Saturday 27 April 2013

The end of the line

DauII and I arrived in England by plane this morning, having left home at 0230hrs.  We went down to visit my mother, who was born in Dover in 1920.  Her mother had been born in Limerick in 1893 and was living in Dover in July 1909 when Louis Bleriot landed on the cliffs of Dover having completed the first aerial crossing of the English Channel; she lived to see, albeit on the the telly rather than in person, Neil Armstrong take his own giant step 60 years later.  Some progress in her lifetime, no?

In the late 1950s, my mother was living, with three small children, in a house in Norwood, South London.  Her husband, serving since the age of 14 in the Royal Navy, had secured a rare home posting and was working in Whitehall on a joint defense staff committee.  It was at height of the Cold War and things could get a little jittery.  Some politico would point to a map of the world and ask. innocently enough, what would happen if the Russians turned up here.  The Da and his committee would turn to and find out what was available in the way of Avro Vulcan bombers in Cyprus, associated army units on the same island, surface ships and submarines in the Eastern Med  and work out how quickly they could get enough oil-tankers to Malta to fuel up the rag-tag armada that would keep the world safe for democracy.  Nobody wanted to get caught with their pants down, so they put in the hours; frequently working late into the night.  No overtime.

One night, after a few weeks of this rigmarole had worn everyone to a frazzle, my mother was woken at 2.30 AM by The Da. 
"I'm really sorry, but could you pick me up from Elmer's End?  I caught the last train South from Charing Cross."
"Okay," she replied, "where is Elmer's End?"
"I don't know."
In the middle of the night, in a strange metropolis, my mother abandoned her sleeping children (you could do that in those days) and set off  in the Austin to repatriate her bloke.  Nowadays it would be no problem: Gmaps and GPS would sort everything and indicate the quickest route for reuniting them.  They were well 'ard in them days.

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