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!


apprentice said...

Wow a manual! That's just amazing.
How did you receive it, blushingly?
I'm glad he didn't have to go to Korea. Funny how that unhappy part of the world is in the news again now.

Dodie's house sounds lovely

PI said...

apprentice: I received it with intense interest being incredibly ignorant. It was eye popping stuff. Re Korea - plus ca change...
The house was great. Sadly she eventually sold it to come up to be near us.
BTW did you get the e-mail about GG's link?

apprentice said...

I remember a girl at school fainting at a male anatomy chart lol!

No I didn't get the e-mail, can you try again?

PI said...

apprentice: not a pretty sight!
Have tried again.

Dandelion said...

Well, this is all lovely, just like I said it would be. I feel quite happy just reading it. One in the eye to all those doubting Thomases, eh? Can't wait for the next installment.

Though I thought it still was the custom for the bride's parents to pay for the wedding. Seems a bit unfair to me, but there it is.

Kath said...

I love that last line! "next stop the altar! has such a sweet exciting ring to it.

Larraine said...

I think you were very lucky to have met such an enlightened young man, considering much that I've heard about attitudes to sex "in those days"! I looked up the author, and came across this link
And yay for the resolution of bridesmaid woes! STRIPES???!!!! Blegh!

R. Sherman said...

He also gave me a book about sex by Van de Velde so that I should be prepared for married life.

Oh, my. You can't just leave it that! Title? Chapter headings? We must know more!


Life of a Banana said...

It was cheeky of William to give you the sex manual. That should have been your mother's job.


That must have been one big anatomy chart apprentice! £11 to avoid Korea. Worth it n then some!

PI said...

dandelion: maybe they were taking the long view. It isn't over till the fat lady sings.

kath: I thought that wold resonate with you. Won't be long now!
Larraine: I clicked on your link - thank you BTW - and found it more explicit than I remember. I suspect that as I wa busy swotting at the time , I just looked at the pictures.

Randall: click on Larraines link and all will be revealed.

Banana: I don't think Mum was up to it. They were ridiculous times.

4d: yes it's amazing what £11 would buy. Granny P told me someone she knew refused to go and got away with it because quite a few felt like that and the authorities wanted to hush it up.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I'm glad about the stripes too, blech! You were sweet to indulge them both to the extent you did.

Why's it called a boiled-ham suit?

That's so funny that William gave you that book. And also rather sweet and touching. I bet many men might not have bothered, back then. Women were just supposed to lie back and think of England, I thought. As for enjoying it? Phthoo! Women clearly had no call to be actually enjoying it (God forfend!) being the mild-as-milk angels-of-the-hearth we were all supposed to be. Bah! I have to say I think things are better nowadays that way.

These are my impressions of that time, but they're just cobbled together from popular culture and such. Maybe it wasn't like that at all.

Was it?

PI said...

apprentice: I can't get it to work so here'e hoping you see this

PI said...

Sam: Dad always called it his 'boiled ham suit ' as he wore it to weddings and funerals where one was usually served boiked ham.
Things are certainly 'better nowadays that way.' It was the blind leading the blind. 'Was that it?' was the mot du jour.

kenju said...

I am surprised at the sex manual thing too; I would think your family should have taken care of that.

PI said...

Judy: I don't know anyone in my age group who discussed sex with their parents. You were told about menstruation and that was it.

Dr Maroon said...

Oh good. I read this yesterday and spent many a happy hour thereafter googling "The Ideal Marriage, Physiology and Technique"
I'm glad to see, others did too.

Did he leave it on your pillow? Was it gift wrapped? Or did he harumph, and pass it over the breakfast table saying something like:
"You might want a look at this m'dear."
The whole episode is so enlightening. It is both intellectually mature and yet coyly innocent, like courting someone with lovehearts (remember them?)

You could have replied:
"That old thing? Pshaw, I wrote chapters 2 to 5 inclusive!"
"That's OK darling, you keep it and read it. I can be very demanding in the bedroom."

Then watch him choke on his marmalade.

I could go on.

Was it new or had loverboy had a good scan through all the spicy bits? I'm assuming there wasn't much in it about pot roasts and keeping slippers by the fire.

PI said...

Hi Doc: at that stage just before the wedding and whilst I was taking Finals, we only saw one another once or twice a week for a few hours in the evening. That is when he would hand it over suggesting I might like to read it. Although later he had an enormous library I think this was a library book as I only had it for a short time. It was a great, heavy tome and there was no way I could read it properly or even want to fill my head with such stuff when I was focussed on exams. So all I remember were the illustrations.
As for parental instruction, my family were decent, hard working,northern folk and a bit puritanical. We lived in a small house but I never saw my father or brother undressed. Whilst we would find basic lavatorial jokes funny - sexual jokes would have been shocking. I don't think this was unusual then. Nowadays, in films, books, internet and real life nothing is left to the imagination. Then, everything was. Maybe if I had been in a Gensral Hospital instead of a Childrens I would have been a little more worldly.
BTW I like 'intellectually msture' a lot. Don't like 'coyly innocent'. Natural modesty is not the same as coyness.:)
I think William, having met my family realised I could probably do with a little preparation.

Guyana-Gyal said...

A tv / film producer should rush to buy your story...what a delicious life, full of juice, berries, mountains, romance...

PI said...

GG: sadly it's not all sweetnes and light. Like most lives.

Dr Maroon said...

Pat you’re right. Coy isn’t the right word at all. An unfortunate choice plucked lazily from the heavens in a weak attempt at levity.
Parents in any generation are the most difficult people with whom to discuss sex. It’s near impossible.
For us, we are much too close to them, for them, it signals that we are growing up and there is the added implication that they themselves must have actually had sex at one time, (perish the thought,) or how else would we be here talking about it?
I can remember vague conversations that went clean over my head at the time, about always respecting girls and love and marriage. The actual mechanics of reproduction were explained at primary school along with acne, spleens, lungs, voices breaking, and drinking milk for the calcium because we were growing so quickly.
The emotional side of sex was never discussed.
At fourteen, we got it all again at school, this time with some helpful slides of the symptoms of syphilis and gonorrhoea. Some very thoughtful faces in the canteen that day.

PI said...

Doc; I remember those jolly films about General Paralysis of the Insane - the fear of that and of being struck dead, kept many of us on the straight and narrow.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I know it's not all sweetness and light, that's what makes it more intriguing.

PI said...

GG: sometimes I'd like a little more of the S and L and less of the intriguing bit:)