1967 (There are no letters from this year)
So I returned to Bath a married woman and life at college continued. Meanwhile, Sue married Alan , Alex’s friend. I can’t remember what happened to the pink paraffin man and his family ( but I do remember him standing by his van and shouting up to his very pregnant wife,’And if this one turns out black I am off.’) but they left and Sue and Alan moved in downstairs. Alan drank a lot and we spent quite a lot of time in pubs. He woke one morning to find a Virgin Mary statue staring at him from the end of his bed. We returned it to the grotto the next night. I worked on my thesis, washed dishes at weekends in The Taj Mahal Indian restaurant (I had a permanent yellow band around my upper arms because they wouldn’t let me change the water) I also worked as a barmaid in a pub down town and I played at being married but felt deeply insecure. In the Spring I discovered to my horror and Alex’s delight that I was pregnant. We went ahead with a planned trip to Glasgow. I remember dawn breaking as we rattled over Shap Fell in an ancient King of the Road lorry .I was sitting on the engine. The next night I crawled along the hall of his parent’s flat in terrible pain miscarrying. Later in the hospital I was horrified and stunned by the invasive indignity of gynecological instruments but I was relieved not to be pregnant.
Back in college there was always Eileen Mackinlay’s calm encouragement and I finished my thesis. I got another job as a barmaid because there was never enough money. Alex found Bath challenging politically but he did meet a like minded man from the former Yugoslavia, a partisan who wore a floor length black leather coat , an air of intrigue and the tight lips of someone who knew more then he would let on. He told Alex about an anarchist camp on Lake Como so as soon as college finished that’s where we went and this man whose name I have forgotten was most insistent that if we travelled to Yugoslavia his sister in Belgrade would welcome us with open arms.
Anything that floats is carried up to the northern end of lake Como. To skinny dip in the moonlight you’d first have to wade through yards of plastic…but we didn’t mind. We ate sliced horse meat and bread, hitched off to Belgrade (where the bourgeois sister did not welcome us), I got food poisoning on the way and we mostly slept rough…lots of fields full of sunflowers where the frogs kicked up a mighty racket at night and once on the embankment of a motorway where we fell asleep at the top and in the morning woke at the bottom . Of course we were penniless by the time we disembarked at Dover. In a ditch near Maidstone we tried to sleep through a thunderstorm and torrential rain. Head to head in two overlapping plastic sacks we shared a bar of chocolate and a small bottle of whiskey. In London the next day we recovered thanks to a convenient auntie in Islington. There was another night sleeping rough, this time in a circle of bushes at a roundabout near Brentford then up the M1 to ‘Braeside’ to work out what to do next.
We both got jobs in Hinckley at a place I called Atkinson’s (D) Pressings where machines stamped out metal parts for cars. My job was to raise a safety screen, slot in a metal disc, close the screen and stamp down my foot so that the disc became a cog. In a dream one day I stamped out hundreds missing a tooth. Worryingly the woman next to me had lost a finger. This was where I spent my twenty first birthday.
Living at ‘Braeside ‘ was tough but I’m sure it was more difficult for my family. Come September we were restless and having no life plan, ambition or idea as to what to do next I got out my dad’s Readers Digest atlas and with my eyes closed stabbed at the map of England with a pin. I know that I deliberately chose the north but that was the only way I influenced the ‘choice’. Liverpool! We were pleased and I told Alex to travel up there to get a flat [even at this stage Alex was showing worrying signs that he was turning into a hubby, quite content to let me make decisions]
He found a flat way out in Waterloo, a train ride along The Mersey. When I joined him I couldn’t believe how he could have even considered it. I hated this bleak and unloved flat. It was also very cold. We had no money, scoured the beach for driftwood to keep warm and had to wait for six weeks while the dole office assessed us. Things improved when first school friend Jenny arrived then Sheila and Paul. They too had finished college with no plans; I loved and admired them all. In retrospect my pin in the map shaped all our lives. But that was a dreary time. We ate bread and couldn’t afford the train journey to attend job interviews. Eventually Sheila and Paul got jobs teaching at the art college and Jenny and I also found teaching jobs. Then one day, as arranged, I met Jenny at 16 Devonshire Road, Toxteth, to view a ground floor flat. It was huge, with stucco ceilings, marble fireplaces, endless hot water and not a stick of furniture. We danced around the flat turning on the hot taps and agreed to take the flat immediately. Sheila and Paul had rented a small cottage near Moel Famau in Wales and commuted.
At Lorraine Street Secondary School for girls I couldn’t control the classes and taught nothing. The head of English asked me to teach creative writing but then later asked me what it was. The staff –room was a minefield of chairs where someone had sat for ever and being on the edge of Everton the question’ Liverpool or Everton?’ always alienated half the class. But they were the good old days. You could walk into the Education Offices, ask them for a teaching job and take your pick from a large folder full of vacancies. At Christmas I chose Granby Street, close to home and just round the corner from Princes gate. I was warned that it was a tough school but I would be paid extra.
So Jenny, Alex and I moved into No 16. We bought mattresses, cooked in the open grate with coke stolen from the basement and had lots of hot baths.