Saturday, 21 January 2012

Adventures During the Age Of Aquarius - Part II


Dumbfounded, I stared at her.

The Nigerians too were rooted to the spot, frozen in mid-movement. Faces of other workers turned to us expectantly.  Lightyears separated hearing the words and grasping their meaning; my face creased with concentration, I repeated "What?"

The concept of whores was fairly new to me; I had an idea that women who sold sex for money were called 'whores' or 'Huren' in German; there were women being called 'whores' in novels, particularly French and Russian ones. I rather enjoyed reading about their usually tragic fate, and was mildly excited by accounts of what went on in French boudoirs and on wild sleigh rides across the frozen Russian tundra, but I had never come across a live practitioner of the profession.  And what had the Nigerians to do with it?

I genuinely wanted her to explain what she meant. I was, even then, a reasonable sort of person, but pretty unlikely to be overly concerned with anyone's opinion of me. I blame my father for that attitude, having inherited his conviction that survival is not only the prerogative of the fittest but also those with impermeable skin. "Pay your way, my girl," he used to say, "stay true to yourself, and hold your head up. You're the equal of anyone". He had survived a lot more than name calling.

What she had said made no sense; I was puzzled, why would she say that? Gradually, the paralysing effect of her words evaporated inside the steamy atmosphere of the 'greasy spoon'. There would be no drama. Blondie herself seemed to be in shock, she literally shook, her face a livid mask of shame, anger and accusation. I observed the phenomenon closely. She looked past me to the open door of the cafe, grabbed her bag and left. I followed, the Nigerians on my heels.

Blondie started to run; so we left her to it. The Nigerians knew what they had had to do with Blondie's outburst. They stopped me at the entrance to the factory and the man who had invited me to the party unsmilingly asked "Will you come?". "No", I said, "thank you very much, but I don't think I will".  "We are black, is that what it is? You whites are all the same, no matter where you come from. We thought you were different"; the man spat out the words angrily. One of the girls said she was sorry they had befriended me and she would never trust me again.  I was angry too, "It's nothing to do with being black," I said, "I have a boyfriend and I can't just go out without him". But, of course, my initial attraction to this close knit group of Nigerians, in their sober black and white outfits so much more neatly and smartly dressed than any of my white fellow workers, was due to their very 'otherness', they were  so very different from anyone I'd ever met.  No black people lived in my home town and although I was seeing every race on earth represented in the streets of London, these people were the first with whom I'd had direct contact. They left me standing on the steps to the laundry's entrance, confused and possibly a little ashamed, without knowing the reason why.

One of the other German girls caught up with me. "Don't let her get to you", she said, "she is very unhappy. Her boyfriend is a nasty brute who knocks her about". Blondie had met him in Germany where he was serving in the British Army, fallen in love, followed him to the UK and now they were engaged to be married. All her hard work and thriftiness came about because of the pressure he put on her. He forced her to hand over her wages and was given a meagre allowance in return. "I have never heard this rumour in the factory", my little German friend said, "she's probably just jealous". She smiled endearingly, then clapped her hands over her mouth and blushed. She was missing her two front teeth and was waiting for new ones to be inserted. Was she too being knocked about? I didn't know, but hoped not. She was a sweet little thing, who attached herself to me for the few weeks of slave labour left before I was sent packing from the factory.

The works doctor had found nothing wrong with my chest or any other ailments. I was as fit as anyone to work wherever it pleased them to put me. The supervisor gave me no peace, her quota needed filling, or else she herself would be in trouble. "Idle cow", she called me. She probably believed the rumour about my second profession, which had now actually spread on the floor. Blondie no longer looked me in the eye, but I couldn't be bothered to challenge her. The only thing that made work at all bearable was the Music-While-You-Work drizzling down on us from the speakers on the ceiling - we were allowed to sing along -  and my new German friend, who came out for lunch with me. She had her new teeth before I left and looked pretty and happy.

Two weeks after the incident at the cafe the supervisor came over and told me to present myself at 'the office' half an hour before the end of the working day. It was Friday, I had my pay packet in my pocket. The Personnel Manager was a grey-haired, friendly man, quite handsome; about the same age as my father. He told me to sit on the chair in front of his desk; I put my heavy library book bag and my much lighter handbag down and waited.

He looked at the bag. "Do you enjoy reading?", he asked. "What have you got there?" For the next twenty minutes we discussed books, with particular emphasis on Dickens, whom I was devouring in great chunks. But I also had a couple of thrillers in the bag, Dorothy L. Sayers was my favourite. Mr. Personnel Manager became interested in me and asked me a number of personal questions. "Where do you come from? What have you done so far? What are you doing in England?" Finally, he came to the point. Very gently, with an apologetic smile, he said "Works Doctor has found nothing wrong with you, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to perform as well as your colleagues, unless it's your attitude to the work. I am sorry, but we can no longer employ you". He was giving me the sack. He then said, "You could be my daughter and I would really ask you to consider going home. You don't belong here". I had lasted for exactly six weeks. He had a point.

But grimy, smelly, noisy, shabby, seedy, vibrant London, with its music, street theatre, coffee bars, and flower power was calling to me. I stayed. A friend got me a job in a fish and chip cafe.

to be continued


  1. You got me reading backwards, after seeing this post at the top of my Blogger reading list. Now I can't wait for the next installment... ♥ Get typing!!!

  2. and so hot oil replaces steam.


  3. Oh, wow! Now that was a sneaky way to fire somebody. I bet you were just as glad not to go back there anyways. Now I'm waiting to hear about the fish and chips shop! Love hearing about your adventures. :)

  4. i might eat my profits ina fish n chips shop...smiles....interesting...

  5. Such desperate times. (No rose colored views here ;-))

  6. So pleased to see Part 2 so soon after part 1....I'm impatient!!
    Really enjoyed reading about your early life

  7. Hello:
    We are hooked! We await each instalment with eager anticipation.

    It is interesting how the factory manager spotted that you were different from all the rest. Perhaps the sacking did you a great favour?!!

    How we remember 'Music While You Work', that brought back such memories.

  8. Friko, the Age of Aquarius could have a variety of phases. I'd say that having your father's words near were very helpful.

    In 1967, I arrived in New York with three suitcases, and...thank goodness, a good job as a computer programmer. However, in many ways I was still quite young. I learned later that my parents thought I would be back in Virginia in about a month.

    That prophesy was not fulfilled.


  9. I expect that 6 weeks in that job was quite enough! Looking forward to the next instalment ... great story-telling continues...

  10. You've got the hang of it Friko. 1,000 words. A good read in this short attention span world. I'm following.

  11. Truth is so often more interesting than fiction! I can't wait for the next installment!

  12. To be let go is always an awful matter how nice they try to say it. But you still wanted to tough it out?? You were so brave!
    Can't wait to hear more

  13. and the beat goes on...

    That's one job I wouldn't mind being fired from. The restaurant sounds much kinder. I hope.

  14. we're not that far apart in age, but the world you describe is utterly removed from the one I knew. Quite absorbing, your story, - is this how the memoir will get written?

    Of the possible reactions you might have had to Blondie, I didn't expect that one. It's the most genuine - very telling. And your father had a most enlightened attitude - do you believe it had a significant part in shaping your character?

    Quite enjoyed this, my friend. Keep going.

  15. Good story telling Friko: more please!

  16. I am wondering when this adventure occurred. My sister was living in England in the early 1960s. Then she got a job as a waitress at a resort on the East Coast. A newspaper fellow wanted to marry her, but she came back to the States single.

    I am enjoying your series. Life is such an adventure when we are young. If we imagine a daughter or sister in these circumstances it is more frightening.

    Now I am wondering about your boyfriend? Surely he plays a role in your decision to stay on in London. Dianne

  17. I'm loving this story, Friko. thank you so much for sharing it with us. You are a gifted story teller

  18. So this is you before later life's modifications & alterations. Every life story has room for an interpreter. You conjure a good sense of time & place. And the pettiness of others laid bare.

    ps for some reason the Oliver poem entry will not let me post. What I wanted to say is that I think most gardens are quite a living poem.

  19. All right then ... instead of "Cow !" which was my rather inelegant reaction to her rant in episode 1 , I'll now say "Poor cow" and congratulate you on your adult reaction to the attack .
    I did think , at one time , of becoming a Personell Manager ... very glad I didn't , it must be so disheartening . No wonder he didn't know what to do with you .

    Fish and chips would leave you deliciously smelly and just as singed .... but it must have been cosy in the winter !

  20. I'm enjoying this very much. A couple of things come to mind. First,I believe that hard work like this, outside one's experience and opinion of oneself is so very good. No one should ever walk into a fabulous job at a fabulous salary. A little drudgery is a good thing. I did my penance at Woolco in the late 60's, next to the popcorn machine.
    Second, your dad and my mum came from the same school of thought, and what I learned from my mum has stood me in good stead.

  21. Waiting impatiently for the next installment.

  22. How very sad to be subjected to such jealousy as what was exhibited towards you.
    It does make us stronger, though. I was very young when it first happened to me.

  23. it is such a pleasure and privilege to know more of your story!

    Aloha from Waikiki
    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >


  24. Bring on the next installment :-).

  25. What a great story, Friko, and what a great education. I read the first part a few days ago, but didn't have a chance to comment at that point. This is well-told, and I think you have the makings of a novel here. I look forward to the continued unfolding of your journey.

  26. Amazing how your brief descriptions bring characters to life. How, in 1,000 words you can capture so much of the time and place. And tell us how your character was formed. I look forward to more.

  27. Next installment soon please. And I love your father's maxim to live by.

  28. How brave you were to be doing all that in a foriegn country and then having such a horrible experience, not only with the blond chewing a wasp, but the Nigerians too!
    Beautifully put, actually took my mind off and back to the time, I was standing next to wanting to help.

  29. Dear Friko,
    Are the stories of your coming to England and this job and the next part of your memoir? I hope so.

    You provide so much tangible color in your writing--all my senses get involved. While reading I feel taste and touch. I hear and see what was in your world. I smell the factory and the greasy spoon cafe.

    You have a great gift, Friko. I remain so happy that you are working on your memoir. I hope that it is going well and that you are pleased with your writing schedule.


  30. I can hardly wait for the next installment, Friko. I'm so looking forward to reading what happens to you next. I was very disappointed the nice boss at the laundry didn't give you an office job.
    London was certainly the place to be in those days, from all I heard and read. Your title "The Age of Aquarius" is perfect.
    My best friend went to England and worked there for a year in the 60s and she loved it. I remember how much she missed it when she came home. Now she's living there again, having retired there with her British-born husband.

  31. What a story! And you certainly have the cliffhanger down. Jeez, what a cast of characters, and to think they were the real thing. You couldn't make this up! Look forward to the next installment.

  32. It is too bad you are not charging a fee to read your blog because you would make a bundle! Lucky for us you don't. Love your writing style.

  33. I went back to check no.I below, and discovered you were in London a few years after my sister. Should have remembered that, but you know how it goes. 1968 was the big year for demonstrations. Why do I get the feeling you were involved? Dianne

  34. Hi Friko .. well I had you in Nigeria for a while - then realised I needed to read both parts and not start in the middle of part 2!!

    The question I would like to know - is why did you come to England in the first place?

    Heavens if I'd have done a role reversal .. I'd have been in Hamburg on the Reeperbahn perhaps - ironing whatever .. and doing ...???

    Great story .. love it - can so relate .. but thankfully didn't go ironing .. and having cleaned a Fish and Chip fryer (just one) .. hate to think of the smell overarching everything ..

    Looking forward to part 3 ... cheers Hilary

  35. How awful -- such trying experiences in strange surroundings. Looking forward to the next installment!

  36. A marvelous continuation, and a reminder of my own first firing - sent packing by Southwestern Bell, I was!

    I was especially taken by your insight on the attraction of "otherness". I do think that appeal helps to explain what appear to be otherwise inexplicable actions, particularly on the part of the young.

  37. I read I and II with great interest an look forward to what is coming next. Such different times - it is fascinating.

  38. HHHMMMmmm... were you always destined to work in hot, smelly spots?? I shall look forward to the next installment!!

  39. Had to pour myself a huge cup of coffee before launching into this next installment. I'm hugely enjoying your writing and can't wait to see where this goes next.

    I'm curious, though, you seem pretty untouched, emotionally, by that moment in the greasy spoon; I get that your dad had prepared to to greet the world in unflappable fashion, but did that conflict (followed by further conflict with the disillusioned Nigerians) impact you deep inside somehow? I also would love to see this sentence unpacked more: "Blondie no longer looked me in the eye, but I couldn't be bothered to challenge her." Why? Or did you consider trying to talk to her without it being challenge?

    I guess I'm just mulling around with the deeper emotional implications as much as the riveting plot points here!

  40. I always wondered how you ended up in England. These stories are wonderful. Truly, you should be charging us to read of your adventures and misadventures.

    I think your father had a great influence on how you became the woman you are today.

    Keep writing.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.