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The Day Before Yesterday: 31 – On The Brink Of Life

Gladys Schofield begins to settle into the routines of working in a textile mill.

Our little group of workers was not slow in finding ways to relieve the boredom of our job, as it could get quite monotonous filling the bobbins and piling them high for the weavers to fetch. We would work hard for a while and then slip out for a chat in the ladies toilets.

Our boss had two departments to look after quite a distance from each other but it was amazing how quickly he could cover this distance if needed, by taking the various lifts scattered around the mill. The other department had an open window with a chain across for safety. Here they occasionally craned bales of wool from the ground floor to a higher level. This window faced the ladies toilet but at the opposite end of the mill. The boss had a habit of looking across to see if his workers were loitering in the toilets. We had to keep watch and if he appeared at the window, back we would scurry to the winding frames and innocently appear to have been busy all the time.

We were a little afraid of the Overseer and had to be careful as there was always someone else to take our place. Sometimes he would walk around the shed and stand behind us just watching us work. I hated him doing this and had always two left hands when his gaze fell on me. He was always very quiet, but now and again an amused smile would play around his face as though he had remembered a hidden joke.

I had found he could be very kind too. I had only been working a short time, the long hours took a bit of getting used to. One morning I passed out, while I was working. The next thing I knew, I was lying on one of the finished rolls of cloth, a woollen rug keeping me warm, in a strange little office I had never seen before. It was the Designers’ Office.

The one man working looked in my direction and said, "Oh, you are back with us I see," meaning, I suppose, I had come around.

My boss returned, bringing me a cup of tea saying, "Drink this, my child."

I thanked him and made to get off this beautiful material but he said, "No, no, you stay here for a while and rest until you feel better. I won't dock your wages." So I found this boss was human after all.

The new lad was settling in nicely at work, and keeping busy seemed to be his top priority. I began to understand a little more about him, as one of the weavers knowing his background mentioned to me his circumstances. He had lost his father the year before and being the oldest child of the family he felt it was his duty to help the best he could.

He would rise at six in the morning to take a paper round . The money he earned he gave to his mother. He also helped the local butcher and received enough meat to last them all week for his efforts. These jobs he did while still at school as his father was ill for quite a while before he died. You would also find him doing his share when the hay-making season came around.

So I realised why this proud young man was so money orientated. The extra money was beginning to make a difference in his appearance already. He owned two pairs of new overalls and didn't have the lean and hungry look he seemed to wear before.

He had started to speak to us occasionally now as he passed the winding frames. In his hands would be two long wooden rods he needed for each job. They trailed at the back of him as he headed for another weaver’s loom.

He would sometimes try to persuade one of us to chat with Roy, as he knew Roy couldn't work and talk at the same time. This way Cliff could gain a little time and work his way through his work before easygoing Roy.

Cliff could work without watching his work and only occasionally did he glance down. His fingers would separate each end by touch alone.

He didn't like to speak of his home and was always a proud, silent young man who seemed to be a match to anyone who dared to cross him but most liked him because of his efficiency.

Cliff asked Roy one day if he thought I would go out on a date with him (as Roy related to me later). "But I told him you would never go out with anyone, as you didn't trust men." It had not taken long for the news to spread about my experience.

"I would rather he asked me, not you next time, Roy," I said. I was more interested in someone who would be kind and protective towards me, and only one man had stirred me in this way.

He had been widowed early. I saw all the qualities I needed in a man, and to have a crush like this at fifteen can be very devastating. The age difference was still too much. He was much wiser than me, saying I was on the brink of life, he couldn't spoil that for me.

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