As the bombs fell in London, Ethel, her older sister Mary, and their little brother Roy, escaped unwillingly to Marlborough in Wiltshire. Popsy had been stationed out there a couple of months ago, and it had been decided by their parents that it was the right time for the whole family to join him there, especially now the Blitz was in full swing. As fifteen year old Ethel sat sulking on the train, watching the city grey blur mindlessly in to country green, she thought about the place she was leaving behind, which would be keeping calm, but carrying on, whilst she was stuck in a muddy field, in the middle of nowhere.
She’d be bored. No dances to go to, no youth club, no more adrenaline fuelled fights with other Cockney girls who thought they were harder than her. Her mind lingered on that last nostalgic thought, and she smiled to herself as she replayed her recent rumble with a couple of local bullies last week. In the private screening of her daydreams, she put on the reel of the event and watched as she walked down the aisle of the cinema she worked in during the weekend. As she walked, three girls in Row H stuck their legs out to trip her up. She remembered the pelt of the popcorn piece hitting her head. And then she heard herself tell them that she would take them on outside, ‘all of three of ya! Come on then! You wanna throw things at me, let me throw you to the flamin’ ground!’ One of the trio left pretty swiftly after that, but the other two tried to battle her outside the building, round the front by the entrance. They lost, of course. But Ethel ended up losing too. Her strict manager had seen the scuffle and screamed at her to get in his office ‘right now!’ Her usherette uniform, which, by 1940 cinema standard, had to be pristine at all times, was torn at the shoulders, and ripped at the back.
‘You’ll be paying for that, Ethel. With your wages.’
‘You must be having a laugh! I’m out of this poxy place. You can keep your sodding uniform.’ She tore the suit jacket off and walked home in her vest, giving the finger to a line of wolf whistling boys.
The train pulled into the station and Ethel tore reluctantly away from her interior thoughts to help her mum with the luggage held by the door.
‘Mary, are you gonna help or what?, Ethel asked her sister, who was powdering her nose in the compact mirror that was permanently stuck to her hand.
‘Yeah, I will, give me a second will ya?’
‘Mary get your arse up here and take a suitcase now.’ Their mother’s voice boomed in its regular way. ‘And get your brother while you’re at it. He’s running down the aisles like a madman!’ Mary muttered an untranslatable teenage language under her breath and tottered down the train’s walkway shouting for her seven year old brother to come back. Ethel shook her head and stepped off of the train on to the platform, hauling her case off with her. Popsy was there waiting for them in his uniform, relieved to see the Watsons has arrived in one piece. Well, just about. In his running escapades, Roy had lost a shoe.