On Meeting Mertyl.

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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.”

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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.

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50 thoughts on “On Meeting Mertyl.

  1. Pingback: Can you help me choose a winner? | Two on a Rant

  2. I love posts that give a glimpse of the past in unexpected ways. Thanks. πŸ™‚

    Under memorabilia you’ll find my mother’s memoirs. She was a secretary at a POW camp in Arizona during WWII when inmates asked for shovels to make a garden. They built a garden of tunnels and escaped. They were all recaptured. πŸ™‚

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  3. Brilliant Ellen. Mucky Mertyl stories are great. Reminds me a little of a story of my father’s after his first curry in Veeraswamy restaurant in London in the 1950s and the unfortunate misuse of his bowler hat on the train home…

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  4. Haha! They probably didn’t have a clue of the value, just given the normal wage, which was high because our economy was down the pan.
    1944 When female teachers asked for equal pay as they took Β£3 .7/6 a week and men a lot more (not allowed to discus “men’s incomes) Churchill rejected it on the grounds of impertinence.

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  5. Great story! Now, I just had to go and check what a fiver would be worth today and you’re talking about maybe Β£150! I’m with Juli. I’d have not wiped, suffered the indignity, tossed the knickers later and bought some silk camis! I wonder if anyone ever queried their sudden turn in fortunes. That would have taken some explaining. πŸ™‚

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    • In reality it would be worth a heck of a lot more, Β£225.06 each note. Though you’d really be lucky to get 11p for one now.
      The Average wage in England was Β£6 a week, a female engineer took home Β£3 10/ a week. So how shocked would you be to know they wiped with a weeks wage…

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      • I must have used a useless site. Β£225! Not a chance I would have wiped with it. And I’d have wiped the floor with my husband if he’d have spent a week’s wages on hygiene. Still would come to think of it. Maybe the American lads didn’t really know at all.
        I hope you meet her again. She sounds as if she would have some more good craic to impart. πŸ™‚

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  6. 15 5-pound notes – who cares if they were mucky, we all know: Non olet. Money does not smell (for those who missed that Asterix-volume). Though I am convinced your father could tell a different story. But what was good enough for a roman emperor cannot be bad for a “mere commoner”.

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  7. This was so great! I get all kinds of interesting stories told to me across the bar (I’m a bartender in Orlando, so I see people from all over the world). I usually don’t have the time to sit there and hear them through, though. It almost makes me want to work somewhere less busy, but that would be less money!

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  8. What a great story! My mother, 91, often tells me about dancing with American servicemen during the war two, called Sam, made a big impact on her and still does to this day. I tried to find him some years back, but had no luck.

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