Emmy was then about twenty, and was good-looking in a gentle, guileless way. Somehow, I found myself sitting beside her, pouring out all my troubles. Well, not quite everything. A bloke has to have some secrets, doesn’t he?”
“When I think back to the days when my parents were alive, everything seems bathed in a golden glow. I don’t know why that should be because we were very poor, just a notch away from downright poverty. Sidney and I were the two youngest, with me being older by about fifteen months. Growing up, we were tight, sharing the inevitable brotherly spats, but being loyal against outsiders.”
She flicks a photo towards her that shows two boys standing in front of a painted backdrop. The taller one stares straight ahead, unblinking. The smaller one, her grandfather, lifts his chin and smiles. In the corner, capital letters inform her that the photographer had a studio near Tower Bridge. Grandpa Sidney spent the last thirty years of his life looking for his older brother.
“Father was a tanner, and his money didn’t go far. But I suppose the world looks better when you’re young. Father taught himself to read and write when he was an adult, so naturally, he had high hopes for his eldest boy. He made sure I was taught reading early on, how to write an elegant copperplate, how to sign my name with a flourish. Many praised me for my beautiful handwriting, and being bright, I soon won a scholarship to the local Grammar School.
“Dreams and aspirations are all very well, but our family was poor, so when I turned fourteen in 1903, I had to leave school to find a job. My parents hid their disappointment well. Perhaps they were hoping I would be so brilliant that the schoolmasters would be begging to let me stay. However, when I came home from school the day I turned fourteen, with a letter of reference from the headmaster, they didn’t protest. I soon found myself employed in the City as a clerk in a dry goods store. [To be continued.]