NOT A DOMESTIC GODESS
As far as house cleaning went I was satisfactory. In hospital we had learnt the science of cleaning and practised it daily, so my paint work was washed regularly and cleaning started from the ceiling and progressed downwards, with all the guff vacuumed up at the end. But there had been a few disasters.
We had acquired a small washer which you filled and emptied manually but it washed – preferably whites and coloureds separately. No-one told me that Dodie had dyed William’s white naval shirts a burnt sienna colour so now I had matching underwear Then I wanted to emulate Dodie, who made delicious red currant jelly which we had with roast lamb. I got as far as slinging a muslin bag full of boiled red currants between the kitchen taps only to realise with dismay, that the red liquid vanishing down the plug hole was the jelly, not the mess in the muslin. This was a valuable lesson to learn: read the whole recipe before you start cooking.
We had been given an early pressure cooker as a wedding present and for years it was our only cooking pan. Sadly one day I had the heat too high, bringing the pressure up too quickly and the whole kitchen, from the ceiling downwards, was sprayed with boiled, stewed apple. A nice fresh smell but sticky underfoot.
William’s brother Wallace and his wife Fleur had invited us and William’s mother Dodie for Christmas. Fleur informed me that the Christmas pudding would be my responsibility. I found an old wartime recipe which used grated carrot, to cut down on the sugar. I really concentrated and followed every step with the greatest of care and I can honestly say it was the best Christmas pud’ I have ever tasted. William decided to take some extra time off and said he would write and tell Fleur we would be arriving a few days early. I thought this was a rotten idea as I had seen how Mum and Gran used to get in a state with Christmas preparations, but William would not be swayed.
There was a mile long narrow lane to reach the pretty white house deep in the Hampshire countryside. The grounds were littered with ornamental stone mushrooms and one of the outhouses alone would have made a splendid house.
When we arrived I took one look at Fleur’s face and wanted to run for the hills. Thanks to the Christmas post our letter hadn’t arrived and poor Wallace had to cope with the fall out. It was our first visit to Fernhill and the house was filled with Fleur’s mother’s beautiful furniture. The dining room chairs were all carvers with women’s torsos carved on the uprights of the arms. It amused me to watch the men’s hands slip casually on to the carved bosoms. This seemed to have a soothing effect on them.
Fleur ran the house as her mother had done, with different napkins for breakfast, lunch and dinner and such things as the basins in the bedrooms cleaned daily. The difference being that her mother had had staff and Fleur didn’t even have a daily (cleaner). So when one offered to help – with a little light dusting in mind, one would be likely to be presented with a bucket of potatoes to peel or a similar arduous task. She worked very hard herself – her eyes narrowed to avoid the smoke from the cigarette wedged in the corner of her mouth and we were always rewarded with a suitably, stiff, naval libation – G and T with ice and a slice at lunch time and a horses neck (Brandy and ginger) or three at dinner.
Apparently there was a lot of work to be done outdoors so William and Wallace would disappear after breakfast and return for meals, having enormous fun. I admired Fleur greatly but we didn’t have much in common so the highlights were meal times which were excellent, although one knew all the beautiful fine china and crystal would be washed very carefully after dinner by yours truly.
‘For God’s sake don’t break anything Pat! All this stuff comes from Greylands (her old home) and is irreplaceable,’
Meal times were quite noisy. Wallace had an acerbic wit, especially after sundown and Fleur would give her rather raucous laugh which would bring on her smokers cough. Dodie addressing her sons, would be constantly getting her Willys and Wallys mixed up which had me in stitches, which started my hiccups.
Fleur cooked on an enormous Aga which ran on fuel and sometimes went out. That was the time to take the children for a long walk until things quietened down. It was an interesting Christmas, and I learnt a lot. William had thoroughly enjoyed himself – the brothers got on well and William was happy to do as his elder brother wished. I had felt a bit homesick for my family and was happy to be back in our more humble home again. I wondered if William ever wished he had married into money.