Short Stories by Kitty Wintrob: Plain or Cork Tipped

“Plain or Cork Tipped”

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By Kitty Wintrob

TORONTO. June 29/22 – Kitty Wintrob, author and storyteller, lives in Toronto, Canada. She was born and raised in Britain’s east end of London. She was one of 1.5 million children evacuated to the British countryside at the start of the Second World War in 1939.

Today, we are delighted to publish “Plain or Cork Tip,” the second of a collection of her short stories.

We had just graduated from Girl Guides to Rangers.

In the early days of WWII in London, schools were closed, so Guides were where we got our education.

The Scouts, who had graduated to Rovers were not yet seventeen and so they weren’t eligible for the Armed Forces.

We were a companionable bunch, arranging parties and dances for ourselves in the Canteen of Toynbee Hall, our Headquarters, after selling tea and cakes in the air raid shelters in the area when there was a raid. Sometimes we would help in the rest centres, looking after crying babies while their mums had a little rest. And then we’d return to Toynbee and learn First Aid or Fire Drill.

On this particular day, we were learning how to extinguish incendiary bombs, and how to deal with mustard or lewisite gas, in case the Germans decided to use it in this war as they did in the last.

After a tiring day of lessons and drills, two of the boys working with us asked if we would like to go to the Pictures with them. We were thrilled, Esther and I. The boys looked wonderful in their Rover uniforms, even with their knobbly knees showing under their Rover shorts, but how much more wonderful they would look in proper clothes.

Peter was handsome, very tall, blonde, and Charles, well, just ordinary, short, and a bit fat. Esther said they looked like Mutt and Jeff. Peter had been showing off a bit during the day, making everything look terribly easy. But boy, was he gorgeous! How I hoped I would be his date.

We went home to change. I wanted to look really nice, though I didn’t have much to choose from. But, the bigger question for me was should I wear my glasses. If I did wear them, I knew I would feel like a freak as I always felt when boys were around. But, if I didn’t, I might look great, but I wouldn’t be able to see the film at all!

What should I do? I knew what my mum’s answer would be: “Don’t go out at all! It’s dangerous if there’s an air raid.” So, of course, I wouldn’t ask her. It had to be my decision. I chose not to wear them and went off bravely with Esther to meet the boys.

Peter did look gorgeous out of uniform, and Charlie, well, he still looked quite ordinary. The boys decided to take us up to the West End and we’d sit in the last row of the balcony.

Would I sit next to Peter? My heart was racing.

The bus was crowded and we had to hang on to the straps overhead as the bus winded its way stopping and starting. I kept on being lurched over towards Peter and Esther kept on glaring at me.

The cinema was crowded. We climbed the stairs to the balcony and found a few empty seats in the back row. Peter got in first, and then to my utter surprise Esther pushed by me and slid in after him. I could have killed her. I followed right after and tried to push by, but her big bum was in the way and I had to sit down. I gave her a dirty look but it was too dark for her to see me.  I thought I may have heard her purring like a satisfied kitten.

The film began, and of course, I couldn’t see a thing. But I knew just what to do. When everyone laughed, I laughed. And when everyone sniggered, I sniggered.

I heard Esther mumbling to Peter, “No, no stop it!” Then she touched my hand. I ignored it. She began to stand up. Peter pulled her down.

“What’s the matter?” I whispered to her.

“He’s getting fresh,” she whispered back.

Serves her right, I thought. Still, he was good-looking.

Charlie offered me a cigarette. “Sure, why not,” I said.

“Plain or cork tipped?”

“Cork tipped please.” It sounded so sophisticated. I put the cigarette in my mouth and offered it to Charlie to light. It felt as if I was sucking through a blocked straw! I tried and tried but wasn’t getting anywhere.

I was making strange noises now with the sucking and the coughing and people were turning round in the seats telling me to keep quiet.

Charlie was amusingly looking at me, but people were laughing at the film and I laughed and snickered and pulled on the cigarette at the same time.

Finally, I realised what had happened. I had put the cigarette in my mouth backwards and Charlie had lit the cork tip which had the strangest smell!

Charlie looked at me closely. “Haven’t you ever smoked before?” he asked softly.

“No never,” I replied.

“Well, don’t worry, you don’t have to,” he said.

I liked him for that. Let Esther have the handsome one. Maybe my older and wiser cousin Theresa was right: looks aren’t everything, she was always telling me.

I had a lovely evening even though I didn’t see anything but a blur on the screen. I had laughed at the right places and the others thought I had really enjoyed the film. But tomorrow, I’ll wear my glasses and see the world as it is. CJNonline Subscriber June 9 2022 001

Kitty Wintrob is the author of “I’m Not Going Back: Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee.”

The above article can also be heard on our Community Jewish News Podcast Service. Click HERE to listen to it.


Toynbee Hall was created in 1884 by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett. Samuel was a Church of England vicar, and Henrietta was a teacher, philanthropist and social activist. Toynbee Hall is a charitable institution that works to address the causes and impacts of poverty in the East End of London and elsewhere.

Mutt and Jeff is a long-running and widely popular American newspaper comic strip created by cartoonist Bud Fisher in 1907 about “two mismatched tinhorns”. It is commonly regarded as the first daily comic strip.

The West End of London is a district of Central London, in which many of the city’s major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings and entertainment venues, including West End theatres, are concentrated.

Credits: Kitty Wintrob photo Omar Mosleh/Town Crier; Wikipedia

Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact Kitty Wintrob at 

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