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Billy was dead. William was dead. Emily Ashford was dead. Joseph Bedson was dead. The Dowager Countess was dead. Lord Henry Wilton, Earl of Tadwell, was dead. Had any of them ever existed or were they nothing more than a part of Lily's dream ? When Lily woke up who would she really be ? When would she wake up ?

Kenneth settled very quickly into life at Bletchley Park although he knew nothing of the town of Bletchley at all. Some of those who worked in the park were billeted in the town or nearby villages. They could come and go as they pleased. Kenneth, however, needed a special pass to exit via the big iron gates. He lived inside the park in a blast proof building, Middle Hall.

For much of the war Bletchley Park had been decoding intercepted German messages so keeping British forces one step ahead of them but that was not Kenneth's area of work.

Billy had ambitions to rise rapidly thorough he ranks of The Royal Air Force but never achieved promotion above the rank of Flight Sergeant. Kenneth had been at Bletchley Patk for six months when he put on the uniform of a Wing Commander.

The war ended with Victory in Europe celebrated on 8th May 1945, two months after Billy was killed. Victory over Japan was recognised on 15th August.

On Monday 4th February 1946 Wing Commander Kenneth Ashford brought his team together.

"Time now for he real thing," he began. "Transport to Southampton leaves at 07.00 tomorrow. We will then sail for Alexandria then on to to Cairo."

Lily forced herself to be strong. It was not part of her character to be weak but without Billy she had to make the effort. Life had dealt her too many cruel blows not to know how to fight back. She hated Germans and everything German. Germans had taken her husband away from her. Germans had murdered her son.

My Dear and Special Friend Lily,

I think you should go with The British Legion to visit Billy's Grave in German. You need to say a proper good-bye to him.

All my love

Sis

 

Dear Lily,

I will come to visit you next week but I wanted to write before I came.

If you want me to I would come with you to Germany on the British Legion pilgrimage to visit Billy's resting place.

Love

Dorothy

 

"Would you really come with me Dorothy ?"

"Of course I would."

"Then yes please. It would be good to have you with me. I am going to need a friend."

Kenny and his small team made t heir way from England to Egypt on the White Star SS Synthia, It was hardly an ocean-going liner and did tend to plod its way through the water but accommodation was comfortable enough.

"I am a spy," Kenneth said to himself. Fancy that.  The boy from Kingstanding, brought up in a council house was a Wing Commander and a spy ! He hoped Brother Billy would be proud of him.

Lily and Dorothy suffered a long train journey to Dover. They had to change trains in London taking the Underground from Euston to London Bridge, dragging their cases with them. It was a slow, smoky train that took them to the port.

"It is a good job everything is downhill to Dover," Dorothy said. "I am not sure Puffing Billy pulling this train could manage any sort of an incline."

Lily smiled. "It will be uphill on the way back."

The boat took nearly three hours to cross The Channel to Dunkirk. "A good job the little ships were faster than this. If it had been left to British Rail Ferries the army would still be on the beach !"

"I agree with you," Dorothy said.

"I hope you enjoyed your meal Wing Commander," the steward said. "Would you like coffee ?"

"Yes please."

"Welcome to France," the man from The British Legion said. "Can I offer you a mug of te ?"

"Thank you."

"Corned beef sandwich ?"

Lily accepted with gratitude, she was hungry. "Corned beef !" Dorothy said. "I don't think so."

A 'bus carrying the pilgrims to Becklingham Cemetery was slower than either the trains in England and the ferry on the English Channel. As it passed through France, Belgium and into Germany everyone onboard could see how terrible war-torn Europe was. The closer the 'bus got to Germany the more terrible the destruction.

Lily had no sympathy. To her, Hitler may have been defeated but every German was and always would be the enemy. In her lifetime Germany had started two wars. The first had been responsible for her husband's early death. The second had taken the life of her favourite son.

Kenneth did not hate the German Nation and had no ill feelings towards any individual. , an older brother A German may have taken the life of his older brother, and older brother he respected and looked up to but he did not hate anyone for Billy's death. That was part of war.

As part of The British Mandate in Egypt the job of Kenneth's team was to oversee a group of undercover agents. The Egyptians did not want the British in their country. While trouble was always possible it was not expected. Kenneth's team members had to pretend to be ordinary Royal Air Force signals staff but spies they were and spying was their mission.

Kenneth wondered what the other base members made of his team, all wearing the uniform of Leading Aircraftsmen yet everyone knowing that was not their correct rank. If their presence was a secret it was not well hidden.

Part of Kenneth's duty was to censor the outgoing mail. There was not a lot to censor, the newspapers pretty well reported anything a serviceman could write in a letter. Newspapers telegraphed any news while letters took weeks to reach home. Censoring himself Kenneth was careful with all of his letters.

Dear Joyce,

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 wrote CENSORED.

"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 lonely.

"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, yes."

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 a pipe."

"All senior RAF officers smoke pipes," Lily explained, "it goes with their rank. Your brother is a Wing Commander you know."

"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 Palace."

"Geoffrey !"

Dear Joyce,

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 Egg-Whipped."

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."

"So 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 again.

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 husband."

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.

Dear Lily,

I am thrilled to hear your news. Congratulations !

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

Sister Sullivan

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 Londoner.

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.

Emma Bedson 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 brother."

"If that is your will Mother."

"It is."

The new baby's birth was registered as David John Ashford.

Returning 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 certainly was.

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 David 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 footballer."

"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."

"Indeed Mother."

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 ?

When the 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.

Prompted by Dorthoy who had been prompted by Lily, George Albon stood guarantor for Kenneth to take out a mortgage.

Forty-Four 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 known.

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 Lily happy.

"We will be living no further away," Kenneth tried to explain. "The schools are better in Sutton Coldfield."

"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 Coldfield ?"

"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 bedrooms."

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 ?"

"What ?"

"Suddenly you appear a hundred miles away."

"I 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."

"That is different."

"Is it ? Why ?"

"I am pleased for you Dorothy."

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 wife died."

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.

During the 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."|

"Really ?"

"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 girl !

"If I were you, my dear, I would find a nice young man with a normal sounding name. Marry him and stop being Molly Onions."

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.

Dear Lily

I hope you will be as happy with Albert as I am with Bert

Your friend

Dorothy

"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 chosen."

"I was lonely, Jessie. I am not lonely now. I have a friend to share the final years of my life."

"Yes 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.

Sister Sullivan

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 for 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 a Stradivarius.

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 step-grandson.

"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 David."

"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."

"That's a tape recorder Nan," young David explained. "I mean a descant recorder, it is a musical instrument."

"I see."

"I need 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 Come.

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 same
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes again.

The time has come to end this very sad affair
The time has come for you and I once more to share a summers kiss
But love's return won't ever be the same
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes again.

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 same
Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes again

Oh please believe me I won't make the same mistakes again.

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.

The Dowager 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 whole world."

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.

"It's a 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.

"What about 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 City."

"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 ?"

"Of course David. In a little while we will pass where by where Granddad works."

"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," David said.

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 in Lewis's.

"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."

"Who is Mrs Egerton ?"

"The music teacher at school but she is so stupid."

"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.

"Lily 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 about school."

"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."

"They will 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 scared."

"David, come and sit with me here please."

"Yes Mr Onions."

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 it."

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.

"It would 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 ?"

"Yes 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.

Lily was 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 survivors.

"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 !"

"Yes Albert."

"But this is business Mother, he is here from the company we are working with in Hamburg."

"Why can't he stay in a hotel ? Why does he have to stay in your home ?"

"If he stays with us," Geoffrey tried to explain, "we can build a much better working relationship for the future."

"Why do you have to work with a German anyway ?"

"His company is going to fit the new machines we need in our factory."

"Why can't you use machines made in Britain ?"

 "Because 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."

"Yes Mother."

For Lily every day was counting down to the inevitable. How long before the inevitable came ?

There 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.

Lily 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."

"What did they do ?" David asked.

"They said peace and left. I suppose, David, they were what you teenagers call beatniks."

"I don't think they were beatniks Nan, they could be something new."

"And what might that be ?"

"Hippies."

"What on earth pray is a hippie ?"

"They are 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.

"He has 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.

"When I leave school I am going to own a chain of hardware shops all over Birmingham."

"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 ?"

"Thomas Hailstone Hardware."

"Hailstone ? Like in frozen rain ?"

"Yes."

"Silly name."

"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 ?

"Lily ?"

"Yes, Albert."

"What is wrong with you ?"

"Nothing."

"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 ?"

"Nothing Albert, I am alright really. It's just....."

"Just what Lily ?"

"Nothing Albert."

"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 over."

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 find out.

"I do not like supermarkets," Lily said. "How do you know they charge you the right price ?"

"The girls have to memorise the prices for everything on the shelves."

"Why don't they put price tickets on everything ?"

"That 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.

"School is useless Nan, most of the teachers are stupid, I know more than they do."

"What is your favourite subject ?"

"Music of course."

"Do you still want to be a pop singer ?"

"No 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 ?"

"You will never guess Nan."

"What David ?  What is it that you are going to do ?"

"Guess ?"

"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 asked.

"Not Lewis's ?" Lily added excitedly. "After Doris Ward Lewis's is my favourite shop in the world."

"The very 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 ?

The 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.

Geoffrey's long marriage broke up. He then married his secretary.

In 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 93rd birthday.

At half past five on Saturday 20th February 1983 the phone rang. Lily picked up the receive.

"Hello Nan."

"Hello David."

"Nan, when are you coming to see your new great granddaughter ?  I want you to meet rebekah."

Lily cried. All night her dreams were filled with tears of joy. Ninety-three years old and she was happy.

 

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