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I think having Sarah around helped make the summer in Liverpool just that little bit easier. She had changed so much I could hardly believe she was the same newborn I’d held in my arms at Easter. I looked after her a lot whilst Rebecca and Philip were at work, but I didn’t mind; I loved spending time with her. You’re such a natural with her, Rebecca would say, I can just imagine you with your own children. I was a little taken aback by that, it wasn’t something I’d ever really considered. The thought of marriage and motherhood was a slightly frightening one’ it had often been at the back of my thoughts but there was so much more that I wanted to achieve. Watching Rebecca and Philip with Sarah brought mam and da back me, they were so different. Every time I held Sarah in my arms I just prayed that she would never know the tragedy that we had done.

 

I nervously counted down the days throughout the summer waiting for London to come around. I was reminded of how nervous I’d been about starting at St Monica’s. I think it was the uncertainty, not knowing what it would be like and having to get to know a new city. You’ll have a marvellous time once you get there, Harriet would say to me, I only wish I could be going now and not next year. Harriet would be joining me in London the following September to do her nurse training. Since she’d plumped on her chosen vocation school had just been an awkward nuisance that got in the way of her chasing her dream.

 

September arrived too quickly and I joined Tish and Lucy in Cambridge for Annie’s wedding. We hadn’t seen her in just over a year but she had hardly changed, only she looked a little happier. I wish my dad could be here, she said. But he is, I said mindful of Harriet’s words at Rebecca’s wedding. I don’t know if it helped Annie in the same way or not. The service was beautiful and it was nice to know that at least one of us had found that special someone to spend the rest of our lives with. Mark seemed really nice, and the way that Annie lit up around him showed that they would be happy together. Not a bad catch is he, muttered Lucy to Tish and I, we just grinned in reply. As we went our separate ways the following morning it struck me that things would never be the same again.

 

The day to leave for London arrived too quickly and suddenly. Elizabeth was travelling down with me since she was going to a meeting with some of the senior managers as one of their most promising young secretaries. It wasn’t exactly difficult, she said trying to play down her achievements, you haven’t met the people I work with. All the same, Elizabeth had come a long way since they’d taken her on. The journey to London reminded me of my first trip to St Monica’s, I felt exactly the same at nineteen as I had at eleven. I struggled to hide my feelings from Elizabeth but if she noticed she was kind enough not to pass comment.

 

College Hall I realised standing outside the foreboding looking building would be my home for the next two years. I was really here. I collected to keys to my room from the grumpy looking porter who scowled at Elizabeth and I. Rather you than me living with that, remarked Elizabeth as we carried my cases up the stairs. My roommate had already arrived, a tall and sophisticated girl with short blonde hair of my age was unpacking a seemingly endless flow of clothes into the wardrobe. I’d best be off Sharlie, said Elizabeth, or they’ll wonder what’s happened to me, take care Sharlie. She gave me a quick hug and then left me to my fate. The girl looked round and grinned at me. You must be my room mate, she said sticking out her hand which I shook nervously, I’m Patricia Macintosh, but everybody calls me Trixie, my headmistress always said it was a terribly appropriate short. She giggled and I found myself laughing nervously as well. I’m Charlotte, I stammered, Charlotte Andrews. That wasn’t what that girl just called you, Trixie replied, who was she? My sister Elizabeth, I said, and she called me Sharlie, everybody does. Then I will as well, suits you much better than Charlotte. I grinned weakly, slightly bowled over by Trixie’s breezy manner.

 

We spent the afternoon chatting as we unpacked and getting to know each other. Trixie seemed to have come to London with a ready made social life and circle of friends; I couldn’t help but be jealous thinking of how far away from Tish and Lucy I was. But the more I found out about Trixie, the more I liked her, she reminded me in some ways of Tish, only not mad keen on games. She looked a bit surprised when she found out that I was on scholarship but if she disapproved she never said. Look, she said, as we got ready to go down for dinner, I’ve got an invite out after dinner to meet some friends for drinks if you want to join us. I accepted, if only so I felt as though I had something to do.

 

Over dinner I got talking to some of the other girls in hall, and more importantly, mine and Trixie’s neighbours, Rose Mulally and Clara Jenkins. Trixie was a natural social butterfly who would and could chatter away to anybody and everybody. I exchanged shy and oddly formal conversations with those sat near us at the table. Rose and Clara turned out to be both on scholarship as well, and also both at the Institute of Education so I would know somebody once classes started. After dinner I headed to the common room with Rose and Clara and a few others who’d been sitting with us. I’d noticed that the snobbery I’d encountered at school still existed in some quarters, but they would be easy enough to avoid.

 

I went out with Trixie that evening to meet her friends and had a pleasantly enjoyable evening. She was the only one of her group in College Hall so I wouldn’t see too much of the others. They seemed nice enough, and civil when Trixie accidentally let slip that I was on scholarship, but otherwise it didn’t bother me that I wouldn’t see much of them. Trixie, on the other hand, I had to live with, but she seemed so different to them anyway. It was ridiculously late when we finally got to sleep that first night as we’d stayed up chatting, despite being told on several occasions to quieten down. Away from the constrictions of school I decided that university would be really rather good fun.

 

By the time classes started I had found my feet in hall and my way around the local area. I was glad of Trixie as a room mate, she didn’t have any airs about her and was refreshingly down to earth and honest, and she made me laugh. Clara and Rose were quieter and shyer but would always be supportive and encouraging. In addition I had been ‘adopted’ by two other girls on our corridor, Lily Beth Brooke-Weston, a historian like Trixie, and Natasha Miller, known as Tash, who was doing English. Neither of them particularly got on with their room mates and had a tendency to take over mine and Trixie’s room. I didn’t mind, I enjoyed their company and they could always take a hint to leave.

 

Once classes started life settled down to a routine with days divided between them and the library. I found that I enjoyed the work and didn’t object to the long hours studying, unlike Trixie who would regularly complain from behind her stack of books that the history department were being inconsiderate expecting her to work so much. Lily Beth would just laugh at her; she reminded me in some ways of Lucy – hard working, caring and friendly. I found myself spending more time with Clara and Rose since we were in class together and studied together. I knew that some people made harsh remarks about us being the scholarship girls, but I’d learned to ignore them. We didn’t have the money or the social lives that they had, but in a way I was glad. I knew that Trixie wasn’t like them, but at the same time I could never have kept up with her.

 

Letters arrived fairly regularly from my sisters and Aunt Jane. Rebecca’s were full of the latest news of Sarah, she was growing and changing so quickly she would no longer be that tiny baby when I went back at Christmas. Elizabeth’s were always short and usually scribbled on her lunch break, describing a whirl of social engagements and a string of eligible young me, but I’m not looking to settle down yet, besides I’m trying to save some money. Harriet’s were a similar style to Elizabeth’s, scribbled in her free time at school, I can’t believe it’s my final year here, she wrote. I knew that feeling only too well. Aunt Jane’s were full of Liverpool gossip about people I scarcely knew, but I appreciated the letters anyway. I waited impatiently for news from my friends and Sam since they were never far from my thoughts.

 

Dear Sam,

 

Well here I am in London, Sharlie living the life in the capital. I still have to keep pinching myself as I’m convinced that one day I’ll wake up and find myself back in Liverpool and working in some factory as I really should be. Still, it’s going well so far, classes aren’t too bad – I enjoy them so the work doesn’t bother me. My room mate Trixie is lovely, she reminds me a bit of Tish, only not mad keen on games – she’s more into her party lifestyle, I can’t keep up with her at all! I’ve made two good friends on my course, Clara and Rose and a couple of other friends in hall, Lily Beth and Tash. They’re all really nice. Lily Beth is a bit like Lucy! A lot of Trixie’s friends from home and school are here too so she spends a lot of time with them. We get invited along too but I’ve only been a couple of times since I don’t have the money that she does. Anyway, hope you are well and taking good care of yourself.

 

Ever your, Sharlie.

 

Dear Sharlie,

 

Glad things are going well so far, your friends sound nice and I’m glad the classes aren’t too bad. There’s not too much to report here, although there is an air of deep suspicion since no one’s too sure what Stalin might do next and it’s slightly disconcerting. Daily life is pretty boring just sitting at the sector checkpoint. We can’t even leave the city, it’s nigh on impossible to get out; it’s even tricky moving within the sectors of the city. I think there are a lot of people getting out of the Russian sector and into the American, French and English ones. I don’t like what’s happening Sharlie, I have a horrible sense of foreboding as to which direction the world is heading in. Take care.

 

Always, Sam.

 

 

Dear Sharlie,

Hope you’re settling in to London well, be gentle with my city please! Summer is coming round here in Melbourne which is pretty weird I can assure you. Mum’s having all sorts of crazy ideas about what we’re going to do for Christmas; dad and I are trying to keep a tight rein on her imagination. I’m enjoying the course I’m taking here – the literature’s really good, and the people on the course are really nice as well so I’ve been getting out and about around Melbourne with them. Mum and I are off to Sydney for a few days soon, I’m really excited! Hope things are going well with you.

Love, Nicole.

Dear Sharlie,

So how’s London treating you? Cambridge plods on as usual and I’m slowly adjusting to married life – isn’t it frightening?! Mark is well, working hard but then I did know he did that! His company are thinking about moving him to another branch, maybe in Manchester but it’s nothing concrete yet. Honeymoon was pleasant, I fell in love with Guernsey, you must go sometime! We’re having our families to us for Christmas, I’m a little scared about cooking Christmas dinner but hoping that mother will help me out! Otherwise I fear it may all turn out horribly wrong!

Love, Annie.

Dear Sharlie,

I’m in Bedford finally, and it’s not too dusty. I’m really enjoying the course, it was what I was made to do I feel. I’m working hard and playing hard as usual. My room mate Jess is great, she’s so funny we just never stop laughing. I’ve made lots of friends, but no one quite like you and Lucy though. University is such a change from school, the freedom takes some getting used to! I’ve been to a couple of parties and am generally getting out and about. I’m sure the Bedford social scene doesn’t quite add up to the London one though! If you fancy a visit you’re more than welcome anytime. Miss you lots.

Love, Tish.

Dear Sharlie,

Thanks ever so for your letter, I’m glad you’re settling in well in London. St Hilda’s is really lovely, the only problem is that it’s so far out of town! Still, what’s a small walk to see Oxford? You and Tish really will have to come and stay, it’s so strange being without you both after all this time but everyone here seems lovely anyway. My room mate Sissy seems really nice – a bit quiet though; maybe I’d rather have Trixie, she sounds really good fun. I’ve made quite a few friends now, particularly with a girl called Nell Randolph, she went to a finishing school in SWITZERLAND. Could you have imagined us there, I mean, Tish being ‘finished’ – she’d have hated it! I don’t see much of Nell since we’re not doing the same course but we sit together at meals and so on. Nell’s friend Kathie (I forget her surname) has invited me to a party at Christ Church at the weekend. I don’t really know Kathie yet but Nell says she’s a bit of a social butterfly always off to some party or another. I have to admit that I’m a bit apprehensive about the party but Nell thinks it’ll be good fun. Besides, there’s quite a few of us going so it shouldn’t be too bad. We’ve got an awful lot of work to do here, it just never seems to stop, but I am enjoying it, it’s all so interesting. Sam says he has a couple of weeks leave due soon and he’s coming over to visit our parents and mentioned that he may pass by Oxford for a few days to see me. If you’re not snowed under with work, how about you come up as well? Anyway, must leave this here if I want to catch the post!

Love, Lucy.




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