Ethel was right. She was bored. The countryside just didn’t suit her. She longed for the bustle of the city, its noise and its life, the gossiping in the laundrette, and the jitterbug fever of the dance halls nestled under the railway arches. There was even a part of her that missed the Blitz and the dangerous exhilaration it bought, as she ran down to the public shelter, wondering if she would see the latest boy she had taken a liking to there. The Wiltshire cottage was bigger than their flat in Bermondsey, but felt claustrophobic. A prison with dairy cows as guards. She still shared a room with Mary, which they had tried to make more homely with a poster of latest teen idol, Burt Lancaster, but only really succeeded in making the place feel like home by arguing.
‘Ethel, what have you done to my nylons?’ Mary’s voice boomed down the stairs from the landing.
‘I don’t know, what’s a matter wivvem?’
‘They’ve got ladders all over ‘em! And I know you’ve ad ‘em on.’
‘I have not touched ‘em, Mary!’
A silence followed that ruptured the shouting back and forth. Then Mary appeared in the door frame of the kitchen where Ethel sat knitting.
‘Right, well I’m gonna have to wear some a yours then. I’m going out and I need ‘em’
‘Well, I ain’t got none, Mary. Have a look if you don’t believe me.’
‘Ok. Well then. You’re gonna have to go out with a Yank and get some pairs from im.’
‘Oh shut up, Mary. Why don’t you go out with one yourself? God knows you’re desperate for a bit of attention.’ Mary, always appreciative of the facts, didn’t protest and stalked calmly back up to their attic bedroom, without saying another word.
The Yanks had infiltrated Marlborough. They were based where Popsy was and God did the Watsons know it. A few days after the nylon row, the village of Malborough had a dance on. Ethel, knowing what a real dance should be like, had decided not to give this one the time of day and was happy to mope indoors instead. Mary had gone to ‘try it out’ and was taken by a boy from the farm down the road.
‘Ethel, why are you being such a spoil sport?’ her mother asked as she peeled the potatoes for their dinner that night.
‘I ain’t going to a country dance. These farmers don’t know how to jitterbug, mum.’
‘Well, suit yourself, misery. I bet those Yanks at the barracks do. Very handsome they are, Ethel.’
Repulsed by the girly chat, young Roy decided to wait outside whilst the dinner was cooking. At the bottom of the pathway up to the cottage there was a white wooden gate. Roy put both feet on its wooden structure and swung back and forth, hanging over the edge in a typically boyish way. Then, in a disruption of monotonous back and forth, he heard voices coming closer. Over the chatter he could easily make out the nasally drawl of the American accent. Looking up, what he saw confirmed his suspicions. Typical G.I’s with their bright brylcreemed hair, strong jaws and tanned complexion, sauntered up the lane. Roy watched them through his floppy dark locks, until they arrived at the gate.
‘Hey bud.’ The said in musical unison. ‘Is your sister in?’ Roy looked up at them vacantly, still swinging back and forth. ‘Not Mary, we know she’s at the dance tonight. We’re looking for Ethel. Is she at home?’, the taller one drawled for what felt like an eternity to Roy, who still said nothing. ‘We’ve seen her around and would like to ask her if she’d like to come dancing.’
Roy removed his footing from the bars of the gate and stepped down, craning his neck even more to look up at the men. Then slowly, deliberately, he stretched out his hand, palm upturned, towards them. He looked up. They looked down. When the shiny metal shilling was in his hand, he pointed over his shoulder, ‘yeah, she’s indoors.’ He walked back down the pathway to the cottage, the G.I’s following behind, holding their caps to their chest.