Serendipity

John and Doreen

17 year old Doreen and her 15 year old sister Barbara were the youngest of Fred and Emma Wilcox’s 7 children. Born and raised in Lancaster they had been uprooted by their mother to help run a boarding house in Blackpool owned by Harry (H), whom Emma had suddenly ‘taken up with’, leaving their mild-mannered, aging father on his own.

The two young girls hated ‘H’ and missed their kind, old dad. They hated being made to work in the boarding house. They hated the thought of giving up on their dreams. Barbra dreamed of dancing on the stage, Doreen of being a nurse. They were not being given the choice.

Worst of all, they didn’t trust ‘H’. He always seemed to be snooping around when they were in their bedroom, changing, or bathing in the cold bathroom. They took to putting a chair up against the door at night, and sharing a bath together. They couldn’t tell their mother. She was a hard woman, a disciplinarian rather than a warm mother figure. She knew they weren’t happy working there and would think they were making up lies about her new partner.

John was an 18 year old, on leave from his National Service in the army, at a loose end in his hometown of Leeds. His old friend from school days, Alf, was going to Blackpool for a week’s holiday with his parents.

“Do come with me,” Alf pleaded. “Can you imagine what it will be like for me on holiday with just my mum and dad?”

John had been to Egypt with the army but apart from that had rarely been outside Leeds. His parents, Jim and Alice, did not have money to spare for such things as holidays. He had nothing better to do, he might as well join his pal. It was good of Mr and Mrs Cooper to invite him.

After a long and uncomfortable ride in the Cooper’s Model T Ford they arrived in Blackpool quite late in the evening. The landlady of the boarding house seemed quite severe, setting out the rules of the house as she showed them to their rooms. At least the beds were more comfortable than the army’s folding camp beds.

At breakfast in the boarding house, John was quite taken with the shy, young waitress with curly, dark hair. He discovered that her name was Doreen. Being quite shy himself, and prone to stammering when stressed, he persuaded his more confident friend to chat to her younger sister, Barbara, so that he could talk to Doreen. After a couple of days of chatting to them over breakfast they took to walking along the seafront, arm in arm, in the evenings, when the girls had finished all their chores. John spent the long days just filling in time until the best part of his day.

Doreen, in particular, was sad to see them go at the end of the week. Barbara was more outgoing and was never short of friends to go out with in their precious free time so wasn’t that bothered.

Soon, however, letters started arriving from abroad. John was back in Egypt, but the shy young girl he had met in Blackpool was always on his mind. Doreen looked forward to his letters and was to keep them for the rest of her life.

One day, almost a year after their first meeting, there was a knock on the door of the boarding house. Mrs Wilcox answered the door, expecting a new guest, but there stood John, with a small bunch of flowers in his hand and a big smile on his face.

That was the beginning of the end of Doreen’s life in Blackpool. She found the courage to defy her mother and went to Leeds to live with Alice and Jim and started her nursing training at ‘Jimmy’s’ (St James’ Hospital).

She and John married and had 3 children, the youngest of which is me, now aged 60.

If my mum had not been forced to work in the boarding house, if dad had not been at a loose end when Alf was due to go on holiday …… then I wouldn’t be here writing their story.

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