South Something

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Chapter One: Two Names

                                                                                   Having two names was never a problem for Hilton.
















At the age of seventeen, Hilton Matthew Young volunteered for the army and changed his first name. A sudden awareness of the likely derision from comrades when they heard the name Hilton caused him to make an instant decision.  He told the enlisting officer that his first name was Bill.

Within weeks of signing up against the wishes of his socially climbing mother, Hilton was launched into a uniformed career guarding sandbags at Covent Garden. He must have kept the sandbags very safe, because a stripe appeared on his upper arm before his first leave home. Such rapid promotion produced forgiveness from his mother, especially when, two years later, in 1945, Captain Bill Young, now deemed old enough for active service, was sent to The Gold Coast to learn more about the established protocols of the African Officer’s Mess.

Instant decision making and an impatient desire to make things happen were themes which punctuated the whole of Hilton’s life. Aged fourteen, he had walked Audrey home early from a party to appease her over protective mother. He then made full use of his evening by returning to the party to accompany a second girl home. This had not however prevented a teenage wartime relationship developing between Hilton and Audrey. Despite the misgivings of his mother about Audrey’s heritage, Hilton only deserted her three years later when the army became his first love. This was quickly followed by love for a girl from Edinburgh to whom he became engaged. In the meantime, Audrey escaped the protection of her own mother by joining ENSA and later, as a scholarship student at the Royal Academy of Music, dating a young man from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. But she still reserved a place in her heart for Hilton, later Bill.

Hilton learned to drive jeeps through the desert and to toast the Queen in a tented hall intended only for the white officers.  Between commanding his African troops and ensuring that the regimental silver was polished, he wrote long letters to his Scottish fiancée. Daughters of colonels paid occasional visits, but, far from distracting Hilton from his UK lovers, they began to remind him of home. Now a temporary Major, Hilton caught a glimpse of one such young woman, who reminded him of his first love, Audrey. In an instant turnaround he wrote two letters. One letter unengaged the Scottish Lady, and the other letter begged forgiveness from his first love. When Captain Bill Young returned to England he produced a diamond ring and demanded Audrey’s hand. They were married in 1947.    

The early years of their marriage followed the pattern of so many post-war middle class families. Hilton was refused a renewal of his wartime commission, so reluctantly took up a career in sales. Audrey turned down a prestigious operatic singing contract and became a full-time house-wife. They mortgaged themselves into a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Ilford, and produced two daughters. The older daughter, Penny, was sensible, cautious and sometimes nervous. The younger sister, Claire, was more adventurous and something of a Tom Boy. Though not especially academic, Claire ‘s early school reports described her as imaginative and praised her ability to write stories and poems.

The parents always considered themselves respectable. They discarded items which were deemed to be ‘common’, and instilled their own value system into their offspring. Penny and Claire were brought up in a regime of old fashioned rules, sensible footwear and over-boiled vegetables. They learned that aspiration should not exceed the boundaries of class; that sex before marriage would lose a girl any respect; that bright girls should aim towards nursing, teaching, and the Civil Service; that a course in shorthand typing was a safety net for the slightly less academic. They knew the rules, and were kept in their places. They were largely shielded from the growing freedoms of the sixties.

Having two names was never a problem for Hilton. Post war friends and work colleagues called him Bill. Family called him Hilton. Audrey called him by both names, and Pennyy and Claire called him Daddy……unless Claire wanted to make her mother laugh in which case she referred to her father as ‘Hilty’. For the purposes of this book, he will now normally (though not always) be referred to as ‘Bill’.

 Bill’s sense of humour fluctuated with his success in his career. Now subject to targets and bonuses, he found that the pressure of work impacted on his health and his emotions. With an ulcerated stomach and a frustratedly underachieving wife on prescribed anti-depressants, his relationship with Audrey, though loving, was sometimes ill-tempered. He occasionally changed his job  to improve his lack of seniority.  This gradually brought more affluence and status, but his inability to shrug off work pressures was a constant concern.    

The company car was a great symbol of household income. From purple Triumph Herald to metallic Ford Mondeo every change of car marked a promotion. And, once Audrey had passed her driving test, she too was allowed to take the wheel. This enabled the family to indulge in seaside day trips, summer holidays, and occasional off-peak UK breaks.  

The migration from outer London to the home counties accelerated in the late sixties. South East England had largely recovered from post-war poverty, and middle class home owners sought a more rural life. They sold their semis to incomers from inner London and purchased larger more distant properties   still within commuting distance of the city.  In 1966 Audrey and Bill purchased a small detached house in Epping with central heating and a Hygena kitchen.  The whole family purred with their new affluence. Penny, now fourteen, was moved to a local secondary school in Epping, and Claire was made to travel thirteen miles each way daily through the comprehensive belt to be safely installed in an all girls’ grammar school in Bishop’s Stortford.  

Despite the journey, Claire at eleven years adored her new school. She threw herself into the system of house points and termly tests and quickly rose from a struggling C to an upwardly mobile B plus. She joined the choir, starred in the Drama productions and formed a close circle of like-minded friends. Occasional boys were encountered on bus journeys or at school dances, but they tended to be regarded as conquests rather than real people.  

At fourteen, Penny had a harder adjustment to make. School was not her main interest in life, and she had to establish herself into new teenage friendship groups. At fifteen years, she met fellow pupil, Michael who lived two roads away in Epping.  Audrey and Bill were apprehensive, this being the first real ‘boyfriend’ who had entered the lives of their daughters. There were parent/child adolescent squabbles, and hormonal tantrums. But the relationship between Penny and Michael was so solid that it could not be toppled. Michael was reliable, and his family were welcoming. Even when Penny was moved away with her family to Camberley in Surrey three years later, the relationship held up with weekend visits. Penny and Michael got married in 1972, and are still happily married forty five years later.

Penny and Claire had never been especially close, but they had spent a lot of time together and relied upon each other for company. Claire, although independent, did not adjust easily to Penny's gradual transition to fiancée, then married woman. Vicki had gained in importance, while Claire was left to her studies and a lesser role. Claire began to regard marriage as a desirable rite of passage which needed to be passed through as soon as convenient. Sex was still not regarded as respectable before marriage, but was nevertheless an ever constant battle between herself and her boyfriends.                                                      




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A Post War Wedding

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Audrey and Bill Young


Sensible Footwear

Captain Hilton Young