Sunday, 24 February 2013

0 EPISODE 20

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        My father was a Socialist all his life. It was basically his reason for being. In Poland he was employed by the Jewish Socialist Bund. The Bund, as it came to be universally called, had some workrooms and shops of its own, to make goods available at affordable prices to labouring people. In Canada, to which father, mother and I came at the beginning of 1927, he devoted every waking moment, when he wasn't at work in a factory, to furthering the causes he believed in.  These were embodied in The Workmen's Circle, the North-American, albeit less intense, version of the Bund.
        As well as Socialism, father loved literature and opera. A highlight of his life was when, in Poland, he had been delegated to greet at the train the great Yiddish writer, I. L. Peretz, who had come to Lodz, my parents' home city, to give a lecture. And again, years later, when father and mother were in New York, and they attended a matinee performance of the Metropolitan Opera.
        In Europe he had spent every penny he could spare on tickets to productions by touring opera companies, and in Canada on Saturday afternoons he would lie on a couch to listen to opera on the radio. As he knew all the old operas by heart, he would invariably fall asleep, but if anyone mischievously turned off the radio he would instantly wake with a start.
        I've been told that a few months after arriving from Europe, father decided that Canada was a cultural desert, and tried to persuade mother to return to Poland. She refused, saying You can go, but it will be without me and the child. Much as he longed to be back there, he was apparently ashamed of what his friends would think. That, no doubt, saved our lives.
        Mother was no less resolute about Socialism, though in a considerably more domestic way. She didn't so much entertain lofty visions of a reformed world, as limit her concern to people she knew or heard about, and to the aspirations of her women's branch of The Workmen's Circle. Furthermore she had a native scepticism that allowed her to see the irony and humour in things. She also had more drive and ambition, though by any worldly standard her goals were very modest. At most she wanted a secure roof over the family's head, enough clothing to dress decently, most of which she made herself, food for sustenance and for the friends who gathered in our kitchen every Friday night, and a little money for donations to the worthy ends that The Workmen's Circle was always promoting. For herself she desired little of material things; she was always presentably dressed, but possessed only two pairs of good shoes in fifty years.
        In the factory father did piecework, and sometimes there was little or none to do, so income was always uncertain. To augment it mother worked at home as a seamstress, sewing dresses for individual women. In those years we rented some rooms on the second floors of ordinary houses.  Our rooms were usually reached by a narrow staircase, and customers would come up it to our flat for consultations and fittings. My brother Herschel, seven years my junior, very much resented these visitors. At age three or four, though he was an amiable, cheerful, friendly little fellow, he would sit at the top of the stairs and as the woman came up he would mutter Fuckin bitz, fucken bitz Mrs. —
        As a young woman, my mother, Sarah, was pretty and slim, and throughout the rest of her life she never gained excessive weight. My father, Jacob, called Jack, or by his Yiddish name, Yienkel, usually maintained, at least in photographs, a serious expression, in keeping with his chosen mission. Even at seventeen, attempting to be a young dandy with a cane (which his own mother broke in half when he got home), he looked as if he was out to save the world. Father and mother both had a warm and welcoming look, which in practice resulted in their helping a great many people. They gave refuge to any strangers sent to them, providing those people with a temporary home and meals, finding them doctors and jobs, and supplying them with what money they could spare.
        After World War II, one young man who had been in the Russian army arrived with only their address on a scrap of paper, a few tatters of clothes, and a wristwatch he had taken from a dead German soldier. He stayed with them for years, until he was married.
        For all that, my father was a shy, personally unaggressive and pacific man, and mother too never employed violence, not even in speech, unless it was done amusingly. Following the Holocaust, in which almost everyone on both sides of our family was murdered, my father received a letter from a distant cousin, one of the very few survivors. The letter described how in the turmoil of Jewish resistance, which broke out particularly in Warsaw, this relative had encountered a wounded German soldier, who had already been stripped of his munitions, and the cousin, having nothing he could use as a weapon, kicked the man to death. Father cried over that, about the brutal violence to which human beings had been reduced.  
        Both my parents were absolutely honest. There were, for them, no extenuating circumstances. A debt had to be repaid to the penny, and when they were able to make a friend a loan, it was without interest, or, in pinched times, no more than the money would have earned in interest in the bank from which it was taken. And any loan was given without fanfare or rhetoric.
        Yiddish was the language at home. Our parents, who were also fluent in Polish and passably accurate in English, spoke to my brother and me only in Yiddish. Father had an extensive collection of Yiddish books, read a newspaper printed in Yiddish: The Jewish Daily Forward, from New York, and believed in the formal dignity of the language, which was actually rich in sage and comical sayings, and folkisms. Yiddish was also universal in The Workmen's Circle. The members called one another comrade; the natural form of address was comrade so-and-so, rather than Mister or Mrs.  But in Yiddish, though comrade was the same word used by Communists, it had little of their implication of being part of a world conspiracy; rather it meant dear, devoted-to-a-common-cause friend. Father hated the Russian Bolsheviks, who had shot some of the Socialist leaders, which he took almost personally. He was wary of Communists of any kind.
        For the Friday-evening gatherings in our kitchen, when as many as fifteen friends would arrive unannounced, mother would always prepare some refreshment. There was tea, sugar in both granular and cube form, for some individuals who had lived in Russia liked to hold a cube between their teeth as they sipped their drink, rye bread, sometimes but rarely a plain honey cake, unless a visitor brought one, or home-baked cookies, salted herring that had been preserved in oil and cut into slices, and moist cooked chick peas sprinkled with pepper. It was the food of the Polish and Russian poor.
        Occasionally, when mother was away, and father had to make a meal for us youngsters, he would invariably brew burnt-onion soup. That was achieved by simmering sliced onion in a pan, browning it to the point of blackening to give more flavour to the plain water that was added, and serving it in a dish with a boiled potato. It was what his family had lived on during the First World War, and was really the only thing he knew how to make.
        All his life, until an advanced age, father was opposed to Zionism, as he was against any movement that might distract from making a better world as he saw it. He stubbornly believed that people could be improved by persuasion and education. When asked What about the Jewish question? he would reply The Jewish question will be solved when the human question is solved. But after 1948, when he and mother took their only trip to Israel, he said sadly The Zionists were right. Without them, nothing would have been left.
        For many years father was, in The Workmen's Circle, what was called Chairman of the City Committee, the highest post in the Toronto organization. In Montreal, a similar position was held by David Lewis's father. David Lewis was then the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), and made an impact campaigning with the slogan Corporate welfare bums.
        When father turned seventy, his friends made him a surprise banquet. It was a surprise to him; mother, who was in on the plan, told him only about an hour before, just allowing him time to bathe and dress. Precisely how many people were present, I'm not sure, but the large hall was packed. After all the tributes, father had to speak. At first he was choked with emotion, but eventually he found his voice and made quite a good speech. To me the most significant part was when he said In this country I haven't been a very good provider. Sarah and the children have had to get by with scanty means. But I chose to work with my hands, because it left me free to lead a spiritual life. He spoke in Yiddish, and the expression he used was a giestic leben, which translates exactly as a spiritual life, but with none of the religious connotations.
        Father was obliged by his union to retire at seventy-two, because it wanted the job for a younger man. He died at ninety-two, after suffering a number of small strokes, but throughout it all he kept his dignity. Mother, who was ten years younger, lived on alone, but was eventually persuaded to move to a retirement home. She said I don't like it here. It's full of old people. She died, from an illness that swept the facility, a day or two short of age ninety-three. Her undyed hair was grey, but at the nape of her neck there was still a bit of its original black.

NEXT:  A disappointment 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

3 EPISODE 19

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 In that summer of 1945, with the war in Europe just ended, and hope in the air, and my struggling to pay the rent on Grenville Street, I applied for, and received, the job of Head Counsellor at Camp Yungvelt.
        Yungvelt in Yiddish means Young World, and indeed, the Camp was a magic realm. Although it was set in an ordinary country hollow, not far north of Pickering, Ontario, and the beds, whether in plain bungalows for the younger children, or in tents for teenagers, were folding cots, and the washing facilities were galvanized tin troughs, and the eating was at long tables while sitting on benches, and the swimming area was a muddy creek deepened and widened by a wooden dam, everything, everything, was touched by the sparkling elixir of youth.
Boys and girls ardently converged on the Camp, released from the cells of winter into the fresh air and sunshine of summer. They came from Toronto, from places farther afield, from upper New York State, cities like Rochester, Buffalo and Detroit, and sometimes from locations even more distant. In peak season there would be something just over three hundred campers.
      Socialist ideals were transmitted to the campers, according to their ages and understanding, in study groups held each weekday after breakfast, usually under a big tree, with the campers sitting on the ground for an hour of general discussion. But they did little more than remind everyone that Yungvelt was not meant to be all fun and games. In the afternoons, crafts and sports were important activities, often with gender-mixed teams. Baseball, volley ball, water polo with a floating ball and other contests drew crowds of campers, fiercely supporting one side or the other. But it was all in good spirit, and resentments quickly dissipated.
They came, aged from six years to sixteen, for two weeks, for a month, and often for the entire summer, depending on what their parents wanted or could afford. But more importantly, they usually came back every year. Financially, the Camp tried to break even, but was generally subsidized by its supporting organization. Because officially, Camp Yungvelt was the summer surge of the Peretz schools of the urban-based Workmen's Circle, a Socialist-oriented, pale North American version of the Jewish Social Democratic Bund of Europe. There it had been a product of the Enlightenment. Stemming from traditionally religious families, its young people had fought in the Czarist empire for fundamental human rights, for recognition in Yiddish of Jewish values, for better labour conditions. It had often been suppressed by the police, with clashes, shootings and jail sentences — a second cousin of mine was jailed in Poland at age fourteen for handing out leaflets, and from prison made an elaborate and hazardous escape across Europe and finally over the ocean to New York, where he got a job filling bottles for a sophisticated label and for Woolworths, from the same batch of crystals. Later he became a cab driver. The goals to which those early Socialists devoted their lives would make us smile now; we have for so long taken them for granted.
      Food was plain but plentiful. Portions were generous, and there was usually someone's leftovers. When I was a strapping lad of about fourteen I had for breakfast an orange, two bowls of porridge, several slices of rye bread with lots of butter, six soft-boiled eggs, and milk and coffee. Energy soon burned the calories.
      The Camp Director was the supreme authority, and that post almost always alternated between the two leading Peretz school teachers. Joseph Danielak was a handsome creative man who each spring, at Passover time, organized and directed an elaborate concert, with choir singing, mandolin orchestration and a dramatic play.  The concert was staged at the Standard Theatre, at the corner of Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue in Toronto. It had been built as a venue for Yiddish theatre, but was later renamed the Victory Burlesque. The other Director was Daddy Brick, whose actual name was Brick but whom everyone called Daddy.

The Director set the overall tone of the Camp, but it was the Head Counsellor's task to see to it that the everyday running of the Camp went smoothly. The Head Counsellors were usually grown men, and over the years we had some splendid ones. The best, I thought, was Joe Meslin; he was judicious, humorous and friendly, making it seem that misbehaving was an offense against your own potential, so that it was essentially yourself you were hurting. He died in early middle age, another who was much too young.
      For me, becoming Head Counsellor was not so much taking a job as coming home. For years my mother, who in Poland had been a very young kindergarten teacher, was the Camp Mother, seeing to it that all campers were adequately dressed and housed, were clean and healthy, and that beds and bedside belongings were kept neat. She would help any camper with any problem, and usually had her hands full with the younger children. She would deal in a practical way with any minor illness, but for more serious injuries there was a Camp nurse, and a doctor came every weekend. In rare cases a sick camper had to be taken home.
      While my mother was Camp Mother, my younger brother Herschel and I were automatically enrolled as campers, I believe in lieu of the wages she might have otherwise been given. So while growing up I had been an active ongoing camper and then a Junior Counsellor.
      As Head Counsellor I held weekly staff meetings, and despite being only eighteen, I could control those under me, except my mother. She had a sly ironic sense of humour, and would deliberately, I thought, poke gentle fun at many of my policies. But I managed.
      The Camp was begun exclusively for children, but it soon sprouted an adult section, some distance down the creek and removed from the Camp proper. Then there was the Colony. It was literally up-the-hill and consisted of a row of private cottages owned by members of The Workmen's Circle who had acquired the capital to have them built. To an experienced eye they would have seemed like not very substantial, uninsulated, box-like structures. But to the campers the Colony was the Mayfair of London, the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Paris, or the Rosedale or Forest Hill of Toronto. However, the inhabitants of the Colony scarcely did more than eat and sleep under their own roofs; for them daily living was in the Camp.
      With boys and girls together, friendships were quick to form. From about age twelve on, the speculation of who was seeing whom was a constant source of gossip. The night patrol of Counsellors, which began at dusk, often had to chase six boys out of a girl's tent of six beds. Nothing serious ever occurred; it hardly could in a tent full of giggling virginal girls, and it's very doubtful that anything of a carnal nature ever took place. Over all the years there was not a single pregnancy, but a good many of those early attachments later led to marriages. Most attractions were romantic, but not all, and many lasted for life.   I met my best and still ongoing friend, Harry Trosman — who for decades has been a doctor and university professor, mainly teaching the humanities, with psychiatric understanding, to graduate doctors — at Yungvelt as teenagers, in rivalry over an American Yungvelt girl, Eleanor, and found that intellectually we liked each other better than our desire for the girl.
      And for me there was always, from Buffalo, Terry, who had a sharp wit, and with whom I had a loving but then non-touching relationship, and there was a girl from London, Ontario, who came each year with her younger twin brothers. We called her Gloria, and when her snub-nosed, freckled face broke into a wide smile she was truly glorious, as if the sun was suddenly shining from her features. I was enchanted with her, but just enough older so that an invisible barrier separated us. Nonetheless, when a relative announced once that he was driving to London, I was quick to include myself on the trip. In fantasy I imagined I might catch sight of Gloria, that there would be a wonderful spontaneous reunion, but of course all I observed from the car windows were buildings. My one intimate gesture, as Head Counsellor, was to teach her to make a bed with hospital corners, which I had learnt in the Reserve Army. To this day, now a mother with three grown sons, and a grandmother, she reports that with each bed she makes she remembers that.
      Other memories.  In 1935, when men from the depression-era western relief camps made their Trek to Ottawa, by rail and foot, the Trekkers were invited to spend a night at the Camp, in the adult section. I remember them marching up the road from Pickering, a Canadian flag carried at the head of the column, with police on motorcycles leading and following, as if the Trekkers were prisoners. These unemployed men had been working at heavy manual labour for twenty cents a day. Their demands to the federal government included adequate first aid in the camps, extension to them of the Workmen's Compensation Act, the right to vote in national elections, and the repeal of Section 98 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which banned unlawful associations, a broad law used generally against left-leaning organizations.

A riot had taken place when the Trekkers and sympathizers had been attacked by police in Regina, almost a repeat of an earlier riot during a general strike in Winnipeg. Arthur Irwin, when he was Chairman of the National Film Board and Film Commissioner, told some of us that he had witnessed the riot (I can't remember if he said it was in Winnipeg or Regina) and when he saw the Mounted Police charging their horses into the assembled multitude and striking defenceless people with clubs, and shots fired into the crowd, it instantly changed him from a staunch Conservative into a liberal-minded person.
       When the Trekkers were settled down in the adult section, and resting on the ground, J. S. Woodsworth, MP, a Methodist minister and leader of the CCF party, later the NDP, came to address them. He was dignified, slim, and upright, with a white moustache and short pointed beard, and the impression on me, a ten-year-old boy, was electric and unforgettable. The Trekkers didn't achieve their aims, but public sympathy turned in their favour, and in the next election the Conservative party of R.B. Bennett, which had instigated and condoned the police attacks, was reduced from 134 to only 39 seats. The victorious Liberal government, led by William Lyon MacKenzie King, repealed Section 98 in 1936. That could be said to have been the beginning of Canada's broad social programs.
In Yungvelt, near the swimming area, beside a row of tents, was the Pavillion. It was a large wooden hall with windows down the sides, and a stage. Usually there was some kind of entertainment on Saturday evenings, occasionally chaste dances, or the presentation of some sort of drama. The Counsellors were often quite good amateur actors, and in the late 1930s they took a popular Canadian play called Eight Men Speak and refashioned it into a sort of oratorio entitled Eight Men Reek. I can recall some of Hitler's lines:
I am Hitler, I
And when I die
It shall be said
That a dog is dead!
Sometimes the Saturday night entertainment was a bonfire, staged on the other side of the creek, crossed on a flimsy footbridge, from which a path led to a high, level, tree-cleared area called the Plateau. Camp songs were sung, but when it grew late and the younger children were led away, the songs tended to turn bawdy. One went:
Sadie was a lady (of ill repute, and when she was dying)
She felt the hand of the Lord upon her,
She said Dear Lord, I do repents
But it's gonna cost you fifty cents!
Yungvelt was, above all, a family. There were fond ties between all who had been there, children and adults. Years later, when Harry Trosman was squiring around Toronto a Yungvelt girl, Jeanette, who lived in and was visiting from Detroit, and they had exhausted all other places at which they could call, they went to my parents' house on Palmerston, above Bloor Street. My parents, by saving their pennies, those they could spare from worthwhile causes, had assembled a down payment, with the rest borrowed, and bought, for $4,800, their first house, It was a three-storey, and in an attic room with a small dormer window I had furnished a kind of studio, with thin mirrors to increase the light, and a cot.
It was the cot to which Harry and Jeanette were headed. They rang the front doorbell at four in the morning. My father woke, staggered to the door, and seeing who it was, said What's the matter, don't you have a key?

Next:  Parents

Sunday, 10 February 2013

0 EPISODE 18

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In the Ontario College of Art there had been, besides Herschel Caston and myself, one other Jewish student: Betty, in the Sculpture Department. A couple of years older than me, she was a gifted sculptress, and was even then modelling arresting, lifelike portraits. She was warm and generous, and without malice to anyone around her. In the fall, speaking of coloured leaves near her home in Oshawa, she invited me to come and paint there.
Her family lived in a plain house set in a hollow, which on one side was clear of other houses. Her father, Jake, was a thickset, shrewd, passionate man who had begun penniless and had slowly built up a small chain of gas stations. But he took personally the fate of European Jews, whom he called his brothers, and was doing everything he could to help them. Her mother was extremely warm and giving, with a soft attractive face and busy hands that were always wanting to do something for you. There was a young son, an older sister already married, and a younger sister, Rose, the sight of whom left me breathless.
About my own age, she was a classic beauty, with dark hair and eyes, perfectly proportioned features, and a nubile figure. Yet she was a little withdrawn, slightly defensive, as if her beauty were a burden to her, or as if she knew in advance that she must disappoint the expectations aroused by it. Nonetheless, I was instantly carried away.
I talked Rose into letting me take her to the student ball at the College. We went as a foursome, she and I, Betty and Abe, Betty's longtime boyfriend. He was a classics scholar, and a fine, intelligent person. He and Betty later married and lived the whole of their lives together.
No sooner did I have Rose inside the ballroom, and we had begun to dance, when someone cut in and whisked her away. Such a sensation did she cause that I scarcely saw her again all evening, and was reduced, with Abe, to escorting the sisters back to Betty's room in Toronto. That was virtually the whole of my one-sided romance with Rose. She later married, not altogether happily, and sadly, grievously, died too soon.
However, Betty introduced me to George, who had a farm near Oshawa. His family was Jewish, from Czechoslovakia, from which they had fled after the German occupation. George, his older brother, his two sisters, his mother and aunt, had bribed their way across Europe and arrived in Canada with almost nothing left. Betty's father had helped them get established. They had come when Canada was admitting Jewish refugees only if they agreed to become farmers. That was not a particular hardship for George, because he had been to agricultural college and, like his late father before him, had in Czechoslovakia managed a very large farming estate.
The workers on it were peasants. The women workers, he told me, didn't customarily wear panties, and one day a girl so persistently and seductively teased one of the men until he could bear it no longer, and throwing her to the ground, carnally knew her there and then, with the others, who had formed a circle around them, laughing and clapping. The supposed victim protested, but was seen to smile.
However, George was also a lieutenant in the cavalry. He related how he had been with his regiment at the front, ready to fight, when at the end of September 1938, the Munich Pact, made by Hitler and the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, with Italy and France concurring, had sold out his country. He said he had bitterly watched the German columns roll in, with equipment not as good as their own.
George had managed to bring his uniform and sword with him, and showed them to me. Because of my restlessness after the Air Force hash-up, I asked George if I could work for him on his farm. He regretfully said that he couldn't afford a hired hand. I replied that I would work for my keep, and we shook hands.
I was given, to sleep in, a wide room under the eaves heated by a stovepipe that first ran through several other rooms. What little warmth the pipe gave stemmed from the big wood-burning kitchen stove, which was stirred up every morning for cooking and baking. George's mother and aunt kept house for him, and were good cooks, especially his aunt, who was an excellent baker. Each afternoon at 4.00 o'clock George and I would halt work, let the horses stand, and whether we had been putting in crops, herding cattle, or working in the vegetable garden, all tools were put down while we repaired to the kitchen for a tall mug of coffee, paled with fresh cream from the stable, and a large rectangular slice of homemade rye bread spread with a homemade preserve.
In George's workshop I built a studio unit with shelves and a flat area, on which I prepared canvasses and even ground colour for oils. But I didn't do much actual painting. I was distracted by something more enticing.
George's youngest sister, who had a job in Toronto, spent the weeks of her summer holidays at the farm. Under the guise of helping her with her English I was with her most evenings. We were both young, tender, and bursting with hormones. When everyone else had gone to bed we would lie on the porch couch and be intimate. There were limits: she had made it clear at the start that she was saving her virginity for a husband. She was, it was, sweet, and I regretted her return to the city.
When days of work had to be repaid, in turn for farmers coming to help us with threshing — in those days, by a big noisy travelling machine with pulleys and long belts, which left a huge pile of straw in the yard — I was the one usually delegated to go to the other farms. Many farmers had tractors by then, and George had a small half-ton pickup truck, but on the farm we worked exclusively with horses.
George had taught me to drive, and ride, and wanted me to take to a place north of Whitby, eight or nine miles distant, one of our horses. A gelding, he was an unusually big horse; in height I was just a few inches short of six feet, but whenever I was harnessing him and he lifted his chin I couldn't reach it.  The farm fronted on Highway 401, which before World War II had been laid out as a broad dual-highway, with a median strip between the lanes.  Bridges had been built for roads crossing it, but construction had been halted at the beginning of the war, and it was still surfaced with gravel. Only very local traffic used it, and the horse and I went along it easily. But the horse had never seen a bridge, and refused to go under one. At each bridge I had to get down, take him by the bridle, and firmly lead him through the underpass. It took much of the time on the trip.
In all, the months with George were invigorating, and with the coming of snow I went back to Toronto, and drifted to Grenville Street.
But the following summer, when I hadn't yet any steady work, I temporarily left it.

Next: Into a Young World.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

0 EPISODE 17

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       Why do you want to transfer?
       I was standing at attention in a small office before our company commander, Major Baxter. He was a handsome man, slightly greying. I had never personally faced him before. We were in the Moss Armoury. Such an interview was mandatory with any request for transfer. The Major's tone spoke command and disappointment.
      Well, sir, I said.  I thought he might be open to appeal. I'll soon be going overseas and will probably get killed. I understand that with a transfer you get three weeks leave, and I'd like to spend them sketching.
 No, no, he said. You mustn't think that way. Besides, I don't believe you. He looked searchingly at me. Something else is behind this. Now, what's bothering you?
Well, sir . . .
Yes? His voice was softening.
I'm bored, sir.
You're what?
I'm bored.
Bored!
Yes sir.
Bored . . .
Sir.
He stared at me. How long have you been in the army, private?
Six months, sir.
Six months. And you're bored.
Yes, sir.
Well I've been in the army twenty years! How the hell do you think I feel?
But he gave me the transfer.
At the appointed time I was at the Air Force depot in Toronto, which for wartime was in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. There was a small shelter at the entrance gate, with a counter, and behind it two sergeants. One had some kind of insignia over his stripes, which I took to mean that he was senior. They looked at my papers. The junior one said Don't apply for ground crew. We're not taking any. We've enough for now.
There was a cursory examination by a doctor, and, for a number of applicants, a written exam. The questions were easy. I knew I must have scored high.  The last thing was an interview with a psychological officer. I was still in Queen's Own uniform, and when my turn came I stepped into his office, came to attention, and saluted. He was bent over his desk and didn't return my salute. He seemed about forty, and preoccupied. Then he looked up from my papers and said At ease. When did you first start wanting to fly?
I — I — never particularly wanted to fly.
He held his impatience and started again. When did you first become interested in aeroplanes?
I answered honestly. I never was, sir.
Okay, he said, with irritation. What made you want to fly?
I never especially wanted to fly, sir.
      He said angrily Then why are you applying for air crew?
Because you're not taking any ground crew.
That's not true! he snapped. And after swallowing what were probably some choice swear words, threw out Well we don't want your type in the Air Force!
Then he bent over his desk again, shuffling papers. I stood there for a moment or two, not knowing what to do. But as he continued to ignore me, I came to attention, saluted, and went out.
Back with the two sergeants, I explained what had happened. They killed themselves laughing, as if it was the funniest thing they had heard all day.
What do I do now? I said.
Go home, the senior one said.
What do you mean, go home?
Go home the other said. We know where you are. We'll call if we want you.
I returned my uniform and kit to the Queen's Own. As far as they were concerned, I was out of their outfit, in the Air Force. I never heard again from either service.
In the interval the war ended and a long time later I received by mail from the Defence Department an honourable discharge.
Meanwhile Wookey, Bush and Winter welcomed me back. I went on as before, but was restless. It was hard to keep concentrated, to keep my seat pressed to the chair. I was soon to leave again, this time for good.

NEXT:  Default