AND SUCH GREAT NAMES AS THESE – ALLEN MAKEPEACE
Gloves? Don’t talk to me about gloves.
When I was in my teens, my mother, hoping to advance me up the social ladder, always used to insist that I carry gloves to church on a Sunday evening. Not that she or my father ever went to church but she knew what was socially demanded of me as their earthly representative. And your mam’s your mam and there’s no refusing her. She didn’t know that I used to put the dratted things in my jacket pocket as soon as I was out of sight. Well, what boy would have done anything different? Especially in north-east
Ladies, of course – real ladies, I mean, and that included most women - always wore gloves in those days. And they never went out without a hat. (Note to self: must fit in something about hats sometime).
In my novel, And Such Great Names as These, a very smartly dressed lady learns that young Joshua’s mother has been taken to hospital and that he has been sent to the workhouse. She brings him out with a real show of authority after only one night. Dolly is a total stranger to the boy and he is rather overwhelmed by her.
They are travelling to her house on the tram. And then, in the course of the journey, the conductor comes to collect the fares…
She took off her gloves to rummage in her purse and for the first time Joshua noticed her hands. It was because she looked so grand, so well dressed, that he had not been prepared to see such workworn hands, the nails torn, the flesh almost raw and ingrained with the grime of hard work. His mother's hands were like that; he was used to seeing them like that. But this woman, with her very good clothes, and her very confident manner, like a real lady, ought not to have hands like that. Mrs Weston saw him staring at them as she pulled her gloves on again.
'Oh, Joshua,' she said, shaking her head and smiling. 'I'm not a toff if that's what ye think. I work hard for me livin'. Cleanin'. Cleanin' folk's houses. Like your mam. And it's dirty work. Doesn't do your hands any good.'
But if Dolly Weston is quite unmoved when Joshua sees her hands she is less confident when it comes to dealing with the army officer with whom she has fallen in love. Here he comes, the love of her life…
Hector waved, came walking towards her. You'd have taken him for a soldier just by the way he carried himself; the straight back; the crisp sure‑footedness; the eyes steadfastly ahead as though he were led by distant trumpets. His light overcoat, his homburg, could not hide what he was, a real soldier. As he came closer he waved again and Dolly could tell even at that distance how he looked, the cheerful boyish expression, the kindliness of his eyes.
The first time, she thought, as he walked towards her ... the first time ... the day he'd come to Mrs Waterstone's ... she had answered the door and let him in.
And what a mess she'd been, her hands covered in black lead. She'd never expected a caller and there she was on her knees rubbing away at the oven door, when the bell rang.
'I've come to see my sister,' he had said. 'I'm Mrs Waterstone's brother,' he had added unnecessarily.
And Dolly had been conscious of her dirty hands and her bare arms. I'm a skivvy, she thought, but I wish I didn't look like one.
'Oh, right, sir,' she'd said, standing aside, feeling she wanted to wipe her hands on her apron and knowing that would make things worse. She stood aside at the open door, her hands flapping uselessly at her side and wondering if her face was smudged. She had stammered out how Mrs Allen, the full‑time daily, had been called away on family business and that she, Dolly, had been asked in just for the day.
I was looking for a heroine who would not be beaten down by circumstances and this is how I hope Dolly appears most of the time. In another scene she is quite clearly ashamed of her work, of her hands and of herself and I think that Hector, middle-class through and through, is very understanding.
'I'm sorry,' he said gently. 'You should be proud of those hands. They're like your campaign medals…people have all got their value. You mustn't think signs of work are anything to be ashamed of.’
Good old Hector. So many people thought differently in those days. They even celebrated the notion in their hymns. Remember the lines?
The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
He made them, high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
It was an idea that suffused the period and that made love affairs of the kind I have described very problematical.
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Back next week.
And Such Great Names as These by Allen Makepeace
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75% of the book’s profits go to the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association