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U3A Writing: A Tale Of Two Cities

All is not as it first seems to be in this intriguing tale of different lifestyles by Mary Cryer.

The Spring sunshine had brought out more people than usual and Sloane Square looked especially inviting. Pavements glistened from the early morning shower of rain, and stray drops fell from the trees bursting out into fresh green leaf under which the flower sellers were busy with their colourful displays in dark green tubs. A street cleaner wielded a broom outside the Royal Court Theatre, and the newspaper stall on the corner was doing a good trade as customers emerged from the Underground Station.

Lois paused for a moment by the hoarding, ostensibly to read a newspaper headline, but in order to catch her breath and take in her surroundings. She loved this part of London, the easy walk up Sloane Street to Knightsbridge, the expensive boutiques and antique shops. Best of all she enjoyed the jewelled windows of Peter Jones, always eye catching and exciting. She would have time for a coffee in their restaurant before her appointment at 10.20 a.m. in Cadogan Mansions. But first she would find a chemists shop to buy some tissues because she had quite forgotten to slip a clean handkerchief in her bag.

There was a small alley beside the chemist‘s, dark and uninviting, and crouching there was one of the army of down and outs who can be found everywhere in a great city. He was bearded, but quite clean, with a dog sitting beside him. Lois registered this with half her mind. She rarely gave money to such as he, but always felt sorry for the dog, if there was one, because they invariably looked more dejected that the street beggar. But this dog got up as she went past and wagged his tail, and feeling excited at the day ahead of her, she reached into her handbag and dropped a coin into the expectant cap.

Fortified by a cappucino and wafer biscuit, Lois made sure her appearance looked suitable for her interview and set out for Cadogan Mansions. She rang the bell and climbed the stairs to the first floor where she was admitted promptly by a buxom woman in overalls, who non committally showed her into a large square room with high ceilings and huge windows which looked out on to the square below. Lois was fascinated by the curtains, ruched and flowing in a very intricate style, with swags holding the material back in folds falling to the floor, hiding the blinds which were half down to filter the sunlight. The material was discreetly patterned but opulent and heavy. ‘So much material’, thought Lois, ‘and I bet it was expensive too.’ But then the whole effect of the room was one of style and richness. She knew little about furniture, but liked the polished wood which reflected the objects laid artlessly on top, the gilded cherubs on the mirrors giving light to a dark corner. She sat down on a high backed chair against the window and picked up the latest copy of Vogue which was conveniently to hand. ‘I could sit here very comfortably all day,’ she said to herself, knowing it was a pipe dream; for she had not been invited here as a guest.

The door opened and a vision of beauty drifted into the room amidst a waft of fragrance.

“I’m Eugenie D’Envier. You have come about the position as nanny to my babes, Chloe and Felix.”

Slim and pretty as Lois was, she immediately felt clumsy and plain beside this woman. Mrs D’Enviers was simply dressed in a beige trouser suit with the most enchanting high heeled shoes that Lois had ever seen. ‘I bet she shops only at Manolo’s,’ she thought, whilst she found herself stammering replies to the questions put to her. How many positions had she had? Could she provide good references? Was it true when the agency had said she could start almost at once? Oh yes, she had first class references, and wide experience despite being only twenty-five. Would she be free to come immediately?

Obviously Mrs D’Enviers liked what she saw: the gentle manner and honest replies that Lois gave. “Come and see your new charges, then,” she said, rising gracefully from her chair and extending a hand to point the way.

Upstairs the house was just as gracious. A portrait of Mrs. D’Enviers in a gold ballgown hung on the landing. They reached the nursery floor, where Lois expected to see signs of more basic furniture. Well, perhaps it was not quite so grand, but still everything spoke of being the best money could buy.

Chloe was a wide-eyed younger replica of her mother, whilst the baby Felix was too fast asleep to judge whether he would be equally as enchanting.

Chloe pouted prettily, clinging to a chair leg and sucking her thumb noisily.

“Don’t suck your thumb like that child. It will ruin your mouth. How many times have I to tell you!” remonstrated her mother in exasperation.

The child said nothing but put the thumb back which her mother had removed so fiercely.

“Now Chloe this is Nanny Lois, and you must be very good and not upset her as you did Nanny Grey. I shall want you to get her out of this nasty habit as soon as you can, Nanny.”

It was plain to see that motherhood did not fit in with Mrs. D’Envier’s preferred lifestyle, but then that was why a nanny’s job was so much valued and well paid. Lois knew she could be happy living in this lovely house, in a light, airy en-suite bedroom next door to the nursery, with Sloane Square just outside the front door. She would love the children and get them to love her in return. It was agreed that she would start immediately and that she could collect her belongings that evening.

“How fortunate I am to have found such a pleasant job,” thought Lois as she arrived back with her luggage later that night, letting herself in with her own key.

She could hear the children crying in the nursery, but all was strangely quiet below. At the foot of the staircase she paused as she heard murmuring laughter coming from the sitting room where the door was ajar. Surely the grown ups could hear their children’s cries?

Lois rushed upstairs to find Chloe had climbed into Felix‘s cot and had been sick. This had wakened the baby who was covered in mess and badly needed a nappy change too.

Lois could not understand it. She had only been gone an hour and a half and she had been given permission to go. Did not the parents look after the children at all?

Order resumed, babies comforted and tucked in again, Lois went downstairs to the kitchen where she had been told she could make herself a drink. The sitting room door was still open, and she peeped in as she carried her coffee upstairs. Her heart lurched. Mrs D’Enviers was sprawled half on and half off the sofa, looking far from the vision she had presented earlier; while her husband was slumped in an opposite chair snoring loudly. The room smelt oddly stale, so unlike the freshness of the morning, and there were packets, silver paper and matches on the table, and ash everywhere. Lois knew drugs when she saw them, and quietly closed the door on the scene.

Outside in the Square the beggar and his dog had vacated their pitch. The day’s takings safely in his bumbag and the cap on his curls, Lennie whistled to the dog and together they ran down the steps to the Underground. Alighting at Stepney Green they could be seen walking briskly, stopping briefly for a bottle of wine, before arriving at a modest terraced house where he let himself in with a key. “Polly, we’re back,” he called, sniffing with pleasure at the cooking smells which greeted him. “Gosh, it smells good!”

In the kitchen he embraced his rosy cheeked wife hungrily, waved the bottle and fetched two glasses from the old dresser with the handle missing.

A four year old boy roared down the stairs in an old T shirt and pants, flinging himself at his father, “Dad, dad, dad,” giving him sloppy kisses and being hugged in turn, whilst a curious snuffling sound from the Moses basket on the sofa heralded the imminent awakening of their ever hungry infant.

“Had a good day, darling?” shouted Polly above Smudge’s excited barks as he waited for his meal.

“Yes, not bad at all. It’ll keep you in the style to which you’ve been accustomed. Give that dog a good helping. He’s worth his weight in gold. He wags his tail at all the clients and they love him. Oh, but it’s good to be home!”

The same city breeds a host of different lifestyles. These are just two. Whilst Lennie and Polly slept soundly in the East End in a bed made warm by their loving family, Lois lay in cool linen sheets in the best postal district, wondering how she would cope in such a difficult situation.


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