Sheerness station looked pretty much like our local one, with a signaller’s building, a ticket office and a waiting-room-come-café. The sharp, swirling wind, blew the train’s smoke into our faces as we traversed the platform. We pulled our coat collars over our mouths and hurried to get out of the station.
‘I feel like I’ve just smoked a whole packet of fags at once,’ said Frank, hoarsely.
Outside the station we turned onto the aptly named Railway Road. About half way along it we found a pub, not surprising called The Railway. In the window was a sign advertising rooms with breakfast. Six shillings, double. Four and six, single.
‘What do you think?’ he asked.
‘Won’t it be a bit noisy?’ I said. The pub looked in good condition, on the outside at least.
‘It’ll be fine at this time of year,’ said Frank. ‘I have stayed here, but only for one night. I couldn’t afford nearly five bob a night out of the wages I was earning. I had to go into lodgings. It was a right flea pit too.’
He shuddered at the memory.
‘Let’s have a look at the room first,’ I said. My scalp started to itch. I resisted the urge to scratch it.
The pub was clean, and the landlady was friendly. She ordered a scrawny-looking man with a thick head of tightly curled, ginger hair to take my case and show us up to the double guest room. She noticed the anxious look on my face as he opened the door to the stairs.
‘I’d sleep in it,’ she said with a smile. ‘You’ll both be cosy in there.’
I was glad she didn’t use the phrase, snug as a bug in a rug.
Robert introduced himself as he led us up the one, steep flight of stairs. ‘I live with Irene,’ he announced, in a matter of fact way. ‘We’re not married or anything.’
I pulled my left hand up my sleeve so he couldn’t spot that Frank and I weren’t married either. I hadn’t even considered bringing a ring with me.
The room was nice, bright, and had a window facing the street, not the railway line that the rooms at the back of the pub must have overlooked.
It had a large, enamel basin and water pitcher on a shelf in the corner, clean towels, and a newish-looking double bed on the wall opposite the window. There was a single wardrobe and a round, oak table surrounded by four, rickety looking chairs.
‘The bathroom is at the end of the corridor. Just turn left, you can’t miss it.’ Robert hung around waiting for a tip, so I gave him a threepenny bit and he turned away.
‘Payment is in advance,’ he said suddenly. He spun around and looked at Frank. ‘Shall I show you the way down?’
Frank looked at me and shrugged.
‘We’ll be back down in a moment,’ I told him. ‘My husband will pay you then. Just the one night.’
When we returned to the bar, we found that Irene was in a far more business-like mood. The friendly smile had gone, and had been replaced by a steely-eyed stare.
I’d given Frank a ten-shilling note before we came down. He produced it with a smile.
‘There’s a five-bob deposit,’ said Irene. ‘In case of breakages. It will be refunded when you leave.’
I wondered what there was in the room that could be broken. There was only the bowl and pitcher and they looked sturdy enough.
‘Five bob?’ Frank exploded.
‘It’s the new rules,’ said Irene. She leaned over the bar towards us. ‘I’m already breaking one rule by letting you stay here at all. We don’t usually allow unmarried couples into our rooms.’
I pulled the extra shilling from my purse and handed it over. I leaned forward myself and whispered. ‘Where do you and Robert sleep then?’
Irene stuffed the money into a pocket in her apron and looked smug.
‘We don’t sleep here,’ she said.
We gave up arguing and went for a walk up to the town.
The High Street was a mix of Victorian and Edwardian buildings with faded, washed out shop fronts, but for someone like me, who lived in the country, it was a treasure trove of modern consumerism. On the High Street was a Boots store and behind it, a brightly painted clocktower that stood out vividly alongside the dull expanse of grimy, red brick and mortar.
We stopped for tea at a café in the town centre, but we had to drink it in a breezy garden at the back, because the café itself was under renovation. A waitress, wearing a uniform better suited to Lyons tea rooms than a tiny, underused little café in Sheerness, took our order and apologised on behalf of the café owner. The tea was well brewed and the waitress helpful, explaining to us the quickest way to the sea front. I left her a threepenny tip for her trouble.
After tea, we retraced our steps until we came to Broadway. A few minutes later we arrived at Sheerness beach, which was empty apart from a couple of dog walkers and two children hunting for shells. We walked along the Marine Parade until we reached the pier which the people walking just in front of us had called ‘the jetty’. It was built as a place for boats to unload passengers, but at this time of year there would have been little in the way of business for the boat owners. At the end of the pier was a pavilion. We never found out what entertainment it provided because it was closed, and wouldn’t open again until May Day.
We walked back along the pier, past the silent, unoccupied bandstand and headed further down Marine Parade towards Minster. The sea air had really worked on my appetite, so we bought fish and chips and sat down on the sea wall to eat them. A chilly wind came off the sea and seagulls raided inland looking for easier pickings than the hard to find fish in the Medway Estuary.
It was only about two and a half miles back to Sheerness, but it seemed more like five. Although it was March, we both removed our coats and allowed the shrill wind to cool our bodies. I was tired, even though I was a fit eighteen-year-old farm manager, who worked a fourteen-hour day, month in, month out. Babies tire you out even before they are born.