Friends and fellow Postaliers, writing articles for Going Postal over the last couple of years has, I fear, unleashed something of a beast. Those of you that don’t read the articles will not know Colin Cross (he isn’t real anyway). I have written several pieces for the blog, set in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s, trying to evoke some memories of simpler times, good, bad and indifferent (the times, not the articles).
Partly autobiographical these short pieces have been centred on Colin and his wider family. I have tried to include humour, pathos and the odd bit of morality in them. I like to think they have been well received. Now that I am in my dotage I intend to review, rewrite and add to them with a view to producing a work (working title “25”) chronicling Colin’s life from his birth in 1951 up until the time he meets his wife in 1976.
The piece below is the first draft of the introduction to “25”, I hope you like it. Any constructive criticism is most welcome (I think).
Colin Cross would never have existed if a certain two people had never met. That they did meet, marry and have two children would come as a huge surprise to all those that knew either of them well.
Jean Penstock, born in June 1924, grew up to be an ordinary young woman of her time with a clear view on how her life would turn out. By the time she was 16, 2 years before she joined the ATS in 1942, she was courting a decent and hard working young man, had a job she loved and was accepting of her lot in life. That she would reach adulthood, marry her boyfriend and raise a family in the village where her parents lived went without question.
Charlie Cross was born in Pontefract in May 1925. He was raised in a large, happy, family home, his childhood was chaotic but unremarkable, by the time he was 24 he was a selfish, handsome, promiscuous, charismatic and committed bachelor. His doting mother had told his Dad, on more than one occasion, that “her Charlie simply wasn’t the marrying kind”.
Charlie and Jean lived in different parts of Yorkshire, went to different schools and might as well have lived in different countries. They moved in different social circles. Jean was a junior member of The Salvation Army; Charlie wouldn’t have been seen dead in a church of any kind. Jean was studious and loved working in the family garden with her mum; Charlie was sporty, outgoing and ebullient.
What would bring these two young people together? That the war played a part is pretty obvious. Those that survived it, both in and out of service, were changed irrevocably. More than anything though it was the social and cultural mores of the era that threw them together, it would be their own desires and regrets that ultimately tore them and their families apart.
One morning in July 1949 Jean Penstock walked away. She left her home, her job and her lover without any warning and without leaving a note and returned to her parents South Yorkshire home.
The year that the Second World War had begun Jean had left school and started work as a trainee flower arranger in a prestigious florist shop in Doncaster, a 30 minute bus ride from her village home. Jean loved working with flowers and plants, as a child it was all she had wanted to do. She was also determined, against the wishes of her father, that she would join the armed forces as soon as she was old enough.
De-mobbed from the ATS in January 1946 Jean had immediately applied to and been accepted by The Corps of Military Police. She served in Germany until January 1948 before returning to England and taking a job in the flower shop of Harrods Department Store. While serving in Germany Jean had met and fallen in love with a fellow CMP officer, Elizabeth “Queeny” Barrett, who had worked in Harrods before the war and was now back there, working as a store detective. Exactly when Jean had realised that she didn’t want to spend her life married to a man she wasn’t sure, but the minute she first saw Queeny she knew that this was who she wanted to be with.
Jean was a petite, pretty, dark eyed brunette; Queeny was five years older than Jean, a tall, athletic blonde. The two women shared a small flat in a bohemian area of the capital just off the Brompton Road. Outwardly they gave the impression of being just two more career girls, trying to make their way in post war London. It was obvious though, to anyone who took the time to really look, that they were deeply in love.
Before joining the army Jean had been a bright but shy girl, devoted to her parents, fiercely proud of her brother Ray, who was then serving in the RAF as a pilot officer and protective of her younger sister Noreen. Jean had been courted, from the age of 16, by a tall handsome miner called Bill Bailey who was 3 years older than her. Jeans dad liked Bill and he hadn’t been happy when she joined the ATS. His fervent hope had been that she would come home after the war, return to her job as a trainee florist, settle down with Bill and give him some grandchildren.
Jean had been flattered by Bills attention and mildly excited on the few occasions that they had kissed and he had fumbled at her coat buttons. She had never felt the stomach fluttering, heart quickening sensation her friends had talked about though. Naturally shy and schooled by her parents and her faith to be protective of her body she hadn’t been willing to go as far as her friends had. She had wanted to wait, assuming that when the time came everything would be perfect.
Charles (Charlie) Cross was the eldest of six children. By the time he met Jean Penstock in November 1949 he had grown into a tall, handsome and athletic young man. He swam, played football to a high standard and, in a post war era where men were in short supply, he couldn’t fail to be a big hit with women. Charlie had served with ground crew of the Fleet Air Arm in Malta in 1944 and following his discharge from service in 1946 he had joined the police force. Charlie liked being a policeman; it opened all sorts of doors for him, including those of several young widows who lived on his beat.
By the time the war ended Charlie’s Dad had taken up a job with The Doncaster Cooperative Society and had relocated his family from Pontefract to a new house in a new town. On Charlie’s return from the war his mother, thankful to have her eldest son home, indulged him even more than she had done before he left; his siblings, who he in turn indulged, worshipped him and stood in awe of him in equal measure. His brothers would have been him if they could have been and his sister, the youngest of the brood, would love him unquestioningly until the day he died.
Charlie himself was a generous, outgoing and sociable man. He loved football grounds, pubs and race tracks and, as much as he enjoyed the company and adoration of women, he was always at home in the company of what he would have called “real men”. Given his personality and his love of socialising it was far from surprising that along with his skills as a swimmer and footballer Charlie was also an accomplished actor, much in demand with his local towns’ major amateur theatre company.
Jean had visited her parents, taking her flat mate Queeny with her, only once since leaving the forces and setting up home in London. Joe, her dad, was blind to the reality of the situation, only glad that his beloved eldest daughter was safe and well. He couldn’t understand the attraction of London (he’d never been there and had no desire to go) but he thought Jean was just going through a rebellious phase and she would soon return home, take up with Bill again and settle down.
Jeans mum Eugenie (Ginny), more in tune with her daughter’s feelings, strongly suspected that these two young women were far more than friends. She resolved to say nothing to Joe without being certain and consequently Ginny had tried all weekend to get her daughter alone. Jean, all too aware of how difficult any conversation might be with her mum, avoided any confrontation and by the time the weekend visit was over and the train had left, Ginny, who had surreptitiously kept a keen eye on the two young women, was convinced she was correct in her suspicions.
What Ginny didn’t know and would never be able to understand was the real depth of her daughter’s feelings for Queeny. Ginny believed that her daughter had been a victim of circumstance and was simply a naive innocent, one who had fallen under the spell of an older, more experienced woman. Ginny knew little about “lesbian” relationships, she had been brought up in rural Derbyshire by parents who were ardent Salvationists and had consequently led something of a sheltered life. All she did know was that she would stop at nothing in her resolve to make Jean see the error of her ways, give up what Ginny consider her sinful and shameful life in London and return home to her family.
To Be Continued……………….
© Coloniescross 2017