Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Story Contd

Six long years and then on the 8th of May 1945 Victory in Europe was declared. Unconditional surrender by the Germans to the Allies.

At last we could rip down the black-out curtains. No more bombs or doodle bugs. No more make do and mend and dreary utility clothes - life could only get better. We listened to Churchill’s speech praising the Allies for their fight against ‘the evil doers’. Good had triumphed over evil and it was time to rejoice.

In the evening Maddie and I went to a neighbouring town, closely followed by the aunts, and joined the flag-waving crowds, singing and dancing ‘The Hokey Cokey’ and ‘The Lambeth Way’ happy just to be part of the milling crowds. It was as if the black and white film we had been in for the last few years had been transformed
into glorious Technicolor.

It must have been awful for the people who had lost loved ones; on the seas, at the front or in the Blitz and the people whose loved ones were still fighting or were imprisoned by the Japanese. Most of the POW’s in German prison camps were repatriated on VE Day brought home by Lancaster bombers.

But for today it was time to give thanks. Tomorrow there would be one last effort to finish off the Japs. In the event the war with Japan ended in August 1945 hastened by the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The war to end all wars brought an aftermath of mental and physical suffering caused by the relentless bombing by both sides, the concentration camps and the extreme cruelty shown to prisoners by the Japanese. It was explained that theirs was a different culture; that a Japanese soldier would die rather than be taken prisoner so they had no respect for our men. Does that excuse their inhuman behaviour?

We were young and didn’t want to think about the horrors of life. We had visitors coming. Maddie decided we would cycle twelve miles (mostly uphill) to meet the boys just over the border. It was a hot sunny day and as we freewheeled down into the town we saw three gorgeous youths in front of the town hall with bikes and rucksacks.

There were two brothers; Liam, tall, muscular with hair the colour of treacle toffee and a pale skin. He was the elder and was Maddie’s friend. Her boy friend was Paul Gray – the soldier we met on his embarkation leave. The younger brother was MTL; tall and slim with black curly hair and a darker skin. He had a sort of wild gypsy-ish look – too OTT for my taste; people would stop and stare at him and I preferred more quirky looks. It wasn’t love at first sight but I was dazzled by the trio. Dylan was shorter and dark.

Years later when I asked MTL what his first impression was he said I was very pretty – and very young. Ouch! They were very fit – oarsmen and rock climbers – the elder two, undergrads at Oxbridge and MTL about to be. We cycled back to the aunts where we were fed and watered and Maddie and I put dresses on. I wore a red stripey dress with the bodice laced up. I know this because MTL described it thirty four years later.

After high tea we walked up to Mum and Dads where we had another high tea. My parents were transfixed when Liam demonstrated rock climbing techniques by hanging from the lintel by his finger nails. He was a bit mad and Dylan was a bit too touchy feely for my prudish taste but I warmed to the shy diffidence of MTL who, when he managed to get a word in edgeways, displayed a quiet wit.

All too soon they were off on their adventures but I had too much to do to mope. By hook or by crook in a year’s time I meant to be off on my own adventures.

Saturday, January 28, 2006



Yesterday the title ‘GOING THROUGH CHANGES’ appeared without the post for a couple of hours and some of you assumed there was no post.  This was my fault.  I had been having difficulty publishing from WORD and was experimenting.  The post is now there. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Going through Changes

Story Contd

So much for seeing more of Maddie now we were both at the same school. I hadn’t reckoned on the rigid class system whereby lordly Fourth Formers ignored the existence of the Lower Thirds. People thought it strange that two sisters lived in different homes and it was assumed our parents were divorced.

I soon made friends in my own year – girls of course. Although it was a co-ed school we were segregated in class and especially out of it. At that age boys were an unnecessary nuisance. Northern lads had strange ways of attracting a girl’s attention and would flick our legs with a wooden ruler and leave little offerings of rabbit dung in one’s desk. When puberty kicked in their behaviour improved and we were more forgiving.

Apart from the boys it was like being in an Angela Brazil story: - the Latin, Prayers. Prep, vigorous games of hockey- minus the lemons at half time – and the uniform. I loved it all and was living a dream – especially in class.

MISS DREW ‘Pat Buxton – what are Barbarians?’

PAT ‘Er…little silver balls in skipping ropes.’

Another detention.

By the second year, although in the top stream I had settled lazily in the bottom third of the class and was nearing my Waterloo. Sure enough the headmaster’s secretary interrupted our History lesson to say I had to go to the headmaster’s study immediately. Mr Williams was a fearsome man and would stride around the Assembly Hall when he was in a rage, but much of it was bluster and served to put the fear of God in most pupils. The discipline was exemplary and I later came to know him as a kind man.

At this moment I was having difficulty in breathing and shaking like an aspen leaf. He told me quite firmly that as I wasn’t doing myself justice I was to be moved out of my present class A to class R which meant I had an extra year before I could take School Certificate. My tears caused him to gently pat my head but not to change his mind.

I was totally humiliated and felt disgraced. As I sobbed to my mother,

‘It’s so unfair – I’m not even in the bottom three. Why me?’

Well the other three didn’t have Meddlesome Maddie to stage manage their life. She had convinced my parents and Mr Williams that this was best for my well-being and when I found out I was mad as hell.

However this was a real kick up the back-side and was the spur I needed to work. There was much catching up to do as the syllabus was different but by the end of the year I was top of the form and managed to hold the position until I left school with a Complete Shakespeare to prove it. A salutary lesson and I have just about forgiven Maddie.

At fifteen I had a dream that Uncle Bill was standing before us with a thick rope around his waist. Quite soon after he became very ill with stomach cancer and the maiden aunts - his ’dear friends’ defied convention and took him into their home and nursed him until he died.

Then my darling Grandad had a massive stroke and despite Gran’s nursing died. Gran blamed his ‘flaming customers’. His Sunday walks were foregone to make time to deal with the endless ration books and coupons. The points system - whereby customers exchanged points for special goodies - was grossly unfair. Not enough tins – not enough points and Grandad trying to please everyone without success.

Auntie Janet married her GI and departed for the States and Gran sold the shop and went to work as housekeeper to a man in a sea-side town. On a visit to Gran one weekend I couldn’t bear seeing her reduced to looking after some stranger and insisted she came home with me. Mum and Dad were surprised, but took it in their stride and I shared my bedroom, except when she visited the States, until I left home. Maybe Maddie wasn’t the only meddlesome one.

The aunts now used to invite me to join Maddie on their holidays and it was when we were walking along the prom of the sedate seaside town that we met a young soldier on embarkation leave. He asked us about the area but we discovered later that he was visiting his father and knew the area better than we did. He and Maddie fell for each other and met every day until he had to leave. It was all quite proper with me as chaperone –‘too old for toys – too young for boys’ – I thought I’d be an ‘in between’ for ever.

It was time for Maddie to leave school. She had done brilliantly academically but also has a talent for art and had gained a place at a reputable Art school which had been evacuated to Oxbridge. She had taken to the life with gusto and during the next vac informed us that three chaps would be stopping off in our valley. They would be cycling – en route to a climbing trip in the Lake District, and one of them would be MTL.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I am enjoying BOOK OF THE WEEK:The Year of the Jouncer by the playwright Simon Gray on BBC Radio4 FM at 9.45am. If you are interested in the process of writing and the theatre and literary life give it a go on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. Personally I prefer his books to his plays. What do you think?

Monday, January 23, 2006


Story Contd

It was good to be back home with a flushing toilet. Gran's ancient privy in tbe back yard had a paralysing effect on my innards and whilst Californian Syrup of Figs was OK, Gran's enemas were a step too far.

As the war hotted up friends and family began to be enlisted in the forces and there was a lot of heartbreak. Occasionally the German planes bombing the city would go off piste and jettison their cargo near us, causing the sirens to start their mournful wailing. Dad would race down to the Town Hall on his trusty steed (the motorbike) and Mum would usher Evan and me down the hill to Uncle Jim's pub where Auntie Elsie would give us chocolate biscuits.

The pub was a bit of a boozer with sawdust and spitoons on its stone flags. Evan and I loved the notice in the bathroom which said 'PLEASE USE THE LAVATORY NOT THE BATH'
Before long the 'All Clear' would go - one continuous note, and back we would go up the hill to our beds.

Food rationing meant we had to eat endless quantities of spam and scrambled egg, made from a yellow powder. Sweet rationing really hurt and we used to have little flat tins filled with a mixture of cocoa and sugar which we would lick. The more knowledgable of us warned that it was dangerous to lap up too much as this would dry your blood up. Obviously.

The evacuees arrived and as they had spent countless nights underground avoiding Adolf's bombs they brought with them nits and scabies. But DDT lotion and sulphur ointment soon got rid of those.

We were brainwashed with propaganda and the world was split into goodies and baddies.
Clearly we and the Americans and the Russians were the former and the Germans and Italians were the latter. Stalin and FDR were revered as our noble Allies and Hitler and Mussolini were pilloried as ridiculous figures of fun.
'We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing mother dear?'

It was only at the end of the war that - thanks to the newsreels we realised the full horror of Nazi-ism and later still when we, the common people, learnt the true
story of Joseph Stalin.

The local children formed a gang led by Jake - a boy with false legs and a fearsome stick. We decide to raise money for the Spitfire Fund and made spill holders which held tapers so that you could light your fag from the fire and save matches. The lavender bags we made were less successful as we had no lavender and made do with talcum powder. Miraculously people bought these rather messy articles and when we considered we had a reasonable amount of money we marched on the Town hall. Jake decreed that we would only hand it over to the Mayor and we ended up having tea with him in the Mayor's Parlour.

The GI's (dough boys - over paid, over sexed and over here) were a breath of fresh air and were very generous with precious items like nylons. It was always a great sadness that I was too young for them but Auntie Janet married one and they are still together in the States.

In spite of the doctor I sat the scholarship and got it. Joy all round. I could now join my big sister at the grammar school and the world would be my oyster.
Hip,Hip hooray!

Friday, January 20, 2006


Story Contd

We kids were not fazed by the outbreak of war. Not at first. It was a new adventure
And there was always the chance of being evacuated to the States with its Andy Hardy picket fences, ice cream sodas and Mr Gable. By now Maddie had got a scholarship to our excellent grammar school. The three of us were quite bright but Maddie was the clever one. Just recently she sent me a cartoon of two ancient crones and one is saying to the other ‘Was I the clever one and you the pretty one, or was it the other way round?

Since she had gone to live with the aunts it was my responsibility to look after Evan. Mum and Dad worked from 8am to 5.30pm so I had to make sure he had his breakfast, was clean and tidy and get him to school on time. After school I would light the fire and try to keep Evan in one piece. He was accident prone and was rarely without a plaster on his knee and sometimes stitches in his head. I was always highly strung but I started to become quite fearful. If Mum and Dad had a row after we had gone to bed I would sit in the stairs steps listening, dreading that they would split up. I used to browse in Gran’s medical books and when I read the symptoms of pregnancy was convinced that my sprouting breasts meant I was pregnant. I was completely ignorant of how one got pregnant and the worst thing was I couldn’t talk to anyone about it

I didn’t go balmy but would sit staring into the fire with tears rolling down my cheeks. Mum marched me off to the doctor’s and he asked me lots of questions about what I read and did I go to the cinema. Mum said ‘I nearly had a fit when he asked you what you read.’ She had just caught me reading ‘Vinegar and Brown Paper’ which I had found in a cupboard. She needn’t have worried – I told him I read Angela Brazil stories and Just William which was true. I would read anything available – even the blurb on HP sauce bottles. As for the cinema – we were the cinema generation and would go twice a week.

When the doctor said on no account should I sit for a scholarship I couldn’t wait to get outside the surgery and tackle Mum. Thanks to our trips on the motor bike I had seen the world outside the valley (sometimes called the Valley of Death) and I couldn’t wait to spread my wings. Most people worked in the mills and the elite worked in the offices. I wanted neither but realised my passport to the outside world was an education. Mum’s response was her usual ‘We’ll see.’ Which drove me mad. Everyone agreed that I should go up to Gran’s for a rest.

Gran had had a late child Aunty Janet who was now in her late teens. I would share her room and bed. She was very glamorous – not like Mum who was pretty and cuddly. She worked in a big store in the city and had fantastic clothes which I looked forward to dressing up in whilst she was at work. When I arrived Janet offered me half a crown if I could find the peroxide. She wanted to go blonde and Gran had hidden the bottle. It didn’t take me long to spot it tucked between the blanket box and the wardrobe. Gran went bananas that night when Janet took off her turban and we saw her bright yellow locks.

Whilst Gran and Janet were out at work I would help Grandad in the shop. I loved sticking labels on things and weighing out sweets. He tried to fatten me up and would cook me tripe and trotters. The tripe - cold with salt and vinegar - was quite refreshing and the trotters tasty. I changed my mind when I learnt what part of the animal I was eating but Grandad's home-made rum butter was yummy. On Mondays Gran took me to the cinema or pictures as we called it. Her favourites were thrillers like 'Suspicion' with Cary Grant. I don't think the doctor would have approved but i was enjoying life.

On Sundays Grandad would go for a walk, Janet would be off with friends and Gran and I would go to the Roman Catholic Church. She gave me a beautiful prayer book - white and shiny -and I enjoyed the theatricality of the service after the rather dull Unitarian one. The costumes, the scattering of the incense, the devoutness and the knowledge that I really shouldn't be there, were exciting. One fateful Sunday we were walking back after church when we spotted Dad waiting for us, astride the motorbike. Gran panicked, 'Quick! Give me the prayer book!' and she hid it in her handbag but Dad knew exactly what we had been up to and I felt my new found holiness dissipating.
'Right!'Dad said, 'Get in the sidecar. You're coming home!'
The 'cracking up' was over.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I wonder if anyone watched 'Elizabeth David - a Life in Recipes' last night on BBC2.
I never met her but her friend Doreen - the blonde actress who put her wise to her lover's double dealing - was a close friend until she died a few years ago. Doreen and her husband were bon viveurs and had a great zest for life. They bought a farmhouse in the Dordogne, before it was fashionable to do so, and we would be invited to help them make it habitable and then enjoy the life of the lotus eaters. The food and wine were excellent and there was a lot of hilarity.
Gradually they move further south until they reached Spain.

I remember them fondly because through travels with them I gained the confidence to drive through France both alone and with my son. One unforgetable day Doreen, Colin - her husband - and I were driving through Provence. It was sizzling. the cicadas were deafening and the air was heavy with the scent of thyme and lavender. We had the perfect picnic - fresh bread, cheeses, tomatoes, fruit and wine. All we needed was the perfect spot for our perfect picnic. Feeling euphoric and to pass the time I decided to try out my French which was more dogged then fluent.
'Je serais tres contente si nous trouverons une riverere parceque nous pouvons lever nos mains avant le dejeuner.'
We drove on, occasionally spotting places that weren't quite right. Time passed and the temperature rose both inside and outside the car. Sitting behind them I could see they were both getting quite twitchy. An hour passed and the cheeses were practically crawling round the car. I feared for Doreen's blood pressure until she screamed 'Stop the car!' with a squeal of brakes Colin stopped and as Doreen started a tirade he shouted 'I was looking for a F...... so that Pat could wash her F......hands!'

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Story Contd

It was Uncle Bill's fault. Dad's older brother was our favourite uncle. He always had sweeties in his pocket for us - even if they were usually covered in fluff. Dad's brothers and cousins formed a cricket team and Bill was the popular wicket keeper - which accounted for his corncrake voice - all those 'HOWZAT'S!' He had a brown leathery face and his big bluff exterior hid a very gentle man. Like us he belonged to the Unitarian Church and for years - before WW1 he had been friends with three sisters - the Misses Davis.

During the war he was awarded the Military medal for gallantry near Ypres and Maddie still has the beautiful embroidered cards he sent to 'my dear friends' the Davis sisters. We believe he was in love with Aunty Jean (they were honorary aunts to us) but with the constant proximity of the other two sisters it would be a rare occasion that he would ever be alone with her.

He used to take Maddie when he visited them. They lived in the town about a mile away and this gave Mum a break from three little ones. I don't know how it came about - I wasn't consulted - but when Maddie was six it was decided that she would go and live with the aunts. Maddie was excited and happy. The aunts were well off and had a shoe shop and a telephone. Marion was a chiropodist and Eileen and Jean were skilled seamstresses. Maddie would have endless shoes, happy feet, exquisite dresses AND a telephone - a rarity in the thirties. There was a bit of envy flying around - especially when I had to miss out on some school trips because we couldn't afford them.

I am certain that everyone acted from the best of motives - believing that our lives and opportunities would be enhanced. I am also certain that my parents regretted it till the day they died. Initially life did get easier; Dad bought a motor bike and sidecar and instead of a coach trip to Blackpool at Wakes week, we now explored Britain. Our first trip was from Lancashire down through the South West to Land's End. Evan and I hid behind a rock and Dad was sure we had drowned in the swirling waters. When we popped out he roared 'This is the last time we're coming to this bloody place!'

Evan was so impressed with this trip he repeated it when he went on honeymoon and I - a lifetime later - have chosen to end my days here , the South West that is, not Land's End. Maddie was also taken hither and yon by the aunts but travelled in a more up market mode. We happily exchanged experiences when she came home every Sunday. We had family parties when Maddie would play the piano and I would sing Deanna Durbin's latest hits and Evan would groan at his boring sisters.

The Lake District became our favourite place. We camped on the edge of Lake Windemere and hired a wooden rowing boat. Evan and I were allowed to go fishing on the lake and we would tie up to a rusted sign sayinG 'DANGER ROCKS KEEP OFF' Evan would attach the minnows we had caught - with the aid of pieces of bread and a jamjar- to the hook ( I was too squeamish) and then we would wait until the floats bobbed under the water which meant we had a bite. We caught perch and once Evan caught an eel. Mum would cook them on the primus in the evening and never was food polished off so quickly. That first week we climbed Helvellyn and Skiddaw. Looking back I feel so sad that Maddie wasn't there. This idyllic childhood was about to change. 'Storm clouds were gathering over Europe.' It was 1939 and by September we were at war.

Monday, January 16, 2006

In the interest of coherence and my sanity I am going to start at the beginning. All questions will be answered in sequence and maybe I can make some sort of sense of my life.

The Story begins here

My greatest influence was Gran - my maternal grandmother. It was because of her I became a nurse. I really wanted to be an actress but she convinced me that to be successful you had to sleep with the producer. I wasn't sure what that entailed but her facial expression told you it was something you didn't want to do. She was built like Queen Mary - the woman not the boat - and her demeanour was that of a duchess unlesss she lost her temper when she became a termagant. Her family - devout Roman Catholics - escaped the potato famine in Ireland and were not best pleased when she married Grandad an English atheist. He was an engineer and they had a good life travelling in South Africa until he had a horrific accident and with a crippled hand was pensioned off. By this time Mum was born and they bought a grocer's shop and settled in Lancashire.
Never one to be dictated to by circumstance, Gran took herself off to Edinburgh to train to be a midwife and from then on half the babies in the valley were delivered by her and she was an important member of the community. She was a brick when Mum met my father, fell in love and got pregnant at the age of eighteen. She made sure they were married before the birth and delivered my sister Maddie the same year. Two years later I appeared and after another two years my brother Evan was safely delivered - all by Gran.
The valley we lived in in NE Lancashire was surrounded by soot blackened hills. The main road was lined with factories and cotton mills and my parents worked in separate ones. Twice a day you would hear the clang of clog irons on the road as the workers marched down the hill in the morning and back up after the hooter had sounded at 5.30pm. We were latch-key children and poor but every Thursday the 'order' would be delivered from Grandad's shop and Gran would come every week laden with fruit and vegetables. The house was a small three bed -rooomed end of terrace with a piano taking most of the living space. We were well loved and content and then Maddie, aged six left home.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Something is definitely working. I'm hazy about links but will settle fot this just now. Somewhere in cyber space is another site with a pretty green top - wave if you see it. Some months back my eldest son said I should look at blogs and introduced me to Random acts of Reality, Jonny B's Secret Diary and Zinnia Cyclamen which I - knowing him - thought was about real ale. I was hooked and then discovered Universal Soldier, Growing up and Gyuana Gyal -forgive the spelling GG I'm scared of leaving the page to check. I enjoyed everything about it especially the exchange of comments. Having spent enough time at the bottom of slush piles it was heartening to get feed back.
Everybody has a story and some of you were kind enough to express interest in mine
hence Past Imperfect. To start with I am going with Zinnia's suggestion which is to invite you to ask a question and I will do my best to answer as honestly as possible.
I must just tell you in yesterday's Telegraph there was an article by Alison Palmer about US author Terry Hekkerwho wrote a book about her successful marriage and then th b....r left her on her 40th wedding anniversary for a younger woman. And here am I spouting off about my marriage. 'Would you do that to me?' I asked MTL. 'No.'he said, 'You are my dolly bird!'
I seem to have two sites but so far have been unable to complete my profile or write on the sites. I yearn for the day when I can just write and see it on the screen.