Esther Road

We were very happy in the flat but now there were difficulties; it was not easy to dry the baby’s washing although I managed pretty well really for I would pin them to my clothes horse and stand them out on the balcony. Another difficulty was the pram; and this was something that would get worse now that I was pregnant again. I had no pram shed available to me as there were only four to serve the whole of the flats and they had already been allocated. My pram had to be taken downstairs in the morning and left in the courtyard and covered up if the weather was rainy or damp, then carried up in the evening when all the outings were over for the day.

Joe did not like me helping with the carrying nowadays and he pulled it up himself every night, boomping it up the stairs which I am sure was very bad for both the springs and the wheels.

The upshot of all these small trials was that we thought that we would try to see if there were any small houses with a garden. Our friends from Stratford, when they were bombed out of their house, were offered a house to rent in Chadwell Heath and they had now been in it for some time. They paid 25/- a week rent for it but it was a brand new semi-detached house with a modern bathroom of which they were inordinately proud. There had been nothing like that in the small terrace house at Stratford.

We went down to see them and were very impressed with it but for us the rent was a little high, for we would have to pay fares for Joe to get to his job and then there was the threat of the call up always over our heads. We knew that this would inevitably come to us and we were not quite sure how the army pay worked out, for some of the army wives seemed to manage very well and others seemed unable to make ends meet at all when their husbands first went into the forces and found themselves facing hard times and we did not want this to happen to us.

There were brand new houses just down the road from them which had been built for sale and were now up either for sale or for renting, but everyone was reluctant to buy as a bomb could fall at any moment and reduce it all to rubble. We looked them over and to our future regret decided that a rented house was a better proposition until after the war was over.

I often talked to people round about now that I took my baby for walks in the afternoons and I got to know another woman with a little girl who lived in a side street near to our home that I passed on my way to the forest. We would sit out on the forest in the shady glade at the end of the road and talk of the days when the war would be over and there would be lots of nice things to eat again.

One afternoon this woman invited me in for a cup of tea and as we talked she told me of a house to let in her road for 17/6 a week. My ears pricked up at this and I questioned her about it so she took me down and borrowed the key from the house next door to it and went in to explore.

It was a very old house and in a very dilapidated condition. I was thrilled with the long garden, and I cheerfully shrugged off the condition of the woodwork and the general hangdog look of the place.

I took Joe to see it that evening after he came home from work and to my dismay he wasn’t the least bit impressed with my find and found faults from start to finish of the tour of inspection. He was right of course: The old scullery had a chipped sink and tiny window. All the other windows had been denuded of glass for it had been bombed and blackout paper now took the place of the glass. He saw that the woodwork was poor and that there were just hundreds of jobs shrieking out to be done, and he was altogether very dubious. But I wanted a garden and thought that here was a good way to get one so I talked persuasively and in the end he gave way and started negotiation for the tenancy.

There were many times in the years ahead that I wished he had been adamant in his first decision to have nothing to do with the house, but I was well and truly stuck with it by then.

Moving day was one I shall never forget, it was such a short distance that Joe decided that with a friend to help him he could manage the job with a builder’s hand cart which he borrowed from a nearby yard. I spent all day going round with oddments on the pram and the men took all the big things. We had a huge bed with a very ornamental headboard made of carved oak and in addition there was the very large interior sprung mattress and a base on which the spring rested. The small things were no problem but we started a collection of the bigger things that were difficult to carry up to the bedrooms. We held a council of war as to how these big articles could be transferred to the upper floor when they were too big to go up the narrow winding staircase.

One of our neighbours from a few doors along came to offer his services and he volunteered to get it all inside in a few minutes if Joe would remove the large sash window in the front. He fetched a long ladder and propped it up against the sill and carried the great bed up on his back one piece at a time. This man, “Old Frank”, helped us in lots of ways, both on our moving day and in the years that followed. I have a shrewd suspicion that without his help we would have spent the first night in our new home sleeping on the floor.

But having got the bed and other big things safely in, the girl who had been minding Paul for me all day came round and she helped me make up the bed and Paul’s cot ready for the night. We had tea all together to celebrate the great move in and we were all very glad to get to bed that night.

We were up early next morning and started to arrange things as best we could; our new furniture had looked lovely in the surroundings of the modern flat but there seemed so little of it now that we had five rooms to spread it around in. We had our lino laid in the front bedroom and the sitting room downstairs and the kitchen and bathroom lino just had to go in the scullery and for the rest, well, it was just plain boards.

We had given no thought to the question of stair carpet or lino or any kind of floor covering but now it dawned on us that we had married too soon; those who had married a year or so after us qualified for lino and curtain coupons and also for furniture permits. We soon learned that there were no loopholes by which we could obtain these coveted articles and it looked as though we would have to put up with painted floors and the terrible noise. The din we made going up and down stairs had to be heard to be believed; the two of us going up and down the stairs sounded like the stamping procedure carried on by the guards on duty at Buckingham Palace.

It was time now to see about booking for a bed in a hospital for the arrival of our second baby or, failing that, to book up with the local midwife. When I went to the clinic they told me that as my first baby had been born without complications and in a straightforward fashion I would be expected to have this one at home and was given the address of the nearest midwife to my home. She proved to live in the next road and after going to be examined by her two or three times she told me that she was leaving the district to take over a country round where she would be the only nurse. It was a great chance for her for there was a small nurse’s bungalow and a car to go with the job so she was very thrilled about it all. As she intended giving up her present home she had wondered if I would be interested in the tenancy as the house had a bathroom which we missed so much after the flat and also a hot water system in the form of a back boiler which warmed the breakfast room in addition to the water.

I met her out one morning and she invited me to go and have a look at it. We parked the pram outside the gate and only then did she discover that she had forgotten her key and would have to make an entry through the window. Nurse bent down and I stood on her back and forced the catch of the front window with her pocket knife and then clambered through. When I opened the door to her we both roared with laughter at me in my delicate state climbing in through windows, but I felt so well that we were both sure there would be no miscarriage.

We wandered round; it was a lovely house with lofty rooms and a nicely tended garden. The bathroom was old-fashioned with a brute of a geyser across the tap end but I never really discovered why it was there at all in view of the back boiler arrangement.

I was very interested, but it was difficult telling Joe so soon about yet another house with even more floor space which couldn’t be covered through lino shortage or because we had no coupons, but when I explained all the advantages to him he agreed to try for the tenancy.

It all proved to be worry and thought in vain though, for the landlord already had a prospective tenant in mind, a man in Local Government working in libraries who knew the nurse was leaving and had already applied for the house.

One day we heard that a shop in Walthamstow was to have stair carpet which was not rationed, for sale, so I decided to try my luck. I rose early and set off with Paul in the pram, but my hopes of getting any stair carpet dropped to zero when I saw the great throng of people waiting for it, but nevertheless I felt that having got so far I may as well wait for a while to see how things went.

The shop opened at nine o’clock and the shopkeeper came out and told us that he had a thousand yards of carpet for sale; it was 9/6d a yard and he would allow every customer eight yards until it was gone. Some of the men quickly worked out how many people could be served and the rest were told that it would be no use waiting.

There was no choice to be made for it was all the same, brown jute carpeting with orange stripes running down the sides and only eighteen inches wide. I was lucky enough to be far enough up in the queue to be included and I had to wait for a long while while all the others were served. Of course, by this time everyone in England was used to waiting in orderly queues for everything and although I tired quickly, I kept my place and in time was duly issued with my eight yards of carpet which was just a roll with no string or paper round it for it was forbidden by law to wrap anything nowadays. I wheeled it home in great triumph and we laid it the following weekend. To say we laid it is really the understatement of the year for it took hours of fighting with the carpet to get it to look right on our twisting stairs.