Thursday, August 02, 2018


 

An Imperfect Life

 

People like me?

 

Chapter 31

 

New Maldon seemed quite a pleasant place and it was a short walk past shops to the station; convenient for both William and myself, should the modelling become a possibility.
“The Sweeneys have invited us for tea.  Remember Pat – we’re in the south now and that means afternoon tea- sandwiches, cakes and biscuits not your lusty high tea – that’s their dinner.”

Lunch to us was what we had mid–morning at school but in the south it was the equivalent of our dinner.  Crikey!  Would I ever get used to it?

  The flat owners lived in an old house next door- Mr and Mrs Sweeney and their teen –age son.  The table was beautifully laid with an embroidered cloth and silver tea-pot.  William’s eyes gleamed when he spotted the crumpets – simply oozing with butter.  It was a bit sticky making polite conversation and trying to eat at the same time.

William had an attractive speaking voice – apart from his stammer, but I wasn’t attuned to this particular Surrey accent.  It wasn’t that Mrs Sweeney was posh because Fleur, my sister in law was posh and she had quite a raucous voice.  Mrs S spoke in a very gentle voice and was ‘refained’ so when she said she had heard I was fond of ‘ceiling’ I thought perhaps she was referring to my house painting and went off at a tangent.

“No no!  Ceiling !  Ceiling!”  By now she was getting a bit riled.  In panic I looked desperately to William for enlightenment but his mouth was stuffed with crumpet.  He finally swallowed and then started to stammer and laugh at the same time which made everybody talk at once in their embarrassment.

“THE BROADS!” he roared.   The penny dropped.

“Oh sailing!  Yes we love it!” trying to stifle my giggles.  Sighs of relief all round and I felt a prize idiot – couldn’t even speak the language.  In spite of it all we seemed to pass muster.  Although Mrs S appeared both fragile and whimsy it was clear who wore the trousers and she even gave me a light kiss as we said goodbye.

  The flat was ground floor and furnished and I couldn’t wait to personalise it with our own pictures and linen.  We decided to hire a van to bring down essentials and the rest would go into store.

  The next fortnight went quickly as I finished at the hospital, said goodbye to friends and family and finally moved south.  Now to find a house we could afford, settle in and - at last - start a family.  I couldn’t wait!

  A typical northerner I set off down south with a few prejudices and a slight chip on my shoulder but determined to be open –minded and to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I knew I was going to miss the cheery, friendly, unashamed nosiness I had known all my life but it was time to grow up and discover the world.

  I soon had the flat looking as if it belonged to us and our first visitors were my sister Maddie and her boy friend George.  They had great news; they were going to be married and were buying a large house – with the aunts - in Caterham.  Maddie’s son was going to leave boarding school and would be educated locally.  George worked as a radio officer with BOAC but to my great relief Maddie was leaving BOAC and was looking for a job locally.

  We had heard some shocking news recently: one of the girls in Maddie’s year at school, who had also joined BOAC as a stewardess had been killed in a Comet plane crash.  Maddie also had a frightening experience when the plane she was in developed a problem and was forced to circle the airport for hours to use up petrol.  Maddie had to keep calm and to reassure the passengers.  They landed safely and she was given a citation from Sir Miles Thomas.  We were delighted she was going to look for a safer and less stressful job.

  We met our neighbours in the flat above.  The wife Renata, was Rumanian and very sweet and friendly but I didn’t take to her husband who was a big burly Londoner.  Looked and sounded exactly like a wide boy – a spiv.  During the war a spiv was a person living by his wits and engaging in petty black market dealings.  You wanted a bit of extra bacon, sugar, coal or petrol (gas) the spiv was your man.  Never mind the sailors in the Merchant Navy and on tankers risked and often lost their lives providing these things; the spiv didn’t have a conscience.

  “What happened to your determination not to prejudge people – you’re just imagining things.”  William was right so when they invited us to go out for a drink with them we agreed.

  It was a perfect summer evening and they took us to a pub on the river.  We sat in a garden with willow trees drooping elegantly in the water and the swans were like a corps de ballet warming up for Swan Lake.  William went to get drinks and I tried to be as friendly to the husband as I genuinely felt to his wife.  After a few sips of wine I began to feel more charitable and thought maybe he wasn’t such a villain after all.  He certainly was good company.  He told us how he got round the gas and electricity charges.  Both flats had separate meters and the money was collected by Mr Sweeney.

The spiv had manufactured a shilling (the required coin) on a wire so he could insert it in the meter ad then retrieve it.  I looked at William’s face and could see he was shocked.  This was cheating – not the gas board etc, but the Sweeneys who were providing both our families with homes at a reasonable rate when there was a great scarcity.  As the evening wore on the spiv said you couldn’t sit by the Thames on a summer night without tasting a Pimm’s.  I had never had one.

“It’s a mixture of gin, quinine and herbs made into a long drink with lots of fruit floating in it.  That’s Pimm’s#1.  Pimm’s #2 has a Scotch base and# 3 a brandy.

Now what’s your poison Pat?”

I decided to try a gin base but William said he would stick to beer.  It did taste delicious and looked so pretty but when I tried to stand up to go the rest room I fell over.  Suddenly I felt very ill –my head was swimming and I had to be carried to the car.  The next 24 hours were the most wretched I had ever spent and almost put me off alcohol for life.  Later we discovered the spiv had thought it a jolly wheeze to put double rum in the Pimm’s - in addition to the gin.  I think I was right about him in the first place.

  We decided to avoid our neighbours after my disastrous evening with them and started looking at maps and deciding where to house hunt.  Neither of us wanted to live in so urban a place as New Malden.  We wanted a house with a garden, a decent living room, a kitchen big enough to eat in and three bedrooms.  Oh and a garage!  We didn’t have a car but we expected – in the fullness of time, to have all of that.

The first house agent asked all sorts of questions about our financial state and took us to see a house in an unattractive area.

“Why have you brought us to see this house?  Apart from anything else it only has two bedrooms and no garage.”

“Mrs Maitland, forget the garage!  With your finances there’s no way you can afford a car so you don’t need a house with a garage!”

I was incensed!  How dare he?  Who was he to put limits on my life style and deprive my children of somewhere to house their father’s car?  The fact – as William pointed out – that we had neither car nor children did little to diminish my outrage.

  We tried another agent and another area.  Gradually we were moving further and further out in the suburbs until we reached Epsom.  It was a lovely town in the fifties, with the Downs and the famous race course an added bonus.  We were having a drink and a sandwich in a pub in the centre of town and were entranced when mine host answered the phone in a deep gravelly voice with the thickest of Surrey accents,

“Marquis o’Granby ‘ere!”

  The only house agent open on Sunday was what we thought was a slightly fishy firm- widely advertised with the emphasis on the wide.  The agent had a handle bar moustache, and flat, Brylcream-ed hair.  A dead ringer for Sam Costa who used to be in the marvellous radio programme ‘Round the Horn’.  We told him what we wanted and he said he had just the place.  Well he would wouldn’t he?  The snag was it was in a little hamlet – a bus ride from town which meant commuting by train and bus.

It was a bungalow and fitted all our requirements except for the garage, but there was space for one.  From one of the bedrooms you could see the race horses being exercised on the Downs.  The decor was a bit dreary but amazingly Sam told us we could have each room redecorated at their expense.  I couldn’t believe it.  He drove us back to Epsom and suggested he took us for a cup of tea.  After a cream bun I was putty in his hands and wanted to make an offer there and then but William insisted we should talk it over and phone the agent that night.

  All the way back on the train I prattled on about furniture, colours, which room would be the nursery- I was in love with a bungalow and William did his best to rein me in but I could tell he was excited too.

I needed to earn if I was going to make the house beautiful.  The next day William made an offer to the agent and I phoned Marta.  Miraculously she answered the phone and seemed to be delighted to hear from me.

“Now Pat darling you don’t know London so let’s make it easy for you.  There is a big store in Piccadilly – Swan and Edgar’s, you can’t miss it.  I’ll meet you there at 12.30 and take you to meet my agent.  Must fly darling – I’m running late.  Ciao!”

  I dressed with great care: dark grey suit, fresh white blouse, little white gloves and       high heels.  I caught an early train and found myself in Piccadilly an hour early.  Drifting round the Store I discovered the Ladies Room had an actual Rest Room where you could recline on a sofa and rest aching feet.

At 12.25 I was bright eyed and bushy tailed waiting to greet Marta.  At 1.25 I was still waiting

At 2pm I was a bit tearful- my feet were hurting so much.  Wearily I limped back where William – home early - gave me tea and sympathy, suggesting I phone Marta after dinner.

  “Marta are you alright?”

“Pat darling!  Yes why shouldn’t I be?”

“I was supposed to meet you and…”

“Oh my God!  I’ve been so busy – I totally forgot.  Pat darling I hope you didn’t wait long.”

“Well actually…”

“You see darling most people would know that if I wasn’t there I’d be at the Ritz or the Dorchester – or lunching at the Ivy.  I have to remember when I’m dealing with people like you.”

Those words echoed in my head long after the conversation was over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 comments:

Exile on Pain Street said...

I love that high tea can be described as "lusty." What a way with words!

They didn't mind living with the aunts? Didn't that compromise their relationship? Or was that commonplace then?

Spiking a drink is dangerous. Certainly not entertaining. It turns out you can reduce someone to a stereotype and it fits. You didn't notify the Sweeney's of the theft?

I often Google Map the locals you write about just to see where they are on a map. Makes it real.

People like you. So cruel.

Another cracking entry, Pat. Hope you're feeling better.

kenju said...

How dare she??!! Darn it all - people like that should lose friend right and left. I know how your feet felt - although I have not worn heels in quite a few years.

As usual, I can't want for the next installment!

rosneath said...

Sailing twisted into ceiling! How 'refained' is that ... how funny ... wonder how she would have spoken if she knew of the meter shilling trick!

I hate it when people let you down like that, makes you feel so insignificant ....

Hope your consultant is being wise and supportive

savannah said...

"Spiv" great word for a bastard! I know this will sound crazy, but watching "Foyle's War" and "Bletchley Circle" really expanded my WWII slang vocabulary!

"People like you" and people like her are still around looking "down their noses" at everyone else! I'm angry for you now over her arrogance towards you! xoxo

Kim Ayres said...

When I was a kid, dinner was the main meal of the day around noon, and tea was a smaller meal around 5pm or 6pm. Sometime around my teens, midday eats became lunch and dinner - still the main meal of the day - moved to teatime. There were other families who seemed to have a big meal around 7pm or 8pm called supper, but they were clearly "other", and I never really got to grips with it.
How have your meals changed in terms of times and names over the years, Pat?

angryparsnip said...

Gosh so many questions but I think @Exile asked them all.
I thought your housing agent and your friend were quite rude and the cheating neighbor was awful to treat you that way.
I don't like hearing you have been ill. I just thought you were on a cruise.
Bell Well !

cheers, parsnip

AndrewM said...

Midday is lunch time but schools have dinner ladies. I have tea in the evening but am partial to a fish supper. Dinner time is midday but dinner parties are in the evening. It's very confusing...

rashbre said...

We, in Chigwell, used to have School Dinners at lunch time, with Dinner Ladies and Dinner Tickets.

Hoping you are feeling chipper.

Pat said...

Exile: sharing a house with the aunts worked well; the aunts had the large ground floor and Maddie and her husband the top floor so they had built in baby sitters for Maddie's son. Eventually when Maddie and her husband went to live in America they brought the aunts over to live with them in New York and also shared a house in Vermont.
I'm ashamed to say we did not inform the Sweeneys about the crook in their house. We felt if they didn't know already they soon would realise. The culprit was a nasty piece of work with contacts in the East end. Soho in the fifties was quite a scary place and we feared retribution. Another incentive for moving to our own patch as soon as possible.
Thank you I am feeling more myself and next week will have a procedure which will clarify things. Fingers crossed.

Pat said...

Judy:in fairness she was only 18- going on 45. Had too much too soon and did try to make up for it as you will see. At the time I shared your outrage.

Pat said...

roseneath: I now have two consultants and they are very supportive and keep me in the picture- which will become clearer next week.

Pat said...

Savannah: gosh that's a lot to live up to.
I hope when you read the next chapter you will forgive Marta. She had too much too soon and it didn't do her any favours.xoxox

Kim: once I married into southern middle class it became lunch midday and dinner at night. My elder son enjoys irritating me by calling dinner his 'tea'.

Pat said...

Parsnip: don't worry. I'm getting back to normal with lots of family visits to look forward to.

AndrewM. Trust you to complicate things further!

Rashbre: pity the poor foreigner who tries to understand it all. Thank you - getting chippier all the time