MEETING THE IN-LAWS
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.