1939 -41, Evacuation Part 3

I finished up with a Mr Bailey and his wife. He was a retired electrical engineer and had graduated from Oxbridge. His wife too had an academic background but her main interests were Craven A cigarettes and Bridge in that order, she was a chain smoker and had a small brown stain on her upper lip, just below her nose, to prove it. Bailey was a most interesting man. He had spent his latter working years before retirement designing under-sea armoured cables to carry telephone wires to the Continent and America, some were about six inches in diameter. He had short sections cut and mounted in brass and covered in heavy glass to act as doorstops and paper weights, but in fact they never stopped any door nor weighted paper, they were just left about, to trip the unwary. He was a semi invalid and his wife a tall ascetic woman of stern countenance and mien, as thin as a lath, always heralded by cigarette smoke, controlled us all, including Bailey, with a rod of iron. The house was actually a bungalow, set in modest grounds with macracarpa hedges and windbreaks of the same hedge set at angles in the lawn so Bailey could sit out there in shelter throughout most of the year
I was billeted with another man I’ll call Jim. He was more heavily built than I, with black hair and a dark complexion. He was very popular with the girls. Unsurprisingly I was not of the same opinion, but because we were billeted together, we were automatically friends. We cycled together to school in the mornings but rarely returned together, he generally had other fish to fry.
Mrs Bailey might have offered a stern appearance to the world and indeed was a stickler for discipline in every sense, but basically she was kind and above all patriotic to a fault – so much so that one day she committed what I thought of later as patriotic vandalism.
Patriotic Vandalism I have said elsewhere in the text that Ellen, my mother, had taught me to value articles, even to the extent that I hated playing marbles because I knew the lovely glass balls with their intricate patters of twisted, coloured glass would become chipped, so, when I was told by Mrs Bailey to start to punch holes in beautiful solid copper preserving pans and the like with a pick, I was appalled.
The war was not going well, Dunkirk had either been evacuated or was about to be and those of us living on or near the South Coast were convinced we would be invaded any time. We were all a little despondent but Mrs ‘B’ was in deep despair and it was about this time that the Government made another of its asinine edicts – the collection of gates, railings, copper, brass and aluminium for the war effort. Even at sixteen I could see the ramifications of such an instruction, it left the way open for abuse on a massive scale, any bent second hand dealer could lay down a store of brass ornaments and items which would fetch a fortune when the war ended, even if the Germans were victorious, and I pleaded with Mrs ‘B’ not to give her beautiful brass candlesticks, copper warming pans and the like, but her patriotism coupled with her feeling that Britain was about to disappear without trace made her blind to all I said. It only made the wound open again years later when the truth of that edict was made public and my schoolboy reasoning had been vindicated.
Fish Pie. I believe that normally the Baileys had a large bedroom and slept in separate beds because when we arrived our bedroom was separated from theirs by a folding timber partition. Jim and I slept in a double bed but everything either we or the Baileys said was discernible through the wooden wall so we devised a method of talking which made our speech sound like a vague mumble. We spoke using only the roof of our mouths, with our mouths open and we fuddled the consonant, with the result when we talked of Fish Pie it came out like ‘Igh Hi’
Although the Baileys had all the trappings of wealth, I don’t believe their income was what it had been before Mr Bailey retired. They were never mean, on the contrary, but I had just come from the Tates, and guessed this might have accounted for the regular appearance of Fish Pie on the menu. Jim and I ate separately in the glass conservatory overlooking the garden, an ideal place for a meal. The Baileys ate elsewhere. What they ate is unclear but we had Fish Pie until we were beginning to grow scales. Rationing was in force and there was certainly a shortage of basic food, but we lived in a village and there, I’m positive, some form of barter was the order of the day.
The fish pie was made from potatoes and pink salmon with a crusty top. Perhaps we made the mistake of praising it the first time we had it, but get it we did; and so at night when we went to bed we started talking about Igh Hi and then laughing to the point where sometimes we were almost hysterical. The more we laughed the more Mrs Bailey shouted through the partition and this only fuelled our sense of the ridiculous, especially when she asked us what we were talking about. It is strange that amidst all the momentous happenings during those years, that something as insignificant as a fish pie should stand out enough to be remembered with amusement if not affection.

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