Learning About Life At The Grand
We somehow managed to buy a television in 1953, to enable us to watch the Queen's Coronation. I used to dash home from school to watch children's television and the antics of 'Billy Bunter' and his schoolmates at the fictitious Greyfriars School. It's February 1957 before we change our T.V. set so that we can receive ITV.
Gathering around the fire to watch T.V. on a cold winter's evening, is the best place to be, and because we don't have central heating, we girls argue over who is going to go into the cold kitchen to make a pot of tea. Just going out into the hallway one feels the drop in temperature, only the thought of bringing a tin of Mum's homemade buns to have with the tea, prompts me to go. Mum is a great cook, and I have a great appetite! If I wasn't so active, I could have a real weight problem, as it is, I am growing faster than either of my sisters, which prompts Maurice to tease me mercilessly, and I am made to feel as big and as ungainly as a carthorse! His favourite joke is "don't upset Freda or she'll roll on you!" I was 9st, hardly huge, but compared to my size 10 sisters, it was. I was about 3 inches taller and perhaps a stone heavier than they were, and I remember how unfair it all seemed, with me being the youngest too! Little wonder I felt so uncomfortable in my horrible brown uniform.
Our favourite T.V. programme is 'Quite Contrary', which features a very beautiful young lady called Katie Boyle, and introduces to the world, hairstylist, Raymond, (who became known as 'Mr. Teazy Weazy',) he not only demonstrates new hairstyles, but how to change these styles with the aid of hair ornaments and false hair pieces. (I heard the music today - "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" - which was played as the model is turned round in her chair, so that we could view the hairstyle from all angles, and now that I'm into classical music, I realize that this very familiar piece, was, in fact 'stolen' from Chopin's Nocturne). It was all so glamorous - a million miles away from our working class lifestyle. Even so, I never thought of us as being poor, as everyone I knew was just the same. Although a certain 'snobbishness' existed amongst us. Mum was exceedingly house proud; her net curtains were always whiter than white, (she was quick to remark on anyone else's that weren't - "have you seen the colour of Mrs. so and so's nets?!!") and the front and back doorsteps scrubbed and 'blanco'd', or painted with 'red cardinal' according to the current trend. And it seemed to me that no sooner had the last room in the house been decorated, than mum would start again from the beginning!
The evening shift at 'The Grand' can be quite interesting; I stand by the lift observing all that is going on in the front hall. For a while I was most intrigued by the two women who regularly came in night after night. One tall, slim and blonde with a rather hard face, the other, shorter, and fatter with dyed black hair, and had obviously seen better days. (With hindsight, I would say that the blonde one was probably 30 to 35 years of age, and the other one about 45 - or maybe wishes she was!) They would sit in the front hall, watching everyone who passed by, then after a while they'd go to the ladies powder room, then they'd sit at the bar, which was just opposite the lift, chatting to the other guests. After that, they would walk into the other lounge by the back entrance and sit there for a while.
I found it all rather mysterious, what a boring way to spend ones evenings - of course when I mentioned it, the porters were only too willing to explain their behaviour - and teased me for ever after for not knowing! But I still found it difficult to comprehend, why would anyone want to pay to be with these rather unattractive women? (I really did not know anything about prostitutes - why would I? They had never entered my life before, in any shape or form. For all my apparent success in school biology, which was purely academic, there were huge gaps in this area of knowledge, simply because there were huge gaps in what we were taught, and what was available to the curious. Mum was very warm hearted, generous and hard working, but rather straight-laced, she did not want me to know about sex and did not offer any explanations about anything, consequently, I would get very embarrassed at any allusion to sex, and closed my mind to it.)
Leading off from the front hall, and just by the lift, is the ballroom - which I am not allowed to enter. I try to catch a glimpse as I go past the entrance, there are wonderful chandeliers, and a ball made up of tiny pieces of mirror, suspended from the ceiling, when it turns, even from where I stand by the lift, I can see the refracted light, cascading across the floor, and lighting up the faces of the ladies in their ball gowns and the men in their dinner suits, as they spill out into the front hall.
I love looking at the ladies dresses, and their sparkling necklaces and bracelets. The men look so handsome in their dinner suits. Sometimes I am looked at with curiosity, I have even been described as 'quaint'! Martin, the page boy, suffers from this more than I do, although he is a year older than me, he is really tiny, he has a mass of blonde, naturally curly hair, and round blue eyes. He really does look very cute in his brown page's uniform, complete with pillbox hat - which he hates wearing! Guests think that we are brother and sister, although my curly hair is permed - I have it in the new 'bubble cut' that's so fashionable now. I try to walk casually away from the lift and innocently look inside the ballroom, but I am soon ushered back into my place by a porter, usually Mac - he's such a spoilsport! When Mr. Rendell, the manager, walks through the front hall, he always scowls at me and indicates for me to go inside the lift - I'm in a no-win situation with him, if I'm standing outside the lift - I'm ushered back into it, out of sight. If I'm sitting on my small stool in the corner of the lift - I'm told to 'smarten up'; he walks around as though he has a bad smell under his nose. And his wife thinks she's the queen bee - she rarely spares a look in my direction.
In March, drummer, Tony Crombie, came to play at the Empire. We have now graduated to a 'box' at the Empire when quite a few of us go, not only do we have a really great view of the stage, but find that we get a lot of attention from the artists, perhaps they think that folks who can afford to sit in 'the ashtrays', (as the comedians like call them), must be 'somebody'. Anyway, it's a really good show; Tony Crombie can really play those drums! And it's a very lively evening.
Tony Crombie doesn't stay at the Grand, but he comes into the hotel with Mr. Spitzer, who is the manager of the Empire, and I get his autograph and tell him how much we enjoyed the show. Johnny Spitzer lives in the hotel, and is very nice to me on the whole, but expects excellent service, and when he rings for the lift, he expects me to be there - but instantly! He nearly rings the buzzer off the wall. It's the same with the telephone, he can't just pick it up and wait to be answered, the little 'dolls eye' flashes madly until he's answered. I can't complain though, I only have to say that I want to go to see a show and he will have two tickets waiting for me at the box office. Mostly, I take Mum with me, and she and Mr. Spitzer always have a little chat. Also, if a visiting star I like isn't staying at the hotel, I only have to say, and Mr. Spitzer will arrange for me to meet them. He always introduces me to the stars he brings in the hotel and will make sure that I get photographs and autographs. All I have to do in return, is suffer a rather wet kiss, and a clasp to his huge body, but it is all very chaste - unlike some of the visitors to the hotel...
Colin, who is a travelling salesman for a clothing company, appeared to be very nice at first; he comes quite often, hiring a room to 'show' the clothes. He's quite good looking, as well as being very funny, and I like him a lot, I regard him as my friend and I get quite jealous when I find he has been 'chatting up' Anita, who works the opposite shift to me. I didn't mind too much when he kissed me on the cheek, but when he asked me to stop the lift between the floors so that we could 'do it properly', I'm most offended, and I'm quite 'off' with him for a few days, in fact I feel pretty much on the defensive with him now, but contrarily, I'm still glad when he is visiting again. I realise that I like his attention but I'm giving nothing in return! Another salesman, who is travelling in jewellery, gives me a ring and announces that we are now engaged - doesn't he know I'm only fifteen?!
Johnny Ray is here!! He's appearing at the City Hall for just one night. There are dozens of fans outside the hotel screaming for him. The porters have to stand in front of the glass doors to stop them from breaking in. Johnny is very tall and exceedingly thin, he's very nice, but he is rushed around by the people who are with him, so I don't get the chance to ask for his autograph, which is a great pity, because he is Mavis's very favourite singer, and I would like to have been able to get a signed photo for her.
It is pandemonium outside all evening, quite exciting really, but I am on the inside, and I still can't get near him! When he comes into the lift, he is surrounded by so many people, that I am crowded up in the corner and barely have room to operate the handle. (You didn't think I pushed a button, did you? No such technology here!) I'm really rather sad when I discover that Johnny is leaving the next morning, as it has been very exciting having him stay here - really brightened up my life! There are still girls outside the hotel, and I hear lots of screams when he finally leaves - I wonder if any of them managed to get his autograph?
Following Johnny Ray came Tex Ritter and a very peculiar friend. The friend is a hypnotist, he proves his powers by hypnotising Tex Ritter, his manager, and Mr. Spitzer, they are all slumped in their chairs in the front hall lounge, and other guests think that they are drunk! Whenever the hypnotist comes into the lift, he looks at me with deep brown, rather mysterious eyes, he says he's going to hypnotise me, but after having seen what happened to the others, there's no way this man is going to hypnotise me, and I refuse to look at him. But he catches me out when he speaks to me, and automatically I turn to look at him, I start to feel very strange - I panic and tell him to stop it, which, thankfully, he does. But I don't trust him, I know he wants to hypnotise me, I'm quite a bolshie little piece, usually able to take charge of a situation, but this man frightens me, so I make a point of not looking into his eyes again. Tex Ritter, on the other hand, is really nice, and the way he dresses makes me laugh. He is always in full cowboy gear, complete with tall Stetson and high-heeled boots with very pointed toes, which he frequently trips over!
March 30th is Mavis's 21st birthday and we are going to hire a hall, there is going to be a huge party. We have a terrific time; a photographer from the Sheffield Telegraph & Star came to take photographs. A crowd of us go back to our house to play cards until the early hours. I stay up for as long as I can because Keith is there, and I really fancy him, he's tall and dark and handsome and is very fit because he plays football. He's 22, which is too old for me, or rather, I am too young for him, but he is really nice to me and most lads of his age aren't, and he lets me sit on his knee. Unfortunately it is my weekend on the switchboard, and I have to be up early - so reluctantly I have to leave them enjoying themselves. I rather think the other girls are glad I have gone; now they can have Keith's undivided attention. (If only I could have known then, that one day, I would have Keith's undivided attention, I would have gone to bed a much happier girl!)