Red Brocade

Saturday October 30 1926

The leak is fixed. Hooray! Mrs Pankhurst was so sorry she has given me an old rug that one of her rich friends no longer wants. It’s a bit old and shabby, but it’s a big improvement on the cold linoleum floor. I stood on it with bare feet, closed my eyes and pictured myself in my future fabulous boudoir.

I then went out and bought a red brocade quilt and a long silk pillow sham from a funny little Chinese emporium that I found in Limehouse. The transformation of my little nest has begun. I’ve been lying on the bed running my hands over the smooth splendor.

Then the futility of it all sinks its teeth into my heart. Who cares if my dank little room is a tiny bit brighter. No one cares if I live or die. In fact if I disappeared tomorrow only Mrs Pankhurst and Mr Harrison would even know. And they would just shrug and assume I’d flown the coup. Run off with some dashing libertine.

I got so glum when I saw Christmas baubles starting to appear in windows last week. I haven’t really stopped to think about it. But I am lonely. In fact I am alone. It’s so obvious, but I suppose I’m a bit slow. I have no one. Things were so terrible at home, but at least they will have a string of Christmas cards above the mantle piece soon. Should I send them one? No it would be postmarked.

I’m going to go out. Not to the docks. To the West End. I won’t be hunting for men or sex or money. Just for some life and some fun. What do I have to lose?

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Sunday October 24, 1926.


After Clarence turned out to be such a horse’s arse I’ve spent all my free time down at the docks with real men who realise a girl has to get by somehow. They need a helping hand and I need money. Could it be more simple? No.

I’ve made quite a little pile that I intend to spend brightening up my room. Mr Pankhurst has said the leaking skylight will be fixed tomorrow. It’s about bloody time.

It’s starting to get cold now. I have stoked up the pathetic little stove at the foot of my bed and settled in to read some magazines, drink a big cup of cocoa and treat myself to a little tart. A little tart for a little tart.

A skinny young man came to the shop last week with his very rich Mamma. Then he passed the shop a few times the next day, stopping and staring at me with deep intent. On Friday he actually came in, but silly Lauren kept asking him if she could help him. I was serving some old shrew, but I gave him my killer smile. He leered back and then bashed his shoulder against the door as he bolted. I fully expected to see him when I left that evening, but he wasn’t there.

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The Gold Diggers

October 15 Friday 1926

Tonight Clarence took me to see The Gold Diggers at the Lyric Theatre which was a rather silly show. Then we had supper at a tiny little place in Mayfair. We were as cosy as could be. It was raining when we came out so he took me home in a big black cab. I felt like a queen as we pulled through the sparkling wet streets watching the poor suckers caught in the rain squealing and running for cover.
When we got to my place Clarence opened his huge umbrella and as he walked me to the door he slipped his arm around my waist. On the doorstep he pulled me to him and kissed me.

Then he said, ‘Why don’t I come inside and help you warm up your room?’
I swayed my hips and said very coquetishly, ‘Well I don’t know, what would you give me if I said yes?’
He chuckled and rubbed his nose against mine and said, ‘Well what do you want my little minx?’
To which I replied, still very playfully,’I don’t know, perhaps you could just give me money and I could use it to buy what ever I fancy’.

His face suddenly dropped and a nasty look came into his eyes. I thought maybe the beef stew he’d wolfed down at dinner had unsettled his stomach. But no.
He pulled away all stiff and said that that was entirely inappropriate. And ‘what kind of girl am I?’ And then he was off in his cab with his chin jutting out and his mean lips pressed together. Just like that.
So there it is. It’s quite alright to ask for ‘gifts’, but cash is not on the menu.

Already angry at the world I open the door to my room and discover that the damned skylight is leaking rain water all over the floor. I want to go and scream at Mrs Pankhurst who is no doubt in bed asleep right now. Then I remember that I need to keep her on my side. Besides there is nothing she can do at this hour of the night.  I’ve positioned a bucket under the leak and it is catching most of the water.

London is washing itself and my room is the drain. I am beneath Clarence, I am beneath the street and beneath contempt.

I listen to the drip drip drip of dirty water falling into the ugly bucket and vow to myself that one day the only bucket in my boudoir will be full of ice and champagne.

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I must find a way.

Sunday October 10, 1926.

The only thing I brought with me from home is a photograph of my Grandparents. My mother is in it too as a baby. My parents would have noticed it missing as soon as they came home from church. They would have then found my trunk and most of my clothes gone.
I wonder how long before they realised I also stole money from the safe. I wonder if they have called the police. Or would that be too embarrassing. Perhaps they have made up some lie about me. Perhaps they are telling people I am dead.

Clarence took me to dinner at the Savoy last night. He works for the Home Office in some capacity or other. He’s such an awful show off. We had Champagne and oysters which I could very much get used to. He banged on about golf and polo and sailing which he’s frightfully good at, apparently. I get very bored when he talks.

And this is my dilemma. With sailors and lower class men, you simply tell them how much you want and what you are prepared to do. But to move into the realm of the courtesan, the high class lady, how do you negotiate the terms? Presents are all very well and good,  I do like the bottle of perfume and the fancy meal. But how do I get them to just hand over some cold cash?

I must find a way.

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Thursday October 7th 1926.

I thought I was going to die of boredom working at Harrison’s Perfumery. The two other girls are as prim and proper as can be. Mary and Lauren. Mary was nearly in tears on Tuesday because someone had accused her of talking to a strange man in the street. Just talking. She is devastated and bangs on and on about how will she recover her ruined reputation. The man had only asked her the way to the ironmonger’s, but someone had seen her reply to him. How will she ever live? Boo hoo hoo. Lauren is all simpering sympathy. I try not to laugh.

Of course I too look very prim and innocent in our uniform that has a very large pink bow at the neck.

But Today I met Clarence.

He came in to buy a bottle of perfume. I showed him the Chanel Number 5. He told me it was for a young lady and I said how very lucky she was. He
asked me if I thought a young lady would like a gift like that.

I pretended I was only interested in the perfume.
‘Oh yes,’ I breathed. ‘ I think she’d be ever so grateful.’
I didn’t look at him at all, letting him crave my attention as he seemed the attention seeking type.
‘How grateful?’ He asked in a saucy tone.

I pretended not to notice him. I pretended I was entranced by the shiny bottle.

‘Oh I’d do anything for such a generous gift.’ I said like I was in a dream and unaware of his meaning. Then I suddenly looked at him all shocked and prim as I scuttled back to the counter acting flustered and embarrassed. He looked wolfishly proud that he had offended my delicate sensibilities.
Sure enough he bought the big bottle of Chanel Number 5 and when I was leaving the store he caught up to me in the street and presented it to me. What would Mary say? I tried to act like I’m not that sort of girl, but of course I am that sort of girl.

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Looking up.

October 3 1926

It’s been a week since I ran away. A week in this furnished room. A week of selling myself.

Tomorrow I start work at the perfume shop. I have spent the day in deep melancholy. Mostly lying on the bed staring up at the skylight thinking morbid thoughts. I’m surprised that I miss home. My mother’s Sunday roast. I want to slap myself for this.

Besides there’s no going back now. I go to the market and buy some apples and fresh flowers to cheer myself. Then I look at the flowers so fresh and beautiful and all I can think is that soon they will die. And then one day I will die. And I imagine myself coughing up blood in this dingy little room. All alone. A common street girl.

Then I make myself laugh because I find myself thinking that at least I’ll out live the flowers. I give the flowers a smug toss. The apples are very good.

Mrs Pankhurst gave me some old Home Journals and so I cut out the pictures on the covers and stick them up on the wall. One day I’ll have expensive paintings by the most acclaimed painters on my walls. Perhaps the painters will be my lovers, if they can afford me. But for now I have old magazine covers stuck up with tape.

I tried to scrub the rust off the old metal dresser, but it won’t budge.  I can’t open the draw nearest the bed. It is jammed shut. It would be very useful, but even with my foot up next to it I can’t get it open.

I’m not going to go out t0night. It’s cold and wet and I can’t face it. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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Needs Must.

September 30 1926.

I have managed to get a job in a very swanky perfume shop. I start next week. The pay is a pittance, but it will let me keep up appearances and, more importantly, it will let me meet wealthy men buying perfume for their mistresses. Mistresses can be replaced!

I have found a pub by the docks that seamen and sailors frequent and have managed to make a tidy sum of money doing some very untidy things. The good thing about sailors is that they know what’s what. They are quite business-like when it comes to negotiations. I will invest the money in some spiffing clothes that will enable me to attract a better class of men.

I’m not sure how I feel about London, people are ready enough for a chat and a laugh, but they are so quick to shut it off.  Always guarded, there is a hardness in their eyes. You feel that they have seen everything and are not very easy to fool. One thing is for certain, the clothes here are a whole world apart for what passes for fashion in Bristol.

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My room.

September 26 1926.

My room - September 1926

Fear and happiness are somersaulting through my heart like Chinese acrobats. I’ve found a room in London and have paid a month’s rent with the money I stole from my father.

Of all the cruel memories I’ll hold of home the one that will sting the most is of my mother calling me a strumpet with venomous contempt in her narrowed eyes. I’m gone forever from that hideous place and will never never return. Why would I?

A Strumpet indeed. Well who am I to contradict my mother? I ‘ll be the greatest strumpet England has ever seen. Rich men will fall at my feet and shower me with gifts. And I ‘ll be beholden to none of them. I won’t be like my mother. I won’t be beaten and crushed into the floor. I will not be a good little woman. Men pay for sex. Men will pay me more for sex than my father gave my mother in 20 years of marriage. So who’s the good girl?

The room I’ve found is below street level and has no proper window. Just murky light coming from the thick glass bricks in the ceiling that form part of the footpath above. Busy London feet clip clop overhead . People here walk so fast. Like their tails are on fire. I feel an urge to rush upstairs an shout ‘Stop walking so fast!’

But this is my very own room. Dirty old linoleum. Nasty old bed. Rusty old metal dresser. At least it’s not my father’s house. I’ve paid for it with my own money. The money came from him, but since I stole it, it’s mine. That is, after all, what stealing means.

On Monday I’ll go out and get some sort of easy job in a shop. Mrs Pankhurst was the only landlady that didn’t give me a lecture on who I could bring back to my room. But she will expect me to have a nice girl’s job. I learned back in Bristol that a cheeky blond like me can make more in one night than in a whole week of standing around in some hat shop being abused and looked down on by bosomy matrons.

I’m terribly realistic. I won’t be meeting the bright young people of London immediately. Until then I will have to endure what ever it takes. In that time I will feather my nest and learn to fend for myself.

This is a very sad little room. But one day I’ll have the most sumptuous boudoir in all of Europe.

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