Goodness knows when this letter will find you
but I know at the time of writing Mother is in Germany
leaving you and Geoffrey to look after yourselves at
Two-Nine-Four. I trust that Geoffrey is behaving
himself, doing his share of the washing up and taking the
dog for a walk. If he is any problem do not hesitate to give
him a slap round the ear.
It is very hot here in Egg-Whipped, that's what we call
Egypt - Egg-Whipped. Sunshine and sand. We are living in
tents, not proper buildings just tents. The sand gets
everywhere and I do mean everywhere. The censor, I am the
censor, will not let me say any more than that !
The food here is terrible. We only get the stuff the
camels refuse to eat. The cook is a Welshman by the name of
Di. We call the mess tent Di O'rea's Cafe.
You should persuade Mother to get a piano so you can play
the latest songs. What are people listening to in England
these days ?
Tell mother to send me some puddings will you. Some bread
pudding would be good.
Fondest best wishes
Kenneth, Wing Commander Ashford.
He then drew a line through Wing Commander, smiled and
"I really must find somewhere to but a post card I can
send to Kenneth."
"Lily this is a country defeated and devastated by war,
it is not Blackpool. Even if you could buy a post card you
would never be able to buy a stamp."
As Lily stood behind Billy's grave while the photographer
from The Royal British Legion took her photograph she tried
to think of her now dead son. She could not focus her mind,
it was as if Billy had never existed. Not for the first time
in her life Lily thought it was all a dream. Standing behind
the cross in Germany Lily did not think it was a dream, she
knew it was a dream.
Back in Birmingham the days ambled by. Days which for
Lily were without event or consequence and blurred into the
mist of her dream. The war was over, no more bombs, no more
fighting, no more death. Beyond that rationing was still a
part of life, rationing with no apparent end in sight. The
country had voted out its charismatic war leader and now had
weak prime minister in his place. The spirit of togetherness
which had strengthened the nation was gone. The wartime
songs of Vera Lynn and others were silent.
Work from the Doris ward Dress Shop continued but Lily
had lost much of her previous enthusiasm. Joyce announced
she intended to return to London. Geoffrey had allowed
the garden to fall into a terrible mess. Kenneth would not
be please, Billy would be furious. Lily was feeling so
"Oh William," she said aloud to herself, "How different
it would have been had we had a daughter."
Lily did not want a copy for her gramophone and even if
there were a piano at 294 Kings Road, which there was not,
Joyce would not play the song. All I want for Christmas
Is my Two Front Teeth. What a silly song !
Christmas in Egypt was hot. Kenneth tired of the
multitude of silly jokes about looking a white Christmas.
Had it every snowed in Egypt ? Ever ?
"We have not seen a lot of action Wing Commander."
"Even if there was action to be seen Lieutenant people in
our position do not see action. Part of our duty is to
prevent action from happening."
"So being a spy is meant to be boring Sir ?"
"Yes, Lieutenant it is."
The life of a spy in Egypt under The British Mandate may
be mundane but Wing Commander Kenneth Ashford knew there was
a change ahead.
On Monday 6th January 1947 Ashford and his team was
posted to Palestine as part of the international force
setting up the State of Israel. The temperature would
be similar to Egypt but atmosphere much hotter. The
reception all stationed there could expect to be cold, ice
cold. Neither Muslim nor Jew wanted the British there.
"We can wear our correct uniforms depicting our proper
rank," Ashford explained. "You must carry your gun with you
at all times, keep it loaded and always be ready to fire it.
Jewish terrorists are everywhere. It is these terrorists our
agents are on the look out for, on the look out for and to
take out of action."
"When you say take out Wing Commander you mean kill ?"
"Unofficially Lieutenant, yes. Officially Lieutenant,
Geoffrey still maintained the fantasy that one day he
would marry Princess Anne. More down to earth Geoffrey was
becoming an expert in assessing the properties of the
female. He had a different girlfriend every week.
"Your father would not approve of you smoking Geoffrey."
Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders then said, "Kenneth
smokes, one of the photographs he sent home has him smoking
"All senior RAF officers smoke pipes," Lily explained,
"it goes with their rank. Your brother is a Wing Commander
"I had noticed," Geoffrey smirked. "A Wing Commander who
has never been closer to the wing of an aircraft than I have
been to the bedroom of a certain princess in Buckingham
What is it like in London ?
Things are more comfortable here in Palestine than they
were in Egg-Whipped. We do not sleep in tents, we have
proper barracks. I even have my own batman, I do have to
share him with another Winco but I never had that in
We have a swimming pool here on the base. It's really
good. I spend an hour there every day.
There were two things Kenneth wanted to put into his
letter. He had the words clearly in his head but did not
allow the pen to transcribe then onto paper. The first he
would have to censor anyway - he was still the censor. the
second he just did not have the courage to write.
One of my team was killed the day before yesterday. He
was just walking when a Jewish terrorist shot him in the
back. We are looking for his murderer but I doubt we will
find him. Mother hates Germans, I hate Jews.
Dearest Joyce, your name is Robinson. It is a nice name
but would you consider changing it ? How about
changing it to Ashford ? Mrs Joyce Ashford ?
"You have got to join up when you are eighteen years old.
Geoffrey, your father volunteered at the outbreak of World
War One. Your brothers Billy and Kenneth both volunteered.
members of The Ashford Family always volunteer, they do not
wait to be conscripted into their country's service."
"I am thinking to become a farmer," Geoffrey said.
"Farmers do not have to do national service."
"Yu are an electrician, training to be an electrician."
what am I going to do in the Royal Air Force ? Mend
the broken Morse Code keys belonging to Wing Commander
Kenneth Almighty Ashford ?"
"Geoffrey do not be so silly !"
"Geoffrey do not be so silly !That is all I have heard my
entire life ! Geoffrey do not be so silly !"
If life were indeed a dream Lily hoped it would soon end
and allow her to wake up.
On Friday 14th March 1947 Kenneth made an important
decision. The day before another airman from the base had
been killed by a Jewish terrorist on the streets of
Jerusalem. Why had that happened ? Why did
the Jews hate the British so much ? They ere on the same
side weren't they ? How long before he took a bullet
in his back ? When his tour of duty was over Kenneth would
resign his commission, return to London and become civilian
On Tuesday 17th June Jessie's husband George died. He simply
went to bed and did not wake up in the morning. When
Jessie awoke she thought George was still sleeping, only
when she left the kitchen and returned to the bedroom with
their morning ;pot of tea did she understand that she was
now a widow. George was still warm, it had not been long
since he left this world.
Jessie did not send for the
doctor, she did not contact her son Frank. She got into
George's car and drove across Birmingham to 294 Kings Road.
"Will you please come back with me Lily ? I do not
think I can cope on my own."
Jessie Haddock, formerly
Jessie Ashford not cope ? That was a first. In all the years
they had been friends Lily had never before seen a situation
where her sister-in-law had not been in total control. Over
the coming days Lily's friendship with Jessie deepened.
While she saw Dorothy every week-end and always had a letter
on the go to Sister Sullivan, Jessie was her best friend.
They both confided in one another. However, there was still
one part of her life Lily would never discuss with Jessie.
For thirty-five years Lily had not spoken of the most
important part of her life. There were times in those
thirty-five years when Lily thought life as probably a dream
she knew for certain her days with Henry Wilton were real
and not a dream.
"Do you think you will marry again Lily
"On no !"
"My brother was a good husband to you but I
do not think he would be offended if you found another to
share your life."
"Jessie, I am fifty-seven. I will soon
be an old lady."
"I am already and old lady,"
Jessie smiled. "No, my brother would not want you to be
lonely. It would not be wrong if you found yourself another
Lily was not sure what William would say but she
knew Henry would not want her to be married to anyone but
himself. That was not going to happen so she would spend the
rest of her life as a widow.
Kenneth gave up his career in
the Royal Air Force. he had not been a spy but a
co-ordinator of spies. On his return to 294 Kings Road
Dorothy's brother found employment for Kenneth as a clerk at
Whittaker Ellis Limited. The pay was half that of a Wing
Commander. Kenneth saved as much as he could. He opened an
account with The Birmingham Municipal Bank where every
Friday he would deposit the majority of his wage packet. If
only he had not spent so much of his Wing Commander's pay
while he was in Egypt and Palestine. He would have to save
all he could and be patient.
he had spent a full month's
salary in Cairo on a solid gold Egyptian bracelet. he hoped
it would soon adorn the wrist of Joyce Robinson as would a
ring on her finger. Both would indicate that Joyce Robinson
would soon be Mrs Joyce Ashford.
I am thrilled to hear your news.
When is the wedding going to be ? It
has been so long since I was in Birmingham. I really
would like to be there.
Your dear friend
The wedding of Kenneth Francis Ashford and Joyce
Gwendolyn Ashford took place on Friday 24th September 1948.
It was not in Birmingham but Lambeth, London. After the
service Joyce's Mother served cake and sandwiches as best
she could within the rigid confines of her ration allowance.
Joyce's father, Fred, entertained everyone with his piano.
he played The Lambeth Walk and Maybe It's Because I am a
Frank Haddock was Kenneth's best man and
Margaret Joyce's bridesmaid.
Uncle George created a job
for Joyce at Whittaker Ellis. Kenneth was a clerk,
Joyce was a not particularly good typist. Their combined
wage packets were not enough to start a home of their own so
the young couple started their married life at 294 Kings
Road. Lily looked forward to her first grandchild. It would
be a girl, of course it would be a girl.
looked forward to a great grandchild but she died two weeks
after the wedding. The Bridge House in the Staffordshire
village of Madeley was no longer part of Lily's family life.
On Friday 3rd November 1950 Lily's first grandson was born
in Heathfield Road Maternity Hospital.
"You will, of
course, be calling him William after your father and your
"If that is your will Mother."
new baby's birth was registered as David John Ashford.
from the registry office Kenneth went to Stone's Newsagent
and brought from the record counter a copy of Goodnight
Irene sung by Frank Sinatra.
"A gift for you Mother,"
Kenneth said trying to smile. "The number one record for
you. Number one in the hit parade."
"Thank you Kenneth.
What ever is the hit parade ? Why is it you have started
calling me Mother these days / It was Billy who always
called me Mother. Is it to apologise for calling your new
son David ? Nobody in our family has ever been called
David before ? What is wrong with William ?
"Next time we
will call the baby William."
"Next time the baby will be a
girl," Lily replied.
Infant David was not an
easy child. Sleeping was not part of his makeup while
exercise his lungs and yelling at the top of his voice most
Lily had the solution. She went to the
off-licence at he King Charles public house where she spent
some of her hard-earned cash from Doris Ward to buy a bottle
of brandy. She dipped the baby's dummy into the liquid then
offered it to David.
"Mother you will make him drunk
"Nonsense !" I kept both you and your two brothers
quiet this way. You were a particularly noisy baby Kenneth.
It worked with you and it will work with
now, you just watch.
Kenneth would sing to his son as an
attempt to sooth him to sleep. Goodnight Irene was not to
the baby's musical taste. Kenneth's singing and Goodnight
Irene became a way to encourage Nan Lily to give David an
alcohol soaked dummy.
"I don't think David is going to
grow up to like music Kenneth. Perhaps he will become a
footballer. Your father had a friend who was a professional
"Did he ?" Kenneth was not interested.
"Just so long as he does not have to grow up in a world torn
apart by war as I did."
"And your father did."
Joyce wanted her little boy to be happy. As much
as she respected her mother-in-law, the three of them needed
their own home. If she, Kenneth and Dvid were to become a
real family 294 Kings Road was not home and never would be.
Lily knew how Joyce felt an kew they all needed a new home
sooner that later but what could she do ?
solicitor processed Lily's share of the money from the sale
of The Bridge house it was not a great sum, the money being
divided between Joseph and Emma's many children, she gave it
to Joyce and Kenneth as a deposit on a house.
Dorthoy who had been prompted by Lily, George Albon stood
guarantor for Kenneth to take out a mortgage.
Tresham Road was not at all grand like The Bridge House, it
was smaller than 294c Kings Road but for the young family it
was a palace.
Geoffrey returned from his national service,
married Jean then left home. Lily was alone. Even as a grown
man Geoffrey had not given up his fantasy to court then
eventually marry Princess Margaret. With his new wife he had
to switch off the fantasy of a royal marriage but fantasy of
courtship could remain. Jean would have killed him had she
Lily was not disappointed when Geoffrey's son
joined the family. A girl would have been her choice but
when she learned the new baby was to be called William that
made her happy. News from Kenneth and Joyce did not make
"We will be living no further away," Kenneth
tried to explain. "The schools are better in Sutton
"The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield," Lily
said with note of scorn in her voice. "You are a
Kingstanding boy so why the sudden desire to move up
the social ladder and live in a big house in Sutton
"It's not a big house, it just has an extra
bedroom so we can have another baby."
"There are houses in
Kingstanding that have three bedrooms, 294 has three
How many bedrooms did Tadwell Hall have ?
It had been used as a hospital during the Great War and
again during World War Two. Lilu wondered what it was now.
Nothing she would recognise.
"Mother ? Mother ?"
"Suddenly you appear a hundred miles away."
am sorry, I was just thinking."
"We are moving to Sutton
Coldfield, I will still be a Kingie and David will
still be a kingie but when your granddaughter is born she
will be a Suttonian."
That child was not a girl, not a
granddaughter. He was a boy. Geoffrey's second child was a
boy. If only Billy had not been killed, he would have given
his Mother a granddaughter.
"I will be leaving
Birmingham," Dorothy explained. "We will be living in
Pinner, just outside London."
"How did you meet him ?"
"His firm was doing some work at Princess Alice, we met and
we fell in love."
"Dorothy, you are the same age as I am.
I can understand you wanting to retire but getting married
"If I had not fallen in love with Bert I probably would
nevr have retired. You still work at Doris Ward."
"Is it ? Why ?"
"I am pleased for you
I have been a spinster for too long Lily. I need
a man in my life and Bert needs a mother for his daughter,
Pam. It has not been easy for either of them since Bert's
Lily had been a widow for more years than she
could readily count. The older she got, certainly since the
end of the war, the more the years felt as if they were
merging together. The older she got the more convinced she
became that life was just a dream. There was one area of her
life that Lily knew would never become anything more than a
dream She and William had not been blessed with a daughter.
Now that another generation was there, still no daughter.
Still no little girl. Not in this dream anyway.
week, every week, she made certain she collecting into her
purse four florins. She would then line them up on the
mantle shelf above the fire. When Kenneth came to visit with
grandsons David and Richard they took their two shillings
pocket money home with them. The same happened with Geoffrey
and his boys, William and Philip. Lily never had enough
spare cash to give pocket money to her own sons so made up
for it now she was a grandmother. Had she been blessed with
a granddaughter it would not have been florins the children
took home with them but half-crown coins.
With her widows
pension and her old age pension Lily was not short of cash.
She also had the money she inherited from Billy on deposit
in the bank and, of course, her earnings from Doris ward.
"I do not want to retire Mrs Brock," Lily explained.
"Actually I would rather do the work here in the shop rather
than at home. I would like to get out of the house more."
"Of course Lily, work here by all means."
"I am happy to
cycle to and from work but I would prefer, now I am older,
not to have a basket full of dressed and coats on the front
of my bike."
"I understand Lily. Perhaps you could also
help out in the shop. Customers would value your skills."
"But your have Mrs Redmund for that."
"Indeed we do but now with more money
about sales are up so we need more help. I am thinking to
take on another girl, I have someone in mind."|
"Yes, her name is
Molly. If you could spend some time in the shop taking her
under your wing that would be good. You could teach her all
about ladies fashion and style."
Molly was nineteen.
Nineteen and having a name that made Lily laugh out loud
when Mrs Brock told her what it was. She thought that Jessie
had married a man with an odd name - Haddock, but how could
anyone be called Onions ? Molly Onions ! Onions
were what you out with meat in a stew or fried with liver in
a pan. Onions was not a name to give to a nineteen year old
"If I were you, my dear, I would find a nice young
man with a normal sounding name. Marry him and stop being
David loved his Nan, he loved her more
than anyone else in the world. Nan was someone he could
cuddle up to.
Lily did not favour David over any of her
other three grandchildren. Had one been a girl, had one been
a granddaughter, things would have been different.
Teachers at school were not kind like Nan. David was
intelligent enough to know that they were not as clever as
Nan was. David did not like school, he hated it. He would
never have confided this to the trust of his parents but Nan
listened and understood the young boy.
David was happy to
share his nanny with his brother and his two cousins but was
far fro happy when the sharing was extended to a new
granddad, lots of new
aunties and uncles and more cousins than he could possibly
count. David was confused, he was not old enough to
understand the new arrivals. Who were they ? Why had
they come into his life ? Why did David have to share
his Nan with these people ?
When Nan and Mr Onions, David
would never call him granddad, brought a dog into 294 Kings
Road he thought the creature was a ridiculous animal. It was
a poodle with a pom-pom tail called Dinky. David always
called him Stinky.
I hope you will be as happy with Albert
as I am with Bert
"When I said my brother would want you to find a new
husband I did not mean a man quite like the one you have
"I was lonely, Jessie. I am not lonely now. I
have a friend to share the final years of my life."
Lily but what a name - Onions !"
"Almost as bad a Haddock
Mr Dear Friend
I never thought it would happen but
I am so pleased for you. Lily you are my oldes
friend and my sister. I am looking forward to meeting
Albert was a gunsmith, not a factory munitions worker as
Lily had been during World War One, he hand-crafted sporting
weapons for the ultra wealthy and
royalty throughout the world. To own a gun manufactured by
Greener & Co of Birmingham England with the wooden stock
fashioned by Albert Onions was the same as a musician owning
During a Royal Tour of India Prince Philip shot a tiger.
He and all in the shooting party posed for a picture which
was widely published in the press. Albert Onions told anyone
and everyone he could that the tiger had been killed using a
gun he had made.
In his small world Albert Onions was
respected to the highest possible degree and Albert knew it.
Among his colleagues Albert enjoyed the nick-name of Nunky.
He thought it was a term of endearment but actually it meant
difficult, cantankerous old man. The BBC made a radio
programme about Nunky Albert Onions. It was recorded. Had it
been broadcast live both the producer and interviewer could
never have controlled Nunky's effervescent ego.
"You are a
child David," Mr Onions said. "I am seventy-one years old
and understand this world and its universe far better that
you ever will. I tell you man will never, ever go into
space. That is the stuff of silly fiction writer. You do not
know what you are talking about !"
On Wednesday 12th April
1961 ten year old David was shown to have a better
understanding than seventy-one year old Nunky Albert Onions.
Juri Gagarin orbited the Earth in Vostock One. David took
delight in telling Nan's husband of the fact but Mr Onions
refused to enter into the conversation with his
"I did not think that you liked music
David," Lily said.
"Of course I do. I am going to be a pop
singer just like Adam Faith."
"Adam Faith ? Yes, he sings
some nice songs. Don't you dare sing any of those rock and
roll songs !"
"No Nan. So will you buy me a recorder for
my birthday ?"
"That is something very, very expensive
"No Nan, a recorder costs only eleven shillings
and nine pence."
"You are wrong there David, I would think
a recorder would cost at least fifteen pounds."
tape recorder Nan," young David explained. "I mean a descant
recorder, it is a musical instrument."
one so I can learn to play music and to read music. I can
teach myself. At school only the girls are allowed to play
the recorder, we boys have to sit in silence and listen. I
want to join in, I will be able to play a recorder better
than any girl. I want to learn all about music. I am going
to become a pop singer just like Adam Faith."
"Sing me a
song by this Adam Faith."
David began singing The Time Has
The time has come for me to hang my head in shame
The time has come for me to say that I'm to blame
The time has come for love's return but it won't be the
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes
The time has come to end this very sad affair
The time has come for you and I once more to share a
But love's return won't ever be the same
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes
No more sorrows, no more cheating
Our tomorrows won't be repeating the past
So here am I to ask if you can still forgive
If you can love, the time has come for love to live
With no regrets, but take my word that love won't be the
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes
Lily did not think that grandson David would make a very
good pop singer.
These new pop singers were turning the
heads of children. Was it not a fact of truth that every boy
wanted to be an engine driver ? An engine driver like her
father Joseph Bedson had been ? Perhaps in 1961 boys now
wanted to be spacemen like Juri Gagarin. David had more
chance of becoming a spaceman than ever he had of becoming a
pop singer. As he sang the Time Has Come hardly any of it
was sung in tune.
Lily wondered if she would live long
enough to see what David would become in adult life. She was
much closer to seventy years of age than she was to sixty.
Was not three score years and ten the allotted span on Earth
? Queen Victoria was eighty-one years of age when she died.
The old queen died when Lily was eleven. Where had all
the years gone ? Two world wars, three sons - one dead, two
husbands - one dead. Oh Henry, oh Henry Wilton if only
things had been different.
Molly was a nice enough girl
but she was not a daughter. She was not even a
step-daughter. She was Husband Albert's daughter and no
more. Molly had a boyfriend, she would get married and move
out from 294 Kings Road. Dorothy always called Pam her
daughter and Pam always spoke of Dorothy as Mum. That was
not how it was for Lily.
Lily wondered if she would live
long enough to see what David would actually become when he
grew up. She was almost seventy, even being sixty years old
was a long time in the past. Was not three score years and
ten the allotted life span for a human being ? Queen
Victoria was eighty-one years old when she died, Lily was
eleven years away from that age. Would it be old enough to
see David married and giving her a great-granddaughter.
Where had all the years gone ? Why had they gone so
quickly ? Two world wars, three sons - one dead, two
husbands - one dead. Oh Henry, Henry Wilton if only things
had been different.
Molly was a nice enough girl but she
was not a daughter. She was not even Lily's
step-daughter. She was her husband's daughter. Molly had a
boyfriend, Alan, they would get narried and she would move
out from 294 Kings Road. Dorothy always called Pam her
daughter and Pam always called Dorothy Mum. It was not like
that for Lily.
Far back in the dream of life The Dowager
Countess had taken Lily under her wing and adopted her, in
her mind at least. as a granddaughter. Even marrying Albert
Onions did not make Molly a daughter and more than the other
daughters Albert had had with his first wife and his
granddaughters become Lily's granddaughters.
Countess thought Lily and Henry would give her a
great-granddaughter. What hope did Lily have ? David ?
William ? Richard ? Philip ? David was the oldest.
"Lily, I know you are not looking to retire although you do
deserve some time to rest and enjoy life."
Lily knew what
was coming. She had expected Mrs Brock would say this, had
expected it for the last ten years.
"So do you Mrs
Brockelhurst," Lily said.
Mrs Brock smiled and gently
nodded her head. "Mrs Redmond wants to retire, she is older
than you are Lily. Molly is going to work for a textile
wholesaler in Birmingham. We have decided, Mr Brockelhurst
and I, to give you a pension."
"Oh no, Mrs Brock, "you do
not need to do that."
"Yes we do Lily. We want to give you
two thousand pounds to help you enjoy your retirement."
Lily was lost for words. Two thousand pounds, that was a
fortune. She would put it in the bank for safe keeping.
"Oh Nan I do love you. You are my favourite person in the
Lily smiled. "On Saturday I will take you on
the 'bus to Birmingham. We will have fish and chipsin
Lewis's and I will buy you the flute you want.
recorder Nan, a descant recorder."
David would start a
revolution in Banners Gate County Primary School. Within
weeks Music would be for boys as well as girls. After all
did not boys make better pop singers than girls ? After
explaining this to his grandmother she relied.
Helen Sapiro ?"
David was surprised to learn that his Nan
had ever heard of Helen Shapiro. "She dings with a boy's
voice," he explained.
Lily needed to go to The Birmingham
Municipal Bank at Kingstanding Circle, she was planning to
give her oldest grandson a good day. They took the number 29
'bus into Birmingham instead of the number 33 from outside
Stone's Newsagents in Kings Road.
"That's where Auntie
Jessie had her market stall," Lily pointed out when
they passed Hawthorn Road.
As the 'bus slowly made its way
into Aston Lily told David all about H Ashford and Son and
when she had been a munitions worker.
"That's Holy Trinity
Church where your granddad and I were married. Up the road
is Aston Villa Football Ground. Your granddad was a Villa
supporter, he had a fruiend who played football for a job.
"Did he ?"
"Yes David," Mr Brelsford. He played for
Sheffield Wednesday Football Club."
"Where is Sheffield ?"
"It is a long way from Birmingham David. All the metal in
the world is made in Sheffield."
"Is it ? Even the metal
for this 'bus ?"
"Yes, Sheffield is called The Steel
"Sheffield Wednesday, that's a strange name. Why
Wednesday ?> That's a day of the week."
"I have no idea,"
Lily replied. "No idea at all why it is called Sheffield
Wednesday. We are not far now from where you were born in
Heathfield Road Maternity Hospital."
"Was I ?"
course David. In a little while we will pass where by where
"I thought that was H Ashford and Son."
"That was where your other granddad worked. Greeners is
where Granddad Onions works."
"Oh, Mr Onions you mean,"
Lily knew that none of her family approved of
Mr Onions becoming her husband. At least they were polite to
his face but she was sure not so kind things were said when
neither he nor she could hear. Albert was good company
and he was a friend. He was not Henry Wilton and he was not
William Ashford but his manner towards Lily was warm and
kind. He was never the way towards her as he was to others.
Lily knew of his reputation. His children and their
children would visit every week. There was Bob, the oldest,
Sid, Doris and Molly. Sid's wife, Nancy, and Doris ran a
dress shop in Tamworth. Lily visited their shop with Albert,
it was not the same as Doris Ward and had a clientele from
lower down the social order.
"No," Lily explained politely to her step daughter and
step daughter-in-law, "I do not want to take on sewing work
again. I am retired now."
Albert did not retire and had no
intention of retiring. Every day he took the number 33 'bus
to his workbench at Greeners. Lily had no idea how much he
earned making guns for the rich and the fanpus but he was
generous with his money. Albert paid then rent, met all of
the household bills and gave Lily money to buy food. He took
over the garden at 2o94 Kings Road and transformed the
original wartime vegetable plots into beautiful flower beds.
"That is a very big shop Nan," David said.
"It is the
biggest in all of Birmingham. You could put Greys and
Rackhams together and they would still not be as big as
Lewis's. Your Auntie Jessie's husband used to be a manager
"I would like to be the manager of a shop like
that Nan." Then David thought for a moment before saying,
"Only if I can not become a pop singer."
"We had better go
and buy that descant recorder then."
"Can we do that
before we have our fish and chips."
Descant recorders and
a music manuals were sold in Lewis's record department.
"There is a lot here," Lily said. "A lot of schools must
be teaching children to play them."
"There will be a lot
more," David said, "Once I have beaten Mrs Egerton."
is Mrs Egerton ?"
"The music teacher at school but she is
"Lily thought she probably was stupid but did
not approve of her grandson's disrespect for a teacher."
David was true to his word, he did change the policy of the
school. One by one boys turned Mrs Egerton's classes
changing descant recorders into something boys brought into
school and demanded to be included in the music lessons.
Lily did not think for one moment that her oldest grandson
would become a pop singer but she knew he was destined for
success in what ever career he finally decided upon.
the boy is a fool."
"He is my oldest grandson and I love
him. Albert, how can you say that ?"
"Lily, he goes
fishing with his friends but never catches a fish. He dreams
of being a pop star but can not sing a note. He reads
a book, what was it ? Doctor Dolittle's Circus, then
dreams he will become a ringmaster. The boy has a mind like
a grasshopper. He is a fool !"
Lily thought of the
McDonald boy who became a circus clown. She had not heard
anything from him in many years.
"He is your grandson
Lily, not mine."
"Exactly Albert. You are not his
grandfather. I am his grandmother."
Not wishing to have
her first argument with Husband Albert, an argument she was
not convinced she would win. Lily walked out of the room.
She firmly believed, no matter what Albert said, that David
would make a success of his life.
"Nan I am frightened
"Frightened David ? I know you do not like
school but there is nothing there at school to be frightened
of. After what you did with your flute it is the teachers
who should be frightened of you."
"It's a recorder Nan, a
descant recorder and that was ages ago."
"Was it ?
Is it ?"
"Yes, Nan. I am in my last year at junior school
now, what will happen to me if I fail the eleven plus ? I
have terrible nightmares about that happening Nan. If I fail
I will have to go to Boldmere, I will not be able to go to
Bishop Vesey Grammar School. What will happen then ? Mum and
Dad will hate me."
"Nobody hates you David."
if I fail the eleven plus exam. I can feel the terror of
failing inside my head. I try to grab it with my hands and
throw it away but it always comes back. Nan, I am so
"David, come and sit with me here please."
Davuid sat next to his grandmother's husband on the settee.
Normally Mr Onions had his own chair but moved his place so
David could sit with him. Lily smiled and left the room.
"They did not have that eleven plus examination when I was a
boy," Mr Onions explained. "If they did I would have failed
David moved to say something but Mr Onions silenced
him with one look of his eyes.
"I am a clever man. Look at
my hands." Mr Onions turned his hands uppermost and
presented the palms to the young boy.
"Tough them go on."
Nervously David did what he was told to do,
"If a member
of The Royal Family, if the President of The United States
of America wants a hunting rifle it is these hands that
would make that gun."
David smiled nervously.
not matter if I had the eleven plus certificate, it would
not matter if I went to a grammar school or not, it is these
hands that are important."
David had never heard Mr Onions
speak in such a kind and gentle way.
My hands are
connected to my brain and not to some silly eleven plus
examination. Use your hands and use your brain David the you
will not need an eleven plus examination. Do you understand
that David ?"
Granddad I do."
David did fail the eleven plus
examination. He did not attend Bishop Vesey Grammar School,
he went to Boldmere. He hated it even more than his junior
school but as he grew up and became a teenager he stopped
sharing school life with his grandmother.
uncertain about the world not only David but all of her
grandchildren were growing into. She lost one husband as a
result of the Great War and a sun in the last weeks of Word
War Two. Thank goodness Britain had the sense to keep out of
the Korean War and what was happening in Vietnam ?
Where was Vietnam ? When World War Three came there would be
"If there is another war," Albert said, "it
will start in Germany, you mark my words. Germany has
started two wars in in my lifetime so why shouldn't it start
a third ? We should have wiped it out completely in 1945 !"
"But this is business Mother, he is here
from the company we are working with in Hamburg."
can't he stay in a hotel ? Why does he have to stay in your
"If he stays with us," Geoffrey tried to explain,
"we can build a much better working relationship for the
"Why do you have to work with a German anyway ?"
"His company is going to fit the new machines we need in our
"Why can't you use machines made in Britain ?"
those from Hanover are better."
"Hanover ? I thought
The Royal Air Force destroyed Hanover."
"Obviously it was
not destroyed enough," Albert added.
"Do not expect me to
visit your house while there is German there."
For Lily every day was counting down to the
inevitable. How long before the inevitable came ?
were some days, not often but there were times when Lily
wondered if her life had been worthwhile. When the gloom
lifted Lily could reflect on her life and know it had been a
good life but when the dark clouds gathered there were sad
times. Oh Henry if only things had been different.
slipped into the habit of making Wednesday her day to go
into Town as she called Birmingham City Centre. Fish and
chips in Lewis's cafe was her treat. Wednesdays were always
good days. On one visit wo strange people came in to eat.
The cafe manager refused to serve them. He said, Lily
explained, "We do not serve people like you."
they do ?" David asked.
"They said peace and left.
I suppose, David, they were what you teenagers call
"I don't think they were beatniks Nan, they
could be something new."
"And what might that be ?"
"What on earth pray is a hippie ?"
very new and I have not seen one yet but it sounds like they
were hippies Nan."
Lily was not please to have seen two
hippies but she was pleased when David got himself a job as
a paperboy. She was not pleased when her son. David's
father, made him give it up after only two weeks.
a terrible cough," Kenneth explained. "I have taken him to
the doctor and he says it is not tuberculosis but I can not
take the chance."
"Of course it is not tuberculosis, I can
see that. There is a lot more to tuberculosis than coughing.
Goodness, I know that !"
"It is better to be sure."
David was not worried that his father had refused to let him
deliver newspapers, he found a much better job.
leave school I am going to own a chain of hardware shops all
"Another of the boy's crazy ideas,"
Albert said under his breath.
"It's a great job Nan, I
work one hour after school on a Monday and one hour after
school on a Friday. I then work all day on a Saturday. I get
paid twice as much as my friends do for their paper rounds."
"What is the name of the shop ?"
"Hailstone ? Like in frozen rain ?"
"Not as silly as Onions, as in liver and
onions Granddad !"
Perhaps David had a point and he
obviously loved his little Saturday job in the hardware
shop. Owning a chain of shops, was that another of the
teenager's crazy ideas or was it perhaps an ambition ?
"What is wrong with you ?"
"You have been down in the dumps for weeks.
What has happened to your smile ?"
"I am alright Albert."
"No you are not. You are not the happy lady I married. I am
your husband, what can I do to help you ?"
Albert, I am alright really. It's just....."
"Have I done anything wrong ?"
"No Albert, of course not. It is just that I hate growing
old. I look at David, I look at all of my grandchildren who
are so young and it makes me feel sad that I am old. Sad
that I am not young any more. All I am doing now is to
wait for the day that will come when everything will be
Albert drew a deep breath and tried to think of
something to say. He and Lily were the same age and both had
that day getting every closer on the horizon. However, that
eventuality did not worry him.
Lily would not say what she
was thinking as Albert spoke, she kept silent but spoke to
herself inside her mind. "I have had some happy times in my
life, lots of happy times but they have not been connected
into one long happy life."
"Things could have been
different, things should have been different," Lily said in
her mind. In her mind she screamed, "Oh Henry
Wilton I do love you so much !"
Would death reunite Lily
and Henry ? If it did where would William Sshford and
Albert Onions fit in ? It would not be long before she would
"I do not like supermarkets," Lily said. "How do
you know they charge you the right price ?"
have to memorise the prices for everything on the shelves."
"Why don't they put price tickets on everything ?"
would cost too much money and take too long. I know the
price of everything we sell at Hailstones."
"Do you ?"
It was not easy but Lily set her mind t o be
positive. She began by putting Henry Wilton at the
centre of her day then trying hard to dream of her
sweetheart at night. She then did the same with Husband
William and Son Billy. With the success her thoughts Lily
lived her days and dreamed her nights with her special
people. All was well.
Kenneth received a significant
promotion in his work. Geoffrey moved to become works
manager at a factory a friend had set up five years earlier.
Within weeks he joined the company's board of directors.
Lily was certain that all of her grandsons would do well in
life. David, the oldest, was now doing well at school and
was a success in his job at the hardware shop. As his GCE
O'Level examinations approached David was a lot more upbeat
than he had been at the time of his eleven plus.
is useless Nan, most of the teachers are stupid, I know more
than they do."
"What is your favourite subject ?"
"Do you still want to be a pop singer ?"
Nan, not any more."
David had learned to play the trumpet,
not an instrument to be found in a pop group. His
tastes widened o include classical music.
"I have got to
pass my O'Levels first but when I do you will never guess
what I am going to do."
"What is that then David ?"
will never guess Nan."
"What David ? What is it that
you are going to do ?"
"You said I would never
guess !" Lily smiled.
David was so proud of his pending
achievement he was going to have some fun with his
grandmother. he flung his arms wide, smiled even wider then
announced. " I am going to be a management trainee with a
Birmingham department store."
"Which store ?" Albert
"Not Lewis's ?" Lily added excitedly. "After Doris
Ward Lewis's is my favourite shop in the world."
same," David said with pride.
"Don't you have to pass some
examinations first ?" Albert cautioned.
"Easy !" David
said as he punched a fist into the air.
"David did pass
his GCE O'Levels. On Monday 31st July 1967 he embarked on
his chosen career.
David spared no effort when it came to
telling people what a success he was. In May 1969 he had
been taken into the staff management team where he was given
responsibility for recruiting school leavers to work within
the store. In August David handed in his resignation.
No persuasion from the Staff Manager could make him stay.
"I told you," Albert said. "The boy has more springs jumping
about in his head than a battalion of jack in the boxes."
"I think he could make a very good teacher," Lily defended.
Albert scoffed. "He is eighteen years old, he has no
qualifications. It may be a private school he is going to
work in but how ridiculous can it all be ?"
David was a
success teaching games. PE and music to boys who were just a
few years younger than he was. With his nineteenth birthday
and as Christmas approached David knew for certain being a
teacher was going to be his life-long profession.
Lily and Albert went to have Boxing Day lunch with David,
his mother, father and brother. Lily and Albert went home at
four o'clock, Albert was not feeling well. At half past six
on Friday 26th December 1969 Albert dropped dead. he was
seventy-nine years old.
Lily was devastated. She was
broken. She and Albert were the same age, his fate would
soon be her fate. Two husbands now dead. One sweetheart
dead. Three sons, one dead. Four grandchildren, all boys.
Could she live long enough to see great-grandchildren ?
Could one be a girl ? Just possibly be a girl ?
last Ashford girl to be born was Jessie, she was older than
Lily ad her brother William, Lily's husband. Before
Lily clould become a great grandmother and love an Ashford
girl her grandsons had to find wives.
William was the
first to find a wife but his marriage did not last long and
ended bitterly in divorce.
David moved away to attend
teacher training college so he could become a proper
teacher. There was no chance of his finding a wife and
starting a family for at least three years.
long marriage broke up. He then married his secretary.
the Spring of 1978 when Lily was eighty-eight years old
Richard married Rose then in October of the same year David
married Maureen. Great grandchildren ? Dare Lily hope
With Lily past her ninetieth year Peter was born to
David and Maureen. His joining the family was soon added to
by Richard and Rose's son Jonathan. When David told his Nan
that Maureen was again expecting a child could this at last
be the great granddaughter ? Matthew was born on
Saturday 17th October 1981.
David and Maureen hoped they
would be blessed with three children. Peter and Matthew were
delights and Lily loved them as she did Jonathan but they
were not girls. With David and Maureen's third child
arriving in the New Year Lily prayed on Christmas Day for a
late present and a little girl. That New Year would be her
At half past five on Saturday 20th February
1983 the phone rang. Lily picked up the receive.
"Nan, when are you coming to see
your new great granddaughter ? I want you to meet
Lily cried. All night her dreams were filled
with tears of joy. Ninety-three years old and she was happy.