was given the turbidity test to do. No-one else had learnt how to do this, except for Miss Pearman, our supervisor.
I was clumsy and very slow learning to use a pipette. It was three weeks before I was proficient. Drawing milk into this by mouth, but in a sterile manner was difficult. A small piece of cotton wool was inserted into each pipette before they were sterilised in the autoclave. If one drew the liqiud too far up the pipette, this became wet, possibly contaminated by bacteria from our mouths and thus had to be discarded, and the test repeated. Once I had learnt the technique, I did the morning work with the E. Coli test quickly and accurately. Miss Pearman was pleased, but said she thought I would never learn. The laboratory was always busy. We found it hard to complete our complement of samples by the end of the day. Sometimes I was told to be quicker, but I noticed that Mrs Owen was no quicker than me. Mrs Owen was never told off. She used to grumble. Nancy was always cheerful and talked about her husband who was retired. Harry, apparently was a paragon of virtue, and looked after the house, did the shopping and cooking, while Nancy was at work. Harry was unusual for the 1950's, though being nearly 70, he had learned to cope with household work. Even the old-fashioned type of man who declared that he would never push a pram, often changed his tune in later life, when his wife needed help.
Lunch was taken in relays, either at 12 am or 1 pm. in the mixed staff canteen. I always enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere in works canteens.
The dairy was a large pasteurisation and bottling plant and employed mainly Welsh men. There was a small administration building. The laboratories were in a small separate building, adjoining an asphalt yard. Each day I had to take samples from some of the main tanks in the factory, and rushed across the yard at breakneck speed in order to do this. The factory men were always helpful and got the special bottled samples ready in advance for me, so that I was not kept waiting. These I carried back to our lab. together with the tank samples. Many bottled samples were delivered early each day by workmen.
Shortly after starting work at the Dairy, I decided to desist from unsatisfactory and overcrowded GCE "O" level chemistry classes and take the Intermediate Certificate in milk processing.
I spent the winter evenings of 1950/51 at evening classes, studying for this exam. Here I practised the phosphatase test on milk, which I was not allowed to undertake at work. It was always performed by Mrs Owen, who regarded herself as the expert. Though performed in the microbiology lab of the dairy and not in the chemistry lab, it was the one test which used chemical methods, which was the sort of work to which I aspired.
At the twice-weekly evening class, I met some interesting people. A young woman was in charge of a small dairy lab, and I envied her leaving work, at 2 pm each day, but she pointed out that she started work at 6 am in the morning. Another girl was doing scary work with diphtheria bacteria. She described how they wore white gowns and gloves; but I was unconvinced that her work was not dangerous. I do not know whether at that time whether the vaccine against diphtheria had been developed, or whether she had been inoculated against it. I think she was working at the Lister Institute, and seemed more skilled than most of us, who did routine dairy work.
I had no particular skill in bacteriology and found preparing slides of killed or attenuated anthrax germs hairy; and worked at it only because I thought it might gain me a better opportunity to get into a chemistry lab if I had some sort of qualification in a science subject.
Margaret and I had booked to go on pilgrimage to Rome in May 1950. It would not be too hot, we were advised, at this time. The hotel was situated on the Via Veneto. We got our passports, the first I ever had, and were issued with tessera, in advance, to spend in Rome. Tessera gave about twenty free journeys on buses in Rome. The Italian authorities were giving these to all foreign tourists visiting Rome in 1950. This was a Holy Year for the Catholic Church. We were probably some of the first postwar tourists in Rome.
Meanwhile we had to get black dresses, to wear in St. Peter's Basilica, especially at the general audience with Pope Pius XIIth, but at other times also. Black skirts were available, but a black top was impossible to obtain. So Mrs Butcher kindly made Margaret and myself black jackets to wear over our thin blouses.
Margaret insisted in packing three pairs of shoes in her case, even though her mother protested. I thought this excessive. Margaret's shoes were strap sandals; the straps broke easily, so she was probably afraid of all her footwear getting broken. I had no such fears. As I could not afford to buy any new shoes, I relied on wearing one ordinary pair of walking shoes, which I had worn throughout the winter. However, I did splash out on one new dress. It costs three pounds, expensive for me; but it lasted for ten years and always looked fabulous.
The great day came. We boarded the old-fashioned aeroplane. In those days there was no search of luggage at airports; at least not for passengers on outward journeys. So there was little delay. We flew through dense cloud and saw nothing. These were comparatively low-flying aircraft. The idea was to give the holiday a taste of air travel. We landed in Paris, and spent one night there in dingy hotel. There was constant noise in my single room, because it overlooked a main street, in which traffic was ceaseless throughout the night. The next day we were given a morning coach tour of Paris, with just time to see the Eiffel Tower, and spent perhaps 1 hour in the Louvre Art Gallery, where I saw the "Mona Lisa". We sped from there to the Notre Dame Cathedral, with perhaps half an hour to see it. I remember a quick walk on the right bank of the Seine with Margaret. There was no time to visit the famed "Left Bank" with its students and artists. There followewd a long train journey through France and Italy. We started in the morning in daylight, and were to travel all through the next night and part of the next day. At French stations, I usually noticed a sign saying "Eau non potable" over a tap. There were strange cries. I could not understand spoken French, in spite of having studied it at school for four years. For me French had been all paperwork.
The scenery became more interesting as we entered the mountainous area joining France and Italy. On the journey we stayed one night in Turin. Margaret and I shared a double room in Turin, where the hotel was superior. It was a luxury apartment. Just outside in the street grew an orange tree which we could see from the window. This seemed like paradise, to Margaret and I.
Rome gave us more austere accommodation. But we did not mind. We were going to spend our days outside, not indoors. The first night was tiring. We had been given a late dinner on arriving at nine pm. This was meat with garlic, and well cooked vegetables. After this we would have liked to have gone to our rooms. But there seemed to be a shortage of rooms. The priest in charge of our small group had to talk for over an hour to the proprietor before a room was found for Margaret and myself. This was very tiring. There were about five hundred people on this large pilgrimage. However we were dispersed throughout Rome into groups of about thirty and came together in coaches only for the main audience with the Pope. At other times we toured Rome at our own convenience. Margaret and I decided first of all to complete the visits to the four main basilicas. These trips were accompanied by our priest. However we were free to go out on our own if we wished. We kept with our small group to see the main sights. One pleasant afternoon was spent just outside Rome at the English college. This was where young Englishmen were in training to be priests, and perhaps studying theology in further depth than available on courses in England.
The young seminarians were delighted to talk to English and Irish visitors, and we passed time in their tearooms and bookshop.
The great day came when we saw the Pope. It was something of an anticlimax. A distant figure, a diminutive looking man was raised up on the "Sedia Gestatoria" so that everyone in the vast church could see him. Then he proceeded to give a blessing in seven or eight languages. God bless the pilgrims from Liverpool, in a heavy Italian accent was about all we heard, after a long period of waiting in the hot interior. Margaret and I had a place at the back where we could not see very clearly.
We were to see the Pope again soon as we had tickets for a Canonization. We attended the Canonization of St. Antonio Maria Claret, who founded the Claretian Fathers. We knew no more about him than this. It was a long elaborate service in Latin of which we understood little, as translations were not available. We did have a better view of the Pope this time. However, we got tired and were quite thankful to come out to rest in a shady spot under the colonnade surrounding the piazza, and eat a delicious Italian ice cream, before eating our mid-day sandwiches. Margaret and I did not take the priest's advice to rest for two hours like the Italians did from two until four. The older people did this, going back to the hotel. But Margaret and I visited as many large churches as we could. It was while I was in one of these that I had a feeling that I would like to stay there for ever. It was very beautiful church which made me feel near to God. The impracticality of staying anywhere for ever was for a few moments forgotten.
During this week Margaret and I rose each morning at 6.30 pm to attend Mass said by the priest accompanying our group, at a side altar in one of the numerous large churches, at 7 am each morning. Then back to the hotel for breakfast, before we started the day's activities. Margaret and I burned the candle at both ends. We went back for a third time to visit St. Peter's and saw the Pope for the third time. I was a little bored at hanging about waiting for the Pope again, but Margaret was anxious to see him again, and this time we got a better view, going in with an unknown group which was quite small. We were not entitled to do this, but Margaret did not care; and it did no harm.
We also ascended the hundreds of steps to the platform just above the dome of St. Peter's. We were surrounded by jostling, gesticulating people, chatting volubly in Italian. The ascent exhausted us. On the platform high above Rome, I became nervous and dared not look down. There was a large parapet to protect people, but I did not walk to the edge, but contented myself by looking towards the middle distance, and obtaining a breathtaking view of the city.
There was a lower vantage point, on a flat roof covering part of the basilica. I did not mind walking about on this. There were not so many crowds here, and no-one pushing me from behind, whereas higher up, I thought the platform was overcrowded. Margaret was not so nervous as me, and really enjoyed the ascent to the dome; we did say that we thought Italians were excitable people.
There was a post office, repository and shop on the flat roof. We sent postcards, bearing the Vatican stamp to all our friends and relations. As a souvenir I bought a paperweight consisting of a model of St. Peter's Basilica, contained in a glass sphere. When the sphere was inverted and twirled, a cloud of fine white confetti was disturbed, giving the appearance of a snowfall over St. Peter's. This was my present for Aunt May. I tried to bring back a memento for everyone at home. For myself I bought a rosary made from brown beans with a crucifix which could be opened, revealing some earth or similar relic from holy ground.
On the last day there was an optional day trip to Assisi. Margaret and I stayed in Rome. We felt we could not spare the money for this trip, as we wished to spend our scanty allowance on presents for people at home.
On this day we decided to visit the outer wall of Rome. Though there were suburbs outside, Rome was a walled city, most of the ancient Roman wall still being in existence.
We got lost eventually, and tried to ask a policeman where we were. But neither of us could speak Italian. So we decided to return by following the wall, hoping to recognise the place from which we started. This proved successful; then we caught a bus to the middle of Rome, that is St. Peter's Basilica. We were never tired of walking round this wonderful church. "Bellini's colonnade is outstretched to encompass the world", a guide book stated and that is how it seemed to me.
Throughout 1950, I remained with the Butchers and was still there at the beginning of 1951. Aunt Violet had unfortunately been ill with depression, and on Sunday afternoons I began travelling to a hospital in the suburbs of Banstead, to keep my cousin Leonard company, when he visited her. The hospital was a miserable place to visit Nevertheless the train ride out to Banstead was companionable and passed through pleasant country side. I remember the square piece of heathland we walked through on our way there, fascinating with wild shrubs such as gorse and broom, attracting butterflies. A playground for children!
Christmas 1950 was a cheerful time. Mrs Butcher made us tomato soup at 1 am in the morning after we had come home from midnight mass.
In May 1951 I sat for the official exam for the City and Guilds Intermediate Certificate in Milk Processing and received a Grade 2 pass. I was excellent in theory, but my handling of microscopic slides let me down. But obtaining this pass gave me confidence. I persuaded Chelsea Polytechnic to allow me to attend "A" level classes in chemistry, physics and maths. It was hard to gain admission to the "A" level classes, because I had not got sufficient "O" levels in science subjects, but I was standing in the queue behind a young woman who was known to the lecturer who let her in without "O" levels, so I pressed for the same treatment and was accepted.
I decided to take the "Intermediate B.Sc." exam - this was the same standard as "A" level but a bad decision for me, because unless all three subjects were passed on one occasion, then however high marks were in one or two subjects, no credits were awarded. On the contrary "A" level subjects could be passed with high grades, credits or distinctions one at a time. As I had to do a full day's work before studying at evening classes, it was very difficult to pass three subjects at once. The Inter B.Sc exam was designed for those studying full-time.
I was studying after work 3 nights per week. Most of the class had registered for "A" level. I was probably the only one entered for "Inter B.Sc.", and I only did this because I preferred the name of the exam. For all of us, it was a gruelling schedule. As much time had to be spent at home doing exercises and writing up lab. reports as we spent in class. Nine hours work in class and nine hours work at home was a tall order on top of a long working day. I used to work one night at home and all day Sunday after going to Mass. On Saturdays I had to visit Aunt Violet.
Came the Autumn of 1951 and I was restive with the work of the dairy. With the City and Guilds certificate in my hands, I began looking for other work. Neither Margaret or I had holidays in 1951, and I could see that Mrs Butcher was tired of having me as a lodger. She wanted to introduce TV in the living-room and was tired of me occupying the table with my books on some evenings. The downstairs living-room was the only one heated in the winter, so I could not go to the bedroom. Neither was there a table in the bedroom.
One day there was a misunderstanding between Margaret and myself which brought matters to a head. Mrs Butcher had no bathroom and the only way to have a good wash was to lock oneself in the kitchen. Margaret went to do this one Sunday afternoon leaving me in the sitting-room. She had been listening to an afternoon play on the radio. I was sitting at the table trying to do some homework in chemistry. As Margaret had left the room, I turned the radio off, and used the plug to do my ironing. I did not realise that Margaret was very annoyed until she came out of the kitchen, having had her good wash down. Then she shouted at me, saying that she had been listening to the play. Mrs Butcher intervened on her daughter's side. Later on she said that she would do my washing and ironing in future. I preferred to do my own, but she insisted, saying that it would save me from getting in the way in the kitchen or living-room. The trouble with that house was that there was no bathroom, and the kitchen was the only place to do washing clothes, cooking and washing ourselves. No wonder I sometimes had disagreements with the Butcher family.
I guess that it was an overcrowded house. There was no place for sitting, except all together in the back sitting-room. The front sitting- room was Granny's bed sitting-room. Granny was Mrs Butcher's mother. Mrs Butcher told me privately one day that she had been an adopted child. She said that she would always look after Granny, as she was so grateful for being adopted. Mrs Butcher's past life had been hard. One day she told me about the fever isolation hospitals of her youth. She had been sent there with scarlet fever. The scarlet fever patients were kept in one block of buildings, separated by large grounds from the block containing diphtheria patients. Mrs Butcher was walking in the grounds after having just recovered from scarlet fever. The convalescent patients had been warned not to walk too close to the diphtheria block, in case they caught this illness. Mrs Butcher disobeyed this rule and unfortunately caught diphtheria. There followed isolation in the diphtheria block for another six weeks. Mrs Butcher considered she was exceedingly lucky to recover from both these serious illnesses. Now in middle age she appeared to have very good health and a strong constitution. This was fortunate, for she had to look after her family in a very inconvenient house.
Sometimes when Mrs Butcher and her husband and Margaret were all out, I used to sit and talk to Granny, who came out of her own room to sit by the fire in the back sitting-room. Mrs Butcher appreciated this. Even when she had fallen out with me over other matters and asked me to leave and find somewhere else to live, she said, "You were always very kind to Granny".
Around September 1951, I had the good fortune to find work with Permutit Ltd, the most well-known company dealing in water treatment, both domestic and industrial, by means of ion-exchange resins. My job was the most routine and laborious of the four jobs in the analytical laboratory, but I enjoyed it. Set against the wall in the corner of the room was a set of large-bore glass tubes filled with various resins. Some of these simply softened the water; others removed all ions from it, leaving a purified water similar to distilled water. For some purposes it was superior to distilled water. When fresh, it did not contain dissolved carbon dioxide, for example. However, dissolved traces of organic impurities may not all be removed. However, most water supplies did not contain such impurities, so this was not a major disadvantage.
Shortly after taking this job, I moved away from Mrs Butcher and took a furnished room in Chiswick. The room was dingy, had one gas-ring contained in a cupboard and no running water. However it was handy for travelling to Permutit's which was no more than half an hour's bus ride away. I thought the work at Permutit's interesting, and liked the other staff in the laboratory. These were Christine, who analyzed industrial waters, Kitty who analyzed domestic waters, and John Ungar, who apparently did odd jobs, such as maintaining the supplies of standard chemical solutions. He taught me the work on the ion exchange resins, and how to do simple titrations, and to analyze the effluents from the columns of resin periodically, throughout the day. He was Hungarian and wore dark glasses. This dark, romantic look appealed to me.
My job required considerable manual dexterity, as I had to fill the tubes with measured quantities of resin, regenerate them with sodium chloride (for the water softening resins) or hydrochloric acid for the cationic resins or sodium hydroxide for the anionic resins. There was a mixed bed, containing in one tube all the ion-exchange materials necessary to produce de-ionised water. It was partly regenerated with one reagent, partly with another, then mixed and water treated by the usual method of allowing the water to percolate through it.
Christmas came, and this year I spent it with Aunt Violet and Leonard at Perham Road. Aunt Violet had come home from hospital for Christmas and was managing fairly well.
I was still seeing Margaret Butcher, and went out as usual collecting money for charity at Christmas, in support of the church choir, of which Margaret was a member. The choir went from street to street singing carols, while two of us knocked on adjacent doors. These two people were Aunt Violet and myself.
I had left the Children of Mary, because I found the meetings boring. Usually two members spent the time discussing their marriage plans, and the rest of us listened. Miss Francis, the group leader encouraged this, and I found her too dominating. I remained a member of the Young Christian Workers, which I found far more interesting. We were all about the same age, and discussed the work of our group on an equal footing.
We continued to visit the Catholic Blind People's Home, accompanying some of the residents on walks. Usually I took Mr Ely, the deaf-blind rug- maker, with whom I could communicate fairly well, by "felt" sign language. He talked somewhat indistinctly, but I was able to understand him.
Another thing the "Young Christian Workers" did was to go from door to door attempting to sell a newspaper called the "Catholic Worker". This was an English newspaper started in the 1930's attempting to fulfil the same role in England that the famous American paper also called "The Catholic Worker" which was started by the Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the "Catholic Worker" movement.
I had joined the "Young Christian Workers in 1950. I was then 22. Most of the members were about 18. I was probably the oldest, the latest age for joining being 25. We were expected to resign on reaching 30. Our little group contained about six members. Sheila was the leader; there was Rose, who shortly got married. There was Margaret Butcher and myself, and another young Irish girl called Margaret. There was another young woman, who got a job in a jeweller's shop. There might have been one or two others who I have forgotten. The Brook Green branch of the society broke up about the end of 1951. I do not know whether it was ever reformed. The English version of the Catholic Worker folded up about this time. We were finding that people bought a copy the first time we offered it, but did not come back for a second copy.
Margaret, the young Irish girl returned to Ireland. Shortly afterwards, I was saddened to get a letter from her family to say that she had died of tuberculosis. I had thought that TB was extinct in Britain.
I remember going to a Head Office meeting or rally of the "Young Christian Workers" at Somers Town shortly after it folded up in Brook Green. This function was interesting but was my last contact with the YCW. Sheila, our group leader married a lawyer and moved away.
I was attending evening classes three nights a week by then, so no longer had much free time.
1952What I remember about 1952 is working at Permutit's. Every day I caught the bus from my room in Chiswick. Three nights a week I went to evening classes. On the other two nights I went home and prepared my evening meal on a gas-ring hidden in a cupboard. In these modern times such cooking arrangements would be considered inadequate and unsafe! Originally I had shared the room, which was twin bedded, with a factory worker called June. She told me her work consisted only of pressing buttons, and yet she earned at least as much as me, who was on £5 per week. June spent most of her evenings out. One day the landlady said she had given her notice, and I could now have the room on my own. When I asked why, the landlady said she had caught June "canoodling" with her boy-friend just near the house. I wondered what this meant. However, I said nothing as certainly, having the room to myself was more convenient for me. June had not been much company for me, though I had not got on too badly with her. We just had nothing much in common, but she had never worried me. Unfortunately this meant paying more rent and I found I was paying £2 5s per week, a large chunk out of £5. I managed to keep myself on £1 per week. This left £1 for canteen meals and fares. A tight squeeze. I did not buy many clothes. One item I did buy was a few ounces of pure nylon, with which to knit a jumper. I was always anxious to try new things. The jumper proved to be thin and unserviceable. It was in the early days of nylon.
I went to Mass on Sundays in the big square brick church in Chiswick. I was always a dutiful Catholic, but at this time was so busy that I had not time for church societies. At a later date I joined the "Legion of Mary" which involved calling on Catholics in their homes.
I was not keen on getting married; never met anyone I liked who was suitable. In church societies, it was difficult to meet the opposite sex. Apparently the only method was to go to dances, and I had no enthusiasm for that, and never went to dances.
Leonard, my cousin started going to dances, as he wanted to meet a suitable young woman. These dances were in Hammersmith, at a Catholic Church Hall. However he told me that he never met his wife at these dances. He first met Teresa while standing about and chatting after Mass at Brook Green Catholic Church.
In the meantime I was getting on well at work, or so I thought. Kitty took a fortnight's holiday, and I was allowed to shut down my tube experiments for this period, and do Kitty's work, which was interesting for me, and meant learning more about water analysis. Kitty did the analysis of domestic waters. These were bottles of water sent in by customers, who wanted to order water softeners, or de-ionisers, tailored to suit their particular water supply. Kitty showed me the how to do the ten tests done on most sample bottles of water. Such tests as acidity and chloride by titration, water hardness by titration with the very new reagent called EDTA, pH and conductivity by meters, turbidity and water colour and possibly sulphate and iron salts. These were entered on standard forms, one for each customer, as soon as completed. Usually there were between 10 and 12 bottles of water requiring testing each day. Sometimes it was hard to complete the day's work, and sometimes there was a slack day. Kitty also had the job of cleaning out the fish tank each week. The fish tank was kept purely for the entertainment of the laboratory workers, and had no commercial function. We were lucky! The staff bought the fish when they could afford them. I was not earning sufficient to be asked to buy fish. Kitty bought two "guppies" - tropical fish. They were well looked after in a temperature-controlled aerated tank.
When Kitty came back from holiday, she announced that she had got tired of lab work in chemistry and was going to look for another job. I was sorry to see Kitty go. She had being doing some evening classes in cooking, and had achieved a high standard in complex cuisine, and imagined that this would be useful. However, two weeks after she left, she came back unhappy, having got work in a works canteen, and was finding the cooking very plain, the work very hard, and her qualifications useless. In the meantime I had hoped for promotion to Kitty's analytical job. I was disappointed when they brought in a new young man to do the work. I was now the only woman in the laboratory apart from Christine, who had worked at Permutit's throughout the war and was in charge.
Now I became more lonely, having no-one to chat to in the tea-breaks. John Ungar was preoccupied with teaching the new man his work. Occasionally a chemist from the pilot plant visited my corner, wishing to use some of my reagents for a silica test, and occasionally I had a few words with him. I told people that I was studying "A" level in chemistry, but they seemed uninterested.
The summer came and I had a break from evening classes. Though I had left the Butcher's nearly a year ago, I had promised Margaret that I would go to Lourdes with her and had booked a holiday. It was in mid-August. We went by ferry across the Channel, and did the long journey across France by train, travelling partly at night. It took us 24 hours to reach Lourdes. We were given rooms in the Astorias Hotel. I found I was sharing with an Irish lady called Kathleen. Margaret was put with someone else. However I met her each day for the day's activities. Each day was the same. In the morning we went to the demesne for the Mass of the Sick. This took place in the open air. Back to the Hotel for lunch with the afternoon free. We usually spent time looking round the numerous souvenir shops. One day we went into the Pyrenees on a short coach trip, with a few members of our party, including a priest. With us were two young women who were sisters, a teacher and a civil servant, who both liked music. The priest was also very keen on music. He knew little about photography, as he lined everyone for a photo with their backs to the sun! This meant sunlight pouring into his lens. When I protested no-one took any notice.
"They won't come out," I said.
A few days later the folks said "You were right, Joan".
I took a few photos of my own, including one of the group with my new 35 mm camera. I was using transparencies. They needed a viewer to inspect, but the negatives did not need to be printed, which at that time was too expensive for me. The mountain scenery was lovely. We saw a few people taking donkey rides, but there was no time for us to hire a donkey, even if we had been confident enough to do so. Unfortunately, I dropped my light meter, which was separate from the camera somewhere in these foothills of the Pyrenees.
After the evening meal at the hotel, which was excellent, we went to the demesne for the torchlight procession. This was the most dramatic part of the day with everyone carrying candles in cardboard shades to keep them from blowing out. We sang the Lourdes hymn in French. The words were printed on the outside of our candle-holders. Thousands of people of many nationalities walked in procession round the huge concrete area of the demesne. We looked back at the beautiful trail of lights formed by the multitude of candles being carried. Each of us passed through Our Lady's Grotto, which was the actual spot where The Virgin Mary had appeared to Bernadette. It was an exuberant end to the day. We went home tired.
On another afternoon, we visited the baths. These were baths taken by the sick primarily, but well people were allowed in after all the sick people had bathed. After queuing up for two hours, Margaret and I got our chance.
The routine was that we took off our clothes and donned a white robe; then dipped in the bath quickly in the cold water, and kissed the crucifix at the end of the bath. We were told that we were not allowed to dry ourselves, but must put our clothes on directly. I did this and did not feel wet. Afterwards we filled our water-bottles at the Spring which was directed into a pipe connected to a row of taps. This holy Lourdes water we took home to our friends and relations. We only had five full days at Lourdes. It was an interesting and memorable experience. I felt that I would like to visit Lourdes again at a later date.
When I got back to work at Permutit's it was suggested that I was not quite normal and should see "a doctor". I agreed to this because I wanted to keep my job at Permutit's, but looking back, it did seem like a disastrous move for me. I had no reason why they told me this. It might have been that I was over-conscientious, or untidy, or did not easily mix, or talked about religion occasionally.
Kitty visited the lab again and this time seemed much happier. She was now doing laboratory work again, but this time in biology. She was doing some work with animals, but I don't know what this involved.
By November 1952 I was seeing a doctor, and it was arranged that I should go into the local general hospital for a course of electric shock treatment. I am not sure why I landed up like this. The upshot was that I lost my job at Permutit's.
I do not know why I stayed in Hammersmith Hospital for 3 months. At first I had electric shock treatment. However I was given only about four shocks. Then they told me this treatment was unnecessary. I do not want to describe this, but only to mention some of the friends I made on the ward. It was a general hospital ward. People there had various types of illness. It was not a specialist ward. There were only two beds for psychiatric patients, in the middle of the ward with no curtains. This was because such people were physically fit usually, having no need of nursing attention, such as needed privacy.
In the mornings I was the first patient to rise at about 6 am. I went out to the kitchen and made about 30 cups of tea, enough for all the patients. Then I tried to hurry round with these before they got cold. I volunteered for this job, being glad to have something to occupy my time. In one corner were two patients in their 50's with rheumatoid arthritis. They were friends and devout Christians. I did not enquire what denomination, or tell them that I was Catholic; just said that I was a Christian too. They became my friends. One could get out of bed and walk; the other could hardly move. They did not seem to be improving, but remained remarkably cheerful. The other psychiatric patient was an Italian girl who had been a live-in maid. She was called Pia, and was very reserved because she could not speak much English. The arthritic women tried to be friends with her as well as with myself.
There were two young women who spent all their time in bed. They did not get up at all, but liked me to sit by their beds and chat for half an hour or so, during the day. I could not believe that the younger girl was only 13 years of age; she seemed so mature. The other one was 18 years old. They were "heart patients" and were forbidden to take any exercise. This was in the 1950's. Today's kind of treatment would be much better than this. They did not seem to be ill; could chat and remained cheerful. It seemed sad to me that young people like this should be confined to bed. The 18 year old had masses of correspondence. She told me that she was secretary of a "fan club", devoted to some popular entertainer of the day. She seemed important to me, as I never knew how one got to run such a club. These were the people I remember best, and even so, I don't remember their names.
There was one other called Kay. She was a favourite with all the patients on the ward, who admired her bravery. Not only was she blind, but she had multiple problems, unknown to us. Every day, she got out of bed and made a round of the award. She loved to listen to plays on the hospital radio; the nurse used to tune this in for her and fix her head-phones most afternoons. One day the curtains were drawn round all the beds. I was in the middle of the room, but in my dressing-gown, as I spent most of the day out of bed.
My friend, one of the rheumatoid arthritic patients called me, "Joan, come and sit by me us."
I asked her what was happening.
"Kay has died," she told me.
She had called me to sit behind the curtains, so that I was not distressed by the removal of Kay from the ward. This was the only death on the ward during my time there. Some of the patients were there for short stays only. There was a sixteen-year old who wanted to continue studying for her "O" levels in bed. She was forbidden to do this and told to rest. Somehow, I think these attitudes were rather old-fashioned. Most patients seemed to get better and eventually leave. The exception was someone who told me she had been there 35 years. I took her tea in a pouring cup each morning, as she could not sit up. I said that I was very sorry to hear that she had been there 35 years.
I asked, "How can you stand it?"
I was young and was crying inwardly when I heard about this.
She said quite calmly "I am used to it".
Eventually it was my turn to leave. I did not understand why I had been there so long, or what the blue pill which I took each day was for. I could not understand it in any way. I wanted to get back to work.
One day I packed my things. It was the early Spring of 1953. I had nowhere to live. and I had no job. I do not know where I stayed when I first left the hospital, but soon I got a room in a guest-house in Chiswick. I asked Permutit Ltd. to take me back first of all, but they refused to do so. I visited them to see the old staff. Only John Ungar was there who I knew. Chris was in hospital having an operation. I noticed that the Permutit analytical laboratory now consisted of an all-male staff and I believe this was what they wanted.
The research laboratory which was situated on the top floor at Permutit's had always been all male. I had been told that women were not allowed to work there. We were never allowed to talk to the men who worked there while I worked at Permutit's. I was told that the work was "secret".
I wrote letters to all the water treatment firms in London. There were only about six besides Permutit. They were all situated in West London. All but one of the water treatment firms turned me down. Eventually a very small company called Superstat took me as a lab assistant. The pay was only £6 per week. £3 15s went for my board and lodging so there was not much left, possibly £1 after I had paid insurance and tax. I thought that when September came I would start evening classes again at Chelsea Polytechnic, There was another year to do before I could sit for the "Intermediate B.Sc." exam.
Another blow struck me before I had been two weeks settled down. The proprietor of the guest house told me to leave, saying that she needed my room for her grandmother. It was a lovely room on the top floor, and I was very disappointed at having to leave it. I was suspicious, and wondered if I had accidentally done something of which the proprietor disapproved. I was always afraid of upsetting landladies. However, sometimes I found rooms where the landlady was reasonable, and left me to lead my own life. Most of the time I liked to be quiet and study for exams. Sometimes a relative or friend would visit, but we were never noisy. On this occasion I found a quiet bedsitter. In Acton within walking distance of Superstat Ltd.
1953I spent 1953 trying to do as well as I could at Superstat's. As a very small firm, there were no prospects there unless expansion was going to take place. That is what the two directors hoped for, and that was the idea of experimenting with the new ion exchange resins from the USA. Most of these small firms including Permutit's believed that de-ionised water would eventually replace distilled water as a cheaper substitute. They probably had not taken into account the hidden costs of servicing ion- exchange equipment, which needed continual regeneration using brine or strong acids such as hydrochloric acid and strong alkalis, usually caustic soda. Distillation was a much simpler process. I was no economist and neither were most of the directors of our companies. They caught their enthusiasm from that of the scientific workers they employed.
While working at Superstat's I visited the local Lyon's cafe in Acton for my mid-day meal. I had to reach Chelsea Polytechnic by 6pm on three evenings per week. I asked for quarter of an hour off, so that I left by 5.15 pm. When I got to Chelsea Polytechnic, I had a cup of tea in the canteen but nothing to eat, as I could not afford it. Mr Rieder the Chief Chemist gave me the time off willingly, though the directors complained about it.
Though I was testing ion exchange resins, this firm was making its profits by selling an electronic gadget called a "Superstat." It was claimed that these prevent scale from being formed in tanks. Mr Rieder told me that these gadgets did not work. I did not comment, having no knowledge on this subject. They would not have needed chemists if they were only selling "Superstats." The fact that they were trying to branch out into ion exchange resins meant that there might have been something in what Mr Rieder said, but I did not worry about it.
Mr Rieder was Jewish. He left work before dusk on Fridays. Usually this meant that he did not have to leave work early, except in the winter. When he went early on Fridays, I had to stay in the laboratory on my own until 5.30 pm. This was the time when I usually got a visit from one of the directors, who would look in to ask what I was doing. Usually they seemed satisfied. They had very little understanding of chemistry.
The winter of 1953/54 was very cold. When Mr Rieder came in shortly after I had arrived one morning, he turned on the gas fire straight away, for extra heating in the laboratory. He told me that he had been so cold, that he had got up in the middle of the night and turned his gas-fire on. Mr Rieder was always very friendly.
Most days I spent testing the new ion-exchange resins, especially their capacity. This is the quantify of water which they purify during one regeneration. This involves running water through the tubes at a rather slow rate, catching the water in large containers, with measuring scales marked on them. Usually one run would last over a day, and perhaps 15 litres of water would be produced.
Sometimes Mr Rieder gave me some curious jobs. One day, Mr Rieder told me that he was going out for the day on business. He gave me a row of 12 beakers for titration for chloride. I used a lot of silver nitrate and could not get results with some solutions. I was under the impression that these were samples of natural waters.
To my dismay when he got back, Mr Rieder told me that he had added acid to some beakers. The chloride test does not work in acidic solution. Of course I did not test for acidity, as at work I was used to doing routine work. I did not expect to have special "made-up" solutions to test, designed to catch people out. This was done at evening classes sometimes, but when there we had a different mind-set, and when analyzing unknown solutions, methodically covered every eventuality.
I became very cross with Mr Rieder as a supervisor, especially when he told me that the samples were not "real work" and had nothing to do with the firm's business. Mr Rieder told me that he had left the samples for me to do, so that when the directors looked into the lab. in his absence, they would find me busy. I complained that I did not want to waste my time. During working hours, I said that I expected to be doing something useful for the firm. Mr Rieder was upset when I grumbled like this. He said that he had always been a friend to me. This was quite true. However, I thought he was wrong in just "keeping me busy".
Most of the time relationships at Superstat were easy. There was fun and relaxation in the tea-breaks. I liked to go out and chat to the workmen sometimes. There was a washing-up sink where I had to wash the glass-ware outside in the workshop, where men were packing goods for export, as well as making them. There were only about 6 men employed besides the drivers. I think the firm was top-heavy. There were two working directors and a secretary in the offices upstairs, and a chemist and myself in the laboratory. Thus there were as many people on the staff, as there were on production work. The latter clocked on; we did not.
Sometimes I chatted to Mr Rieder in the tea-break. On the whole he was a very friendly "boss." He was interested in my "A" level studies and wished me well, and often told me his thoughts about what went on in this firm. Sometimes the secretary came downstairs to take dictation from Mr Rieder. He was slow and patient with her. Suddenly, we heard that she had been sacked for slowness, after six months trial.
"That was a silly thing to do", said Mr Rieder. "When she first came, she was slow and not good enough for the job, but now she has improved remarkably and is doing the work well. Besides she has become used to this firm's letters."
I noticed that there was no replacement for the secretary, and presumed that the directors typed their own letters. Mr Rieder could type well, but did not do any typing at work . This skill may have proved to be Superstat's downfall because he wrote letters which denigrated the firm's products. But for the time being this remained a secret.
Mr Rieder asked for another assistant during the summer of 1953. June, aged 18 arrived. She was told to do the washing up for the laboratory, leaving me free to concentrate on chemistry. I was told to teach her the work of the laboratory whenever I had time.
There was a brilliant white well-lit titration bench in the lab. It had to be well-lit as the lab received very little natural light. There was only one window which looked out on to a dismal yard. However the titration bench was as good as the one in the Permutit lab. and I was able to teach June how to do titrations.
One day an American arrived bringing samples of new ion exchange resins. He made a great fuss of June and myself. This made me feel that Americans were exceptionally friendly and treated everyone equally. I was very flattered. The firm bought large quantities of his goods. Mr Rieder detailed me to buy a dozen empty sweet jars from a local shop. I was surprised to obtain them easily at 6d each. I packed the new American resins in these and labelled them. The directors were pleased and thought we would soon have new products to sell. We hoped to compete with Permutit. The firm had indeed packed some columns of ion-exchange resin already on a commercial scale and had found some new customers in England. Export was not attempted as the product was quite expensive and heavy to transport.
I think I spent the rest of 1953 quite happily at Superstat, but in the summer had a personal disappointment. I had missed one term of my study of chemistry , physics and maths during the Autumn of 1952, but decided I had probably done enough work to attempt the Inter B.Sc. exam in thesesubjects. I was getting very good marks in chemistry, and my instructor said that I could not possibly fail. I was also doing very well in physics. However, by the time I sat down to advanced mathematics, I was very tired, as I gave this subject third priority. I did not think that most of the subject matter would help me much in my career. However, it was an examination that had to be passed. There were three separate papers and each had to be passed. I was not doing very well in calculus or co- ordinate geometry. I could not get through the tests quickly enough. However, I decided to try the exam. I took the exam in July 1953. I had to pay £13 as entrance fee. This was a blow. It would have been much cheaper to have taken GCE "A" levels. The charge for these was about £2 each. £13 represented for me two and a half weeks' pay! I had to take this money out of savings which had been in my Post Office Account before I started work eight years ago. This was money I had always tried not to touch.
When I took the exams I thought that I had performed well in chemistry and physics but badly in maths. The results would not be available until the beginning of September in six weeks time.
When the results came through I had been failed. Unfortunately in the Inter B.Sc exam if one failed in one subject, one was not given passes in any subject, however well one may have done. One was not even told what had happened. My lecturers were very sympathetic, and advised me to enrol for GCE "A" level next time. I decided that doing three nights a week at classes was too much for me, so in Autumn 1953 I enrolled at Chelsea Polytechnic for chemistry and physics only. I did not like having to repeat the year and thought I might become stale. In order to enter for the exam, we had to complete all the course work for the year, so just because I had done the course before, it did not mean I could slack. However, usually I enjoyed classes, met nice people there and had some fun. At that time there were a fair number of women in the classes including one nun who was training to be a secondary school teacher. I had friends with which to spend the tea breaks, The women usually stuck together.
Just before Christmas we had a party upstairs in the Directors' luxurious and spacious carpeted office. We had cakes and tea and alcoholic drinks. Afterwards, I was driven home by one of the directors. The weather was very cold and it was getting late. I believe he was drunk. At that time I did not know the dangers of drinking and driving. I was young and innocent. The information available to us all on TV today was not readily available. But I immediately became alarmed because of his speeding. I felt that the car was being driven badly, though I ascribed it to the director's carelessness, not his drinking. On this occasion I arrived home without harm, but decided I would not accept a lift from him again.
I spent Christmas Day with Aunt Violet and Leonard and went to Midnight Mass with them. I still saw Margaret Butcher at the Church sometimes, but the YCW girls had disappeared. Aunt Violet was too tired to go out collecting for the carol singers. She was now unemployed and money was short, as Leonard earned very little in his first job as a commercial artist with a very small firm. Before he had obtained this job, he did a one-off free-lance job. He was offered an aeroplane flight to Northern Ireland. There he painted the famous Giant's Causeway, some spectacular rocks off the Coast of Northern Ireland. He was accommodated in a hotel and when he got back home said that he had never known such luxury. His shoes had been cleaned for him each morning!
1954In January I was busy in the evenings studying chemistry and physics at Chelsea Polytechnic. In those days "A" level chemistry was entirely inorganic. This fitted in with my work, as water analysis is an inorganic process. We did not trouble ourselves overmuch about traces of dissolved organic substances. This was just as well as these are difficult to eliminate either by ion exchange methods or by distillation.
In February I came to work one morning and found that Mr Rieder had disappeared. Mr Robertson, one of the directors came down to say that he had been sacked.
I was astonished. "Why is that?" I asked.
"Because Mr Rieder has nearly ruined this company. He spent the last year secretly writing to all our customers, telling them that our product was no good."
He meant the electronic product called the Superstat, which I knew very little about. I had been aware that Mr Rieder did not have any faith in the Superstat. He had several times discussed this with me. However, I was horrified to learn that he been writing to the firm's customers about it.
"He has slipped away to Greece," I was told.
I thought to myself that if I had been in Mr Rieder's position, I would have resigned after telling the directors that I did not think the firm's product was any good. That is the sort of thing I do. Though as I had so far been in a junior position I had not yet had to do this.
However, some time earlier, I had resigned from one lab job after two weeks, because I believed the working conditions were unhealthy. I believed I was going to work in a proper lab when I was engaged. But was put on production work, coating the inside of tubular lights, mostly in the shapes of letters of the alphabet, designed for advertising signs. I had to shake the tubes after adding a small amount of an unknown liquid, in order to coat the inside surface with this liquid. Then I introduced a small quantity of unknown powder. The bottles containing this powder were marked simply with the names of about twelve colours. All the powders were white. The colours referred to the colour of light they emitted when evacuated, and had an electric current passed through them. I tapped the outsides of the tubes with a small wooden mallet until the inside surfaces were completely coated with powder, before handing them to workmen in the next room, who evacuated and sealed them. Often I would drop one of the glass tubes and break it. The pieces then had to be swept up and given for disposal to the workmen. I worked in a small room on my own with little ventilation, and the place became dusty. I was very uneasy about this type of work, and stayed for three weeks only.
It was after resigning from this unhealthy job, that I was lucky enough to be engaged by Superstat. Though a small lab, working conditions there were much better; I was doing a real laboratory job and I was usually aware of the chemical nature of all the substances I handled, so that I could take necessary precautions. Superstat was also a "ramshackle" firm but at least not deliberately exploitative to workers.
So though I regretted Mr Rieder's departure, I could hardly understand why he did what he did. There was no advantage gained for him personally, so he must have thought he was doing the right thing. It was the underhand way he did it that astonished me.
Soon there was another chief chemist; he was not as nice as Mr Rieder. I recognised him as soon as he entered the room. He had interviewed me at another firm, and failed to take me on.
"Why did I not get the job with your old firm? " I asked.
"It was not the policy to employ women as lab technicians", he told me.
I wondered why he had left the old firm. It was a larger place than Superstat's and well established in ion exchange business. I was given to understand that these firms were failing because Permutit was taking over all the business, probably because it held all the British patents for the ion exchange resins. They were first in the field in Britain. Other firms had to buy American patented materials.
The new chemist grumbled when I talked to June. He said that I had chatted with her while doing the work, and this disturbed his train of thought. I was affronted by this, as I only usually talked to June when I was giving her instructions on what work to do. After two weeks the new chemist dismissed June, saying that we only needed a part-time washer-up to assist me for two hours twice a week.
I thought of my aunt and mentioned that she needed work.
The directors engaged her, and when she came I had to tell her that I was not allowed to talk to her while at work. Perhaps it was a mistake introducing her. She was not well and could hardly catch the bus to work in the very cold March weather. The result was that by mid-March after only two weeks she was told to go.
The chief chemist said "There is not enough work to do, and she hangs about after finishing the washing -up."
By the end of March I was told to go also. Apparently the firm was going bankrupt. I did not stop long enough to discuss this, as with no money coming in, and rent to pay I had to find other work quickly.
I found a job quite quickly, although it was not entirely to my taste. I was engaged by Napier Ltd. at Park Royal to test aircraft engine parts.
At Napier's most of the work was boring, but the staff were nice. I felt happy to stay there until I had passed "A" levels. The pay was £6 per week, as compared with £5 at Superstat. The hours suited me better, being from 8.30 am until 5 pm, whereas at Superstat they had been from 9am to 5.30pm. Leaving at 5 pm meant that I could reach evening classes at Chelsea by 6 pm without asking for time off. There was even time for a cup of tea and a snack in the canteen before class. The extra money enabled me to pay for this. This meant that I could work better at evening classes. I was glad of this as in three months time I was due to sit "A" level exams in chemistry and physics.
The work at Napier's consisted in determining the carbon content of the steel of the engines after they had been fabricated. Various chemical tests were done on the metal by drilling off a small part of the moulding on a small number of the metal parts. Jack, a man of about 50, used to drill the engines each day and label the samples, handing the drillings to me. He was unskilled, and was also employed as a cleaner in the factory and laboratory. The test I had to do took 5 or 6 minutes. I weighed a gram of filings into a ceramic boat and inserted it into an apparatus called a Strohlein. The carbon in the steel was burnt at a high temperature forming carbon dioxide which was absorbed in a solution of alkali. The alkali was contained in a measuring tube attached to a cylindrical ceramic tube passing through the oven in which the carbon was fired. There were protective devices ensuring that there was no absorption of carbon dioxide from the air outside the apparatus. The combustion was done at a very high temperature using a cylinder of oxygen. From the distance which the alkali moved up the measuring tube after absorption of carbon dioxide from the steel, the amount of carbon in the steel could be calculated. There was no need for me to do calculations, as the apparatus was calibrated in terms of carbon content. Each test was supposed to take only four minutes, but usually took at least five minutes. So I was rarely able to complete the number of tests expected. Fortunately there was often a lull in the supply of samples, allowing me to catch up, and to weigh up a series of samples each morning for the day's work. Sometimes there were no samples at all. At such times I was allowed to learn metal analysis, which was a welcome relief from the routine of carbon testing.
Nickel was one of the components of the steel. June, a skilled metal analyst taught me how to dissolve a weighed sample of the steel in acid and analyze for nickel. I had already learnt nickel analysis on previously dissolved pure samples of nickel salts at evening classes, so knew the principles of the test. Nickel forms a bright red complex with an organic precipitant. This made it an attractive test as the complex was easily recognised, easily precipitated, dried and weighed.
But analyzing complex steels is a more difficult task, than using prepared solutions of nickel salts at evening classes. The samples met in real life were harder to deal with than those met with in "A" level classes.
There were four people working in the lab. We were all aged between twenty and thirty. Nick was in charge. I asked him if he was a qualified chemist with a degree. He told me that he had only got "A" levels. Apparently June had a degree, but Shirley was also unqualified, like myself. She was married with children and was not studying, being content to work as a laboratory assistant. These jobs could be obtained by intelligent staff who had left school at 16, after "O" level or school certificate as it had been called until the early 1950's. There were not many opportunities to pursue higher education full-time in the mid-fifties. University expansion did not take place until the 1960's.
In the friendly relaxed atmosphere of this lab, there was time for some chat during tea-breaks. Before Shirley arrived there had been a man there called Derek, who had taken me round the factory, and showed me the huge ovens in which the steel was moulded. When these were open, it was forbidden to look at them, as the light from them might damage one's eyes. The factory workers had protective goggles for use at those times. We had to enter the factory to prepare a solution contained in a tank standing in the corner just outside the laboratory. This had to be of correct acidity. Each morning we tested the solution and added a small measured quantity of acid or alkali if necessary, to attain the correct acidity. I was not told for what this solution was used. Derek left and I continued to perform this early morning task on my own, before undertaking the carbon in steel analysis.
June was rather a peculiar person, though I got on very well with her. She told me she had a flat in South Kensington shared with a woman friend called Ray. June liked to wear men's clothes, not as practical wear for the lab, but as a matter of principle. Thus she would wear men's corduroy trousers, not women's slacks, and a man's shirt. Our clothes were not noticeable as we wore lab coats, but June stated she liked men's clothes, and said she was now looking for men's shoes in her size, to replace the casual shoes she was now wearing. Besides this she indicated she had communist views. I did not mind about this, as I had always supported labour myself. However, June had a private income. She said she made as much money from investment as she earned at work, and was thus able to afford to live in South Kensington.
I was struggling to pay the rent on my room in Chiswick, and to pay for books and fees for evening classes, as well as the extra tube fares involved and thought she was lucky. However, I wondered why she did not have a superior job. She knew her chemistry very well and was qualified. This was possibly something to do with her peculiar communist principles as she said that a bus driver had as much responsibility as a doctor. I disagreed saying that doctors had people's lives in their hands.
She said "But so do bus drivers".
I supposed this was partly true as bus drivers had to drive safely, otherwise people might be killed, but was unconvinced in principle. For myself I wanted to do work of more value than the boring carbon in steel test. What I imagined as valuable was producing new medicines or fertilisers, or something to benefit the poorer people of the world, and would imagine how much nicer it would be to work on this than on aircraft engine parts.
But I was very conscientious in my work, as I thought that if any engines were passed though without being sure they had the correct carbon content in their steel, there might be engine failure while the aircraft were in flight. When a batch of engines was passed through without being tested I complained to the manager. This manager was not Nick, but a factory manager who was superintendent of the lab, over Nick, though not a working chemist.
I had not had time to test all the engines parts but thought that they should be tested and said so. I was told that my test was not the only one, but was merely a confirmation. The engines were always tested in use on the ground before being used. In my own mind I remained unhappy about this.
One day Jack decided to clean the laboratory floor and used trichloroethylene. This made a frightful stink. June warned me about it and took me outside for a break until the solvent had evaporated.
"That is a dangerous practise," she said. " That solvent is not good for the lungs".
"Why is it being used?" I asked.
"Because old Jack is doing it and he does not know any better".
I think June must have said something to Jack, because he did not use trichloroethylene again. We used it in the lab in small quantities, for cleaning grease from glassware. Nowadays it is a banned substance, as it is under suspicion of destroying the ozone layer, and possibly being carcinogenic. At this time I was talking a great deal to June during tea- breaks. She told me about her friend Ray who was studying Swedish, Norwegian and Danish at evening classes.
"How does she manage all that?" I asked. "How many nights does she go to classes?"
"Only one night per week," said June "She is doing a comparative study of the three languages."
"She must be exceptionally clever," I remarked.
"Ray is very clever. If you met her you would be astonished at what she can do," said June.
Though I liked June, I had to admit that she took far too much time off as sick leave. Nick started to complain when he found that she had taken one day off sick for five consecutive weeks. This was during the summer, when none of the rest of us had any time off sick. June was warned but did not take much notice. A few weeks later, after she had taken two days off in one week, she was given her cards. This happened in September. I had got to know June over six months.
I had recently got my "A" level results, and had passed in both chemistry and physics. At the beginning of September I had enrolled for "A" level maths and in my tea breaks, I no longer chatted but when it was sunny sat outside in the yard, and practised my calculus. June had now gone. That year 1954 there was brilliant sunshine in November, and I was able to sit outside in the yard. I enjoyed this, and remarked to Shirley how lucky we were with the weather this year.
With two "A" level successes behind me, I would have liked a better job, but decided that it was not wise to look round during the winter months. I was 26 years old and happy to wait. But I was tired of going home to a very cold room in Acton and moved into a guest-house in Chiswick. Here I met folks during the evenings, including Peter who was studying for a degree in chemistry during the evenings. We discussed notes. As the winter progressed I was pleased I had got into this guest-house. There was a hot evening meal to come home to, and I had only to miss it for one night, when I did my class in mathematics.
By this time Aunt May no longer lived at Merstham, looking after the large house called "Oakley" for Sir Douglas Shields. He died about this time, having had many years in retirement. His son Clive was also a doctor with a large house in Chelsea at 37 Tedworth Square. I became a frequent visitor at this house, where Aunt May was housekeeper. She often gave me an evening meal in the basement kitchen.
As she was then about 55, she was thankful to have a much smaller house to run. There were no visitors staying overnight, and in London it was easy to get extra help, for such events as cocktail parties. I remember helping at one cocktail party. This lasted from 6 pm until 8 pm in the evening and was very formal. I asked Aunt May why it ended at 8 pm.
"Because that is the normal custom", she said.
When about thirty people come to quite a small room, I suppose it is necessary to have a fixed end to the party. I was not used to this. I remembered my grandmother and great-aunt who had lived in the country in Essex entertaining visitors in ones or twos, informally. And at Christmas having as many visitors who could fit into the house, dropping in and out whenever they liked.
The food prepared for the cocktail party was also queer. Each little item was very small. Tiny sausage rolls. Sandwiches cut into four very small pieces, filled with anchovies and cucumber, for example. I ate a few pieces but did not fancy this kind of food and was amazed at the time it took to prepare these delicacies. When the lady of the house descended to the kitchen and gave me five shillings for my work, I was slightly offended. I had volunteered to help Aunt May for one evening when she had been in difficulty at finding help, and did not expect to be paid.
Now I no longer had the opportunity of spending a week-end at Oakley I missed the trip to the country, but busy as I was at evening classes as well as doing a full day's work, I was glad that Aunt May was in London, and that I could have an evening meal with her occasionally, or sometimes, on summer evenings, meet her to see a film, or occasionally, get cheap seats at the theatre.
We went once to the theatre to see a play about Sir Thomas More called "A Man for All Seasons". I called him St. Thomas More, being a Catholic, whereas Aunt May preferred Sir Thomas More, being Church of England, but we both enjoyed the play. It was told neither from a Catholic or a Protestant point of view, and was very popular with everyone.
Aunt May and I discussed the introduction of myxomatosis into England's rabbit population which happened in 1954. Aunt May was appalled at the results. On her week-end visits to the Shield's country cottage, she often saw dead rabbits by the side of the county paths. She believed that they had died in agony. As I no longer visited the country except to see my father in Manningtree, where I did not see any rabbits, I was rather unconcerned. I hated killing animals deliberately for sport, but thought that farmers had to reduce the rabbit population by some means. Years later, I changed my views, as I never wished animals to suffer unnecessarily, and it had turned out that such methods were a mistake, as the rabbit population eventually developed immunity. Still, I do not know the right answer, unless it may be in the form of rabbit contraceptives, which appears to be the favoured method for some problems among biologists today. Whether they can make this work I do not know - just to reduce the numbers without wiping them out. Because rabbits are attractive animals and no-one wants to see them die out completely. Everyone is now more concerned about preserving all species - it seems wrong for humankind carelessly to make any species go extinct by their activities.
Once Aunt May visited the guest house in Chiswick and had an evening meal with us. We were allowed to invite visitors, if we paid for an extra evening meal, as long as this was not done to excess. Aunt May chatted to the other residents. She liked Peter.
When we got outside to walk to the station she remarked "What a pity Peter is married. He might have done for you".
This thought might have crossed my mind, but I never seriously entertained it. I liked to talk to Peter because we were both studying chemistry in the evenings. I also talked a lot to Margaret, the secretary, with whom I shared a room. She earned more than me and made all her own clothes. I had never had time for this and was not very interested in clothes, but did remark that I could not afford a new skirt. I was earning only £6 per week when I first arrived at the guest-house, still working at Napier Ltd. Margaret promptly offered to give me one of her skirts. I declined this offer, but thanked her very much.
Margaret was also attending evening classes twice a week to improve her secretarial skills. She had a job as secretary to a Managing Director of a Company.
Doris, Peter's wife, also worked as a secretary. Doris spoke very little. The other single man was an engineer. He was working for his Higher National Diploma in engineering. Peter, when he was out of the room, remarked that compared with chemistry, engineering examinations were easy to pass. This other man also went in for Judo. He explained that this was a martial art, but said he never hurt anyone; they dressed in white clothes for the gym, and threw each other. He told us that he would rather have taken up swimming, but could not do this because of an operation scar.
Peter said that engineering exams must be easy if Norman had time to for other hobbies apart from classes. We were on the whole quite serious- minded young people and got on well together. I cannot remember any of them wanting to go out drinking, for example! I felt I was lucky to get this accommodation in the guest-house and enjoyed living there.
1954 ended on a high note.
1955-1956My working life at Napier's was rather dull, but not causing me any problems. In the autumn of 1954, I decided to look for another evening class besides mathematics.
What I was hoping to do eventually was a B.Sc.(Special in Chemistry). This was a very difficult degree to do part-time, because it required study in two practical subjects; firstly chemistry for three years full-time equivalent; physics two years full-time equivalent, and in addition a subsidiary subject to "A" level standard, which could be botany, biology or geology, and also a "scientific" language, which could be German or Russian. The entry to the B.Sc course supposed that one already had "A" levels in chemistry, physics and mathematics. I had two "A" levels and was studying for "A" level in maths at evening classes. So I looked round for a suitable evening class in either botany, or zoology. I would have preferred botany but unfortunately, the class was on the same evening as my maths class at Chelsea Polytechnic. So I enrolled for the zoology class.
The beginning of the course was fairly satisfying. Two dissections had to be done in practical class. One was the dogfish. These were preserved in formaldehyde, which stank abominably. I did not like doing dissections, but completed the Autumn and Spring terms, mostly examining lower life forms such as amoeba. These were in the form of thin sections on microscope slides, and examining these was moderately interesting. But I did not like dissecting a dogfish, although I managed to smother my dislike and complete this task. Sharp surgeon's scalpels were used for the job. Some of the other students were rowdy boys. They used to stand at the entrance to the classroom and throw scalpels about trying to get them to stick in the wooden floor. I did not like these preliminary "high jinks". The boys I had met in physics and chemistry classes had been more serious minded. So I would not enter the classroom until the lecturer arrived, preferring to hang about in the corridor. Though there were more girls in zoology classes than in chemistry or physics or maths, the atmosphere was rowdier. It seemed that the two or three girls who came to physics mixing with twenty or more boys were more respected, and we formed a small group of our own to have tea together in the short break between lecture and practical. Here in the zoology class I became friends with no-one. In the summer term I was asked to dissect a rabbit; this filled me with nausea, so I gave up this subject. The mathematics exam was due in June, and on this occasion I passed. Though no grades were given in these years- it was simply pass or fail - my guess was that I had not passed as easily as in chemistry or physics. After a day's work I found maths particularly difficult to concentrate my attention on.
Early on in 1955, I decided to look for a new job. The manager at Napier's had not responded to my requests for more variety in my work.
Surreptitiously I attended a few interviews. It was impossible to re- enter water treatment, much as I would have liked this.
When I went to interviews I concentrated on my small amount of experience in metal analysis, and soon I was lucky enough to receive an appointment at Gillette Industries on the Great West Road. At the interview I was told that I had got the job. Mr White told me that he had previously interviewed a woman with a degree, but felt he had enough people on his staff with degrees. Apparently, it was his policy to take on the first satisfactory person that he interviewed, or perhaps I was the last on his list of interviewees. I felt I was lucky to have been preferred to a woman with a degree, but I suppose this often happened as the technician's work did not justify paying a high salary. Unfortunately women with degrees often found themselves workless, because even if they accepted technician's wages, managers were not happy with people who were "over-qualified". This dismal fact was something that would hit me far later in my career.
Gillette Razors Ltd was only a short bus ride from the guest-house where I was still living.
When I got to Gillette Razors, naturally I had to work with razor blades. Swiftly I learned to handle them quickly without cutting my hands. Every day I did a titration in carbon tetrachloride solution. I cannot quite remember what the test was for. It was probably meant to determine the amount of lacquer on an individual razor blade, or possibly the percentage weight of lacquer which had become oxidised. In technical terms this was known as a non-aqueous titration. Our "A" level chemistry classes did not deal with these as the theory was "non-classical" and too complex for an "A" level class.
In the Gillette laboratory we were always using boiling beakers of trichloroethylene or similar solvents to dissolve the lacquer from the blades. The use of such solvents would be banned by 1995, for it has since been discovered that they destroy the ozone layer. Nevertheless their use in laboratories was small-scale compared with their former uses as industrial solvents.
I was introduced to this routine work by Derek. He was only 19 years of age, but everyone thought he had the manner of a man of thirty. I was astonished when told his age. Although I was 27 years of age, Derek seemed fully as old as I was. He used to take me to the flat roof of the Gillette factory, where we entered a small shed shaped something like a greenhouse which was nicknamed "Calcutta". The conditions inside were hot and humid. It was unpleasant to stay there for more than ten minutes. Our job was to collect a batch of razor blades daily, left up there for about six weeks, to test their resistance to rust under extreme conditions. It was exciting to visit Calcutta at first, but once it became a weekly routine, the work became dull. When we got back to the lab we had to examine the blades under a microscope and report the percentage which showed signs of rusting. This was usually quite small for blades left there for up to six weeks.
Another test was quite dangerous. This was a test for tensile strength, done once per week. The blade was put under strain in a machine which could be moved slowly like a rack. Suddenly the blades would snap and scatter all over the room sometimes. Sharp blades flying about were certainly dangerous. I performed the test in a corner where no-one else was working and stood beside the instrument, so that I was not in the direct line of fire. I doubt if such a "Heath Robinson" sort of test would be performed to-day. No-one was injured while I was doing this test, neither myself or anyone else, but we were lucky.
A job which I enjoyed was using the micro-balance. This was kept in a specially clean room, on its own. It was used to determine the amount of printing ink on a single razor blade. I weighed about five blades and took the average result. It was not possible to weigh more than one blade at a time on the micro-balance, and the printing ink itself weighed only a few micrograms. Firstly the lacquer had to be removed in one solvent. Then the blade was weighed. Then the printing ink was removed in another solvent, and the difference in weight recorded. This was tedious work, which required considerable skill, and a very steady hand. In today's world it would not be done by a technician. Micro-balances with riders on scales have disappeared from labs to be replaced by computerised balances. This whole job would now be automated in a modern laboratory. The blade would be placed in a container at one end of a machine. The answer would be shown on a screen or a printed slip without further human attention. Fewer technicians would be needed.
The staff were at Gillette were as interesting to me as the work. A married woman, aged about 30, also worked in the razor lab. She was called Christine, and was always talking about a very painful operation which had been done on her nose. This was to remove polyps or adenoids. Quite what it entailed she never made clear, but I always hoped that my nose would never need such an operation.
There were other labs where shampoos and toothpaste were tested. These were Gillette's subsidiary products. The lab workers from these often drifted in at tea-time for a chat. One of these was another young married woman called Olive. The people in these labs seemed rather odd. Once when Christine and Pam were chatting to me, they told me that Olive was always having out-of -the-body experiences. I was told that she would be lying on the grass sunbathing when suddenly she would drift upwards and see her own body lying on the grass. This was not part of any illness but natural to Olive and something she had got used to.
I was very sceptical about such talk. Olive seemed an ordinary young woman, when she came in for a chat. However, the fact that we were able to talk quite casually about queer happenings without being referred to a therapist (which was what would have happened at Permutit Water Treatment Company) was something nice about the atmosphere in Gillette's. We never dwelled long on any topic. It was all casual chat in our tea-breaks.
Olive often complained that her husband who worked upstairs testing tooth-paste did not have work which was good enough for his qualifications. He had a degree in chemistry and she felt he should be doing something more important than testing toothpaste. I did not know how to answer this, as I could not then imagine what the more important work might be like. I thought that perhaps working at Harwell the atomic energy research station might be a good idea. Though I was always against weapons and thought that the atomic weapons research station at Aldermaston was an evil place to work in. I urged Bob to apply to Harwell or to BDH, a chemical company, which produced fine chemicals for use in other laboratories. I was sorry myself that I could not have continued working with ion exchange resins at a firm like Permutit's. Testing the razor blades was good bread and butter work but not very exciting.
In the next door lab to ours where most of the work was physical examination of blades was a lab where chemical work was done. Pam worked there and did paper analysis. The tests were simple ones, for chloride and sulphate. When Pam was away I was drafted into this lab to do her job. I was thankful for the change.
Pam was worried about money. She told me that she had only two skirts but plenty of blouses. There were many single women about not studying but not expecting to get married. They were very low paid, and usually had to pay half their income on rent for bedsitters. Pam was one of these. She was about thirty years of age. She told me that she came from a small village "As like Ambridge as one could find". Apparently she was a keen fan of the Archers, a daily radio soap opera about farming families which is still running today in 1995, and which I still listen to when I have time and inclination.
In those days I was home only two evenings per week so did not listen regularly, but it was a programme I enjoyed. In contrast, I have never been hooked on a single TV soap opera.
Peter was another lab worker and he worked on metal analysis, dissolving the razor blades in hot acid, before testing for trace metals such as nickel and chromium, which are added to stainless steel to make it hard and able to be sharpened, as well as resisting rust. Peter was also quite unqualified, with no intention of studying. This puzzled me, because an understanding of chemistry would have added interest to his job. He did his work by following a set of instructions, much like a cookery recipe, without much understanding of the processes involved. I would have liked an opportunity of doing his job, as I had already done some metal analysis at Napier's aircraft engine factory, but this opportunity was never given to me.
There was some discrimination between men and women at Gillette. For example, boys under 21 were allowed one day off per week to attend a full day's study class in scientific subjects. Women under 21 were not given this opportunity. It was a limited opportunity, for neither men nor women over 21 were allowed any time off. In our lab only Derek aged 19, and Colin, a 17 year old, were given time off.
When a young girl of 17 called Pat arrived, she was not given a day off. However, Pat did not want to study. I was disappointed by her attitude. She was quite content to do routine work and said that "Women's intelligence was not to be used, but only to be passed on". She expected to get married. She was ten years younger than me. I had to instruct her in the routine work of the razor blade lab. which pleased me.
A lot of my age group did not expect to get married, owing to the 1939- 45 war where many men just one or two years older than ourselves were lost.
Married women in the 1990's take quite a different view of themselves, and are anxious to study for their own careers and develop whatever abilities they have. This may be difficult, but in 1950 often even single women found it very difficult to gain any promotion or get work suited to their abilities, however hard they worked. This was the experience of most of my contemporaries.
However in 1955 I was hopeful to make further progress and it turned out that I was lucky and determined enough to do so.
Christmas 1955 found me still working at Gillette, but in September I gave up my zoology class, because I did not want to dissect a rabbit. I looked for something else that would help me on my path to a Special Chemistry degree. I could not proceed with advanced chemistry, because these classes took place only in day-time. Instead I started to study more advanced physics at Chelsea Polytechnic. This physics course was designed to be part of a B.Sc. in Chemistry and was the only part of this course which I could do entirely at evening classes. I thought that perhaps I could find employment that allowed me to study for the chemistry on one full day per week later on. In the meantime I found the physics interesting, much less messy than zoology and more to my taste. It was taught by a woman approaching 60 years of age, and this was an encouragement for me, since all the other lecturers had been men, and I had never yet met a woman with a professional job in a scientific profession. So far, all the laboratory managers at my places of work had been men. I was not keen to be a manager, but hoped to do some research work somewhere.
At two of my previous jobs when working with ion exchange resins, I had invented my own small research projects, such as studying which ions left the resins first when the resins became exhausted. Of course I never told my employers about this, but thought it interesting to do my own experiments, when I had finished my official work and was left with little to do for perhaps an hour during the day.
I did not read the newspapers in those days, so thought very little about world affairs and politics. But one political view I had thought out myself, which I regarded as a moral view was my opposition to using scientific knowledge to make weapons of mass destruction like the "Atomic Bomb". But at that time I did not get involved, or join any "peace group", the main reason being that I had to study at evening classes at least two nights per week. On two other evenings I had to write up my practical work, get my theoretical notes in order, and just occasionally practise by doing an exam question as "homework". For the last two or three years I had carried on like this usually studying two "A" levels. The Advanced Physics I was then doing had the same quantity of work in it as two "A" levels.
I was still having financial difficulties. I had no money over after buying food in a cafe at mid-day, paying for my classes and text-books, paying rent and heating which took half my income, and on top of that fares to work and to evening classes. Any extra expenses had to come from my meagre savings, kept entirely in the Post Office Savings Account. Just occasionally I had to buy clothes, usually from Chain Stores like Littlewoods and C & A's. I bought wool to knit my own jumpers though there was little time for this.
Though I did not read the papers I still had the green plastic valve radio set which I had bought in 1953. It was bought on Hire Purchase; this meant I had to pay almost 50% more than the real price of £13. I discovered the fallacy of "saving money" by buying on HP and did not do it again. I was glad to be able to listen to the BBC News and occasionally "The Archers" and possibly a radio play on Saturday Evenings. Saturday I had to devote to shopping, sometimes doing washing at the new launderettes, which were just opening in all parts of London. Sometimes the queue for the machines on Saturdays was so long that I concluded that it would be quicker for me to do my washing by hand at home, so I did not always use them. In 1955 I was resident in a guest house with meals provided but that had not always been the case. I was glad to have a rest from housework and other chores for that year and concentrate on my study of physics.
Something odd happened one evening as I was walking home from my physics class. It was just before Christmas and King Street in Chelsea was dimly lit by street lamps. I left the college usually at about 9.15 pm and had to catch a bus to Sloane Square Station. I looked at the street lamps and every one gave a double image. Where there should have been one lamp, there were two, very close together. I looked about me and whatever I could see was in double vision. This frightened me because I thought something very serious had happened to my eyes. That evening I had been staring through lenses at an illuminated screen. I spent the whole evening in an experiment on light and thought this had affected my eyes. At Sloane Square I got into the tube and reached home at about eleven o'clock and tumbled into bed. Everything still seemed to be in double vision, but the only thing to do was to go to bed and hope that things would be normal next morning. Luckily at 7 am when I woke up, things were normal. The double vision effect had been only temporary, but it had seriously scared me.
Soon after this there was an accident at Chelsea Polytechnic. The whole of the place became filled with a dense gas, making it impossible to see for more than two feet in front. But we were not coughing and the gas appeared to be non-poisonous. We were told to leave the building as quickly as possible. I walked through the long corridor and was glad to get into the open air. But this did not frighten me half as much as the night on which I had double vision. On the contrary it seemed like an exciting experience, and every one of the students had kept calm. We were all quite tired and glad of the opportunity to go home early. I was nearly always exhausted after three hours at evening classes, following a day's work. The day's work lasted from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm, an hour longer than that in some offices. We had a lunch hour and tea-breaks of ten minutes morning and afternoon.
The next time I attended the Polytechnic our physics lecturer told us that the gas was probably ammonium chloride, which could be an irritant but was not highly toxic. She had no idea what accident had caused such clouds of gas.
As winter approached, the works doctor suggested that the laboratory staff might like to try his cold vaccines. This was an experimental vaccine, but we were not told much about it. Mr White our manager decided to volunteer for an injection of this "common cold vaccine". He told us that we could volunteer if we wished, but did not urge us to do so. As I often had a runny nose, though this never kept me away from work, I decided to volunteer. Most of the laboratory staff were keen to try the vaccine. I don't where our works doctor had got it from. The upshot was that everyone who had been injected came down with a very severe cold about one week later. I had to stay away from work for three days. Mr White also took three days off at about the same time. When he came back, he told me that he would never volunteer again for a "Cold vaccination", as he had had the most severe cold of his life. The idea behind these vaccinations was to prevent staff having to stay away from work sick, but the result was a greater amount of sickness than normal among the laboratory staff. Nothing more was heard about these "cold vaccinations". In 1995, I think such an experiment would not have been authorised.
The works doctor was very keen to pursue his own research, besides offering minor medical advice to those staff who cared to consult him. Most of us had our NHS family doctor, so this doctor was more or less a back-up.
Another project of this doctor's was to get one of the lab staff to stay in the hot humid conditions of the room called Calcutta for as long as possible. The Calcutta room on the factory roof was where the tests on the rusting of razor blades were begun. I did not like the sound of this experiment. However Bob, a qualified member of the staff spent several hours in Calcutta, having his heart-beat, temperature and other tests done when he emerged. Personally, I had never been able to stay in Calcutta for more than ten minutes. I do not know whether there was sufficient ventilation there, but it did not feel like it. The suffocating heat exhausted me very quickly and we were not allowed to leave the door open while we were working there, so I always did the job of collecting razor- blades as quickly as possible. Mr White always sent two staff together to do this job. So that if we became ill up there, the other person would see that we came down from there before collapse.
I was told that the person who spent several hours in Calcutta was on the point of collapse when he came out. So I kept away from the works doctor, as I did not like the sound of these experiments. For cuts and scratches, we were able to visit the nurse, who would also dispense head- ache pills. Gillette Industries liked to look after the staff in this way, and also gave us free hairdressing in works time. I liked the lab work so did not absent myself very often for hair appointments. I think I might have had one hair-do while working there.
This fairly easy life was not to last for long. But I was still at the guest house at Christmas 1955. I was still visiting my aunt in Chelsea about once per fortnight. I was still visiting Aunt Violet in West Kensington, and my cousin Leonard on some week-ends. Leonard had begun to take out a serious girl-friend whom he had met at the Church.
We had a Christmas Party at Gillette's. It lasted a whole afternoon, and we were all involved in preparing lemonade and sandwiches. A five litre beaker from the lab held the lemonade. When I saw this I was nervous as it had previously contained a cyanide solution used in the metallurgical lab. I was assured that it had been well washed out. There was also some wine and fizzy drinks available. The party was held in the metallurgical lab.
This was a lab I rarely entered. In here a bald-headed man of thirty worked as a technician. He did not mix much but cheerfully attended the party, which was probably where I first met him. Mavis the photographer also worked here. She was a qualified person who took photographs of metallurgical samples. Mavis was a friendly person who would join us in the physical or chemistry labs for a tea-break and at lunch in the canteen. The free hairdressing was available to all staff and enabled the new shampoos to be tested. Mavis was one who availed herself of this opportunity. She came back one day with a nice hair-style, but it all dropped out after two days. This was what usually happened with my hair. There was not much that could be done about this.
The odd thing about Mavis was that she was a member of the Communist Party. So was Geoff, who was an assistant in the chemistry and physical labs, like myself. Geoff told us during one tea-break that he had been to Russia. He said that one benefit of belonging to the Communist Party was the opportunity of a very cheap trip to Russia. I thought a trip to Russia would be exciting but possibly frightening, as Stalin was still in charge there. I asked him if he got on well in Russia.
"Yes, it was interesting," he said, but did not want to say any more about it.
He could not have afforded to pay his own way there, at normal prices. He did not seem to be the sort of person that I imagined a Communist would be. There was no union at Gillette's. He did not try to organise one. I had previously belonged to a union, which in other firms had been a trouble-free process, as our unions were not in any way militant. As our wages at Gillette were below the recommended rates for laboratory technicians, I thought that a union would have been useful, to negotiate better rates. I belonged to the Association of Scientific Workers, which I had joined on Mr Rieder's advice. Mr Rieder had been my manager at Superstat.
Mavis was a more active Communist than Geoff, as in her tea-break she stood in the yard and sold copies of "The Daily Worker" to as many factory workers as she could.
One morning soon after Christmas Mavis got the sack for this activity. Before she went we all said that we were sorry to see her go. I said that it had been silly to sell "The Daily Worker" on the factory premises. I did not mind her being a Communist, but thought that she could have sold her papers at other times where the factory managers would not have known about it. Most of the lab staff told her this.
Geoff the other Communist remained with us for a few more months. Unfortunately one month he was late three times. Two minutes lateness in the mornings was regarded as severely as half-an-hour's lateness. Geoff's lateness was usually only by two to five minutes. Mr White, our manager told the staff that he himself would not have sacked Geoff, and he was sorry to see him go. It was the company rule that anyone late three times in one month could be sacked and they were applying the rule strictly in Geoff's case.
It was over Geoff that I committed a faux pas. Mr White had told me and the other staff that Geoff was being sacked.
As soon as Geoff arrived that morning I went up to him and said "I am so sorry that you have to leave."
This was a serious mistake on my part. I thought Geoff had already been told. It turned out that Geoff had not been told, but that Mr White had told us in advance. Mr White came over and explained the situation. This made me feel most awkward. Nevertheless the incident was soon forgotten and Geoff left that day. He was down in the dumps. He said that he lived with his mother and she thought that at last he had settled down to a steady job. I think he had worked at Gillette's for two years. He still lived locally and soon afterwards I met him in the street and asked what he was doing.
He said "I have a labouring job".
I said I was sorry he had lost the job in the lab. He said that perhaps he could get something better than the present job in time. I hoped he would. But I did not see him again.
A young man called David replaced Mavis as photographer. He was very friendly. We all liked him and soon forgot about Mavis. I never found out what happened to her.
1956In January 1956, most of the married women working as technicians at Gillette decided to leave. Probably they were starting families, but they did not mention that. Mr White had to engage someone new to replace Christine. A new girl soon appeared. She was called Avril,and was about 18 years of age.
Mr White, the manager often chatted to me, as I was now the oldest and best qualified member of his staff. I mentioned that I was continuing to study chemistry. He encouraged me and introduced me to organic qualitative analysis. When work was slack he provided the chemicals and showed me how to identify nitrogen, sulphur and the halogens in an organic chemical by fusion with sodium. I was appreciative of his efforts.
One day while chatting with Mr White, I mentioned that there were no older women on the staff, and remarked that I was afraid I would not be able to continue as a technician when I got older. He asked me to look round the lab and see if there were any older unqualified male technicians about. I realised that the oldest of these was about thirty. Mr White said that he wondered what happened to the male technicians when they got older and if they took up other work, because he said that he had never seen any. Mr White was about forty himself with a B.Sc. in chemistry. There were several other qualified male chemists, mostly acting as laboratory managers. Bob was manager of the chemistry lab, where Pam and Peter worked as technicians. Mr White was manager of the physical razor lab. where I worked, mainly on examinations for rust. Olive's husband Laurence was younger but a qualified chemist, doing research on new products, but not a manager. Laurence one day went into the metallurgical lab to help move a very expensive piece of equipment. He dropped it on the floor. He became upset. Most of us technicians including Peter, Derek, Pam and myself said that we were sorry he had dropped it. Secretly, among ourselves, we were glad that it had been a qualified chemist who had dropped the equipment and not one of us technicians. We believed we would have got into more trouble than he would. I believe that the instrument cost several hundred pounds to repair.
This was not the only accident at Gillette's labs. One day I came to work to find the razor lab filled with poison gas. The staff were not allowed to enter. Bob, the qualified chemist was inside the room spraying everywhere with an antidote. He was wearing a respirator. There was some talk that the gas accidentally produced might have been phosgene, a very toxic gas. Meanwhile the staff of the razor lab rested in the lab across the corridor, where I sometimes worked doing paper analysis, when Pam was on holiday or away sick. In a couple of hours the room was declared safe and we went back to work in the razor lab.
No-one got into a panic. In fact these accidents served to break up the routine of work. I was trying to train the new girl, Avril in the work. This girl was not such a hard worker as Pat, whom I had already trained. Though Pat did not want to study but to get married as soon as possible, she was a hard worker and I had found her easy to train in razor work. She was friendly and mixed in with the technicians and managers easily.
The new girl, Avril was unsatisfactory. She spent much time out of the room doing her hair and putting on make-up. I was not able to teach her to do a titration accurately. When she was examining blades for rust, she was continually stopping work and going round the room to talk to people, especially the men in a flirtatious kind of way. The male technicians did not like this and did not encourage her. Avril was entirely uninterested in the work.
Mr White soon became exasperated with Avril. He was one of the best managers I had met, and never told people off without reason, or told people to hurry when he knew that they were working as hard as they could. He did point out to people if they were wasting time in unnecessary activities, but always did this in a nice way. For example, I used to write out "No rust on blades" hundreds of times following the batch number in a report book. This was quite unnecessary. It sufficed to put ditto marks, and note the results only when some percentage of the batch of blades had rusted.
Mr White told me that I was copying Derek too much. Derek was much younger and thought it necessary to make lengthy reports.
Mr White told me that he thought I was his best assistant. This cheered me up. He regarded Avril as unsatisfactory for lab work, but being a very generous and fair man, did not want to sack her. In the meantime Avril was still trying "to chat up the men". This situation resolved itself, as after a month Avril disappeared. She had probably got work which suited her better.
In the winter of 1955/56 there were some really severe pea-soup fogs. We could not see our hands in front of our faces. At this time coal fires were still burning throughout London. It was the pea-soup fogs of 1956 that persuaded the Government to pass "The Clean Air" act and banish coal fires. Luckily none of the young lab staff was affected with chest trouble. David the photographer accompanied several lab staff to the works canteen most lunch times.
One day when the fog was so thick that we could not see our hands in front of our faces, David told us to regard every step of the way as an adventure. This impressed me; it seemed an imaginative and poetic way of speaking of what I had previously regarded as merely an inconvenience. We were walking over to the works canteen. This was a good five minutes away from the lab and necessitated walking out of the main factory gate along the main road where cars were crawling along showing orange glows of headlights and into a side gate in the factory wall. I found David a very interesting man, and enjoyed talking to him, without being attracted to him in the way Avril seemed to be attracted to the men in the lab.
David was married with a wife called Jezebel. I was astonished to hear that someone had the name, Jezebel.
"I thought Jezebel was a biblical name for a bad woman," I said.
David did not mind me saying this. He said that his wife was nothing like the Jezebel in the Bible but a very humorous woman. David and Jezebel lived in a furnished flat. When David said that his wife worked full-time, I asked if she found time to do the cleaning.
"We don't do much cleaning," David said. "When you first move into a flat, everything has to be cleaned. After that it does not matter very much."
"Why is that?", I asked.
"Well," David said. "One does not want to live in other people's dirt. Our own dirt does not matter".
I had worried a lot about cleaning, when I had lived in furnished rooms. I was out at work all day, had evening classes at night, and when at home did not have much time for cleaning, as I wanted to relax sometimes. There was not adequate machinery for cleaning in most landladies' houses, and besides having no time, I was not sure how to do it. I hated sweeping and dusting. Dusting raised the dust, and it appeared to me did not improve what I had just dusted. I had always suffered with colds and sore throats and tried to avoid dust as much as possible, because dust usually set me sneezing and aggravated my problems. It was only when I had the use of a vacuum cleaner that I ever cleaned up properly. For this reason the landladies in furnished rooms where the loan of a vacuum cleaner was not available, grumbled at me for not cleaning up to their standards. For the time being I was glad I was living in a guest- house with meals provided and no cleaning to do. It enabled me to use my limited spare time to try to make progress towards a chemistry degree.
This relaxed life at the guest-house was soon to come to an end. Norman, the man who was studying engineering was telling us how he had read "Mein Kampf" one evening at dinner. I was horrified.
"Why did you read that?" I asked.
"To find out what was in it," he said.
I had no time to read any books apart from my chemistry text-books anyway, but felt I should not read just anything, just to find out what was in it. I thought Hitler's books should be banned. I was aware that the Catholic Church frowned on us reading certain books; the index was still in force at that time, but I had never enquired what was on it. I thought if anything was on it, "Mein Kampf" should be on it.
But none of us had long to consider our leisure activities or waste time in chat. Our relaxed lives were coming to an end, and we were all going to have to find somewhere else to live quickly. The manageress of the guest-house announced at dinner that she was closing down in a month's time.
"We are converting the rooms into furnished rooms," she said.
Margaret thought she might take one of the furnished rooms. She had enough leisure to cook for herself, as she was not doing much evening study. The other four residents including myself had heavy evening commitments and we decided that we did not want to live there in furnished rooms. Doris, Peter's wife said that the rooms were like rabbit-hatches. It was all right to live there if the rooms were only used as bedrooms, but not if one had to cook, study and sleep in them. I was inclined to agree. At the moment I shared a large room with Margaret. It was comfortable if only used to sleep in. For studying I used the dining-sitting room. In the evenings Peter was usually the only other occupant, and he was very quiet as he was also studying for a degree in chemistry.
One evening when visiting my aunt in Chelsea I mentioned that I was having to look for somewhere else to live. Aunt May mentioned the name of Mrs Kelly who had a room to let with an evening meal. I thought that perhaps it would suit me, as even though I would be a long way from my work, at least I would be near Chelsea Polytechnic where I was spending two evenings per week. I would also be near Aunt May, and on spare evenings once a fortnight I had recently got into the habit of having an evening meal with her. Sometimes we went to the cinema afterwards.
Accordingly without further delay I went to see Mrs Kelly's room and decided to accept. Up to the present time I had been sharing a room with another woman and felt glad to have a room of my own, even though it was small. But there was enough room for my chemistry text-books, and a table to write on.
I was sorry to have to say good-bye to the chemist Peter and to Margaret, the secretary with whom I had been sharing a bedroom for about a year. They had both been friendly towards me. The other tenants, Norman the engineer and Doris, Peter's wife had not been very friendly with me though not directly unpleasant. We were all, on the whole, fairly reserved people.
Mrs Kelly's place was fairly nice. I ate evening meal with the family, except on the two nights per week when I went straight to classes at Chelsea Polytechnic. Mrs Kelly also gave me breakfast and full meals at week-ends, except for Sunday lunch-time when the family went out to watch the racing at Brand's Hatch. Mr Kelly had his own full-time job, and Mrs Kelly and her niece Marlene worked in a local greengrocer's shop. Marlene was about 19 years of age. When I called round at Aunt May's she told me that Marlene was not really her niece, but her daughter, born years before her marriage. I kept this information to myself. I was never terribly interested in gossip. Mrs Kelly also had a young son, Michael, aged about 8 who went to the local primary school. This new accommodation worked out fairly well for me.
In Spring 1956, I began buying "The New Scientist". This was interesting reading, but more importantly, it was a new source of small advertisements for employment. I was beginning to feel restive at Gillette, and with my three scientific "A" levels hoped to find new employment where I could do more real chemistry, and hopefully be allowed a day off per week to study for a chemistry degree. I was 28 years of age, and knew that I was a late starter.
Soon I saw an advertisement for a job as Assistant Experimental Officer in the Scientific Civil Service. I applied for this and gained an interview. At the interview I was asked how to do a titration on a mixture of a weak acid and a strong acid. This was standard "A" level chemistry and I answered it easily. The interviewers appeared to be very pleased and I was hopeful that I might obtain the job. Then they asked me whether I would rather do analytical chemistry or research. Research was what I really wanted to do in the long term, but I thought carefully before I answered this question, knowing that analytical chemistry was what I had experience in, and the fact that there was more demand for analysts, so I said "Analytical chemistry". The interviewers were very pleased with this reply, and said that probably they could offer me employment in the London area, but they could not say exactly where at the interview. A letter would follow in two weeks time.
It was March. Spring was coming, and it was the time when I liked to make changes in my life. When I received a letter offering me employment at "The Government Chemist" as an assistant experimental officer, I was delighted. The Government Chemist was situated at Holborn and I could reach there without changing my lodgings. There was one fly in the ointment. I would have to work on Saturday mornings. I had not worked on Saturday mornings, since leaving "London Wholesale Dairies" in 1952, so I had had four years rest from this practise. I decided to continue with my two nights studying advanced physics at Chelsea Polytechnic but not to take on any extra subjects until I had settled down at the Government Chemist. My income would be approximately double what I was at present earning, and life would no longer be such a struggle, so that was a "great lift up".
When I arrived the first morning at the Government Chemist, I was introduced to Beryl Askew, who worked on the next bench. When I arrived at my first chemistry lab job (at Permutit in 1952) I had not known how to do titrations and had been taught by John Ungar, the mysterious Hungarian boy. In 1956 I was much more knowledgeable, but there was still a lot to learn. I started straight away with food analysis. Beryl showed me the balances, almost next to my bench lined up against a side wall. The laboratory at the Government Chemist's building had no separate balance room. On the first day I was issued with a set of clean apparatus. I had a whole bench to myself with my own cupboards under the bench. A row of reagent bottles was on a shelf over the bench, which was fitted with its own supply of gas, electricity and a vacuum line.
The first duty was to check a specific gravity bottle for accuracy. I was informed to take great care of the specific gravity bottle which was expensive. This bottle is pear-shaped with a flat base, so that it can be weighed easily on a balance pan. It has a close fitting stopper with a fine capillary tube running vertically through the stopper. The bottle is weighed empty after being carefully cleaned and dried and then weighed after filling with the liquid whose specific gravity is being measured. The liquid fills the bottle and the capillary tube, any excess being carefully wiped from the top of the stopper after inserting it carefully into the bottle. It is very important to check that there are no air bubbles and that the liquid completely fills the bottle. The standard liquid used to check the bottle is distilled water. The weight of other liquids can then be compared with that of distilled water, whose density is known. This is a boring procedure except when undertaken for the first time. Food analysis was much more interesting as a wide variety of samples came to the laboratory of the Government Chemist.
The first sample I was given to analyze was a sample of sausage. Fat, protein and moisture were the standard tests undertaken on meat. Sometimes, in addition the sample would be analyzed for trace metals, such as lead and arsenic, but this was not usually the case with samples sent by the "War Department". These were ordered for the army's food, and it was essential that good quality control was kept. Postwar rationing of food had ended, and I believe that conscription had also ended, but there were still a large number of men in the forces, for whom food was ordered in bulk, and for whom the Government was responsible. The Government Chemist was responsible for work sent to it by other Civil Service Departments. Some of the divisions of the Government Chemist were Customs and Excise samples, Tobacco, Water, Drugs, Agricultural with special reference to pesticide residues, the Flour Survey, and Physical methods. I am giving the departments according to whether they were housed in separate laboratories, or rooms within a building or in another building, rather than the administrative classification. In the Main Food lab in Clements' Inn Passage we did work for more than one administrative department. For example, I analyzed food samples both for the War Department and for Customs and Excise. The Customs and Excise samples sent to the food lab were mostly tea and coffee. Alcohol was tested in another building. Tobacco was tested in Clements' Inn Passage on the floor above the food lab. Where there was excess material sent for analysis this was divided out among the staff instead of being thrown away. This particularly applied to samples of cigarettes. The staff from the food lab went upstairs once per week and were given three jars of cigarettes left over from tests. This usually amounted to thirty cigarettes. I was a non-smoker, but was glad to send these to my father each week. In those days I knew nothing about the hazards of cigarette smoking, and thought I was doing my dad a good service. There was also a sample of corned beef issued each week by Mr Hubbard in the food lab, to the members of the food lab only. As Dad was on a low income from his employment as a Civil Service clerk, he was glad when I sent this corned beef through the post weekly. There was not much delay, and he usually received it the following day, when it was perfectly fresh. Apart from these samples, we were allowed to take home any foodstuff left in a jar after our work. Usually such food was not very fresh, and most of the staff did not take home these samples. I took home the remains of the samples of jam as these did not deteriorate.
Once per month I would test jam for sugar content using Fehling's solution. Anyone who has ever worked in a food lab would know what Fehling's solution was. It contained copper sulphate which gave it a bright blue colour. There were other tests for sugar, principally the use of a polarimeter. This turns the plane of polarised light, according to the amount of sugar in the solution.
Among the other samples I analyzed were mustard for isothiocyanate, its active ingredient. Sometimes only one test was done on a sample; on other samples a whole range of tests were necessary. Other samples I analyzed included butter, margarine, tinned meats especially corned beef, which was popular with the Army, dried vegetables, chocolate, custard powder, pickled goods and most types of processed foods. Fresh food was not handled in our section, which was called the main food lab, but dealt with in the agricultural products laboratory.
Spices were examined under the microscope; this was the special job of a scientific assistant, (one class lower than the experimental officers). I did not like this way of grading the Scientific Civil Service, as it was very difficult to move from one class to another, even after gaining the necessary qualifications, and I believe it encouraged "class distinction" in a social sense.
We worked from standard methods in a book placed on a common desk, to which we could refer at all times. In addition Beryl advised me to buy my own copy of a small book written by the Government Chemist, which could be kept for reference on our own bench. It was only a small inexpensive book, and my wages had risen so much that I was no longer desperately short of money, so I bought a copy. Another useful item was a cylindrical slide- rule, much quicker and more accurate that the ruler type which was what I possessed. I bought one of these for use both at work and at classes. Up to the present, I had spent much time with logarithms when writing up physics practical experiments, so this new slide rule was a great boon.
When I worked at Clements' Inn Passage there was a nearby building in Endell Street which housed the Physical Methods division of the Government Chemist. Other labs belonging to the Government Chemist were further away, and I did not visit them, and knew nothing about the formal administrative side of the Government Chemist.
It was April 1956 when I first started work at the Government Chemist. In the first week Beryl Askew, aged 28 like myself, gave me thorough instruction in the analysis of a sausage sample. After this I was left on my own. I was skilled already at many of the laboratory techniques of "wet chemistry" such as titrations, solvent extraction in separating funnels, distillation, reflux extraction, accurate weighing of samples, moisture determination by drying samples under controlled conditions, filtration and many more operations involving the handling of delicate glassware. I became very skilled, avoiding breakages while in this laboratory. I had previously used a few physical methods, such as the visible spectrophotometer, and soon learnt a few more such methods such as use of a refractometer and polarimeter. The instruments in use at that time were very simple. I was introduced for the first time to the Kjeldahl method for determining nitrogen in organic substances, by reduction to ammonia, after first dissolving the sample completely in a mixture of strong acids. This work needed careful watching of the apparatus. Most of the time we had to stand over it, though able to do up to three samples at once. It usually took at least three days to complete the analysis of a set of six samples of the same foodstuff. Sometimes when many tests were required it took up to ten days. The work was very labour intensive. Mr Hubbard had eight staff doing food analysis for him, occupying four double-sided benches.
The other four benches on the other side of the room were used for another purpose. This was probably the testing of drugs. In a small separate room, just at the back of my bench worked two men on forensic analysis of foodstuffs for added poisons. This work was more complex, as tests for substances such as strychnine had to be done. One of the men working here would sometimes pop out for ten minutes for a chat. He chatted to me as I was the person who worked nearest to this room. He told me he had once tasted a chocolate from a box he was testing, but had spat it out very quickly, as he could detect some violent poison by its taste. He did not do this again.
The Government Chemist was housed in a Victorian building near Lincoln's Inn. The ceilings of the main lab were very high. I had to walk up one flight of stairs to the first floor, down a short passage past two small labs, and a "ladies room", then down the whole length of a central passage between the benches to reach my bench. This was against the wall near a fume cupboard, a very convenient place to work. Standing was necessary for much of the work, but wherever possible we sat on high stools. This was possible when watching the progress of operations such as a distillation carried out on the bench. These distillations had to be stopped before the heated flask ran dry and cracked, or sometimes when a sufficient volume had been distilled. Some distillations were done on a special bench. We had to keep running over to this bench to check progress; otherwise our samples were wasted, work had to be repeated and possibly glassware would be broken. It is to our credit that very little glassware was broken in our lab. If we did break something or needed equipment for new types of work, we had to order a replacement from the stores. Mr Hubbard first signed our requisition, then we walked down two flights of stairs to the basement to ask George, the storeman for the items required. Usually he had spares on his shelves, but some apparatus had to be specially ordered.
There was a separate chemical store. We had the catalogues for these in our lab, so wrote down the reference numbers ourselves, to make life easy for the storekeeper. If unusual or expensive chemicals were required, they had to be ordered three weeks in advance, but this was not often necessary in the routine food analysis laboratory.
In the summer of 1956, I was glad to have a break from evening classes, and to settle down to my new job. I was 28 years of age, and was still determined to work for qualifications in chemistry, though by the time I achieved this, I knew I would be much older than the people who had gone to University full-time. I wanted to have the chance to do some research work, and thought that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve this. My age and sex were against me in this aspiration. It would take ten years to attend all classes necessary for a chemistry degree by evening class study only. This was a daunting prospect.
I tried to enrol for a B.Sc.(Special) in chemistry at Northern Polytechnic. At Chelsea Polytechnic this was not possible part-time. However when I was interviewed at Northern Polytechnic, I was strongly advised to register for the Graduateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (G.R.I.C) instead. I was told that it was possible to take a General Degree part-time but not a special degree. I was reluctant to give up my ambition, because I knew that employers, especially those who gave research opportunities thought more highly of the B.Sc. (Special Chemistry) than the G.R.I.C. But I supposed that by the time I had done everything necessary for the B.Sc. part-time, I would be too old to be given a chance to do research.
For the G.R.I.C. it was necessary to do another subject at "A" level standard, but no more physics was required. So I resigned from my evening classes at Chelsea in advanced physics. I had been getting on well in these classes and had never missed an evening's work, so the lecturer was very sorry to hear that I was giving up.
"This is a very sudden decision, isn't it" she said, not wishing to lose a good student.
Most people who gave up classes were the ones who had not attended regularly in the past, not someone who had been as keen and diligent as I had been.
It was still necessary to attend Chelsea Polytechnic on one evening per week, for as an alternative to biology, R.I.C. students were permitted to take geology. As I was determined not to have to dissect a rabbit, I enrolled for geology, and attended Chelsea Polytechnic one night per week for this subject. It would take two years. In addition to our one night a week, we had to do at least four field trips at week-ends. I found the field-trips very enjoyable. These involved visiting disused quarries in the chalk of the Sussex and Surrey Downs to search for fossils. I never found anything spectacular, but I was never tired of looking. On the field- trips, together with the geology class were a few people who were doing these as a hobby, without studying for an exam. This made a group of about twenty to thirty people.
It was at the geology evening class that I met Jennifer, who was to be a friend until I lost touch with her about ten years later. Mr Smith the lecturer was aged about 40. He was studying for a Ph.D. in geology. I was encouraged by the fact that Mr Smith was himself a student not to regard myself as too old to study at age 28. He told us that he had previously qualified in chemistry, before becoming interested in geology, which was why he was a mature student. I knew those who had been lucky enough to do all their studying full-time without leaving the student system for full- time work would all be fully qualified by the age of 21. Most of my class were older than this. Jennifer was 26, two years younger than me, and Christine,the only other woman in the class, was 38, and by profession a shorthand typist. Christine said she was studying geology as a hobby. Both Jennifer and I were serious students hoping to get qualified in chemistry eventually. Jennifer worked in a hospital and was a specialist in biochemistry. This is more like chemistry than like biology, in the fact that solutions were analyzed, and dead matter not live matter was examined.
Jennifer, Christine and I spent our tea-breaks together. There was an hour's lecture; then we usually spent two hours examining samples, including a lot of microscopic work. Geology was divided into the study of rocks and minerals and the study of fossils. The latter was known as palaeontology.
I was just settling down to a quiet but busy life when, in the Autumn of 1956, Mrs Kelly announced that she did not want to cook any more meals for me. She had been very good to me for some months, but I think the work was getting too much for her, as it tied her down on occasions when she wanted to go out with her family. She said that I could keep the room and cook upstairs on a gas-ring. The room was very small, and there was nowhere to keep food, so I determined to find somewhere else as soon as possible.
In West Kensington, in Edith Road, near Brook Green Church which I had
attended for a few years, was a room to let. It was somewhat larger than
Mrs Kelly's room, and was self-contained with a wash-basin, electric points
and gas-fire. It contained a food cupboard, and a hob consisting of two
gas-rings. I reckoned that I could manage in this room. The rent was
ten shillings per week and if staying in the gas-meter absorbed three
shillings in an evening. It was the sort of room I could not have afforded
in previous employments to the Government Chemist, but as I was now taking
home about ten pounds per week it was now within my means, so I moved from
Chelsea back to West Kensington. Nevertheless I thought the room was
rather poor value.
As I was now living near Aunt Violet and Leonard, I visited them more
often. Aunt Violet was still having nervous trouble, and spent some weeks
in Banstead Hospital sometimes. I remember visiting her one sunny week-end
with Leonard. When we got to Banstead there was a long walk over some
common ground speckled with prickly gorse bushes. Aunt Violet was in a
ward which could only be reached by climbing two flights of stairs. She
was usually taking tea with three other patients at a small table when we
saw her, and had to be called away, but she seemed reasonably cheerful.
Leonard was now alone in the flat, but visited his girl-friend most
evenings, sitting with her in her flat which was also in Edith Road.
My former friend Margaret Butcher lived locally but I rarely saw her.
Christmas 1956 was quiet. I think Aunt Violet was able to come home to her
flat for a few days.
As I was now living near Aunt Violet and Leonard, I visited them more often. Aunt Violet was still having nervous trouble, and spent some weeks in Banstead Hospital sometimes. I remember visiting her one sunny week-end with Leonard. When we got to Banstead there was a long walk over some common ground speckled with prickly gorse bushes. Aunt Violet was in a ward which could only be reached by climbing two flights of stairs. She was usually taking tea with three other patients at a small table when we saw her, and had to be called away, but she seemed reasonably cheerful.
Leonard was now alone in the flat, but visited his girl-friend most evenings, sitting with her in her flat which was also in Edith Road.
My former friend Margaret Butcher lived locally but I rarely saw her. Christmas 1956 was quiet. I think Aunt Violet was able to come home to her flat for a few days.
Nevertheless the mid-day canteen meals were excellent value for money, varied and nutritious. The Government Chemist shared the canteen belonging to the Inland Revenue in Somerset House. The canteen was in a semi- basement. We went down a flight of stone steps to enter it. Usually there were two or three choices of menu. I often had meat-balls with potatoes and greens, which were very well prepared. The flavour of these meat balls was most appetizing, and something I never encountered elsewhere. Another favourite of mine was sponge pudding with syrup sauce. On Fridays, being a Catholic I had fish and chips, which was always available.
When I did not want to use the canteen, preferring a change of scene, I would go to a Joe Lyons self-service cafe. It was inexpensive. Here I usually had a bowl of tomato soup, followed by a piece of individually wrapped cheese with roll and butter. These meals may be considered filling especially by the office worker, but probably our work, which required standing and walking about the lab, and fetching samples from the basement was more active than that of a clerk. I enjoyed it much more than clerical work, and considered myself lucky to be doing it. I mentioned this one day to my friend Beryl. She did not agree. She maintained that she would rather stay at home, lay on a chaise-lounge and do embroidery.
"Wouldn't you get tired of that?" I said.
"When I got tired of it, then I would get up and go for a walk", she said.
I did not answer this, but privately the thought of this kind of life appalled me. It reminded me vaguely of 19th century heroines in such novels as those of Jane Austen. These novels thoroughly bored me, and when I left school I never read another one of those. George Elliot, who was actually a woman author was another matter, and her books I had found interesting, but her characters were not the sort who kept servants, but those who had to work hard themselves.
When I came home from work to stay in for the evening, I used the frying pan, usually having bacon and tomatoes with plenty of fried bread and innumerable cups of tea. While this was in progress I listened to the six o'clock news on my valve radio, which was one item that was to travel with me over more than twenty years. It was still with me in 1973. After this "high tea" I would settle down to write up physics notes, usually working from 6.30 to 9.30. Then it was time to have an hour and a half's much needed relaxation before tumbling into my ill-made bed at eleven o'clock.
This was quite a long hard day. In addition to this I would sometimes get up at 6.30 am and go out of the house within quarter of an hour after a hasty wash, without even having had a cup of tea. As I was now living near the Brook Green Catholic Church, on special feast days I went to the 7 o'clock mass. This lasted half an hour and was swiftly followed by another mass at 7.30 am. This was the mass often attended by my cousin Leonard and his girl-friend Teresa. Teresa did not start work until 9 am and Leonard started at 9.30 am, so they had more time than me. They were not attending evening classes as both of them had become qualified by full -time college courses. Leonard after 18 months in the army, did a further years' study at a School of Art, becoming qualified at age 21. He had obtained the Diploma in Art and Design. Many times later in his career in Commercial Art, I heard him say that the diploma had been little use to him, as the college had not taught him the techniques used in commercial art. Nevertheless this diploma must have given the psychological boost needed to pursue a career as an artist, which was a very difficult profession to enter in the 1950's. Teresa had done a two year's full-time course at a teachers' training college and had qualified at the age of twenty. She was about twenty-three when Leonard first met her, standing about on the pavement outside Brook Green Catholic Church after mass.
When I attended the 7 o'clock mass in the mornings before work, I would often pass Teresa and Leonard on their way into the 7.30 am mass. I had to leave the 7 am mass promptly to get ready in time to leave my house at ten to eight. I don't know how I did it for this schedule left me with only ten minutes or at the most quarter of an hour to enter my flat, make tea and swallow some breakfast cereal with milk, before dashing out again to work. My nearest station was Baron's Court tube station. From there I could use either the Piccadilly or the District Line. I found that it was easiest to use the District Line and alight at Temple Station near the River Thames. From there it was five minutes walk to Lincoln's Inn Passage. This journey took 40 minutes. Usually I was in time for work at the Government Chemist. Five minutes lateness was ignored. After that one signed one's name in the attendance book below the red line. The attendance book was for the Main Lab only, where food and drugs analysis was carried out. Mr Hubbard sat at a small desk in the corner of the room. He had no separate office. He was in charge of food analysis. He left us to carry out the work in our own time, and never grumbled. Some people were naturally faster than others. I regarded myself as being on the slow side, preferred to be very careful, rarely broke glassware and did not have to repeat analyses. I noticed that some of the speedier workers found their results not agreeing and had to do repeats. The men were more inclined to be quicker and have breakages; but one could not generalise. Mr Engeldew was very slow; he did not seem to be able to get on with chemistry, and voluntarily spent a lot of time cleaning out cupboards of glassware and polished the bench more often than others. In this lab we were our own cleaners. Even highly qualified people who worked on the bench would have to polish their own bench, if they wished to keep it clean.
The women who did early morning cleaning did not touch the benches. They swept the floors, and dusted side-tables where the clerks worked. The clerks numbered the samples, and put them in the refrigerator in the basement. I am not sure what other work these clerks did. There was only one clerk in the main food lab. He appeared to be busy all day, though numbering and labelling the samples did not take long. I never saw the cleaners while I worked at the Government Chemist. I think they finished work before eight in the morning.
With my schedule of work and evening classes, especially on those days when I had been to early morning mass, I often felt exhausted. After four days at work, I sometimes mentioned that I did not feel I could get through the work on Fridays. My friend Beryl Askew did not study after work; she said she was not particularly interested in chemistry as a career; she would have liked to have had a career breeding dogs. I thought I was lucky to be doing work which really fascinated me, but wished I did not feel so tired. I thought those people who had studied at University and had jobs on the bench doing advanced research into analytical methods were very lucky. I was not attracted to being a manager like Mr Hubbard. Most of the time he was sitting at the desk, doing administrative work, or when he had time, studying professional journals on food chemistry. He rarely did any practical work. The only time he worked on the bench himself was when someone was away sick or on holiday and there was a build-up of samples. I remember him doing saponification values, a very routine task. A large sample of fat had to be stirred with alkali; the work took a lot of bench space, and could only be done when someone was away for a day's holiday, which happened often.
Experimental Officers were very lucky in getting six weeks holiday per year. Most people would take two weeks of this in the summer, and possibly two weeks at Christmas. I used to take extra days off just before professional exams. Beryl Askew persisted in taking her holiday one day at a time throughout the year. I asked her why she did not go away for a summer holiday. She said she lived in a very nice house and did not like travelling. She lived with her mother and sister in West London, and apparently came from an old-fashioned middle-class family. She told me that before the war the family had kept a maid. Now her mother did most of the work, but kept up customs like having tea precisely at four in the afternoon and dinner at eight. Beryl was very much alone most of the time, and said she had days off to look after her cat, when other members of the family were out. I said that I thought cats did not need someone with them all day. I knew people who kept cats, yet were out all day. Beryl insisted that cats did need someone with them. Beryl was inordinately fond of animals, so that in my mind I called her the "doggy" girl. She did not have a dog, as she would have maintained that a dog needed a human companion throughout the day. This may be more true of a dog than a cat. At the present time, in this area, it usually either retired people or women at home who take dogs for their daily walk. Young men with dogs, I usually see only at week-ends.
I met many others at the lab who were fond of animals, but none who seemed to depend on them as much as Beryl.
When Beryl said she did not particularly like to have chemistry as a career, and neither did she wish to get married, I felt sorry as she did not seem to have a fulfilled life. Unfortunately, it seemed that many who worked in these labs were not very keen on the job, but had drifted into it. I had such a hard struggle to get into chemistry that this seemed very strange to me. Just after the war the opportunities for doing anything more than routine work were especially few for women; but also for men who had not had the opportunity to get qualified before starting work. There were many young men studying part-time, mostly from "working-class" backgrounds, where it would have been hard to stay at school long enough to get the necessary "A" levels for University entrance. After this hurdle had been passed life was slightly easier as University students received a government grant at that time.
The fate of many who had studied "the hard way" and eventually having achieved the qualification of the Royal Institute of Chemistry which was considered by the academic authorities to be at equivalent at least to a second class B.Sc. was to be told "You have done very well" and to receive a letter of congratulation, but at the age of 28 or 32 either to be considered to old to be promoted from the "Experimental" to the "Scientific" grade, or for it to be said that The Royal Institute of Chemistry qualification was not really equivalent to a full-time degree. What galled such hard-working people was for a young unexperienced graduate to be given the job as laboratory manager. Such people had no experience on the bench, except for the practical work of B.Sc. Not only had the graduates of Royal Institute passed a four-day practical chemistry exam which was of a far higher standard than achieved by the average B.Sc graduate, they had also had extensive experience of lab bench work. It is true that some of us were not so well qualified theoretically, that was due to the fact that we never had the chance, not to some kind of "intellectual inferiority" to B.Sc. graduates.
1957 was a settled year for me, and the next few years at the Government Chemist were some of the happiest of my life. In the summer I enquired about continuing classes for the Graduate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry exam. The Senior Principal Scientific Officer, Mr King often visited the food lab, and sometimes he would watch a member of the staff working, especially when they had to do a skilled operation such as a titration, such as that with a solution of jam into a flask of boiling Fehling's solution. This was for determination of sugar content, and when he watched me do it, though I was nervous to have such a senior person watching, nevertheless I performed it satisfactorily.
I told him that I would like one day off per week to study for GRIC. I was now 29 years of age and knew I was a late starter. Mr King said he was pleased with my work and suggested that I apply for one of the new "sandwich courses". This would reduce the time needed to complete the GRIC course from six years to four years. Eagerly I jumped at the chance, and at the end of September 1957, began six months full-time study. This comprised the Christmas and Winter terms. I would be back at work by the end of March 1958.
When I arrived for my first day full-time at the Polytechnic I found that the course was supervised by Dr. Wyvil, and most of the other students worked for the Atomic Energy Authority. Four of these formed a group from Windscale, now called Sellafield. There was also a young man, only about 19 years of age who worked for an independent commercial firm. I was the only woman in the group. Another unusual member of our little group was Mr Voice, who was already 35 years of age. He told us that he had worked for about ten years as a glass blower, after leaving school; then was lucky enough to be appointed to the Experimental Officer Grade for the Atomic Energy Authority. He was working at the Dounreay Experimental Nuclear Reactor, in the North of Scotland. He had moved there to avoid having to work on nuclear weapons, to which he was opposed. I was 29. Most of the others were below 25 years of age, and Mr Voice and I felt that they had more chance to get qualified in time for promotion. Mr Voice and I both wished to do research in chemistry.
A young man in the food division at the Government Chemist was rather jealous of me being on this sandwich course, as he had not been chosen for it. The sandwich course was instituted too late for him to take advantage of it. In fact this man was far more skilled in analysis than I, and much quicker. He was weak on theory. He found it very hard to understand the theoretical basis behind chemistry. He did not want to do research, but to become a laboratory manager and earn more money. He had been obtaining one day off for study for many years, which I had never had, so I thought perhaps it was fair that I should have some opportunity to catch up by taking the sandwich course. This man had passed his final practical exam for the RIC already. Unfortunately the rules were hard and fast in those days, and the rule was that both the theoretical and practical had to be passed at the same time. This unfortunate man had failed his theoretical exam twice. Probably six months full-time study would have enabled him to pass. Here again rules were hard and fast. One was either granted a full sandwich course, starting from the beginning, like myself or nothing at all.
Another misfortune befell this young man. He played some kind of sport; I'm not sure what, probably football or perhaps rugby football at week- ends. One day he broke his leg and had his front teeth knocked out. After two months away, he came back to work on crutches. He was allowed to start work at ten o'clock each day instead of 8.30 am, so that he could travel to work after the rush-hour on the tube trains. He said that he could not do this while on crutches. Beryl thought he was "skiving". He had had a new operation on his mouth to install front teeth without the need for a plate. These were false teeth, but apparently a hole was made in his gums so that the teeth could be inserted. They could be used like normal teeth. He was very proud of these teeth, and the advances in dentistry which had made this possible. This was 1957, and I don't think crowns were available. Most people who lost their teeth at that time had false teeth on a plate.
Meanwhile Mrs Snell decided to give up her job as scientific assistant. At that time there was a marriage bar for women in the established civil service. This meant that when Marjorie Snell married, she was allowed to continue working but lost her pension rights, and was dis-established. This meant no promotion prospects and a lower pay scale. It was very unfair, particularly on those women who for one reason or another did not have children, and wanted their career to continue to give them an interest apart from housewifery.
Mrs Snell had talked about whether she should have children to Beryl and myself. She was despondent about the state of the world then, and mentioned that it was in a state where she did not want to bring children into it. I said that I thought this was a negative attitude, but Beryl said that this was a valid point of view.
However Mrs Snell changed her mind. Two months after leaving she came back to see Beryl and myself, holding a baby.
"This is Audrey," she said.
Beryl, who always said she did not like children, held the baby. while Marjorie Snell went to the ladies' room. We had a little chat, but she did not visit again. That was the last time we saw her.
In place of Mrs Snell another young woman came as scientific assistant. Soon afterwards she married, but that year the marriage bar was abolished, so she kept her grade, pension rights and other entitlements. Barbara did not have any children while we knew her but continued working in the food lab for several months. Then she had an accident, while on a skiing holiday. This was a broken leg, but apparently far more serious than the young man's accident, because we were told she would be away for six months.
Mr Engeldew, another scientific assistant, had been denied promotion to the experimental officer class, which was the grade of Beryl, two young men and myself. He decided to leave. He told us that he was going to become a mental nurse, and had already had the necessary injections. I wondered what these injections were, and what diseases he had to be immunised from, while working as a mental nurse. I did not like his choice of career, and thought it was a step down from lab work. We are not all the same. He said he wanted to work more with people, and was not really interested in chemistry.
Eventually a group of men in their forties came to replace the younger staff who had left. Mr Leonard took over Barbara's work as a scientific assistant, while she was on six month's sick leave with a broken leg. Another older man replaced Mr Engeldew. We were told that these men had been taken on under the army demobilisation scheme and were unqualified, but trained in routine lab work. They did not talk much. Neither did the new man from Cyprus.
Beryl was mildly antagonistic to these new staff, and wondered why they had been given jobs. They did not bother me. I liked Beryl, but there was almost no-one else in the lab who I could talk to. Sometimes a visitor from the drugs department stopped by my bench for a chat.
Geoff, from the drugs department looked at the bottle of potassium cyanide standing on the shelf over my bench.
"I would be afraid to use potassium cyanide," he said. "I don't have to use it".
I told him that I was very nervous when I used the cyanide. It was regarded as the most violent of all poisons. I used it occasionally when I did lead analysis on tea. Cyanide was needed to separate the lead ions in solution from other dissolved ions such as copper, silver and nickel which gave a similar reactions, before forming a coloured complex with the reagent called dithizone. The depth of colour was measured in a simple spectrophotometer and was a sensitive test for a few micrograms of lead.
Geoff continued talking and said that he was even afraid to touch the outside of the bottle of potassium cyanide.
Then he said "Well. perhaps I'm not afraid of that", and he touched it.
We all felt this way about cyanide, and yet far more potent poisons were used daily in many student laboratories. The difference was that most of these were used only in the fume cupboards, and most of them like hydrogen sulphide had a nauseating smell, which was very apparent long before the concentration of gas in the air reached dangerous levels.
Potassium cyanide was regarded differently because it could easily produce the gas hydrogen cyanide when mixed with acid, and may reach dangerous levels before the smell is apparent.
Acids were used very commonly in the lab especially in dilute solutions. The other toxic gases were not so easy to generate accidentally. That was why cyanide was held in awe, yet it was available in every student analytical lab. in those days.
At Northern Polytechnic I was told by a lecturer that one student working alone had been found dead next to a fume cupboard, poisoned by cyanide fumes which had escaped.
Nowadays other reagents have been substituted for cyanide. I never used it in later life, either at work or in doing research.
No-one ever accidentally died while I was working at the Government Chemist. I believe we had high safety standards.
But Beryl told me that someone was once found dead with his head in the fume cupboard just behind my bench. He had simply turned on the gas taps, and died from coal-gas poisoning. In those days town gas was produced from coal and contained hydrogen sulphide, which I have mentioned above.
Hardly anyone died from accidental gas poisoning as this gas had a very distinctive smell.
Natural gas from the North Sea is safer, but we can hardly smell it.
There was another development at my geology evening class. My new friend Jennifer had decided to become a Catholic, and I was asked to be her sponsor at her reception into the Church. This was the first time I had done this. The form of reception has fallen into disuse. In those days anyone after three months instruction from the penny catechism could become a Catholic. In these days two years instruction is insisted on, with much reference to the Bible. In those days, all we did was to go through the questions in the Penny catechism, and providing there was nothing we disagreed with, we were then considered ready for reception into the Catholic Church. In my case I had been baptised as a baby in a Catholic Church so there was no need for the reception ceremony. I forget exactly what Jennifer's reception was like, though I believe it consisted of reading through large tracts of doctrine, and declaring solemnly that one agreed with this. What is done today has been made more understandable and clearer. There is far more contact with the Bible.
We were not troubled by any of the modern troubles which have rocked the church.
In the 1950's subjects such as homosexuality, contraception and abortion were never mentioned. Sex was not talked about.
Jennifer had been married and divorced. She wondered whether this would prevent her from becoming a Catholic. One thing we were told was that divorce was forbidden. However Jennifer's marriage had ended two or three years before she thought about becoming a Catholic, and this was held to be no obstacle.
Later on Jennifer was confirmed at Westminster Cathedral and took the name Catherine Magdalene. This was pronounced in Latin as Caterina Magdalena. She regarded herself as an imitator of Mary Magdalene.
When I was confirmed, I had been unadventurous and simply taken the name Mary, which was advised for those of us who had not been given this name as a first or second baptismal name.
Like myself, Jennifer did not wear white for confirmation. Just ordinary clothes and a black mantilla. These were very popular among Catholic women in the 1950's for wearing in church at ordinary times as well as for adult confirmation. They could be bought in England although the best ones came from Spain.
Even before she had become a Catholic Jennifer had joined the Legion of Mary. When I first started going to the Catholic Church, before I had received first communion, which was for me the equivalent of Jennifer's reception, I had belonged to the Children of Mary. This was a boring society. The Legion of Mary was much more interesting, but required two nights a week commitment, and at this time I wanted to concentrate on passing my exams. However I consented to go with Jennifer to a few Legion of Mary meetings.
A chaplain always attended the Legion of Mary prayer meeting. This was one of the assistant priests in the parish church to which the meeting was attached. The prayers were very formal like those of the Children of Mary, but were more varied, and were not taken at lightning speed. We always had a reading from the official handbook given by the leader. We were seated round a table at one end of which was a statue of the Virgin Mary placed on a white cloth, usually with a vase of flowers in front. These meetings took place in the parish hall, not in the church. There was a collection, but this was called the Secret Bag. It was explained to us that the bag was secret so that no-one saw how much the others were putting in; so a poor person was as important as one who was able to give a large donation, and was equal. We were all equal, yet we had a leader, and the society was modelled on the Roman Army, I was told.
Many Latin names were used. There was a Praetorian Guard. I believe these were people who said the rosary and the Legion of Mary prayers and went to mass every morning before work. The members were mostly under thirty though older people could join. There was no age limit, and occasionally an older unmarried woman would come along. Married people never seemed to have the time for this society. I did not have time for it either, not if I wanted to pass the Royal Society of Chemistry exams. People were not made official members until they had attended three months at meetings and in addition had done one other week night on Legion of Mary work without fail for three months. Members had to explain their absences to the leader. I did not like this. Regular members could be told off for "disobedience" if they had failed to do "the work".
Nevertheless most leaders were informal. At the meeting I attended, the work consisted in taking two or three streets, calling at every house and asking if any Catholics lived there. If the answer was "Yes", we would ask "Can we come in?". Two people always went out on this work together and they had to be two of the same sex. This made problems when there was an odd number of either men or women at the meeting, This meant that sometimes three people went out together. When we did "the work", we arranged to meet our partner on a street corner. When the other person did not turn up, we had to go home without doing "the work". For this reason most members were very conscientious about "the work". We did not want to let the other person down. I went out sometimes on an informal basis with Jennifer's group, though I was always assigned some person other than Jennifer with which to do "the work". I did not persist very long, as I soon found I could not do my geology class, and two nights with the Legion of Mary. Besides studying chemistry at Northern Polytechnic, which also required one evening's attendance as well as every week-day from September until Christmas.
The Legion of Mary sometimes held a social, usually just before Christmas. I remember attending a social evening when Christine the leader was supervising. We had tea and cakes, perhaps some wine and then suddenly Christine would say "Kneel". Then wherever we were standing in the room we would kneel down and say the rosary. When finished we would get up and continue chatting. This was most disconcerting to me. I had never experienced this kind of group prayer in the middle of entertainment. But one of the Legion of Mary mottoes was "Mere entertainment tends to pall".
On November 3rd, Russia launched the second space satellite. There was a dog on board. I thought this was an exciting development but when I discussed it with Aunt May, she was horrified because the Russians had sacrificed the life of the dog, which survived for a time, but died before the satellite returned by disintegrating in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
In November Leonard and Teresa became engaged. They did not have a party. Leonard simply bought an engagement ring. Leonard and Teresa had been seeing each other for a few years, and in the evenings Leonard would often go to visit Teresa in her bedsittingroom in Edith Road, after she had come home from her day's work as an infant teacher. She showed me some of the children's workbooks, which she took home in the evening for marking. Simple arithmetic sums had been written into them. The work seemed rather laborious, as I think Teres pencilled in the sums, leaving the children to do the calculations.
Leonard told me that he and Teresa were going to get married next January. I was very surprised about the very short engagement. But Leonard did not want too much fuss. He and Teresa decided to take a furnished flat in West Kensington for their first year of marriage and they started to look for this before they were married. Just before Christmas they found a suitable flat. The rent was very reasonable. In return Leonard had to promise to redecorate the flat in the year for which they rented it. Leonard said he was happy to that. The flat was owned by a Maltese woman, which caused Leonard to remark that he thought the Maltese were good business people. He meant they were sure to drive a good bargain for themselves. The redecoration looked as if it would be hard work, and this proved to be the case.
Thus 1957 drew to a close. My father had found a new lady friend. I think I went to spend Christmas at Gordona, and met Eve. I was to see a good deal more of Eve in the coming years. I found her a kind if rather boring lady. She liked gardening and housework and going to the public house with my father, so that pleased him very much. Sometimes he would come up to London and I would ask him and Eve to tea at the week-end in my bedsittingroom in Edith Road. Three people in this room was a crowd. But Eve enjoyed it.
1958Early in 1958 Leonard and Teresa got married. I remember the day quite clearly because it was on Teresa's birthday, January 6th. The weather was rather cold, as is normal for January. Teresa had made her bridal gown herself, being a very skilled dressmaker. The wedding took place at Brook Green Church. It was a Nuptial Mass, as both Leonard and Teresa were Catholics. It was well arranged with printed wedding booklets, containing the Mass and marriage ceremony. Leonard's friend Brian was best man. There was a professional photographer who took the usual conventional wedding photographs outside the church afterwards. In those days photography inside churches was strongly discouraged. There was no confetti, because the Rector had often complained about the verger having to sweep up after weddings. The church, unlike some modern Catholic churches, looked like a traditional church, and was built of stone. It was probably an early Victorian building. I never enquired into its history.
After the wedding there was a meal at the Knights of St. Columba's Club. Leonard had been a member of this society for about seven years. It is a similar club to the Rotary Club for Catholics, and consisted of self- employed business and professional men. Such people give some of their spare time and subscribe to charitable works.
The guests saw Leonard and Teresa go off in a decorated car after the reception. They were going to a short honeymoon in Yorkshire. They stayed there for only 3 or 4 days. Leonard told me recently that while on this holiday they had visited Cosy, an old friend of my mother and Aunt Violet who used to live in West Kensington, but who spent years of married life in Ruislip, a west London suburb. In the 1930's, my mother and I occasionally travelled to Ruislip for an afternoon visit. When her husband died she had returned to her native Yorkshire. I remembered this friend, nicknamed Cosy, long afterwards, and decided to name my cat Cosy after her.
When Leonard and Teresa came back from their honeymoon they moved into a rented flat in West Kensington. They had decided not to move too far away from Aunt Violet, for the time being. The rent of this flat was low, on condition that they redecorated it while they were staying there. I thought privately that this was a hard bargain. Nevertheless, Leonard enjoyed doing the painting, paperhanging and other small jobs which this entailed. He still had rather precarious employment with a small firm of commercial artists, and hoped soon to go free-lance in order to earn more money. Teresa continued with her work as a school-teacher in Notting Hill Gate. They were saving to get enough money to make a deposit on a house in a year's time.
It was early evening and both Aunt Violet, Leonard's mother and Aunt May came back to my bedsittingroom in Edith Road after the wedding. Aunt Violet had been crying. Aunt May came to the wedding as I had introduced her to Leonard at an earlier date. She was my mother's sister, so unrelated to my cousin Leonard, whose mother was my father's sister. No doubt Leonard had known her vaguely since my mother's funeral in 1948, which had been attended by a large number of my relations on both sides of the family. I remember that Aunt Violet attended this funeral, but rather think that Leonard did not attend, as I think he was in the army at that time. But no doubt he met Aunt May in London shortly afterwards.
Aunt Violet cried in my flat on the evening of her son's wedding. Aunt May tried to make her cheer up. My washing up from breakfast and probably from the previous night had not been done. It was Saturday, and I was more concerned at having relations in my flat looking at the neglected washing- up than about anything else. I washed three cups and made tea for the two aunts. But I could not do the washing up. It was a small bedsitting-room, not really a flat and was congested with three people in it. We could only sit and look at the washing-up still in the sink. No doubt Aunt Violet did not notice it, as she continued to cry for an hour, until it was time to go home. Aunt May had to leave to get home to her employer's house in Merstham, Surrey. This journey took about an hour and a half. It was a cold day in January. So Aunt May was very good to stay with us as long as she had. Aunt Violet was persuaded to return to her flat in Perham Road, a ten minute walk away, though it was possible to get a bus. The evening ended and rather a tiring evening it was for me, so I was glad to go to bed. I had to get up for the 8 am Mass next morning, and still had chemistry study to complete before work on Monday morning.
At the beginning of this year I was still at the Sandwich class with about six others, all men. Most of them came from Windscale, part of the Atomic Energy Authority.
Life was going well for me if rather routinely. At the end of March I returned to work at the Government Chemist. I was glad to be back on my old bench opposite Beryl Askew. I wondered if any one else had done my work while I had been away, but this did not seem to be the case. They were glad to have me back, as the holiday season was approaching. I do not think I took any holidays while on this sandwich course. I was still attending one night per week at Chelsea Polytechnic until May when I took my exam in geology. I had spent many evenings in the Science museum familiarising myself with the different minerals before I took the exam. It was a whole day spent on a practical exam, and three hours for a theory exam. I passed this exam easily. I resolved that next year I would attempt my Part One of the Graduate of The Royal Institute of Chemistry exam.
The geology course had finished for Jennifer, Christine and myself. We had all passed quite satisfactorily at our first attempt. Shortly afterwards Christine, aged 38, married John Smith the lecturer, who was about 40. Jennifer and I felt pleased for Christine. Jennifer did not want to get married again, and I did not feel keen on getting married. We both agreed that we liked being on our own. I considered sharing a flat with Jennifer, as I would have liked some company. We visited some flats in South Kensington. Jennifer had expensive tastes and these flats were large, had built-in refrigerators and high rents. About £10 per week. At present I was paying £2-15s. I could have managed £5 per week, though I preferred to save as much as possible. I was very cautious, as up until the age of 28, I had never had any money to save. In earlier days Jennifer had been well-off, but was now on low wages. She told me that she did not earn more than £10 per week. I asked her how she thought she could pay her share. We decided not to pursue the matter of sharing a flat.
Admittedly Jennifer's present accommodation was unsatisfactory. It was a flat in West London, up two or three flights of stairs. The stairs were filthy. Apparently no-one cleaned the approaches to the flats.
Jennifer had a small room and shared a kitchen with another tenant. These rooms were kept reasonably clean. Jennifer said she cleaned the kitchen once per month. In between the other tenant cleaned it. At this time Jennifer was working in a bacteriological lab in a hospital, but the work was not quite what she wanted. She was hoping to move into biochemistry, but as yet she had not been able to find an opening.
Eventually Jennifer moved out of Central London to a small bedsitter in Cheam, Surrey. I visited her there. She was continuing with Legion of Mary work, but for the time being had dropped studying. She told me she was having the utmost difficulty in paying her way. She was also contemplating becoming a nun.
The next thing I heard was that Jennifer had spent three months in a convent in Ireland. As a postulant she had to pay her own expenses. She stayed until her savings were exhausted, and then decided to come back to London to look for work. She was very upset by this experience, as she told me that the convent had been very uncomfortable and not very clean.
She had thought hard, and had now decided to become a nurse.
She told me that she had had three years at University when young but had failed her degree, and was now convinced that she could not attain academic qualifications. I told Jennifer that she could do so, if she simply concentrated on one course and worked harder. It seemed to me that Jennifer was as intelligent as most of us who were attempting degrees, but simply did not apply herself sufficiently. However, she did not take much notice of what I said. The nurse training started with three months theoretical study and Jennifer passed easily. In fact she had come number one in the course. She was very pleased about this. But privately I thought that like myself Jennifer was unsuited to being a nurse. I knew that I did not like entering a hospital and handling people intimately. I would have been happy to test their urine and blood, but would not have liked giving injections or taking blood samples. There was such a demand for nurses that every intelligent woman was pressed to try this profession, which was why Jennifer did it. On the other hand men were preferred as lab technicians, except where there a lot of very routine lab work. However those men who wanted to become nurses were refused entry to the profession. There was too much sex stereotyping in those days. One old colleague, Mr Engeldew from the Government Chemist had been accepted as a mental nurse to work with male patients, but this was partly a custodial role, rather than a purely caring role. It was sad to see so many square pegs forcing themselves into round holes.
In the summer Jennifer and I decided to go on holiday together in Ireland. We stayed in a house in the suburbs of Dublin. The landlady cooked bacon, eggs, tomatoes and fried bread for breakfast every morning. It was a bed and breakfast place, but only one double room was let. It appeared that many older women in Dublin were taking in holiday guests. Their children had probably left home to work in offices, factories or building sites in England.
On our first day Jennifer had problems. She had brought almost no cash, but had transferred her holiday money to a Dublin bank. She had forgotten which bank this was. Our first day was spent on a tour of the central Dublin banks. Jennifer was remarkably cool, while I was getting hot and bothered after Jennifer had visited three banks. At the fourth bank she found her money, and withdrew the cash promptly. As we were in Central Dublin we saw the sights, such as O'Connell Street, the main shops including a nice tea shop, and the two Cathedrals. The Catholic Cathedral was filled all day with unemployed men, just sitting quietly. We were very sorry to see this, as there was full employment in England. The Church of Ireland Cathedral was clean and empty, except when a service took place.
Afterwards we went to Phoenix Park and stood beneath the statue of the Phoenix, and took photographs of ourselves standing by the Phoenix column.
I noticed the brooding figure of an old woman standing all day outside a central large church. She was dressed in a traditional black shawl. I think she was begging. There were no beggars in England at this time. I had seen some outside churches in Spain, and felt it was a depressing sight.
We went to Mass in a Dublin church and found that in contrast to an English Catholic Church, the collection was not voluntary. A man stood at the entrance under a sign marked "Minimum donation 6d". 6d was not much and in England I usually donated 2s-6d, but not liking a compulsory collection, here I gave only 6d. Otherwise the Mass which was at that time in Latin was very similar to the Mass in England. Hymns were not sung, and it seemed to me that the Mass was gabbled in the shortest possible time. In the Cathedral the Mass was better done. This was usually a High Mass with choir, with everyone singing the more familiar parts in Latin.
While in Dublin Jennifer and I visited the Guinness factory. There were daily free tours offered to visitors with a free sample before we left. I very seldom drank any alcohol, but here in the Guinness factory the drink had a delicious exhilarating taste, and Jennifer and I bought two extra cans each of Guinness to take out on the morrow's expedition. We had decided to climb the "Sugar Loaf" mountain, just outside Dublin. This was no mountain, probably no higher than two thousand feet and an easy climb in the warm weather. I do not know whether Sugar Loaf was its correct name. There were many hills and small mountains called the "Sugar Loaf."
At end of September I returned to the Northern Polytechnic. I started studying Russian with Dr. Wyvil. Only the candidates for the Graduateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry did this course. The B.Sc. students carried on with the conventional scientific German.
1959When I arrived back at the Government Chemist in March, Mr Hubbard sent me to the orange juice laboratory. I had never known such a change of atmosphere. All the staff seemed hostile to me and in particular the man in charge. Between all these people, I was soon in a state of collapse.
In this lab a fixed number of samples had to be completed each day. The work began with weighing the samples on an accurate balance, which in those days was operated by hand. There was only one balance, and six of us needed to weigh our samples. Invariably I was last in the queue; the regular staff were pushy, and almost all were young men. I do not recall that there was another woman on the staff. As I was last in line for every piece of apparatus, I failed to complete my samples in the day. I was told off by the manager. When next day, I tried to hurry, I upset some strong sulphuric acid on the floor, and was told off again by the manager. There is a safe technique for cleaning this up, but it was hard to apply while I was being shouted at, and receiving no help. In the food lab, I had had only one accident, and Mr Hubbard had made light of it. In the four years I had already worked in the food lab. I had become a careful, conscientious worker, so Mr Hubbard was glad to have me back. He did not believe what the manager of the orange juice department said about me.
There was another small lab, to which I was sent for an occasional day's work. This was a flour lab. There was a young woman working there and a young man, called Mr Godly. Mr Godly appeared to be very slow at the work, but no-one minded. There was a very relaxed atmosphere here. The work was very routine and boring, as every sample was a flour sample. But the contrast between this lab and the orange juice lab could not have been greater. The manager was pleasant; if some of us did more samples than others it was accepted and no-one was criticized for this. Criticisms were only occasionally given for unsafe practices.
One unsafe practice I had practised concerned a muffle oven. A muffle oven reaches very high temperatures. I usually put my samples for ashing into this without turning it off momentarily. It was pointed out that this was an unsafe practice, by a new man who joined the staff. Apparently I could have been electrocuted if I had touched the element with the metal tongs. Most people did not turn the oven off before putting a sample in it, and Mr Hubbard had never mentioned it. The tongs were not long enough to reach the element, so I do not think the possibility of touching it had been thought about by most staff in the food lab. I was merely copying them.
We all used the same apparatus at the same time, and had to remember which samples were ours and where we had put them. This was sometimes difficult when doing many tests on apparatus situated in different parts of a large laboratory. If people had not usually been co-operative, we would have fared even worse. I found the staff at the Government Chemist all very co-operative, except for those in the small orange juice lab, and I think the bad atmosphere there was started by the severe management style of the supervisor, Mr Tyler. I had never been able to stand up against such persons, and I believe it was only the hard-boiled career-minded staff, or the passive and not very academically minded people who were able to work successfully with this kind of manager.
As my work that year at the Government Chemist was not demanding too much energy, I decided that I had enough spare time to look for a bigger apartment. I succeeded in obtaining a two room flat near the Arsenal football ground and moved there in the summer of 1959. The flats were all furnished in those days. I was on the first floor and paid little more in rent for these two rooms than I had done at Edith Road. I liked the flat very much. There was no heating supplied except for an oil stove. This was a drawback. I purchased a second oil stove to heat the bedroom.
Often I wonder if the fumes from these two oil stoves affected me. At that time I did not even have a chimney for exit of fumes in the bedroom. However, I spent most time in the kitchen/living room where I ate and did my studying. This did have a chimney for exit of fumes. I heated the other room for a few hours before going to bed. I had to vacuum the rugs once a fortnight, and sometimes I polished the oil cloth in the large bedroom. I found it much easier to keep this larger flat clean than attempting to clean the small rooms where I had lived up until now.
Dad and Eve came to see this new flat. Eve remarked that she did not like it so much as the room in Edith Road and I wondered why. Perhaps she did not like the oil stoves. I had had a gas fire at Edith Road, into the meter of which I was constantly inserting shillings. Certainly I found the new flat in Aubert Park, near the Arsenal football ground much more convenient, with room to keep everything tidy. I had two book cases filled with my science books, and a few religious books I had collected over the years.
I started to go to St Joan of Arc's Church in nearby Kelross Road. They were running a football pool with weekly cash prizes. I became a collector and collected from about ten or twelve houses in my street and the adjoining street. Most of my customers were Catholics but there were a few friendly non-Catholics who were happy to help support the church with the opportunity of winning a small prize.
Whenever one of my clients received a prize, I also received about two shillings for being the collector. It was quite fun. There was a woman with about three small children who I tried to help, because she always seemed in such a muddle. Whenever I called at her house she was sitting by her washing machine with a pile of unwashed clothes on the floor. Everything appeared to be most untidy. To help her I invited two of her children to visit my flat. This was all right until I found that they started breaking things. I had given them a few games to play with, but they seemed uninterested. So I gave up having them in.
Aunt May came to tea several times in this flat, where there was room to entertain. One day while she was sitting in the arm-chair, there was a knock at the door. There was a man standing on the door-step, who said he wanted to show us a new copy of the Bible. I thought perhaps he had been sent by our church, so I invited him in. He laid the elaborate bible on my table and Aunt May and I looked at it. It had coloured pictures. He kept saying that he was not a salesman, but had only come to show us the bible. However, it turned out that we could place an order for a copy if we wished.
I wondered if he was not a salesman, then what was he? Eventually we persuaded him to go.
As soon as he had gone, Aunt May said "He certainly was a salesman"
At Mass the following Sunday the priest apologised if anyone had been bothered by a bible salesman, and he said that this man had not been sent by our church.
In 1959 my cousin Leonard and his wife Teresa made an important move. Teresa's earnings had been saved for over a year, as Leonard's earnings had been enough to keep them. They used this money for a deposit on a house in Romford, Essex, (which was in fact an outer suburb of Greater London), finally moving away from West Kensington, where Aunt Violet, Leonard's mother was now entirely on her own, with no relations living nearby. It was a very difficult year for her, but she was now more or less recovered from her nervous trouble which had begun in 1951, when she had lost her final clerical job at Petit's in High Street, Kensington.
Previously she had held a more stable job in Oxford Street as a clerk at Marshall and Snelgrove's Department Store. She had worked there for about five years and had enjoyed it. However, she had declared that going by bus to Oxford Street was too tiring for her. Kensington High Street was nearer, which was why she took a lower grade job at Petit's. Petit's was a much smaller shop, devoted to women's clothing only. Some of the goods were of high quality but rather old-fashioned in style. For instance, there was a large corsetry department, selling lace-up corsets of the type worn by women born around 1900. The next generation had discarded these, I am glad to say, and was content with lighter types of roll-ons. Petit's also sold serviceable woollen skirts, and the type of good suits "suitable for country wear". These were made to last, and are still seen in 1996 in the more expensive stores.
Petit's clerical department was extremely outdated. It was the last shop still using a system of receipts for customers transported by overhead wires. The cashier sat in a sort of overhead balcony. The sales assistant made out a bill and sent it by pulleys and wires to the cashier, who kept one copy and stamped the other "Paid" as a receipt for the customer, and gave the necessary change. This was all transported by wire and pulley back to the sales assistant on the ground floor, who then gave the customer her change and receipt. In the 1950's this system had long become outdated in other stores. Most sales assistants at this time were also cashiers, going to a nearby till to take payment and give change. Computers were a long way in the future as yet.
At the end of September I returned to the Northern Polytechnic. I started studying Russian with Dr. Wyvil. Only the candidates for the Graduateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry did this course. The B.Sc. students carried on with the conventional scientific German. The Russians were at this time ahead of the Americans in space exploration and there was much public interest in this aspect of their work. Everyone at the college thought it would be a good thing if the Americans and Russians could eventually co-operate. Kruschev and Bulganin had visited England, and everyone liked Kruschev at that time.
In May 1959 I decided to take Part One of the Graduateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry I had only done two years of the Sandwich Course, whereas normally three were required before Part One. However I thought I knew enough theory, as it was a theory only exam. The practical exam was taken with Part Two.
When the result came in September 1959 I found that I had passed and was able to start studying Part Two.
One day I decided to ask Alf and Colin to an evening meal at my flat. These were two students doing the Sandwich course with me at the Polytechnic. Alf worked for the Atomic Energy Authority at Windscale. I also asked Aunt May and introduced her to my colleagues. I did a lot of cooking in advance and made a lamb stew. I was rather nervous as usually I did not do much entertaining, but the evening went well.
The Christmas holidays came and I went back to do three weeks work at the Government Chemist. This was the way the sandwich course worked.
At Christmas I went to Midnight Mass at St. Joan of Arc's Church. I visited my aunt and cousin. On one day I went to see my aunt in West Kensington, sharing her chicken dinner. On another occasion I went to see my cousin and his wife in their new house in Romford. They were discussing ripping out the inconvenient narrow shelves in the kitchen. The bathroom had been papered with a design showing fishes, swimming under water, which I thought attractive. Leonard and Teresa did not like this, and were preparing to put new white tiles in the bathroom, and to paint the rest in cream. The first new item they had fitted in the bathroom was an electric water-heater, which they kept for over 25 years, long after the central heating had begun to supply constant hot water. They had coal-fired central heating installed early on. In the summer this was shut down. I am not sure how they got hot water for their baths at this time, as the electric water-heater was small-scale, supplying shaving and face-washing water only, in a container like an electric kettle, but three times as large, and made of glass. I believe they might also have had an immersion heater for the bath.
In these days, most people still boiled kettles to do their daily washing up.
While visiting Leonard and Teresa, Teresa told me she was expecting a baby in the spring. She was at this time still travelling from Romford to Notting Hill Gate each week-day, to continue teaching her class of five- year olds. I asked her if she would continue teaching after Christmas. She said that she might give up, because if she was too tired to do the work well, it would be bad for the children. Apparently Teresa was not too tired, because she continued teaching until shortly before the birth of the baby.
When she gave up, she did not return to work, saying that she wanted to stay at home and be a full-time mother. Meanwhile Leonard had obtained a post with a superior, larger advertising agency, and his income rose; so this was a very advantageous time for them to start their family.
Leonard enjoyed D-I-Y activities, and whenever he had time, put up shelves, redecorated and made minor alterations to the house. He was always busy. If not working on his art-work, which he brought home, and worked on at week-ends, then he was gardening or decorating.
He enthusiastically threw himself into the parish life at the Catholic Church in Romford. One of his activities was collecting money weekly from parishioners, for a kind of football pool, on a very small scale, which gave weekly prizes, and raised funds for the church. These small pools were very popular at this time, and I continued collecting in this way for the church at Highbury.
About this time Aunt May was running a raffle for her Anglican Church in Chelsea. She made a nice large rich fruit cake and this was one of the prizes. When I visited Aunt May after leaving work at the Government Chemist one evening, I bought six raffle tickets from her, put them in the cupboard at home and thought no more about this matter. Though I had no phone accessible either at home or at work, I used to phone Aunt May sometimes from a call-box. I was extremely surprised to learn that I had won the fruit cake in the raffle.
"Everyone will think it is a put-up job," said Aunt May.
I agreed that other people might think it surprising and say that I had won the prize because I was Aunt May's niece! Nevertheless, I visited Aunt May the following week, and took the cake home. We both knew that we had been quite honest and I had genuinely won the prize! Home-made cake was a pleasant change for me. I ate at canteens every day at lunch-time, and never had much time for home cooking.
I rejoined the Legion of Mary, with weekly meetings and visits to parishioners, but had to drop this whenever a chemistry exam was on the horizon.
The Legion of Mary started a new activity of promoting monthly discussions about religion. Lay members spoke about some aspect of religion in the parish hall. On one occasion, I was the speaker and I spoke about the relationship between religion and science, emphasising my belief that science and religion were compatible. There were still many older Catholics about who wholly distrusted science. Aunt Violet was one of these. She depreciated the fact that I was working in this field.
She said "That is a man's job".
I did not agree at all, and privately thought that if she really believed that Catholics should not do science, then she should not use this argument. Why should she think science OK for men, but not for Catholics! Half the Catholics were men!
Speaking by lay-people on religion or connected subjects was an activity not much encouraged by the church as an institution, except for teaching children in school, but 1959 was a time of change. Reforms in the liturgy were gradually being made, and there was more openness. I enjoyed this.