Wednesday, 27 August 2014
September 3, 1939: For a week, everybody in London had been saying every day that if there wasn't a war tomorrow there wouldn't be a war. Yesterday, people were saying that if there wasn't a war today it would be a bloody shame. Now that there is war, the English, slow to start, have already in spirit started and are comfortably two laps ahead of the official war macahine, which had to await the drop of somebody's handkerchief. In the general opinion, Hitler has got it coming to him.
Slowly reading Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes over the last couple of weeks has been like a daily war bulletin from the home front, with up to the minute news of what Londoners were thinking/ talking about, moaning about/cheerfully putting up with as the war progressed.
And as soon as I finished, I discovered that this book - none too easy to track down at present - is going to be one of Persephone's titles next year. (Mollie isn't as chit-chatty as Nella Last, though; there's quite a lot of politics and hard news as well as social history.)
But it's the interesting snippets that fascinate me most:
January 4, 1940: Old men and women call to find out if they can be evacuated to safe areas and the bureaus try to find billets for them, but it isn't easy. "Old and infirm people take a good deal of looking after and people grow tired of them" is the official explanation - a full-length tragedy in seventeen words.
August 19, 1941: Often chagrined customers, after pointing wrathfully to displays of Scotch and rye in a shop window, discover that the bottles are dummies. The resulting skepticism about the nature of things sometimes has unfortunate results as when a housewife stared coldly at a mound of lemons in her greengrocer's shop under the gloomy impression that they were hollow papier-mâché mockeries. She discovered later, after they were all gone, that they were part of a crate of the genuine article which had just come in that morning.
December 21, 1941: The shopping streets have been crowded with people who, however much Singapore is graven on their hearts, carry on their brows the unmistakeable lines of anguished worrying over what to give Aunt Ethel. They have been lucky if all they have had to carry were lines on their foreheads, since the shops require customers to take away their purchases, and this, coupled with a lack of wrapping paper, has made most shoppers look like harassed and cruelly over-loaded camels. Enterprising gift hunters have been toting suitcases around with them, and the resulting casualties among the young in crowded stores prompted a Times reporter to remark, "Many people have discovered how large a proportion of small children are in height just about suitcase level."
December 27, 1942: Mr Bevin's plans for a further call-up of employees in the retail trades are sweeping. Luxury shops, on which the Minister has naturally come down hardest, won't have a salesgirl under forty-five ... Perhaps the only Mayfair tradesmen who weren't gloomy about the prospects last week were the hairdressers, to whom Mr Bevin thoughtfully accorded easier terms for keeping their key operators out of the factories, since a neat head is held to be an invaluable booster of feminine morale, as much for factory girls themselves as for that now rare species, the lady of leisure.