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Discovery Island

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Babes

The post War years were tough on Britain; although on the “winning” side, shortages and rationing continued well into the 1950s. But, life went on. It had to.

Michael and Jeannine (better known as Jenny) met at a dance in the suburbs of London in 1946. He had just been de-mobbed, she was a telephone operator. He asked her for a date and she said she would think about it. Before the end of the evening she made up her mind and had arranged to meet him outside the local cinema the following Saturday. The film showing was Great Expectations and the critics had been singing its praises.

Afterwards, as he walked her home, she said, “I thought that the film was marvellous, but I can’t image living anywhere as barren as those Kent marshes.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think you can probably get used to it after a while. It would be quiet and away from the madness of the city.”

She looked sideways at him, wondering how he could speak with such certainty.

They talked as they walked and learned about each other — up to a point. Although Jenny was prepared to talk about her time as a Land Girl, Michael would only say that he was in the Army, based somewhere in Scotland. Try as she might, she got no more out of him. His mystery intrigued and attracted her. She had no reason to mistrust him or doubt that he was anything but honest.

A year later they married. A year after that, George their son was born.

*****

In 1949, Michael decided that he had worked for long enough in the insurance industry. He had long harboured a dream which he now shared with Jenny. Bored being a housewife and mother (the Post Office would not take her back — it was their rule) and totally devoted to her husband, she listened as he explained what he planned to do. The arrangements were well under way before Jenny plucked up enough courage to tell her Mother Amanda, one Sunday afternoon.

“Mummy,” She said. “We’ve got something to tell you.”

“You’re pregnant again at last!” she exclaimed, jumping to the wrong conclusion, her face lighting up.

“No Mummy, we aren’t having another baby. We’re moving.”

“Oh. Oh, well that’s god Darling. I always thought that your place was a bit pokey. Three bedrooms will make it easier for Georgie to have a little brother or sister. Whereabouts are you going to?” She hoped it wouldn’t be too far so that she could visit fairly often.

“Um, the Shetlands.”

Amanda paused for a moment. At first she was trying to work out what part of London Shetlands was in. And then realisation dawned.

“You mean Shetlands, as in Scotland?”

Jenny nodded.

“But what will you do there?”

“We’re going to become sheep farmers.”

“But you don’t know anything about sheep! Michael works in an office!”

“Actually, Michael knows quite a bit about farming. His family were farmers until they died.” Amanda already knew that he had lost his parents to a freak accident when a downed Me110 crashed into their house in 1941.”

“But what about you? You’ve never been on a farm in your life. You were born and raised in the city. Besides, when will I get to see little Georgie?” Tears were forming at the corner of her eyes.

The pleading and begging for them to stay continued for most of the next three months, but eventually the day came and the Michael, Jenny and George left in a Removal van for Scotland. They didn’t have many possessions, just some furniture, bedding and clothing. They promised Amanda to write often and send pictures of George (which was going to be a bit tricky as there were no shops, pubs or post offices on the island — they would have to travel many miles to the mainland).

*****

Discovery Island was named so long ago that nobody knew how it got its name. The farm was at its southern end and consisted of a number of outbuildings and pens and two cottages that stood side-by-side. Michael and Jenny occupied one and Jim (the resident farm hand) the other.

The sheep were allowed to graze on the rest of the island, being moved from area to area as needed. Six square miles was a reasonable area to cover and so they used a couple of ex-Army Land Rovers to get around. Amazingly, after only four short years they were making a go of it. With help from Jack the farmhand, with the necessary expertise, they quickly grew the flock and were able turn a modest profit from the wool and the meat. Georgie had grown strong and healthy, thoroughly enjoying the outdoor life. His Mother took care of his schooling, using a radio to link them to the mainland education authorities for guidance and oversight. Everybody was happy.

Except Amanda. Widowed during the war, she hadn’t once seen her grandson since the family left for the Scottish Islands and had begun to feel very lonely. When Jenny asked yet again that she come and stay for a visit, she finally gave in and made arrangements to leave the security of London for the far reaches of the British Isles. The journey was pretty canlı bahis arduous — she took the night train to Aberdeen and then had to stay in a hotel the next evening due to inclement weather. The ferry left the following morning for Shetland. After another overnight stop, from there she caught the Island Mailboat to Discovery.

As the boat neared the jetty, Amanda could see both Jenny and Georgie waving to her. She smiled broadly and waved back, excited at the prospect of meeting her five year old grandson — and seeing her daughter again.

The skipper of the craft skilfully manoeuvred the boat until it bumped gently against the jetty. A member of the crew casually stepped across and secured the bow, then walked to the stern and wrapped a second rope around a bollard that then held the boat in place. A third member of the crew first lifted a box onto the wooden planking and then transferred Amanda’s suitcase alongside it.

“Anything for us today Jenny?” he said.

“Not today, Roy.” Jenny picked up the three pieces of post from the box and handed it back to him.

Turning to Amanda, Roy said, “Here you go Lass. I’ll help you across.”

Amanda took his hand and stepped gingerly from the boat to the jetty. The tweed skirt she was wearing was just a little tight for the stride and as a result rode up her thighs, displaying a hint of stocking top.

Jenny smiled at her Mother as she quickly adjusted her skirt — typical of the woman to insist on being dressed correctly at all times. Amanda stepped forward and hugged her daughter briefly, giving her a peck on the cheek. She stepped back and marvelled at just how well she looked — even though she was only dressed in trousers and a scruffy jumper. And then she looked down at George, sinking down to her knees, careless that she might catch her stockings on the rough planking.

“And you must be George! What a strong, handsome boy you’ve become,” she exclaimed delightedly. You won’t remember me, but I’m your Grandmother. You can call me..”

“Hello Granny!” he interrupted excitedly. “Welcome to Discovery! I’ve been looking forward to seeing you for so long!”

Amanda was very impressed both by his manners and his apparent self-confidence. Something she hadn’t been expecting. He was the only child on the island and without friends of his own age she had held concerns that his development would be held back.

“Come on,” he said. “We’ll take you to see the farm.”

With that, he promptly grabbed the handle of Amanda’s suitcase and attempted to lift it. Her eyebrows lifted visibly when, not only did he lift it, but then proceeded to carry it along the jetty.

“Such a strong boy,” she murmured to Jenny. “What are you feeding him on?”

“Porridge in the morning, lots of vegetables from the kitchen garden and of course, lamb,” Jenny answered.

The two women linked arms and followed along. Amanda looked back over her shoulder and saw that the Mailboat — their only physical link with the outside world was already moving away from the dock.

The vehicle was parked fifty yards up the track and was already facing away, so George put the suitcase down and opened the back door. By the time the women got to him, he was struggling to lift the heavy bag in. Strong as he might be for his age, it was just a little too high for him.

“Thank you, my big little boy. I’ll do that shall I?” Jenny said.

With the suitcase safely stowed in the back, George ran round to the passenger side front door and opened it for his Grandmother to get in. It was a slightly awkward manoeuvre due to the tight skirt, but she still managed to achieve the objective with an amount of dignity.

After a relatively short but slow journey along rough tracks, steadily climbing away from the coast, they arrived at the farm. It consisted of two joined cottages, a number of out buildings including stables, three pens for sheep (which were currently empty) and an area given over to vegetable growing.

Amanda got out of the vehicle and looked at the cottages; they were low in height, but although they appeared to be one storey in construction, a second floor had been built into the high-pitched, tiled roofs, with windows to provide light to the interior. Turning to look back at the way they had come, she gasped at the panoramic view; it was a beautiful day with little cloud to obscure the brilliant blue sky. The sun glinted off the waves, which was only disturbed by the faint white wake of the Mailboat that was by now far away near the horizon. The air was clean and pure.

“Mummy,” Jenny called to get her Mother’s attention. “As you know, we’ve only got two bedrooms in our cottage, so I hope you don’t mind, but we’ve put you in the other cottage with Jack.”

Amanda hadn’t thought about the sleeping arrangements; living in a four bedroom house herself, it hadn’t occurred to her.

“Jack?” she questioned.

“Yes, he’s our farmhand come shepherd. We would never have been able to survive without him. Don’t worry, he’s bahis siteleri perfectly OK with it and you’ll have the privacy of your own room. It has a small kitchen downstairs next to the sitting room, but we always eat together in our cottage. The bathroom is more modern than ours. I know you’ll have to share with Jack, but I hope it’s not too much of a hardship?”

Amanda was silent for a moment — perhaps if she had known in advance, she wouldn’t have come. However, now she was here…

“No, that’s perfectly OK, darling. At least I’m not in a tent,” she joked.

“Michael and Jack are out at the moment, but they’ll be back for dinner. Why don’t I show you to your room in the meantime?”

Amanda was initially surprised that they left their doors unlocked, but then there was nobody to break in, so what would be the point of having locks? Walking in beneath the slightly low doorway, they entered a short hallway from which the wooden stairway ran up to the bedrooms in the converted roof space. To the right of the hallway doors led into the sitting room at the front and the kitchen at the back. Beyond the stairway on the left was the bathroom; Small, neat and clean (something she had feared would not be the case). Another door on the left before the stairs led into an office, which included a rack for shotguns and various farming implements.

The sitting room was as spotless as the bathroom, but at the same time both warm and friendly. An open fireplace and chimney on the wall adjoining the other cottage was surrounded by a stone mantle, inset with small spaces occupied by some ageing photographs in silver frames. There was no television — they were only just starting to become popular in London – but a large, new Grundig radio occupied pride of place in the corner. Although compact, the room was just large enough to contain two armchairs and a matching two-seater sofa. The carpet looked clean, but was obviously good quality, because the design appeared to be twenty years old.

Jenny took hold of Amanda’s case and led the way upstairs. At the top there were two doors. The one on the left was Jack’s, she was told. Her room was a complete surprise; although the ceiling was not particularly high and sloped down following the line of the roof, the two windows were larger than they had seemed outside and they allowed the light to flood in.

A double bed had cabinets either side, topped by table lamps. The far end of the room was given over to a wardrobe / dressing table combination. Again, the whole thing was spotlessly clean and welcoming.

“Well, we’ll leave you to get settled in,” Jenny said. “I need to get back home to begin the dinner. Once you’ve finished unpacking and you’re ready, just come straight on round.”

Jenny turned and walked out, closing the door behind her and leaving Amanda alone.

It didn’t take long to unpack the suitcase and stow the clothes in the cupboards and drawers. Finishing, by sliding the case under the bed, Amanda sat down and breathed a sigh.

The first thing she noticed, sitting there, was the silence. She was used to sounds of a City, albeit the suburbs of one. You might find it quiet at 2am on a Sunday morning, but this was a silence of a different quality. Perhaps she could just hear a gull, faintly, in the distance. Maybe she could hear the sea – just?

*****

Suddenly she became concerned that this man Jack, whose house she was going to stay in, might come back and that they might meet before Jenny had properly introduced them. Things had happened too fast for her to even think about how awkward all this could be. She had assumed that she would be staying with Jenny, in her house. After all, it just wasn’t the done thing, was it? A widow and an unmarried man, sleeping under the same roof? What would people think? A momentary thrill ran through her body, unbidden. Something she hadn’t experienced for many years.

She quickly looked around the house to familiarise herself with it, but refrained from entering Jack’s room. Amanda was impressed that a man would keep a house so neat and tidy. Her late husband had always been pretty lazy when it came to housework, leaving it to her to do it all — as was expected of a housewife. She then left the cottage and took the short path leading round to Jenny’s cottage. As a courtesy, she knocked before entering.

“Come on in Mummy,” called Jenny. “I’ll be with you in a moment; I’ve just got to put the vegetables on. Go on into the Sitting Room.”

Amanda opened the door to another warm, cosy room to find Georgie playing on the floor.

“Hello Georgie, what are you playing?” she asked.

“Hello Granny, I’m playing farms.”

Sure enough, spread out in front of him was a wooden toy farm, complete with cows, sheep and chickens. Amanda sat down and watched as he played, realising that he was re-enacting what he probably saw in real life. A small scale famer, along with a sheepdog, was gradually herding a flock of sheep into a pen. Once there, Georgie bahis şirketleri shut the gate and then shifted his attention to Amanda.

“That’s better,” he said. “A farmer’s work is never done!” He smiled with a big grin.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you Georgie. You’ve grown so much!” Nodding towards the toy farm, she said, “Are you going to be a farmer when you grow up?”

“I’m not sure yet. I think it would be good to learn all about it, just so that I have something to fall back on. But perhaps I might decide to do something different.”

Amanda was taken aback by how grown up his conversation was for a five year old. She assumed that this was because he had nobody of his own age to talk to. Before she could stop herself, she asked the obvious question.

“Don’t you get lonely, being the only boy on the island?”

“I have some friends that I talk to on the radio and when we go to the mainland, I meet up with them. There’s a few of us who have to do school at home on the islands, but we get together now and again.”

His blue eyes sparkled, showing no concerns about the question, or the answer. Clearly, he wasn’t a lonely little boy as she had feared.

“So, what do you do all day?” she asked.

“In the morning I read. Then, after lunch, I sit down with Mummy and do Maths, or History, or Geography. Once a week we talk to a teacher on the radio, just to check on how I’m getting on.”

“And what do you do for fun?”

“I play and read and go for walks with Mummy. And I like to play football.”

Just then, they heard the sound of another vehicle approaching.

“Daddy!” said George excitedly and rushed out of the room.

Amanda stood and watched as George ran to his Father and was lifted up for a hug.

“How’s my big boy, then?” he asked.

“Granny’s here!” he answered.

Michael looked past George and smiled at her. “Hello Amanda, how are you? How was the trip?”

“I’m fine thanks. The trip wasn’t too bad, but I think I was lucky with the weather in the end.”

“Well, its forecast to stay this way for at least a week, so make the most of it,” he joked.

Jenny broke in, “Michael, go and wash your hands. I’m about to serve up. Georgie, put your Father down and take Granny to the table.”

George jumped down from Michael’s grasp and grabbed Amanda’s hand and pulled her through to the kitchen / dining room.

“You’re sitting here Granny, next to me. I’ll be back in a moment — I’ve just got to wash my hands.”

As George left, Michael came back in and walked straight to Amanda with his arms outstretched. She stood to greet him properly. He gripped her shoulders and dipped to kiss her on the cheek. She momentarily wished that he had wrapped his arms around her body; he was such a strong, handsome man. What on earth was the matter with her; this was her son-in-law, her daughter’s husband!

The front door opened again and a stranger walked in.

“Ah, Jack,” said Michael. “Let me introduce you to Amanda.”

He was slightly shorter than Michael, rugged looking, with dark hair greying at the temples. She guessed that he must be about five years younger than she was. He stepped forward and instead of holding out a hand to shake, he too held her shoulders and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. The feel of his strong hands clasping her, the soft, smiling brown eyes were almost too much. Her hands twitched and she almost gave in to the urge to raise her hands and take his face and pull his lips to hers. The spell was broken as he stepped back and released her. She could feel her neck and face beginning to flush.

“Nice to meet you at last Amanda,” he said. “Jenny has told me almost everything about you.”

“Almost everything?”

“Except how beautiful you are.” He looked across at Jenny, still smiling and said, “But that should be no surprise, seeing that Jenny obviously takes after you.” He winked at Jenny.

“You are such a flirt, Jack! Take no notice of him Mummy. He’s like this with all women.”

Still, it was nice to be complimented in such a way. Amanda found herself surreptitiously watching him when his attention was elsewhere. Yes, for all his rugged, outdoor appearance, he was a remarkably handsome man.

They all sat down and Jenny served the meal. Most of the conversation was taken up with London and how it had changed. Since the end of the war there were many derelict sites, but gradually they were being developed. Discussions had started on what to do with the areas near to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had been flattened by the bombing just over a decade before. One suggestion was for blocks of flats with linked walkways, surrounding gardens and ponds. It sounded like a type of paradise.

They remained seated around the table, but eventually it was Georgie’s bedtime, so Jenny took him upstairs, leaving the three adults to continue talking.

Michael waited until the door closed and then asked, “Who’s for tea or coffee? Or would you prefer something a bit stronger? I’ve got some brandy in the sideboard.”

The others agreed to the suggestion, so Michael brought out the bottle and four glasses. He poured a couple of fingers in each and replaced the cork.

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