Sunday, March 14, 2021

 An Imperfect Life 

Owha tanas siam!

Chapter 45

  I felt sad driving home.  It reminded me of school at the end of the year when I always used to cry at "Lord dismiss us with thy blessings."  Would I ever see my new friends again.?  Gary probably just wanted another scalp to add to his collection and I had been right to be firm.  When I reached home William and the boys were out so  I collapsed into bed and slept for hours.  No time to mope; there was lots of laundry to do and all the household tasks that had been left for a week.  It was lovely to see the boys and hug them.  A week apart made us so much more appreciative of each other and they were quite angelic for about 24 hours.

  Mary rang - very excited,

  "We've been very busy now the holidays have started.  We're going to have to get more part-time staff so there is always two of us on duty.  I've been so busy selling I haven't had time to enter the sales on the clients cards."

"Don't worry I'll go in and do it once the boys are in bed."

We were both excited and pleased by with the way the shop's fame was spreading.  there was a letter for me the next day but I was rushing to drive the boys to school and then to open the shop before half past nine, so I put it in my hand bag for later.

As soon as we opened there was a stream of customers.  When we first started Mary's father had rigged a buzzer on one of the stairs to warn us when anyone was coming.  Now there was a constant buzz buzz buzz and what with the old fashioned till bell it was like an inspiration for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells.  Mary came in briefly and  I was glad of the help but soon she had to go to the bank and I was alone again.  Just before lunch time a Persian man - he told me he was from Persia - arrived with his two daughters who were going to be boarders at one of our local prep schools.  He handed me a long list of uniform which he required for both girls.  We always closed for lunch but I decided to lock the shop as usual and devote my lunch hour to finding everything they needed.  It was not easy.  He was very demanding and the girls were very shy - hiding behind the changing room curtain we had fixed in the corner - even to try on hockey boots.  By the time I had found everything they needed - including lacrosse sticks I was panting with exhaustion.  I sank into the office chair to remove all the price tickets and add up the amounts   When I told him the total price he MADE ME AN OFFER!  I could not believe it.  I felt smoke must be coming out of my ears.  I had worked my butt off, given up my lunch hour persuading the girls to try everything on, grovelling amongst the hockey boots and he had the effrontery to MAKE ME AN OFFER!

I drew myself up to my full five feet four and a half inches and said,

  "I'm sorry sir but we do NOT barter.  That is the price you must pay if you want to take the goods."

He and the girls looked rather startled at my obvious outrage but he slowly brought out  a roll of notes  He handed over the large amount of cash whilst I tried to control my shaking hands. The thought of trying to match the garments with the tickets if he had decided to leave gave me palpitations.  Selling was only part of the job; everything sold had to be entered on the customer's file so she could collect her money the next time she was in the shop.  All the articles could have come from twenty different customers so you can see the problem.  That taught all of us never to remove the tickets until the very end of the transaction and one was sure the customer was serious

Whilst waiting at the school for the boys I remembered the letter.  It was from Gary- a poem and a note with a telephone number  and the message " Please phone."  When I read the poem I was moved and felt my resolve weakening.  Surely it wouldn't hurt to phone - it was only polite.  His voice sounded just like him - relaxed and friendly.
"Gary it's Pat.  Thank you for the poem - it's lovely.  How long did it take to write it"
  There was a long pause and I thought we had been cut off.

"Well it more or less wrote itself.  It's great to hear your voice Pat."

He said he  had found one of the books he had told me about - a play he thought I should do as my first production; he had even designed a set for me.  When I met him he was different he seemed to have lost the golden glow he had in the college and I felt awkward and uncomfortable.  A woman I knew- she was Northern like me and was used to saying what she thought and told me I seemed to have a glass cage around me.  Somehow I knew what she meant and she thought that one day I would break out of it but I knew this was not the time.  I had been swept off my feet once before and it was not going to happen again.  When I told Gary it couldn't go any further he said everyone would assume it had anyway.  This riled me and I said the important thing was I knew it hadn't.
It must have been about a year later when I was browsing through one of my quotation books looking for something apt for a friend's birthday and a familiar line caught my eye.  It was the poem which I believed Gary had written for me but my book said it was written by William Blake.

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
 And saw what I had never seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green,  
And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And"Thou shalt not!"writ over the door
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - so I did both.

. . .

"William guess who phoned today.  Out of the blue!"
"You'll have to give me a clue."
" She's married with two boys."
"I need more."
"We've been on holiday with them."
"What's 'er name - Betty er Brenda?"
"Beryl! Remember her husband Gordon?
"Yes! He knew a lot about cars."
"That's right and apparently it has made them very wealthy.
Gordon left the engineering firm he had worked for and set up in business with a partner. They've had enormous success and have 'gone public.'
Beryl said they've got this smashing house near Brighton, they've met lots of exciting new people, they're going to have  a big party and they want us to go. "
I remembered Beryl once admitted to me - after a drink or two- that she fancied William - because of his brain, she said.  I knew parties weren't William's scene but it was the Swinging Sixties - I wanted to see Beryl and was curious to see how her life had changed.
The house was fantastic with beautiful views of the Downs.  There were lots of impressive oils on the walls - individually lit and the whole place reeked of opulence.  The women were very glamorous with big hair and legs and bosoms on show.  The men seemed to be in a uniform of black silk shirts with gold medallions round their necks.  Although I was enjoying the party atmosphere I was very conscious of William being bored out of his mind
and decided we would leave after supper which looked as if it was going to be delicious.  Beryl told me they had an indoor swimming pool in the grounds over which was an apartment where they had two male lodgers who were air-line stewards.  I told William I was going for a swim and then we would have supper and leave.

It was a fantastic pool with beautiful plants and a hot steamy atmosphere.  At first I thought I was alone  but  I could just make out what looked like two males at the far end and assumed they were the stewards.  I have never been a strong swimmer but it was so warm and inviting I decided to stick near the side for safety and do a length   When I was about half way there the men got out and I realised to my horror they were completely naked.  I lost concentration, gasped, got my mouth full of water and panicked and floundered and yelled as I started to sink.  In a flash the men were there and rescued me.  They were sweet and said I only had to say I was in trouble.  Just as they were lifting my shaking body out of the pool William walked in to see his wife in the arms of two naked men.  I wasn't exactly dragged out by the hair but that's what it felt like.  We didn't stay for supper, we didn't say good bye and on the journey home I told William how ridiculous he had been.  I had been genuinely in trouble,  the young men were concerned for my safety and - by the way - they were gay.  Later William was dismayed to find he had come away with some of Beryl's precious silver cutlery in his breast pocket ready for the supper we never had.  Then I laughed.  Of course he returned it by registered post.
  William went off to have a week's sailing on the Solent with his brother.  He came back refreshed and rejuvenated and told me he had been given a pep talk by Wallace.  Intrigued I asked him what it was about.
  "He thinks we should do more things together - go out for a meal and go to the theatre etc,"
"And what do you think about that? 
"We can give it a try."

Sunday, February 14, 2021

 An Imperfect Life

Chapter 44

A Near Miss

  "Pat - Mary's on the phone!"

  "Hi Mary!  What's up?"

  "Great news!  Spats has just phoned and Mr Cartier has accepted us as tenants."

This was the news we had been waiting for and we had had five replies to our third partner advert but when we saw Jan walking up the path of Mary's house we both felt she could be the one.  She was younger than us, petite with short brown curly hair and a slightly worried expression which vanished when a smile lit up her face and revealed her sparkling white teeth.  She told us she was married and although she and her husband had hoped for children it hadn't happened.  She had worked in offices all her life and had lot of book keeping experience but felt like a change and would be happy to be working part time.  She had beautiful pink painted nails I remember.  Over a cup of tea Mary and I exchanged one of our looks which meant we both were agreed and to snap her up at once ignoring the usual "We'll be in touch." How right we were.

The next week-end we were all in the shop - as we now called it - the three  of us and our families - some of us painting and some amusing the children: fortunately there was a park close by.  Even Mary's old father came along and stuck an axe at the top of the stairs - in case of fire he said.  I never did work out what we were to do with it but fortunately the need never arose.  We just had one hanging rail to start with and almost enough clothes to fill it.The main room looked a trifle bare so Mary- who was quite artistic, filled the gaps with large flower arrangements. 

The drill was Mary and I would open  the shop at 9.30 am having taken our children to school and then Jan would relieve us at 3pm when we picked the children up from school.  The  intention was for Mary and me to do two days each whilst Jan did the late afternoons and we took turns with Saturday.  It was only necessary for one person to be there in the early days but Mary and I - in the first flush of new love were there most days. 

One day I was hanging out of the window feeling rather like the ladies in Amsterdam must do, wondering how I could entice shoppers to come up and see me, when to my horror I saw someone trying to get into my car.  In those days one could park in the High Street all day.  I tore down two flights of stairs, rushed up to the man and yelled,

"What are you doing with my car?"

"I'm trying to stop it rolling down the High street, Ducks.  You must have left the hand brake off and when I moved my van it started to roll.

Embarrassing - but at least I learned always to leave the car in first gear from then on. 

We had fun thinking up ads in the local paper to announce the various school uniforms we were gradually stocking.  This resulted in a visit from a rather pompous Head Master who told us his school didn't need any advertising thank you and would we desist.  Did he think we were doing it for his benefit?  We had started selling all sports gear, lacrosse, hockey sticks and cricket bats etc.  Then we discovered the sports shop on the other side of the road was owned by him.  In the end we refused to be intimidated and carried on.  We worked like beavers - spreading the word and our Beauty Counsellor experience proved very useful.  The big problem was to overcome the snobbishness regarding second hand clothes.  We had to convince people it was the smart thing to do.  That meant the shop should always be pristine  and the clothes immaculate  Easier said than done when someone would bring in a garment, swathed in polythene, with a cleaner's ticket pinned to it but when one examined the garment it would be grubby and obviously had never been near a dry cleaner.  The trick was to tell them that  unfortunately the cleaners hadn't made a very good job of it and advise them to complain.  Mary was much better at this  than I - with my Lancashire frankness - but slowly I learned- the hard way.

"The shop's great - if it weren't for the ****** customers I once remarked.

  Slowly but surely the word spread about our shop - The School Budget Shop as we christened it - and when we started to make money we got an accountant in addition to  our solicitor.  We wanted to do things properly- stay solvent, pay taxes etc so Dave the accountant gave us an Analysis Book with columns for everything that was paid out.  With his help we worked out our annual expenses with a bit extra for contingencies and divided that by 12 to estimate our monthly expenses.  Dave suggested an approximate figure for the partners to withdraw each month but I had a better idea.  To make it more interesting and fun, I suggested that whatever the takings were each month we would subtract the monthly expenses and whatever was left over would be our salary.  If we didn't clear expenses we would take nothing.  Dave thought this was unnecessarily complicated but the other girls recognised what fun it would be each month to see what we'd get.  I was happy to do the work.  I still remember our glee when we had a bumper month in the school holidays and the resigned shrugs when it was peanuts.  Dave never understood.

  Every year William and I took the boys on typical children's holidays to Devon, Cornwall, Wales and the Lake District, Southwold, Frinton and sailing on the Broads.  There would be Easter visits to cousins in Gloucestershire, weekends with Wallace and Fleur and trips to my parents in Lancashire.  Fortunately William had six weeks holiday each year.  Apart from this William and I had widely varying interests.  That's just how it was.  I was something of a social butterfly and he was content with his books and music.  We got into the habit of one of us baby sitting the children, whilst the other went off and did their thing  When I saw an advertisement for a drama course for acting or producing I asked if he would mind if I went away for a week to do the production course.  He was happy about it and we agreed he would go sailing with his brother later in the year. 

  A week later driving in my little car to the country town where the college was situated I felt a rare thrill of delight.  A week's freedom!  I felt so euphoric I was tempted to waltz the car from side to side as Yves Montand did in "The Wages of Fear" just before he drove his truck over the cliff.  Common sense prevailed and I reached the town where the college was situated.  It was very busy.  The traffic crawled and I saw an old man motionless on the pavement.  There were people standing round him and I wondered if I had been there, would I have had the courage to do mouth to mouth?  

At the college I was given a schedule for the week and shown to a block which housed single rooms, a kitchen and showers.  I was early and the only one there.  I had brought a pile of books in case I didn't find anyone to talk to but I was too excited to read..  The first person to arrive  was a middle age Irish woman.  I made us some tea and made my first friend.  Gradually more students drifted in and by supper time I had met lot of them and began to relax.  We were divided into two factions; those like me who were doing a production course and the acting group.  You could tell from the look of the two main lecturers who was doing what- Hugh the actor's lecturer with floppy hair, an aesthetic face and wearing a beautiful shirt, sweater and cords whilst Gary the producer's lecturer, wore old jeans and a fade blue aertex shirt which I noticed matched his eyes.  He had an old ARP canvas bag which looked as if it had been through two world wars.

During supper I found some of the students were old hands and had brought with them all the requirements for  a bar which they ran- very efficiently- each night throughout the week.  Beside the Irish lady I got friendly with a white American male, a black American male and a young Malaysian boy.  I began to feel at home and at ease.  We could see from the schedules we were going to be busy and were working towards a production of Lady Windemere's Fan at the end of the week.  We all met up in the library to introduce ourselves and get to know each other.  Gary came and stood next to me and said he'd been cramped against a book-case.  I pointed out there was lots more room down the other end and he wandered off.  I don't know why I behaved like such a klutz  unless it was an innate instinct for self preservation.  He told me afterwards he felt intimidated by me.  Great!  

Thankfully next day I was more relaxed and started to enjoy the classes.  The cast of the play was chosen and the production side were divided into lighting, wardrobe, make up, set design and stage management. We would all have time with each but had just one responsibility for the play.  I was going to be in the lighting box with Gary.

The casting was interesting; Charles - the black American was to play Lord Windemere - he was both thrilled and terrified.  Gary was a great teacher, sitting casually on a Meccano -like structure on stage, immensely practical - the ARP bag contained bits of wire and screws and various implements which he used to adjust lights, scenery or anything that required it.  He radiated amiability and everyone liked him.  He had recovered from our initial brush and went out of his way to make me feel I had something valuable to contribute.  There were two Cambridge graduates in our group and their knowledge of literature in general was bottomless and they could quote reams of Christopher Fry at the drop of a hat.  Gary convinced me that all the knowledge in the world didn't amount to a can of beans if one didn't have a sense of theatre.  He said I had this and wanted to see me put it in action.  Men!  You know what Shirley Valentine said about them?  The fellowship and camaraderie reminded me of my training days in hospital.

One day William and the boys called in to see me en route to Wallace and Fleur's.  William said he had never seen me so relaxed and I should try and stay like that when I came home.  It was lovely to see the boys and gave me a reality check: like most of the female students I was getting rather fond of Gary.  At one session a group of us were sitting on a broad shelf and Gary took off his tie before demonstrating something and draped it over my bare ankle.  It felt such an intimate thing to do; I could feel my cheeks aflame.

We went to the theatre and saw a great production of "The Royal Hunt of the Sun".  Sheila - the Irish girl knew the star Colin Blakely and took me back stage after the show.  We met the wonderful Robert Stephens and then Colin, who arranged to meet us for a drink before the evening show.  All very exciting and the pressure was building as we prepared for our own production.  I was thankful to be working back stage and didn't have to worry about learning lines.  Bed-time got later and later and we stayed up talking and putting the world to rights as students have done since time immemorial.  One beautiful moonlit night a gang of us drove to the beach and lit a fire. Sitting round it in the firelight we all took turns to sing or tell a story.  I sang La Miserere from  Il Trovatore in faux Italian.  It was actually gibberish but I'd been doing it for years with family and friends so many of them - including Gary were fooled.  The darkness and the wine gave me courage.  A couple of the group decided to go swimming although the tide was way out.  As it got later and later we decided , reluctantly, it was time to return to the college and discovered the swimmers were missing.  Suddenly the beautiful evening became a nightmare.  We split up into search parties and combed the enormous beach.  We were all silent - apart from calling the names of the two missing students.  I think we were all feeling the same emotion - dread.  I was walking with two others along the coast and at last we found two bedraggled figures huddled in the dunes.  They had had a long walk out to sea, had swum for a while and then were completely disorientated when they came out.  The current must have swept then up the coast.  We hugged them. wrapped them in towels and rugs and made our way back to college; many of us sending a silent prayer of thanks that a disaster had been averted.

The day of the show- our final day- was a mad flurry of dress rehearsals, lighting, plotting and last minute costume adjustments.  We all worked hard and although the dress rehearsal didn't go without a hitch that probably boded well for the actual performance.  Charles - my black American friend gave a natural dignity to his part of Lord Windemere and fortunately the director saw the folly of giving him white gloves to  wear- shades of Al Jolson.  Being in the lighting box with Gary was a piece of cake as he was very hands on but I had studied the lighting plots and felt I knew a little more than the useful snippet that Strand pink was the most flattering light for women.  Fascinating how one could lift or darken the mood with light and music.  I couldn't wait to get back to the theatre club and do my own production.  I knew from  the people  I worked with on "The  Summer of the Seventeenth Doll" that I could get together that all important back stage team - so vital before one thinks of the  actors.

In one part of the play Gary wanted a black-out and it was dependant on the timing of what was happening on stage; he said that he would keep his eye on the action with his arm raised and at the right moment would drop his arm and I would pull the lever that would plunge the stage into darkness.

Meanwhile we had a couple of hours before the show and I planned to crash and try to catch up with all the late nights I had been having.  However Gary said he wanted to speak to me alone, and as we were all leaving tomorrow this was the last chance we would get so I agreed to meet him in the pub when I had changed.  The pub was empty when I got there apart from Gary sitting by the window looking concerned - very unusual for him.  We had soft drinks because of the show and I asked Gary what he wanted to talk to me about.  The evening sun shining through the window gave him a golden glow and although he wasn't conventionally handsome I found his titian hair and freckles and above all his sunny disposition immensely appealing.  I was aware of the woman behind the bar who seemed very interested in our conversation.  I realised there had been a mutual attraction between us but was also conscious that he was a very popular guy and had young women constantly asking for his help, advice or opinion on all sorts of things.  I'd had a fantastic week with a great bunch of people from all over the world and Gary had made me feel a desirable woman for the first time in years.  But this was time out from my real life;  I would keep in touch with some of the students but I knew the friendship with Gary had to end here.

Gary said he had had a chequered career and although married had been a bit of a philanderer, but this was the first time he felt really serious.  Neither of us were free but he knew I wasn't happy and that probably nothing would come of it for years.  Even though we lived far apart he wanted to keep in touch.  I was in turmoil.  It sounded so reasonable but I had never imagined continuing after the course and tried to explain why I couldn't keep in touch with him.  We were going round in circles and it was time to get back to the college.  In the lighting box I tried to concentrate on the play which seemed to be going well.  It went so much better with an audience and I could see the actors upping their game as each burst of laughter and applause gave them fresh impetus.  But my mind was whirling - Gary's words ringing in my ears.

"We must see each other again Pat."

I vaguely saw Gary lift his arm in the air and when he dropped it I froze.  Whether it was a combination of exhaustion and stress I don't know but I was paralysed.  Gary hurtled towards me, grabbed the lever and saved the day.  After the show it was party time with everyone on a high  I apologised to Gary for letting him down but he said it was his fault for bringing up such a difficult topic at the wrong time.  Knowing that most of us would never met again we partied for the last time, till the early hours.  The next morning I packed the car with my luggage and the unopened tomes.  Gary looked on as I hugged and said  goodbye to my new friends.  Just as I was about to drive off he came over, hugged me and said.

"See you next week!"

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Exciting Times chapter43



Now I was mobile the world seemed an exciting place with endless possibilities.

  At last I could think about getting a job but until both boys were at school it had to fit in with the couple of hours I had free each day.  Where to start?  Much as I loved having children I was beginning to lose my identity.  I felt little more than an adjunct: a mother to the boys, a wife to William (not a very good one at that) and a chatelaine to the house.  At this time in my life I found domesticity deadly dull.

    Answering an ad in the local rag for Beauty Counselors  (the idea was to sell make-up to women in their own home - similar to Avon Ladies) I was interviewed by a large charismatic  lady named Pamela who also gave me a free make up.  Pamela was a 'District' which meant she could recruit counsellors and also appoint 'Zones' who would be able to recruit and train their own counsellors.  I enjoyed the make-up and appreciated the fact that the ingredients were pure.  There was an icy cold pink cream.

 "The Duke of Windsor simply loves having this applied to his feet," trilled Pamela.  I had to pay for the smart grey make up box and after a few more sessions with Pamela I was ready for business.  It was right up my street - I loved helping people to make the best of themselves and could get quite messianic about skin care.  Predictably William was less enthusiastic.

"What do they pay you?"

"You get a percentage of all you sell"

"It'll be a while before you recoup the cost of the beauty box then."

After a while Pamela made me a Zone so I could start recruiting my own counsellors and earn a percentage of their sales.  I was good at recruiting - recognising the bored housewife syndrome and together we became inspired and enthused.  Above Pamela was Zed - a regular power-house married to an ex Spitfire pilot.  She organised frequent get-togethers with lunch and wine and targets and rewards.  Suddenly all we lonely housewives had a scintillating social life and even earned a few pence.

One of the women I recruited - Mary - became a close friend.  She was a decade older with just one daughter at senior school.  We enjoyed each other's company and would often do demonstrations together.  By this time both boys were at school so I had the day free.  One afternoon we were working in a Kent village hall where almost all the audience had wanted a free make-up.  By the end of the session we were exhausted  and had sold about half a dozen lipsticks.  Over a cup of tea we commiserated with each other.

Pat: "Wouldn't it be great if we had a shop where people came to you to buy?"

Mary "Funny you should say that.  I've got a friend down in Worthing I'd like you to meet."

We agreed to make it soon.

At dinner William surprised me when he said -

"Pat remember Alan the army officer I'm working with?"

"Ooh yes - he's the good looking one recently married-

" That's right!"

"I remember Amanda - she's an Australian actress 'resting' till their new baby is old enough to leave.  What about them?"

"I thought it might be nice to have them round for a meal."
"Good idea.  I'll give her a ring tomorrow."
The evening was a success- they seemed very happy and the evening ended with me volunteering to look after the baby whilst they had a romantic week-end in Paris.
  The next time I saw them they popped in for a cuppa, on their way to shop in Tunbridge Wells.  Mum was staying with us and Amanda kept her spellbound telling her about the wonderful time they had had in Paris.
"Did you take the baby with you" asked Mum?
"Oh no.  She was far too young.  No a very dear friend looked after her for me.  Now who was it?"
  I looked at her and was gobsmacked to see she wasn't kidding.  Shades of Marta and "people like you."
  I know I expect too much of people and I shall be eternally grateful to Amanda for encouraging me to join the local theatre club which over the years enhanced my life. 

Meanwhile Mary had made a date for us to visit her friend Ellie in
Worthing.  What was that all about I wondered.  They had known one another for years and Ellie, whose husband was a master at a renowned public school, had made a nice little earner for herself over the last few years.  She had started a shop with a partner, based on the old thrift shops out in Germany, where the partner had been an army wife.  The idea was you had a shop and accepted children's outgrown clothes and sold them for the client who then received payment - with a percentage going to Ellie and partner.  Basically it was school uniform but as time went on they included all children's clothes especially ski and riding clothes.  Ellie took us to see the shop which was bustling with mothers and children and obviously providing a deep felt need.  Like us they had prep schools, grammar schools and public schools in the area - all of which demanded expensive uniform.  No way was it an 'old clothes' shop- the key was quality and the clothes had to be dry cleaned and in perfect order.  At half the original price customers realised what a good deal it was and, as I had already discovered, many of them were struggling to  pay the fees to educate their children.

Over coffee I told Ellie that as both of us had large houses we could
have the shop at one of our homes and cut out the expense of premises.  Ellie was horrified.
"Are you serious about running a business or are you just playing at it?  You HAVE to have premises and run it as business.  Are you sure you can run it together?  You are working happily together now but you Mary are working for Pat.  Are you planning on being equal partners?"
We assured her we were.
"Well get yourselves a partnership agreement then.  It's when you start being successful the trouble really starts."

It seemed that Ellie and her partner were now having difficulties which were beginning to seem insurmountable.  So sad and one could see the strain was taking its toll on Ellie
It was time to leave as we both had to collect children from school.
Ellie gave us one last piece of advice.
"You need a third partner who has no children.  Your business needs to be open normal shop hours and she can do the hours when you have to pick up your children."

Somewhat chastened we contemplated running a business from 9.30am to 5.30pm six days a week - with a complete stranger.
I could see Mary was as excited as I was;  I knew we could do it and couldn't wat to get started.  Ellie had given us excellent advice and we needed to give the whole project  a lot of thought.  I picked the boys up from school and after I had given them tea and bathed them there was just time to have supper with William and give him a brief outline of what we planned.  He wasn't sure how I would be able to manage but it was a rehearsal night at the theatre club so we postponed the discussion.
  As Pete the director worked in television he was often late for rehearsal and I was deputed to be acting director.  Much more fun than doing props and I determined to learn as much as possible about putting on a play.  The leading actor Alan Burns was a solicitor and during a break I asked him if he had much dealing with partnership agreements.

"All the time - in fact if more people had them from the beginning half my work would be eliminated. "

I told him what we were contemplating and he agreed to act for us.
That was the solicitor sorted, now all we needed were premises, a third partner, a name, stock...oh and some capital.  No problemo!

The next day Mary and I were off down the High Street, Ellie's voice ringing in our ears; our aim - to find premises before the day was out.
The first house agent we visited was a charming elderly gentleman who looked as if he had stepped out of Dickens.  He was courtly, with a pink and white skin, snowy hair and a waxed moustache.  He was beautifully turned out with a bow tie, waistcoat and pale grey spats on his shoes - a rare sight even in the sixties.  We told him what we were looking for - both of us burbling excitedly whilst he regarded us benignly.  When we were done he told us to wait whilst he looked at his files, and slowly retired to a back room.  We looked at each other and sighed.  We knew we had to be patient but there was so much to do and we doubted that dear old Spats could ever do anything quickly.  Eventually he returned holding a file and looking pleased with himself.

"Now this may be just what you two young ladies are looking for.  Look out of the window down the High Street.  Can you see on that building over there?  See the name Berkeley Cartier?  That is a gentleman who was an excellent tailor until he retired and he owns the building.  As you can see there is still a tailor's shop on the ground floor, there are offices on the first floor but the second floor is vacant."
"Oh PLEASE- can we go and see it now?"
Spats twinkled at me over his pince-nez.
"Well now it's usual for us to make an appointment first but I can see  you are eager to get on.  If my assistant is available I shall find the keys and he will take you to see the premises."
I wanted to hug him but restrained myself and Mary and I beamed at each other.  Some time later we entered a door on the street - next to the gentlemen's outfitters.  At the top of the stairs was a cloakroom which we would share with the offices at the end of the corridor.  Up another flight of stairs was a small room with a window looking out onto a back yard and a large room at the front with two windows looking out onto the High Street.  
It needed a coat of paint but the space was great and we were at the smart end of town - on the High Street no less.  We hugged each other with excitement.
"We definitely want it.  Can you be sure to tell the old gentleman please."

The assistant promised to do so and Mary and I went for a coffee to plan our next move.
"OK now we've got premises we've need a third partner - not just for the reasons Ellie said but also to help with the rent.  If three of us put in £50 each that should tide us over until we start making money."
"Do you think people will be bothered to climb the stairs?"  Mary looked a bit anxious.
"Of course they will when they see what we have to offer.  The location is excellent- two flights of stairs won't bother them in the least.  They're young mothers!"

None of our friends would be suitable as the third partner as they all had children and not free to fit round our commitments.
"We'll advertise.  Let's work it out now, then we can drop it into the Courier and it will be out on Friday.:
By now Mary was used to my 'do it and it's done' maxim so between us we managed an ad that was clear ad direct.
"Why don't we put in a second ad, advertising our new shop?"
Mary was doubtful,"But we haven't signed the lease yet."
"We know we're going to and this will give us  good start."
So the second ad announced the advent of our new shop and asked for local school uniform in excellent condition. 
 This did cause a few repercussions and when we visited Spats to sign the lease he looked sternly at me over his pince - nez.
"I say, you jumped the gun rather , didn't you?"



Tuesday, July 28, 2020

An Imperfect Life


Chapter 42


“You’ve made your bed…”



With two small boys and a large house to look after I was kept pretty busy and the milk
dried up at six months.
Our first born was as active as ever so we decided to send him to a little nursery school for a few hours each morning to prevent him killing himself or his brother.

It was run by Cynthia – a vibrant mother of three boys who was determined her children would be privately educated.  This involved sending them to a nearby private school until they were old enough to go to prep school from whence she expected then to go to a famous public school.  This was going to cost an enormous amount of money and meant a degree of privation for the family.  She almost convinced me this was the way to go and I even bought a small red blazer as part of the prep school

“You do realise we would have to sacrifice family holidays if we go down that road?”

I stared at William and remembered our wonderful family holidays - Blackpool at Mrs Fell’s when we were tots, cycling holidays and youth hostelling during wartime and our unforgettable camping and climbing holidays in our beloved Lake District.  I couldn’t deprive my boys of experiences like that. We were both agreed on this so I started to investigate the local state schools.  I discovered a delightful primary school; it was a Church of England school next to the 10C Church, and was run by three splendid women.  As it was in the next village I had to visit the headmistress to see if she would accept my sons.  I told her I was going to learn to drive to deliver them and she was so impressed by this she accepted them.  Now all I had to do was learn to drive.  It was quite clear that William was not going to be my instructor.  He would lean out of the car apologising to all and sundry whilst I quietly fumed.

“Six professional lessons should do it if you really concentrate,” was Williams’s conclusion.  Our car was now an old Wolsley – with a running board and I was to have lessons on a Mini.

“You mustn’t attempt to drive your own car whilst you are having lessons”, the pleasant young instructor told me,” the controls are different!”  I was expected to pass with just six lessons and no practice.  In fact I found the lessons the most exciting thing that I had done in ages and would lie in bed at night going through all the motions.  By now we all had our own bedrooms: it lessened the squabbles between the boys and as William was a lark to my owl it made sense.  Once when my old nursing friend Annie was staying she was shocked when William threw my nightie down the stairs so I wouldn’t disturb him when I went to bed.  I suppose we were a bit odd.

  After my first lesson the instructor said with a hint of surprise.

“You’re not bad. When you got in the car I thought you were going to find it difficult”

That taught me such a lot about body language so I practised giving off the right vibes and by the time I took the test the examiner had to believe I was totally confident, assured and safe.  It worked and I passed first time.  That’s six lessons and no practice.  Oh had I said that already?  Sorry!

  One of the boys had a hospital appointment that afternoon so I decided to drive us in the Wolsley.  Not a brilliant idea – I still had to get used to the different controls.  On the way to the hospital, I saw my instructor and noticed his look of alarm.  Then it dawned on me I couldn’t get out of the car until I had parked it.  I should have realised that once I had passed my test was when I really had to learn to drive.

  By the time my elder son was due at the village school I was fairly proficient.  We didn’t have safety belts in those days and the boys used to fight to have the front seat, so it was done in strict rotation.  Mothers would drive with their left arm at the ready to shoot out and protect the child from falling forward.

  We had a nasty right turn out of our cul de sac into the oncoming traffic and the only way to do it safely was to inch out.  Every morning this woman with her hair scraped back in a steel grey bun, would cycle towards me and just as she passed would hiss -

“You’re well out!”

It drove me nuts because she always managed to say it when it was too late for her to hear my (I believed) valid explanation.  One day I was so cross I yelled.

“Silly old cow!”

Naturally then for years the boys would say -

“Oh look Mummy! It’s the silly old cow.”  Shameful I know.

Cynthia, the nursery school owner was quite a social creature and we were invited to one of her Sunday morning sherry parties.  The house was even bigger than ours and twice as draughty and to compensate I drank rather more sherry than was good for me. It seemed to me that the people we met were on a different plane with different aspirations.  They knew of my brief moment of fame so I was welcomed but I didn’t feel comfortable and I resolved I wasn’t going to become what I can only describe as a snob.  I thought sadly of the jolly racing fraternity we had left in Epsom.  Happily as time went on we met people we liked and many who became life long friends.

In spite of the drink we got home safely but I hated the feeling of the ground coming up to meet me and decided fortified wines were not for me.

  The money I had earned modelling had disappeared- mainly on buying things for the house and I was now financially dependent on William.  I didn’t enjoy this at all and matters came to a head when I asked for money to buy a new bathing suit for our holiday and –after quite a lengthy campaign – he said no.

I remember going out to the vegetable patch, staring up at the sky- choked with sobs and vowing I would never go hungry again.  No of course that was Scarlett O Hara

- I was hardly hungry but I made myself a pledge that somehow I would become independent again- Goddammit!

  Married women had a duty to look after their husbands, children, house and garden.  That was women’s work; so we cooked and cleaned, bottled and preserved, laundered and ironed, knitted and darned and made do and mended.  Hubby would be greeted in the evening with a fresh, pretty little wifey and after a restorative snifter he would kiss the children good night and sit down to a delicious home coked meal prepared by the lady of the house.  It didn’t always work out quite like that.

There was a feeling of unrest in the air.  We were about to have Women’s Lib, Germaine Greer and all that jazz, making waves and changing our lives for ever.

  One of the good things about living in Kent- we were closer to my sister Maddie and her husband.  They would come over most weekends - first shopping in Tunbridge Wells and then dropping in to play with the children and share our supper.  They usually brought little gifts for the boys and a bottle of wine and I looked forward to their visits.

  One night Maddie and I were washing up after eating my nourishing goulash.

“What’s up Pat?”  I started to weep.  She put down the drying up cloth and stared at me.

“For goodness sake Pat. Buck up!  You’ve got a good husband, two lovely boys and a great house!”  I suddenly remembered that walk on the avenues when Maddie

was unhappy with her first husband and Mum’s reaction.

“You’ve made your bed you must lie on it!”  Thankfully Maddie eschewed that remark but gave me a pep talk.

“Get a part-time job!  Join a theatre club!  Take a lover!”  I was so shocked I stopped weeping and gaped at her.

Within a month I had done as she suggested.  Well two out of three that is.



Thursday, June 18, 2020

An Imperfect Life


Chapter 41


The times they are a changin’.


“William what do you like best about living here?”

“I enjoy having a pleasant drive to work instead of that dratted commute.  What about you?”

“I just love all the space – in the house and garden so different to where I was brought up.  I’m never going to live in a small house again!”

 I missed my friends and my wonderful daily help but found that with one small child and another on the way, people were very friendly.  One problem I had was of my own making.  After we lost our beloved corgi – Havoc, I thought it would be nice to buy another for William so that he could have the puppy – Sharon, to train whilst I had the baby.  Unfortunately Sharon was untrainable and with William out all day she was the bane of my life.  Any clothes hanging around were ruined but worst of all she would get out of the house at every opportunity and run into the main road causing chaos.  At the end of our road lived Mrs D – a dressmaker who bred valuable dogs and when Sharon got out and attacked her miniature pincer she said regretfully that if we didn’t get rid of Sharon she would have to sue us.  I was desperate but Mrs D knew lots of doggy people and said she knew just the chap who would be able to train Sharon.  She went off to what we were assured would be a good home and later we got a feed back that she was behaving and all was well.  A week later we were told there were problems and would we like to have her back.  Neither Mrs D nor I were prepared to risk it. So she stayed put and – with a certain amount of guilt I thanked God I didn’t have to cope with her.

Feeling the guilt I vowed never to be tempted to have another dog.

  All in all it was a fairly eventful pregnancy. One day I was carrying my son slowly upstairs for our post –prandial nap, reached his cot and heard a thunderous noise.  The top of the stairs was shrouded in white powdery clouds; the hall ceiling had collapsed. I was so relieved the ceiling hadn’t fallen on my son and me – my Guardian Angel was on duty that day.  After I settled him in his cot I crept downstairs to phone William.  He came home straight away and I assured him I was fine – I didn’t need to see the doctor but we had to do something about the ceiling.  In those days work-men actually came when they said they would and although the builder couldn’t promise to reproduce the elaborate moulding exactly- he made a good job of it and the house stayed sound from then on.  Just one more surprise – I went down to the cellar one day to fill the brass coal bucket and was amazed to find the cellar floor hidden by a small lake.  I hastily retreated and phoned the long suffering William.  By the time he got home the water had disappeared.  Although no-one had told us, there was a well in the cellar which would overflow after extremely heavy rains.  Nothing to worry about.

   It was the custom to have the first baby in hospital and the second – if all was well-at home.  There were two midwives, one who was shaped like a hedgehog; she was dry with a twinkle so we christened her Mrs Tiggy Winkle.  The other one was skinny with glasses and an expression as if she had just eaten bitter aloes.

“In do hope we get Mrs Tiggy William.  The other one was horrid about the new single bed we bought specially for the birth and said it was too low and must be put on blocks.”

  William’s solution was to get a load of breeze blocks from the garage and prop the bed on them.  They were dirty and cumbersome and when I saw a number of wood lice skittering around I lost my cool and they were replaced by the requested wooden blocks.

Now working for the MOD (Ministry of Defence) William had a reasonable amount of leave so he decided to take time off to look after me during the birth and help with #1 son and baby.  To my delight it was Mrs Tiggy who was on duty when I started.

“I can tell when you’re having a contraction – your face goes all pink!  I’ve no-one else due so I might as well stay.” 
 We all tucked into a nourishing stew I had made in the pressure cooker.  After examining me she warned me that I would probably have quite a small baby.  It was a long afternoon and I remember lurching through the hall to answer the phone and having a strong urge to delay the whole thing for a month or two.  Fat chance!

   We had a fire glowing in the play- room and the bed facing the window and Mrs Tiggy was concerned about the fierce draught when the door opened so we moved the bed and blocks against the back wall- much more satisfactory.  When it was bed-time for my son and William took him upstairs for his bath Mrs Tiggy said

“Let’s try and have the baby before your husband gets down again.”

And we actually managed it with my special breathing coming up trumps and soon there was that delightful bawl from a new born baby.  A beautiful boy and a glorious 8 pounds – a whole pound heavier than his big brother. The one certain thing about midwifery is that nothing is certain. William was thrilled – I was thrilled and the nurse said I had done brilliantly.  But- she was terribly sorry – she had tried to hold it together but the old wound had torn and I would have to have stitches.  She knew what was coming.  Old Dr Rigg’s house backed on to our garden so he was there in a trice and I had a repeat performance of the suturing with no local anaesthetic.  Why the hell didn’t I protest but one feels so weak and helpless and it was again a bitter irony that I managed the birth like a trooper and then had to try to gag my screams with the inadequate gas and air mask.  Poor William heard and later told my sister he couldn’t put me through that again and I had already made a decision that this was going to be my family – complete.  I had always envisaged a little girl (who later appeared as my grand- daughter) but I would never change my two sons – not for all the tea in China.

  When no-one was looking I sneaked to the phone in the hall to tell Mum the good news.

“Get back to bed out of that draughty hall!  What are you thinking?  She just remembered to say ‘well done!’ before hanging up.

  Sister Maddie and husband turned up with a bottle of champagne which I wouldn’t touch as I intended to start feeding my sturdy little son.  Eventually the guests left, William went up to bed and I was left alone in the firelight with him and felt a great thrill of happiness – all pain forgotten.  We decided to have a go at this feeding lark and – like his brother he clamped on with relish.  Normally with breast fed babies they have a sticky black stool – meconium- for the first 24 hours but this little boy was so determined he had a normal stool by morning.

  It was an icy February morning and I could see daffodils were out in the garden.  I wondered what the brothers would think of each other.  I heard William bringing #1son down stairs.  I’d soon find out,

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Two Photos for Exile.
 Our new home - my beloved 5 G

The little darling - with Mum.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

An Imperfect Life
Chapter 40

 Pastures new.


When I told my lovely girl friends of our impending departure there were tears – not just mine – the girls got quite emotional.  We knew it would never be the same again and being at home all day with a small child was quite a lonely occupation. I felt better when I found I was pregnant again.  We wanted at least two children and this would make the gap two years and three months between them.

“Maybe you’re right William.  Maybe it would be better to have a larger house and a better salary.”

Before I had time to get used to the idea William told me he had been offered the job and had accepted it so I put on a brave face and threw myself into scouring the D.T. looking for a nice house in our price range

  William’s new job meant a move from Surrey to Kent supposedly ‘the Garden of England’ where there were lots of Oast houses for the brewing of hops.  Traditionally East Enders would move lock stock and barrel to Kent for the hop-picking season.

“William I’ve found something and incredibly it’s in our price range.”

 “You get more for your bucks in Kent.  Where is it? “

“A place called Southborough.  It’s between Tunbridge Wells – spelt with a ‘u’ -and Tonbridge spelt with an ‘o’.”

“There’s a good boy’s school there – I’ll phone the agent and make an early appointment.  It’s quite a drive - what about the baby?”

“Anne wants to have him.”  Both my girl friends had boys a couple of months older than our son and they were fascinated by his constant crawling, pulling himself upright and general activity whilst he was half the size of the other two boys.  When left in his pram before long he would leap over the side and dangle - thankfully saved from a tumble by his restrainers.

   First impressions were good; Tunbridge Wells (Royal T.W. as it liked to be known} was a spa town with lots of history, the Pantiles and a large hilly common.  Southborough was about two miles north and we drove up a quiet cul de sac where the house was situated amongst other detached Victorian dwellings.

“I don’t like that laurel hedge in front.  It’s far too high but the holly trees are good.”

On the near side, on a cobbled path was a stable with an apple loft above.

“It all looks in good nick – I like the pale grey the house is painted and the turquoise trimmings.  Oh and look there is a path on the far side of the house so I can wheel the pram to the back of the house.  And there is a lockable door.”

 Daily walks with baby in pram were the norm in those days.

We walked down the path and let ourselves in to the very private walled garden.  It was neglected but there was a large old pear tree which gave dappled sunlight and old apple trees, Ribston Pippins, Worcester Pearmains and Bramleys.

“Gosh look at that enormous yew hedge – it seems to divide what they call the pleasure garden from the vegetable garden.”

William was looking at it critically and possibly planning its demise.  There were rose beds and flowerbeds all tangled and full of weeds and behind the yew hedge an old neglected vegetable garden.  It was all a bit daunting – but exciting.

  We were told the last person to live there was a very old lady and her housekeeper.  On her death a speculator had bought it, redecorated it and put it on the market.  I couldn’t wait to see inside.  We returned to the front entrance and went through heavy double doors to a large glass paned door.  The entrance hall had a central staircase; the drawing room on the left and the dining room – with hatch to the kitchen– on the right.  Both rooms were large with attractive fireplaces and bay windows.  Behind the drawing room was a smaller room – with fireplace.

“This would make a great study – looking out onto the garden,” said William.

“Or nursery – remember there are going to be four of us!”

At the end of the hall there was another entrance from the rear garden with both an inner and an outer door.

 “Gosh!  The old lady must have been security conscious.  Look at all those heavy bolts on top and bottom on all the doors.  And there is a loo here with the same iron bolts top and bottom and inside and outside the loo.  How odd! And where do these other three doors lead to?”

William opened them revealing a scullery, the kitchen and steps down to a cellar.  We’d been told that the people next door had converted their cellar into a basement flat.  Ours was given over to a lifetime’s store of coal and coke.  We discovered there were also fireplaces in the bedrooms and bathroom

“Oh look William – an ideal boiler.  Can you smell that chokey smell?  Multiply it by ten and that’s what the cellar smelt like at the Convalescent Home at St Anne’s.”

“I remember,” joked William “the one you allowed to go out when you were on night duty.  Very careless of you!”

Yet another door led down two steps into the garden room with butler’s sink and a small room just off it.  Another door led into the garden.

  Halfway up the stairs was a large bathroom and separate loo.  The bathroom had a pretty old fireplace and would have been the tweeenie’s bedroom.  There were five bed and dressing rooms-as they put it and outside the rooms were mahogany let-down side tables for the maid to put the breakfast tray before opening the door.

By the time we got back in the car we were exhausted.

“What did you think” I asked William?

“It’s a very good house,” he said positively.

I sighed regretfully,”It’s just too big.”

“I suppose so.”  William knew his limitations and he was never a DIY man.

By the time we reached home I had mentally moved in.  The house was crying out for a family.  Our family!  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“On the other hand William…”

  I was certain it was the right house for us.  William agreed but was more cautious.

“It’s a hell of a responsibility to take on.  We’d have to get it properly surveyed.”

I agreed.  My sister Maddie was now working in London for an architect and said she knew just the man.  Not wishing to waste time and possibly lose the house we met up with him in Southborough and after what we hoped was a thorough going over he said,

“The house is sound and if you are both in love with it you should go ahead.”

He also told us that he and his wife had just bought a farmhouse they fell in love with, in spite of a doubtful survey.  He mentioned that the two steps down from the kitchen to the scullery could be a nuisance but it never bothered us.

  Later when the children would stow toys in the washing machine causing it to flood I was thankful for the brick floor, where the water would just drain through to the garden.

First thing in the morning and last thing at night my head was full of plans for our new home.  Who knew you could be in love with a house and miraculously William was just as keen.

  We sold our bungalow making a small profit and and our offer on the Victorian house accepted.  Anne offered to have our son whilst we moved in and we gratefully accepted.  He didn’t fret at all and we were very proud of him.  Mind you I think he was spoilt rotten whist he was there.

  We were under close scrutiny by the neighbours when we moved in.  I was wearing tartan trousers from my modelling days so they were convinced we were Scottish.

  We had a lot of space to fill but Dodie, my mother –in- law, helped out with a carpet or two and sister- in-law Fleur had her late mother’s furniture stored in her house sized garage some of which found it way to us.  There was so much wall space and I started a life long collection of pictures and drawings- mostly repros but some originals.

Heating was a bit of a problem and to supplement the open fires and boiler we had paraffin stoves, gas and electricity fires.  This was the fifties remember.  All had to be carefully guarded with an active toddler in the house and I was thankful for the old wooden play-pen where I could safely leave my son.  We designated William’s dream study as the playroom but he quickly learned to push the play pen up against the door so I couldn’t get in and would have to go round to the window outside in the garden and persuade him to back off.

  As usual, when pregnant, I was getting larger by the day and one day I left him playing in the hall whilst I went to use the downstairs loo.  Suddenly I heard a noise, went to open the door and realised my little monkey had pushed the iron bolt across

Thanks to the security conscious previous owner.  I could see my sons navy blue eye staring at me through the key hole.

“Darling- just push the bolt back for Mummy please.  Good boy darling!”

But darling thought this was an exciting new game and just said

“Mummy! Mummy!”

This went on for quite some time and I became increasingly panicked.  Thank God we were on the ground floor and there was a window - with a complicated screw bolt.  I had to stand on the loo (it was encased in a mahogany base and could withstand my weight) then lurch sideways to open the window.  Somehow I managed to lever myself out (thank you God), walk round the back of the house and let myself into the kitchen and found little sunshine with his eye still glued to the key hole.  More lessons learned.