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The new home had been reasonably furnished, again at the level appropriate to the style of living we aimed at, mainly with furniture from Bowmans of Camden Town, a slightly down-market version of the more expensive Heals of Tottenham Court Road. It was all in contemporary design, for we had decided to live in the Twentieth Century, and one of our proud purchases had been a lovely off-white Indian rug which very nearly covered the 22ft by 12ft sitting room of the new house and which we had protected, in the area of the open fire’s hearth, with a smaller off-white rug made by Margaret herself. We had recently bought ourselves a little dog, a diminutive terrier bitch we had christened Minnie. Just at the hour Mr Chamberlain was giving us his fateful news it was our habit to let Minnie out into the garden for the usual purposes. We were now running late. And just as we finished listening to the Prime Minister and almost before we had realised we were a country at war, something happened to change my mind about letting her out, as usual, by the back door. That door faced west. At that very moment the voice of the air raid siren, which we had often enough heard practising its chilling wail, sounded its warning of imminent enemy action. Had we given it a moment’s thought we would have realised it was a phoney alarm. There was no way in which a German attack could have been threatening High Wycombe three minutes after we had declared war and with no warning from the BBC or anyone else. But the siren was real. I certainly had no intention of disregarding it and missing any excitement it might have heralded. So, instead of letting Minnie out of the back door which faced in the westward direction from which a German attack would be unlikely to be approaching, I dashed with her to the front door, from which vantage point any bit of trouble arriving from the Continent might be better viewed, preferably from a reasonable distance. War, perhaps more effectively than peace, can be prolific in breeding dictators. Now came my first clash with one, fortunately only a little one. No sooner had I stepped across the threshold of the door than a newly-uniformed air raid warden came up the avenue at the double, blowing his little whistle and obviously anxious to show off not only his blue battledress and hard hat in action for the first time, but also his undoubted authority. ‘Get inside there! Take cover!’ he bellowed, and I obediently retired behind what was supposed to be the safety of our wooden doors and brick walls. I shepherded Minnie indoors to the sitting room. She immediately obliged, and squatted down in the middle of Margaret’s proud handiwork to do the wee she had been taught to produce at this hour… We rushed around with cloths and more cloths and water both hot and cold, soapy and clear. There was no way in which we could remove the results of Minnie’s efforts. The stain never came out. It was the first recorded casualty of World War II.


8


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