As it turned out, it was another 7 months before I actually left the BBA Group. In the meantime Mum learned how unwell I had been and we agreed that I should go back to live at home. This was fine, except that while I was away, she had been transferred from our local Seniors’ Care Home, where she was a Senior Assistant to one at Farsley, near Pudsey (which is between Bradford and Leeds) where she was the Assistant Matron. While Mum was there, we lived mostly in her flat at the Home, which made the journey to and from work something of a trek – but it did make access to a Hypnotherapist in Leeds – to whom I was referred with regard to my “nerves” – much easier. Swings and roundabouts, as they say!
The hypnotherapist – a very scholarly and courteous Indian gentleman – taught me self-hypnosis techniques for relaxation which I remember and practise to this day. Whether or not it helped with my mental problems – and the knock-on effect that they had on my skin – is something else altogether. In due course, Mum decided to move back to her original employer in the Heckmondwike area where she could at least live at home when she chose.
The environment at BBA was still poisonous when I returned but I managed to avoid confrontation 90% of the time and carried out my tasks to the best of my ability, while frantically scanning the local newspapers for a viable alternative. Eventually, I saw an ad which piqued my interest and decided to apply. It was with a local Turf Accountant (I actually had to ask what this was, would you believe?) who was seeking Manageresses (yes, it was legal to discriminate between the sexes in those days!) to run some of his chain of Betting Shops.
George Carrigill was – and to the best of my knowledge still is – a local character who not only competed quite successfully with the big betting chains but retained the loyalty of his punters more or less for life. He was that “rara avis”, the Honest Bookie. I liked him from day one and grew to respect and admire him very much. He openly declared to his new employees that he preferred to employ female managers because, by and large, they didn’t bet themselves, except on the Grand National or the Derby, and were thus less likely to get into dire straits and cheat him! For a solid month, his new employees were “at school”, learning how to settle bets by a system known as “Fractional Settlement”. This for the girl who wasn’t even entered for the Maths ‘O’ Level! Yet I loved it and was both quite good it and quite fast. Some years later I did a favour for a friend of Dad’s who was a bookie in Walthamstow. He needed a “Settler” one busy Saturday when his regular person was taken ill. His office was equipped with machines which calculated bets for you – but I stuck to what I knew and beat the machines in both speed and accuracy!
Once trained, we spent the hours between 9am and 11am at Head Office in Dewsbury, where we each checked the bets taken at a colleague’s office (a different office each day) the previous day and ensured that their books balanced. Then we took the bus to our own offices and the real day’s work began at around 12 noon. My little den was above a pet shop in Heckmondwike and it was absolutely Spartan! Back then it was against the law to provide any kind of comfort in a betting shop – no covering on the floor – just bare boards; no seating except for employees (myself, a “Board Marker” and a Saturday Clerk!) and definitely no offering tea, coffee or any sort of refreshment to the punters. To do any of these things was regarded as “Inducement to Bet” and was strictly prohibited. Changed days, eh?
There was no toughened glass between the staff and the punters – as I believe is standard nowadays – just a narrow step up to a high counter which made it difficult for anyone to reach across the counter, either to lay hold of the staff or to reach into the cash drawer! The smaller punters frequently presented little more than the top half of their faces above counter height, which gave me a comforting feeling of “superiority” and put everyone on the other side of the counter at a disadvantage from the outset. We had no “till”, merely a cash drawer at the far end of the counter, where I invariably sat on a high stool to take and settle the bets. In case anyone is thinking that we took a terrible chance with the takings – there were razor blades taped to the closing edge of the drawer which tended to discourage anyone from trying to put their hand across the counter and into the drawer – one good shove of the drawer and the thief would be minus most of his fingers! Not that anyone ever tried either to lay hands on me or to rob the drawer during my time as Manageress.
My seat was next to a huge window which allowed me to people-watch during quiet periods without being seen from street level. The pet shop below us had very friendly staff and two “house cats” who paid regular visits to my little kingdom, my “Board Marker” was a middle-aged gentleman … and I stress the word “gentleman”. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember his name – we were never on terms of close friendship – but he treated me with absolute courtesy and would quietly remonstrate with any punters who were either rowdy, bad tempered or used “coarse” language. In short I loved the job – in spite of the odd working hours and the long days in summer when there was evening racing on top of the afternoon meetings.
My personal life was going along very nicely, too. John and I saw each other most evenings and would go out into the Yorkshire Dales on our days off and tramp for miles. He and Mum got on like a house on fire and on the occasions when Dad met him they got on really well, too. It was all going too smoothly – I should have known that there was danger just around the bend!
The trouble, when it came – as come it did – was in the form of a very attractive and somewhat enigmatic occasional punter called Norman H. (I give him an initial surname because another Norman will feature later in my tale – a horse of a very different colour!) He was very tall, slim but well-built, had a mop of thick brown hair and came originally from Kent. He was quite a lot older than me (20 years, as I later discovered!) He was also an outrageous flirt and livened up some otherwise quiet afternoons in a most satisfactory manner. I was intrigued by his manner at first, which was playful and flirtatious but pretty harmless (I thought) and flattered by his obvious interest. He was a regular at a pub near the betting shop which I occasionally frequented, too, and somehow we always seemed to be bumping into each other.
Then the day came when he asked me out. What to do? John and I had been “courting” for over 3 years now and although we were not engaged and hadn’t spoken about marriage, I think everyone (including John and I) more or less assumed that we would wed eventually. I hesitated briefly and then said “Okay”.
I felt very guilty but decided not to say anything to John unless Norman and I decided to see each other again – after all, we might not hit it off. I needn’t have worried – Norman stood me up. This had never happened to me before – I was hurt, angry and my self-esteem took a severe blow. I remember going home feeling very sorry for myself and saying to Mum “Mum – am I pretty?” Mum looked at me as if I was a few sandwiches short of a picnic and said “Pretty? No! You’re beautiful!” Well, I didn’t feel it!
Norman was nowhere to be seen for a couple of weeks, after which he breezed into the office one afternoon as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation, so I, too, behaved as though nothing had happened. It wasn’t long before he was telling me some tale about having to go down to Kent because his twin brother had been very ill and he had no way of letting me know that he couldn’t keep our date. Of course, at that point, the sun came out again and everything in the garden was lovely. I finished with John and Norman and I became “an item”, as they say nowadays. It wasn’t until many months later that I learned firstly, that he didn’t have a brother – twin or otherwise – and secondly, that he was married.