The girl next door

Maxie Forster is a binman who carries out ashes from the coal fires of North Shields the holes in his leather soled boots are letting in water from the rain and he cannot afford to go and take the boots to the cobbler shop in Billy Mill. He tries repairing them with some old lino and cuts the shape out with a stanley knife and glues them with some evo stick then places cardboard in the insides. Looking over the road on his round he spots a family being evicted by the bailiffs - the wagon is loaded with furniture and the woman and her five children stand in the rain as the barrow with everything she owns is pushed down the street.

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Shirley put her coat on and a head scarf and made her way down the street with a canvas shopping bag. She would have to walk the four miles to the North Shields Fish Quay in order to get some cods cheeks these were normally discarded and they could be picked out of the offal bins and used. If she was lucky, there might be a herring boat in and she could pick up a dozen or so herring or mackerel as they fell from the wagons as they were being loaded.

She put up her black umbrella as the rain got heavier; she had no choice though as the rain soaked her skirt it was either that or they would all starve. Maxie had three days to go before he got his wages. He only got seven pounds and twelve shillings a week and one pound twelve shilling had to be paid for rent then there was two pounds a week for coal. The rest went on food and clothing.’

She had been taking in Helen Duffield’s washing in which brought her seven bob a week. She had used it to go to the bingo with trying to win a few pounds. The houses were ten pounds if she won or five for a line.’ It was worth the risk of five bob she thought. Shirley never stopped until she got to Northumberland Square where she bumped into Sarah Smith a large friendly woman who would often be seen at the bingo of a Wednesday afternoon they had been friends since school together. “Hello Sarah said Shirley; where are you off to. I’m gannin’ down to the market to get some Veg’ for wor Albert’s tea tonight.’

“Where yee gan like?’

Got to gan doon the quay for some cod cheeks.’

“I won a tenner at the bingo last neet that’s why I’m oot buying some grub to feed wor lot.’

“I wish to hell I could win Sarah.’

“Got nowt have you?’

“ I’m skint until Friday.’

“Here there’s five bob get yer sel to the bingo this afternoon yer niva na t’ today you might just win.

“Eeh a really couldn’t take it off you Sarah, a diven’t na when I could pay you it back.’ Sarah pushed the money into her hand then closed it with her fingers and smiled. “Give me it back when you win love.’

Thank you so much Sarah; I might see you in there later then.’

“I’ll be there; I will keep you a seat.’

“Right I will see you aboot one o’clock then.’

Sarah waddled off down the street and Shirley crossed the square and headed down Bedford Street past the Salvation Army Hall. She looked over the road at the corner to see two men who had been arrested led into the police station by two burly looking coppers.

A lot of men who couldn’t find work tried to get money anyway they could; it led them to burglary and theft from shops in order to feed their families. “Desperate times called for desperate measures she thought as she crossed the road on Saville Street then walked past the rent office and Featenby’s Auction rooms. Shirley hurried down the library steps onto the fish quay and made her way past the ice factory then along the cobbled road towards the fishing boats that were tied up. The seagulls were flying around squealing. The boats were being unloaded told her that the herring was being unloaded. She ran towards the wagon and stood waiting for fish to drop off.

It wasn’t long before several herring and the odd mackerel had fallen off and she bent down quickly and placed the fish into her bag. She managed to get two dozen fish

which could be sauced in vinegar to make a tasty meal. 

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