Publication day for Christmas with the East End Angels is almost here and I’m delighted to be sharing the first three chapters with you over the coming days, starting with Chapter one today. Chapter two will be on here on the blog on Monday and Chapter three on Wednesday.
This books begins in early December 1941 and finishes on Christmas day in 1942 – there are two Christmases in this book for you to enjoy.
Welcome to Christmas with the East End Angels!
8 December 1941
‘That makes twenty- three shillings and tuppence.’ Frankie finished counting out the money on to the kitchen table. ‘It’s short again this week, Ivy! I need another shilling and ten pence from yer.’
‘Well, you ain’t getting it, ’cos I ain’t got it.’ Ivy folded her arms and sneered, her ice- blue eyes cold in her heavily made- up face.
Frankie put her hands on her hips and glared at her step- grandmother. ‘This is the third week running yer’ve left me short with your rent. I ain’t going to keep topping it up out of my wages. If you can’t pay your way, then we’ll ’ave to give up this house, then you can go your way and I’ll go mine.’
‘Humph!’ Ivy rummaged about inside her handbag and threw a sixpence on the table. ‘There. Will that do yer?’
‘It’s still short. Perhaps you’d like to explain to the rent man why he ain’t getting his full rent this week, since it’s you that’s making it short, not me,’ Frankie suggested.
‘I ain’t staying ’ere listening to you; I’ve got to get to work.’ Ivy snatched up her handbag. ‘I don’t know what your grandad would say if he could ’ear the way you speak to me.’
‘I only asked yer to pay your fair share of the rent each week, that’s all. You should be able to afford it on your wages from the garment factory.’
Ivy sniffed. ‘I ’ave things to buy to keep my spirits up now I’m a poor widow. They don’t come cheap, you know.’
Frankie had seen some of the things Ivy chose to spend her wages on: the make- up, stockings and bottles of drink – sherry, whisky, whatever she could get – and all hard to come by in the shops these days; no doubt bought on the black market for an inflated price. ‘I don’t care what you spend your wages on as long as you pay your share of the rent. If you don’t then we’ll ’ave to leave ’ere ’cos the landlord’ll kick us out. There’s an ’ousing shortage, remember, so he’ll soon find someone else who’s willing to pay the rent.’
‘All right, all right, but I ain’t got any more to give you right now. I’ll ’ave to owe it yer,’ Ivy snapped and flounced out of the kitchen, slamming the front door loudly a few moments later.
Frankie sighed and sat down. She leant her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands, listening as the blood gradually stopped whooshing so hard in her ears. Life with Ivy was like living in a miniature war of her own, little battles flaring up between them regularly, always because of the older woman’s selfishness or failure to pull her weight. Frankie was tired of having to pick up the pieces and do more than her fair share in the house or pay more than her portion of the rent. If her grandad had known how his widow would behave, would he have been so keen to ask Frankie to promise to look out for Ivy before he died? She’d never know the answer to that because he wasn’t here to tell her any more.
Now, almost seven months since he’d been killed in the last huge raid on London, Frankie had been driven to the point of despair. She should stop picking up the slack and let the landlord throw them out for not paying the full rent, then she’d be able to go her own way and forget about that horrible woman. Ivy would get a huge shock if she ever had to stand on her own two feet again with no one to bolster up her selfish ways.
Only Frankie couldn’t let them lose the house; she had to keep it going so that Stanley had a home to come back to at number 25 Matlock Street, after the war. He might not be a blood relative, but the eleven- year- old boy had become like a brother to her when her grandparents had taken him in after his mother had died. Now, with both her grandparents gone, she was the one responsible for him. He might be safely evacuated to the countryside for the moment, but one day he would return home and she’d promised him that it would still be here waiting for him.
Sitting up, she began to gather the money into the tin she used for the rent money, knowing full well that she had no choice but to make up the difference yet again. Did Ivy know that Frankie would never let them lose the house? Possibly. She’d never say as much to her, but her step- grandmother knew how much she loved Stanley and the home she’d lived in all her life. Frankie would do whatever was necessary to keep it going. Ivy, like the plant she was named after, was hanging on to the comfortable home she’d married into. She wouldn’t ever leave unless something better came along.
Frankie glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost quarter past seven: if she didn’t get a move on she’d be late for the start of her shift at Ambulance Station 75. After she’d hidden the rent tin away in a safe place, she grabbed her sandwiches, stuffed them into her bag and pulled on her coat, wrapping herself up in her scarf and pulling her knitted green beret on over her auburn hair ready for her bicycle ride to work.
Outside in Matlock Street the air was icy cold, her breath spiralling out in plumes in the pale light, the sky lightening as the sun rose. Pushing off on her bicycle, she bumped over the cobbles just as her neighbour Josie emerged from the front door of number 5 and picked up her milk bottle from the doorstep.
‘Morning, ducks,’ Josie called, beaming a warm smile at her.
Frankie braked and came to a halt by her. ‘Morning, Josie, ’ow are you?’
Josie rubbed her back, her swollen belly straining the front of her crossover apron, which didn’t quite cross over any more, but draped to the sides like the curtains at a window. ‘Not so bad, but I’ll be a whole lot more comfortable when this one’s born. All right for my old fella, he comes ’ome on leave and goes off back to the army and leaves me in the family way.’ She laughed and stroked her stomach with one hand. ‘Still, it’ll be lovely to ’ave a baby in the house again.’
‘If you need any ’elp, you only ’ave to ask – you will, won’t yer?’ Frankie said.
‘Course I will, thank yer, ducks.’ Josie frowned. ‘You all right? Only you look a bit peaky this morning.’ ‘I’m fine, just ’ad a bit of a run- in with Ivy over the rent again.’
Josie rolled her eyes. She knew how things were with Ivy as Frankie often talked to the older woman, seeking advice from her and glad of someone to turn to who understood just how difficult Ivy could be. ‘She oughta count ’erself lucky she’s got you there to keep the ’ouse going. If it were left to her she’d have been kicked out months ago.’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t know what your grandad would have said; she’s got worse since he died.’
Frankie shrugged. ‘We live separately as much as we can. She deals with her own rations and I do mine, we don’t cook together, do our own washin’, more like lodgers in the same ’ouse, only she don’t pay her way or do her fair share of the cleaning.’ She’d had plenty of arguments with Ivy over not washing up her used plates and cups. It wasn’t as if Ivy did much cooking; she seemed to survive on fish and chips or go to the pie and mash shop or a cafe. It was no wonder she didn’t have any money left from her wages.
‘You’re a saint to put up with ’er, I don’t think I could.’ Josie shivered. ‘It’s cold out ’ere. Drop in on your way ’ome tonight if you fancy a cuppa.’
‘Will do, thanks, Josie. See yer later.’ Frankie pedalled on in the direction of Station 75, glad of her neighbour’s friendly support; without it Matlock Street would seem a much lonelier place.
Thank you for reading it and I hoped you enjoyed it. Ivy hasn’t improved and is still causing Frankie problems!
Apologies for the spaces between paragraphs – I couldn’t get WordPress to play nicely and set it out exactly how I wanted to and it would be in the book… so if anyone knows how let me know!
Do pop back on Monday for Chapter two when we catch up with Winnie.