Volume 2 – A new life – chapter 2- part 2
Another problem you have when you are persona non grata is how to meet people and make friends when all they want to do is keep their distance. I understood why the attitude was as it was, I would have reacted in the same way myself before I learned from first-hand experience. Already I was learning to keep my past history to myself, I had not begun to deceive people exactly but I was beginning to hide anything that I knew would invoke a negative response. This is why I never discussed my recent past with the people next door when I was introduced to them, and when they befriended me I continued to say nothing about myself. Looking back now I realise that they must have known about me, because they never asked obvious questions, such as why was I not working. Our neighbours were a young couple with a baby, and they were not the usual run of the mill sort of people you would expect to find in a council house; then neither were we, a retired army officer with three sons. Duncan Pemberton was in his early thirties and his wife Ivy a little younger was maybe in her mid to late twenties. Duncan was unusual in that he had his own business and appeared to make quite a considerable amount of money, which made me wonder what he was doing living in a council house. Today I believe you would have described Duncan as an entrepreneur, he was undoubtedly a man of many talents and knew how to make the grand gesture.
It was not long before Duncan and I became friends and I began to spend lots of time with him, he was good company, interesting, entertaining, and a constant source of amazement displaying a wide range of talents and skills. He had spent a number of years studying at the school of ceramic arts, and on one occasion he demonstrated his artistic skills by painting flowers and their leaves and stalks on some plain china. He had connections in the industry and made use of his knowledge of the pottery trade by buying good quality plain tableware at I presume low prices and decorating it. He had a small workshop at Royal Oak, Fenton where a team of girls did the decorating work, mostly lithograph, the end product he would then sell to various customers at a very respectable profit. He was always on the move visiting his little factory only for short intervals; his work force were experienced and very loyal, Duncan knew he could rely on them to get on with the work in hand without supervision.
Keeping him company I would visit this hive of industry and watch the girls working as though their lives depended on it; Duncan explained that he paid them well but they were paid on a piece work basis, so the amount they produced decided how much went into their pay packet at the end of the week. Knowing a little about pottery manufacture I ask how he managed the firing process without a thermostatically controlled oven, so he showed me how it was done. He had a small gas fired kiln in the workshop into which the decorated ware was loaded, the firing process then began with the temperature slowly building up over a period of hours, and then slowly falling again after the maximum had been reached. Good results depended on precise temperatures and the way this was achieved was by placing an indicator inside the kiln where it could be observed through a viewing hole in the kiln door. The indicator was a small bar of clay which was placed across supports, it was designed to soften and bend at the exact temperature that was required to soften the glaze on the decorated ware, which would allow the lithographs to become permanently embedded.
Being in the company of Duncan it was not long before I began to learn some of the secrets of his success, but he did not mind because he trusted me and knew that his business affairs were safe; where I was concerned he knew that he nothing to fear. Anyway it did not matter that I knew for example that the only people he employed and paid were the girls that did the decorating for him, that he did just about everything else himself. He would buy and transport his plain tableware, then deliver the end product to his customers himself. He was a very hard working chap who deserved everything he worked for; it was also evident that he had a flair for business. If Duncan did anything that was unethical he never let me know, so I could do him no harm anyway.
Another of his many skills was knowledge of motor vehicles, which resulted in him buying and running a garage at a later time in his life, but at this point in the story it was a help to him because of his need for transport. He solved this problem in the following way and from what I could see his solution was completely effective. Duncan bought a large and rather elderly Daimler car which never let him down, and did everything he wanted his transport to do. It was large and comfortable with leather upholstery and a powerful engine; it also had an enormous boot in which he could carry his consignments of crockery. It also had something which Duncan admitted was an unnecessary requirement but a thing he wanted for his own personal satisfaction, it was one of the earliest forms of an automatic transmission. I had never seen one before and in a pre-war vehicle made about 1938 it was a rare and unusual innovation indeed. I never examined its internal workings, but it appeared to have some sort of oil filled flywheel which needed to pick up speed to be really effective. If the initial inertia did not result in the wheels turning it had trouble building up the speed in needed; on one occasion we found ourselves stuck when a wheel had stopped in a grid hole and the transmission would not produce enough power to make it move.
This grand old Daimler took us all over the country in style, it was comfortable and quite eye catching being in very good condition, and still a quality car which impressed those that saw it. It is possible that some of Duncan’s customers were surprised to see their purchases arrive in such a stately vehicle, and making a good impression was all part of the process of building a good image. Most of these customers were shop owners and market stall owners in the big centres like Birmingham and Manchester, with most of the sales being cash on the nail transactions. No paper work or administrative costs, and probably no declaration of earnings to the tax department. With a number of Jewish people involved in this business I suppose you could say that it was not all strictly kosher, but it certainly helped Duncan to make money, and what is more it was broadening my education without a doubt.
The Pembertons improved my education in more ways than one, though it was an understanding of life I was learning with my level of academic progress remaining as dormant as ever. I had grown up with little knowledge or understanding of the female of the species, so when I met Ivy Pemberton I began to learn how strange and unpredictable women could be. I liked Ivy she was pretty, vivacious, emotional, and full of fun mixed with a large portion of mischief. Duncan told me that he had seen her picture in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel some years before when she had won a beauty contest, being the unpredictable fellow he was he had decided right there and then that he was going to take her out. Noting her address in the paper he took himself off to her front door where he informed her that he had come to take her to dinner. This whirlwind and romantic approach swept Ivy off her feet, so that when he announced that she was to marry him she could do no other but say yes. They were a good match for each other and got on like a house on fire, with the emphasis on the word fire. Now I am no expert on relationships and marriage, so my view of their marital condition must be viewed with some reservation, but it appeared to me that Ivy believed that being rushed into marriage had deprived her of some of the fun she would have had as a single girl.
Duncan was an exciting man, what you would call a fun guy in modern day parlance; he must have given Ivy a great time when they first married, but as with most relationships a baby was always a likely outcome. The baby duly arrived and the realisation that she was no longer foot loose and fancy free, made Ivy’s fun loving personality rebel. The outcome was that she became an outrageous flirt, a state of affairs that both Duncan and most of their friends and relatives tried to ignore, or accept as part of her apparently immature personality. When I arrived on the scene it was inevitable that I would become a prime target for Ivy’s desire for adventure and excitement. He behaviour was most embarrassing and the more I tried to avoid it the worse she became. The fact that she was such an attractive looking woman did not make it any easier, but attractive or not to me she was untouchable, her husband was my friend and nothing on this earth was going to make me dishonour that friendship. My first reaction was to stay away, but it would have been a pity to have lost their friendship when the time I spent with them was helping me so much. So I decided to adopt a passive response to Ivy’s behaviour, to ignore her flirting and blatant advances, hoping that she would change her ways. Eventually she did calm down and behave more sensibly, but never completely ceased to show her enthusiasm for me.
I always believed that Duncan knew nothing of his wife’s unprepossessing behaviour, but he was aware of her penchant for flirting, she made little attempt to hide it. Thinking about it now I realise that he may have known what was happening, and decided that it was harmless; maybe he even derived some amusement from my embarrassing situation. Be that as it may, from my perspective it was not funny and it did nothing to make my friendship with them any easier. There was little I could do to improve my relationship with Ivy, but I do have some regrets regarding my attitude towards her cousin who deserved better at my hands. It embarrasses me when I have to confess that I do not even remember her name; to think that such a very nice person should have made so slight an impression on my memory. This cousin was a regular visitor to Ivy’s house, she was not only a friend but she was the chief baby sitter, one who was totally trustworthy and reliable. She was a year or two older than I was, with auburn hair and lovely skin, but apart from that she was what not what you would have called a beauty. She was what you would describe as plain, and physically very ordinary, which is why I felt little interest in her.
Thinking about it now I feel much annoyance with myself, because I now realise that she was a person of many fine qualities, someone worthy of friendship and deserving of more respect than the little I showed her at the time. She was gentle with a kind personality, and what is more she was intelligent, a school teacher no less. Even in my ignorance of such things I became aware that this girl liked me, and even if I had any doubts about it Ivy informed me of the fact, to her cousin’s acute embarrassment. Ivy was not a bad person but she was thoughtless to the point of cruelty when she made advances to me in the presence of this girl who had an obvious liking for me. One evening with Duncan away I was invited to meet the cousin only to have Ivy throw her arms around my neck and drag me down on to the settee, while her discomforted visitor stood by unsure what she should do or say. I have often recollected my lack of courtesy and consideration towards this young woman, who had deserved better and holds a higher place in my recollections though I met her only a few times.
It was not easy to keep a distance from Duncan Pemberton with his devil may care approach to life, his flamboyance and energy. Ivy had not been able to resist his blandishments, and I remain his friend to this day, though I have not seen him or communicated with him since the 1950s. Duncan had the advantage of money in his pocket and he knew how to be generous, which was a big attraction to those who knew him. The sort of thing he would do was share his pleasure in good things with his friends, like the evening he came home with a pint of cognac in his pocket, the best and most expensive you could buy at the time. Four star Martel was rarely seen in most glasses being so very costly, but Duncan did not hesitate to share it, that was the sort of chap he was. He came knocking on our door and asked me to go round for a treat, so I joined him, being presented with a brandy glass and a generous portion of his cognac. With no money of my own I could not afford to drink even if I had wanted to, this was something I would never have enjoyed if it hadn’t been for Duncan. I enjoyed this quality spirits and was given a second helping, the taste and the pleasure of it being enhanced by the memory it invoked, it reminded me of the first time I had ever tasted anything like it. It reminded me of the day that the hospital staff gave cognac to me when I lost consciousness at Loggerheads some months before.
Giving Ivy a good time was always uppermost in Duncan’s mind, he was well aware that if she became too unhappy she would kick over the traces. One evening he was looking in the local newspaper and seeing that the very popular comedians Morecombe and Wise were appearing at the Theatre Royal in Hanley he decided in his usual impetuous manner that he would take her to the show. To make a big event out of it he decided to include me in this outing, and once he had announced it he was determined it would happen. When he rang to book seats he found that it was not going to be as easy as he had thought, the show was booked out, but Duncan was not a man to be put off once he had set his sights on a goal. Eventually he informed the excited Ivy that he had seats, which made me wonder how he had managed it, something I was soon to find out. Arriving at the theatre in the dignified looking Daimler, we were met by the manager himself who escorted us to our seats, which to my amazement turned out to the Royal Box which stood above the stage with the best view in the house. Finding that the box was still available Duncan had booked it for his party, but what it cost him I never discovered. There we sat like royalty when the curtain went up and the famous comedians appeared and walked to the footlights to introduce themselves. Waiving to the audience up in the Gods and the cheaper seats at the back of the theatre, they called out “Hello you lot” then with a polite nod to those in the better seats at the front they said “Good evening ladies and gentlemen” finally to my embarrassment they turned to our box and bowing low with great humility offered up their humble thanks to the VIPs who had honoured them with their presence. When they did this they had two bright spotlights turned on us and with a roll of drums from the orchestra made their salutations, which of course delighted the audience. With every eye in the theatre turned on us, I could have cheerfully sank from sight, but not Duncan who rose to the occasion by standing and waiving in royal fashion to all and sundry. Several times during their performance the two funny men addressed themselves to the Royal Box, with much laughter every time, and it was a very enjoyable show even though some of the fun was at our expense.
Before I leave the Pembertons and move on with my story there is one more recollection I have to tell about them. It must have been towards the end of winter in 1952 that I was sitting by the fire in the front room, it was mid-afternoon and I had kicked off my shoes for additional comfort. Suddenly my mother walked into the room and said “Put your shoes on” which I did, asking at the same time why she was insisting I do this. She replied “Something is going to happen which will require you to leave the house very quickly.” It sounded like nonsense to me, but to my astonishment a couple of minutes later there came a knock at the door, which proved to be an ambulance man. Apparently they had been called to the Pembertons who they found ill in bed together, and with no other adults in the house wondered whether we knew them well enough to accompany them to the hospital. Grabbing my coat I piled into the back of the ambulance providing details as we drove along, and then repeating the performance at the A&E department. It transpired that they were both very ill with pneumonia but prompt treatment saved the day. This was not the first time that my mother had experienced an ability to forecast future events; it brings to mind the words of Shakespeare when he wrote: ‘O day and night but this is wondrous strange’ - ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ How true it is to say that fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
So back to my story and the sequence of events as they were unfolding; I had overstepped the bounds of sensible behaviour as an invalid. I was trying to live like a normal person but society had no place for people in my position, and I was to discover that the killer disease I had was not going to end my life but the way I was supposed to live was almost as dangerous. Later I found that most of the others in a similar position to me were dying from the effects of their situation, the lack of physical activity led to a lowering of the physical ability to survive. I had pushed against my condition and endangered my existence; when I collapsed at home I awoke to find myself in the City General Hospital in a life threatening condition.