Tuesday, July 13, 2021

 Exile on Pain Street 

Hi Mark -- lovely to hear all your news and sorry you have been having a difficult time.  It must seem very strange

 working from home after New York. 

  It does seem quite unjust that you have to pay for the University experience when that is not what your  daughter

  is getting.  At least you gave the girls a wonderful grounding in the Arts when it was possible.  They

 will always remember that.

Sorry about the weird layout.  My newish computer has gone quite mad.  Or maybe it is me - after three general 


William quite liked Tim - he didn't present  a threat.

With regard to your question about the plays we saw.  I knew if 

I went into the attic where most of my memorabilia  is I'd be gone for days.

I enjoyed 'Separate Tables' Eric Portman and Margaret Leighton.

Godspell with a young Jeremy Irons and David Essex.

  Olivier in Othello, Long Day's journey into night and Dance of Death

and many more.  However one stood out which twice during the matinee at the Phoenix Theatre made me want to

 stand up  and yell 

'YES!" I think it related to something I was going through at the time - an unforgettable experience to feel 

the elation I felt. at hearing someone voicing those feelings.

.  I must get a copy of Ivanov and relive the experience.

That's John for you.  On a good day knocks Olivier into a cocked hat.

Stay well.xox    JOHN GIELGUD of course.

Monday, July 12, 2021

 Answers to comments.

Savannah:-Lovely to have you visiting and hope all is well with you and all your family and you are coping with this very trying time.xoxox

Kim:- we were fairly sure the culprit was a child although we didn't allow children in the basement without an adult.

James :- Glad you enjoyed chapter 47 and thank you for your kind words.

Neena:- Neena: it's all in the book. From our first meeting the danger signs were there and we both ignored them. I'm sure neither of us can truly regret the marriage because the boys meant so much to us. The divorce was fairly straight forward. As our solicitor said the two bones of contention are the children and money. The children had left home and I didn't want any money. I hope Tim is well and happy with a family of his own.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

 An Imperfect Life                             

Chapter 47


  Both William and I derived much happiness from our children.  We had  great family holidays and at week-ends visited local sights and fairs and from an early age encouraged them to walk fair distances.  During sea-side holidays I would be the envy of all the other mothers as William plunged into the sea like a great seal and endlessly encouraged the boys to do the same regardless of the temperamental British summers.  They fished, sailed, climbed, skied on water and snow, swam, did archery, cross country and drove go-carts.  I took them to the theatre club and they joined in the children's entertainments beside playing the parts of aristocratic children in a public production at Tonbridge School.

  'Dreadfully boring!' the elder would say - in character, to be echoed by the younger in his piping little voice.  They were so funny; blonde-haired boys in beautiful costumes, angelic in appearance and a handful to control back stage.  The little hams started to time their applause.
  When there were just the two of us- and as the boys grew older this was more often the case- things were not so satisfactory.  William worked hard in a demanding job and when he was home and the boys weren't around he was happy to hole up in his study with his books and music.  I had plenty to keep me occupied with the theatre club and the shop.  We were not your average married couple and at times I felt a failure.  I think probably both of us longed for love and affection but we were unable to give it to each other.  William's brother Wallace suggested that William should take me out more- so we started meeting in town, having dinner and going to a concert at the Festival Hall.  After a number of sessions at the same uninspiring(to me)venue I began to long for a visit to some of the wonderful London theatres but this didn't appeal to William, so Wallace's idea had a limited success.  However one of my girl friends had gone to live up in town so I used to meet up with her and we saw some great plays together.

  When I first saw Tim it was at a public meeting and I became aware of this unusual looking young man giving me piercing stares.  He was actually short-sighted without his glasses.  He told me later he though I looked interesting and was trying to get a better look.  He was tall but slight, with his shoulders hunched in a porridge textured short overcoat.  His severe crew-cut hair was already flecked with grey and his baseball boots completed an unusual appearance.  He had a squinting scowl- partly due to his eye -sight and partly due to the ever present cigarette clamped in his mouth.  He had a gritty look such as a very young Tommy Lee Jones may have had, although Tim's ears didn't stick out.  He looked bookish and introspective.  Later when I spoke to him I realised that not only was he very shy but he had been damaged in some way and my compassion was aroused.  I was at the age when I really felt for people who were worse off than I was and wanted to do something about it - which is why I eventually became a Samaritan.  At the time I had a few lame ducks and was prepared to take Tim under my wing.  I was about ten year older and he regarded me for a while as a mentor which helped my somewhat battered self esteem a great deal.  When I look back it's as if we were two weak swimmers who had got into difficulties, and who managed to prop each other up until they reached shore.  As our friendship grew we confided in each other.  Tim was brought up by a very  strict. puritanical parents; he was sent away to school and did well academically.  He then went to medical  school and went completely off the rails, rebelling against his parents.  He chucked medical school, made a disastrous marriage which broke up almost immediately and had a rift with his parents.  He had also started to drink more than was healthy.  When I met him he was  in a dead end job which earned him enough money for bed and board and for fags and beer.  Underneath all this rough exterior was an artistic, poetic, damaged young man crying out for a bit of morale boosting and encouragement.  As our friendship continued and got more serious, he began to blossom and people took the trouble to get to know him and to like him.
We talked about his future and I was delighted when he decided to take an external degree which meant long working hours and travelling up to town after work.  He also renewed contact with his parents and would visit them from time to time.  With each achievement I felt proud - as if he were a son.  Our relationship continued for four years and our friendship blossomed into love.  During this time Tim completed his degree and was awarded first class honours.  He was given a prize and insisted on choosing three books he knew I would like and presented them to me.  He said I had earned the degree.  Very soon he was offered a good position which meant his leaving the area and of course  I encouraged him to take it. I also encouraged him to meet other people; we were both afraid of how the other would cope in the end.  Tim thought we could be friends for life but I felt that once he had left the area we should both get on with our lives.  He  continued to phone me and tell me what he was up to and eventually he met a girl he thought he could be serious about.  I was happy for him and said this was time  to say goodbye.  I knew he was going to be fine and I had plenty to keep me occupied.
  For a start the shop had outgrown its surroundings and we had to start looking for new premises.
  Life goes on.  I had always known there was no future for Tim and me and I knew the end would be painful, but after what I had been through with Jamie - years ago- this was bearable, and I was in the driving seat - calling the shots.  I had no regrets and believed I deserved to suffer.  It was time to come down to earth and accept that for  me romance had gone forever.  How little we know!  One day, driving through the town I saw an accident; a man was lying prostrate on a zebra crossing.  I was overwhelmed with the realisation that if Tim had an accident and was lying helpless I would never know.  I had to drive into a side street to have a blub.
  We had outgrown the shop and left our first floor eyrie on the High Street for a street - level emporium
with a huge basement.  It was in the road parallel to the High Street and facing the Common.The front of the shop was all plate glass with a small area near the door for a display window.  Our accountant told us we could afford it and we enlisted friends and family to help us decorate it.  Once more one of the big stores was refurbishing and we acquired three large glass-topped counters and various shelves and cupboards.  Downstairs in the basement there were four stalls in the large room, which we made into changing rooms with bright orange curtains.  Than there was a room where we kept all footwear - hockey, soccer and rugger boots and gum boots.  The riding boots - being more valuable, we kept upstairs - in view.  There was a small office, loo and kitchen.  the worst thing that happened was the time when we discovered someone had peed in a gum boot.

  On the ground floor our desk was by the window looking out on the Common.  We felt naked with all that glass so had a brass pole fitted and hung, what were then fashionable restaurant curtains, which came half way up the window so we could see all that was happening outside.  One day I noticed rats on the common and was told that they follow the same tracks for years.  No more picnics on the Common  for me then.  We had fun choosing the type of lettering for our  shop sign which ran the width of the shop and was most impressive.  That was the easy part; the actual move was a nightmare and I have managed to block it out of my memory.  We had to buy lots more hanging rails and vowed this was definitely our last move.

Years later  after I had been re-united with Jamie, Julia - my talented friend in the theatre club bumped into Tim on one of her frequent trips to town.  They only had a quick chat and Tim was never very forthcoming but it appears he was married. Julia told him I had married Jamie.  We had been each other's confidantes so of course he knew who Jamie was and was happy for me. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

An Imperfect Life 

Comings and Goings

Chapter 46

"William guess what."

"I've had a hard day!  I give in!"

" The theatre club are so impressed by my having done a production course they've asked me  to produce a play in the autumn."

"How do you feel about that?"

"A bit scared - and delighted."

"Remember  the shop is getting really busy now.  You'll be too tired to go out in the evenings and . . ."

 "No I won't!  You don't understand - it's only really exhausting in the shop when there aren't any customers and then you look down on all the people milling round the High Street and wonder how you can entice them up the stairs.  Once you've got them in - honestly William it's exhilarating. 

William sighed, "Don't say I didn't warn you!"

I thought I had better start with a one act play and as John Mortimer was a big name then I chose his 'Lunch Hour'.  We were in the sixties - the era when the "Anyone for tennis?" middle class drama was beginning to look old hat and the theatre of the absurd was rearing its ugly head.   I had learned a lot working with Pete on his production of 'The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll" especially to keep a hand on the tiller at all times and not allow the wafflers to waffle on and waste valuable time. 

 In 'Lunch Hour' there were just three characters - it was a sad/comic tale of a man and a younger woman having a liaison in a shabby hotel near King's Cross.  The only other character is the Manageress who, unbeknownst to the girl had been told a long involved cover story of the man's wife having travelled down from Scarborough with the children who had been left with a sister -in-law in another part of town.

Unfortunately the girl knows nothing of this and in the course of the crazy conversation discovers she has three children, a sister in law and that there have been family rifts since the wedding.  It all becomes real to the girl- she becomes the injured wife, romance goes out of the window and the affair is over before it has begun.  It must have been hilarious with the original cast of Wendy Craig, Emlyn Williams and Alison Leggat but whilst my man and manageress were very good the young girl didn't quite get it.  However the committee liked it enough to ask me to do a full blown production later in the season.  This time I would make sure the key parts were played by more experienced actors and 'The Deep Blue Sea.'and 'Separate Tables'were productions I was proud of.

  Pete and his wife Julia were leading lights in the club - both were professionals - Pete worked in Television and Julia earned a living as an actress, writer and director.  She was a catalyst and I treasure the day I first met her.  One of the club members had thrown open her beautiful garden for a drinks party and suddenly I noticed a strange happening.  A dark attractive woman was slowly entering the garden - Julia was always a bit shortsighted - and suddenly the whole party - including me -  slowly moved towards her-  until she was surrounded and then the party really rocked. That was my first meeting with Julia.

 I had been reading 'The Unquiet Spirit' by Jean Jacques Bernard.  Gary  - who I had met on the production course had even designed a set for me.  I asked Julia if she would consider taking the lead.

  Julia read it but said it would depress her too much and I understood what she meant and realised we had more in common than I'd thought.  She was a member of the Crime Writer's and invited me to go with her to their annual party.  It was exciting meeting famous writers especially Kathleen Whitehorn - a journalist I much admired.  She had just written a very funny article on sluts(with regard to dress)and admitted she was one of the first order.

I proudly told her that I - at that very moment- was relying on a safety pin to hold up my bra. Julia told me later she was asked who was the girl who looked like she had escaped from a James Bond movie.  Not the impression I wanted to give at all.

The sixties were a time of change  and people were questioning the beliefs they had hitherto accepted.  I became increasingly aware of the gulfs between the haves and the have-nots; of the families who lived their happy peaceful lives without much care for the unhappy dysfunctional people and I rebelled against anything that branded anyone as lesser humans.

I'd always been receptive to other peoples's worries but now it was a if I had a sign on my forehead saying 'Stop here and tell me your problems.'

This was some time before I actually became a Samaritan and before I befriended someone who helped me to keep my head above water.

  Since I left home aged sixteen to start a nursing career, my sister Maddie and I had had a fairly volatile relationship mainly because I had developed a mind and opinions of my own.  She and her husband came over most week-ends.  I valued her friendship so it was a blow when she told me they had decided to emigrate to the States - a much bigger step then than now.  She had our aunt, as a resident - a GI bride who lived in Rhode Island and Liam, Jamie's brother who lived with his wife and family in NY State.  Maddie asked me if I ever thought  of Jamie and I said the recent experience with Gary had made me think of him. 

"If it had been Jamie instead of Gary I wouldn't have thought twice about it.  I feel I cheated both of us.  But it's all over now," I assured her, "I'm a different person and I expect he is too."  I quashed any further thoughts of what might have been way out of my consciousness.

Maddie and I decided to have a few days walking together before she left and we had a really bonding time in Wales - getting to know each other as adults, although I would always be the younger sister to her - dammit!  We chose Dollgellau and found an interesting hotel with a lake in the garden.  When I told the proprietor and his wife that as soon as I saw the lake I felt Lancelot there was great hilarity.  The food was yummy but the heating was  inadequate and we almost froze to death.  Each night we would huddle in the bar where mine host and his attractive wife would regale us with tales which might have come straight out of 'Under Milk Wood'  The locals would come to inspect the two English ladies and the whisky flowed freely.  The bedrooms were so icy we dreaded going to bed.  It wasn't all decadence - we climbed two mountains; one was Y Garn and the other one's name escapes me.  I do remember- when we were at the top, having a blonde moment and suggesting we went another way down, which looked rather pretty.  At the bottom we realised we were miles from where we had left the car and had a very long walk in pouring rain before we got a hitch.  We were terrified we may have missed dinner(the food was excellent) but our worried hosts had kept it for us.

Maddie asked me if later on I would go up to Mum and Dad's with her to soften the good byes.  All went well until we were on the station at Manchester and Dad was in a huff - God knows why.  As it got nearer the time when Margaret and I had to leave I couldn't stand it any longer and took Dad off down the platform.

"Dad you've GOT to say goodbye properly.  You may never see Maddie again"  By this time I'd lost it and we ended up all hugging each other and smiling through our tears but all the tension had gone.  I'm happy to say that the parents visited the States many times for the rest of their lives and later when Maddie acquired a house in Portugal they would spend the winters there and Maddie would visit the UK every year.

At the theatre club I decided to do Shaw's 'The Devil's Disciple' as a big public production which would be presented in Tonbridge School.  The character of Dick Dudgeon had always attracted me and I persuaded Alan, who was our solicitor, to play the part.  He was a fine actor- more cerebral than physical; I treasure the look he gave me when I asked him to leap onto a table to hold forth.  It was difficult for him but we got there in the end.  We had an old film actor in the club (he appears briefly in the old film 'The Lady Vanishes,'often to be seen on a Saturday afternoon on the telly) and I thought he would make a great General Burgoyne but Charles wasn't going to give in so easily.  He leant over me from his great height, a lank lock of  much too black hair flopping over his moustached face.

"Who played the original part?"he demanded.  I looked up at him, blinking a little.

"Laurence Olivier."

"Harrrrrumph!"  And I knew that he was mine but he was very high maintenance and I had to provide a pair of bright tan-coloured, thigh-high suede boots before he was happy.  Those wretched boots; every time Charles was on stage they seemed to be the focus of attention.

Actors can be a pain at times.

What I discovered about the play was that each act is written in a different style so in the first act one could get beautiful Chekhovian movement- in the second it's all war,war,war and finally in the third funereal with the Dead March.  Still it went down well and was certainly a learning experience.  On the acting side my favourite part was Beattie in Arnold Wesker's 'Roots.'  A bit near the knuckle but all the more real in performance.

We had a bit of bother at the shop.  Someone had opened a shop run on the same lines as ours, in the next town.  They were perfectly entitled to do this but they had named it using four words, only one of which was different to ours and then by only three letters.  People would come into the shop and say "We went to your other shop."  It's called' passing off'

as if someone had opened a store called Marks and Spicer.  Our solicitor was convinced when his partner said,

"I see Pat's opened another shop."  Alan was great and sent them some strong letters and they had to change it.  Cheek!

All was going well; The family were fine, the shop was booming, I was in demand as an actress and director and then I met Tim.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

 An Imperfect Life 

Owha tanas siam!

Chapter 45

  I felt sad driving home.  It reminded me of school at the end of the year when I always used to cry at "Lord dismiss us with thy blessings."  Would I ever see my new friends again.?  Gary probably just wanted another scalp to add to his collection and I had been right to be firm.  When I reached home William and the boys were out so  I collapsed into bed and slept for hours.  No time to mope; there was lots of laundry to do and all the household tasks that had been left for a week.  It was lovely to see the boys and hug them.  A week apart made us so much more appreciative of each other and they were quite angelic for about 24 hours.

  Mary rang - very excited,

  "We've been very busy now the holidays have started.  We're going to have to get more part-time staff so there is always two of us on duty.  I've been so busy selling I haven't had time to enter the sales on the clients cards."

"Don't worry I'll go in and do it once the boys are in bed."

We were both excited and pleased by with the way the shop's fame was spreading.  there was a letter for me the next day but I was rushing to drive the boys to school and then to open the shop before half past nine, so I put it in my hand bag for later.

As soon as we opened there was a stream of customers.  When we first started Mary's father had rigged a buzzer on one of the stairs to warn us when anyone was coming.  Now there was a constant buzz buzz buzz and what with the old fashioned till bell it was like an inspiration for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells.  Mary came in briefly and  I was glad of the help but soon she had to go to the bank and I was alone again.  Just before lunch time a Persian man - he told me he was from Persia - arrived with his two daughters who were going to be boarders at one of our local prep schools.  He handed me a long list of uniform which he required for both girls.  We always closed for lunch but I decided to lock the shop as usual and devote my lunch hour to finding everything they needed.  It was not easy.  He was very demanding and the girls were very shy - hiding behind the changing room curtain we had fixed in the corner - even to try on hockey boots.  By the time I had found everything they needed - including lacrosse sticks I was panting with exhaustion.  I sank into the office chair to remove all the price tickets and add up the amounts   When I told him the total price he MADE ME AN OFFER!  I could not believe it.  I felt smoke must be coming out of my ears.  I had worked my butt off, given up my lunch hour persuading the girls to try everything on, grovelling amongst the hockey boots and he had the effrontery to MAKE ME AN OFFER!

I drew myself up to my full five feet four and a half inches and said,

  "I'm sorry sir but we do NOT barter.  That is the price you must pay if you want to take the goods."

He and the girls looked rather startled at my obvious outrage but he slowly brought out  a roll of notes  He handed over the large amount of cash whilst I tried to control my shaking hands. The thought of trying to match the garments with the tickets if he had decided to leave gave me palpitations.  Selling was only part of the job; everything sold had to be entered on the customer's file so she could collect her money the next time she was in the shop.  All the articles could have come from twenty different customers so you can see the problem.  That taught all of us never to remove the tickets until the very end of the transaction and one was sure the customer was serious

Whilst waiting at the school for the boys I remembered the letter.  It was from Gary- a poem and a note with a telephone number  and the message " Please phone."  When I read the poem I was moved and felt my resolve weakening.  Surely it wouldn't hurt to phone - it was only polite.  His voice sounded just like him - relaxed and friendly.
"Gary it's Pat.  Thank you for the poem - it's lovely.  How long did it take to write it"
  There was a long pause and I thought we had been cut off.

"Well it more or less wrote itself.  It's great to hear your voice Pat."

He said he  had found one of the books he had told me about - a play he thought I should do as my first production; he had even designed a set for me.  When I met him he was different he seemed to have lost the golden glow he had in the college and I felt awkward and uncomfortable.  A woman I knew- she was Northern like me and was used to saying what she thought and told me I seemed to have a glass cage around me.  Somehow I knew what she meant and she thought that one day I would break out of it but I knew this was not the time.  I had been swept off my feet once before and it was not going to happen again.  When I told Gary it couldn't go any further he said everyone would assume it had anyway.  This riled me and I said the important thing was I knew it hadn't.
It must have been about a year later when I was browsing through one of my quotation books looking for something apt for a friend's birthday and a familiar line caught my eye.  It was the poem which I believed Gary had written for me but my book said it was written by William Blake.

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
 And saw what I had never seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green,  
And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And"Thou shalt not!"writ over the door
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - so I did both.

. . .

"William guess who phoned today.  Out of the blue!"
"You'll have to give me a clue."
" She's married with two boys."
"I need more."
"We've been on holiday with them."
"What's 'er name - Betty er Brenda?"
"Beryl! Remember her husband Gordon?
"Yes! He knew a lot about cars."
"That's right and apparently it has made them very wealthy.
Gordon left the engineering firm he had worked for and set up in business with a partner. They've had enormous success and have 'gone public.'
Beryl said they've got this smashing house near Brighton, they've met lots of exciting new people, they're going to have  a big party and they want us to go. "
I remembered Beryl once admitted to me - after a drink or two- that she fancied William - because of his brain, she said.  I knew parties weren't William's scene but it was the Swinging Sixties - I wanted to see Beryl and was curious to see how her life had changed.
The house was fantastic with beautiful views of the Downs.  There were lots of impressive oils on the walls - individually lit and the whole place reeked of opulence.  The women were very glamorous with big hair and legs and bosoms on show.  The men seemed to be in a uniform of black silk shirts with gold medallions round their necks.  Although I was enjoying the party atmosphere I was very conscious of William being bored out of his mind
and decided we would leave after supper which looked as if it was going to be delicious.  Beryl told me they had an indoor swimming pool in the grounds over which was an apartment where they had two male lodgers who were air-line stewards.  I told William I was going for a swim and then we would have supper and leave.

It was a fantastic pool with beautiful plants and a hot steamy atmosphere.  At first I thought I was alone  but  I could just make out what looked like two males at the far end and assumed they were the stewards.  I have never been a strong swimmer but it was so warm and inviting I decided to stick near the side for safety and do a length   When I was about half way there the men got out and I realised to my horror they were completely naked.  I lost concentration, gasped, got my mouth full of water and panicked and floundered and yelled as I started to sink.  In a flash the men were there and rescued me.  They were sweet and said I only had to say I was in trouble.  Just as they were lifting my shaking body out of the pool William walked in to see his wife in the arms of two naked men.  I wasn't exactly dragged out by the hair but that's what it felt like.  We didn't stay for supper, we didn't say good bye and on the journey home I told William how ridiculous he had been.  I had been genuinely in trouble,  the young men were concerned for my safety and - by the way - they were gay.  Later William was dismayed to find he had come away with some of Beryl's precious silver cutlery in his breast pocket ready for the supper we never had.  Then I laughed.  Of course he returned it by registered post.
  William went off to have a week's sailing on the Solent with his brother.  He came back refreshed and rejuvenated and told me he had been given a pep talk by Wallace.  Intrigued I asked him what it was about.
  "He thinks we should do more things together - go out for a meal and go to the theatre etc,"
"And what do you think about that? 
"We can give it a try."

Sunday, February 14, 2021

 An Imperfect Life

Chapter 44

A Near Miss

  "Pat - Mary's on the phone!"

  "Hi Mary!  What's up?"

  "Great news!  Spats has just phoned and Mr Cartier has accepted us as tenants."

This was the news we had been waiting for and we had had five replies to our third partner advert but when we saw Jan walking up the path of Mary's house we both felt she could be the one.  She was younger than us, petite with short brown curly hair and a slightly worried expression which vanished when a smile lit up her face and revealed her sparkling white teeth.  She told us she was married and although she and her husband had hoped for children it hadn't happened.  She had worked in offices all her life and had lot of book keeping experience but felt like a change and would be happy to be working part time.  She had beautiful pink painted nails I remember.  Over a cup of tea Mary and I exchanged one of our looks which meant we both were agreed and to snap her up at once ignoring the usual "We'll be in touch." How right we were.

The next week-end we were all in the shop - as we now called it - the three  of us and our families - some of us painting and some amusing the children: fortunately there was a park close by.  Even Mary's old father came along and stuck an axe at the top of the stairs - in case of fire he said.  I never did work out what we were to do with it but fortunately the need never arose.  We just had one hanging rail to start with and almost enough clothes to fill it.The main room looked a trifle bare so Mary- who was quite artistic, filled the gaps with large flower arrangements. 

The drill was Mary and I would open  the shop at 9.30 am having taken our children to school and then Jan would relieve us at 3pm when we picked the children up from school.  The  intention was for Mary and me to do two days each whilst Jan did the late afternoons and we took turns with Saturday.  It was only necessary for one person to be there in the early days but Mary and I - in the first flush of new love were there most days. 

One day I was hanging out of the window feeling rather like the ladies in Amsterdam must do, wondering how I could entice shoppers to come up and see me, when to my horror I saw someone trying to get into my car.  In those days one could park in the High Street all day.  I tore down two flights of stairs, rushed up to the man and yelled,

"What are you doing with my car?"

"I'm trying to stop it rolling down the High street, Ducks.  You must have left the hand brake off and when I moved my van it started to roll.

Embarrassing - but at least I learned always to leave the car in first gear from then on. 

We had fun thinking up ads in the local paper to announce the various school uniforms we were gradually stocking.  This resulted in a visit from a rather pompous Head Master who told us his school didn't need any advertising thank you and would we desist.  Did he think we were doing it for his benefit?  We had started selling all sports gear, lacrosse, hockey sticks and cricket bats etc.  Then we discovered the sports shop on the other side of the road was owned by him.  In the end we refused to be intimidated and carried on.  We worked like beavers - spreading the word and our Beauty Counsellor experience proved very useful.  The big problem was to overcome the snobbishness regarding second hand clothes.  We had to convince people it was the smart thing to do.  That meant the shop should always be pristine  and the clothes immaculate  Easier said than done when someone would bring in a garment, swathed in polythene, with a cleaner's ticket pinned to it but when one examined the garment it would be grubby and obviously had never been near a dry cleaner.  The trick was to tell them that  unfortunately the cleaners hadn't made a very good job of it and advise them to complain.  Mary was much better at this  than I - with my Lancashire frankness - but slowly I learned- the hard way.

"The shop's great - if it weren't for the ****** customers I once remarked.

  Slowly but surely the word spread about our shop - The School Budget Shop as we christened it - and when we started to make money we got an accountant in addition to  our solicitor.  We wanted to do things properly- stay solvent, pay taxes etc so Dave the accountant gave us an Analysis Book with columns for everything that was paid out.  With his help we worked out our annual expenses with a bit extra for contingencies and divided that by 12 to estimate our monthly expenses.  Dave suggested an approximate figure for the partners to withdraw each month but I had a better idea.  To make it more interesting and fun, I suggested that whatever the takings were each month we would subtract the monthly expenses and whatever was left over would be our salary.  If we didn't clear expenses we would take nothing.  Dave thought this was unnecessarily complicated but the other girls recognised what fun it would be each month to see what we'd get.  I was happy to do the work.  I still remember our glee when we had a bumper month in the school holidays and the resigned shrugs when it was peanuts.  Dave never understood.

  Every year William and I took the boys on typical children's holidays to Devon, Cornwall, Wales and the Lake District, Southwold, Frinton and sailing on the Broads.  There would be Easter visits to cousins in Gloucestershire, weekends with Wallace and Fleur and trips to my parents in Lancashire.  Fortunately William had six weeks holiday each year.  Apart from this William and I had widely varying interests.  That's just how it was.  I was something of a social butterfly and he was content with his books and music.  We got into the habit of one of us baby sitting the children, whilst the other went off and did their thing  When I saw an advertisement for a drama course for acting or producing I asked if he would mind if I went away for a week to do the production course.  He was happy about it and we agreed he would go sailing with his brother later in the year. 

  A week later driving in my little car to the country town where the college was situated I felt a rare thrill of delight.  A week's freedom!  I felt so euphoric I was tempted to waltz the car from side to side as Yves Montand did in "The Wages of Fear" just before he drove his truck over the cliff.  Common sense prevailed and I reached the town where the college was situated.  It was very busy.  The traffic crawled and I saw an old man motionless on the pavement.  There were people standing round him and I wondered if I had been there, would I have had the courage to do mouth to mouth?  

At the college I was given a schedule for the week and shown to a block which housed single rooms, a kitchen and showers.  I was early and the only one there.  I had brought a pile of books in case I didn't find anyone to talk to but I was too excited to read..  The first person to arrive  was a middle age Irish woman.  I made us some tea and made my first friend.  Gradually more students drifted in and by supper time I had met lot of them and began to relax.  We were divided into two factions; those like me who were doing a production course and the acting group.  You could tell from the look of the two main lecturers who was doing what- Hugh the actor's lecturer with floppy hair, an aesthetic face and wearing a beautiful shirt, sweater and cords whilst Gary the producer's lecturer, wore old jeans and a fade blue aertex shirt which I noticed matched his eyes.  He had an old ARP canvas bag which looked as if it had been through two world wars.

During supper I found some of the students were old hands and had brought with them all the requirements for  a bar which they ran- very efficiently- each night throughout the week.  Beside the Irish lady I got friendly with a white American male, a black American male and a young Malaysian boy.  I began to feel at home and at ease.  We could see from the schedules we were going to be busy and were working towards a production of Lady Windemere's Fan at the end of the week.  We all met up in the library to introduce ourselves and get to know each other.  Gary came and stood next to me and said he'd been cramped against a book-case.  I pointed out there was lots more room down the other end and he wandered off.  I don't know why I behaved like such a klutz  unless it was an innate instinct for self preservation.  He told me afterwards he felt intimidated by me.  Great!  

Thankfully next day I was more relaxed and started to enjoy the classes.  The cast of the play was chosen and the production side were divided into lighting, wardrobe, make up, set design and stage management. We would all have time with each but had just one responsibility for the play.  I was going to be in the lighting box with Gary.

The casting was interesting; Charles - the black American was to play Lord Windemere - he was both thrilled and terrified.  Gary was a great teacher, sitting casually on a Meccano -like structure on stage, immensely practical - the ARP bag contained bits of wire and screws and various implements which he used to adjust lights, scenery or anything that required it.  He radiated amiability and everyone liked him.  He had recovered from our initial brush and went out of his way to make me feel I had something valuable to contribute.  There were two Cambridge graduates in our group and their knowledge of literature in general was bottomless and they could quote reams of Christopher Fry at the drop of a hat.  Gary convinced me that all the knowledge in the world didn't amount to a can of beans if one didn't have a sense of theatre.  He said I had this and wanted to see me put it in action.  Men!  You know what Shirley Valentine said about them?  The fellowship and camaraderie reminded me of my training days in hospital.

One day William and the boys called in to see me en route to Wallace and Fleur's.  William said he had never seen me so relaxed and I should try and stay like that when I came home.  It was lovely to see the boys and gave me a reality check: like most of the female students I was getting rather fond of Gary.  At one session a group of us were sitting on a broad shelf and Gary took off his tie before demonstrating something and draped it over my bare ankle.  It felt such an intimate thing to do; I could feel my cheeks aflame.

We went to the theatre and saw a great production of "The Royal Hunt of the Sun".  Sheila - the Irish girl knew the star Colin Blakely and took me back stage after the show.  We met the wonderful Robert Stephens and then Colin, who arranged to meet us for a drink before the evening show.  All very exciting and the pressure was building as we prepared for our own production.  I was thankful to be working back stage and didn't have to worry about learning lines.  Bed-time got later and later and we stayed up talking and putting the world to rights as students have done since time immemorial.  One beautiful moonlit night a gang of us drove to the beach and lit a fire. Sitting round it in the firelight we all took turns to sing or tell a story.  I sang La Miserere from  Il Trovatore in faux Italian.  It was actually gibberish but I'd been doing it for years with family and friends so many of them - including Gary were fooled.  The darkness and the wine gave me courage.  A couple of the group decided to go swimming although the tide was way out.  As it got later and later we decided , reluctantly, it was time to return to the college and discovered the swimmers were missing.  Suddenly the beautiful evening became a nightmare.  We split up into search parties and combed the enormous beach.  We were all silent - apart from calling the names of the two missing students.  I think we were all feeling the same emotion - dread.  I was walking with two others along the coast and at last we found two bedraggled figures huddled in the dunes.  They had had a long walk out to sea, had swum for a while and then were completely disorientated when they came out.  The current must have swept then up the coast.  We hugged them. wrapped them in towels and rugs and made our way back to college; many of us sending a silent prayer of thanks that a disaster had been averted.

The day of the show- our final day- was a mad flurry of dress rehearsals, lighting, plotting and last minute costume adjustments.  We all worked hard and although the dress rehearsal didn't go without a hitch that probably boded well for the actual performance.  Charles - my black American friend gave a natural dignity to his part of Lord Windemere and fortunately the director saw the folly of giving him white gloves to  wear- shades of Al Jolson.  Being in the lighting box with Gary was a piece of cake as he was very hands on but I had studied the lighting plots and felt I knew a little more than the useful snippet that Strand pink was the most flattering light for women.  Fascinating how one could lift or darken the mood with light and music.  I couldn't wait to get back to the theatre club and do my own production.  I knew from  the people  I worked with on "The  Summer of the Seventeenth Doll" that I could get together that all important back stage team - so vital before one thinks of the  actors.

In one part of the play Gary wanted a black-out and it was dependant on the timing of what was happening on stage; he said that he would keep his eye on the action with his arm raised and at the right moment would drop his arm and I would pull the lever that would plunge the stage into darkness.

Meanwhile we had a couple of hours before the show and I planned to crash and try to catch up with all the late nights I had been having.  However Gary said he wanted to speak to me alone, and as we were all leaving tomorrow this was the last chance we would get so I agreed to meet him in the pub when I had changed.  The pub was empty when I got there apart from Gary sitting by the window looking concerned - very unusual for him.  We had soft drinks because of the show and I asked Gary what he wanted to talk to me about.  The evening sun shining through the window gave him a golden glow and although he wasn't conventionally handsome I found his titian hair and freckles and above all his sunny disposition immensely appealing.  I was aware of the woman behind the bar who seemed very interested in our conversation.  I realised there had been a mutual attraction between us but was also conscious that he was a very popular guy and had young women constantly asking for his help, advice or opinion on all sorts of things.  I'd had a fantastic week with a great bunch of people from all over the world and Gary had made me feel a desirable woman for the first time in years.  But this was time out from my real life;  I would keep in touch with some of the students but I knew the friendship with Gary had to end here.

Gary said he had had a chequered career and although married had been a bit of a philanderer, but this was the first time he felt really serious.  Neither of us were free but he knew I wasn't happy and that probably nothing would come of it for years.  Even though we lived far apart he wanted to keep in touch.  I was in turmoil.  It sounded so reasonable but I had never imagined continuing after the course and tried to explain why I couldn't keep in touch with him.  We were going round in circles and it was time to get back to the college.  In the lighting box I tried to concentrate on the play which seemed to be going well.  It went so much better with an audience and I could see the actors upping their game as each burst of laughter and applause gave them fresh impetus.  But my mind was whirling - Gary's words ringing in my ears.

"We must see each other again Pat."

I vaguely saw Gary lift his arm in the air and when he dropped it I froze.  Whether it was a combination of exhaustion and stress I don't know but I was paralysed.  Gary hurtled towards me, grabbed the lever and saved the day.  After the show it was party time with everyone on a high  I apologised to Gary for letting him down but he said it was his fault for bringing up such a difficult topic at the wrong time.  Knowing that most of us would never met again we partied for the last time, till the early hours.  The next morning I packed the car with my luggage and the unopened tomes.  Gary looked on as I hugged and said  goodbye to my new friends.  Just as I was about to drive off he came over, hugged me and said.

"See you next week!"

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Exciting Times chapter43



Now I was mobile the world seemed an exciting place with endless possibilities.

  At last I could think about getting a job but until both boys were at school it had to fit in with the couple of hours I had free each day.  Where to start?  Much as I loved having children I was beginning to lose my identity.  I felt little more than an adjunct: a mother to the boys, a wife to William (not a very good one at that) and a chatelaine to the house.  At this time in my life I found domesticity deadly dull.

    Answering an ad in the local rag for Beauty Counselors  (the idea was to sell make-up to women in their own home - similar to Avon Ladies) I was interviewed by a large charismatic  lady named Pamela who also gave me a free make up.  Pamela was a 'District' which meant she could recruit counsellors and also appoint 'Zones' who would be able to recruit and train their own counsellors.  I enjoyed the make-up and appreciated the fact that the ingredients were pure.  There was an icy cold pink cream.

 "The Duke of Windsor simply loves having this applied to his feet," trilled Pamela.  I had to pay for the smart grey make up box and after a few more sessions with Pamela I was ready for business.  It was right up my street - I loved helping people to make the best of themselves and could get quite messianic about skin care.  Predictably William was less enthusiastic.

"What do they pay you?"

"You get a percentage of all you sell"

"It'll be a while before you recoup the cost of the beauty box then."

After a while Pamela made me a Zone so I could start recruiting my own counsellors and earn a percentage of their sales.  I was good at recruiting - recognising the bored housewife syndrome and together we became inspired and enthused.  Above Pamela was Zed - a regular power-house married to an ex Spitfire pilot.  She organised frequent get-togethers with lunch and wine and targets and rewards.  Suddenly all we lonely housewives had a scintillating social life and even earned a few pence.

One of the women I recruited - Mary - became a close friend.  She was a decade older with just one daughter at senior school.  We enjoyed each other's company and would often do demonstrations together.  By this time both boys were at school so I had the day free.  One afternoon we were working in a Kent village hall where almost all the audience had wanted a free make-up.  By the end of the session we were exhausted  and had sold about half a dozen lipsticks.  Over a cup of tea we commiserated with each other.

Pat: "Wouldn't it be great if we had a shop where people came to you to buy?"

Mary "Funny you should say that.  I've got a friend down in Worthing I'd like you to meet."

We agreed to make it soon.

At dinner William surprised me when he said -

"Pat remember Alan the army officer I'm working with?"

"Ooh yes - he's the good looking one recently married-

" That's right!"

"I remember Amanda - she's an Australian actress 'resting' till their new baby is old enough to leave.  What about them?"

"I thought it might be nice to have them round for a meal."
"Good idea.  I'll give her a ring tomorrow."
The evening was a success- they seemed very happy and the evening ended with me volunteering to look after the baby whilst they had a romantic week-end in Paris.
  The next time I saw them they popped in for a cuppa, on their way to shop in Tunbridge Wells.  Mum was staying with us and Amanda kept her spellbound telling her about the wonderful time they had had in Paris.
"Did you take the baby with you" asked Mum?
"Oh no.  She was far too young.  No a very dear friend looked after her for me.  Now who was it?"
  I looked at her and was gobsmacked to see she wasn't kidding.  Shades of Marta and "people like you."
  I know I expect too much of people and I shall be eternally grateful to Amanda for encouraging me to join the local theatre club which over the years enhanced my life. 

Meanwhile Mary had made a date for us to visit her friend Ellie in
Worthing.  What was that all about I wondered.  They had known one another for years and Ellie, whose husband was a master at a renowned public school, had made a nice little earner for herself over the last few years.  She had started a shop with a partner, based on the old thrift shops out in Germany, where the partner had been an army wife.  The idea was you had a shop and accepted children's outgrown clothes and sold them for the client who then received payment - with a percentage going to Ellie and partner.  Basically it was school uniform but as time went on they included all children's clothes especially ski and riding clothes.  Ellie took us to see the shop which was bustling with mothers and children and obviously providing a deep felt need.  Like us they had prep schools, grammar schools and public schools in the area - all of which demanded expensive uniform.  No way was it an 'old clothes' shop- the key was quality and the clothes had to be dry cleaned and in perfect order.  At half the original price customers realised what a good deal it was and, as I had already discovered, many of them were struggling to  pay the fees to educate their children.

Over coffee I told Ellie that as both of us had large houses we could
have the shop at one of our homes and cut out the expense of premises.  Ellie was horrified.
"Are you serious about running a business or are you just playing at it?  You HAVE to have premises and run it as business.  Are you sure you can run it together?  You are working happily together now but you Mary are working for Pat.  Are you planning on being equal partners?"
We assured her we were.
"Well get yourselves a partnership agreement then.  It's when you start being successful the trouble really starts."

It seemed that Ellie and her partner were now having difficulties which were beginning to seem insurmountable.  So sad and one could see the strain was taking its toll on Ellie
It was time to leave as we both had to collect children from school.
Ellie gave us one last piece of advice.
"You need a third partner who has no children.  Your business needs to be open normal shop hours and she can do the hours when you have to pick up your children."

Somewhat chastened we contemplated running a business from 9.30am to 5.30pm six days a week - with a complete stranger.
I could see Mary was as excited as I was;  I knew we could do it and couldn't wat to get started.  Ellie had given us excellent advice and we needed to give the whole project  a lot of thought.  I picked the boys up from school and after I had given them tea and bathed them there was just time to have supper with William and give him a brief outline of what we planned.  He wasn't sure how I would be able to manage but it was a rehearsal night at the theatre club so we postponed the discussion.
  As Pete the director worked in television he was often late for rehearsal and I was deputed to be acting director.  Much more fun than doing props and I determined to learn as much as possible about putting on a play.  The leading actor Alan Burns was a solicitor and during a break I asked him if he had much dealing with partnership agreements.

"All the time - in fact if more people had them from the beginning half my work would be eliminated. "

I told him what we were contemplating and he agreed to act for us.
That was the solicitor sorted, now all we needed were premises, a third partner, a name, stock...oh and some capital.  No problemo!

The next day Mary and I were off down the High Street, Ellie's voice ringing in our ears; our aim - to find premises before the day was out.
The first house agent we visited was a charming elderly gentleman who looked as if he had stepped out of Dickens.  He was courtly, with a pink and white skin, snowy hair and a waxed moustache.  He was beautifully turned out with a bow tie, waistcoat and pale grey spats on his shoes - a rare sight even in the sixties.  We told him what we were looking for - both of us burbling excitedly whilst he regarded us benignly.  When we were done he told us to wait whilst he looked at his files, and slowly retired to a back room.  We looked at each other and sighed.  We knew we had to be patient but there was so much to do and we doubted that dear old Spats could ever do anything quickly.  Eventually he returned holding a file and looking pleased with himself.

"Now this may be just what you two young ladies are looking for.  Look out of the window down the High Street.  Can you see on that building over there?  See the name Berkeley Cartier?  That is a gentleman who was an excellent tailor until he retired and he owns the building.  As you can see there is still a tailor's shop on the ground floor, there are offices on the first floor but the second floor is vacant."
"Oh PLEASE- can we go and see it now?"
Spats twinkled at me over his pince-nez.
"Well now it's usual for us to make an appointment first but I can see  you are eager to get on.  If my assistant is available I shall find the keys and he will take you to see the premises."
I wanted to hug him but restrained myself and Mary and I beamed at each other.  Some time later we entered a door on the street - next to the gentlemen's outfitters.  At the top of the stairs was a cloakroom which we would share with the offices at the end of the corridor.  Up another flight of stairs was a small room with a window looking out onto a back yard and a large room at the front with two windows looking out onto the High Street.  
It needed a coat of paint but the space was great and we were at the smart end of town - on the High Street no less.  We hugged each other with excitement.
"We definitely want it.  Can you be sure to tell the old gentleman please."

The assistant promised to do so and Mary and I went for a coffee to plan our next move.
"OK now we've got premises we've need a third partner - not just for the reasons Ellie said but also to help with the rent.  If three of us put in £50 each that should tide us over until we start making money."
"Do you think people will be bothered to climb the stairs?"  Mary looked a bit anxious.
"Of course they will when they see what we have to offer.  The location is excellent- two flights of stairs won't bother them in the least.  They're young mothers!"

None of our friends would be suitable as the third partner as they all had children and not free to fit round our commitments.
"We'll advertise.  Let's work it out now, then we can drop it into the Courier and it will be out on Friday.:
By now Mary was used to my 'do it and it's done' maxim so between us we managed an ad that was clear ad direct.
"Why don't we put in a second ad, advertising our new shop?"
Mary was doubtful,"But we haven't signed the lease yet."
"We know we're going to and this will give us  good start."
So the second ad announced the advent of our new shop and asked for local school uniform in excellent condition. 
 This did cause a few repercussions and when we visited Spats to sign the lease he looked sternly at me over his pince - nez.
"I say, you jumped the gun rather , didn't you?"