Tuesday, July 28, 2020

An Imperfect Life


Chapter 42


“You’ve made your bed…”



With two small boys and a large house to look after I was kept pretty busy and the milk
dried up at six months.
Our first born was as active as ever so we decided to send him to a little nursery school for a few hours each morning to prevent him killing himself or his brother.

It was run by Cynthia – a vibrant mother of three boys who was determined her children would be privately educated.  This involved sending them to a nearby private school until they were old enough to go to prep school from whence she expected then to go to a famous public school.  This was going to cost an enormous amount of money and meant a degree of privation for the family.  She almost convinced me this was the way to go and I even bought a small red blazer as part of the prep school

“You do realise we would have to sacrifice family holidays if we go down that road?”

I stared at William and remembered our wonderful family holidays - Blackpool at Mrs Fell’s when we were tots, cycling holidays and youth hostelling during wartime and our unforgettable camping and climbing holidays in our beloved Lake District.  I couldn’t deprive my boys of experiences like that. We were both agreed on this so I started to investigate the local state schools.  I discovered a delightful primary school; it was a Church of England school next to the 10C Church, and was run by three splendid women.  As it was in the next village I had to visit the headmistress to see if she would accept my sons.  I told her I was going to learn to drive to deliver them and she was so impressed by this she accepted them.  Now all I had to do was learn to drive.  It was quite clear that William was not going to be my instructor.  He would lean out of the car apologising to all and sundry whilst I quietly fumed.

“Six professional lessons should do it if you really concentrate,” was Williams’s conclusion.  Our car was now an old Wolsley – with a running board and I was to have lessons on a Mini.

“You mustn’t attempt to drive your own car whilst you are having lessons”, the pleasant young instructor told me,” the controls are different!”  I was expected to pass with just six lessons and no practice.  In fact I found the lessons the most exciting thing that I had done in ages and would lie in bed at night going through all the motions.  By now we all had our own bedrooms: it lessened the squabbles between the boys and as William was a lark to my owl it made sense.  Once when my old nursing friend Annie was staying she was shocked when William threw my nightie down the stairs so I wouldn’t disturb him when I went to bed.  I suppose we were a bit odd.

  After my first lesson the instructor said with a hint of surprise.

“You’re not bad. When you got in the car I thought you were going to find it difficult”

That taught me such a lot about body language so I practised giving off the right vibes and by the time I took the test the examiner had to believe I was totally confident, assured and safe.  It worked and I passed first time.  That’s six lessons and no practice.  Oh had I said that already?  Sorry!

  One of the boys had a hospital appointment that afternoon so I decided to drive us in the Wolsley.  Not a brilliant idea – I still had to get used to the different controls.  On the way to the hospital, I saw my instructor and noticed his look of alarm.  Then it dawned on me I couldn’t get out of the car until I had parked it.  I should have realised that once I had passed my test was when I really had to learn to drive.

  By the time my elder son was due at the village school I was fairly proficient.  We didn’t have safety belts in those days and the boys used to fight to have the front seat, so it was done in strict rotation.  Mothers would drive with their left arm at the ready to shoot out and protect the child from falling forward.

  We had a nasty right turn out of our cul de sac into the oncoming traffic and the only way to do it safely was to inch out.  Every morning this woman with her hair scraped back in a steel grey bun, would cycle towards me and just as she passed would hiss -

“You’re well out!”

It drove me nuts because she always managed to say it when it was too late for her to hear my (I believed) valid explanation.  One day I was so cross I yelled.

“Silly old cow!”

Naturally then for years the boys would say -

“Oh look Mummy! It’s the silly old cow.”  Shameful I know.

Cynthia, the nursery school owner was quite a social creature and we were invited to one of her Sunday morning sherry parties.  The house was even bigger than ours and twice as draughty and to compensate I drank rather more sherry than was good for me. It seemed to me that the people we met were on a different plane with different aspirations.  They knew of my brief moment of fame so I was welcomed but I didn’t feel comfortable and I resolved I wasn’t going to become what I can only describe as a snob.  I thought sadly of the jolly racing fraternity we had left in Epsom.  Happily as time went on we met people we liked and many who became life long friends.

In spite of the drink we got home safely but I hated the feeling of the ground coming up to meet me and decided fortified wines were not for me.

  The money I had earned modelling had disappeared- mainly on buying things for the house and I was now financially dependent on William.  I didn’t enjoy this at all and matters came to a head when I asked for money to buy a new bathing suit for our holiday and –after quite a lengthy campaign – he said no.

I remember going out to the vegetable patch, staring up at the sky- choked with sobs and vowing I would never go hungry again.  No of course that was Scarlett O Hara

- I was hardly hungry but I made myself a pledge that somehow I would become independent again- Goddammit!

  Married women had a duty to look after their husbands, children, house and garden.  That was women’s work; so we cooked and cleaned, bottled and preserved, laundered and ironed, knitted and darned and made do and mended.  Hubby would be greeted in the evening with a fresh, pretty little wifey and after a restorative snifter he would kiss the children good night and sit down to a delicious home coked meal prepared by the lady of the house.  It didn’t always work out quite like that.

There was a feeling of unrest in the air.  We were about to have Women’s Lib, Germaine Greer and all that jazz, making waves and changing our lives for ever.

  One of the good things about living in Kent- we were closer to my sister Maddie and her husband.  They would come over most weekends - first shopping in Tunbridge Wells and then dropping in to play with the children and share our supper.  They usually brought little gifts for the boys and a bottle of wine and I looked forward to their visits.

  One night Maddie and I were washing up after eating my nourishing goulash.

“What’s up Pat?”  I started to weep.  She put down the drying up cloth and stared at me.

“For goodness sake Pat. Buck up!  You’ve got a good husband, two lovely boys and a great house!”  I suddenly remembered that walk on the avenues when Maddie

was unhappy with her first husband and Mum’s reaction.

“You’ve made your bed you must lie on it!”  Thankfully Maddie eschewed that remark but gave me a pep talk.

“Get a part-time job!  Join a theatre club!  Take a lover!”  I was so shocked I stopped weeping and gaped at her.

Within a month I had done as she suggested.  Well two out of three that is.



Thursday, June 18, 2020

An Imperfect Life


Chapter 41


The times they are a changin’.


“William what do you like best about living here?”

“I enjoy having a pleasant drive to work instead of that dratted commute.  What about you?”

“I just love all the space – in the house and garden so different to where I was brought up.  I’m never going to live in a small house again!”

 I missed my friends and my wonderful daily help but found that with one small child and another on the way, people were very friendly.  One problem I had was of my own making.  After we lost our beloved corgi – Havoc, I thought it would be nice to buy another for William so that he could have the puppy – Sharon, to train whilst I had the baby.  Unfortunately Sharon was untrainable and with William out all day she was the bane of my life.  Any clothes hanging around were ruined but worst of all she would get out of the house at every opportunity and run into the main road causing chaos.  At the end of our road lived Mrs D – a dressmaker who bred valuable dogs and when Sharon got out and attacked her miniature pincer she said regretfully that if we didn’t get rid of Sharon she would have to sue us.  I was desperate but Mrs D knew lots of doggy people and said she knew just the chap who would be able to train Sharon.  She went off to what we were assured would be a good home and later we got a feed back that she was behaving and all was well.  A week later we were told there were problems and would we like to have her back.  Neither Mrs D nor I were prepared to risk it. So she stayed put and – with a certain amount of guilt I thanked God I didn’t have to cope with her.

Feeling the guilt I vowed never to be tempted to have another dog.

  All in all it was a fairly eventful pregnancy. One day I was carrying my son slowly upstairs for our post –prandial nap, reached his cot and heard a thunderous noise.  The top of the stairs was shrouded in white powdery clouds; the hall ceiling had collapsed. I was so relieved the ceiling hadn’t fallen on my son and me – my Guardian Angel was on duty that day.  After I settled him in his cot I crept downstairs to phone William.  He came home straight away and I assured him I was fine – I didn’t need to see the doctor but we had to do something about the ceiling.  In those days work-men actually came when they said they would and although the builder couldn’t promise to reproduce the elaborate moulding exactly- he made a good job of it and the house stayed sound from then on.  Just one more surprise – I went down to the cellar one day to fill the brass coal bucket and was amazed to find the cellar floor hidden by a small lake.  I hastily retreated and phoned the long suffering William.  By the time he got home the water had disappeared.  Although no-one had told us, there was a well in the cellar which would overflow after extremely heavy rains.  Nothing to worry about.

   It was the custom to have the first baby in hospital and the second – if all was well-at home.  There were two midwives, one who was shaped like a hedgehog; she was dry with a twinkle so we christened her Mrs Tiggy Winkle.  The other one was skinny with glasses and an expression as if she had just eaten bitter aloes.

“In do hope we get Mrs Tiggy William.  The other one was horrid about the new single bed we bought specially for the birth and said it was too low and must be put on blocks.”

  William’s solution was to get a load of breeze blocks from the garage and prop the bed on them.  They were dirty and cumbersome and when I saw a number of wood lice skittering around I lost my cool and they were replaced by the requested wooden blocks.

Now working for the MOD (Ministry of Defence) William had a reasonable amount of leave so he decided to take time off to look after me during the birth and help with #1 son and baby.  To my delight it was Mrs Tiggy who was on duty when I started.

“I can tell when you’re having a contraction – your face goes all pink!  I’ve no-one else due so I might as well stay.” 
 We all tucked into a nourishing stew I had made in the pressure cooker.  After examining me she warned me that I would probably have quite a small baby.  It was a long afternoon and I remember lurching through the hall to answer the phone and having a strong urge to delay the whole thing for a month or two.  Fat chance!

   We had a fire glowing in the play- room and the bed facing the window and Mrs Tiggy was concerned about the fierce draught when the door opened so we moved the bed and blocks against the back wall- much more satisfactory.  When it was bed-time for my son and William took him upstairs for his bath Mrs Tiggy said

“Let’s try and have the baby before your husband gets down again.”

And we actually managed it with my special breathing coming up trumps and soon there was that delightful bawl from a new born baby.  A beautiful boy and a glorious 8 pounds – a whole pound heavier than his big brother. The one certain thing about midwifery is that nothing is certain. William was thrilled – I was thrilled and the nurse said I had done brilliantly.  But- she was terribly sorry – she had tried to hold it together but the old wound had torn and I would have to have stitches.  She knew what was coming.  Old Dr Rigg’s house backed on to our garden so he was there in a trice and I had a repeat performance of the suturing with no local anaesthetic.  Why the hell didn’t I protest but one feels so weak and helpless and it was again a bitter irony that I managed the birth like a trooper and then had to try to gag my screams with the inadequate gas and air mask.  Poor William heard and later told my sister he couldn’t put me through that again and I had already made a decision that this was going to be my family – complete.  I had always envisaged a little girl (who later appeared as my grand- daughter) but I would never change my two sons – not for all the tea in China.

  When no-one was looking I sneaked to the phone in the hall to tell Mum the good news.

“Get back to bed out of that draughty hall!  What are you thinking?  She just remembered to say ‘well done!’ before hanging up.

  Sister Maddie and husband turned up with a bottle of champagne which I wouldn’t touch as I intended to start feeding my sturdy little son.  Eventually the guests left, William went up to bed and I was left alone in the firelight with him and felt a great thrill of happiness – all pain forgotten.  We decided to have a go at this feeding lark and – like his brother he clamped on with relish.  Normally with breast fed babies they have a sticky black stool – meconium- for the first 24 hours but this little boy was so determined he had a normal stool by morning.

  It was an icy February morning and I could see daffodils were out in the garden.  I wondered what the brothers would think of each other.  I heard William bringing #1son down stairs.  I’d soon find out,

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Two Photos for Exile.
 Our new home - my beloved 5 G

The little darling - with Mum.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

An Imperfect Life
Chapter 40

 Pastures new.


When I told my lovely girl friends of our impending departure there were tears – not just mine – the girls got quite emotional.  We knew it would never be the same again and being at home all day with a small child was quite a lonely occupation. I felt better when I found I was pregnant again.  We wanted at least two children and this would make the gap two years and three months between them.

“Maybe you’re right William.  Maybe it would be better to have a larger house and a better salary.”

Before I had time to get used to the idea William told me he had been offered the job and had accepted it so I put on a brave face and threw myself into scouring the D.T. looking for a nice house in our price range

  William’s new job meant a move from Surrey to Kent supposedly ‘the Garden of England’ where there were lots of Oast houses for the brewing of hops.  Traditionally East Enders would move lock stock and barrel to Kent for the hop-picking season.

“William I’ve found something and incredibly it’s in our price range.”

 “You get more for your bucks in Kent.  Where is it? “

“A place called Southborough.  It’s between Tunbridge Wells – spelt with a ‘u’ -and Tonbridge spelt with an ‘o’.”

“There’s a good boy’s school there – I’ll phone the agent and make an early appointment.  It’s quite a drive - what about the baby?”

“Anne wants to have him.”  Both my girl friends had boys a couple of months older than our son and they were fascinated by his constant crawling, pulling himself upright and general activity whilst he was half the size of the other two boys.  When left in his pram before long he would leap over the side and dangle - thankfully saved from a tumble by his restrainers.

   First impressions were good; Tunbridge Wells (Royal T.W. as it liked to be known} was a spa town with lots of history, the Pantiles and a large hilly common.  Southborough was about two miles north and we drove up a quiet cul de sac where the house was situated amongst other detached Victorian dwellings.

“I don’t like that laurel hedge in front.  It’s far too high but the holly trees are good.”

On the near side, on a cobbled path was a stable with an apple loft above.

“It all looks in good nick – I like the pale grey the house is painted and the turquoise trimmings.  Oh and look there is a path on the far side of the house so I can wheel the pram to the back of the house.  And there is a lockable door.”

 Daily walks with baby in pram were the norm in those days.

We walked down the path and let ourselves in to the very private walled garden.  It was neglected but there was a large old pear tree which gave dappled sunlight and old apple trees, Ribston Pippins, Worcester Pearmains and Bramleys.

“Gosh look at that enormous yew hedge – it seems to divide what they call the pleasure garden from the vegetable garden.”

William was looking at it critically and possibly planning its demise.  There were rose beds and flowerbeds all tangled and full of weeds and behind the yew hedge an old neglected vegetable garden.  It was all a bit daunting – but exciting.

  We were told the last person to live there was a very old lady and her housekeeper.  On her death a speculator had bought it, redecorated it and put it on the market.  I couldn’t wait to see inside.  We returned to the front entrance and went through heavy double doors to a large glass paned door.  The entrance hall had a central staircase; the drawing room on the left and the dining room – with hatch to the kitchen– on the right.  Both rooms were large with attractive fireplaces and bay windows.  Behind the drawing room was a smaller room – with fireplace.

“This would make a great study – looking out onto the garden,” said William.

“Or nursery – remember there are going to be four of us!”

At the end of the hall there was another entrance from the rear garden with both an inner and an outer door.

 “Gosh!  The old lady must have been security conscious.  Look at all those heavy bolts on top and bottom on all the doors.  And there is a loo here with the same iron bolts top and bottom and inside and outside the loo.  How odd! And where do these other three doors lead to?”

William opened them revealing a scullery, the kitchen and steps down to a cellar.  We’d been told that the people next door had converted their cellar into a basement flat.  Ours was given over to a lifetime’s store of coal and coke.  We discovered there were also fireplaces in the bedrooms and bathroom

“Oh look William – an ideal boiler.  Can you smell that chokey smell?  Multiply it by ten and that’s what the cellar smelt like at the Convalescent Home at St Anne’s.”

“I remember,” joked William “the one you allowed to go out when you were on night duty.  Very careless of you!”

Yet another door led down two steps into the garden room with butler’s sink and a small room just off it.  Another door led into the garden.

  Halfway up the stairs was a large bathroom and separate loo.  The bathroom had a pretty old fireplace and would have been the tweeenie’s bedroom.  There were five bed and dressing rooms-as they put it and outside the rooms were mahogany let-down side tables for the maid to put the breakfast tray before opening the door.

By the time we got back in the car we were exhausted.

“What did you think” I asked William?

“It’s a very good house,” he said positively.

I sighed regretfully,”It’s just too big.”

“I suppose so.”  William knew his limitations and he was never a DIY man.

By the time we reached home I had mentally moved in.  The house was crying out for a family.  Our family!  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“On the other hand William…”

  I was certain it was the right house for us.  William agreed but was more cautious.

“It’s a hell of a responsibility to take on.  We’d have to get it properly surveyed.”

I agreed.  My sister Maddie was now working in London for an architect and said she knew just the man.  Not wishing to waste time and possibly lose the house we met up with him in Southborough and after what we hoped was a thorough going over he said,

“The house is sound and if you are both in love with it you should go ahead.”

He also told us that he and his wife had just bought a farmhouse they fell in love with, in spite of a doubtful survey.  He mentioned that the two steps down from the kitchen to the scullery could be a nuisance but it never bothered us.

  Later when the children would stow toys in the washing machine causing it to flood I was thankful for the brick floor, where the water would just drain through to the garden.

First thing in the morning and last thing at night my head was full of plans for our new home.  Who knew you could be in love with a house and miraculously William was just as keen.

  We sold our bungalow making a small profit and and our offer on the Victorian house accepted.  Anne offered to have our son whilst we moved in and we gratefully accepted.  He didn’t fret at all and we were very proud of him.  Mind you I think he was spoilt rotten whist he was there.

  We were under close scrutiny by the neighbours when we moved in.  I was wearing tartan trousers from my modelling days so they were convinced we were Scottish.

  We had a lot of space to fill but Dodie, my mother –in- law, helped out with a carpet or two and sister- in-law Fleur had her late mother’s furniture stored in her house sized garage some of which found it way to us.  There was so much wall space and I started a life long collection of pictures and drawings- mostly repros but some originals.

Heating was a bit of a problem and to supplement the open fires and boiler we had paraffin stoves, gas and electricity fires.  This was the fifties remember.  All had to be carefully guarded with an active toddler in the house and I was thankful for the old wooden play-pen where I could safely leave my son.  We designated William’s dream study as the playroom but he quickly learned to push the play pen up against the door so I couldn’t get in and would have to go round to the window outside in the garden and persuade him to back off.

  As usual, when pregnant, I was getting larger by the day and one day I left him playing in the hall whilst I went to use the downstairs loo.  Suddenly I heard a noise, went to open the door and realised my little monkey had pushed the iron bolt across

Thanks to the security conscious previous owner.  I could see my sons navy blue eye staring at me through the key hole.

“Darling- just push the bolt back for Mummy please.  Good boy darling!”

But darling thought this was an exciting new game and just said

“Mummy! Mummy!”

This went on for quite some time and I became increasingly panicked.  Thank God we were on the ground floor and there was a window - with a complicated screw bolt.  I had to stand on the loo (it was encased in a mahogany base and could withstand my weight) then lurch sideways to open the window.  Somehow I managed to lever myself out (thank you God), walk round the back of the house and let myself into the kitchen and found little sunshine with his eye still glued to the key hole.  More lessons learned.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Came across this recently: Pat and number 1 son sailing on the Broads.  Click to enlarge

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

 A Mixed Bag of photos!

Pat - Just preggers.
A recently discovered photo of MTL - about the time of the reunion.
Probably Pat's last cruise - 2or 3 years ago

Saturday, January 18, 2020

I can't post the one I wanted - it's on FB- so have to make do with these.