London Transports Characters

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London Transports Summary & Study Guide Description

London Transports Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on London Transports by Maeve Binchy.

Mayappears in Shepherd's Bush

The protagonist and narrator of the first story, May is an underpaid hotel manager in Dublin, Ireland, who finds herself pregnant by her boss, Andy. Their affair is three years old but has no future, as he has a wife and four children to whom he is devoted. May flies from Dublin, where abortions are illegal, to London, without telling Andy. For lack of any other reliable friend or confident in London, May stays with Celia, a judgmental but reliable acquaintance, who puts her in touch with Dr. Harris. May will pay for the procedure on her own without assistance from the National Health or Andy, who can afford it better than she. May has a habit of daydreaming about the happy lives of strangers that she meets.

After obtaining from Dr. Harris an appointment with a surgeon, Mr. White, May window shops along Oxford Street to invent an excuse for coming home £200 poorer than she had left. She will tell Andy that purchases are lost or stolen, but make sure that he will not open an investigation. She laments having to spend her savings, £30 a month, on the abortion, but figures that Andy never notices her appearance anyway.

The elegant yet disdainful receptionist at White's office, May, is put off by Vanessa. White looks like a diplomat and speaks in clichés. Determining that May has thought her decision through, White sets the procedure for the next morning, and Vanessa collects £194 in advance. May has her hair done and takes in a movie before returning to Celia's and is relieved when Celia seems reluctant to visit her after the procedure.

On Wednesday, May takes a taxi to a big house, where she is put in a bright room with Helen (Hell) Adams, a return customer who tries to calm her nerves. Hell insists that May tell Andy about the abortion when she gets home in order to get credit for her great sacrifice. When May gets home from the nursing home, she finds a note from Celia that states that dinner will be at eight o'clock. May returns to Dublin, thanking her in a note for her hospitality. Waiting for the plane, May works on the story that she will tell Andy. She knows that she will not tell him about the abortion, since he is very moral in his own way.

Ritaappears in Notting Hill Gate

The first competent temporary worker hired by the newspaper in months, Rita is a big, tough, black woman from the West Indies. She rolls as she walks and dresses garishly. She looks slow, lazy, and preoccupied, but is efficient and competent when dealing with people who come with hopeless story ideas. She needs little supervision and is soon offered—and casually accepts—a permanent position. Rita says that she lives in Notting Hill but reveals none of the details of her life that other temps cannot resist sharing in lurid detail. Rita's lack of communication only increases office interest in her life. She lets slip that she has a husband.

Rita arrives in a pub just after a drunk spills a drink and then an ashtray on the unnamed narrator's skirt. Rita sends him away and offers to help her clean up and, when this fails, takes her to her upstairs flat to find a wrap-around to wear. The drunk is her handsome actor boyfriend, Andy Sparks. In the apartment are two polite, pigtailed children, Martie and Anna, preoccupied by television. The apartment is cheaply furnished but clean and bright. The narrator surveys the flat carefully in order to share details with her co-workers.

Rita returns the ruined skirt along with a gift token to replace it, courtesy of Andy. She is suspicious when the narrator breaks a lunch date to take her out to thank her and, after agreeing, remains so businesslike and uncommunicative that the narrator is relieved when a birdbrained writer from another newspaper invites herself to join them. Birdbrain tells all about her life before mentioning that she is interviewing Andy. Alone again with the narrator, Rita is skeptical about revealing anything about their relationship, knowing how journalists behave, no matter what they claim. Rita reveals that she is married to Nat, who is serving a four- to fifteen-year murder sentence. Nat is the father of Martie and Anna, whose murdered mother, Myrtle, had been Rita's best friend. Nat does not mind that Andrew and Rita need one another. Having told her story and knowing it will get around the office, Rita quits her job.

Mona Lewis appears in Stockwell

Mona vomits when she receives the diagnosis of inoperable cancer that will kill her before Christmas. Although she lives in Hampstead with her husband Jerry and twin sixteen-year-old daughters, the handsome forty-six-year-old sees Dr. Barton in Stockwell, not wanting all of her friends to know that she is having tests run. She brings him plant food and books to tend to his office plants. Mona hastens to clean up the vomit and then wants to settle up as always, in cash. She assures him that she is not suicidal and insists that she will return to trim his plants before walking away from the office.

Mona feels "dangerously calm" (p. 356) walking in the July sunshine, knowing that she will now tell Jerry that she feel poorly and let Jake run the same full battery of tests and announce the same verdict. She will allow no one to panic and will assure them that it is to her advantage to know when she will die. She will not inflict on her family the six months of bewilderment that preceded her own mother's death. She will remain frank and authoritative. She will plan ahead for her husband's social life and daughters' careers and fortunes. She wants to help the pupils in the school where she teaches to cope well with her death. She knows that telling emotional Sally, her best friend, will be the most difficult.

Vera North, Mona's late mother's friend, tells Mona that her plans to deal frankly with death match her mother's wishes thirty years earlier. Her mother, however, had abandoned the plan when everyone prefered to harbor false hopes. Vera is ready this time to support the noble plan if Mona follows through. That question is left to the reader's imagination.

Sophieappears in Marble Arch

Sophie runs a store-front selling leather goods. She rather resents being a minority speaker of English in the neighborhood but recognizes that wealthy foreigners, particularly Arabs, are her best customers. She wants not to be a racist, but to consider everyone walking on two feet human. Sophie has a good head for business, supporting herself and Eddie. Unlike her lover, Eddie, a frustrated actor who sees life as cruel, Sophie sees it as difficult and tiring but allows that one can enjoy both work and leisure.

Against her parents' wishes, she has given up the security of a life selling cosmetics for work for herself. Sophie has to deal with an old friend, Peggy, who cannot keep a job or a man, is regularly arrested for theft and prostitution and is nearly an alcoholic. Sophie angrily confronts her, saying that she has had enough and will no longer look after her. The rare display of anger reaches Peggy and she changes her ways by cleaning up her appearance and sobering up and asking for advice on selling the beautiful patchwork leather purses that she makes. Sophie is proud to market her creations to boutiques and seeing her earn a good living.

The sales also allow Sophie to relax and enjoy a social life. She has three dull suitors (George, Michael, and Fred) before Eddie meets her and moves in. People claim that Sophie becomes nicer and kinder since being with Eddie, but her parents regret that she has given up cosmetics and Peggy believes that Eddie is taking advantage of Sophie. Sophie, in turn, disapproves of Peggy's having sex with one of her leather providers, Mr. Shipton. Sophie is counting her blessings when a couple examine one of Peggy's bags and remark that they had met her earlier at the theater in the company of a good-looking actor. Sophie asks subtly if they seem involved and realizes that she is the God who makes their life carefree.

Oliveappears in Pemlico

After twenty years in the hotel business, Olive has few problems balancing her books and preparing notices of activities for the bulletin board. Finally, she takes out the looseleaf file in which she enters notes on each of her twelve tenants' histories and favorite things. She knows that being able to remember particulars about each is what makes her hotel special and sees nothing dishonest about having this memory aid. No one knows about Olive's filing system, but each considers him/herself lucky to live somewhere where they are so well understood. Olive has given orders to executor to destroy the private records, unread, when she dies.

People had thought her crazy when, at age thirty, she buys the seedy hotel to fulfill her lifelong dream. She had ten years of experience working in an Irish boardinghouse to guide her. Her parents had opposed her decision, with her father claiming that life in London is lonely. She knows that people crave company. She had studied the Irish who returned from working in England, understood what they would have liked to find there and set about providing it, thanks to an uncle's legacy. She aims to earn enough only to live comfortably, free from scrimping. She works hard and loses money in the first years, attracting the wrong clientèle such as short-timers and con men before changing her approach and carefully selecting guests of good manners and high standards and creating a family atmosphere. It takes a year to create the proper mix. For the first time in her life, Olive feels needed and fulfilled.

Olive no longer thinks about marriage or children, having seen too many disasters. She had come close two years ago with a nice Scot hotelier, Alec, but the guests—her family—had opposed him and Olive sent him away. Olive plants in Judy O'Connor's mind that her brother, a missionary visiting from Africa, should celebrate Christmas Mass for the guests (all Catholics) in the dining room. Olive always plants in guests' minds that she institutes their ideas: to strip their own beds, contribute to a Sunday dinner wine fund, or break off a bad engagement. Those who celebrate with relatives feel jealous of the celebration that they miss. Olive sends cards and money to her declining parents but has no intention of leaving her true family to be with them as they are nothing to her now.

Celiaappears in Shepherd's Bush

A resident of Shepherd's Bush, Celia is the only person to whom the narrator can turn to put her up while undergoing an abortion. Normally brisk, moralistic, and judgmental, delivering lectures over tea, Celia surprises May by matter-of-factly arranging for her to see Dr. Harris. Celia looks thin and tired, having been on a diet, and loves dreary, boring Martin, who regularly goes home to visit his mother. She has a flat in a big Victorian house in a noisy neighborhood. The flat has no pictures, books, or souvenirs. It seems gloomy when empty. May finds Celia's life strange and empty. When May gets home from the nursing home she finds a note from Celia, which states that dinner will be at eight o'clock. May returns to Dublin thanking her in a note for her hospitality.

Dr. Harris, Mr. White, and Vanessa appears in Shepherd's Bush

The medical professionals in Shepherd's Bush who arrange for and perform May's abortion, Harris is a small, worried-looking, kindly Jew for whom abortions are no more upsetting than tonsillectomies. Celia arranges for May to see him soon after her arrival in Shepherd's Bush. His examination is painless and unembarrassing. He asks pro forma about why she is terminating the pregnancy and accepts the answer that neither she nor the married father want the baby. He refers her to Mr. White, a well-known surgeon at a posh address near Harley Street. White operates on a cash-only basis, up front, to prevent being cheated and for tax purposes.

Helen (Hell) Adams appears in Shepherd's Bush

A chubby, pretty, twenty-three-year-old Australian, Hell is May's roommate at the abortion clinic. She has been there before and has friends who have been up to five times. Hell explains what to expect. She cannot take birth control pills and finds other means of contraception too messy. Insisting that the rules are to inform the father and have him pay for the abortion, Hell calls May the noble Lady Galahad and strongly advises her to tell Andy when she gets home. Otherwise, Andy will not realize the sacrifice that she has made. Hell's lover Charlie visits, tells funny stories, arranges to see Hell next day, and goes home to a dinner party hosted by his wife.

Malcolm and Melissa appears in Holland Park

A married couple whom everyone on a cruise to Greece hates because they are too perfect—although they do nothing obnoxious—Malcolm and Melissa six months afterward the cruise invite the anonymous narrator to their big, charming home in Holland Park for a dinner party. Malcolm runs a left-wing bookshop that makes a lot of money, while Melissa raises money for good causes. They invite the unnamed narrator to an informal dinner party that she knows will be magnificent. Melissa is happy that she will bring her friend Alice along. The narrator is concerned that both sides take a liking to one another.

Malcolm welcomes them warmly to a house that looks like the set for a film about gracious living. Melissa wears a tapestry skirt like what the narrator had thought of wearing. Everything is perfect and under-stated. Malcolm and Melissa are considering a yachting holiday with Jeremy and Jacky and suggest that the narrator and Alice join them. The narrator realizes that Melissa thinks that they are lesbians.

Aliceappears in Holland Park

The anonymous narrator's best friend, Alice from nearby Fulham, shares an inside joke with her about things, sharing the annoying perfection of Malcolm and Melissa's life. At the risk of destroying the myth, the narrator asks to bring Alice to Malcolm and Melissa's dinner party and has to spend the time leading up to the affair talking Alice out of going in a wild costume. Alice is solicitor (lawyer) specializing in domestic situations and sex discrimination. She is having an unsatisfactory love affair with a partner whose wife is often in the hospital. The narrator works in theater publicity and is sort of in love with a hopeless writer who loves too many people. They refer to one another's lovers as their Things.

Alice arrives to pick up the narrator and finds her having an uncharacteristic fashion crisis. They swap stories over Scotch before setting out in Alice's 1969 VW, which is out of place among other guests' elegant cars. Alice gets on well with both Malcolm and Melissa and impresses them without trying. The narrator berates herself for being jealous and envious of Alice being accepted on her own terms rather than through her. When the narrator chokes on something during dinner, Alice advises her to force her limbs to relax and her throat stops constricting. A doctor says this is very unscientific, but it works.

Andrew (Andy) Sparks appears in Notting Hill Gate

Handsome as a Greek god, Andy is West Indian Rita's white boyfriend, first met as a clumsy drunk ruining the unnamed narrator's skirt in a pub. Andy is a well-known actor, playing Henry in some television serial. His dizzying, boyishly eager good looks make the female audience contemplate a life with him. Andy had been interviewed by the narrator's newspaper weeks earlier. A birdbrained rival from another newspaper brags over lunch that she is interviewing Andy in a small club in order to learn about his private life. She believes him not to be as dumb as rumored, able to sound intelligent only when delivering lines. Birdbrain's story is tame, missing the angle of Andy's mystery woman.

Patappears in Queensway

Innocent Pat has left her banking job and home in Leicester, England, when generous, easy-going Aunt Delia is institutionalized with dementia. After three months in a costly hotel in London and working in a bank where everyone is married or involved, Pat wants to move into a flat with roommates but is too concerned about the interview process to answer advertisements. A tough friend, Terry, advises her to ask interviewers details about money, housework, and privacy.

Pat gets a bad impression from the first call she makes but goes to see the place, primarily as practice for future interviews. Pat is overwhelmed by the magnificence of the flat and its setting overlooking the park. Joy and Marigold play down the business aspects and Pat forgets her list of questions. She finds herself comfortable at a meal for the first time since leaving Aunt Delia. She is wary to move in immediately and dazed, but agrees to the somewhat dear £20 weekly rent plus £10 for food, flowers, and wine. Two students help Pat move in her few possessions on Saturday, and she sends for select pieces of Aunt Delia's furnishings, which she is scheduled to inherit at some point. Pat finds reading, listening to music, and chatting with Joy and Marigold almost a rest cure and believes that she has found the ideal roommates.

Rather quickly, however, Pat wonders if Marigold is exempt from monetary expenses and who leans on her and Joy for performing heavier physical tasks, but does not rock the boat. It also seems odd that Joy insists on Pat always phoning her rather than Marigold. Having learned about Solomon's antique shop, which Nadia had managed, Pat pays a visit and asks the value of Aunt Dalia's inlaid cabinet, which Marigold had fancied and said is worth £50. The proprietor says at least £500. Handsome Kevin, working in the back, warns Pat against moving in her furniture. Nadia had left terrified of Marigold, who is not paralyzed and has virtually enslaved a series of roommates. Pat tries not to believe this, but recognizes details of objects that she has admired in the flat. In the end, however, the flat is so comfortable that Pat ignores Kevin and buys Marigold a nice potted plant.

Joy and Marigold appears in Queensway

Pat's roommates in a Queensway flat, Joy answers Pat's phone call of inquiry in a breathless state at work and uses words like "super" and engages in pleasantries that leave Pat wary. She mentions that a third roommate, Nadia, has suddenly left for Washington, DC, creating the vacancy. In person, Joy wears expensive perfume and is welcoming. She is a friendly, eager to please twenty-seven-year-old clerk in a solicitor's office and aspires to be a solicitor some day. Marigold is wheelchair-bound with polio. Unable to leave the flat, she does the housework and cooking. She has a most beautiful face and otherworldly blue eyes. She is serene, gentle, and calm.

Together, Joy and Marigold play down the business aspects, forget other supposed applicants, and assume that Pat will move in immediately. Marigold seems hurt when Pat wants time to think, but she recovers and is as bubbly as Joy when Pat moves in the following Saturday. Marigold defers to Joy on monetary matters. Joy shops on Fridays. Rather quickly, she wonders if Marigold is exempt from monetary expenses and why Marigold leans on her and Joy for performing heavier physical tasks, but she does not rock the boat. It also seems odd that Joy insists on Pat always phoning her rather than Marigold. When Aunt Delia's furniture arrives, Marigold is enthusiastic about its quality and insists that a curtain would be perfect for her balcony. When Pat asks about Nadia, Marigold refuses details beyond some sexual innuendo and mention of her having managed Solomon's antique shop.

Visiting the shop, Pat learns some troubling details about her roommates' treatment of Nadia and, despite Joy's protestations, that Marigold feigns polio. Kevin alleges that Marigold has prevented Joy from marrying and having children and forcing her to become a solicitor to earn her more.

Nadia and Kevin appears in Queensway

Pat's predecessor in the richly appointed flat with Joy and Marigold, Nadia is said to have become manager of Solomon's antique shop partly by talent and partly by sleeping with the boss. She is also said to have gone to manage a shop in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, after fleeing some sort of entanglement with a restoration painter. Marigold refuses further details. Pat visits Solomon's and learns from Kevin, a handsome if seedy young man, that Marigold is not, in fact, crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair and that Nadia is not in the U.S. but is instead hiding in his flat. She is terrified of Marigold, who has confiscated her lovely furniture and turned her into a prostitute to support her. Kevin claims that they are mad. Nadia longs for her idyllic home but cannot face the tyranny.

Lisa and her Married Lover appears in Lancaster Gate

The chief character in "Lancaster Gate," Lisa, a thirty-five-year-old teacher, is for seventeen months the mistress of a wealthy forty-five-year-old married man whose name is never mentioned in the story. He has no intention of leaving his family, as a third child is about to be born. Lisa regrets the huge scene that she makes when he announces a week-long business trip to London and neglects to invite her. Her hysteria shakes him and earns her the invitation. She meets him at a service station on the London Road, fearing that he will stand her up for the drive into the city.

There they stay in a posh hotel as man and wife, but Lisa realizes that he is starting to lose interest because of her anxiety—which serves only to increase the anxiety. Lisa wonders how movie characters can be so calm in crisis, but she is quite good at such pretending while her heart races. She finds it easy to fool one with whom there is a love or almost-love relationship. Lisa has twice before visited London and has been disappointed, but she finds the unnamed hotel luxurious. Her lover books them a room with a double bed rather than the usual twin beds, and complimentary fruit and flowers are sent up from the president of the company. The Mr. and Mrs. card reminds her that she is a tramp.

Lisa worries as he dismisses her ideas for spending the day and then announces that he has an appointment for an "executive health checkup" (p. 102) that will take all morning. He has arranged it while away from his gossipy office. She can stroll around until dinnertime. Lisa puts on her non-clinging act. Leaving the now ordinary-looking lobby, Lisa jaywalks to a red-haired white-faced vendor's stand. She is depressed that he takes her correctly for a provincial. She recalls her mother's old admonitions to remember that she comes from good stock and can always hold her head high. She is better than her love and certainly better than this offensive street merchant.

The boy offers Lisa a seat and coffee when she looks unwell. He tells her that her "husband's" doctor's appointment on Harley Street is likely a rendezvous with some blonde. He adds flirtatious pleasantries to cut the sting of his observation. He is relieved when she moves on. As she walks through the park, Lisa reviews the evidence and concludes that her lover had intended to meet a woman—his pregnant wife or some young fool—at the hotel this weekend. Lisa decides that it is not worth returning to the hotel to fetch her £12 suitcase before boarding a train home. It is not the spectacular break-ups one sees in films. She wishes that she had someone to tell about the break-up but realizes that she could not have mentioned an affair to her mother, her father would be pleased had it not involved his daughter, and, besides Maggie, who would take it lightly, and her brother, who would have a worried conversation with his wife, Lisa has few friends.

Eddieappears in Marble Arch

Sophie's thirty-seven-year-old live-in lover, Eddie is a handsome, moody actor past his prime, who constantly laments that producers and agents want sexual favors to advance his career. He sees life as a plot but has spent too long learning his craft to give up. Eddie first meets Sophie at a theater, where she is on a date with Fred. He asks if she is an actress. They become friends and then lovers and he moves in with her. Eddie tells Sophie that he is attending a play, The Table Lighter, with an agent, Garry, when in fact he attends with Peggy.

Peggy Anderson appears in Marble Arch

Sophie's sole success in convincing anyone that hard work can pay off, Peggy is a warm and friendly soul with red hair who, unlike Sophie, brushes off a course in Business Administration and is unable to land a job. Leaving home at odds with her parents, Peggy often turns to Sophie for money and to gripe about men. Whenever Peggy is arrested or hospitalized, she calls for Sophie. After three weeks in prison on prostitution charges, Peggy is confronted by her friend and told to straighten out or else. The rare display of anger reaches Peggy and she changes her ways.

Cleaning herself up physically, Peggy asks to accompany Sophie on her rounds soliciting customers and asks how she might set herself up in business selling the hand made leather work for which she has a rare talent. Sophie is elated to market the exquisite patchwork purses to boutiques at a high price, and soon Peggy is in business. When Sophie falls in love with unemployed actor Eddie, Peggy warns that he is taking advantage of her and will leave her. Peggy shops around for odd pieces of leather to use in her craft. She gets much of it from Mr. Shipton, for whom she does sexual favors, of which Sophie disapproves. Peggy says it is preferable to random prostitution. From potential customers, Sophie learns that Peggy and Eddie have attended a lunchtime play together and sees bitterly that she is supporting them both.

Margaretappears in Bond Street

Margaret is a shoplifter, who for nine years has been making monthly "shopping sprees" (p. 133) without being caught. She makes sure that she always carries enough cash to pay for the items on her list in case she is caught, and has a careful methodology to minimize her risk, including studying items carefully in various lights, dropping them surreptitiously without looking down, asking the "Pay Here" person where some other item is located. She supposes that she could most easily talk her way out of trouble if she were caught by stealing only one item per store, so she spends much time checking bags of stolen merchandise into the luggage lockers of each new store she visits.

Margaret is selective: red and white towels to match the new paint job in the bathroom; steak knives that she will suddenly "find" in the attic; fashionable tights as a treat for herself; remnants for dressmaking; a pendant as a birthday present for son Jerry in the North (although he complains about the price of gift items); a huge tea cup for Harry, like the one he admires on television; a table lighter for brother-in-law Martin, who has always disapproved of Margaret.

Years earlier, when Harry gets a coworker at the factory pregnant, Margaret cool-headedly sets out the options: Harry either recognizes paternity, marries the girl, and supports both families, or claims that someone else might be the father and pays the girl a small lump-sum to thank her for his pleasure. If Harry leaves he will never see Margaret or their son again but must fulfill his financial obligation; if he stays with her, everything will be as it has been and she will provide a fine home—even if she has to steal. Five minutes in the kitchen waiting for a decision seem like five hours. Harry gives her £50 and nothing more is ever said about the incident. Margaret begins bringing Harry wonderful gifts when she goes shoplifting. He is convinced that he has married Wonderwoman and regrets how close he came to losing her through stupidity. This makes her feel good.

Harryappears in Bond Street

Margaret's husband, Harry has a big, kind face. When he frowns, he looks old, so Margaret prevents his frowning. Harry is a marvelous gardener. Years earlier, Harry gets a coworker at the factory pregnant, and she and her father confront him about accepting responsibility and supporting her and the child. Harry and the father both shuffle about, yelling, until Margaret presents the options and nervously awaits his decision. Harry gives her £50 and nothing more is ever said about the incident. Margaret begins bringing Harry wonderful gifts when she goes shoplifting. He is convinced that he has married Wonderwoman and regrets how close he came to losing her through stupidity.

Martinappears in Bond Street

Margaret's brother-in-law, who has never approved of her and who is suspicious of how she and Harry can afford to decorate their home so beautifully, Martin is married to a loud, lazy, sluttish, chain-smoking (and unnamed) woman whom Margaret likes to avoid. Thankfully, they visit just twice a year. Years earlier, when Harry gets a coworker at the factory pregnant, Martin had not been helpful and still chides him about younger women.

Frankieappears in Oxford Circus

A woman rarely out of trouble, Frankie often turns to the unnamed narrator, who relishes rescuing her from wrongful arrests. When Frankie gets a job with the BBC, the narrator worries that she will broadcast her troubles to all of England. Frankie is incapable of seeing cause and effect in her behavior. She has recently gotten out of an abusive relationship. On a rare evening when the narrator and Clive are home, sorting pictures, Frankie drops in to borrow a sweater and skirt for her first day at work. While the narrator searches, Clive bristles at being left alone with Frankie, who coos over a baby picture that he has barely tolerated keeping. Frankie innocently embarrasses them both with stories from her and the narrator's romantic pasts.

The next day, Frankie phones the narrator at work to invite her to the BBC Club for drinks, shows up an hour late, and is dismayed to learn that one must be a member of the club, not merely work for the BBC. She is wearing a wonderful bright outfit not at all suitable for work and probably out of place in this club. A couple of men vouch for them. Frankie hopes to run into her boss, Martin, and get to know him. She has heard that Martin's wife, a senior producer at the BBC, is a monster who keeps close tabs on him; her plan is to befriend the wife and convince her (despite her garish clothing) that she is no threat. The wife proves to be quite friendly. She lectures the narrator about remaining in teaching if she does not feel called to that vocation, and is reluctant to leave at 7 PM. As she does, the narrator realizes that she is her principal's sister.

Clive and the Unnamed Narrator appears in Oxford Circus

The unnamed narrator's husband/lover, Clive likes everyone except Frankie, whom he finds brainless, prone to getting into trouble, and vain. Clive is silly once he "gets a bee in his bonnet" (p. 148) and foresees disaster when Frankie gets a job with the BBC. Clive teaches economics to "selfish self-advancing housewives" (p. 152) most evenings while the narrator, a teacher, takes classes, working towards a degree in Italian. When Frankie drops by to borrow a fitting wardrobe for her first day at work, she destroys a happy time of sorting through old photographs. Clive destroys a childhood picture that he detests but his wife loves and she retreats into ironing to hold in her temper.

The next day, Frankie phones the narrator at work to invite her to the BBC Club for drinks. She accepts in order to avoid sulking Clive but soon, in the noisy, crowded room, wishes she were home with everything forgiven and forgotten, or even at work teaching unruly children. Introduced to a senior producer, the narrator builds up Frankie's dedication to the job while demeaning her own work as a teacher. She is, in fact, an excellent teacher whose classes are exuberant, but paints herself as a slacker. When the producer leaves, the narrator realizes that she is her principal's sister.

Martin and His Unnamed Wife appears in Oxford Circus

Frankie's boss at the BBC, Martin encourages her to "live and breathe the programme constantly" (p. 153), thinking up new ideas to make it great. After her first day at work, Frankie invites her friend, the unnamed narrator, to the BBC Club for drinks in order herself to run into Martin and get to know him. Frankie has heard that Martin's wife, a senior producer at the BBC, is a monster who keeps close tabs on him; her plan is to befriend the wife and convince her (despite her clothing) that she is no threat. The wife proves to be quite friendly. She lectures the narrator about remaining in teaching if she does not feel called to that vocation, and is reluctant to leave at 7 PM. As she does, the narrator realizes that she is her principal's sister.

Juliaappears in Tottenham Court Road

The protagonist of a story about the search for sexual knowledge in anticipation of losing her virginity at age twenty-nine, Julia finds herself in a pornography store, unable to find anything that offers useful tips on how not to appear foolish. She first considers shopping in pricey Soho, but a knowing colleague in her travel agency suggests Tottenham Court Road. She chooses the largest pornography shop she sees, figuring that it will have the largest selection.

After conquering her fear of being raped by fellow browsers, Julia wanders lost from one specialty aisle to another. At age twenty she had refused to make love with her fiancé, Joe, believing her aunt's warning that men never trust a woman who gives in before marriage. Joe moves on to a more willing woman, and for the next few years, Julia meets only drunkards and men on the rebound. She concentrates on building her business until she meets Michael at a foreign resort, where she is gathering brochure ideas. She likes him but is mortified at the thought of him discovering that she is an aged virgin. When he visits London to see her, she finds work-related excuses. Finally he asks gently why she shuts him out, seeing that they get along well.

Julia decides to lose her virginity to someone else, but fails with three men whom she lures to her flat. One falls asleep drunk, another blathers about his lost wife and impotency, and the third brags of his exploits so that she is certain that he will give her syphilis. At that point she decides to visit a bookshop. Breaking down, she asks a clerk for a book to give to her niece, who is going to get married. The clerk suggests that she share her own experience with the girl and assures her that no man wants his wife to come to marriage too knowledgeable of techniques.

When he insists that no book will suffice, Julia claims to be a nun and thus unable to give advice. He is stunned by her worldly attire. As she builds her story for him, Julia considers that catering travel for missionaries might be profitable. He is happy when she leaves the shop, defeated. On the way home she buys wine to get Michael drunk and figures they can laugh this off. She meets an Italian tourist and considers inviting him home but decides that she has coped enough for one day.

Michaelappears in Tottenham Court Road

Julia's new boyfriend Michael works in publishing. They meet while she is touring foreign resorts, taking notes for brochure ideas. Michael steers her away from the club in which they meet. They visit several more clubs before he invites her to his room for a drink. He accepts her refusal on the grounds that she does not go in for "holiday things" (p. 169), assuming that she might enjoy a real-life thing. He begins visiting London to see her but she always has work-related excuses. He asks gently why she shuts him out, seeing that they get along well.

Milly and Paula appears in Tottenham Court Road

Julia's coworkers in a travel agency, Milly and Paula talk regularly about their sex lives. Embarrassed at being still a virgin at twenty-nine, Julia invents stories while wishing she could ask them candidly all about sex from start to finish.

Rita and Jefferyappears in Holborn

Rita, a beautician, rises at 5:30 AM and angrily makes a list of things she wants and wants not to do when newlyweds Ken and Daisy visit. Husband Jeffery is enthusiastic about showing them about, even though Rita and Ken had lived together for a year in Cardiff, Wales. Rita remembers Ken's penchant for exhausting hikes and climbs and wanting to get into bed early. Rita breaks it off and moves to London. She and utterly predictable, cliché-spouting Jeffery have been married a year. Rita sits, planning how to present herself to her ex during the dinner meeting and worrying about how Ken will mock the kinds of things in their flat that they together had always laughed over in others' homes. She wants Ken to still love her, although she does not love him.

Rita allows Jeffery his freedom. He has two sons who visit weekends. Rita has several times talked to their odd mother, Heather. Rita cannot prevent her friend Lilly from going to the station to watch the drama and is shocked to see Lilly talking happily with an elderly, bedraggled old woman holding onto a cane. It is Daisy, whom Lilly had known as Peggy. Rita thinks that she is losing her mind, imagining Ken in bed with an old cripple. Jeffery insists that Lilly join them for dinner, which Rita spends mulling over how this could have happened to carefree Ken. When Ken fails to joke about fellow diners as he always had, Rita wonders if she has gotten everything wrong.

Ken and Daisy/Peggy appears in Holborn

Newlyweds, Ken and Daisy come to London for the first time to visit Rita and Jeffery. Ken describes Daisy over the phone as "frail"; she turns out to be aged at forty, straggly-haired and walking with a cane. Rita's friends in Wales have told her only that Daisy is a nurse, very sensible and very good for Ken, whom she meets in the hospital after one of his climbing accidents. Daisy turns out to be Lilly's mother's nurse long before, when she is known as Peggy. She'd felt the name Daisy to be undignified for a professional. She reverts to Daisy when she matures and wants not to insult her parents' name choice. At the restaurant, Daisy charms everyone.

Lillyappears in Holborn

Rita's friend and co-worker, from whom Rita borrows a black wool cape to wear to her and husband Jeffery's dinner meeting with Ken and Daisy, Lilly is excited by the prospects of drama. She insists on coming along to the station to watch the meeting, promising to pretend not to know Rita. It turns out that Lilly knows Daisy, but as Peggy, an old family friend.

Jilly Twilly appears in Chancery Lane

Wanting to sue rich banker Charles Benson for breach of contract and to generate a good deal of publicity, twenty-six-year-old Jill Twilly, a fading dancer, writes a barrister, John Lewis, whom she in a drunken state has met at a party, to seek his advice. She reminds him that she had been the woman dancing in blue with a tattered boa. She does not trust the Yellow Pages and dislikes the look of barristers' offices. She recalls where Lewis works and offers to barter her tap-dancing lessons for advice.

Overlooking Lewis's objections and advice as mere "stuffy phrases" (p. 200), Jilly describes her situation, assuming lawyer/client privilege: the villain Charlie, a rich banker, has given her a ring but is pulling out of the engagement. She is getting too old for dancing engagements and cannot afford to live by giving lessons. He walks out on Rita after Tom Barry's party, leaving a note claiming that her behavior at the party had humiliated him, and reclaims his ring. Jilly continues writing Lewis, sending documentation and asking why he turns stiff, refusing to correspond further. Her career needs the boost of publicity. After a non-professional dinner together, Lewis breaks up with his girlfriend, takes Jilly to Paris, and refuses to believe that she has settled seven breach of contract suits out of court.

John Lewis appears in Chancery Lane

A barrister who meets Jilly Twilly at a party, Lewis insists repeatedly that he cannot help her sue someone for breach of contract. He advises her to approach her family solicitor, as his firm does not handle this sort of litigation. He cautions that breach of contract suits are rarely successful and cautions against seeking publicity. When Jilly disregards his objections and sends particulars of her grievances, Lewis writes to reiterate his position. When she responds by saying that she will sue him for malpractice unless he represents her, Lewis writes stiffly, refusing further correspondence.

A sorrowful letter about Jilly's fading career touches Lewis, who apologizes for his previous tone and suggests meeting for dinner as friends. John then writes Monica to break a date, claiming that he must attend to matters to advance his career. Monica understands. Jilly writes to thank Lewis for an uplifting weekend in Paris. John responds to Monica's hysterical phone calls to the office by denying they have any agreement to marry. Finally, he writes Tom Barry to ask him not to interfere in his planned marriage to Jilly.

Tom Barry appears in Chancery Lane

A mutual friend of Jilly Twilly and John Lewis, Tom throws a party at which they meet. Lewis writes him to thank him for the enjoyable time and asks how to contact Jilly to return her cigarette lighter. Tom agrees that Jilly is a lively character and refers Lewis to the banker with whom she had come to the party. When Lewis becomes engaged to Jilly, Tom writes to warn him that she has had seven breach of contract suits settled out of court, Lewis rejects the idea and uninvites Tom from the wedding.

Stuart and Pat appears in Seven Sisters

A married couple who respond to an advertisement for a wife-swapping party, Stuart and Pat live an average life with their young children, Debbie and Danny, a life largely centered on gardening. Their sex life is ordinary. Stuart is blasé about the evening as it nears, but Pat panics. It is the "Terrible Day" for which she has her hair styled and worries in the mirror about how deadly white her skin is. She sees herself being rejected by all of the swingers—equally worrying about being ravished. Stuart assures her that because they are doing it together it is not infidelity but rather a generous sharing and exploration of new pleasures. Pat worries that their escapade will become known and ruin Stuart's career at the bank and their children's reputations. She worries about Stuart's intentions when he wants to take the train rather than having to worry about being in condition to drive home.

Pat frets and finally breaks into tears as they near their destination. She is careful about how she phrases her refusal to go on: she is jealous of anyone seeing or touching her husband. She had earlier worried only about her part in it, not his. Stuart is amazed that Pat feels so strongly about their sex life but agrees to go home to a dinner of kebabs and wine with anticipation of great pleasure together. They joke about an older couple that asks directions to No. 17. Stuart and Pat's horizons have been broadened without going to the party.

Veraappears in Finsbury Park

Having grown up in poverty with a loud, cackling, and drinking mother and older sister, Vera dislikes programs on television that remind her of her first fifteen years of life. At fifteen, she suffers an attack of rheumatic fever and recuperates for long weeks in a hospital beside a gentle schoolteacher, Miss Andrews, who encourages her to make changes to improve her appearance and outlook on life and to stay in school even if it and her home life are pure hell. Vera puts up with the filth and noise for two years, frequently visiting Andrew's lovely flat and telephoning. From Andrew's example, Vera learns how to smile and modulate her voice. In school she learns typing, shorthand, and spelling, skills that will allow her to leave her mother's horrible flat and support herself without her having fear of returning to depression. Vera promises to visit her mother often when she moves out but never does. She sends her cards at Christmas, Mother's Day, and her birthday, with £1 enclosed, but no details about her own life or inquiries about the family. Vera stops visiting Andrews, sends occasional notes and small gifts, but then abruptly says goodbye.

In the next five years she has five jobs and lives in five homes, frugally, allowing herself the luxury only of seeing stylish films, window shopping, and attending diverse evening courses. At age twenty-three, she is well-spoken and informed and has, within her means, collected ornaments, which she displays as Andrews has. At work she refuses to join fellow workers in joking about her lowly background. She works in a hotel gift shop where she meets Joseph, a lonely, forty-five-year-old widower, who is attracted to her and asks her out. Vera knows little about men and is shy. Vera accepts Joseph's bumbling, apologetic proposal of marriage, and after a small wedding to which she does not invite her family, she moves to his dream house in Finsbury Park. Her apprenticeship ends and life begins.

Vera makes the small scullery her headquarters for the excruciatingly slow process of furnishing the barren fourteen-room house. She refuses designers and consultants, wanting to make it perfect entirely on her own. Two years later the house still looks like they have just moved in. Joseph grows frustrated at living out of a box, enjoys no home-cooked meals, and realizes that because Vera is taking the pill, he will never become a father. When the house is finished to perfection, Joseph is frustrated that Vera will allow nothing to be disturbed, for instance, cooking in the well-appointed kitchen. Life does not improve. Joseph hires a Filipino housekeeper, Anna, but Vera works alongside of her, keeping the house shining. She refuses a cook. When Joseph hires Mrs. Murray to do the heavy housecleaning, her stories of life in a housing project like the one in which Vera grows up drives Vera crazy. Anna and Murray feel sorry for Joseph and pity obsessive Vera.

Miss Andrews appears in Finsbury Park

A gentle, genteel, and lonely school teacher hospitalized in the bed next to Vera while Vera is recovering from rheumatic fever, Andrews becomes her mentor, emphasizing that even bad things can bring about good. For two years after leaving the hospital, Vera frequently visits Andrew's quiet, nicely-appointed flat as a refuge and learns from Andrew's example how to smile and modulate her voice. Andrews emphasizes that Vera must not leave her mother's flat until she is able to support herself, because having to return would be devastatingly depressing. When Vera leaves home, cutting herself off completely from her mother, she stops visiting Andrews and eventually cuts her off as well.

Josephappears in Finsbury Park

A sad-faced lonely, wealthy widower, a childless corporate lawyer, and, at age forty-five, twenty years Vera's senior, Joseph is deemed by giggling workers in the hotel gift shop to be an ideal catch. He has lived in the hotel for three years, wants to remarry, and is attracted to shy, innocent Vera. He finds this attractive and begins painting word pictures of life together, fixing up a dream house. They are married in a smaller service to which she does not invite her family. Joseph is frustrated by the slow progress in furnishing the fourteen-room house, but Vera refuses consultants and designers. Two years later it still looks like they have just moved in. Joseph is frustrated. He recalls wistfully the comfort and fine food in the hotel. He wonders if Vera has some nervous trouble but then admonishes himself for being selfish and makes do.

Because Vera is taking the pill, Joseph realizes that he will never become a father. When the house is finished to perfection, Joseph is frustrated that Vera will allow nothing to be disturbed. Life does not improve. Joseph hires a Filipino housekeeper, Anna, but Vera works alongside of her, keeping the house shining. She refuses a cook. When Joseph hires Mrs. Murray to do the heavy housecleaning, her stories of life in a housing project like the one in which Vera grows up drives Vera crazy. Anna and Murray feel sorry for Joseph and pity obsessive Vera.

Heather and Adam appears in Highbury & Islington

Adam is a young banker living in Islington, preparing himself for big opportunities in the EEC (European Economic Community). He plays squash and walks for exercise, goes to dinner theaters and discos with Heather, whom he has known for a year and loved for eight months. Heather works in a department store. Every other weekend he visits his wealthy, proper family in Sussex and says little about his life—and nothing about Heather, until he asks to bring her for a visit. On the train, Adam worries about the impression that liberated Heather will make, reading sexy magazines and lounging with her feet in his lap. He warns her that they must have separate bedrooms. She responds that they will find ways to get together.

Adam has read a lot about love and understands unrequited love from having fallen for Jane Fonda and from having been chased by some stuck-up girl in school in whom he was uninterested. Heather is Adam's first true love, but he realizes from Romeo and Juliet that families do not always go along willingly. He knows that the ridicule will be subtle and after-the-fact. In asking to bring Heather for a visit, Adam had begged his mother to allow it to be a quiet, normal weekend, knowing that it would turn extravagant. He contemplates how different his two lives are. Adam has visited Heather's home several times. Her mother, an embittered, hard-working Scot, hopes that Adam can hold down a job; her stepfather tries to borrow money.

Changing trains, Adam wishes that they had stayed in London. He phones home to say that Heather has caught the flu and then tells Heather about a fire in her room. Relieved not to have to go through with the visit, Adam realizes from his mother and Heather's tones that he is losing more than the cost of a ticket. He wonders if he will ever grow up.

Mother, Louise, and Old Elsie appears in Highbury & Islington

Adam's widowed mother assumes that she knows everyone of substance among London's twelve million inhabitants, including any friends that Adam might invite for a weekend visit. She and her sarcastic, sardonic, bookish, nineteen-year-old daughter Louise, Adam's younger sister, are surprised when Adam asks to bring a female. Louise works in a library and shows no interest in men. Adam knows that Louise will find plenty of ammunition in Adam's lover, Heather, the first person ever to be invited to spend the night at the ancestral home in Sussex, which he visits every other weekend. When Adam backs out of the visit, talking first to Elsie, the retainer who has been laboring hard to put the guest room in shape, and then to his mother, he believes his mother may suspect that he is doing something he would prefer, but says nothing.

Eveappears in King's Cross

An extraordinary personal manager dedicated to gaining proper places and honor for the women she chooses to work for, Eve accepts the offer of a secretary's job from Sara Gray, knowing that Gray needs a personal manager. Eve refuses to use Gray's first name because she is an executive and male executives are never addressed by first name. She announces that Gray should be promotion manager rather than an assistant and sets out to effect the change within the year. She discovers unused budgeted funds to remodel the dingy office into an attractive executive meeting room, to provide Gray a suitable executive wardrobe, and to arrange a make-over. From her own cubicle at the door Eve enforces a policy of meetings by appointment only and screens phone calls. Her filing system allows Gray instantly to access data.

From the beginning, Eve makes clear that she stays in a given job only long enough to gain her female employer the status she deserves, and then she moves on. Gray is saddened when this time comes too quickly and wishes that Eve would broaden her base of operations to teach more women to assert themselves properly. Eve insists that one-on-one alone is workable. As a feminist, it goes against Eve's grain to suggest superficial changes in wardrobe and appearance to get ahead, but these work, and that is all that matters in an unjust business world. The fight must take place from within the system. She is bitter than men have all the natural advantages, including supportive wives and lovers to help them with trivialities and secretaries to keep them organized. Eve claims not to be bitter but constructive. It is slow but satisfying to help a handful of women advance. She moves on because there is much to be done.

Sara Gray appears in King's Cross

An assistant promotions manager for a huge travel agency, Gray has all of her ideas stolen by her boss, Mr. Garry Edwards. She hires Eve, worrying that she is a bit women's lib, as her secretary, insisting that she is not downtrodden, but has achieved quite a bit as a woman. Eve, a personal manager, accepts Gray as her greatest challenge yet. Gray has big, trusting brown eyes and insists on being called Sara; Eve convinces her that this is improper, since none of the males at her level are called by their first name. She goes on to promise Gray Edward's position within the year. This is both possible and fair. Gray objects that she wants no Mafia-style back-stabbings, power struggles, or office war.

Acting on Eve's suggestion, Gray phones a few of her references and learns how Eve has transformed careers. They convince Gray that Eve has an uncanny knack for recognizing how women hold themselves back and how to use the system to get them where they deserve to be. Her eyes opened to how she has been held back, Gray agrees to follow Eve's directions. Many of the steps are uncomfortable for Gray, but they all bear fruit. Eve continually reinforces Gray's confidence by pointing to her brilliant idea for which she has gotten no credit. Work is restructured so this never happens again. Within two weeks, Gray's office is stylish, an extension of her corporate personality. Gray learns to relax to the point that she does not even worry about when her errant boyfriend Geoff might return. When he does, she is no push-over.

Gray is dismayed when Eve suggests that she hire a harmless, efficient, young male assistant to handle operations when Gray begins traveling on business. Eve rejects the idea of remaining and helping Gray to the top of the business. That is unnecessary and probably impossible. Eve arranges for Gray to attend an executive supper party, where she charms the chairman and a cantankerous board member's lonely wife. Gray arranges to interview their son Simon, just graduated from Cambridge but drifting and without plans. She dodges Edward's newly-aroused romantic interest. Higher-ups begin attending her supposedly impromptu conferences and all approve of hiring Simon, who quickly becomes devoted to Eve, his trainer.

When Gray goes to Paris to handle a presentation, Edwards is green with envy and hurt when she continues avoiding his passes. Rumors circulate that Gray will soon take over Edward's job, and he makes a strategic mistake than ensures this. Gray asks Eve to accompany her upstairs to the executive suite, but Eve assures her that she is ready to excel there on her own.

Mary Brennan appears in Euston

An Irish woman living in London, Mary sees a television program about not holding grudges and decides to go forgive her family and fly home for Christmas. The decision makes her feel lighthearted for the first time in years. Rather than surprise them by showing up as the Prodigal, she writes first, picturing her seventy-five-year-old mother's joy at the good news. Her mother's last letter, begging her to return, had lacked the old sureness about everything. Mary has filed all of her mother's letters but answered none of them, having nothing to say.

The falling out had occurred when her parents rejected a suitor, Louis, who they believe is only after her £1,200 fortune. Mary had been twenty-nine and a plain-faced spinster, working in the post office, when she meets Louis. People in town, including her father, tell her that she is making a fool of herself. Three days before Christmas of 1963, Mary calmly withdraws her £1,200 fortune, quits her job, and moves with Louis to England, where they marry in an Italian Catholic Church. They invest her money in a corner shop and work long hours to build up a good business. At Louis' insistence, Mary writes home just once, to describe how all is well. She ignores her mother and brothers' letters.

When Louis dies, Mary sends a condolence card but ignores her parents for another ten years. Selling the shop to a Pakistani with three nephews, Mary remembers that she has three nephews whom she has never seen. She is fifty when she resolves to go home. As she makes arrangements, however, Mary worries about her reception as a stranger at Christmastime. They know nothing about her successful life. She decides to send only seasonal greeting to pave the way for next year. At least they will know that she has forgiven them.

Louisappears in Euston

A stranger who comes to Mary Brennan's unnamed Irish village one summer and works cutting ice creams in Lynch's grocery store. He is happy to accommodate the Lynches in any way and profits are greater than ever. They keep him on after the tourists leave and he begins spending time with Mary, a twenty-nine-year-old spinster. Louis is six years younger. Faced with her parents' opposition, Louis laments causing her more grief than happiness and wants to go away, but Mary withdraws her £1,200 fortune, quits her job, and moves with him to England, where they marry in an Italian Catholic Church. Louis convinces Mary to write only one letter home. He writes the Brennans after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, explaining that Mary is very stubborn but will need their support. He dies before an answer comes.

The Brennansappears in Euston

Mary Brennan's unnamed parents and siblings Nessa and Seamus, the Brennans are divided over Mary's romance with newcomer Louis. The siblings try to stop their father from telling her to look in a mirror and quit making a fool of herself. They fight every night and will not allow Louis in the house, even in the dead of winter. When they meet in the church, Fr. O'Connor throws them out. The parents are irate when three days before Christmas Mary withdraws her money, quits her job, and moves with Louis to London. Mary writes home just once to explain how all is well and then ignores all letters from home. Nessa writes about Pres. John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland and Seamus writes that things are dead at home. He is sorry for their old father. When Louis dies, Mary sends a condolence card but ignores her parents for another ten years. Letters from home say that her father is now nearly blind and her mother is attending church more than ever. Nessa has married the pub owner's son and has six children. Seamus appears to have become a money-hungry black sheep.

Nanappears in Warren Street

After having a fight with cheerful Shirley, a steady customer for two years, Nan, a seamstress with the talent to be a designer, is fed up with people not wearing deodorant and nitpicking her work. Nan is busy when the obese woman first visits her shop but feels sorry for her having to wear the things that she does and makes her a beautiful, bright wardrobe. Nan appreciates that, unlike most of her customers, Shirley does not complain about her life. Nan allocates eight customers a day for one hour each and spends most of the time sewing. This keeps her work manageable and gives her time for her long-time lover, Colin.

When Colin jokes cruelly about Shirley's size, Nan reprimands him, saying that she feels protective of the sweet woman. Months later, as Nan is working on a wedding outfit for Shirley, she suggests green eye shadow to match and cannot adequately explain why Colin has labeled the bag "Green eye shadow for burly Shirley" (p. 303). Shirley nearly accepts that Colin is simply given to insensitive rhymes based on names when Nan slips up and inadvertently equates fatness with ugliness. Shirley is offended and stomps out of the shop, never to return. Nan knows that she will miss Shirley badly. A year later, Nan learns that Shirley has married her boss and had not invited her to the wedding so as not to make her think she pities her for not getting to marry Colin.

Shirley Green Kent appears in Warren Street

Shirley has a face like the rising sun in a child's drawing and a personality to match. She also has a great, bulging body that is at odds with her fashion sense. A friend, Nola, who is eight months pregnant, suggests that Shirley visit Nan's shop. Shirley begs Nan to custom sew her a frock and becomes a steady customer, buying five frocks a year for two years. She is always delighted and grateful when a new one is finished. Shirley is the rare customer who does not complain about her life and, in fact, reveals little. She works for an advertising agency and jokes about fancying her boss. Nan gives Shirley the confidence to wear bold, bright colors.

During a final fitting for an outfit to wear to a friend's wedding, Shirley discovers that Nan's lover Colin has been joking about her size. Nan scrambles to explain it away but inadvertently equates fatness with ugliness and appears to pity Shirley. Shirley had always thought herself to have a pretty face and had never thought being heavy is ugly. She leaves Nan's, never to return. Nan learns a year later from Nola that that had been Shirley's own wedding dress, when she married her boss, Alan Green. Nola supposes that Shirley had not invited Nan because she did not want to upset her, since Colin and she were not going to wed.

Collinappears in Warren Street

Nan's long-time lover who shares her flat and its expenses but has no intention of marrying, despite what Nan hopes and believes, Colin often makes cruel remarks about Nan's clients. Particularly hurtful is his calling Shirley a beach ball and a "technicoloured Moby Dick" (p. 301). Nan reprimands him, explaining that she feels protective about Shirley. Nan asks Colin to pick up some green eye shadow for Nan, since he is in the trade, and he labels the bag "Green eye shadow for burly Shirley" (p. 303).

Helen and Margaret appears in Green Park

Friends since nanny training school with rich Jane, Helen and Margaret agree not to dress fancily when going together to see her for the first time in years. Still, each does. They are giggle nervously about seeing the Ritz Hotel. Helen and Margaret have both married and applied their training to raising their own children, but Jane has become rich and famous. Still, they are sure the old bonding survives. Margaret marries a vicar and lives a dull life. Helen marries Jeff, a man with a knack for losing money betting on the horses. Both are in their forties and envy Jane, who in photographs looks younger than she had as a student. They commiserate in lacking the time to pamper themselves.

Jane takes them quickly upstairs to present to her aged and dying husband, Charles, to prove to him that she is spending time with authentic, normal friends. Helen's naïveté wins Charles over and she is truly shocked by Jane's matter-of-fact attitude towards Charles' impending death. She admits to having lived a sheltered life. They are shocked to learn that they are to help her preserve her fortune, against Charles's invalid wife in Georgia and her lawyers, who want to dispossess her. On the train home, they are less giggly than on the ride in. They talk about the truism that money cannot buy happiness. Both thinks silently of how Jane's money could help them in their situations. They do not share the common thought that men are notoriously difficult.

Jane and Charles appears in Green Park

Friends in nanny training school with Helen and Margaret, Jane has for ten years been the mistress of a fabulously wealthy and generous American industrialist, Charles, with whom she lives in the Ritz Hotel, surrounded by bodyguards. Greeting her friends in the foyer, Jane laughs at their exclamations of how young and beautiful she is; it is all purchased, she says. Jane takes them upstairs to meet Charles in order to convince him that they are truly old chums. Charles is a worried-looking, little old man, but his smile puts them at ease. In a Southern drawl, he talks of being "nervous" about Jane's acquaintances, since they are not tied together by marriage. Pleased by Helen's naïve Christian answer, Charles leaves with his retinue for a meeting. Jane explains that Charles is neither jealous nor paranoid, but rather terminally ill with cancer. He is brave but frightened and has two months to live. Jane confesses that he is hardly the love of her life and believes that he will be better off out of pain, dead. Jane wants to convince Charles that she has good, solid friends. She supposes that he will buy them new houses and set Jeff up in business. She has worked too hard to be dispossessed of ninety percent of her worth as Charles' invalid wife and her lawyers want. Jane reminds Helen and Margaret that they have done many dishonest things together in their younger days, simply on a smaller scale. With that, Jane ushers them downstairs for tea and chat about their lives.

Rose and Her Father appears in Victoria

Watching a kind-looking woman dote over her father in a coffee bar at Victoria Station, Rose cannot help thinking about her own father. Rose fantasizes about the obviously well-organized daughter's life and is sorry when they head to their train. Rose wishes that she could take her father, widowed seven years, on vacation to thank him for all he has done for her. Although he is only sixty, he insists that he is a dog too old to learn new tricks. She counters his arguments and knows that he would love to see Paris again, because he still pulls out prewar scrapbooks. He had enthusiastically given her advice before her first trip to Paris at twenty, but she had been too young and proud to take his advice. By age thirty she has been back thirty times, visited his old haunts, and taken pictures to talk about. She wishes that her father were pushier; it might have spared her a brief, bad marriage to Gus.

Rose is en route to Paris for a week's work and this morning had tried to talk him into accompanying her. He shows interest for half an hour before timidly refusing. Rose thinks of that other daughter/father pair having fun in Amsterdam and blames herself for selfishly never before inviting her father. She catches a taxi ride home. Her father is alarmed to see her, wondering why she is changing her plans. He assumes that she is sick. She explains how she wants them both to go the next day, but he feels frightened and trapped. She pleads loneliness. Father claims that he would love to go together another time, after proper planning. She pleads that now is the perfect time, but he insists that he cannot drop everything. Rose knows there is nothing to drop but will not suggest that after all he has done for her his life is meaningless. She gives in, accepting to put off trips until he retires. He feels reprieved. She wonders why love requires lying.

Dr. Barton appears in Stockwell

Mona Lewis's physician, who gives her the fatal diagnosis of cancer, Barton apologizes for his lack of tact, after mentioning that she will not live to Christmas. Barton deals mostly with immigrants. He enjoys Mona's matter-of-factness. He goes along with her plan to be diagnosed away from her own neighborhood. He is uncomfortable letting her pay in cash rather than through insurance, especially for a hopeless diagnosis. He is sad, realizing that this is her last visit, as any follow-up will be done by her normal doctor in Hampstead. He snaps at the next patient.

Vera North appears in Stockwell

Mona Lewis's late mother's friend, Vera is wheelchair-bound. Because of her own medical tests, Mona has failed to see Vera in months. After getting her terminal diagnosis, Mona goes for a visit. Guessing that something has been wrong with Mona, Vera challenges her assumption that dealing frankly with cancer will make it easier on those around her. They would rather that Mona pretend that there is hope. Vera assures Mona that her mother Clare had known that she was dying and had wanted to face it squarely but had stopped when others preferred to pretend. Attitudes have not changed in thirty years. Vera promises to support Mona. Vera says that Clare had wanted her to marry her husband when she is gone; Vera laughs that she may now marry Mona's.

Sandy Ring appears in Brixton

A newly-graduated nurse, Sandy seeks living quarters that she can share for economy. She agrees to move in with Wilma Ring, a Jamaica native, having fled a boyfriend in Wales. Sandy works day shift in neurosurgical, which is depressing, and wishes that Wilma's schedule overlapped so that they could chat. She gets used to her surroundings and vendors joke with her about food. Sandy deduces from the number of Jamaicans who live in near-poverty in London that the homeland must be far worse.

Sandy asks Wilma about rumors that she is a communist and admits that she is no longer ambitious enough to work long hours like Wilma. She insists that Wilma should send her mother a little money to make her life easier, rather than seeking to impress her with degrees. Sandy wonders why fellow Jamaicans lack Wilma's dedication. Sandy thinks that Wilma's stories about self-sacrificing fore-bearers sounds preachy.

Wilma Ring appears in Brixton

A native of the British West Indies, Wilma laughingly calls her white roommate Sandy Ring a cousin. Wilma is studying for a university degree while working odd hours in admissions. Good-looking Nelson says that Wilma is a communist; Wilma claims that she would scarcely be earning a degree if she wished to overthrow the system and says that Nelson should attend to Margaret, the hard-working mother of his three children, rather than flirting and gossiping.

Wilma wants both to teach and nurse, to repay all her mother and aunts have done to get her where she is. Wilma insists that each generation of daughters must exceed the previous to show that that generation's labor has meant something. Her mother has worked five to six jobs at a time to get to Britain and bring her children over to live in comparative luxury. The women of the family have a sense of solidarity and are happy that no men migrate with them. Wilma believes that Sandy cannot understand her efforts because the good life has always been available to her. Wilma knows that the nicest roommate she has had will leave soon because life is short and she wants some fun.

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