Thursday, March 15, 2018


An Imperfect Life

 
William’s Passion

 
Chapter 28

 
 
“Pat!”

I turned to look at William - he was standing with his eyes half closed – a sure sign he was trying to say something, which was odd as normally he never stammered with me.

“Sit down I want to tell you something.”

Devoured with curiosity I plonked myself in one of our new Parker Knowle arm chairs.

“There’s something I’ve been keeping from you.”

“What…

“Don’t interrupt – just listen!”

William sat in the other armchair and I waited expectantly whilst he cleared his throat.

“Actually since I was a young boy I’ve been mad keen on sailing.”

“Well yes Dodie showed me some snaps of you in a small boat sailing on the Broads.  She said what a splendid sailor you were – but then she would wouldn’t she?”

“Actually it’s more than that – it’s somewhat of a passion.”

“Why on earth didn’t you tell me before?”

“Well that’s the point – I was afraid it would put you off.  In fact I almost suggested we charted a sailing boat for our honeymoon but decided not to risk it and anyway I knew you were just as passionate about climbing mountains.”

“Well that was jolly generous of you.  But now it’s your turn.  Right?  So let’s fix it for our summer holiday and I’ll book some time off.”

  William leaned back in his chair and looked happier than I’ve seen him look for sometime.

   He was anxious that I should enjoy sailing and thought a holiday on the Broads would be a gentle introduction and decided we would join a flotilla of sailing boats.  For a couple of weeks we could forget Dodie and all our responsibilities.

  We all met up in Yarmouth - there were six boats and crew.  Bertie who planned it all was in charge.  His side kick was Cyril who was also his crew.  Bertie ordained that the skippers i.e. the husbands would meet up each morning to discuss the day’s sailing and the crew i.e. the wives would be informed in due course.  This was years before Women’s Lib but I have always had a Bolshie streak (I blame my Irish Gran) and the idea of ‘the men’ telling the ‘little women’ how they were going to spend every day of their holiday had me muttering.  Quite loudly. 

  The first task was to get the flotilla safely under the bridge and out the other side.

  “We’ll get all the boats tied up to me and to each other and I’ll guide all the boats under the bridge,” proclaimed Bertie, “and Cyril!”

“Yes Bertie.”

“Cyril you bring up the rear in the small dinghy.  Tie up to one of the boats.”

“Aye aye Skipper!”

 

William who had been brought up on the Broads knew that with wind and tide this was not going to work.  He tried to explain this to Bertie but Bertie had the wind in his sails and wouldn’t listen so William and I quietly sailed through alone, moored the boat and watched from the bridge.

  As soon as Bertie started leading the flotilla it all went horribly wrong.  The boats caught up with him, overtook him and swirled round, bumping and banging whilst the crew frantically threw out their fenders - designed to protect the boats from damage.

Skippers screamed at their crew to rescue all the cushions now floating in the river and Yarmouth came to a halt to watch the funniest sight they’d seen for years.

William tried to help by shouting instructions but couldn’t be heard over the melee.

My sides ached and I had a bad case of hiccups.  Just when we thought we couldn’t laugh anymore Cyril - who resembled an older Billy Bunter appeared to be going backwards – his stolid frame a small mountain in the tiny dinghy.  Alas the rope tethering him to the boats had broken.

  It was sunset by the time everyone was on the other side of the bridge and it was decided - by the men - of course, that a destination would be chosen each morning and then we would all make our own way there and meet up in the evening.  Sounded good to me.

  I enjoyed seeing William in his element.  He was a natural sailor and being on a boat brought out the best in him.  He worked hard to teach me about wind and tides and slowly I began to absorb it- mainly through hands on experience; getting the feel of the wind and learning when to come about when tacking.  He explained that tacking is when you have to zig- zag to find the wind to push you forward and I learned there is an art to knowing how long to leave it before yanking the tiller over and going on the other tack.  He was endlessly patient and the most generous of sailors; there was no hogging the wheel as some men are wont to do.

  I loved the Norfolk countryside with its rushes and reeds and prolific wildlife; the only sounds - bird song and the ripple of water as the breeze nudged us along.  Occasionally we would meet a motor cruiser or ‘gin palace’ as we called them.  They were meant to give way to sail but the message hadn’t got through to some of the skippers, in their yachting caps and blazers, and we had a few near misses.

  There was always lots to do; lowering the mast when we came to a bridge, cooking, tidying up, cheesing the ropes but doing chores was much more fun on a sailing boat.  When we reached the open broad we could really let rip and cut through the water like a knife, heeling right over - my panic controlled by Williams deft handling.

He encouraged me to go out alone in the little dinghy.  At first I was slowly drifting in circles and then the wind caught the sail, I pulled on the rope – hand on the tiller and WHOOSH – we were off and I laughed out loud - poised between elation and terror.

  William took a photo of me in the boat and was so pleased with it he sent it to the ‘Miss Zipp’ Daily Express competition.

The caption read: ’A girl steers a boat thoughtfully, as serene as the sea she sails on.’

In fact we were tied up at the time and no way would I have done serious sailing scantily dressed but William was delighted with the prize money. A most successful holiday.

  I had made two new girlfriends- very different from each other but they both worked in shops.  Carol was fairly serious and managed an antique shop.  She was boyish – with an Eton crop, very practical and a gifted furniture restorer.  She had worked on a bow-fronted chest of drawers that Dodie had given to us repairing the damage, polishing the mahogany and fitting elegant brass handles.  She also guided me through the tricky business of making pelmets with velvet, buckram and gold bobbles.

In stark contrast Lily- who worked in her father’s newsagent’s shop was pretty, bubbly and a bit ditsy.  Her fiancée was an Oxford undergrad which stirred a few memories.  I really enjoyed being silly and light- hearted with her.  They both helped me get over my occasional down times.  I saw Lily most days when I picked up a news paper. At the end of the summer she said she was thinking of joining the SAPS – the Sale Amateur Players and did I fancy being a Sap too?  They were about to produce a Somerset Maugham play and would I like to go with her to the audition.  Would I?  Just try stopping me.  I knew William’s stammer would probably preclude him from acting but thought he might be interested in a backstage job.  He wasn’t and I didn’t blame him.  His job was physically tiring and he was happy to sink into a book after dinner.  I sometimes felt the book he hadn’t read hadn’t been written.  He haunted second hand book shops- never paying more than a few pence for them.  If any of the family or friends showed a flicker of interest in any subject William would have a book on it or wouldn’t rest until he had found one.

  The play ‘Before the Party’ concerned ‘a murder lurking beneath the surface of a socially respectable household.’  There were parts for two men, four women and a school girl Susan.  Both Lily and I had our eyes on the part of the young widow.  Lily was very excited as she was shortly going to Oxford to visit her fiancé and I was delighted to be asked to help her shop for a new wardrobe.  We agreed that whoever won the part the other would accept graciously and may the best man win.

  The committee were seated round a table in a separate room and we had to take turns to go in and read for them.  Eventually it was our turn and Lily went in first.  She seemed quite happy when she came out so I took a deep breath and went in.  I told them I would like to read the part of the young widow and there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Actually Pat, we’ve decided that Lily is perfect for that part.  Would you mind reading the part of the school girl?”

I gasped.  What a bleedin’ cheek!  Here was I – in my early twenties – older than Lily and a married woman to boot- me read the part of a school girl?

Meekly I sat down and looked at the script.  Choking with outrage and nerves I started to read - not knowing how to handle it.  I had to say something about a shilling and I stumbled and lisped a bit.  Hang on that sounded real.  There’s the key.

  When I had finished they were beaming at me.

“We’d love you to play Susan Pat,” the chairman himself spoke up and I said yes – already planning a gingham dress-hair in bunches and perhaps binding my bosom.

We went for a milk shake to celebrate.

William seemed pleased I had a part and the weeks of rehearsal passed quickly as they always do when you’re having fun.  The play was a success with mixed crits.  I treasured mine.

One performance which I exclude from any adverse criticism was that of Patricia ….. who is a young married woman but who lightly shed quite a few years to give a delightful portrayal of the inquisitive lisping schoolgirl.’

A case of arrested development?  At least I felt more mature then Lily.  She told me she was going to break off her engagement.

“I’m still very fond of him but I don’t feel ready for such commitment.”

“Oh Lily,” I commiserated, ”and you were so looking forward to going down to Oxford.”  (We always said ‘down to Oxford because geographically it was.)

“Oh I’m still going,” she said.  I stared at her, “Well I’ve got all my new clothes.”

 

11 comments:

rosneath said...

I knew it! Sailing! And I know that play along with the book. I saw it in the West End years ago with Jane Asher in the widow role.

What larks, eh, Pat?!

Pat said...

Rosneath: well done! No secrets from you.

kenju said...

You always leave me wanting more!!

Pat said...

Judy: as the actress said to the B... Sorry.

angryparsnip said...

I always wait till I have a bit of free time so I can read another chapter.
Of course it has ended and I want to read more !

The first of many great reviews. I remember a photo of you in a flowing gown you looked so beautiful like a queen.

cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Parsnip: I remember the flowing gown. The photograph was taken at Tonbridge School where I seem to remember we were doing a Son et Lumiere. I'll see if I can find the photo. The director was convinced I had the dress on the wrong way round.

Kim Ayres said...

Do you still have a copy of the photo that made it into the Daily Express?

Pat said...

Kim: yes and I've been trying to post it. Will try again tomorrow.

Exile on Pain Street said...

What a peculiar thing to keep from you! Was that the mindset back then? That sailing and, by extension, sailors, were something to avoid?

Bolshie streak, Billy Bunter and Eaton crop all sent me to Google. You open new worlds for me. I'm always bit sad when these posts end. The photos are fantastic. Miss Zip, indeed! Hubba.

Pat said...

Exile: Not a general mind-set - just William reluctant to show any vulnerability. Not the best ploy as it turned out. It helped out marriage to survive for 28 years.

Ms Scarlet said...

Nothing like a bit of Am Dram to get the adrenaline going. I think you would have probably been brilliant whichever part you played.
Sx