In London (with a ham) [some corrections, 4/28/09]
After the night boat to Holyhead and a train journey, we arrived in London. The London I remember from 1948 hadn’t recovered from the wartime blitz—and it was a cold and dreary place in October. I remember sitting at a counter in some dismal restaurant, sipping on a weak cup of cold tea (yes, Irish kids drank tea at an early age). And in a department store (as I think it was): the escalator to the upper floor was enclosed by doors; you entered, closed the door and pressed a button to start the mechanism. I know that seems odd, but I could hardly have dreamed it, could I? To save electricity, I suppose. I was afraid it would keep going and crush us all!
We were to sail from Southampton (the next day?). I think it was in the East End of London that we walked up and down streets, looking for a place to stay the night. I can imagine Daddy saying to Mam “I’ll swear to you we won’t pay those prices for a hotel!” [They were still “daddy” and “mammy”—would only become Dad and Mom in the new world] But at the various houses with rooms “to let” our scruffy Irish family with suitcases and 4 children (Chris, not yet 3, carried by her daddy) – looking like “the raggle-taggle gypsies O” – were turned away. No room at the inn.
Until, as we walked back down a street we’d trudged before, a sharp-eyed old lady enquired of my mother: “What’s that you’re carrying there?” And my mother showed her: an Irish ham!
“Margaret, why in God’s name are you taking that with you?” our dad had said as we set out from home. But she wouldn’t be dissuaded—”you never know…”. Maybe John & I echoed the question, for I remember her reciting with a little laugh:
Hams alive and their eyes wide open,
Pipes in their backsides and them smoking.
England in late ’48, three and a half years after the war, still had meat rationing (which lasted, I think, until the Labor gov’t was voted out in ’51). We got a place to stay for the night, and shared our Irish ham with the old couple. Our hosts related stories of how they survived the London blitz. Next day we visited the London zoo. I only vaguely remember the zoo animals, and nothing of the war stories.
And then we embarked on the Mauretania, bound for New York. We agreed to stay in touch with our hosts when we arrived in America; but we lost their address, unfortunately.