Royal Navy 1941 to 46 in order, You’re No Use To Me.

As Part of the Newcastle training we had to learn lathe work, forging and bench work at the Metalwork classes, a re-run of my Matriculation syllabus. This was an opportunity for me to relax. One day I was working on a lathe when I found a note complaining that the machine had been left dirty. During the day factory trainees, mainly women would use the equipment and then we would move in at night. The note was in verse. I showed it to those round me and they said I should answer it, which I did, with their help and hindrance. On the next occasion we were there I found another note and this went on for a week or so until there was a suggestion that the writer, a woman, would like to meet the unknown poet. One thing led to another, mostly pressure from my peers, and I agreed to meet her one night in an ice-cream parlour. Remember I was a na?ve 18 year old, and this not only shows my inexperience and innocence, but that of the others

The night arrived and I went there, and sat and waited. I was conspicuous by being in uniform. A woman entered who was also conspicuous because she too was in a uniform, but of another kind entirely, but one I was too naive to recognise. She was a lot older than I, heavily made up, and a lot more experienced. I bought her something or other and we sat and talked and then suddenly she got up and said, ‘Come on, we’ll get a tram.’ It was then that I began to have misgivings, I had expected to make what running there might be. We caught a tram, and as we both smoked we went up onto the top deck. Politeness and expediency demanded that I let her precede me. Mainly the latter, because I wanted, to put what little spare cash I had in my shoe. I had no idea what I had let myself in for, but I intended to see it through. Anyway, I could never have lived with myself, not to mention the barracking I would have got from the other ratings, if I had chickened out. When we were seated and I had paid the fare she turned to me, ‘You know’, she said, ‘You’re no good to me, I’ll take you somewhere that will be more in your league.’ This left me completely at sea, and not a little subdued. I took the remark to be a criticism of my manhood. I was now having lurid fancies of being taken and robbed, but I stuck it out.

We left the tram and walked along a road where the terrace house-fronts met the back of the pavement and were like many of the house built during the industrial revolution for mill workers and shipyard workers. Belfast used to have miles of them once, but now has only a few. We stopped, the woman knocked and a man in his shirtsleeves, opened the door and stood aside when we entered,. I was led into a living room cum kitchen and introduced to his wife and daughter. The woman made some excuse and left me there, stranded like a beached whale, feeling totally foolish and out of place. On her way out, I could hear her muttering to the wife at the front door, but as I could not make out what was being said I had to make the best of it. Desultory conversation had me embarrassed and I tried to think of a way of extracting myself without giving offence. I was not allowed to discuss why I was in Newcastle, but I suspected the woman had intimated what she knew. Tea was produced with a cake and then, as so often happens, the appearance of food broke down some of the reserve and we started to chat. I discovered the daughter was the manageress of a cake shop in Newcastle and she suggested that if I liked to call in, she would give me something for me and my friends. Ultimately, when it seemed decently possible without being rude I left and took a tram back into Newcastle.

As can be imagined the class was agog to hear how I had got on, and when I described the woman I had met at the ice-cream parlour there were a few ribald remarks passed. When I told them about the cake shop they nearly had me out the door there and then, on an errand of mercy, – on their behalf. I was not too eager to start a relationship, especially for purely mercenary reasons so I didn’t take the girl up on her offer for some time, I was also feeling a little stupid about the whole incident. I was finally pressured by my hungry friends to go to the cake shop and sure enough, I received a whole cake. For a while after that the young woman and I became friends and went to the cinema and met in the cake shop on a casual basis, but that was about all. My final judgement on the extra-curricular activities of the woman whose lathe I shared was correct. The family who took me in and fed me cake were looking after her daughter. I had had a very strange evening when at times I had been apprehensive. That it worked out well was certainly more luck than judgement. Education comes in many guises.

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