Unbelievably, my shop girl Irene is 93 years-old and amazes me with her energy and youthful vigour. She called me a couple of days ago to say she had been to Newmarket Races at the weekend – and had backed the first three winners!
I imagine it was that kind of exuberance that attracted her to her boss, Herbert Heyworth, a complex man who the shop girls either loved or loathed, preferring to keep out of his way.
Born in Dorset, Irene moved to Cambridge after the briefest wartime romance, meeting the man of her dreams while they both recuperated from measles at an isolation hospital. They only spent one week together, but when Peter wrote from Burma asking Irene to marry him, she had no hesitation in immediately accepting his proposal, moving to Cambridge after they married and living with his mother and sister.
Irene is no stay-at-home mum, and after confiding to her hairdresser that she was bored, having previously been a buyer for a leading department store in Poole, her hairdresser slipped Irene’s phone number to Herbert Heyworth later that day after meeting him at a Rotary Club lunch.
For Irene, working in Heyworth’s elegant ladies department store in Cambridge is a dream come true. Irene and Herbert Heyworth had a strong mutual respect for each other, and she soon became the store’s accessories buyer. She also bought nylon stockings, their best seller and very scarce back in the 1950s, with Herbert joining her on buying trips across the country to secure the best deal.
Irene is an attractive, go-getting and confident woman. Herbert repeatedly asked her to return to work when she left to have a baby or move into a new home. He even paid her extra money each week to cover her housekeeper’s costs and petrol when she moved away.
One day Herbert saw red and, for the first time, Irene had to face her bosses fury after she attracted attention from a secret admirer.
You can find out what happened next, and read Irene’s story by downloading the Kindle edition here from tomorrow, 14 August.