Off to work
Toward the last weeks of the school term, the form master a Mr Evans arranged for me to have an interview for a job as an Office Boy in the Accounts Department of The British Tyre and Rubber Company 'B.T.R'. The interview took hours and comprised mainly of proving that I knew how to roll up the umbrella of the Accountant. And I could read and write, and add up. I thought this was all a bit humiliating as they well knew that I was about to leave Grammar School, and apart from the inexperience of never having held an umbrella, never mind rolling one up, which I did not find a particularly difficult job to do, although I could not understand the reason for it, particularly as I reasoned if the accountant had actually used it coming in to work, it needed to be dried before he even thought of rolling it up. I was given a lecture on what a manager should look like in appearance, which I thought a totally unnecessary. I don't know what information they had been given about me, if anything, or whether they were just being ridiculous. Six months later another boy came to the firm to work in the same office, when he came for his interview he was only at the office for 20 minutes. He had come from a secondary school and immediately assumed he was my senior. I was not happy and determined to get out of the rut, I started to go to night school to learn bookkeeping, but became very frustrated with that. When I was sent out to various offices in the city with packages or to get forms from Customs and excise everyone seemed to think it funny to imitate my attempts at talking. Shades of the comedian on the radio. I always went direct by bus or tube and came straight back to the office with the receipts / tickets to claim expenses. The other boy would be gone most of the day to do the same jobs and claim all sort of expenses, including refreshments. My conscience would not let me cheat like that and I was laughed at for it. My pay was 50 shillings a week, which I handed over to my mother and she gave me back 5 shillings. I took sandwiches to work for my lunch, and then went out for a short walk afterwards to while away the lunch hour.
It was about this time that my mother tried to get me out of the house to meet other people. I had no friend that I could visit or who came to call on me. Pad was away in the Navy and had his own circle of friends. Michael was developing his own friends, which left me very much on my own. Michael was anyway five years younger than myself and so we didn't have many interests in common. My mother had learned of a Catholic youth club in Vauxhall, 'St Anne's' which was not too far from us, and took me there one evening. I was very shy of mixing and particularly wary of girls. I stayed there for the evening and was encouraged to go back, I went back the next week and got dragged into a dancing class by the instructor, I think there was a shortage of boys. I quite enjoyed it, but found it very difficult mixing with the girls and almost had to be forced to take hold of a partner correctly, but once I had overcome that obstacle and found that was what the girls really wanted me to do when we were dancing, I began to relax and enjoy dancing. It soon became my only interest in the club. After a while I became quite proficient at the four standard dances 'Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep and Tango' and was put into the team. A girl called Kathleen Anderton, who was a lot older than myself, partnered me. She had a regular boy friend 'John O'Connor' who was also in the team, partnering another girl. I became a regular member of the club and began to enjoy it enormously. A girl called "Betty" I can't remember her last name eventually befriended me. We became quite close in a platonic sense. She wouldn't stand any nonsense, and I was not bold enough to start any, not that I really understood what 'any nonsense' was really all about. I discovered by accident later on that she also had another boyfriend at the same time, who she obviously did 'stand nonsense' with because she became pregnant by him. I was very upset at the time but with hindsight, which is always so much cleverer, I was well shot of her. I heard that most of the dance team and a few other members of the club went to a coffee house at, Kennington Oval on Sunday mornings and so I turned up there once or twice to try to be part of the set. They were polite to me, but I was largely ignored. It seemed obvious to me I was not part of the 'In' set, so I stopped going there.
Outside of the dancing classes I was very much alone still. I was due to go back to the hospital in Oxford to have more surgery on my face. I went back as arranged and suffered more correction to my nose and lip. Any further surgery was deemed to be more drastic and the end result a risk. I was nearing the age for National Service. I didn't know where I was going, I wanted to get out of my rut and be independent and be treat
on equal terms not as a second-class being. I can recall an occasion at about this time I stood in the avenue outside the block of flats we lived in and looking around I thought to myself, "One day I am going to get out of here, I am going to have a motor car, my own house and have at least £1,000 in the bank." At that time all three of those ambitions seemed an almost impossible dream, but it was a target to aim at.
I went for registration for National Service, and elected to go into the Navy hoping to be close to Pad again, but I was told the Navy did not accept National Servicemen unless they were either R.N.V.R. or R.N.R. I chose then to try to go into the R.A.F. and secondly into the Army. I need not have bothered I was medically unfit. Pad was at home on leave at the time, he laughingly said to me "Join the Navy Neal, they'll take anybody". I made up my mind to try to get into the Navy, but win or lose I was going to make a career change come hell or high water. I decided to go to the R.N Recruiting Office near Leicester Square one lunchtime. I told my first lie at work, I told them I had been called for my Medical for National Service and I would be late back. I was told I could go home afterwards. I went to the Recruiting Office with my heart in my mouth. The Chief Petty Officer was very kind and supportive, but he did tell me that at first glance he didn't think my chances were good, but the Surgeon (Medical Officer) was in the building so he would get him to see me. I was taken to see a Surgeon Commander in his office and I was given thorough medical. He said he was a bit dubious but he could see I was very disappointed and so reached a compromise. He told me that I could join on one condition only, and that was that I went into the Sick Berth Branch, if I failed there I could not re-muster into any other division - I would be out. I didn't know what the Sick Bay was, or what it entailed, but that was good enough for me, I was in and I was going to make the best of it away from my home constraints. My impossible dream was to be a Policeman, I say impossible because I had decided even before the war when I was so tiny that this is what I wanted to do, but my mother had told me so many times that I could never ever be one. I am a stubborn person and the impossible is always possible if you try hard enough, but at that time it was still a secret fantasy, a dream.
Pad had told me that one of the first tests I would have to undergo when I joined up was a swimming test, and I couldn't swim. My next task was to learn how, and as I breathed through my mouth instead of my nose this was not easy, however I was determined and immediately started to go to Buckingham Palace Road swimming baths. The changing rooms were ranged around the side of the pools, unlike the swimming pools today. There were very few if any glazed tiles around or in the baths, but no one knew any better, so no one cared. I started off in the water at chest height and gradually began to get more confidence until I could actually stay afloat for a whole width. I started to refine my strokes into what resembled an orthodox style as opposed to what was generally recognised as a panic-stricken struggle, much like a wounded whale trying to escape a harpoon. By the time my call up came I could just swim a length in a sort of style, but I had mastered the hardest bit.
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