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Blues Skies Over

posted 25 May 2020, 07:11 by Fran Brady

The BBC lady is willowy and well-mannered. She crouches down at the side of my chair as if I am a small child likely to be intimidated by adult height. ‘Please sit down,’ I say, gesturing abruptly to the opposing armchair. Harry’s chair. 


‘What a wonderful room this is,’ BBC says, widening her eyes as she scans the twenty-odd pictures and the clutter of ornaments and photo frames. ‘Full of your memories. Such a comfort to you.’


Does she imagine I am living in a state of perpetual mourning with no more purpose in my life than to be comforted by photographs of dead people? ‘A lot of them are still alive,’ I say, ‘and I prefer quite a few of them dead.’


She looks startled, uncrosses her skinny jeans, and re-crosses them the other way. ‘As I explained on the telephone, we are doing a programme to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. We had planned to bring all of you into London for a victory parade down Pall Mall, past Buckingham Palace. But, of course, all that has had to be shelved on account of Lockdown.’ She makes those silly inverted commas signs. ‘So, we decided …’

She pauses to breathe, and I gratefully gasp a breath with her. She has that effect. 'We decided that if the mountain cannot come to Mohammed, you know.’ She beams and actually leans forward and pats my hand. It is my bad one, useless since my last stroke, or I would bat her away. ‘What I mean is …’


‘I know what you mean,’ I interrupt. ‘I know who Mohammed is and I heard about him and his mountain long before you were born.’ I am pleased with the snappy belligerence of my tone. 


‘Shall we have a cup of tea?’ she says brightly. 


‘Not unless you brought one with you. I don’t make tea these days. Too dangerous.’  I hold out my good hand so that she can see it shaking. ‘The care folk do it when they come; and they’re not due for another couple of hours.’


‘Not to worry, Vera, I can do it. Just point me in the direction of the kitchen.’


‘It’s Mrs. Lewis to you, and you’re not going anywhere near my kitchen.’ I glare at her, forward madame that she is. I haven’t been in the kitchen myself for months and I have no idea what sort of state the coming-and-going care people leave it in.


‘Well, never mind,’ says BBC, cheerfully. I have to give her marks for tenacity. ‘We can just do the interview now and then I’ll leave you in peace.’ 




Peace! It is the word on everyone’s lips today, just as ‘war’ was the word six years ago. We did not know then what ‘war’ meant, but we know now what ‘peace’ means. No more death dropping out of the sky onto our streets. No more life-changing, life-shattering telegrams. No more children living with strangers, far away from their own mums and dads. No more women doing men’s jobs. No more rationing, we hope. And for me, no more travelling around war zones, being welcomed like a saviour and cheered to the echo as I belt out ‘There’ll be blue skies over; The white cliffs of Dover.’ 


Those blue skies have been my ticket to stardom. Them and ‘We’ll meet again.’ It was so easy to tap into the well of homesickness and yearning in men far from home, not sure they would ever see the white cliffs or their wives and sweethearts again. And it was just as easy to aim the same songs at the home front, to mop up not only the longing for their menfolk and evacuated children, but also the dauntless patriotism and determined defiance.

But it is peace in our time for real now, hard won through six years of danger, death, destruction, and sometimes despair, although no one will talk of that now. We always knew we’d beat them. It was only ever a matter of time.We are basking in the glow of victorious hindsight. 


But what will a Forces’ Sweetheart do now, when the boys come home, and it’s blue skies instead of bombs over those white cliffs? 




‘What are your memories of VE Day?’ BBC is pointing something at me. It looks like one of these little phones everyone seems to carry in their hands all the time. 


‘Is that a phone call for me?’ I ask. ‘I’ll just take it.’ It may be one of the hordes of children that Harry and I seem to have generated. I find it impossible to remember all their names and whether they are grands, greats, or great-greats. But many of them phone me regularly for a two-or-three-minute chat. Little bursts of cheery chatter, occasional fireworks in the tedium of my days. 


BBC smiles patronisingly, and I know at once that I have made one of those errors that anachronisms like me make all the time. ‘I’m using my phone to record you,’ she says. ‘Now, your memories. How did you feel when you heard Churchill’s announcement?  Were you delirious with joy?' 


I smile patronisingly and hope she knows she has made one of those errors that whizz kids like her make all the time. ‘I was out of a job. How do you think I felt? I was downright blue.’


‘But you went on to have a great career in peace time. And you’re a national treasure now.’


‘I didn’t know that on VE Day, though. Did I?’


‘But you were glad all the fighting had stopped, surely? The bombing, the lives being lost …’


I do not reply. I am too old for pretence. All I can remember is a feeling of loss, of my life and purpose being snatched away, the jubilant crowds around me dancing on my grave. The silence lengthens. 


‘So …’ BBC is struggling. The interview is not going as she expected. ‘Well …mmm … What was the weather like that day?’


This I can answer. ‘Blue skies, of course,’ I say. ‘What else?’