The rain hit so hard that it bounced and soaked my knees, I drew the neck of my jacket tighter, looking at my feet as I rushed for shelter. It was with a hefty bump a body collided with mine. “Sorry dear did I hurt you?” The lady said. The woman in her late eighties I’d hazard a guess, had taken shelter in the same spot but from the other side of the market cross. Here I was, fit and healthy a snip of a girl in comparison to this lady, and she was checking if I was okay; this was what was known as… good old British fortitude.
We sat to allow the worst of the rain to stop and Mertyl began to chat as she pulled a transparent polythene rain hat free of her fine white hair. In no time at all, with a little encouragement, we were in full swing chatting and reminiscing.
Mertyls memory took her back to ninteen forty one; the story that follows is the one she told.
“The American servicemen had come in and were walking all the way down the
Portland road in Weymouth, it is a very long road just under twenty miles long. There were no toilets and some of the men had just arrived on the sea planes after long journeys. Their pockets full of chocolate and large five pound notes; they were so much better off than our men. The yanks were weary and had still a long walk ahead of them. An English officer gave directions and told them they could relieve themselves behind the munitions factory if they had to, but they must be discreet or they’d find themselves in jail.”
“Well dear, my husband was the postie, and he came home on his bike to tell the tale, how they rushed behind the factory desperate to relieve themselves. There were no privvies and they feared what the officer said, they were a good fifteen minutes before continuing to the camp. Later that day my Percy returned to the factory where he found… My dear it is a little mucky.”
I assured Mertyl it was okay I had heard mucky before. “Well dear you see they had no paper, the vegetation had been cleared for fear of fire behind the factory, and not even a dock leaf was in sight. Percy heard them say that they wiped their bums with the five pound notes, it was all they had, that was a lot of money you know, five pounds could feed a family for a month in those days.” I nodded and made encouraging noises so Mertyl would continue.
“He tossed and turned all night, but before day break he put on his gardening
gloves took some newspaper from the privvy , got on the bike and off he went.
When he came home, I couldn’t believe my eyes he had a roll of newspaper as fat as a pillow under his arm. I boiled a pot and he put warm water and sunlight soap in the tin bath.”
She worried that the neighbours would see.
“My dear it wasn’t odd to have a bath in the back yard then, especially in the summer, but the stench of the mucky money against the warm suds made him heave. He cleaned all fifteen notes, smoothed them all out and once they were dry… well dear, we weren’t too proud we couldn’t afford to be.”
The rain stopped she shook my hand and waved. I am so pleased that I carry a notebook, and that It was me on Saturday morning who met Mertyl . The names have been changed but the story is as near as her memories allowed.
“How many of you have been told extraordinary stories when you least expected.
Do you unexpectedly lure in the story tellers, the loonies on the bus, have you ever been shocked at what a stranger told you?” I’d love to hear your thoughts.