Sylvie, my adopted mother – Sylvie and Bessie.

In her mid twenties, red -headed, short of height, quick witted, humorous, strongly opinionated and determined; all of these summed up Bessie. Like Sylvie had been, she was a single mother with a young daughter, aged about six years old. Bessie was academically very bright, having studied aeronautical engineering and was working in a large, local engineering factory. She had a longing to go to America, not as a result of any romantic notions or her trips to Alconbury; she saw it as a place of opportunity and the chance to make a new life for herself and her daughter. Realising her ambition she was to successful in making the move to America, remaining there to this day.

Like Sylvie, Bessie loved to talk and so the conversation flowed once they had started chatting and, having become friends, Bessie sometimes visited Sylvie at home. On one of these visits Sylvie was wearing a white skirt and as she turned to put the kettle on Bessie noticed a clear black hand print on each buttock of the skirt. “Sylvie, what on earth have you done to your skirt?” she asked. Looking down at the offending marks, Sylvie burst out laughing and said, “Oh nothing, that was Nutty Slack, the coalman, he just called in!” Bessie related this story as one of her memories of Sylvie and when relaying it to Sylvie’s older daughters, they too laughed, confirming it to be true and well known and absolutely typical of Sylvie!

Bessie was hard working, independent and resourceful, turning her hand to most things. before entering engineering, she had spent some time working as a bus conductress. These were the days of open backed, London style buses, where the conductor or conductress would be there to see people safely onto the bus, help with bags, children, pushchairs and the like. They would take your fare and dish out tickets from the little ticket machine hanging on a leather strap across their body to rest on their hip. They were smartly dressed in uniform skirts or trousers with a jacket and hat, making sure that their buses ran in an orderly fashion and on time.Passengers were expected to behave or they would be ejected if necessary. Bessie took a pride in the job and was more than equal to the tasks it imposed.

With fond memories, Bessie recalls the frequent nights working the ‘late bus’, and the evenings of thick fog, known as ‘Pea Soupers’, a thick yellowish, greenish or blackish fog caused by air pollution. On one occasion the fog was so thick that the driver could not see even a few yards in front of him. Walking in front of the bus in order to guide him, Bessie too could hardly see and had to inch along, terrified that she may guide the bus and its cargo of tipsy, merry, late-night passengers off of the road and into a building or a ditch.


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