SEVEN

Courting





I’d seen Bob around and I’d spoken to him once or twice when I was at the old GEC. When he left school he went to the drawing-office at the Dunlop, and they used to send him to tech from there (and that’s where he got first prize once or twice). When he’d done his time at the Dunlop, he carried on working there. But I think just before the war they must have been short of work – of course it was a slack period then, the time of the Jarrow marches and all that, and almost everywhere was short – and he must have taken a temporary job at the GEC. I don’t know what he used to do there – he was on nights or something.

Sometimes in the Cords and Cables we used to have to work over when we were busy: we used to go at half past seven in the morning and work till five, or we used to work till six when we were very busy. That was overtime that hour. I used to do that hour to help to get my clothes. I was willing to work extra time if I was paid. When we were coming home we’d come down past the offices to catch the bus – I used to go on the bus then – and Bob sometimes used to be walking in going on to the night shift. He used to say ‘How d’you do’ and laugh and that.

I saw him around once or twice, but he wasn’t there long, I think, and then he went to Wickman’s, back in the drawing-office. They were in Queen Victoria Road when he used to work there.

I used to take Betty up Clay Lane shopping, and I used to see him there sometimes. He was in digs not far from there in Humber Road – he didn’t live at home. We always used to speak, but never used to stop – he’d say, ‘Good morning. You all right?’ ‘Yes.’ And Betty used to say, ‘Who’s that?’ And I used to say, ‘Oh, I think his name’s … it’s George or something’ – I used to make a name up for her – because I didn’t know his name at the time. ‘Oh,’ she used to say. ‘Oh. Do you think we’ll see him again if we go out today?’ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know where he lives.’ ‘Oh.’


Bob

Percy (‘Bob’) Davenport, mid-1930s


When the GEC moved up to Gosford Street he was still working at Wickman’s, and when I used to walk back to work every day I always met him in the same place: I was just going into work after my dinner hour and he used to be walking the opposite way. He used to wear a trilby hat, a pork-pie hat, and sometimes he’d have a friend with him and you’d see just before I got there he’d be saying, ‘This is her.’ And you could almost hear this fellow pulling his leg after he’d gone by as I used to go into work.

This went on for about a couple of weeks – every dinner-time I’d meet him in the same place when I went back to work – and of course the girls used to laugh and say, ‘He’s here again today.’

And then one day he was with this fellow when I came by and he said, ‘Excuse me. Can I have a word with you?’ So I said yes. So whoever I was with – Nance Cook or somebody – walked on, and his pal walked on. And he said, ‘Are you doing anything on Friday’ (or Saturday night or something). And of course I had to play hard to get, and I said, ‘Oh yes – I’m booked up this week.’ I think in fact it was sometime in the week, but whatever it was I was booked. So he said, ‘How about next Saturday night? How would you like to go to the pictures?’ I said, ‘Oh, all right then.’ So he said, ‘Well, where shall I meet you?’ I said, ‘Well, I live in Lowther Street.’ He said, ‘I know where it is. There’s a shop on the corner of Lowther Street and Heath Road. I’ll stop on the corner for you there.’ I said, ‘All right.’ So of course that was the start of that.

Hear Chris describe arranging her first date with Bob:


And we went to the Scala – that’s how I first started on chocolate Brazils: I got this big box of chocolate Brazils. I felt sick by the time I got home! And an ice-cream at half-time. Mind you, it never lasted long, all that.

I met him in the May, but I’d already booked to go on holiday to Hastings with three more girls in the August, and he’d booked to go to Brighton with a fellow from work – we used to have August Bank Holiday then. I’d been away with these girls once before, but this time it was Hastings. (I remember we had a lovely time down there. We went over on the ferry to France and saw all the war cemeteries and spent a day at Le Touquet.) I’d been out with Bob quite a time by then, but when I was going away I never made any definite arrangement when I was going to see him when I came back. When I left him the night before we just said, ‘Ta-ta, I hope you have a good holiday. I’ll be seeing you’ – something like that.

So of course I went away and I came back, and I always remember it was on the Monday and I’d been to work and my auntie had done all the washing and she said, ‘Are you going out or not?’ And I said, ‘I don’t really know. We didn’t really say anything when we left. We just said, “I hope you have a good holiday. I’ll see you when I get back” and that was that.’ And I was busy ironing my dresses – my auntie said, ‘You can iron some of these yourself!’ – and all of a sudden she said to me, ‘Hey, there’s a tall, fair fellow just coming in our gate. Do you know him?’ I said, ‘I don’t know him. I’m not expecting anybody.’ Anyhow, the knock came to the door and our Betty went dashing into the hall to see who it was, and of course it was Bob. He knew which house I lived in, so he’d come to the house.

He said something like, ‘Oh, have you come back from your holidays … I thought I’d see how you’d got on and if you were going out tonight.’ So I left my ironing then and we went out.

I think that was the first time my auntie ever met him, and that pleased her, you see – she was dying to see him.

My auntie and uncle and everyone always called him Bob. Most of them at work knew him as Bob. But his family always called him Percy. He hated the name Percy! Hated it! If they’d called him Charles – his middle name – it wouldn’t have been so bad. So of course I always knew him as Bob, and the family did and all of us did. But after I’d been going with him for a bit he said, ‘I’ve got a confession to make. My name’s really Percy. Bob’s only my nickname.’ But of course my Auntie Jenny and everybody knew him as Bob by then, so it just went on. Though his mother and family always knew him as Percy.

He didn’t live at home, but his mum and dad were interested when he was courting me. One night he was waiting for me at the corner – I remember I’d got this grey suit on and I’d got a single fox fur: they were all the go, though they’d look old-fashioned now – and as we were walking off I saw Bob looking at a couple on the other side of the road walking down Swan Lane – an older couple – and as we walked by we never stopped but Bob looked over and said, ‘How do you do,’ and they said ‘Good evening.’ They were having a good look, eyeing me up and down. And I said to Bob when we’d gone past, ‘Hey, who was that you were looking at? She had a good look at me whoever it was.’ And he said, ‘It was my mum and dad.’ Well, he wouldn’t say ‘mum’: he’d say ‘mother and father’.

Hear Chris describe being inspected by Bob’s parents:


When we got engaged my auntie said, ‘I’ll invite his mother round. It’s only right that she should see the family who he’s going with.’ And she invited her round and his mother went round. But she didn’t like mixing much and she never asked my auntie back. His mum and dad really had only got time for each other – they were really very close to one another. They weren’t unhappy when all the children left home when they were sixteen, seventeen or eighteen – in the Army and so on – it didn’t bother them like it would most people. Of course they’d had a big family – eight children.

Before we were married – three or four months before – he went back home, to Wright Street. And he got married from there. He must have more or less left home when he was about eighteen. He’d been in three or four different lodgings. He’d left school when he was fourteen. He could have gone on; he could have gone to Bablake, but you had to pay in those days. He said it was boring because he was in the top class for two years – he couldn’t go any further. Cyril was the one who got everything, and the youngest one. Bob was the third or fourth one down and, like me, he started work straight away.

He came to our house once or twice for tea on a Sunday, and we used to like to sit in the front room and talk while my auntie was getting the tea ready. Our Betty will laugh about it now, but the excuses she made to come into that room were nobody’s business! She was about eleven or twelve, and she was at a curious age. We used to have a bureau affair, with two cupboards at the bottom that you couldn’t see in and the top part was like fancy glass, and there was a drawer in the middle where my auntie used to keep her tablecloths. I don’t know how many clean cloths we needed for Sunday tea, but Betty was always in and out – a nosy little devil she was, always popping in and out for the best knives and forks and all sorts of things.

I’ve said to her, ‘You weren’t half a nosy devil when I was courting. You didn’t have anyone to do it to you, did you?’ – because of course she was the last one to leave home. She said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘I knew you were in there, and I was curious. I used to keep nipping in and out.’ I said, ‘I know you did. God knows what you used to look in those drawers for!’

Of course she was always used to going with me. And when Bob started to come round she said, ‘That’s the one I’ve seen you speak to when we go up Clay Lane sometimes, isn’t it?’

We moved to Glencoe Road in 1937, and we hadn’t been there long before our Les got married from there, and then I got married from there and we set up in Forfield Road. I first went with Bob in the May, and I got engaged to him at the Christmas – in the Rex cinema, in Corporation Street. We’d talked about getting engaged before, but in the middle of this film – I can’t remember what film it was – Bob said, ‘I’ve got a ring for you,’ and put it on my finger. I thought it was a joke one at first, but he said, ‘No, it’s real,’ and so then we had to strike matches so I could have a look at it. All the people around us were saying, ‘Hey, you two, are you trying to burn the place down? We’re trying to watch the film!’

We got married the following October. My auntie used to say to me ‘You’ll never have enough money to get married and buy a house – you spend too much money on your back.’ But we managed to.



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