Monday, May 07, 2018

An Imperfect Life


Chapter 29




“What’s up?”

“Just come and look at this!”

William ran down the steps into the small kitchen – concern on his face.

“My new honeymoon underwear – ruined!  Just look at it,” I whined.

We had acquired a new washer which you filled up 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.  Now I had matching underwear.

As far as house cleaning went I was satisfactory.  In hospital we had learned 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.

Trying to emulate Dodie who made scrumptious 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.

A valuable lesson to learn: read the whole recipe before you start cooking.


We had been given a 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 boiling stewed apple.  A lovely fresh smell but sticky underfoot.


“We’re invited for Christmas to Fernhill.  Mummy’s invited too.”   Fernhill was Fleur and Wally’s beautiful new home and I could tell from William’s face that he was delighted at the prospect.  My job apparently was to make the Christmas pud’.  I found an old war-time recipe and used grated carrot to cut down on sugar.  I really concentrated, following every step with the greatest of care and I can honestly say it was the best Christmas pud’ I’ve ever tasted.


“I’m going to take some extra time off work – I’ll write to Fleur and tell her we’ll be arriving a few days early.”

I thought this was a rotten idea remembering 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.

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 staff and Fleur didn’t even have a ‘daily’ (cleaner).  When I offered to help – a little light dusting in mind, I would be likely to be presented with a bucket of potatoes to peel or a similar arduous task.


She worked very hard herself – 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 lunchtime and a Horse’s Neck (brandy and ginger) or three at dinner.

It seemed there was a lot of work to be done outdoors so William and Wallace disappeared after breakfast and returned for meals – having enormous fun.  I admired Fleur greatly but we didn’t have much in common so the highlights were mealtimes which were excellent, although one knew all the beautiful china and crystal would be washed very carefully by yours truly.


“For God’s sake don’t break anything Pat!  All this stuff comes from Greylands (her old home) and is irreplaceable,”

 Mealtimes were quite noisy.  Wallace had an acerbic wit, especially after sundown and Fleur would give her raucous laugh which would bring on her smoker’s cough.  Dodie getting her Willies and Wallys confused had me in stitches which would start my endless hiccups.

The delicious meals were cooked on an enormous Aga which ran on fuel and sometimes had the temerity to go out.  That was the time to take the children for a long walk until things had quietened down.  It was an interesting Christmas and I learnt a lot.  The brother’s got on well with William quite happy to do as his elder brother wished.  I felt a little homesick for my family and was happy to be back in our more humble home again.  Did William ever wish he had married into money I wondered?


We decided to give a party.  We had made lots of friends during our time in Altrincham and were within reach of some old ones.  I stipulated that the room should be warm and welcoming - it was before central heating – and there should be plenty of food (my responsibility) and drink (William’s). Our cuisine was not very sophisticated in the fifties but the aim was to mop up the alcohol and allay people’s hunger so we had cheddar and pineapple bites, bridge rolls with tasty fillings, sausage rolls and masses of trifle, fruit salad and cream.  I realised that to have a successful party I – the hostess should sacrifice my evening and just look after everybody.  William kept the beer, wine and cider flowing and a choice of soft drinks.  When everybody had eaten and was sitting in a happy haze - sipping on the floor - I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the evening.  I got a kick out of bringing people from different areas of our life together.

“Bill meet Diana.  Or did you meet at our wedding?  Oh no, of course we didn’t know you then.  Well you must be sure to come to the divorce!”

I don’t know why I said it. Maybe it was the drink. There was a nanosecond silence and then everyone laughed


We were pleased that our joint effort had been successful.  Some time earlier we had been invited to a party the Jones were giving for their daughter Libby and for me it had been a disaster.  He was William’s boss – tall with a craggy face and the debonair manner of a forties film star.  His wife Bridie was small, plump with wild hair, full of fun and a captivating Irish brogue.  The two of them together were fantastic company but I felt a little sorry for Libby - a nurse who was in her early twenties and somewhat overshadowed by her scintillating parents.  The other guests were mainly nursing friends of Libby.  One of them stood out – Ruth – a gutsy, attractive, sturdy girl with dark curly hair and fresh colouring.  She was very animated and hit it off with William who was probably the most attractive man there.  As the evening wore on they seemed to get more and more excited and I was feeling uncomfortable.  When finally William drank some wine out of Ruth’s shoe I fled to the bathroom and had a weep.  I was angry with myself for being such a wimp - maybe I had PMT- it wasn’t universally recognised then, but I felt hurt and lonely.  I understood why he did it but I wished he could relax and not feel he had to prove something all the time.  I got over it – we had had this successful party and in the summer we would go sailing which always brought out the best in William; not in a flotilla this time and somewhere more adventurous than the Broads.


“When shall I ask for time off William?”

“Leave it for a while - I’m going to start applying for a new job.”

This was news to me.  He explained that he wanted to diversify and change the direction of his career towards research and that would probably mean a move down south so I would be leaving anyway.

I’m ashamed to say I quailed at the thought of living amongst ‘bloody southerners’


“What about your mother?”

“I expect she’ll sell the house in Norfolk and buy an apartment near Wallace and Fleur now they are settled in Hampshire.”


We planned to live in a commuting area to London and considered places within a 20 mile radius.  I favoured north to make visiting my family easier but William preferred south to be accessible to his.


He applied to British Iron and Steel Research Association in Battersea and was invited for an interview.  I had been nursing, at different levels since I was sixteen and working as I now did, part-time was unsatisfactory.  I needed to do something different but decided to keep my job until our plans were firm and we moved south.


I was afraid William’s stammer would affect his interview but it never seemed to hold him back; he came through with flying colours and they offered him the job.  Mum and Dad weren’t fazed when I told them we would be living at the other end of the country.  They were having the time of their lives.  They now had a small car and the world was their oyster.  Gran spent most of the time in the States, Evan was happily married and Maddie had met a radio officer and they were contemplating marriage when their divorces were absolute.


We decided William would accept the job, go down alone and live in digs until he found somewhere for us to rent, when I would join him.  The plan then would be for us to buy a house so that we weren’t spending all our earnings on rent.  He said we would see how long we could last living apart, to save money.  I thought this was not a good idea.  William was quite happy to spend the week-ends with his brother but I didn’t relish being alone for an indefinite period just to save money.


Meanwhile the Jones invited us to lunch the week-end before William left.  I tried to cry off remembering my humiliation I had felt at the party but William said we owed it to them to go as John had obviously given him a great reference.  They were a sweet couple and this was lunch – not a party- so I relented.  Little did I know that this lunch party would have such an effect on my life.  And I nearly missed it.










Kim Ayres said...

I can't imagine Maggie being particularly happy if I drank wine out of another woman's shoe. Not that I would be tempted to drink it out of her shoe either...
Hmmm... where's a nicely carved dining chair when you need one...

Ms Scarlet said...

Oh my goodness! Leave us hanging, Pat, why don't you!!!

Anonymous said...

What a cliffhanger!

Pat said...

Kim: even now - in my dotage - it still seems an outrageous thing to do: the shoe - not the arm chairs.

Scarlet: sometimes that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

roseneath: took me by surprise too.

savannah said...

You left me, LITERALLY, at the edge of my seat, sweetpea! xoxoxo

Pat said...

Savannah: it's always a big decision deciding where to stop. I think I may have a serial condition.xoxox

angryparsnip said...

Oh Pat.... I want to read more. What a place to leave me hanging !

cheers, parsnip

kenju said...

I will be waiting anxiously for the next installment!! You DO know how to leave us hanging!!

maurcheen said...

I would drink out of most vessels, but like Kim, I draw the line at shoes. And I wouldn't relish the thought of meself and herself living apart for more than a few days! :)

Pat said...

Martin: that is what I would expect of you.

Exile on Pain Street said...

These descriptions are so adroitly-written that photos aren't necessary. The image is perfectly clear.

Don't we all wish to be married into wealth? It makes life easier. Not trouble-free, but easier. No sin in that.

You sure know how to end a chapter. How long until the next one? No pressure.

Pat said...

Exile: that's a lovely thing to say. Thank you.
Financially to be 'comfortably off' is desirable but wealth brings too much responsibility.
I will try to do better time wise - life keeps getting in the way.
When Alastair was here my work load was at least halved if not decimated. 'And the livin' was easy.'

LL Cool Joe said...

I just about to go out but I will come back to read this soon!

Pat said...

Joey: take your time - I'm not going anywhere.

rashbre said...

There's so much happens ion a single chapter! I just about get over the apple pressure cooker bit and we're musing about drinking out of shoes.

My guess would be that a glass slipper is probably acceptable, but less sure are about a shoe?

Wellington boots would be for, say, scrumpy.

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I think I've told you this before...I love the way you capture people in just a sentence. And scenes.

I would NOT be happy if the love of my life drank out of another woman's shoe. Or even mine...but worse, another woman's.