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A Shout From The Attic: Return To Zin - 9

...Mrs Pollecoff was a small woman, probably in her early seventies, and disabled from a tragic accident in which a donkey jumped out of a field onto the bonnet of their car, killing Mr Pollecoff outright...

Ronnie Bray recalls one of his former employers.

My first every visit to Bournemouth was when as a missionary in 1956 I was transferred from Southampton where I laboured with Kelvin Thomas Waywell, a Canadian from Toronto. My new companion was Elder Hone, from Pleasant Grove, Utah. We spent most of our time looking for a property the Church could buy to convert into a meeting place. From there, I was transferred to Bristol, Cheltenham, and back to Southampton.

I ended my mission in Southampton in March, and travelled back home to Huddersfield. Harry Summersell married Esmé and me in the Bradford Woodland Street Chapel on 5th May 1957. We lived at Longroyd Bridge in a three-roomed flat, and then moved to a flat at the side of the house with one room on each level.

We moved from Huddersfield to Bournemouth some time in 1957 before Andy was born because Esmé wanted to be near her mother, and I concurred, because Esmé had just turned twenty when we married, and much of life was new to her, as it was to me. Andy was born at New Milton maternity hospital on 2nd February 1958.

We rented an upstairs flat on Fenton Road from the couple who owned the house and who lived downstairs, and were living there when Andréa Leslie Bray entered the world.

I worked as a van driver for Gardner’s of Bristol Ltd., who were distributors of foodstuffs to retail shops. When Andy was born, the staff clubbed together and bought her a beautiful outfit.

When Esmé was in the maternity hospital, there was a problem with transportation. New Milton was a long way from Southbourne, and the bus service was skimpy. One night, another new father asked me if I would like a lift back to Pokedown, and I jumped at the chance. He drove an ancient Riley Nine that was in perfect condition.

The young gentleman was kind enough to arrange to pick me up on Christchurch Road, below the traffic lights by Pokedown Railway Station every visiting night, and take me back afterwards.

After working for Gardner’s, for whom I drew a warehouse plan to ease traffic, etc., I got work in a greengrocer and florist shop on Carberry Crescent, Southbourne. The owner was a nice man, gentle and pleasant, and he brought out the best in me. His daughter was a noted swimmer heading for the Olympic Swimming Teas. Her name was Pamela. Sadly, the shop was not doing well, and I often found the poor man in the back room sat on an upturned fruit box, his head in his hands, in a morose mood. He was not cut out for business. Eventually, he could not afford my wages, poor as they were, and so I looked for work again.

The Labour Exchange in Bournemouth was short of jobs for unskilled persons, such as me, but there was an opening for a chauffeur. The Job was to drive elderly Mrs Pollecoff around, and keep the car gleaming. She was not hard to get on with, although the advertised weekly wage offered in the Exchange was eight pounds, she talked me down to seven. It could rightly be described as a pittance, but it was better than nothing.

Esmé was a good budgeter and an expert seamstress, and now and then she made a few pounds doing alterations. She made an under-blouse for Mrs Pollecoff to wear under a lacy blouse she had bought. Mrs Pollecoff characteristically wanted to pay less for it that she had agreed, but on inspecting it she was impressed by the quality of Esmé's work and paid up.

Mrs Pollecoff lived most of the year in South Africa because of the good weather, returning to Britain for a few summer months. The car I was commissioned to drive was not a Rolls Royce, nor a Bentley, nor even one of the big Austins. It was a black two door Morris Minor!

Mrs Pollecoff was a small woman, probably in her early seventies, and disabled from a tragic accident in which a donkey jumped out of a field onto the bonnet of their car, killing Mr Pollecoff outright. The height of the floor in the Moggie, as the Minors are affectionately known, was just right for her getting in and out, although it was a struggle for her to get past the folded down front passenger seat even when it was set as far forward as it would go.

Mrs Pollecoff was not hard to work for, and was not very demanding. I washed and polished her black Moggie every morning before she was ready to go shopping or visiting. She lived at the Green Park Hotel, which was a kosher Jewish hotel overlooking the sea at the east cliff top, and very expensive, even for her room that looked backwards into the leafy avenue and car park.

I don’t know if there is a connection, but my wage was seven pounds a week, and her room cost eighty-five pounds a night, in 1958!

The time came for her to visit family, and we headed northwards to Leeds. The trip took seven and a half hours, no motorways then, including a lengthy stop somewhere in Leicestershire to wait out a rainstorm with which the wipers could not cope.

She had grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Leeds, and she accompanied them to several social events. I was given lodgings with a nice Jewish family, and the master of the house took me to Chapeltown synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath.

From Leeds, we drove to Bangor, Wales. On the journey, Mrs Pollecoff issued what was really a warning, the gravity of which did not register in my young mind.

At times, there are unseen tides in our lives, which, if we do not have a firm grasp of the helm, or if we are not the masters of our destiny, sweep us, nolens volens, into deep and dangerous waters for which we are unprepared., and are either dashed to pieces on the rocks of uncaring circumstance, or thrown up in an untidy heap onto some unfriendly beach. The natives are never friendly.

The storm wave might have come when Mrs Pollecoff’s eldest son, who lived in Bangor and ran the impressive and extensive Emporium in the High Street, objected to my cleaning out the drains of his house with the brass spray he used to spray his prize roses, or could have taken exception when I chastised him for not using the ash tray in his Austin A40, dumping it straight on the carpet. Or perhaps it was an accumulation of such small matters.

He had a sweet Welsh lady as housekeeper and cook, who had been in his employment for many years. She understood his rigid ways, and warned me to steer clear of him. But it is difficult to steer clear of someone who comes and finds you.

Mrs Pollecoff had me drive her to Pwllheli to see her younger son, Jack, who was then mayor of the town. She went and bought a huge turkey to give to his family. The creature was still alive. We drove a little way and then went into the back of someone’s shop where a ritual Jewish slaughterer was waiting with his knives.

I held the bird, the shochet, made a quick, deep stroke across its throat with his razor sharp blade. The blood ran free onto some soil brought indoors for the purpose, and the turkey fell limp. An ancient mitzvah had been honoured, a bird had been sacrificed, and I felt like a ratsach.

I had lodgings at the bottom of Bangor town. My landlady, knowing of my circumstances said that Esmé and the baby could come and stay for a few days. Brian McCracken, and interesting friend of Esmé’s, drove her to Bangor. As she walked through the garden gate, I held out my arms to take Andy. Esmé said, “I knew it! I knew he would take her before he got to me!”

I did not think that she was serious at the time. She said it in a light hearted, but exasperated way that betrayed a hidden annoyance. Later, I came to understand that Esmé had to be first in everything.

Soon after Esmé and Brian returned to Bournemouth, things took a turn for the worse with Mr Pollecoff. I heard it rumoured that he was looking for another chauffeur. Some employees came out from the store when I was parked at the back and asked where my lodgings were. My paranoia kicked in and I wouldn’t tell them, fearing the worst.

But in the end it made no difference. Pollecoff’s housekeeper-cook knew what was happening and spoke to me very kindly. She called me “Bray bach,” an affectionate term used when addressing a or wishing to convey tenderness. 'Bach' means little in Welsh.

One day, with no warning except the smoke signals that had curled up above the wooded hills for a day or so, I was peremptorily handed my wages, my insurance cards, and told that my employment was over.

The rest of this part of my history is still foggy to me. I took my suitcase to the railway station in Bangor and bought a ticket for Huddersfield. As I walked onto the station, the train was pulling out. I ran alongside it until I found an open window. In desperation I threw my case into the window and followed it by diving headlong through it.

My fellow passengers looked startled. I uncrumpled myself, retrieved my case, put it on the luggage rack, sat down, smiled at the open mouths, and said, “Made it!” Their responses were typical of well-brought up people who had been thrust, or vice versa, into the presence of someone who could be a dangerous!

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