Monday, June 26, 2017

An Imperfect Life.

Chapter 22



Exhausted after our marathon journey we spent a couple of days recovering.  I unpacked my trousseau and we did the deed.  I decided Rome wasn’t built in a day. Eventually the clouds lifted and with them our spirits and we started to enjoy our honeymoon.  It was exciting being surrounded by foreigners – the Scesaplana was a favourite resort hotel with the Dutch Royal Family.  An enormous Dutchman introduced us to ‘velvet liquid fire’ and Grand Marnier became our evening digestif.

  There were Italians and Swiss but one day a coach full of young men arrived and incredibly they turned out to be from Metro Vickers where William worked.  Even that didn’t dampen our spirits.

We became friendly with two older ladies from Edinburgh who were seasoned travellers.  They had a very good relationship with the rather dour head waiter who, following their example we called Rudolph.

“Pat dear – it’s probably not a good idea to call Rudolph Rudolph.”

“Oh but I thought that was his name.  I’m sure I heard you…

“You see my dear we used to come here before the war so Rudolph is an old friend and well - Flora and I are quite elderly so it is permissible.  However he is the Head Waiter and should be addressed as Herr Ober.”

  She told me this in such a gentle way I was grateful and we immediately took her advice and Herr Ober was less grumpy.  After all we had been enemies until recently.  It was a shock to see the graveyards full of photographs of young men in German uniform.  Some of them looked like children.

  I was mesmerised by the sparkling mountain - the Scesaplana which seemed to be whispering “climb me!”   When I heard the Metro Vickers lads were planning a climb I persuaded William that we should do it first rather then go up in a crowd.

At 10,000’ the mountain was almost three times the height of any mountain I‘d climbed, but as the village was itself high I reckoned we -  by now - should be acclimatised and wouldn’t go barmy as we got higher.  Dodie had made it clear that William had no climbing experience so I did feel responsible, asking lots of questions about the route and choosing a perfectly clear day for the climb.  Trained by Jamie and Alec in the Lakes I was fairly good at spotting routes.  It was a long slog but well way-marked.   As we got higher the greenery and rocks were covered with snow and when we eventually reached the top there was an amazing vista.  All around were distant peaks.

“Look William we’re surrounded by ice cream cones – upside down.  Aren’t you glad we did it?”

William grinned – I think he was glad.  We were fascinated by a man dressed in lederhosen who was preparing to scree- run down a rocky precipice.  It was far more dangerous than anything I had done in the lakes so I had no intention of suggesting we took that route.  As he set off his friends leant way over the edge calling out to guide him from above – shouting “Links! Links! Recht! Recht!”

Once he was out of sight there was a deathly silence and we trusted he had got down safely.

  It was very hot as we worked our way down the mountain – not a soul in sight so I took my shirt off.

We felt immensely proud chatting to the MV boys later in the bar and the next day they repeated our feat.

“I got a great shot of the glacier,” boasted one of them.  There was quite a lot of chat about the glacier and later, in our room I questioned William.

“I don’t remember any glacier.  Do you?”  William admitted he didn’t.

  For the briefest of times William was putty in my hands and - to my shame - we set off the next day to climb the mountain once more.  At the summit we met some English speaking climbers and discovered the large snowy waste at the bottom of the mountain was the glacier and we were about to traverse it for the fourth time.

Whilst all this activity was going on I was on a quest to find ‘the Big O’ (orgasm).

It was akin to catching a falling star or attempting to scoop up mercury from a broken thermometer.  I kept coming close until finally – BINGO!  It blew my socks off!

“Pat the desk gave me this telegram for you.”

My hands shook as I opened the orange envelope.  I screamed and William rushed over to comfort me.

“I’ve passed!  I’m State Registered!”

I explained that I had left sufficient money for Matron to send a telegram to tell me the results

“Good old Matron.  She actually paid for an extra word - CONGRATULATIONS! Wasn’t that nice of her? “

I had the big O and an R.S.C.N - all in one day.  William just grinned.

Walking round the Austrian countryside was pure Von Trapp although the musical had not yet been written.  The hills were alive – with the sound of cow bells, the children and adults were dressed in quaint costumes, there were tiny churches and the whole area had a fairy tale feel.  The shepherds were very friendly and would offer us a schnapps and we ignored their very ripe smell.  I suppose washing lederhosen isn’t the easiest thing to do. We learned to greet the villagers with a cheery “Grus Gott!”  One woman replied with a cut glass accent “Good morning- actually I’m from Chelsea!”

 It was so sad wandering round the church yards and seeing photos of young men in uniform their lives cut short by the awful war.

  The day after our second ascent I woke up blinded.  All that glittering snow had given me snow blindness.

William was very solicitous.

“Time to slow down a bit.  After all we are on honeymoon.”  After a day in a darkened room I was fine but made sure to wear sun glasses for the rest of the time.

One of the weird things about the hotel; the bathrooms were at the end of the main corridor and were kept locked.  The drill was you had to ring for the chambermaid, she would run you a bath, provide you with towels and charge you x amount of Austrian Schillings.  The first time I did this the water was cool.  We wondered if this was a local custom as in Greece where the moussaka is never hot by the end of the day.  As the water in our hand basin was really hot and William was out I decided to have a really good stand–up wash.  In wartime days it was the custom to bathe once a week with just five inches of water; some people painted a line round the bathtub but as a nurse I was accustomed to a daily hot bath.  Half way through my ablutions the door handle rattled – it was William- also a little rattled to find the door locked.

“Give me quarter of an hour William I’m having a wash.”

What I didn’t realise was that he had come upstairs with some of the MV boys who were in the room opposite and who were vastly amused at his discomfiture.  Sorry William.  I was learning that privacy in marriage was a rare commodity.

  We had formed a small group of friends with a couple of the younger MV boys and two charming Swiss girls and set out on a long coach trip to Bologna in Italy between the Apennines and the Adriatic coast.  Bologna with its wide piazzas, marble floors and dusky red buildings –La Rossa - as it is known - was a great contrast to our Austrian idyll.  The food and shops were tempting and the dazzling scenery en route was well worth the gruelling journey.

  The capital of the Vorarlberg is Bregenz on Lake Constance which is bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Every summer since 1946 an opera has been performed on a floating stage on the lake and our gang of six had the great good fortune to attend this spectacle.  We spent the afternoon in a small boat and requested the chaps to “Regardez la soleil,” whilst we changed into our cossies for a swim before the opera.  I can’t remember the name of the opera sadly and research has been fruitless – it was July/August 1951 but I do remember being moved by the beauty of the voices drifting over the lake – shimmering in the setting sun.

  As the honeymoon came to an end I realised what a lucky girl I was.  Less than two years earlier, I had believed that life worth living was over.  I had managed to banish Jamie from my conscious mind but Maddie always kept in touch with his brother Liam.  Many years later I heard that Liam told Jamie I had married someone who had been in the Navy and Jamie assumed it was Andrew.

A year later he married the older woman.

  It was time to return to real life in a strange town – Sheffield.  William was in the final part of his apprenticeship and I had to find a job.  First we had to collect our wedding presents from Mum and Dad and then settle in the two rooms we were renting from the man we met in the street.  I felt I had come to Austria a girl and was leaving as a woman.  Would people be able to tell?  Did I look any different?  I was longing to see Mum and Dad and tell them about the people we had met and the mountains we had climbed but as soon as I saw their faces I knew something was wrong.  Mum had beautiful blue/green eyes and when she was distressed they were a clear turquoise.

“What’s the matter Mum?”


Sunday, June 11, 2017

'The Kiss'
Our French son - having read Chapter 21 has kindly sent this beautiful photo of Rodin's 'The Kiss' last seen by me in London 1951

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Havoc our corgi who appears in Chapter 21- in her younger days.  The photo was taken by Lisa Sheridan - photographer to HM and mother of the actress Lisa Sheridan who starred in the film Genevieve.  Roger Moore was a model at the time - often used by Lisa but sadly our paths never crossed.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chapter 21

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

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