Jane abandoned by her mother, picked on by her step mother, leaves home at 17 for London.
The war years passed into history and the Prudesworthy children's uncles would come and go. The novelty of caring for four children soon wore off. The financial upkeep was a burden that most men wouldn't suffer for long, especially coupled with the hostility of the older children who would accept no man as a replacement for their war-hero father. Eleanor was having difficulty coping. She had never truly got over the losses of her lover, Marvin, or of her devoted husband. She became increasingly distressed with the departure of each of her suitors and she could see the familiar signs that the latest uncle was thinking of moving on. She felt she had to act to relieve the burden on him and perhaps convince him to stay.
"Come on, Jane, time to go." Eleanor fastened the buttons on her daughter's coat and then plonked the bonnet on her head. "Straighten that up," she said before walking over to turn off the radio, leaving the young child to tidy the bonnet and put on her gloves.
Jane pulled on her multicoloured mittens all the time thinking of her sister Carol. Carol was the eldest in the family and she would play with Jane and make a fuss of her before she went off to school. Jane loved her sister more than anyone else and would eagerly await her return from school every afternoon.
Because her mother had dressed her in her new sandals and her Sunday clothes, she thought that it might be the special day for her to join her sister and brothers and start school herself.
Her mother turned and looked at her. "Not those bloody things," she said loudly. "Where's the cotton gloves?"
Jane gave her mother a smile, but the woman just stared back at her and gave a deep sigh. "What the hell, I suppose you can wear them if you want to," she said and walked back over to tie the bonnet ribbon under Jane's chin.
They were soon sitting on the top deck of the trolley bus. It was a long journey and Jane sat quietly looking out the window. She had never been on such a journey and she wondered what sort of adventure they were going on, realising that she was not going to start her time at school just yet. She remembered the previous night lying in her converted cot listening to her mother shouting and arguing with her uncle. She wondered if the outing was anything to do with their argument because she had heard them mention her name a few times.
They left the trolley bus and she held her mother's hand as they walked along the pavement and through some huge doors. It was a big store and there was a rumbling stairway carrying people up to another level. The sight and noise of it frightened her and she panicked when she realised that her mother was going to take her on it. She tried to pull back, giving out a terrified look, but her fears eased when Eleanor picked her up and she became quite happy for her mother to carry her up the escalator. They reached the top and her mother continued to carry her for a while before putting her down inside the toy department.
Jane looked about in wonder, teddies, dollies, cars, prams, rows and rows of toys of every description. She looked up at her mother and smiled.
"I won't be a minute, you stand here and don't you dare move from this spot." She put a note into Jane's hand. "Now hold on to this."
Jane stood confused and frightened as her mother walked off. She wanted to hurry after her but knew her mother would scold her if she did. Jane thought she must have gone to the toilet and wished she had taken her; she needed the toilet too. A few minutes passed, but it seemed a long time to the young girl and she became increasingly anxious. She looked down at the crumpled note that she held in one of her mittens and wondered why it was so important and why her mother had given it to her before she had walked off to the toilet.
The ribbon on her bonnet began to aggravate her, seeming as if it were getting tighter. She thought it was a baby's bonnet and the two woollen balls hanging down the back had always annoyed her. She hated the bonnet, unlike the chunky multicoloured mittens that covered her little hands. She loved the mittens although they looked scruffy and didn't match with the rest of her clothes. Her sister Carol had knitted them, especially for her, from the retrieved wool of an old pullover. She raised her free hand and ran the mitten across her runny nose. She was fretting and her bottom lip began to tremble as tears formed in her eyes waiting for the cue to rush down her rosy cheeks. She was worried in case her mother might not come back for her. Wondering if she had done anything wrong and wondering why her mother had left her there.
She stared towards the doorway hoping to see her mother coming back to take her home.
Jane's fears worsened when she noticed a man in a long black overcoat looking at her and she wondered if he was the stranger that she had been warned about. She watched him as he walked off and although he was walking away from her, her fears remained because he kept looking round to check that she was still there. The toilet, she now badly needed to use the toilet and pulled her legs together transferring her weight from one leg to the other. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she began thinking of her sister Carol, longing for the comforting and protection that she always got from her.
She looked back towards the man as he stopped to speak to a female shop assistant. Jane stared at the assistant as she began walking over and although the woman was smiling and looked friendly, as she got nearer, Jane burst into tears.
"Hello, little one," the woman said. "What's all the tears for? Have you lost your Mummy?" She took the note from Jane's mitten and read it. "The wicked bloody so and so," she muttered. She picked Jane up and gave her a cuddle. "It's all right, cherub, you're going to be all right," she said, before carrying her to a counter and pressing the security bell.
* * * * *
The children's home had at one time been a workhouse and the dormitory was not ideally suited for children. The windowsills were high and the children could only see out of the windows if they stood on a chair. Although the huge cast iron radiators kept the chill off the room, it still had a cold look about it. The high ceiling and top half of the walls were a dull white colour and the whitewash, which had layered over the years, was peeling in places. The bottom half was painted an emerald green gloss and despite the thickness of the many years of painting, the brickwork pattern of the glazed bricks was still clearly visible.
People would come and go, looking at her, talking at her, but then leaving never to be seen again. "Miserable little wretch," one said, and the words stuck with her for a while. After many disappointments, two friendly people started calling to see her. Many times they called and she loved their visits. They always gave her lots of loving attention and brought her nice things. They would take her out, usually just for a walk around the gardens, but one day they were given permission to take her to the seaside. Jane was excited, and it was as expected a fantastic day for her: the rides they took her on at the funfair and the donkey ride on the beach; the two of them holding her hands and swinging her into the air; the man helping her to make a huge sandcastle while the lady went to get the ice cream cornets, but what she loved most of all were the hugs and kisses they gave her as the day progressed. She slept well that night after they had left her, clutching a teddy bear the man had won for her at one of the rifle stalls.
Jane's excitement was almost uncontrollable when they came the following week. The matron had packed all Jane's things into an old brown suitcase ready for the couple to take her to her new home in Bedford. It was a long journey and she felt as if the coach were taking her to the other side of the country. They arrived at Bedford and set off for Jane's first ride in a taxi.
They were soon at the private housing estate where the couple lived and the taxi drove down a service road that formed a square around a large green. Jane looked out of the window at the children playing on the grass. The children ran after the taxi and they all stood around staring at Jane as she got out and made her way along the path to the three bedroom, semi-detached house. The size of the house and the loneliness of her bedroom made her a bit quiet and withdrawn for a while, but she soon settled in and accepted the childless couple as her new Mum and Dad.
Some months later, Jane was standing at her bedroom window looking out onto the green. The boys were playing football. The two girls, her school friends, were skipping happily while they waited for her to join them. She took off her school clothes and changed into her shorts and jumper before making her way down the stairs. She looked into the kitchen. "I'm just going out to play on the green, Mum," she called.
"Come and sit down for a minute. I've a big surprise for you." Her mother had been baking and Jane knew she was making a cake for her birthday party at the weekend. She thought that the surprise must be something to do with that. "It's good news for all of us. Mummy and Daddy always thought that you would be our only little girl, but God has been good to us and he's giving us a new baby. You're going to have a little sister or brother to play with."
Jane was pleased because her mother was pleased and although she was excited at the prospect of a sister or brother, what she really wanted at that time was to go outside and play with her friends.
The time came for her mother to go into hospital and it was not long before she returned home with a baby girl. Right away Jane noticed the difference in her life. She was no longer the main attraction in the house. Family and friends would call and they would make a great fuss over the new family addition leaving Jane very much shunted into the background. It was as if the novelty of her adoption didn't matter anymore and she was no longer an important member of the family, an intruder almost.
Jane tried to seek some attention whenever she got the chance. She came into the house one evening after she had been out playing with her friends. She went up to her bedroom and saw that the special teddy that had been won for her at the funfair was not on her bed. She went to the main bedroom and looked into the cot, but the teddy was not there either. She walked slowly down the stairs and into the living room. Her mother was holding Gwen on her knee, playing with her, as Jane hurried over.
"That's my teddy, Mum, she's got my teddy."
"Don't worry; you can have it back when she drops off to sleep."
Jane gave her mother a sour-faced look. She would often squeeze beside her on the armchair and cuddle up to her for a while before getting ready for bed, but there didn't seem to be much room. She wanted her cuddle and tried to squeeze into the small gap between her mother and the arm of the chair.
"Jane, don't be silly, there's not enough room for the three of us."
Jane turned to look at her mother and her arm caught Gwen's head causing her to let out a scream. Although Jane was genuinely sorry that she had knocked her sister, she had no time to offer an apology.
The woman pushed Jane with such a force that she sent her sprawling onto the floor. "You wicked girl," she yelled. "Get up to bed. Get up to your bedroom and out of my sight."
Jane burst into tears and looked over to her father for support. He returned a disapproving look over the top of his glasses, gave a rattle of his newspaper and continued reading.
"Don't defy me, girl," her mother yelled. "You defy me and you'll surely regret it." Jane got up and ran from the room. She was sobbing as she hurried up the stairs and she dashed into her bedroom with a terrible dread that she was no longer wanted.
As the years passed it was her sister who was like an oasis of hope to her and they grew up with love and affection for each other as if they were natural sisters.
* * * * *
It was Coronation year and in East London, a traditional children's street party was about to start. The terraced houses were decorated with Union Flags and bunting hung along and across the street. Long covered tables stretched along the middle of the road with children sat on salvaged timber benches at either side.
Terry Mansfield had just sat down after his father had taken a photograph of him and his two older brothers standing in the crepe paper suits that their mother had made. Terry was only five, but he felt grown up in the suit, thinking it a bit better than his brothers' suits and a lot better than the other children's.
He looked along the table at the sandwiches, jellies, and cakes. Why did they have to wait; why couldn't they just start now? He spotted Linda looking at him. He remembered the kiss-chase game where she had wanted to kiss him. Yuk! He picked up his spoon and wondered if he could hit her with a blob of jelly, but he put the spoon back down when he saw his father looking at him.
Where was his mother? He looked around and saw her outside their house talking to Auntie Ivy from the house next door. All the women wore bright flowery pinafores, but his mother's was the brightest most flowery of them all. She stood like a queen, the kindest and prettiest lady in the world. His mother smiled and gave a wave when she saw him looking. He smiled and waved back. How he loved his mother; she was the only person in the world who he wanted kisses from. Terry looked at the crates of brown ale, pale ale, and stout stacked up beside their front door. He knew that after the street party there would be a party in their house for the grown-ups. Just like Christmas, they would all be in the front room; all the grown-ups would be singing while his mother played the piano, and his father would be singing the loudest and the best. He and his older brothers would be upstairs in their bedroom singing, dancing about, and joining in with the merriment.
"All right children, you can start now."
No one knew who gave the word, but the response was immediate. Terry picked up his spoon and looked at the jelly. Right, where's Linda?
* * * * *
Back in Bedford the celebrations were also in full swing. Because Jane did so well in school at physical exercise and country dancing, she was chosen for the school dancing display at the coronation celebrations. It was a grand moment for her to dance in front of all the parents, her own parents and sister sitting at the front smiling at her proudly. A lot of their neighbours were complimenting her to her parents at the coronation party that was held later on the green. Jane was always trying to please them by her efforts at home as well as by trying to achieve good results at school and the small amount of praise that she did receive was a delight to her
Just after her twelfth birthday, it was Jane's own idea to attend the school of dancing twice a week. She became quite proficient and her tutors were pleased at the ease with which she seemed to be able to pick up the steps and movements.
Each evening they would have some free time at the end of the lessons in which they could indulge in some less formal dancing. They were allowed to bring in their own records, usually the latest rock and roll hits from America. Most of the boys wanted to be her partner in these periods and even the older students noticed that she could jive in a way that was advanced for a girl of her age. She always returned home feeling pleased with herself and glad that she had found a pastime that she was good at and which she thoroughly enjoyed. The praise and encouragement she got from her parents was an added bonus, giving her a feeling that in their eyes there was at least one thing she could do right.
It was early evening. Jane and Gwen had just finished washing the dishes and they walked out to the green to join in the rounders game. Jane's turn came around on the bat and she stood primed and ready to strike. When she struck the ball it headed towards her sister Gwen who was on the other team fielding. Gwen put her hands out to catch the ball, but it hit her in her face and she ran off towards the house screaming.
Her mother heard the screams and rushed out to see what was happening. Gwen's lip was split and where she had rubbed it, she had spread the blood across her face and onto her blouse making her injury look far worse than it actually was.
"Who done this, who bloody-well done this?" her mother shouted, dabbing Gwen's split lip with her handkerchief and trying to clean the blood from her face which caused Gwen to scream all the louder. She stared angrily at Jane as she rushed over with their friends. "Was it you?"
Jane looked at her but didn't answer. She was shaking, trembling, and in fear of what her mother would do to her.
"It was, it was you, wasn't it?"
Jane was almost in tears as she spoke. "It was an accident, Mum. I didn't mean to do it."
The woman rushed over and grabbed Jane's arm. Twisting Jane's arm up her back she forced her to bend over almost double and then after pulling her loose skirt over her back she began to slap her hard across the back of her legs. Gwen had stopped crying, and she was in shock at the plight of her sister. Her own injury no longer seemed so serious to her. She pleaded to her mother to stop, but despite her tearful pleas and Jane's screams her mother struck Jane savagely a dozen times before letting go of her arm.
"Now get to your bedroom. I don't want to see your face again tonight."
Jane ran into the house crying. She dashed up to her room slamming her door behind her and dropped onto her bed sobbing.
Jane calmed herself down and sat on her bed trying to read a comic, but the thought of hurting her sister and the horror of her mother's attack on her troubled her. She moved her arm round as if in an exercise, still aching in her shoulder where her mother had forced her arm up her back. She stood up and looked into the wardrobe mirror while lifting up the back of her skirt. The backs of her legs were glowing red from the back of her knees to just below the cheeks of her behind. Her mother hadn't only hurt her physically, she had also humiliated her by displaying her knickers for everyone to see, and not just her girlfriends, but in front of the boys as well. She wondered if she could ever face them again. She heard a noise outside her room, the door opened and Gwen brought her in a glass of orangeade.
Tears formed in Jane's eyes when she looked at her sister's swollen lip. "I'm sorry, Gwen, it was an accident. I wouldn't hurt you for the world."
"I know, and I didn't mean to get you into trouble. I wish Mummy wouldn't hit you like that, it frightens me." Gwen put the drink on the bedside cabinet and reached out her arms, offering Jane a cuddle.
* * * * *
Jane's seventeenth birthday arrived and after the lesson at the dance school, the older students asked her to a local bar for a celebration drink. She was reluctant at first, but they soon convinced her that it was the thing to do.
Jane had been in the bar a few times before, but she had only had one or two Babychams. This time things were different and her friends had the misguided idea of getting her drunk. They were successful in their efforts and at the end of the evening, they were laughing at the drunken way she was behaving, but one of her girlfriends was not amused and had tried to stop her from drinking. She lived near Jane, knew how her mother treated her and knew that Jane would be in big trouble when she got home. When they left, the girl took Jane to her own house first to try to sober her up with cups of coffee and dry toast, but although she had some success Jane was still drunk when the girl took her to her front gate.
It was ten to twelve when Jane closed the front door and crept across the hall. Her mother had been lying in bed waiting for her and she appeared on the landing like a spectre before dashing down the stairs. "And where the hell do you think you've been to till now?" she shouted. Jane's sister heard her mother shouting and she came downstairs to give Jane a bit of support.
Jane didn't answer her mother. She put her hand to her mouth, hiccupped, and then gave a silly laugh.
The stern-faced woman moved close to Jane and gave a loud exaggerated sniff. "You've been drinking, haven't you?" Not waiting for a reply, she grabbed Jane by her hair and dragged her across the hall before striking her hard across her face. Jane screamed and her sister ran over, pulling at her mother's arms.
"Leave her alone, Mum, it is her birthday, you know."
"Little harlot, her birthday yes. Just turned seventeen and she comes home drunk like some dirty little tramp. She's a bad influence on you. We should have left her in that home where she belongs. Get her upstairs out of my sight before I break her bloody neck." She turned to look back at Jane. "Your mother must have known what you'd turn out like. It's no wonder she dumped you in that shop like a piece of rubbish." The woman stormed off to the kitchen to make herself a cocoa and Gwen took hold of Jane's arm and helped her up to her bedroom.
"She hates me, Gwen, she really hates me and I don't know why."
"I know she picks on you, but she can't hate you. I'm sure she can't, not deep down."
"Well I've had enough, I'm going. When I get my wages on Friday, I'm off."
"Off, where? Where are you gonna go?"
"London, I know a girl who lives in Bromley-by-Bow. She used to work with me at the factory. When she left to live with her boyfriend, she gave me her address and said I could go and stay with her anytime I like."
"But what am I going to do without you. Without you looking after me and stopping the bullies from getting me?"
"The bullies, the bullies won't bother you. You've grown up to be a tough little nut." Jane smiled at her. She reached across and hugged her tightly. "I do love you, Gwen."
"I wish I could go with you. Will you write to me?"
"Write to you. I'll write to you every week. And I'll come to visit. I'll be an adult and she won't be able to touch me anymore." Jane stood up and went to the window to shut the curtains. "Look, there's a big red moon tonight."
Gwen looked out through the window. "Yeah, red moon. There was a program on the tele' about it last night. Some of those UFO weirdos were saying that the moon turns red when the monsters from Mars are lining up a ray gun to blow up the planet."
"Nothing to do with the glare from the sun then?"
"I don't know, do I? But the weirdos haven't been seen since."
"Probably gone off looking for the abominable snowman."
"Bit scary though, isn't it?"
"If you say so." Jane hiccupped again. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
* * * * *
The house was in darkness when Jane left early on Friday morning and made her way to the bus stop. All the things she thought she would need were neatly packed in her old brown suitcase. She knew she had no chance of being paid before midday, but she wanted to be out of the house before her parents woke up.
She waited in the canteen, most of the time alone and bored, checking the time frequently as the minutes slowly passed. Just before twelve o'clock, she set off to the office to collect her wages. The money was a little more than expected. She had a week in hand, but the amount of holiday pay was a welcome bonus. She was pleased with herself, off on an adventure where she would be treated with respect, like an adult, with all her money and time being spent however she chose.
She set off to a nearby transport cafe to meet a lorry driver who worked from the factory. He was booked on a journey to Millwall docks in London and said he would give her a lift to Bow Road, near to where her friend lived.
She sat in the cafe surrounded by workmen and feeling nervous because the men were looking at her as if she had no right to be there. The men looked menacing and their language was crude and vulgar as they spoke to each other. Again, she waited checking the minutes and thinking the lorry driver might not turn up. Perhaps he had forgotten and gone without her. What will I do then? She thought. How will I ever find my way to East London on my own? She felt relieved when she saw him at the cafe door and was eager to start her adventure, but he wanted his lunch before he left so she had to wait a bit longer.
When they set off she had no difficulty climbing into the cab of the Thames Trader and was looking forward to the experience of the journey into London. She was impressed with the way the man handled the lorry thinking how skilled he looked. She wondered if she would ever have the opportunity to drive a lorry, and thought probably not, but she would have loved to have a try. They arrived in East London and Jane climbed down from the cab. The driver passed her case down, slammed the door, and gave a quick wave before the lorry lumbered off.
Jane felt apprehensive as she watched the lorry pulling away, but tried to dismiss her doubts. It was too late now, she thought. It was her decision and there was no going back now. "Right, let's go then", she muttered to herself. She smiled, thinking what a change it was for her; she had plenty of money, a friend's house to stay at and a life ahead of her devoid of abuse, fear and humiliation. She noticed a crowd of people standing at a bus stop looking at her as if she had just arrived from another planet, and she moved off feeling slightly embarrassed.