Authors: Margaret Dickinson
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Historical, #Romance, #20th Century, #General
He gave a brief nod, but made no comment and Rose felt a little foolish. Perhaps it had sounded as if just because her sister was already employed as a conductress she thought that she too should be taken on. For a moment Rose was flustered as she added quickly, ‘What I mean is I know what the job entails, the shift work and such.’
‘Of course. And you work in the canteen, so you already know a lot of the drivers, don’t you?’
At the thought of Bob Deeton, Rose felt sudden, unexpected tears prickle her eyes. ‘Yes,’ she said huskily. ‘I do.’
‘Then I think you’ll do very nicely, Miss Sylvester. I’m putting you forward for training and, subject to you doing well on the course, we’ll be pleased to take you on.’
Rose stood up and held out her hand. ‘Thank you, oh, thank you. I’ll not let you down.’ The man seemed a little startled by her effusive thanks, but he shook her hand and, at last, gave a little smile.
As Rose rode home on the tram, she watched the clippie. She’d paid little heed before, but now her eyes followed the girl’s every movement and she listened to the merry banter between the conductress and her passengers. That, of course, would be no problem for the ebullient Rose!
She alighted at the tram stop on Northfield Road and ran down the hill towards her home. She burst into the house and danced round the kitchen table, grabbing hold of Peggy and whirling her around too, singing, ‘I’m going to be a clippie – I’m going to be a clippie.’
When they’d collapsed against each other, laughing and breathless, and Rose had calmed down a little she told Peggy, Grace and Mary all about the medical, the arithmetic test and her interview. ‘And I’m to report tomorrow morning for training.’
‘Well done, Rose. It’s what you’ve always wanted.’ Rose’s expression sobered. ‘It is, Mam, but I do realize that, if it hadn’t been for the war, I might never have been taken on. Mr Bower doesn’t think I’ve the makings of a good clippie, but I think his hand’s been forced by the urgent need for more drivers and conductresses.’
‘Well.’ Mary smiled. ‘You’ll just have to prove him wrong, love, won’t you?’
When Rose stepped into the training room the following morning she found several of the girls and women who’d been interviewed at the same time as her already there, but there were others too whom she had not seen before. Obviously, there had been more interview sessions and now they’d come together for training. There were twenty in all. Most of them were young, but there were a few older married women who were there to undertake war work.
She turned to see the young woman she’d met the previous day, Alice Wagstaffe. ‘Oh, how lovely. You made it too then.’
Alice nodded shyly and bit her lip. ‘To my surprise, yes.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Well, I – er – I’ve not been well lately. I thought I’d fail the medical for a start – ’ she smiled faintly – ‘but here I am.’
Rose linked her arm through the other girl’s. ‘You’ll be fine. Look, we’ll sit together.’
They sat down at the desks and as Mr Marsden, the inspector who’d interviewed them, entered the room, the other women found places too. Rose glanced around the walls at the posters and pictures of trams, but then Mr Marsden’s voice brought her attention back to him and their instruction began. Firstly, he explained that their period of tuition was to be half the time they usually gave trainees. ‘The war had impelled us to make changes,’ he said, as he walked between the rows of desks, handing out a book of rules to each of them. ‘It would therefore be helpful if you could do some work at home.’
The rest of that first day was spent with the inspector going through the rulebook, explaining the reason behind each regulation and its level of importance, but above all, he said, the comfort, welfare and safety of the passengers were paramount.
‘The most difficult thing,’ Mr Marsden explained seriously, ‘is to deal with those members of the public who, shall we say, can be confrontational. Employees of the company must at all times remain patient, avoiding arguments and yet at the same time maintaining firm control of any situation. It isn’t easy.’
‘A good clip round the ear,’ someone muttered, ‘is what they need. I thought that was why we were called “clippies”.’
Smothered laughter rippled around the room and even Mr Marsden’s lips twitched; he couldn’t have failed to hear the remark. But after that any tension there had been in the room evaporated and even Alice, sitting nervously beside Rose, seemed to relax.
‘My head’s spinning,’ Rose said as the day ended and they trooped out of the training room. ‘Let’s go to the big canteen and get a nice cup of tea. It’s where I used to work.’ She lowered her voice. ‘My mates will find us one.’
They entered the canteen to be greeted with good-humoured jeering from the girls serving meals, copious cups of tea and cakes. ‘Here she comes. The traitor.’ But Rose only grinned and led her new friend to a table. ‘Two teas, miss, please,’ she said loftily.
‘Huh!’ Sally, up until the previous day her work mate, laughed. ‘The cheek of the besom. What d’you think I am, Miss High ’n’ Mighty. A waitress?’ Rose and Sally fell into fits of giggles. She came to the table and put her hand on Rose’s shoulder. ‘’Course I’ll get you some tea. We’re all pleased for you, ’cos we know it’s what you’ve always wanted, but we’ll miss you. This place won’t be the same without you.’
‘Thank goodness,’ someone called from behind the serving counter, but Rose knew it was only banter. When Sally brought the tea, there were three cups on the tray. ‘Mind if I join you? I want to hear all about it. I’m thinking of applying myself.’
‘Oh do, Sal,’ Rose urged. ‘You’d love it.’
For the next half an hour the three girls chatted. ‘I’ll have to go,’ Sally said reluctantly at last. ‘Be seeing you and good luck.’
As they walked out Rose asked, ‘You said you’d been ill, Alice. Are you sure you’re quite better because you do look a little pale? This job’s not going to be easy, you know.’
‘I’ll be fine. It – it’ll take my mind off things.’
‘Oh – your husband being away, you mean?’
‘That – and . . .’ She hesitated and then, taking a deep breath, confided, ‘I had a miscarriage two months ago. I’m fine physically, the doctor says, but it’s – it’s just taking me some time to get come to terms with it. I – we – so wanted a baby. And now . . .’ Her voice trailed away.
Rose squeezed Alice’s arm, but didn’t quite know what to say. She could only guess at the devastating hurt the girl was feeling. The hectic working life of a clippie would certainly take Alice’s mind off her sadness, but Rose was worried that, despite what she’d said, the girl wasn’t yet physically fit enough. The days would be long and hard, standing on the draughty platform of a city tramcar, wrestling with a swaying vehicle, locking horns with truculent passengers and making sure the correct tickets were issued and the right amount of money taken.
But Rose couldn’t wait to get started!
The following morning’s tuition began with a brief recap of the rules, over which Rose had pored the previous evening sitting beside Myrtle at the table, much to the younger girl’s amusement. Rose had never been the studious type, but here she was burying her head in the rulebook and murmuring aloud. Myrtle grinned. ‘Want me to test you?’ she asked facetiously, but Rose nodded and said seriously, ‘Yes, please, Myrtle. Would you?’
Myrtle blinked and teased her no more. Now she realized just how serious Rose was about her new job. And when Bob called to take Peggy to the cinema later that evening, he sat down and gave Rose some valuable tips.
‘Mind you get on good terms with your motorman, or motor
, because you might not always be with the same one. They’ll help you. They’re a good bunch.’
Rose nodded and swallowed hard. How she wished it could be Bob who’d be her driver.
Now, as the trainees assembled once more, she sat beside Alice again. After they’d read through the rule-book yet again, Mr Marsden handed out a black box and a bundle of different-coloured tickets. ‘Familiarize yourselves with the different tickets and remember you must call out all the stopping places as you approach and also the end of each stage.’
Rose’s hand shot in the air. ‘I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand what you mean.’
‘You call out the name of the stop,’ Mr Marsden said patiently, ‘and the end of the fare they’ve paid. For example, “End of one penny stage.”’
‘Oh, I see. Thanks.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ he murmured, giving one of his rare smiles. ‘That’s what I’m here for.’ He addressed the whole class. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions.’
‘You’re very patient,’ one of the older women ventured and Mr Marsden’s smile broadened. ‘As must you be with your passengers. I’ve had plenty of practice.’
After hearing about bell pulling, emergency brakes and fare stages, there followed a session of ticket punching, which left the class in hysterical laughter. Mr Marsden calmed them down by having each one of them read aloud one of the rules from the book. ‘You have to get used to speaking loudly and clearly.’
Rose read with confidence, but Alice was timid, her voice barely above a whisper.
‘We’ll work on it,’ Rose promised.
Alice smiled weakly. ‘I’ll never manage all this. I think I ought to give up now.’
‘Don’t you dare,’ Rose said. ‘We’re in this together.’
At the end of the afternoon, the trainees trooped to the clothing store, where a woman measured each one of them for their uniforms. Now they began to feel like real clippies.
‘Isn’t it funny,’ Rose remarked, as they once again found their way to the canteen, ‘how a uniform makes you feel the part? It gives you confidence, somehow, though I don’t know why it should.’
‘Maybe it’s because it gives you a certain authority. People know you’re the one in charge. Most people will accept that, though a few won’t, like Mr Marsden warned us.’
‘You’ll be all right, Alice.’
Alice bit her lip. She wasn’t so sure. There was so much to learn: how to fill in all sorts of forms and reports and even how to read the duty boards on the walls of the depot, put up every Thursday night, which would tell them what their journeys and break times would be for each week.
‘It’s not a journey they call it, is it?’ Alice said worriedly. ‘What is it?’
‘Oh yes, that’s it. And a break is a “relief”.’ She giggled. ‘I expect it’s called that because it will be a relief if you’re having a bad day.’
Worst of all for Rose, though, was to learn that should there be any short-fall in the money handed in at the end of the day, the clippie had to make up any difference. ‘I’ll be paying them to come to work,’ she moaned. And now it was Alice’s turn to do the comforting. ‘You’ll be all right, Rose. You came out top of the class in the mental arithmetic tests.’
It was true, but the classroom atmosphere was very different to working on a swaying, tram crowded with impatient passengers.
Two evenings later Peggy asked, ‘So how’s it all going?’
Rose sighed. ‘All right, I think. Today they took us to get some practical experience. We went up and down this hilly side road – I don’t know how many times. We took turns to stop the car. And then there was the phone to the main office in an emergency and all sorts of things I can’t even remember now. Oh, Peg, I didn’t realize there’d be so much to learn.’
Peggy laughed. ‘I’ve had it said to me more than once that all we clippies have to do is to punch tickets all day, but I just smile nicely and hold my tongue.’
‘I can’t see Rose doing that for long,’ Grace remarked. ‘It won’t be only tickets she’ll be punching if anyone gets awkward with her.’
‘She’ll have to,’ Peggy said gravely. ‘The Company puts courtesy towards the passengers only second to regard for their safety.’
‘Have you got your uniform yet?’ Myrtle looked up from her homework.
‘In a few days, I think.’ Rose pulled a face. ‘We’ve still got a few more days in the classroom yet. How you stick staying on at school, our Myrtle, I don’t know. Not that we don’t want you to,’ she added swiftly.
‘I might have to leave,’ Myrtle said, ‘now there’s a war on.’
There was a chorus of ‘no’ from every member of her family and Myrtle hid her smile; it had been the response she’d wanted.
Rose came home with her uniform. It fitted her perfectly.
‘Oh, you do look smart,’ Mary enthused, and even Grace looked up from her paper and nodded as Rose paraded in front of them in her navy-blue jacket, skirt and peaked cap. She’d also been given a pair of trousers and a thick overcoat.
‘Tomorrow we go out on a real live tram – under the supervision of a trained clippie, of course.’
Peggy smiled. ‘That’ll be me, then.’
‘Eh?’ Rose blinked at her. ‘They won’t let me go out with my sister, will they?’
‘I asked Mr Bower today and he said he didn’t see why not.’
Rose flung her arms round Peggy and hugged her. ‘But you’ll have to do everything I tell you,’ Peggy warned. ‘I’m no soft touch.’
And indeed she wasn’t. The following morning when they reported for duty at the timekeeper’s office, Rose glanced about her. She’d never been to this part of the depot before and the trams looked far bigger than they did out in the streets. But there was no time to gape, Peggy was already showing her how to put the heavy punch over one shoulder, the money bag over the other and then load the ticket rack with the multi-coloured tickets, each one clearly stamped with its value.
‘Most clippies wear the punch from their right shoulder across their chest and resting on their left hip and the money bag the opposite way.’ Peggy laughed. ‘I’m awkward. I wear mine the other way on. Just try them out and see which suits you best.’
When Rose had settled the machine and the bag comfortably, Peggy said, ‘Come on. We’re lucky today, we’ve to pick up our tram here, but sometimes we have to travel into the city to start our detail.’
Bob was waiting for them by the navy-blue and cream-coloured tramcar.
‘Morning, Rose. All set?’
Rose ran a nervous tongue round her lips. ‘Ready,’ she said, with more conviction than she felt.