Authors: Rosie Harris
But deep in her heart she knew that would never happen, because the more he earned the more Michael Quinn would spend in the pubs up and down Scotland Road.
‘You won’t be fourteen until October so you are not entitled to leave until the end of the following term at Christmas. That means, Quinn, that you have to return to school again in September.’
Eddy Quinn fidgeted uncomfortably as he stood in front of the headmaster’s desk. Mr Clark was not making it very easy for him, but he was determined to convince him that he should be allowed to finish school at the end of the summer term, which was in a few days’ time.
‘I know that, sir, but I’ve got the chance of working at Sunbury’s Bakery. If I can’t start right away, when school breaks up at the end of next week, then I’ll lose the job.’
‘Surely you can go and work there during your summer holiday and then return to school in September.’ Mr Clark frowned.
Eddy shook his head. ‘That wouldn’t be playing fair, though, would it, sir. They want someone for the job permanently; if I did that, they’d have to find someone else as a replacement again in a few weeks.’
‘Mmm,’ Mr Clark looked thoughtful.
‘You are really keen on becoming a baker, Quinn?’
‘Is your father a baker?’
‘No, sir. He’s a cobbler.’
‘So why don’t you go and work for him?’
Eddy shook his head violently. ‘I don’t want to do that. I’m not interested in that sort of work.’
‘So why are you so keen to become a baker. Plenty of cakes to eat? Is that the great attraction?’
Eddy’s cheeks flamed. ‘It is important,’ he admitted reluctantly.
Mr Clark stared at the small nervous boy in front of him, noting his neatly patched clothes, and then nodded understandingly. ‘I can believe that at your age. From the size of you, Quinn, I’d say you’ve gone hungry a great many times in your life.’
Eddy bit his lip, but said nothing.
‘You have a younger sister, Vera Quinn. Is that correct?’
‘Yes, sir, and a little brother, but he’s not old enough for school, he’s not two until September.’
Mr Clark walked across to the window and stared out, deep in thought. The silence in the room as he waited for the headmaster’s reply almost choked Eddy. He clenched his hands into fists, digging his nails into the soft flesh of his palms. He could hear his heart thumping and there was a tightness in his chest as he tried to breathe slowly and evenly.
‘All right, Quinn.’ Mr Clark swivelled round on his heels. ‘Off you go and tell the boss at Sunbury’s Bakery that you can start immediately after school breaks up. Not before, mind. You’ve still three days left and I expect to see you at your desk every day. Understand?’
‘Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.’
Eddy felt as if he was going to burst with relief. He’d told Mr Chamberlain, the boss at Sunbury’s, that he’d be able to start work on Monday 25th July 1921, and now he could. He’d have to work every week day, from seven in the morning until six at night, except on Saturdays when he’d finish at one o’clock.
He couldn’t wait to tell his mam. He’d be earning a proper wage, not two and sixpence a week like he was paid for doing the deliveries for Steven’s Hardware Store. Mr Chamberlain had promised him twelve shillings a week for the first six months, and then a rise of two and sixpence, provided he worked hard.
He’d do that all right. He couldn’t wait to get started. Mr Chamberlain had said that he could have a bread roll and a cake every day for his lunch. He had also hinted that at the weekend he’d get a bag of cakes to take home, if there were any left over. It sounded smashing to him.
He knew his mam was going to be pleased when he told her. He’d been on the verge of doing so for days now, but he’d kept quiet because he hadn’t been sure if Mr Clark would let him finish school at the end of the summer term.
Vee already knew all about it, of course, because she’d been the one who’d told him that Sunbury’s were looking for someone.
‘I don’t know anything about baking,’ he’d told her.
‘That’s the whole point,’ she’d said. ‘You’ll learn everything there is to know. It’ll be much better than working for a chandler’s where all you’ve learned is how to wheel an overloaded delivery bike up and down Scotland Road.’
‘Yeah, but look at these,’ he’d flexed his muscles. ‘I’ve built them up from pushing that bike, haven’t I!’
‘Learning a proper trade is the first step on the ladder to a better life,’ she told him gravely. ‘Remember, if you don’t get a proper job then the minute you leave school Dad will expect you to work full time in the shop with him and you wouldn’t like that, would you!’
‘You know I’d hate it! It would be hell! I’d never do anything right, and he’d order me about from morning till night, and cuff me over the head every time I made a mistake.’
‘Well, make sure you don’t make any mistakes when you start at Sunbury’s then or someone there might clip you round the ear.’ She grinned.
Now that he had actually got the job, and knew when he would be starting work, he’d ask Vee not to say a word to their mam until he’d got his first week’s pay.
He could see it now, handing his wage packet over to Mam unopened, watching her eyes widen in surprise when she saw how much there was inside it. From now on they’d all have enough to eat, every day of their lives. There’d be sausages, bacon, eggs, chops, even roast meat. Benny would grow up big and strong, not undersized like he was.
His mam would have to give him back some pocket money out of his wages, but he knew she’d play fair. He’d ask her if she could spare a few pennies each week for Vee as well.
When Vee had taken over his task of delivering boots and shoes Eddy had warned her about making sure she hid any tips that the customers gave her before she got back to the shop. He’d even shown her his secret hiding hole behind a brick in the wall in the back jigger. He’d told her that she could use it as well if she liked, but she’d never done so. For some reason their dad never bothered to ask her if she’d been given anything.
Whether that was because he’d fooled him for so long into thinking that customers never gave any tips, or whether it was because his dad liked Vee more than him, Eddy wasn’t sure. It didn’t really matter one way or the other, he told himself, but he couldn’t help feeling puzzled about it.
Vee never told him if she did pick up any tips. If she did, he had no idea what she spent the money on, and he never asked. He suspected it mostly went on treats for young Benny. She really seemed to adore their little brother. She was always the one who got up in the middle of the night when he started crying, or calling out. Usually, she took him back into bed with her.
‘It’s easier than hearing Dad having a nark with Mam about the noise Benny makes when he whinges,’ she’d told him when he’d commented on it. ‘It only makes Benny howl even louder when Dad starts shouting. It terrifies me when he does, so I know it must frighten the wits out of poor little Benny.’
Young Benny looked frightened most of the time, Eddy thought grimly. He had such big, sorrowful blue eyes and he seemed to toddle round in a wide-eyed daze, usually with a dummy, or his thumb, stuck in his mouth. He never seemed to have the energy to play, not even with the big coloured ball that Vee had bought for him.
Eddy found his first week at Sunbury’s a bewildering experience. When he’d been working at the chandler’s all he’d had to do was collect his loaded bike, do the deliveries on the list he was given, and then return the bike to the shop.
In his new job there were a hundred and one tasks to be done.
Although the jobs were all simple – like sweeping up flour that had been spilled on the floor, washing out the huge mixing bowls, or helping to bring in bags of flour and sugar from the storeroom out in the yard – the two men who worked in the bakehouse behind the shop often asked him to do different things at the same time.
He enjoyed the work, though. The job he liked best was clearing up the bowls after the baker who made all the cakes and pies had finished with them – especially those that had been used for cakes! Before he plunged them into water he surreptitiously ran his finger around the sides, licking up any traces of the sweet mixture. He’d never be hungry as long as he could do that, he thought gleefully. Sometimes, when it was fruit cakes or buns that were being baked, there would be the odd currant or sultana left in the bowl as well.
After an enormous batch of baking there would be the trays to clean. These would often have tiny bits of cooked cake or pastry stuck to them and he wished he could scrape them into a bag and take them home for Vee. As he worked he picked bits off to eat, and even when they were slightly over-cooked he thoroughly enjoyed them.
On Saturday, when Mr Chamberlain handed him his first wage packet, Eddy thought he would explode with happiness.
‘These are for you,’ his boss told him, handing him a brown paper bag bursting with doughnuts, iced cakes and jam tarts. ‘Do you want a couple of loaves to take home with you as well?’
Eddy could hardly believe his ears. He already had a feast that would fill them for days.
‘They’re yesterday’s, mind, so they might be a bit stale, but your mam can always toast them, or use them to make a bread pudding.’
When he reached their own shop in Scotland Road he was about to hurry past and go down Penrhyn Street, and in through the back jigger, when his dad stepped out into the roadway and confronted him.
Grabbing him by the ear he hauled him into the shop and slammed the door shut.
‘What’s all this then? Been thieving have you?’
‘No, Dad, of course I haven’t! I … I earned it!’
‘Oh, yes? Then you’ll have some wages as well, if I know anything about it, so hand them over.’
Eddy looked at him defiantly. Giving his first real wage packet to his mother unopened had been something he was looking forward to doing, and now it was all going to be spoiled.
He saw his father ball his fist and knew that at any moment he would be hit across the top of his head if he didn’t do as he’d been asked.
‘Give me your bloody wages or I’ll thump your skull. Understand?’
The familiar threat made him so angry that he resolved to stand his ground. He wasn’t a kid any more. He had a proper job now, so he shouldn’t be threatened or beaten, he told himself.
‘What makes you think I’ve got any wages?’ he asked boldly.
‘You better bloody have, seeing as you’ve been working all week at Sunbury’s!’
For a fleeting moment Eddy thought Vera must have let on about his job, but when his dad spoke again he felt guilty for ever doubting her.
‘Word gets round, you know. That fellow Chamberlain who’s in charge there drinks in the same pubs as me, and I heard him say he’d taken on a weedy little runt because he felt sorry for him, so I knew it must be you.’
Before Eddy could speak, his father had clenched his fist and had swiped his knuckles across the top of his head. The pain made Eddy cry out, and he darted towards the door that led into their living room.
Annie, hearing all the commotion was already opening the door as he reached it.
‘What on earth is going on?’ she asked in alarm.
Eddy stumbled past her and dropped his big bag of cakes and the two loaves of bread onto the living-room table before turning to face his father.
‘I said no and I meant it,’ he shouted. Pulling his wage packet out of his trouser pocket he shoved it into his mother’s hands. ‘This is for you, Mam. My first week’s wages and I want you to have them, not him.’
Roughly, Michael Quinn pushed his son to one side and tried to snatch the pay packet from his wife’s hand.
‘Give it here, woman! Any money that comes into this house is mine,’ he growled angrily.
Annie shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. Our Eddy has worked all week to earn this money so he has a right to say what he wants to do with it.’
Mike Quinn’s vivid blue eyes glinted nastily. With a deep growl he lunged towards her, intent on grabbing the wage packet. When she still resisted he slapped her across the face so hard that she was sent reeling backwards.
Pandemonium reigned. Vera came into the room and found Benny howling with fright in the armchair. Her mother was half lying on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. One hand was held to the rapidly swelling red weal on her face, and the other was still tightly clutching Eddy’s wage packet. Mike was standing over her, looking livid.
As he reached out again to snatch at the wage packet Eddy darted into the shop and picked up a hammer lying on the workbench. As he raised it threateningly, Vera screamed a warning, and Mike swung round in time to catch hold of Eddy’s arm. He twisted it savagely until Eddy, sobbing with pain, was forced to drop the hammer.
Then, without a word, Mike Quinn walked back into his shop slamming the door so hard that the whole building shook.
The fight over Eddy’s wages caused such bad feeling between him and his father that they didn’t speak to each other for several months. This resulted in tension between everyone else in the family all over Christmas, except Benny, as he was too young to understand what was happening.
Vera made it her New Year resolution to get them to talk to each other again, but it was no good, Eddy sulked and Michael scowled.
‘Leave them alone, luv,’ Annie warned her. ‘You’ll only set them at each other’s throats otherwise. Give it time and they’ll both simmer down and forget about it.’
Vera sighed. ‘I suppose you’re right, Mam. Anyway, the important thing is that you now get Eddy’s wages!’
Her mother gave a wry smile. ‘Yes, but your dad’s cut my housekeeping back. He doesn’t think he needs to give me as much now that Eddy’s working and turning up some money each week.’
Vera didn’t know what to say. In silence she hugged her mam, vowing to herself that when she started work in a few years’ time she wouldn’t tell her dad how much she earned. What was more, she’d also make sure that her mam got every penny that was in her wage packet.
It had been tough luck on all of them that her dad had twigged who it was that the boss at Sunbury’s had been talking about when he’d been in the pub.