Wednesday, 22 May 2013

"till I end my song ..."


         Was my mother worried, I wonder?  She was a great worrier, and here I was going off to London on my own, without even having a job to go to.  I have no recollection of it, so it may be that she kept her worries to herself.  I was nearly twenty three years old and as green and callow as they come.

         I found a woman’s hostel in Bayswater, not far from Hyde Park, where I could board and get an evening meal.  There were mostly elder women living there, and one or two younger ones.  I never got to know them very well.  One was an alcoholic who, from to time, became drunk.  She would become garrulous and maudlin.  I felt very uncomfortable when this happened, and sad for her.

         I applied for several secretarial jobs in the publishing world.  I went to see a lady at the Publishers’ Association, which produced a weekly journal for booksellers.  I saw a grey haired, rather severe looking woman sitting behind a large desk, piles of publications lying everywhere, and shelves of large, forbidding reference books behind her.  My heart sank.

         “Tell me about yourself,” she said, in quite a kindly way.

         I froze.  I had no idea what to say. I had nothing to say.

         She dispatched me briefly and swiftly.

         I found a job, working for a company which published magazines dealing with mechanical engineering and related subjects.  I was in a large shorthand and typing pool.  I spent the first day copy typing a document, rather badly.  I hated it.  I had no idea what I was typing.  On the second day I was called to take some shorthand.  I realized straight away that my shorthand was inadequate, and I was unable to guess the technical language.  On the third day I was given the sack and told, quite kindly, that I should look for a typist’s job.

         I felt humiliated and deflated.  Here I was with a degree and it seemed that all I was good for was a job as a typist.

         Luckily for me, it was a time when jobs were plentiful.  I found another job, this time working in the Library of a Petrochemicals company, which was located on Piccadilly.  Not ideal, but at least it was in a nice part of London and easy to get to from my hostel.

         The job consisted of making card indexes for the books in the Library.  I had to type out several cards for each book, so that they could be filed in the appropriate box.  The Librarian was an Austrian Jewess.  She was a formidable lady who completely terrified me.  The cards had to be typed with meticulous accuracy, every dot and comma and capital letter in the right place.  Nothing in my entire life had prepared me for this.  My mind seemed to turn to jelly.  Time and again the cards were thrown back at me, incorrectly typed, I never seemed to get them right.  My working days became a nightmare.

         I endured it for about six months and then gave in my notice before I was sacked.  The other staff, who were always very nice to me, told me when I left they had been afraid I was going to have a nervous breakdown. 

         I can’t remember whether I confided at all in my mother about my problems.  We never seemed to talk very much about intimate things, so I probably kept it all from her.  She must have worried, I’m sure.  She was a great worrier.

         So I struggled on, and I soon found another job, this time working for a large wholesale bookseller called Simpkin Marshall, owned by the notorious Robert Maxwell.  I was to be a secretary to the Publicity Manager, Mr. Brown.  This seemed like a step in the right direction.

         Mr. Brown was a mild mannered man, quite laid back, with large, gentle brown eyes, and not at all intimidating.  I began to relax in this undemanding atmosphere.  I had been going to evening classes in shorthand, so had slightly improved this skill.  Fortunately for me, Mr. Brown dictated at such a pace that I could get most of it down in longhand.  Every month we published a list of new publications, mostly fiction, much more in my line.  Mr. Brown allowed me to write the captions for these books.  This was not very difficult, but I was pleased and felt that at last I was getting onto the path I had planned for myself.

         Quite early on, whilst I was at Petrochemicals on Piccadilly, I had met an artist called Michael and this relationship probably helped to sustain me during my ups and downs in the working world.  I will talk about Michael in the next chapter                                                      


  1. How I enjoy reading your memoir, Daphne! But how can you stop just as the plot was "thickening"? Waiting on baited breath for the next installment.

  2. Daphne I love'till I end my song' as a subtitle at the top. It's had quite an impact on me. Reminded me that we all have something to say, and a song to sing quite simple that no-one else is able to sing for us. You have managed to encapsulate the spiritual in one short sharp phrase. Loved it.

    1. This is the title of my book, Gillian. I took it from a poem by TS Eliot and I was a bit worried about copyright until someone told me it was a quotation from Spenser's Faerie Queen: "sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song."

  3. So very beautiful Daphne. It really does strike a chord with me