Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chapter 21

An Imperfect Life                        Chapter 21
Next Stop the Altar
“Barnes !  You’re wanted on the phone.”
 Trying to arrange an instant marriage just before Finals was too much.  It was
 “Great news!  I’ve been allowed to purchase my discharge.  I don’t have to go to   
   Korea and we can go back to having our wedding in July.”  William was ecstatic and
 predictably I burst into tears.  I wish I could remember how much we had to pay.  £11 sticks in my
 mind, or was that the cost of the material for my wedding dress?  Or was that the amount Uncle Bill
left me in his will?  Or was it all three?  At least now I had time to plan.  The bridesmaids were still
not singing from the same hymn sheet so I put them on hold.  Dad had his ‘boiled ham suit’- so called
because he always wore it at weddings and funerals where boiled ham was always on the menu.  It
was black jacket and striped trousers so it made sense for the men to hire the same and then I’d be

sure William would look respectable.  Toppers and tail would be inappropriate.
He did look fine on the day- apart from the thick ex- navy woollen socks he chose to wear.
Mrs Driver had been making my dresses for years 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 (I couldn’t resist having a spray of orange blossom over my bum) but sweetly gave way.
I tried to keep the cost 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 get away from the blackened hills – they were in those days - and into the beautiful countryside not too far away.
Does the ‘Black Bull still exist in Rimmington I wonder?
We rode over on the motorbike one sunny evening and it was green and leafy and alive with bird song.
“Would you like champagne for the toast?”
“Oooh yes please.”  And then they told us how much it would cost for 60 people and we settled for sherry.  This was the North so we were getting a three course sit down meal.  Naturally.
  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 for William and he rushed home for the funeral.  I was sad that I would never meet him.  Like many veterans of /WW1 his health had suffered.  He had been senior master at Lord Nelson’s old school for many years and many of his ex pupils were there.
William told me that he and his brother- on compassionate leave from the navy found themselves grinning with nerves but when the choir sang ‘Abide with me.’
“I was finished and couldn’t hold back the tears.”
“We should postpone the wedding William.” But William said his father would have wished us to carry on with our plans to marry July 21st 1951.
  When William’s elder brother Wallace had married his parents had given the couple a sum of money; Fleur - his bride came from a moneyed family.  Dodie consulted an old family friend to see if, now she was widowed, she should do the same for William.  The friend said she should treat both boys equally.
  William decided we should have a decent honey moon and unselfishly – knowing how I felt about mountains - put his own passion for sailing on hold and booked three weeks in the Vorarlberg in Austria.  He was afraid sailing would put me off but eventually our happiest times were our sailing days.  Dodie was convinced William would fall off the first mountain he climbed.
  At last Finals were over and I was free to leave.  I arranged that Matron would cable the results to our hotel in Brand- a mountain village William had chosen 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 by Van de Velde on sex to prepare me for married life.
  Norfolk was another world.  The village was feudal and Dodie pre –war.  So very different from deepest, darkest Lancashire.  There was tennis and 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 a gentle soul with glasses and sprutty black hair and was to be our best man.  He had never met a girl from the North so did some goggling.  A typical bachelor I was delighted when some years later he met his own girl from the North, married her, had four children and never looked back.
  Dodie was very hospitable, 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 crushed strawberry – the exact shade of my going away suit.  The break hadn’t been all peaches and cream.  Dodie was very deaf, had a noisy whistling hearing aid so I sympathised when she took it out.  I found my ‘Bacup talk’ used by factory girls in the mill – exaggerated enunciations and facial expressions - very useful.  One day she sent me out with the three dogs – even William raised his eye brows when I told him.  The dogs were two dachshunds – Annette a fat happy dog, Brunette a miniature dachs and neurotic as all get out and Havoc a welsh corgi well named.  They hated each other with a passion.  I got as far as the garden gate and then all hell let loose.  I was caught up in their leads with three snapping, snarling beasts going bananas. A car stopped and the driver tried to help me and finally Dodie appeared and sprayed them with pepper I think it was.  In spite of all that by the end of three weeks I felt rested and ready for anything.  Just as well as Mum greeted me with the news that I’d lost a bridesmaid.
Vanessa and Abe had called with the news that she couldn’t get time off to be bridesmaid (she now had a sister’s post in London.)  They had given us a pressure cooker as a wedding present and it was my sole cooker for years.  Even this didn’t dampen my spirits.  Now Annie could have her wine coloured dress instead of the dreaded stripes.  Next stop the altar.
  Just before the wedding William was told he would do the rest of his apprentice ship in the Sheffield steel works; so for one long weary day we pounded the pavements of this unfamiliar city looking for somewhere to live.  A pretty hopeless task in the early fifties.  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 harmless looking man with a toothbrush moustache and flat hair approached us.
“Excuse me.  I hope you don’t mind me asking but are you looking for somewhere to live?”  Once he was satisfied we were gainfully employed and respectable- the nursing bit went down a treat - he told us that he and his wife and two children could let us have two rooms and the use of the kitchen.  There was just time to see them before catching the train home
  That wedding day in July the weather was perfect and I remembered ‘Happy is the bride the sun shines on.’  I determined to enjoy every moment.  At home we had a bathroom with a bath but the hot tap gurgled and spat out hot water grudgingly- evermore 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.  And with any luck so would William.  Why didn’t I feel 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 everyone 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 and Annie was a lovely bridesmaid in her favourite claret colour.  Her wealthy parents had treated her to a dress in a rich fabric which probably cost the earth and she had pink feathers in her hair.
  When we got to the part where we plight our troth 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 other aisle to the triumphant swell of the organ.  Now we could relax and have fun.  All the guests were taken to Rimmington by coach and I was so glade we had chosen the countryside where the fields were not blackened by the cotton mills and the birds were singing.  The heat was sizzling but the inn was cool and it felt really special greeting our guests.  Three nurses from our set had travelled from London and the Miller family were my special guests: the daughter had been left at home but young David was there, his eyes out on stalks.
  Dodie- still in mourning for William’s father was resplendent in black and white.
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.
“I expect you are wondering what we – a Jewish family - are doing at Pat’s wedding.”
He went on how to explain how we had met when I nursed his son David and how I had become part of the family.  By the time he had finished I decided that if ever I wanted a character reference Hector was my man.
The afternoon flew by and it was time to leave for our long journey.  I changed into the going away suit – crushed strawberry with shoes and bag to match and a pale duck egg blue blouse.  Jerry was driving us to Manchester in his old banger where we would get the overnight bus to London.  It would be some time before we saw the marital bed.  The time passed pleasantly enough as we reminisced, like an old married couple about the wedding and the guests.  Three whole weeks in the mountains - and foreign ones at that.  Nowadays everybody goes abroad bur then it was really special.
Thankfully William was a member of the Victory Club in London - we were tired and travel-stained so we had a wash and brush up and left our luggage there.
After breakfast we ambled up Petticoat Lane and William bought me nylons.  The boat to France didn’t leave till 5pm so we spent the day visiting museums (I was dazzled by Rodin’s sculpture ‘the Kiss’) and parks At last we were on the boat for France standing in a crowd.  There was a strong petrol smell and a man was violently sick.  He picked up a cloth lying on the deck and wiped himself down   We stared as a matelot rushed up and energetically hoisted the besmirched flag.
By the time we were on the train that would take us through France and Switzerland to Austria we were exhausted.  In the early hours of Monday morning I wriggled from under William’s head which weighed a ton, looked down at the smelly- socked feet of the man sitting opposite me and wondered why we hadn’t settled for a shorter honey moon with more comfortable travelling arrangements.  At last on Monday afternoon we arrived at the Scesaplana hotel named after the towering mountain.  It looked charming its balconies bedecked with scarlet geraniums 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 Monday afternoon when we were shown to our twin bedded room.  We were too exhausted to do anything but sleep and I would have sold my soul for a cuppa.


Anonymous said...

Lovely description of what was a perfect day for you. I love the wedding photos - especially your dress. That neckline is my favourite and I am sure your skirt was a fairly advanced design for the time. It worked together very well! It took place just a few weeks before I was born! I'm loving these chapters!

Dip Santon said...

It's just fantastic !!! Anecdotes described with tenderness and humor ... As if I was there !

Pat said...

Rosneath: that's what I like about writing- I'm transported back to the day and become a young woman or a child - whatever. soglad you like the dress. It felt right.

Dip: so nice to have appreciative readers. Thank you.

Kim Ayres said...

I looked up the Van de Velde book you mentioned. Apparently in its first printing, it had an insert: "The sale of this book is strictly limited to members of the medical profession, Psychoanalysts, Scholars, and to such adults as may have a definite position in the field of Physiological, Psychological, or Social Research." :)

Mage said...

What a lovely chapter in your book. You wrote it all so well, we were sucked right in to the tale. Just lovely.

Pat said...

Kim: this was 1951. I'm fairly sure the book was published much earlier than that so maybe there weren't such strictures. William was the original book worm and spent a lot of time collecting books just for the joy of it He was the go to man if you wanted a book on anything - the remoter the better.

Mage:You are the perfect reader Mage.

angryparsnip said...

Everytime I read one of these post I am transported to where you are what what you are doing.
The photos of your Wedding and Dress are lovely. You were such a beautiful bride but we all knew that already.
cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Parsnip: it's great to have your company through my wanderings in the past.

Exile on Pain Street said...

You could buy your freedom? What if you didn't have the money? Off you go?

Did you need the Van de Velde book? Wasn't everyone all clued-in by that time?

Thanks for defining Bacup talk. Even a Google search turned up nothing.

I've always loved Rodin’s ‘The Kiss.' So lucky that you saw it in person.

A pleasure to read, as always.

Pat said...

Exile: I think to be able to buy one's freedom was pretty unusual even in those days. Possibly the fact that he had gone to Uni and got a First influenced them.
I prefer to find my way naturally so the Van de Velde book was 'not wanted on voyage' as it were but most girls of my age were rather clueless about 'it'.
I think our French son must read the odd chapter as he sent me a lovely reproduction of The Kiss'.

Granny Annie said...

Great story addition. Love the wedding photos. You were and are a strikingly beautiful woman.

Pat said...

Granny Annie: we all looked great in the early summer of our life when we were excited and happy. Happy that you are enjoying the story.

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Ohmygosh. I'm totally enjoying everything, Pat, happy wedding, travel-stains and all.

Ms Scarlet said...

Awwwww..... and pictures!!
I think my parents married in 1954, or thereabouts, I used to love looking through their wedding album.

Pat said...

Neena: such a welcome relief after the war.

Scarlet: are they both still alive?

kenju said...

While reading that, I was right there with you, Pat! What a good writer you are!