Twenty Five is a series of semi autobiographical short stories based on the life and times of a character I have chosen to call Colin Cross. Colin is partly a fiction, an amalgam if you like of a real person who has lived through turbulent times, combined with historical events and sometimes people that reflect these times and their influences. Some of the things portrayed as happening to Colin may well have happened to others and been witnessed by the author, others will be totally fictional constructs based on the writers knowledge and personal understanding of time and place.
Although the majority of the characters and places portrayed in these stories are based on real people and places some of the names have been changed for obvious reasons. Some of the stories which will feature have already appeared on Going Postal, most notably the Incarceration series, they will need to be rewritten but will contain the facts as first published.
I thought it essential to the context of the project to write an introduction to provide some background to Colin’s story and to partially lead in to how and why his life changed so irrevocably from the summer of 1963. The first part of this introduction can be found in the GP archive (if you can be bothered to look for it).
I have no certain knowledge that there ever was a physical relationship between Jean Penstock and Queeny Barrett. That the two people they are based on did exist is without question; they served together during World War 2 and they shared (at the very least) a friendship which ended in around 1954/55. The letter transcribed below is a fiction and Jean, to the authors knowledge never worked in London, though Queeny did. I have tried to impart some of the dialect and some of the language that might have been used in Yorkshire at that point in time.
It would appear to me that if two people were as close as the women in this story the only thing that could have separated them would be a combination of guilt and fear of being exposed to friends, family and employers. My research hasn’t been extensive, I’m going with my gut and some people might think it strange that I would create a “lesbian” relationship, especially involving someone so close to the main character, when I have no proof there ever was one. I have done so for the sake of the story, I can’t apologise for that.
One of the upcoming stories will feature a visit that Queeny made to Yorkshire from London in the summer of 1954 or 1955, Colin would have been only 3 or 4 years old at the time and although his memory of it is quite vivid he wouldn’t have had any understanding of why it was made or what really happened during it. Colin never saw Queeny again; whether Jean and Queeny ever saw each other after this visit no one still living is certain. Colin thinks they met up at least once, maybe even two or three times. Should these meetings feature in the finished work they will be purely the stuff of the writer’s imagination.
Jean Penstock arrived home from work on the 23rd of June 1949; a day just like any other. She had been busy but not excessively so and was ready for putting her feet up with a cup of tea and a fag. Queeny had stayed behind after closing; staff training for new recruits was taking place in her department. Queeny was ambitious enough to know that volunteering to help with this type of thing would make sure that when it came to promotion time she would be in with a shout.
Just inside the entrance lobby to the block of flats where Jean and Queeny lived, standing on a raised carved plinth, were eight individual wooden letter boxes, one for each of the flats. Neither of the girls received a great deal of mail, indeed it was something of a standing joke. They often said that it was good that they had each other as no one else seemed to care about them. Usually they arrived home together but, on the odd occasion that they didn’t, whoever got in first always checked for letters, postcards etc.
When she saw the envelope Jean was initially excited, a letter was something rare and special; her excitement quickly turned to concern when she recognised the handwriting. A letter from her mum could only be about one thing and she knew that the reading of it wouldn’t be comfortable. At first she resolved to leave it unopened, reading it together with Queeny might make the contents easier to take in, but something dissuaded her from this. What if it wasn’t about her and Queeny, maybe her dad or one of her siblings was ill, maybe it was nothing at all to worry about. She slipped the envelope into the pocket of her fake Dior New Look jacket and ran up the stairs to the flat. She boiled the kettle, made tea, lit her cigarette, the first one of the day and without thinking about it any further she opened the envelope and started to read;
21st June 1949
My Darling Daughter Jean
Seeing you after such a long time was grand and it right lifted your dads’ spirits. I don’t think you’ll ever properly understand just how much he misses you. If he knew what’s going on with you and that woman I don’t think he could stand it. All I know is it’s mucky, two women weren’t meant to be with each other in that way and I think you know that to.
I don’t understand any of it, poor Bill’s beside himself; he even came round to our house to show me ring he has bought for you, he thought you’d be engaged by now. He hasn’t seen any other lasses all the time you’ve been away and he’s had plenty of opportunity, as good looking as he is.
I haven’t said owt to your Dad, if I did it would be as like as not to break his heart, I doubt he’d be able to stand shame of you ever coming home again, it’d be too much for him to take. Ray and Noreen are right bothered by it all. They can’t understand why you haven’t come back. Noreen especially, whenever we talk about you she always asks when you’re coming home. With Rays wedding coming up you’ll likely be asked to stand bridesmaid but I’d have to put a stop to that, in case anyone in the family got wind.
Ee lass, it’s a real mess that’s been created and for what, is being in the city with all its fancy ways and mucky business what you really want? I know your dads spoken to Tom Good, he saw him in Legion club. He’d have you back to work like a shot and we’ve kept your room ready for you. I’ll tell you what, between me and you, if you come home before Rays wedding, stand bridesmaid and get engaged to Bill I’ll say nowt.
Nobody needs to know what you’ve been up to and I’m sure, once you get away from that woman you’ll get right back into being our Jean again. Army’s missing you an ‘all, Major Smith can’t find anyone to play tambourine like you can. I don’t think I could stand shame of anyone at the Meeting Hall finding out what’s been going on. I’d likely have to give up going myself.
Anyway, you think on, wars been over for a few years now now and people are getting back to normal. You’ve just been taken in by somebody who wants something they shouldn’t have. Come home Jean, please, its best all round. She’ll forget about you as soon as you leave, I bet there’s plenty like her in London, she won’t think twice about you.
All our Love Mum and Dad
To be Continued…………..