When I fell, it was gone. The fence was gone. I expected it. I expected it to be there, and it was gone. I lay on the ground, all broken and confused. Strands of grass tickled at my ear and I couldn’t move.
They gathered round, and peered down at me.
“It’s just as well,” they said. “Just as well Rita had the fence taken away.”
I blinked up at them. I wanted to tell them about the grass, that it was driving me mad, but I couldn’t speak. All that came out was a gurgle. They just nodded.
“Just as well,” they said. “Yes, just as well.”
In the hospital, I floated on a haze of drugs. I was all plastered up. Encased and drifting, content in this cushioned world. Then in she came, with her bouncing hair and half-dead flowers sprouting from her hands.
“It was just as well,” she said, “Just as well I had the fence taken away.”
I felt an itch where the grass had worried at my ear. She sat down, dropping her bag next to her, all the time scowling at me.
“Just think what could have happened,” she said.
I was here because of her. All plastered up, phantom grass teasing my skin. She’d been at me about that fence for weeks. She had marched round the neighbourhood, persuading everyone to volunteer their fences for the war effort, but I wouldn’t budge.
There’s a war on, she said. Don’t you know there’s a war on?
I’m a pacifist, I told her. My fence isn’t going to war, do you hear me?
Her face turned scarlet, and I smugly folded my arms across my chest. She harrumphed and puffed and gabbled off down the street, as I made my own plan for the fence.
You can have it next week, I called after her. On Friday, I said. It will be free on Friday.
But she didn’t hear me. She was too busy scheming, too busy with a plan that would ruin my perfect day.
“You ruined my Friday,” I said. “You ruined my perfect day.”
She scrunched her face up.
“What?” she said. “What? I saved your sorry life.”
And I blinked at her, raising my plastered arm. It floated towards her, aiming for her face, aiming to crack her nose and her cheekbone. But she ruined that too. She leant down to scoop something from her bag. I hit the jug of water, spilling it across her head. She stood up. She didn’t make a sound, just an in-take of breath.
I laughed at her dripping hair, her precise curls limp and sodden. She held an apple in her hand. Her lip trembled. She dropped the apple in my lap and leant back down to her bag. Then she was on me, cutting at my hair, and dripping water down my face. Her blouse clung to her chest, and I laughed into her breasts. I just lay there and let her cut, all the time laughing, as she drip-drip-snipped. It took her forever, using a little pair of nail scissors. Finally, she gave up, leaving tufts and long dangling strands.
“Why are you laughing?” she said. “Why would you laugh?”
“It’s the little things,” I said, “You’ve got to take pleasure in the little things.”
‘Miscellaneous Humans and Rampageous Cats’ – Railing Removal in WWII Britain
WWII in Britain was a time of mass recycling. Various items, including railings, were given voluntarily for the war effort, or were eventually requisitioned by the government. Many welcomed the removal of railings as a means to open up communities. However, numerous people, particularly the more privileged, were less enthusiastic:
“Some believe that the removal of railings would mean an instant rush of undesirables – miscellaneous humans, rampageous cats, furtive dogs and the like…”
– letter to ‘The Times’, April 1940
Removal of railings became compulsory in September 1941, leaving many parks and gardens fenceless for years. The removal was merciless:
“The descent of a Ministry of Works gang, armed with crowbars and oxy-acetylene torches, on some peaceful suburban street or village lane was in fact not unlike a military attack, and the raiding parties were often led by ruthless, masculine, women, impervious to all entreaties.”
– ‘How We Lived Then,’ Norman Longmate
By September 1944 the weight of railings that had been collected equalled a million tons, but many of these lay unused in scrap piles by the end of the war.
(sources: ‘How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life during the Second World War’ by Norman Longmate and ‘The People’s War: Britain1939-1945’ by Angus Calder)