Tuesday, October 31, 2006



‘ Are you going to come and see us on your own when you are a big boy?’
I asked our eight year old, French grandson as the family were leaving
He looked at me through his elegant blue spectacles.
‘But,’ he said blinking, ‘you are going to be dead.’

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Meeting the In-laws  Posted by Picasa

As promised I went to see the doctor. He was fatherly, elderly and sympathetic. He examined me briefly, asked me lots of questions and then told me that like all young wives, I was trying to do too much and should slow down, whereupon I dissolved into inexplicable tears. However, I felt comforted and resolved to be less of a perfectionist.

We were going to Norfolk for Christmas and would meet William’s brother Wallace, wife Fleur and children Mark and Jane. They had finished their tour of duty in Malta and were staying with Dodie until they found a house in the Portsmouth area. Wallace met us at the station and started an animated discussion with William – completely ignoring me. I realised later this was a sort of inverted shyness but at the time I felt if I dared to utter a word I would be told ‘Shush – men talking!’

Both he and Fleur were quite autocratic and I never did discover who wore the trousers. William as the younger brother was used to being bossed around but I felt my Irish blood stirring and asserted myself when I felt it was necessary. The children were very sweet and well behaved. It was the first Christmas since Dodie had lost her husband, so we all concentrated on making it as happy a Christmas as possible.

Dodie had a heart condition and occasionally she would clutch her chest and say, ‘Wally – Willy – Wally my tablets please darling.’ And the ‘boys’ would leap to attention and get whatever was required. At first I was very concerned but as time wore on realised that this was a regular occurrence and not as urgent as it had first seemed. Sometimes she would forget they were now grown men and say ‘ Willy – Wally – Willy – on your new bicycle – get me the brandy please darling.’

Fleur was an heiress – her father had been in tea and she was genuinely posh. She was great to have around on very formal occasions – knew exactly when to stand and when to sit in church and would have known exactly how to behave if the Queen had dropped by ( we were in Norfolk after all). She was very practical and would tackle the most daunting of household jobs with a fag hanging out of her mouth, her pale blue eyes squinting from the smoke and her cut glass accent interspersed with a hacking cough.

Underneath these tough exteriors they were all quite human. Wallace had said to his parents during the war, ‘Mummy, Daddy you mustn’t use any petrol. Those poor devils on tankers – they just go up in smoke.’
Dodie gave me some bits of china for the flat and Fleur gave me spare linen from her mother’s old house and promised once they had got their things out of store she would let us have any surplus furniture. This was very kind of her because she had been brought up in a mansion

Breakfast was interesting; we were all sitting round the table with porridge, eggs, toast and marmalade etc and Dodie had a large plate of stale crusts in front of her. Everybody begged her not to eat them but she insisted that they should be eaten, None of us felt obliged to join her and I pointed out that by the time we had eaten them, the fresh bread would be stale. This didn’t go down too well; Dodie was not only a tad eccentric but stubborn to boot - a family trait it seemed.

I was surprised to discover that Norfolk in the winter was bitterly cold. It felt as if the icy winds were blowing straight from Russia. We had lots of bracing walks with the children and the dogs and then roasted chestnuts round the fire. I even began to welcome fat Annette jumping on the bed (one of the dachshunds) to spread some warmth to the icy sheets.

All in all Christmas was a success. I felt I understood William a little more now and I had been welcomed into the family, with the reservation that they thought I was as nutty as I knew they were.

Thursday, October 26, 2006



It felt great to be one of the grown up Work Force.  Hitherto I had been a glorified school girl – resident in the work place and subject to rules and regulations.  It was a new experience to be setting out in the early morning in my new brown uniform, which often elicited an approving smile.  As I smiled back I prayed everyone would stay vertical.  Only the few would realise I was children’s trained – not adult’s.

At the Hospital everyone was friendly and there was a more relaxed atmosphere in Out Patients.  It was also much dirtier.  There were no clean air restrictions and I had noticed in our eyrie, the window sills were covered with sooty, greasy grime which needed to be washed weekly.   The poorer children often had dirty heads and impetigo was rife.  One poor boy’s face and scalp were covered and each day I had to clean him up and then treat the area with gentian violet which made him purple from the neck up.

I sometimes think that, paradoxically, now people are cleaner, standards of hygiene have slipped.  We certainly didn’t need to be constantly reminded to wash our hands or to keep our hair away from our faces and collars.  No way would we risk getting nasty skin diseases, and pediculi in our hair.  Chefs nowadays think nothing of beating a mixture vigorously with their floppy hair shedding its detritus to the mix.

We settled in to the attic room and I had to get used to doing a day’s work, keeping the flat clean, seeing to the laundry and  cooking a meal.  Our main relaxation was the cinema and the radio, both of which provided excellent entertainment.  Dodie, William’s mother used to breed dogs and her off- spring were all over the country.  She remembered ones she had had in Sheffield and more or less suggested they should get in touch with us which they dutifully did, and invited us for coffee.

It was the custom to give guests coffee – usually instant, and served in a blue or green Denby jug with biscuits or bits rather than alcohol.  We were given little savoury biscuits with a tasty Polish ham garnished with bits of cucumber and from then on all my guests were served the same.  Slowly I was learning to be a housewife and a hostess.

The people on the floor below, with whom we shared a bathroom, were very pleasant.  The bathroom had a faulty lock and I was horrified one day to see a teapot spout appear round the door.  My scream stopped it dead in its tracks and it vanished along with the very embarrassed husband.  There were profuse apologies all round and a new bolt was fixed.

Life was quite hectic.  Occasionally we would travel over to my parents and be pampered.  Gran was back from the States and Maddie had a local job.  Everybody was concerned that I had lost quite a bit of weight and I had to promise to go and see the doctor.  My life had changed: although I had worked hard for years – nourishing meals were always provided and I had no housework or laundry to worry about.  Then there was the sex.  No wonder I was skinny!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just Burbling
Last night I had a great experience; I cried out in shock and horror. I was alone - the first time for days - had Tesco's rich dark chocolate in my mouth and was watching a thriller 'Bon Voyage' written by Oliver Brown shewn on ITV1 (it irks me when people fail to mention the author or hide it so well no one knows who's responsible.)
I'm telling you this because it has the second, final part tonight at 9pm and you may care to watch it. I had seen Fay Ripley interviewed about it so assumed she would be the leading actress, which made it all the more startling when she wasn't Briefly it is about two families independantly travelling through France on holiday. The main couple's marriage is in trouble and this is a make or break time for them. They are befriended by another couple who ingratiate themselves and cause the first couple to try to escape what they see as a boring dreary pair.
The plot gets darker and brilliantly conveys the hopeless panic one feels when things go wrong in a strange country and there was one coup de theatre which had me yelling out loud. Do watch if you are at a loose end - they always do a rehash st the beginning and don't for get the choclolate!
Injustice in Spain

I urge you to read Granny P’s post – ‘Seaside Robbery’ (click on my side bar.)
As Granny P says – the more publicity the situation gets the better. Many of you have lots of experience of living abroad and she would welcome any constructive advice. They need a champion - honest and true. If it happened here I would try to get Prince Charles on board and one wonders if King Carlos would or could help. What they propose doing is deeply unfair and should not be allowed.

'We shall defend our island,
Whatever the cost may be,
We shall fight on the beaches…'

Winston Churchill 1874-1965

Sunday, October 22, 2006


It is half term and we have the Sussex grandchildren, soon to be followed by the French. As a result this week’s posting may be spasmodic. But here is one I prepared earlier. Actually we did Part 5 of the walk, the day after Part 4. We were on a roll and the beauty of walking with Son 1 is that I can switch off and leave all planning and decisions to him. Bliss! The walk was from Monksilver to Roadwater – just less than five miles and we would be entering the Exmoor National Park so our drives from home were getting shorter. We were going to park the car by the roadside, but some villagers were about to cut their hedge and asked if we would mind using the village car park which we hadn’t known existed. My son agreed, willingly and then they said to my grand-daughter they hoped he wouldn’t be cross as the car park was quite a way. I was glad I had decided to wait by the church as it was some time before he returned – not cross – just amused.

We went through Monksilver church yard up past the Old Rectory and were on the footpath. It was a muggy, overcast day and we were plagued by flies as we sweated up the hill. At the top we turned right along Bird’s Hill bridleway. After about a mile we came to the road at Colton Cross. We were told to look out for a gate which the landowner allowed you to use for access to an excellent viewpoint – somewhat hindered by the low cloud. Back on the road we continued to a bridleway sign posted Chidgley with views across the Bristol Channel to Wales There were lots of pheasants around and Son 1 told me the large blue plastic barrel was a feeder for the pheasants. We went through woodland and admired the Rowan trees ablaze with berries.

The weather brightened a little and I was touched when the children quoted their great grandma – my mother - who would always say ‘There’s enough blue sky to patch a Dutchman’s trousers!’ I wondered if they would remember me when I’m gone. Probably for the lullaby I used to sing to them.
Cowpats are free tra la, tra la,
But don’t throw one at me tra la, tra la,
Or you may get hit tra la, tra la
And they’re full of s…tra la, tra la!


We were cautioned to walk carefully down the stretch of the ’busy B road’ but we must have missed the rush hour as we saw no traffic. We were pleased to return to the track which took us past Chidgley Hill Farm. Then we headed to an old bank of beech trees and with them on our right, followed the track to Pitt Wood. Through more woodland and we were walking parallel to the Old Mineral Railway Line . The West Somerset Mineral Line was built during the 1860s to convey ore from the iron mines on the Brendon Hills to the coast at Watchet. From there it was transported to South Wales. It was abandoned at the beginning of the 20thC

We crossed over a stream and entered Erridge Wood. At the end of the wood we came to open fields and thence the road to Roadwater and our lunch destination the Valiant Soldier. Now we had completed 18.7 miles of the Coleridge Way and were just past the half way mark. My grandson had been nervously awaiting his GCSE results and I they were excellent. Well done Tom!
All Saint's Curch Monksilver 12CUp hill with flies
Fields of Gold
 Posted by Picasa
View point - below abundant berries

Wait for me!
 Posted by Picasa
Bristol Channel and Wales - above Pheasants feeder
Alice and Tom
 Posted by Picasa
Old Beech Trees and Countryside
Chidgley Farm
Man at work
 Posted by Picasa
Pitt Wood

The Valiant Soldier
 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 19, 2006


William and I both wanted children – that had been the trigger that had caused me to say yes.  We talked it over and decided that we should give ourselves two years to get to know one another and prepare a home for our baby.  William needed to finish his apprenticeship and find a job, and I needed to find a job as a trained nurse and earn some money.

Throughout his life William would always have, or would find a book on whatever subject I, or family and friends were interested in.  He haunted second hand book shops and rarely paid more than a few pence for the most academic of books.  Now he provided me with Dr Marie Stopes ‘Married Love’.  She was a passionate feminist and the founder of Family Planning.  Fortunately there was a FP Clinic on Attercliffe Common.  I had to show proof that I was married and then was educated on the methods of contraception available.  I considered the following three:-

  1. It could be left to the husband

  2. An internal coil could be fitted which would require changing every few months.

  3. I could be fitted with a diaphragm which would be used in conjuction with a spermicidal cream.  (‘Cream or Jelly?’ as an assistant at Boots once bawled at me!)
1. Was a non starter.  2. I didn’t fancy having a foreign body inside me for months at a time.  So I settled for 3. - which made it my responsibility.  I found if you followed the instructions and the timings, it was fool-proof.  The disadvantage was it was a bit messy and the diaphragm had a habit of jumping from one’s grasp, once it was lubricated.

So that problem was sorted - now I had to find a job.  I decided to beard the lion in his den and called at the Hospital and asked to see the Matron.  I was in luck- she agreed to see me. It turned out that she was a great admirer of our own Matron and held my training school in high esteem, so I was accepted, once she had seen my references. I was to staff in the Out Patient’s Department.

I had my first outdoor uniform – a brown gabardine with a neat little hat.  I just prayed no-one would have a heart attack in the street whilst I was around.  Every spare minute I was scanning the news-agents windows and asking around for rooms to let.  An untidy looking foreign lady with frizzy hair and high heels asked me if I was looking for somewhere to live.  She said she had a house that she let out and the attic was vacant but it was quite small.  When William came home from work we met up with the lady and she showed us the house.  It was on a hill in a nicer area and the attic was up a tiny flight of stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a minute kitchen with a skylight and one small room.  There was a gas fire and an enormous pipe skirting the room at waist height – so useful for airing clothes.  Then there was a lumpy sofa which was a put-u-up where we would sleep.  We had to share the bathroom on the floor below but we both rejoiced when we saw it.  We would have our own private eerie and we jumped for joy.

Some time later we were told by the first floor family that our predecessor had died of polio – in/on our put-u-up – even that didn’t dampen our spirits. We reckoned this would be our home whilst we were in Sheffield.  It was very cheap – we would both be earning and soon we would be able to buy furniture.  There was a big department store called Coles and I had seen a lovely dining room suite.  It had a Welsh Dresser with a Tudor Rose carved on it, a refectory table and the chairs were covered in a Jacobean print.  I had to have it.
Marie Stopes author of Married Love
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I felt as if I had come to Austria as a girl and was leaving as a woman and couldn’t help wondering if I looked any different. I was longing to see Mum and Dad and tell them about the people we had met and the mountains we had climbed but as soon as I saw their faces I knew something was wrong. Mum had beautiful blue/green eyes and when she was distressed they were a clear turquoise.

‘What’s the matter Mum?’
‘Maddie’s back.’ Her eyes were brimming now. ‘She’s left Paul.’
‘What about Matthew?’ Mum reassured me that Matthew was fine and both of them were at the aunts. Maddie hadn’t wanted to spoil our homecoming and had left a message that she would come to see me in Sheffield when things had settled down. In fact she had held off leaving Africa until after the wedding. I now realised why Auntie Eileen – the eldest aunt, had been in tears when I walked down the aisle.

I remembered how Maddie and Paul had met when she and I were on holiday in Cleveleys. Paul had been on embarkation leave; then they had a long separation followed by a romantic reunion and impassioned pleas to Mum and Dad to let them get married. If only she had finished her training at the Slade School of Art. Now their marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down’. One of the factors had been the threat to Matthew’s health. Bilharzia - a disease caused by a parasitic worm found in ponds and streams and irrigation - was rife where they had been living in Nigeria, but the main reason was the marriage had failed and Maddie was now a single parent.

William told me not to fret about it; there was nothing we could do and we would have our hands full settling down in Sheffield so I left a supportive letter for Maddie and urged her to come and see us soon. The next day, with as many of our belongings as we could carry, we set off for our new home. Although they had two young children – a boy of seven and a girl of nine, the couple were middle aged and it felt strange sharing their home. We were given two rooms, a living room and a bed-room and the use of the kitchen and bathroom. The snag was we had to go from our room through their living room to reach the kitchen.

I felt there was an atmosphere in the house; they were quite polite to us but spoke to each other in angry whispers. The children were like most children, alternately sweet and naughty and the little boy would let off steam running round the house yelling ‘Corsets!’ I tried to quell my misgivings – William took one look at the double bed in our bedroom and was happy as a sand-boy.

Once I had made up the bed with our new cotton sheets and covered it with the blue woven Maltese bed-spread (a present from William’s brother and wife) I felt better. There was great pressure at meal times to ensure we had put everything we needed for the meal into the hatch and then – apologising profusely go through their room where they would be having a meal. One night I realised I had put everything in the hatch except the cutlery and simply could not face disturbing them again. To William’s dismay I tried to climb through the hatch and got stuck. Terrified that they would catch me with my head dangling over the kitchen floor I implored William to pull me back. He did with great gusto and we ended up on the floor but at least it was our side of the hatch.

The wife went out to work and the husband was at home all day. They hadn’t been clear about how much rent we would be paying and it transpired that they expected that I would look after the children and clean the house in return for the two rooms. The wife confided in me how she planned to leave the husband and was building up a case for a divorce. I had arranged an interview at the local hospital and I determined to find somewhere else to live if I had to scour every newsagent’s windows in Sheffield

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cliff Hangers

I have been accused of using cliff hangers and it’s true they do have a habit of popping out, unbidden like the shirt of someone who has forgotten to do up his zip.
Cliff hangers, I'm afraid are deeply ingrained from my childhood in the thirties. We, the cinema generation lived from week to week following the trials and tribulations of Flash Gordon. No-one comes near him today. Just look at those flaring nostrils!
I’ll try to be more sparing with them. Promise!




One of the weird things about the hotel was that the bathrooms were at the end of the main corridor and were kept locked.  The drill was you had to ring for the chamber maid; she would run you a bath, provide you with towels and charge you x amount of Austrian schillings.  The first time I did this the water was cool.  We weren’t sure if this was a local custom as in Greece, where the moussaka is never hot by the end of the day, or not.

The water in the hand basin in our room was hot so - as William was out - I decided to have a really good stand-up wash.  The custom was to bathe once a week and during the war we were only allowed five inches of water.  Some people even painted the tide mark round the bath.  However as a nurse I was accustomed to a daily hot bath.  In the middle of my ablutions the door handle was rattled – it was William – also a little rattled to find the door locked.  I blithely asked him to wait until I was finished.  What I didn’t realise was that he had come upstairs with some of the boys who were in the opposite room and were vastly amused at his discomfiture.  Another lesson learnt; privacy in marriage is a rare commodity.

We had formed a small group of friends with a couple of the younger MV boys and two charming Swiss girls and set out on a long coach trip to Bologna which is in Italy between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic coast.  The city was little changed since the Renaissance with wide piazzas, marble floors and dusky red buildings – La Rossa as it is known was a great contrast to our Austrian idyll. The food and shops were tempting and the dazzling scenery en route was well worth the gruelling journey.

The capital of Vorarlberg is Bregenz on Lake Constance which is bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Every summer an opera is performed on a floating stage on the lake and our little gang had the great good fortune to attend the spectacle.  We spent the afternoon in a small boat requesting the boys to ‘regardez le soleil’ whilst we changed into our cossies for a swim.  To my shame I cannot remember the name of the opera but do remember clearly the beauty of the voices drifting over the shimmering lake in the setting sun.

As the honeymoon came to an end I realised what a lucky girl I was when, less than two years earlier, I had thought life worth living was over.  Jamie was banished from my conscious mind but Maddie always stayed in touch with Liam – Jamie’s brother.  I was told that Liam was now married to the Austrian girl who had fled with her parents before the war.  Many years later I heard that Liam had told Jamie I had married someone who had been in the Navy and Jamie assumed it was Andrew.  A year later he married the older woman.

It was time to return to real life in a strange town.  William was on the final part of his apprenticeship and I had to find a job.  First we had to collect our presents and settle in the two rooms we were renting from the man we met in the street.  There was plenty to think about on the long journey home and some shocking news at the end of it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bregenz Opera Festival on Lake Constance
by afdn

Friday, October 13, 2006


The Scesaplana at nearly 10,000 ft was almost three times the height of any mountain I had climbed, but the village itself was high. I reckoned that, by now we would be acclimatised and wouldn’t go loopy when we went higher. I did feel quite responsible as Dodie had made it clear that William had no experience. We asked lots of questions about the route and set off on a perfectly clear day.

It was a long slog but fairly well way-marked. We were going up and I was fairly good at spotting a reasonable route. As we got higher the greenery and rocks were covered with snow and when we eventually reached the top there was an amazing vista. All the way around were distant peaks, like ice cream cones upside down. There was a man at the summit dressed in lederhosen who was preparing to scree run down a rocky precipice – much more frightening than the one on Great Gable. As he set off his friends leant over the edge directing him, shouting ‘Links! Links! Recht! Recht!’ to guide him from above. Once he was out of sight there was a deathly silence but I trust he got down safely. We felt immensely proud in the bar that night – chatting to the MV boys - and the next day they repeated our feat and also told us all about it in the bar.

However the difference was – they repeatedly mentioned ‘the glacier’.
‘I don’t remember any glacier. Do you?’ I asked William and he admitted that he didn’t. I’m ashamed to confess, but at this stage he was putty in my hands (not a long lasting state I’m afraid) and so we set off up the mountain once more. At the top we met some English speaking climbers and discovered that the large snowy waste near the bottom of the mountain was the glacier and we were about to traverse it for the fourth time – but this time we took photos.

Whilst all this activity was going on, I was on a quest to find ‘the Big O’. It was akin to catching a falling star or attempting to scoop up the mercury from a broken thermometer. I kept coming close and then suddenly – BINGO! And it blew my socks off. On the same day I received a cable from Matron. I had left sufficient money with her to pay for the cable and one word. She herself had paid for an extra word and the message was ‘Passed. Congratulations!’ Wasn’t that nice of her? At last all that effort had paid off and I was an R.S.C.N.

Walking round the Austrian countryside was pure Von Trapp although the musical hadn’t yet been written. The hills were alive with the sound of cow bells, the children and adults were dressed in quaint costumes, there were tiny churches and the whole area had a fairy tale feel. We learned to greet people with a cheery ’Grus Gott’, (one woman replied with a ‘Good morning – actually I’m from London!’) It was quite a surprise wandering round the church yard and seeing the photos on the graves of young men in uniform. They, of course had been the enemy and some of them looked like children.

The day after our second ascent I woke up blinded. Apparently all that glittering sun on the snow had given me snow blindness. It was only temporary and after a day in a darkened room I was fine but made sure to wear sun glasses for the rest of the time.
We decide to slow down a little and behave more like honeymooners.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Scesaplana - Vorarlberg
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 11, 2006



For those who haven’t noticed - Zinnia’s back in town (see side- bar).  She has been much missed all summer, and if you don’t know her yet, do yourself a favour and mosey on down.  You won’t be sorry!



On the overnight coach travelling to London the time passed pleasantly enough as we reminisced, like an old married couple about the wedding and the guests.  It was bliss to think of three whole weeks in the mountains – and foreign ones at that, Nowadays everybody goes abroad but then it was really special.  On arrival we felt tired and travel stained.  Fortunately William was a member of the Victory Club so we left our luggage there and had a wash and brush up.

After breakfast we ambled up Petticoat Lane and William bought me some nylons.  The boat to France didn’t leave till 5pm so we spent the day visiting museums, walking round  parks and seeing as much of the sights of London as possible.  At last we were on the boat and ready to sail for France.  We were standing on deck in a crowd.  There was a vague smell of petrol and a man was violently sick.  We were just out of range, fortunately.  He picked up a cloth that was lying on the deck and wiped himself down with it.  We stared, unbelievingly as a matelot rushed up, pulled energetically on a rope and hoisted the besmirched flag.

By the time we got ourselves on the train that would take us through France and Switzerland to Austria, we were exhausted.  We squeezed ourselves into a carriage full of travellers.  Sometime, in the early hours of Monday morning I wriggled from under Williams head, which weighed a ton, looked down at the smelly-socked feet of the man sitting opposite me, which were resting beside me, and thought ‘This is my wedding night.  It’s not meant to be like this!’

At last we arrived in Brand.  The hotel Scesaplana, named after the local mountain, looked charming with geranium-decked balconies, but the mountain was shrouded in thick cloud and we could see nothing beyond the remains of an avalanche which had struck the village that week.  It was now Monday afternoon and as we were shown into our twin bedded room we reflected that a shorter honeymoon and an easier journey would have made life easier.  We were too exhausted to do anything but sleep and I would have sold my soul for a cup of tea.

Over the next two days we recovered from the journey, I unpacked my trousseau and we did the deed.  Rome wasn’t built in a day but when the clouds lifted and the magnificent mountain was revealed our spirits lifted and we started to enjoy our honeymoon.  It was exciting being surrounded by foreigners; in the bar an enormous Dutchman introduced us to Grand Marnier which he said was ‘liquid velvet fire’ and it became our digestif each evening.

One day a coach full of young men arrived and, incredibly, turned out to be from Metro Vickers where William worked.  Even that didn’t dampen our spirits.  We got friendly with two older ladies from Edinburgh who were seasoned travellers.  They had a very good relationship with the rather dour head waiter who, following their example we called Rudolph.  Gently they explained that, as they were older and had known Rudolph for some time it was permissible for them to address him as Rudolph but we should address him as Herr Ober.  We learnt a valuable lesson and relations with Herr Ober improved.

Although some people left in disgust during the three days of thick cloud, it
was a very popular hotel and a favourite with the Dutch Royal family.  The 2,985 metres mountain was saying ‘Climb me!’ and when I heard the Metro Vickers lads were planning a climb I persuaded William that we should do it first rather than go up in a crowd.  So that’s what we planned to do.

Monday, October 09, 2006



I chose my wife, as she did her wedding gown,
Not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well.
(The Vicar of Wakefield)

Just before we got married William was told he would do the rest of his apprenticeship in the Sheffield steel works; so for one long weary day we pounded the pavements looking for somewhere to live.  It seemed a hopeless task.  We read notices in local shops and asked people on the street – to no avail.

  Just as we were about to give up and go home, a man asked us if we were looking for somewhere to live.  To cut a long story short, when he had satisfied himself that we were gainfully employed and respectable, he told us that he and his wife and two children could let us have two rooms and use of the kitchen.  We just had time to see them before catching the train home.

July 21st 1951 was a beautiful day and I remembered ‘happy is the bride the sun shines on’.  I determined to enjoy every moment. At home we had a bathroom and a bath but the hot tap gurgled and spat out hot water grudgingly – ever more so with each additional bath.  I told the family politely but firmly, that today of all days I was to have the first bath and to my surprise, they agreed.  The morning passed in a haze but at last it was just Dad and me alone, waiting for the taxi.  I couldn’t believe how calm I felt.  I loved my dress, Dad looked great and my family and friends would be waiting at the church.  Why didn’t I feel at all nervous?

Walking up the path to the church I remembered how Evan and I used to follow this same path, reluctantly, every Sunday morning.  Walking slowly down the aisle it seemed that everybody turned round and smiled at me.  Except for the eldest of the aunts and she was crying.  What was that all about?  William and Gerry were beaming and looking incredibly smart (apart from the thick navy woollen socks William had chosen) and Annie was a lovely bridesmaid.  Her mother had treated her to a crushed raspberry dress in a rich fabric which probably cost the earth and she had pale pink feathers in her hair.

When we got to the part where we plight our troth and it was William’s turn, there was silence and I realised his stammer was the reason he had been keen to get married at sea.  I looked at him and smiled encouragingly and he smiled back and still nothing.  I could feel everybody willing him to speak but William and I were perfectly calm and in the end the Reverend Sokell said it all for him, so in theory I was married to him.

There were great waves of relief as we walked down the aisle to the triumphant swell of the organ.  Now we could relax and have fun.  All the guests were taken to Rimmington in a coach and I was so glad we had chosen to be in the countryside where the fields were not blackened from the cotton mills and the birds were singing.

It felt really special greeting our guests.  Three of the nurses in our set had travelled up from London and my special guests were the Miller family: the girls had been left at home but young David was there his eyes out on stalks.  William’s mother was resplendent in black and white - she was still in mourning for William’s father.  Originally she had asked William; were we church or chapel, crust or crumb.  Now she could see for herself.  She seemed to be enjoying herself and was treated to true northern hospitality.

After the toasts Hector asked if he might say something.  He started by saying that  he expected everyone was wondering what the Millers – a Jewish family, were doing there and went on to explain how we had met;  that I had nursed his son, David and become one of the family.  By the time he had finished I decided if ever I wanted a reference he was my man!

The afternoon flew by and it was time for us to leave for our long journey. I changed into my going away suit – cherry coloured with bag and shoes to match and the palest duck egg blue blouse.  Jerry was driving us to Manchester, in his tiny ancient banger, where we would get the overnight bus to London. It would be some time before we saw the marital bed.
Does my bum look big in this?
 Posted by Picasa
Job done!
 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 08, 2006



Normally prequels and sequels leave me cold but I have just heard a critic wax lyrical about ’Wide Sargasso Sea’ which is ‘ Jean Rhys’s highly charged prequel to Jane Eyre’.
Timothy Spall’s son, Rafe and Rebecca Hall, daughter of Peter Hall and the opera singer Maria Ewing star in it and, allegedly are brilliant.  On Monday BBC4 at 9pm - so I must record ‘Life Begins’ as I can’t seem to record Freeeview.

That’s just for those of you interested in drama (don’t all leave at once).
I should warn you that there are sexually explicit scenes but you can always close your eyes.  The play’s the thing!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Today is National Po

Today is National Poetry Day;-
The Lake of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
W.B. Yeats

The photograph is P as a ‘pretend bride’ ie a modelling photo.  The real thing will be in Monday’s Post.  On Friday I have to go to the big town for shopping and maintenance and stuff.
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 04, 2006



I was on the brink of a nervous break-down, what with last minute swotting and trying to arrange a ‘shot gun wedding’ when William phoned with the news that he was to be allowed to purchase his discharge.  That meant he didn’t have to go to Korea and we could go back to having the wedding in July instead of immediately.   The figure £11 sticks in my mind.  Was that the cost of his discharge or the cost of the material for my wedding dress or the amount of my inheritance from Uncle Bill?  Or was it all three?

At least now I had time to plan everything.  The bridesmaids were still not singing from the same hymn sheet so I put them on hold.  Dad had his ‘boiled ham suit’ – black jacket and striped trousers - so it made sense for the men to hire the same and then I’d be sure William would be look respectable. (Toppers and tails, I felt, would be inappropriate.)  And he did. Except on the day he opted for thick; navy blue woollen socks. I had the wonderful Mrs D to make my dress and her daughter, who was studying fashion, did six designs for me to choose from.  She wasn’t thrilled when I chose the top of one and the bottom of another but, sweetly, gave way.  I had to try to keep the expense down for Mum and Dad’s sake.  It was the custom for the bride’s parents to pay for everything except the flowers and taxis.  Maddie had held her reception in a hotel in Waterfoot but I longed to have ours in the countryside and we chose ‘The Black Bull’ at Rimmington.

William and I rode out there on the motor bike to book it and it was charming – not chi chi at all.
‘Would you like champagne for the toast?’ they asked.
‘Oh yes please.’
Then they told me how much it would be for sixty people so we settled for sherry.  None of your bits on sticks!  This was the north and they were getting a three course sit-down meal.

Everything seemed to be falling into place and then in May, William’s father died.  Although we knew he was quite ill it was a great shock.  William rushed home for the funeral.  It was particularly moving as his father had been a Master at Lord Nelson’s old school for years, and many of the boys attended.  William told me that he and his brother found themselves grinning with nerves, but then when the choir sang ‘Abide with me,’ he was finished and couldn’t hold back the tears.
I suggested we postponed the wedding but William said his father would have wished us to carry on with our plans.

When William’s older brother had married, the parents had given him a sum of money and Dodie, (William’s mother) consulted an old family friend to see if, now she was widowed, she should do the same for William.  Apparently this friend said she must treat both boys equally.  William decided we should have a decent honeymoon and go to the Vorarlberg in Austria.  He knew how I felt about mountains and didn’t confess his own passion for sailing until much later.  He said he was afraid it would put me off.  In fact, eventually our happiest times were our sailing days.  Dodie was not so thrilled as she was convinced William would fall off the first mountain he climbed.

At last Finals were over; I felt I had done as well as I could and was free to leave.  We arranged that Matron would cable the results to our hotel in Brand – a mountain village which William chose in preference to one called Lech.  I had three whole weeks before the wedding so William asked me if I would spend it with his mother in Norfolk.  He also gave me a book about sex by Van de Velde so that I should be prepared for married life.

Norfolk was another world.  The village was feudal and Dodie pre-war.  There was tennis with home made lemonade, croquet on the lawn (Dodie was a demon with a mallet) lunch parties and always afternoon tea with the water boiled in a silver kettle on a spirit lamp.  To this day it sits on my Welsh dresser – regularly cleaned but no longer used.  The house was sprawling, shabby but charming with bowls of roses from the garden on the old polished tables.

William had asked his boyhood friend – Gerry Brown, who lived next door, to keep an eye on me.  He was gentle, jolly, with glasses and sprutty black hair and was going to be our best man.  He had never met a girl from the north before so did some goggling.  Some years later he himself, although apparently a typical bachelor, met his own girl from the north, had four children and never looked back.

Dodie and friends took me to see the sights and the lovely beaches and gradually I met most of the family friends.  We went to Norwich one day and Dodie bought me a beautiful leather hand-bag in the exact shade of my going away suit.  By the end of three weeks I felt thoroughly rested and ready for anything.  Just as well as Mum greeted me with the news that Vanessa and Abe had called.  Vanessa had also left to take up a post in London and found she was unable to be bridesmaid.  They gave us a pressure cooker as a present – which was my oven for years.

Even this didn’t dampen my spirits.  It meant Annie could have her crushed raspberry dress instead of the dreaded stripes.  Next stop the altar!

Sunday, October 01, 2006



During our enforced wait in the sleazy area, I explained to William that if he had resisted the urge to condemn the bus conductor’s rabbits to an early death, we would now be on the bus and halfway home.  William, in his wroth had not noticed the conductor’s face soften, nor yet his proffered arm to help me up.  He listened, a little abashed and apologised.  I thought it ironic that his stammer didn’t prevent the snappy crack that would be better left unsaid.

There was a warm welcome and one of Mum’s special high teas waiting for us and William relished both.  After tea I went into the kitchen with Mum to wash up and let the men get on with the business of ‘permission to marry.’  Before we’d even started the cutlery, Dad appeared with a big grin on his face.
‘What happened Dad?’
‘Well t’lad couldn’t get it out and I knew what he wanted to say so I said it were alright and you could get married!’
‘Thanks Dad’.
You would think they were glad to get rid of me.
‘When were you thinking of?’
‘July – as soon as I have finished my Finals.’
‘Eeh Pat!  Couldn’t you wait a year?  We’ve just bought a three-piece suite.’
Mum caught sight of my face and said.
‘Never mind we can manage it.’  Good old Mum!  Well, she held the purse strings so she should know.

Over the week-end we discussed the arrangements and William suggested we got married at sea where, as long as you were three miles out, the captain could marry you.
I said I wanted to be married by our minister.  He and his wife had been kind, helpful and supportive during my teen-age years and when William saw the simple church (alas no more) he agreed.  It was a shame that Gran would be in the States, Maddie and family in Africa and William’s brother and family in Malta.

William sent off for an engagement ring that he had seen in a catalogue.  When Vanessa saw it she said she had never seen such a tiny diamond and you could get really good sized zircons for the same money.  I forgave her and asked her to be bridesmaid.  I also asked Annie, my old friend from the Convalescent Home.  We all met in Manchester and as often happens when you introduce your special friends to each other it didn’t go well.  Vanessa had a vision of them wearing striped creations in yellow and black.
‘We’ll both look like bloody big wasps!’ moaned Annie.

There was so much to think about and Finals were looming which was giving me nightmares.  William’s father had a heart attack and when he was convalescing his mother wrote how she was pushing his bed out onto the veranda every day so he could enjoy the spring sunshine.  This worried William and his brother as she was no spring chicken and had angina.  And then a bombshell!

William met me one evening looking desperately worried.  He had been called up.
‘Not another bloody war!’ I screeched.  Apparently when he left the Navy he was given the option of signing on as a Reservist.  This meant he would get an income of 1s 1d a day (about 14p but it went much further then) and as he was going to University he jumped at the chance.  Now however the Korean War had broken out; conflict between the Communist North and the American occupied Republic of South Korea.  I couldn’t understand why the British Navy had to be involved.  Maybe now history is repeating itself. I wondered if someone was trying to tell me something.

William was insistent that we should bring the wedding forward – even if it meant we had to get married in a registry office, he just wanted to be married.  He was going off to war – anything could happen – I had to agree.  I went to see Matron and explained what had happened.  She was very sympathetic and said I could have some leave to get married and would then return to take my Finals and make up the time off after then.  There were a few tears shed.  Most of my close friends had left so the people who didn’t know me very well, assumed I was pregnant and had to get married.  I was so sick of wars.