When he returned later that night after Jacko's nightly visit to the pub, he was in a jollier mood than usual and agreed.  James was one of his closest friends, so for him it would be a change to talk to him about boxing and horses.  Rose was very excited about the little party as she had never been to anything so grand in her young life.
Rose was given the happy task of letting Eliza know that they would all be able to come.  Eliza smiled at how excited the young lady was and invited her inside.
Eliza and her barefoot young daughter were preparing cakes inside for the christening.
Rose was a little jealous of how kind Eliza always was, not just to her, but to everyone.
"May I lend a hand?"
"Certainly, or you can just sit down and rest your feet." Rose took off her bonnet and tied the ends to a kitchen chair. She watched the young daughter who looked up,
"'ello Rose, I'm cake makin'."
The cakes were cool enough to apply a thin piece icing. Rose watched the young girl who had started to cover the tops of the small cakes with white icing. Now and again the young girl stopped to examine her progress, making a mental note of how the individual cakes were looking. She did work on the cakes like a normal child. Eliza gave her some blue marzipan coloured icing.  Carefully the young girl used her star shape to cut little blue stars, though she was wary of not using too much in case it should run short.  Very carefully she arranged the stars all around the edge of each little cake, with but a single star in the centre.  When she finished, she wiped her hands on her pinafore and admired her near-perfect work with great pride.
After the cakes were finished Eliza did herself and Rose Jones a pot of tea.  The tea was served in very dainty cups with a flower pattern of oranges and blues and on her saucer Rose found one of the iced cakes.  Eliza's young daughter had an iced cake as a just reward for her work.
"Really delicious young Lizzy, well done." They praised her hard work.  Rose could not stay long, she felt very grown up now. 

On the day, the christening service went very well, even though baby James Frederick was sniffily.  Baby was wrapped in a special white blanket for his introduction into the Catholic faith.  The blanket went right up to his little nose, to protect him from the air, due to his small cold.  As the small baby gave tiny sneezes, he waved his arms around randomly, smiling, with big blue eyes looking around to check that Eliza was nearby. 
Father Patrick splashed the holy water onto baby's forehead and James Frederick gurgled with pleasure at the attention, as he was then passed back to Eliza and James' secure arms.  Their young daughter Lizzy, proudly watched with their friends and neighbours all around them, to share in the happy moment.  Both parents and daughter wore their best clothes, usually reserved for trips to the Sunday church service.  Even Nana Rannow had used two sticks to reach the church with help from James, "I'll not miss this fer the world ye know, though me poor legs aren't what they used ta be with a touch of arthritis."

After the service the women chatted to the priest as he and the men became mildly impatient for a drink, "To wet the baby's head." They said.  After a short while they set off for the family lodgings, with James supporting his mother.  Inside Eliza put into action the final preparations for a dinner.  Next doors girl was already seated inside, watching Eliza's pot as it simmered on the old worn-out blackened range.  Into the blazing stove the girl threw chopped up strips of tarry logs which you could see firing and often spitting through a sturdy grate.  Carefully she gave it a poke about with the poker.  Eliza put on her apron, and took her charge of her row of prepared apple crumble dishes.  Her best crockery with the orange and blue flowers was set on the little table with an enormous ladle for serving.  Lil in her best dress, offered to help, but was glad when Eliza gently turned down her kind offer.  Young Lizzy entertained the guests in place of her mother.  The girl next door lit the oil lamps to brighten things for the guests as they all squeezed through the battered front door and into the maroon wallpapered rooms.  The back door to a tiny yard was open, allowing extra space for the unusually smartly dressed guests. 
Father Patrick talked to James about the importance of schooling for the baby, who nodded in the affirmative.  Jacko and Mick joked and laughed with each other – Rose was surprised to see how different her father was, when not home.  She was wearing the frock that she wore for work in the grocer's, which was made of good quality cloth and a fashionable floral print. 
It was here that she noticed young Bill, who was almost 17, he came over and talked.  She looked at him to gauge what sort of a man he was.  He was not fat or thin, nor tall. Maybe a little shorter than average with light brown hair. They shared a bottle of stout with Bill drinking about two thirds. 
"I'll be 17 next week."  He was pleased to say.  "Think I'll join up, maybe."  She gazed into his blue eyes and imagined him in a new way, though there were many young men in London who had joined up,
"To do their bit." They said, "Before it's all over."
"Don't you have to be 18."
"Yes, officially 19 for France.  But those recruiting men, they're only to pleased to sign you up."  Rose listened to his boasts with interest.  "Did you know, my cousin's friend, George, was just 14, when he went to Wipers."  She decided that he was a good sort and that she need not fear him, in the way she did her father Jacko. 
"That is terribly young."  Despite about year and a bit difference, Rose was more-or-less the only other person who was his age.  

The Gaffer was also there with his wife and sat on a chair with his pipe. Opposite him, Nana Rannow fell asleep in her old rocking chair as the christening had tired her out so.  Neighbours and two other men from the building site Richard and Ed were trying their best to imitate one of the popular music hall songs of the day.  

"Burlington Bertie's the latest young jay
He rents a swell flat somewhere Kensington way
He spends the good oof that his pater has made
Along with the Brandy and Soda Brigade.
A girl wants a brooch or a new diamond ring
And thinks a seal jacket is just now the thing
Or sees a new bonnet she likes oh! So much
Her simple remark is, 'Now who can I touch?' "

In the tiny space available they danced or swayed to the song.  Nana Rannow awoke after a good sleep and offered to read palms. On this day she wore her husbands Crimean war campaign medal. Young Rose had hers read.  Nana Rannow examined the light lines of her palm, "Why young lady you will live to be a grand age, though not so ancient as meself. You will know tragedy, though after hardship ye'll meet a kind fellow, who'll ye marry and have one babe. She'll do ye proud she will and in a hundred years yer gran children will be here still, living in their own smart 'ouses.

The narrow rooms of the Rannow family home swelled with happy men and women. Their children played games, weaving in and out of the legs of the adults.  Jacko an Mick's young ones played soldiers who tried to avoid being hit in the game by the designated snipers. The snipers tried to touch them with twigs as the others ran around, banging the sticks of furniture and after they were all 'it' they changed sides.

One of the wives, Mrs Welch who was the unofficial midwife for all over Wandsworth Road put an apron on and helped out in the scullery. She had helped deliver more than two hundred of the babies, some who were adults themselves nearby and saw them all as her extended family. "Why in a way they be all my young 'uns."

Finally the little gathering came to an end with Father Patrick, Mick and Jacko being the last to leave. The two strong men had arm wrestled earlier with Jacko surprised at the strength the priest had shown.
"Your a good fella father." "Right you are Jacko."  "Will you be coming with us to France?" "Wild horses Jacko, wild horses." They staggered along the grey treeless streets that parallel with the Wandsworth Road.
Nearby Lil took a high regard in young Rose, who had shone at the little gathering. Behind her she could hear Mick and the Priest singing one of the old songs together,

Last week down our alley came a toff
Nice old geezer with a nasty cough
Sees my Missus, takes his topper off
In a very gentlemanly way
"Madam" says he "I have some news to tell
Your rich Uncle Tom of Camberwell
Popped off recent which it ain't a sell
Leaving you his little donkey shay.

"Wotcha!" all the neighbours cried
"Who're goin' to meet Bill?
Have yer bought the street Bill?"
Laugh I thought I should 'ave died
Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road.

Homage to London 1914 to 1918Where stories live. Discover now