After my Pa left school, in 1928, at the age of 13, his Father secured him a job at Heybridge laundry. It was an apprenticeship in a profession that would stand him in good stead for his next big adventure.
But for now, as a young teenager, it was regular work and an education of another kind……
At this age, my Pa writes that his knowledge of the fairer sex was limited to the fact that they wore skirts and boys wore trousers. At the laundry his duties consisted of filling the washing machines with soiled linen, which would be washed by a senior laundryman, after which the linen would be “Hydro’d”(spun dried)then Pa would convey the linen to be ironed, which was done by women. Everytime my Pa passed these particular 2 women, he would playfully pat them on their bums. “Cheeky arrogance” he called it. However after one playful pat too many, the women grabbed him, had his trousers off in a flash and poured oil all over his penis! Bearing in mind my Pa was short and slight, he was no match for these 2 ladies and promptly burst into tears!
He ran down to the boiler room where the foreman was firing the boilers. Seeing his tears and obvious distress, the foreman asked Alfie what was wrong, and he replied that the girls had poured oil on his “Drib”, the only term he knew for his penis!
The term “Drib” dates back to 1700s, probably derived from dribble, or a small amount, as in dribs and drabs. Tho’ it has to be said my Father was well hung! Apparently Drib is also Hip hop slang for a gram of Ganja!
After his first close encounter, my Pa learnt rapidly about girls, and had various affairs over the 3 years he worked at the laundry, calling it a most enjoyable sex education! The haystacks along the road leading towards the laundry were the venue for many a kiss and cuddle, a roll in the hay!
My Pa stayed at the laundry until the depression hit businesses and less people required their services. He was made redundant in 1931(there was no redundancy payouts in those days), so he went to sign on at what was then called the Labour exchange. Alfie said he was “dead scared” of the officials there, who would shout and holler at you, no doubt in an attempt to put you off claiming the meagre amount of 3 shillings a week Dole money. He said you had to convince them you could not find a job!
But his stint as one of the great unwashed was not to last, because after several weeks the Labour exchange sent him for an interview at John Sadd and son, which at the time was a successful local timber business.The manager who interviewed him recognised Pa as his Saturday paper boy and gave him the job. Pa loved timber and wood machining, and before he was 21 had become a skilled and proficient wood machinist.
The pay at Sadd’s was poor compared to other firms, so it was with great joy my Pa applied for and was given a job by another timber company in Stevenage, starting pay one shilling and six pence an hour, 7 pence more than Sadds.
He confronted the management at Sadd’s saying he’d been offered another job, but would stay with them if they upped his pay to the top local rate of one shilling and 3 pence an hour. They offered him one shilling and 2 and a half pence per hour. Pa walked out with the manager’s words ringing in his ears, that he’d never hold the job down, but Pa knew it was a “Doddle”, and him and his friend George Hinton started work in Stevenage.
Alfie loved motor bikes as a young man, and once owned an Ariel 4 square, a bike so big and heavy that often as not once he’d kicked the bike off the stand he promptly fell over! Eventually he settled for a Triumph, a bonneville I believe. Alfie and George travelled to and from Stevenage on their motorbikes.
Coming home one weekend to visit their ladies, George was involved in a serious bike crash and spent many weeks in hospital. Pa got rather lonely without his pal, Stevenage was a small town back then, with very little in the way of entertainment. One weekend at home his old foreman sent word he wanted to talk. He offered Pa his job back, saying they’d never been able to replace him. Pa accepted his offer happily, he’d missed Maldon, tho’ he’d enjoyed his time in Stevenage, but without George it hadn’t been much fun and he was glad to be back amongst people he knew.
Ma and Pa married at Saint Mary’s church in April 1937. Initially they lived with my Grandfather, Alfred Ruffle, but shortly thereafter rented their own cottage in Mill road for seven shillings and six pence! Pa’s pay was a colossal three pounds eight shillings a week, a very good wage for the times. The economy was booming and everyone was in work.
I remember my Pa telling me that when he’d first met my Ma, the only shoes she had were a pair of Wellington boots, and they were too small for her! Alfie bought her a pair of shoes, a move which improved my Grandparents Percy Double Day and Ethel Kate Mead’s opinion of him. Previously they’d thought him something of a Scallywag…………..
On September 3rd 1939 England declared war on the Germans, initiating World War 2. My sister Anna was 3 days old.
Pa of course got called up to do National service in November, but failed the medical due to his deafness, with both his eardrums perforated. He told me a tragi-comic tale that he waited for his name to be called to go in to see the Doctor for his medical…and waited… and waited. Until all the other people waiting had seen the Doctor, and he was the only man left in the waiting room. He went up to the clerk to ask why his name hadn’t been called. It had. Six times!
He went home with a glum face and confronted my Ma with the certificate of exemption, she apparently burst into tears with relief!
Pa promptly joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and remained with them until the end of the War, at which point he joined the local Maldon Fire Brigade part time, another job he adored.
Pa said the AFS was made up of conscientious objectors and the like, some of whom were Gay. Several of them were rather camp and apparently very funny. Whilst my Pa was ferociously Hetro he didn’t have an issue with Gay men, and worked with a few in the Merchant Navy.
With the coming of the War Alfie was working at Sadd’s under what was called the Essential works order, which was mostly for people whose work was important to up keeping the war effort.
But also as a member of AFS he was also involved with firewatching, and since women were also involved in firewatching it made the job interesting for Pa, if somewhat hazardous!
Pa had several women he’d see firewatching, and of course the blackouts proved brilliant cover for his frolics.
He describes one of these gals as rather superior in her manner but peculiar in her sexual capers. They would meet outside the railway station, and cavort on the covered flagstone annexe on his overcoat. She would instruct Pa as to her desires, but wouldn’t let him fondle her! One evening they lay quietly when they heard heavy footsteps clomping through the booking office. They hardly dared breath as the footsteps stopped, and doors shut. It was the train driver and fireman going off duty. One of them remarked he needed a pee………….. and he relieved himself all over their legs! As it was pitch black their cover was safe, tho’ Alfie remarked he thought the chap was never going to stop peeing! They didn’t use the annexe again after that!
In 1947 my sister Helen was born, and Afie continued to work at Sadd’s. Through advice from my Ma’s uncle Harry Day, who had just left the Royal Navy, he was told he could make alot of money in the Merchant Navy, utilising his skills as a laundryman.
And so it was, in May 1950, Pa went to sea as a chief laundryman, with the Orient line. This was to be the start of Alfie’s biggest adventure……………