Friday, January 04, 2019

January 5th 1979
The day that changed my life for ever.
I know this is jumping the gun sequence wise so please forgive me but I can’t ignore the 40th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever.

We met at the Charing Cross Hotel - right next to the station. He was leaning against a pillar - apparently absorbed in a newspaper just like he had been when Maddie and I met him outside his college in Oxford - decades earlier. He looked nice in a blue-grey suit with a blue and white checked shirt. His hair was still dark and curly but when I looked closely my heart went out to him and I could see the lines of stress and grief etched on his face.  We repaired to Eleanor’s Bar in the hotel, where he was staying. He had a gin and I had a scotch.  He said he liked whiskey too much. We talked - he said I‘d find he didn’t talk much and from then on I could hardly get a word in edgeways. He had a quaint habit of using a note book to illustrate what he was saying.  He was explaining the hierarchy in his work place. His job was as important and responsible as William’s but more business orientated. Our politics had come closer over the years based on the thesis ‘if you don’t vote labour under 30 you haven’t got a heart and if you do over 30 you haven’t got a head.

I could tell from the tremor in his hand that he was even more nervous than I was. 

We had lunch in the large formal dining room and we both had fish but it might as well have been cotton wool. We were in a sort of bubble - cocooned from the rest of the world. Still talking we walked down to the river and when Jamie was greeted by an acquaintance, I could see by the man’s face that he was aware of the bubble even though we weren’t holding hands.   After tea we went to his room to freshen up: he told me he had to shave twice a day and we continued chatting through the bathroom door whilst he shaved and I powdered my nose. All we did was talk; there was so much to catch up with. Neither of us were hungry so we continued walking and talking until it was time for my last train at 11pm - we had been together for almost twelve hours. During the day we covered 30 years happenings at random: we talked about our five children and how lucky we were to each have close loving relations with them. He told me about being in the RAF and I told him about nursing. He had seen some of my modelling photos and we talked about my sister and his brother who were old friends and lived in the same NY state. We discovered that I had gone to live in the south as he gone to live in the north and he kept a cottage in Yorkshire - just over the border from my parent’s home.  I visited New York just after he had been. Once we had stayed at a children’s hotel in Bournemouth - the Broughty Ferry - the same year. We had both taken our children on holidays to the Lake District and to Wales. I told him that since the boys left home William and I were considering separate establishments. He asked me if there was anyone else and I told him no, which was the truth.

Eventually I told him of every relationship I had had with a man and he realised the only one of any importance was Tim.
 At our meeting we had given each other an ‘old friend type kiss on the cheek’ and at the end of the evening we again exchanged an O.F.T.K.O.T.C. but he hugged me and held me close and sighed ‘Ah Pat... ’ and as I rested my head against his chest I felt a momentary panic. Supposing it all went wrong again. He was so vulnerable. Was I about to leap from the frying pan into the fire? I knew this was not an ending but the start of something that would change my life for ever. I think we left it that he would get in touch when he was coming to London again,
As for our parting words - like the beginning it was sight, touch and smell that I remember and we were both a bit overwhelmed by our goodbye hug.
When I got on the last train I slowly came down to earth. It had been a long, intensive, emotional day and I started to panic. After 28 years of marriage I was looking forward to being free - not jumping straight into a relationship with anyone, let alone someone so vulnerable. I couldn’t bear the thought of possibly hurting him.

 I must have written to Jamie and tried to slow things down, because he wrote that he fully accepted and agreed that further meetings should be understood to be on the basis of unqualified, relaxed (and perhaps hopefully increasing) friendship.
With each meeting I got a little more confident and we became closer and then at our fifth meeting in April, I arranged to visit my parents stopping off at Jamie’s house on the way there and on the way back. I felt it wasn’t fair to involve my parents at this stage so told them I was seeing a friend in Manchester who would give me a lift home.  Jamie dropped me at the end of the lane out of sight of Mum’s house so I was absolutely flabbergasted when she greeted me with:
‘Oh isn’t Jamie coming in?’ I think Maddie must have been at work but it was a blessed relief and they did meet him when he picked me up on the Sunday.  It still makes me smile when I remember it.  Trust Mum.

  My great sadness when I was younger was that we had never been lovers - that’s just how it was then. After this week-end our fate was sealed - there was rapture and total commitment. Our plan was to be together forever - and to Jamie this meant getting married as soon as possible. Both of us wanted to bring this about causing as little hurt and upset to other people as possible.   The next few weeks were spent preparing to leave my marriage, my home, my friends and my business.  I wanted to leave everything in order and told the theatre club I was unable to do a production in the Spring.  I told Mary and we arranged that I would come down to the shop once a month and do the books and employ one of our assistants to do my hours.  I longed to tell the boys but felt I should tell William first.

Finally the day came - the house was immaculate the larder stocked with groceries and I had defrosted the fridge and freezer.  I told William I needed to talk to him and we sat down together in his study.  I had planned to keep it on a sensible unemotional plane but as soon as I started my throat seized up and I could barely control my voice for the sobs which were erupting.  In contrast William stayed calm and impassive as if he knew already.  Perhaps he did.  I told him I had met someone and was leaving home.  I had written to the boys so they would know today.  I didn’t want my share of the house and there was no need for him to leave.

William asked me if it was anyone he knew and I said no.  He asked where would I be living because he wouldn’t like it if we lived locally and I said there was no chance of that - I would be going to live in Cheshire and I promised we would never come back to live in the same area.  In the event William insisted on selling the house and giving me half the value.  He then bought a house in a nearby village which he had occasionally spoken of doing.  We agreed that he would divorce me.  Our solicitor had said the main problems of divorce were concerning children and money and as the children had left home and I didn’t want any money it should be straight forward and it was.

We split our possessions sensibly and without rancour.  There was a bust I had bought many years ago and William said he had grown fond of it and suggested I should toss a coin and tell him the result.  It was a measure of our relationship and mutual respect that he trusted me.  I tossed the coin, lost and William kept the bust.

 William had said he wouldn’t be happy about us living in the same area so when Jamie took early retirement we travelled to the places we loved in England, deciding where to settle and eschewed Kent and Sussex - in spite of my friends and my business being in the area.  I never saw him again.

Five was our lucky number.  We had five children between us;  Jamie’s house and cottage were both number five as was my own house in Kent and on our fifth meeting we plighted out troth.  I think the fifth of January became more important to us than even our wedding anniversary.





Monday, December 31, 2018

Peace, love, good will and good cheer.
To you all for 2019.  Things can only get better. Keep the faith.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Few pics for Exile

The last two are examples of artist's reference pics.

Monday, November 12, 2018

An Imperfect Life

Getting known.

Chapter 33

“You’re very lucky Pat – this is a big advertising campaign for the Milk Marketing Board and they particularly want a small blonde.  Be there at 2.30pm looking very glamorous.  Don’t let me down!”

  Paula had already told me that although my height 5’ 4” was fine for films it was short for modelling.  Even though most of my work would be hair, teeth, make-up and sweaters photographers sometimes lacked imagination – like casting directors, and liked to have the whole package.  I was frequently called ‘Little Pat Manwaring.’

  William and I pored over a street map of London to decide how to get there and I asked Renata if she could come earlier for coffee – I didn’t want to let her down again.

  I gasped when I saw her. “Renata! Have you had an accident?”  She had a large fading bruise on the side of her forehead.  Was that why she had kept her head down the last time I saw her?  Had that brute been hitting her?  I couldn’t bear the thought of it but she said she had left a cupboard door open and walked into it.  She seemed much happier and was wearing a pretty silver necklace with a heart on it that the spiv had given her.

“It is so exciting Pat that you have this important audition.  Just think your photograph will be everywhere.  On those big bill boards at the station – everywhere and you will never have to buy milk again!

However when I reached the studio – dead on time, bright eyed and bushy tailed I was greeted with “Sorry darling – we had to give it to Zoe.  She’s just perfect for the campaign.”  And I had to agree.  Zoe was a good two inches shorter than me with white blonde hair and an elfin face.  For the next few months her photograph was everywhere - her white blonde fringe complementing the large glass of milk she was drinking.  I felt a bit shamefaced when I rang Paula but she glossed over it and told me to get a move on with getting my photos round the studios.   Rejection was something actors and models had to get used to and goodness knows - I already had had some experience of it.  Onward and upward!

  William was supportive when I bleated to him but when I voiced my fears about Renata he said.

“We mustn’t interfere.  If she comes to us for help that’s different but you should never come between husband and wife.  And anyway she’s probably telling the truth.”

  Life was hectic; I enjoyed having the head shots taken – it gave me a foretaste of what I would be doing for the next couple of years.  I liked Reg the photographer and found it easy to respond to his instructions.  You couldn’t always rely on a rapport with whoever was shooting – either for stills or filming.  I learned to have a secret scenario going on in my head to portray real emotion and a smile that spread to the eyes and made them sparkle.

   Back at our new home the decorators had done a great job– and all for free.  We got the furniture out of store and moved in.  I decided to give myself a week delivering photos – why were they scattered all over London - and then concentrate on settling in.  I was fairly sure there would be a waiting period before I would get any bookings.  I had seen enough of the girls hanging round Paula’s office to realise there were many more models than jobs.  I had to trust that Paula knew what she was doing.  On the back of each photo I had to write my details.  I’m sure now it must all be done electronically but then it was a truly hands- on job.

You turned up cold at the studio, introduced yourself, offered them a photo complete with your details and then hoped they liked you enough to remember you the next time they were casting for a shoot.  The receptionists were the worst part as they examined you like a piece of meat before deciding if it was worth calling the photographer.  One particularly frightening woman with jet black hair scraped back in a chignon – a real female Dracula- glared up at me from her desk.

“Have you got a plate?” she snarled.

Feeling like a bumbling idiot I asked her what she   meant – I was still getting used to people who didn’t have a Northern accent.  She meant a dental plate.  When I’m nervous my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and sitting below me she had glimpsed it and concluded I had shop clackers.  I managed to convince her that they were mine – all mine, but felt I probably wasn’t going to be top of her list.  Eventually when I became known she would ask for me by name but was always more dragon than pussy cat.

  One place where I was always treated with charm and courtesy was Tower House, Southampton Street which housed Woman’s Own.  I immediately felt at home and they were the first to use me regularly for artist’s reference, fashion and eventually covers.  Artist’s references were fun to do.  The models were first photographed and then the artists would make a drawing from that.  Rix was one of the top names and I found his drawings more compelling than photographs to illustrate the short stories.  Woman’s Own seemed to take a personal interest in my modelling career and couldn’t have been more helpful and encouraging.

  I used the Underground to get around London as I felt I was less likely to get lost.  I would look for the nearest station to the studio and often was doubling the distance travelled when I could have just walked round the corner from A to B.  It was a nightmare if the weather was wet and windy.  Arriving at the studio looking like something the cat has dragged in didn’t impress them much so more cash was expended on taxis.

 I began to get migraines. Throughout my nursing career with all the stress involved I never had a migraine but the stress of always having to look tip top started me on a cycle of migraines which lasted until I had my first child.  Touch wood I have never had them since.  The lift man at Gloucester Mansions said I always looked a if I had stepped out of a band box.  It was expected.  Barbara Goalen, the top model de nos jours was the epitome of elegance.  Some years back whilst shopping in London my DIL pointed out one of the top models.

“She can’t be.  She looks so scruffy!”  But I was assured she was.  Times change!

Many of the male models were struggling actors.  There were far fewer acting jobs then and many paid a pittance.  Modelling provided them with useful earnings to keep the wolf from the door, feed the kids and keep them free for that golden opportunity which was just round the corner.

  The next six months were a hard slog going from one end of London to the other.  I didn’t mind the hard work but was worried about the expense of travel – we were a couple of miles from Epsom - and keeping up appearances with no money coming in from me.  William convinced me it would all be worthwhile and he was right.  Slowly but surely I would be asked for by name and there seemed justification for phoning Paula twice a day. 

“When it comes right down to it - it doesn’t matter that you’re not the tallest hollyhock in the bed.  If they like you they’ll book you!”  William turned out to be right.

I was somewhat of an oddity amongst all that glamour and urban sophistication.  Since then, all the years of living with William has nurtured a supposedly, pleasant speaking voice but at that time, if you think of the character that Jane Horrocks occasionally plays - a simple girl who ‘comes right out with it’ – that was me in the fifties.  No surprise that Jane and I were born and bred within a few miles of each other – in different lifetimes.

  One still had to audition for important jobs and contracts and it was a reality check sitting in waiting rooms with these gorgeous creatures – not just models but also film starlets. Jill Ireland and Audrey Hepburn were just two around at the time.  I really had a problem with my lack of self confidence but one day sitting outside Paula’s office waiting to do my accounts I got into conversation with a very pretty starlet.  She was similar to Barbara Windsor- a cockney sparrow – I think her name was Vera and she gave me a real good talking to.

  “You think they’re something special don’t you?” indicating the photos on the wall.

  “Well let me tell you you’re every bit as special as they are and a bit more.”

Bless her!  I remembered that the next time I felt inadequate.

Once when William was away I had three auditions in one day.  I decided to take Havoc our corgi for moral support and I swear it was Havoc’s charm that got me all three – Phillip’s Stick a soles, Bayer Aspirin and Harvey’s Bristol Cream.  She got special doggy chocs that night.

  William pointed out that I would have to pay tax on my earnings so I decided to go and see the tax man and ask his advice.  I was confident I could do it myself once I knew the rules.  The man I saw was – to me – an elderly gentleman who was very interested in the whole business and helpfully told me all the things I should take into account in the way of expenses and that I should keep all receipts and dates of bookings etc. Times change!

  I really enjoyed a bit of book-keeping.  The payment was a bit haphazard; sometimes the studio would pay you on the spot and sometimes the cheque would go straight to Paula.  We had a session once a month to sort the finances.  One dark day I left Paula’s office laden with notes and stopped in Leicester Square Underground to make a phone call.  I discovered I hadn’t enough change, dashed into the tobacconist’s – purse in hand- leaving my handbag with a stuffed wallet and, more importantly, my diary with all my bookings  It was seconds before I realised and dashed back but my handbag was gone.  I went to Bow Street Police Station (now defunct) and left my details but they didn’t hold out any hope.  I few days later I received a parcel containing my handbag and diary but no wallet.  A thief with half a conscience?  I was grateful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Age 23
Eyes Green
Hair Fair
Height 5' 3-4"
Weight 7st  7 lbs
Bust 34"
Waist 22"
Hips 34"
Shoes size 5

Friday, September 21, 2018

An Imperfect Life


Sluice to studio


Chapter 32


Life was good.  The bungalow would soon be ours, the agent had given us wallpaper books to choose our décor and once the contracts were exchanged the decoration would be done at no cost to us so we nipped over to Epsom to take measurements. William was happy to leave all the choices to me and I had endless fun choosing colours.

  Back at the flat we were greeted by Renata.

“Pat there has been an urgent telephone message from Marta.  It is very important that you phone her immediately.” 

“Thanks Renata.”  I stared at her - she looked as if she had been crying and kept her head down. I put my arm round her shoulders and dropped my voice.

 “Look are you alright?  You look a bit down.”

“No no I’m fine – just a bit tired.”

“Come and have coffee with me in the morning and we can have a good chat.”  She nodded and then disappeared upstairs.  I told William about the message from Marta and asked him what I should do.  After her previous rudeness I wasn’t keen on jumping when she snapped her fingers.  To my surprise William said I should give her a second chance.  It was an opportunity and if I spurned it I may regret it later. It made sense. I didn’t enjoy relying on William financially and there was such a lot I wanted to do to our house – once we were in it.  If Marta were right and I could be accepted as a model I would be earning much more than I had ever earned as a nurse.  After dinner I phoned Marta.

“Pat!  Meet me at my agent’s office tomorrow at eleven.  And look your best- DON’T let me down!”

“Oh Marta I’m so sorry I can’t - I’ve made arrangements to…

“CANCEL THEM!  Pat this is important.  There are hundreds of girls who would give their eye teeth to get on Paula’s books and I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to…”

“OK Marta – I’ll cancel it.  And thank you – I really am grateful- umm- can you give me the address please?”

She did – it was a block of Mansions in Soho.  I hadn’t a clue how to get there but felt sure it wasn’t in Marta’s remit to give me travel directions. I dashed upstairs to apologise to Renata and to ask if she would mind postponing our coffee date.  She was fine about it but I felt guilty.  I didn’t go in because I knew the spiv was at home and the less I saw of him the better.

  Thank Heaven for William!  He worked out that I should get a tube to Leicester Square and then walk up Charing Cross road to Cambridge Circus.  Easy peasy!

Praying it wouldn’t be wet or windy - or Heaven forbid both – I washed my hair and decide to wear the same outfit I had worn when Marta stood me up- freshly laundered of course  and this time - a pair of flatties for my feet with a pair of heels in a smart carry bag I had just bought. 

  It was a lovely day and at Leicester Square Underground I popped into the Ladies for a last tweak and scrutiny- something I would be doing regularly for the next eighteen months.  I felt excited walking up to Cambridge Circus- there were exotic book shops and weird men in hats and mackintoshes.  The Mansions had a lift like a giant iron cage which somehow added to the atmosphere of decadence and sleaze.  I told the lift attendant I wanted the sixth floor and we slowly rattled our way up in full view of people braving the stairs.

  Outside the agent’s office was a narrow passage where three beautiful girls were sitting.  They looked more like show girls than models and look surprised when I said good morning to them.  From inside the office I could hear the constant ringing of phones - interspersed by bursts of conversation - then more ringing.  Suddenly the door burst open and a large untidy woman appeared.

“I’m only seeing people with appointments” she bawled. Two of the girls left and then she spotted me.

“Who are you?”

She was quite imperious and scary and her eyes looking me up and down felt as if they were going right through to the marrow.

“I’m a friend of Marta’s.  She asked …um - we were supposed to…”

“You’d better come in then!”

  I followed Paula in to the most chaotic office I have ever seen.  The walls were covered with black and white photographs – mainly men- she was noted for her stable of excellent male models – many of them ‘resting‘ actors and some glamorous women.  Marta had pride of place – cheeks sucked in and looking amazing.

Two long narrow windows looked out over Cambridge Circus and Paula’s desk was placed so that her face was away from the light which illuminated anyone else in the room.  Her desk was covered in papers, directories, notebooks and a large diary.  The two phones on the desk were constantly ringing so there was plenty of opportunity to look round but where was Marta?

  One of the photos of a long legged beauty looked familiar and further scrutiny revealed it was Paula herself, a decade or two and a few gallons of gin earlier.  In spite of the chaos it was clear as she answered each call she was superb at her job and subtly changed her approach depending on whether it was a client or a model and if a model whether they were in or out of favour.  I soon realised you didn’t want to be the latter.

“Dawn!” she yelled”The studio have just been on the phone and they said you were half an hour late.  I’m not having anyone on my books who is unreliable.  I have queues of beautiful girls outside waiting for an interview.(pause) It’s no good saying the bus was late- get a taxi for God’s sake – you’re paid enough.  I’m not gonna argue Dawn – this is your final warning.”

She slammed the phone down which immediately started ringing again.

“Paula Day Agency.  Robert- how are you darling?”  The contrast was astounding – Paula was purring.

“How did it go?  Did they like you?”

(Pause.) “I should think so.  I told them you were the best I had.  Lunch?  Marta’s coming. (Pause) No I didn’t think you would.  Ring me tonight sweetie.”

  In between the phone calls Paula peppered me with questions about my age, my marital status, where I lived and what training I’d had.  She thought I looked younger than my age and that being married was an advantage - she didn’t want any more silly young girls going off the rails.  The nursing training didn’t impress her but she latched onto the fact I had done some Am Dram which in agent speak would be translated into my being a very experienced actress.

  The door burst open and in breezed Marta- surprised that I was here already(she was half an hour late)  There were kisses all round and she suggested we went off to lunch away from the incessant phones.  I gathered myself and prepared to leave.

“Pat where do you think you are going?”  Marta looked amazed.

“Well I …”

“It’s alright Pat – don’t take any notice of Marta- you’re invited and we can finish getting your details over lunch.”

I blessed William for giving me some spare cash – for emergencies.

We arrived at a smart Italian restaurant where both of them were obviously known and respected.  Marta had a campari and Paula a gin and tonic.  I wasn’t sure about campari so settled for a G and T.  After the first sip I found myself relaxing and enjoying myself.  They gossiped about other models, photographer and actors – some of whom I had heard of so found it fascinating.  At one stage Paula was talking about a society osteopath and suddenly said.

“Look out Pat.  He collects young girls from the provinces.”

I didn’t take it seriously as I felt I had my head screwed on and I wasn’t that young – 23-24 I think.  Paula was quite astute but I think even she would have been surprised when a few years later the government was rocked by a scandal, a cabinet minister was disgraced and Stephen Ward- to whom Paula was referring - committed suicide on the last day of his trial - deserted by his cowardly false friends.  That was the Profumo affair with a Russian spy, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies who immortalised the phrase “Well he would say that wouldn’t he?

  Marta – late for an appointment had to rush off.  Paula said I must get some decent head shots taken.  She would give me a list of all the studios and then I would have to take the photos round and introduce myself.

“Here’s the address of a reliable photographer – he’s just round the corner in Gerrard Street so you can get started right away.”

“Do you think I’ll be any good?”

Paula looked at me with raised eye brows.

“I wouldn’t be wasting my time on you otherwise dear.  You’ve got to start believing in yourself.  As long as you do exactly as I say you’ll be fine.  Phone me morning and evening.  Got the phone number?”

I couldn’t help wondering if Marta always did as Paula said.  Somehow I couldn’t quite believe it.  As for the phone number- my memory isn’t what it was but if I live to be a hundred I shall never forget that Temple Bar number.

As I was in Soho I decided to get stuck in right away and went to look for the studio.  The street was interesting with various ladies standing around keeping a distance between each other.  I suspected they were ‘ladies of the town’ and to me they looked quite old and raddled.  The studio was over a night club and walking through its shabby décor – which didn’t suit daylight and which smelt of booze, stale fags and sweat I decided that nightclubs were not for me.

  The receptionist was friendly and when I told her Paula had sent me she called out to the photographer – her husband - to come and meet me.  We fixed a date when he would do my head shots and they asked me to bring a variety of tops.  Tentatively I asked how much it would cost - I would have to have masses of prints to take round the studios.  The total bill would be more than I earned in a month as a nurse but back at home William said you have to speculate to accumulate. 

“I have to phone Paula morning and evening.”

“Well there’s no point until you have the photos!”

Paula had been quite firm about it so at 6pm I phoned her.

“Pat write down this address.  You have to be seen at 2.30pm tomorrow, looking very glamorous.  Don’t let me down.”

Thursday, August 02, 2018


An Imperfect Life


People like me?


Chapter 31


New Maldon seemed quite a pleasant place and it was a short walk past shops to the station; convenient for both William and myself, should the modelling become a possibility.
“The Sweeneys have invited us for tea.  Remember Pat – we’re in the south now and that means afternoon tea- sandwiches, cakes and biscuits not your lusty high tea – that’s their dinner.”

Lunch to us was what we had mid–morning at school but in the south it was the equivalent of our dinner.  Crikey!  Would I ever get used to it?

  The flat owners lived in an old house next door- Mr and Mrs Sweeney and their teen –age son.  The table was beautifully laid with an embroidered cloth and silver tea-pot.  William’s eyes gleamed when he spotted the crumpets – simply oozing with butter.  It was a bit sticky making polite conversation and trying to eat at the same time.

William had an attractive speaking voice – apart from his stammer, but I wasn’t attuned to this particular Surrey accent.  It wasn’t that Mrs Sweeney was posh because Fleur, my sister in law was posh and she had quite a raucous voice.  Mrs S spoke in a very gentle voice and was ‘refained’ so when she said she had heard I was fond of ‘ceiling’ I thought perhaps she was referring to my house painting and went off at a tangent.

“No no!  Ceiling !  Ceiling!”  By now she was getting a bit riled.  In panic I looked desperately to William for enlightenment but his mouth was stuffed with crumpet.  He finally swallowed and then started to stammer and laugh at the same time which made everybody talk at once in their embarrassment.

“THE BROADS!” he roared.   The penny dropped.

“Oh sailing!  Yes we love it!” trying to stifle my giggles.  Sighs of relief all round and I felt a prize idiot – couldn’t even speak the language.  In spite of it all we seemed to pass muster.  Although Mrs S appeared both fragile and whimsy it was clear who wore the trousers and she even gave me a light kiss as we said goodbye.

  The flat was ground floor and furnished and I couldn’t wait to personalise it with our own pictures and linen.  We decided to hire a van to bring down essentials and the rest would go into store.

  The next fortnight went quickly as I finished at the hospital, said goodbye to friends and family and finally moved south.  Now to find a house we could afford, settle in and - at last - start a family.  I couldn’t wait!

  A typical northerner I set off down south with a few prejudices and a slight chip on my shoulder but determined to be open –minded and to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I knew I was going to miss the cheery, friendly, unashamed nosiness I had known all my life but it was time to grow up and discover the world.

  I soon had the flat looking as if it belonged to us and our first visitors were my sister Maddie and her boy friend George.  They had great news; they were going to be married and were buying a large house – with the aunts - in Caterham.  Maddie’s son was going to leave boarding school and would be educated locally.  George worked as a radio officer with BOAC but to my great relief Maddie was leaving BOAC and was looking for a job locally.

  We had heard some shocking news recently: one of the girls in Maddie’s year at school, who had also joined BOAC as a stewardess had been killed in a Comet plane crash.  Maddie also had a frightening experience when the plane she was in developed a problem and was forced to circle the airport for hours to use up petrol.  Maddie had to keep calm and to reassure the passengers.  They landed safely and she was given a citation from Sir Miles Thomas.  We were delighted she was going to look for a safer and less stressful job.

  We met our neighbours in the flat above.  The wife Renata, was Rumanian and very sweet and friendly but I didn’t take to her husband who was a big burly Londoner.  Looked and sounded exactly like a wide boy – a spiv.  During the war a spiv was a person living by his wits and engaging in petty black market dealings.  You wanted a bit of extra bacon, sugar, coal or petrol (gas) the spiv was your man.  Never mind the sailors in the Merchant Navy and on tankers risked and often lost their lives providing these things; the spiv didn’t have a conscience.

  “What happened to your determination not to prejudge people – you’re just imagining things.”  William was right so when they invited us to go out for a drink with them we agreed.

  It was a perfect summer evening and they took us to a pub on the river.  We sat in a garden with willow trees drooping elegantly in the water and the swans were like a corps de ballet warming up for Swan Lake.  William went to get drinks and I tried to be as friendly to the husband as I genuinely felt to his wife.  After a few sips of wine I began to feel more charitable and thought maybe he wasn’t such a villain after all.  He certainly was good company.  He told us how he got round the gas and electricity charges.  Both flats had separate meters and the money was collected by Mr Sweeney.

The spiv had manufactured a shilling (the required coin) on a wire so he could insert it in the meter ad then retrieve it.  I looked at William’s face and could see he was shocked.  This was cheating – not the gas board etc, but the Sweeneys who were providing both our families with homes at a reasonable rate when there was a great scarcity.  As the evening wore on the spiv said you couldn’t sit by the Thames on a summer night without tasting a Pimm’s.  I had never had one.

“It’s a mixture of gin, quinine and herbs made into a long drink with lots of fruit floating in it.  That’s Pimm’s#1.  Pimm’s #2 has a Scotch base and# 3 a brandy.

Now what’s your poison Pat?”

I decided to try a gin base but William said he would stick to beer.  It did taste delicious and looked so pretty but when I tried to stand up to go the rest room I fell over.  Suddenly I felt very ill –my head was swimming and I had to be carried to the car.  The next 24 hours were the most wretched I had ever spent and almost put me off alcohol for life.  Later we discovered the spiv had thought it a jolly wheeze to put double rum in the Pimm’s - in addition to the gin.  I think I was right about him in the first place.

  We decided to avoid our neighbours after my disastrous evening with them and started looking at maps and deciding where to house hunt.  Neither of us wanted to live in so urban a place as New Malden.  We wanted a house with a garden, a decent living room, a kitchen big enough to eat in and three bedrooms.  Oh and a garage!  We didn’t have a car but we expected – in the fullness of time, to have all of that.

The first house agent asked all sorts of questions about our financial state and took us to see a house in an unattractive area.

“Why have you brought us to see this house?  Apart from anything else it only has two bedrooms and no garage.”

“Mrs Maitland, forget the garage!  With your finances there’s no way you can afford a car so you don’t need a house with a garage!”

I was incensed!  How dare he?  Who was he to put limits on my life style and deprive my children of somewhere to house their father’s car?  The fact – as William pointed out – that we had neither car nor children did little to diminish my outrage.

  We tried another agent and another area.  Gradually we were moving further and further out in the suburbs until we reached Epsom.  It was a lovely town in the fifties, with the Downs and the famous race course an added bonus.  We were having a drink and a sandwich in a pub in the centre of town and were entranced when mine host answered the phone in a deep gravelly voice with the thickest of Surrey accents,

“Marquis o’Granby ‘ere!”

  The only house agent open on Sunday was what we thought was a slightly fishy firm- widely advertised with the emphasis on the wide.  The agent had a handle bar moustache, and flat, Brylcream-ed hair.  A dead ringer for Sam Costa who used to be in the marvellous radio programme ‘Round the Horn’.  We told him what we wanted and he said he had just the place.  Well he would wouldn’t he?  The snag was it was in a little hamlet – a bus ride from town which meant commuting by train and bus.

It was a bungalow and fitted all our requirements except for the garage, but there was space for one.  From one of the bedrooms you could see the race horses being exercised on the Downs.  The decor was a bit dreary but amazingly Sam told us we could have each room redecorated at their expense.  I couldn’t believe it.  He drove us back to Epsom and suggested he took us for a cup of tea.  After a cream bun I was putty in his hands and wanted to make an offer there and then but William insisted we should talk it over and phone the agent that night.

  All the way back on the train I prattled on about furniture, colours, which room would be the nursery- I was in love with a bungalow and William did his best to rein me in but I could tell he was excited too.

I needed to earn if I was going to make the house beautiful.  The next day William made an offer to the agent and I phoned Marta.  Miraculously she answered the phone and seemed to be delighted to hear from me.

“Now Pat darling you don’t know London so let’s make it easy for you.  There is a big store in Piccadilly – Swan and Edgar’s, you can’t miss it.  I’ll meet you there at 12.30 and take you to meet my agent.  Must fly darling – I’m running late.  Ciao!”

  I dressed with great care: dark grey suit, fresh white blouse, little white gloves and       high heels.  I caught an early train and found myself in Piccadilly an hour early.  Drifting round the Store I discovered the Ladies Room had an actual Rest Room where you could recline on a sofa and rest aching feet.

At 12.25 I was bright eyed and bushy tailed waiting to greet Marta.  At 1.25 I was still waiting

At 2pm I was a bit tearful- my feet were hurting so much.  Wearily I limped back where William – home early - gave me tea and sympathy, suggesting I phone Marta after dinner.

  “Marta are you alright?”

“Pat darling!  Yes why shouldn’t I be?”

“I was supposed to meet you and…”

“Oh my God!  I’ve been so busy – I totally forgot.  Pat darling I hope you didn’t wait long.”

“Well actually…”

“You see darling most people would know that if I wasn’t there I’d be at the Ritz or the Dorchester – or lunching at the Ivy.  I have to remember when I’m dealing with people like you.”

Those words echoed in my head long after the conversation was over.