Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Is Honesty the Best Policy in Matters of the Heart?

Ever since seeing Jimmy Quinn and Patricia Teare demonstrating the foxtrot at the Orchid Ballroom earlier this year I was determined to have a similar suit made one day. This suit would cost me an arm and a leg in 1951 and it would be partly financed by a loan from the resident nurse at the firm I was working for: Charringtons Bottled Beer Depot in Bensham Lane.

She was a small and very friendly lady of about 50 or so and was always referred to as "Sister" Warne. Whether or not she had been a "sister" in a hospital was neither here nor there but this is how all staff addressed her. She was Irish and a really kindly person. I was just a clerk in the offices here but there were scores of people, mainly female, working in the bottling factory. Now and then an accident, usually involving exploding beer bottles and broken glass, would have need of medical attention and our dear Sister Warne dealt with such incidents with calm skill and professionalism.

I told Sister of my love of dancing and all about Stella. I said I had saved up a few pounds towards a new suit I planned to have made. "How much will it cost you?" she once asked me. I said about 20 guineas or so. "And how much have you got so far?" asked Sister W. "About half-way there I reckon..." I said. A couple of days later Sister came into the room where we had our morning tea break and asked me to come to her office. I had no idea what she wanted but I followed her to her workplace. She then handed me ten £1 notes, pressing them into my hand with a kindly smile, saying "Pay me back when you can afford it. Go ahead and buy your suit!"

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Nobody had ever been so kind and thoughtful like this before. Sister Warne was a real treasure and presumably was a middle-aged romantic; I don't really know. She was quite a religious lady, catholic I think, and she was just a happy person and everybody liked her. She never said anything about herself and as far as I knew she had never been married.

Anyway, I accepted her kind offer and promised to repay her as soon as I could. She said there was "no hurry", and she meant it.

The new suit I'd promised myself to have made was now finished. It was made by a tailor situated above a shop in the London Road West Croydon, almost opposite Marks and Spencers. He was a very meticulous man and, so he said, was tailor to both Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise - but he offered no proof of that.

I chose a mid-blue 15 oz material and it took two fittings before the tailor was satisfied with the fit. I had made it quite clear to him that I needed it to be exactly the right length in the jacket, so that when I was "in hold" on the dance floor the jacket would hang in as perfect a "V" shape at the back as possible. He understood perfectly and he made an excellent job of it.

This new suit was only worn when going dancing and for special occasions, like a birthday party. I kept it in as pristine condition as possible, not wanting to sit about in it, creasing it up or risking marking it in any way. It seemed to give me more confidence on the dance floor. It's amazing how that simply thinking one looks good makes one actually feel very good. It may be "all in the mind" but as long as it works for you ... so what!

What's all this got to do with honesty? Well, time had fled by so quickly in the latter half of 1951 I was now in a real quandary. National Service! Because of my adding a year to my real age it meant that I would be 18 in the coming January in 1952. And if you were 18, with very few exceptions, you would be called up to spend two years in the armed forces. In fact, of course, I would be only 17 in January.

If I were to explain why I was not being called up it would involve making up some story or other; more lies, and this time they would not be so "white". This was something that worried me more and more as the days and weeks went by. What would I do to extricate myself from this impending doom. What indeed.

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