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.