Saturday, April 26, 2014

Memoirs of Louisa Emmeline Hughes (Bobbie) 1914-2014

1982 and again 1984, July 1985, November 1986 and July 1987

My grandchildren will never know the innocent law-abiding world that surrounded my childhood. Before I forget, I am setting down my impressions of a long bygone age, which may be read with incredulity and humour by one or more of them.
The slums of London were my playground. Born a month before the 1914 war broke out, into a house owned by the LNER (London North Eastern Railway) just behind Marylebone Station.
The house had two rooms on each floor including a basement, eight in all. A small back yard with an outside lavatory and a wash house with a stone copper. One tap in the yard, the sole supply for the whole house. The basement rooms were dark, and one had a coal range. There was a round metal plate covering a hole on the pavement where coal was tipped into a cellar at 1s/3d per cwt. My mother (Louisa Burnett, b.1891) spent her life keeping that old range shining and alight. It meant warmth and comfort, a kettle always boiling on the hob.
The earliest recollection I have is of scribbling on postcards for a soldier daddy (Charles Roberts b.1892, St. Giles, London). The build up to his homecoming was a bit too much. I was very disappointed in the drab little man sitting on the bed in his underclothes. How wrong can you be? In fact he was a lonely somewhat shy man, extremely intelligent, and I owe him a very great deal.
A word here about my grandparent and parents. My paternal grandfather Charles Henry Roberts was born in Port Jackson[1], Australia, descendant of a convict I don’t doubt, a fact which intrigued my grandsons when part of my family emigrated there in the seventies. He lived alone in the house where I grew up, visiting my grandmother Sarah Sofia (née Stearn, b. 26.4.1856 in Chichester, Sussex) in the big house where she was cook-housekeeper[2], puffing his pipe by the range fire, saying not a word the whole evening. I remember too that lovely old kitchen. He died soon after I was born[3]. Such a strange life. My father has little or no recollections of him. But in later years I remember my grandmother saying she missed him; my little paternal grandmother a greater influence in my life than my mother. I was indeed lost and forlorn when she died soon after my 14th birthday[4]; the first shock and grief of my life. Theirs must have been a stormy marriage. Grandmother turned catholic when she was 26, causing arguments over the education of my father. A baby sister (Violet) was found dead in the pram, suffocated by a bonnet ribbon across the mouth. In later years I often saw my father peering anxiously into the pram of my own babies, having warned me to take great care. I had no regard for fussy bonnets anyway. 
Next to the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone road there stood a lovely old ivy covered house, with a high walled garden, ‘Marylebone Lodge’, occupied by a wealthy bachelor gentleman Mr Brown[5]. Here grandmother held sway; she was the cook-housekeeper. It was my father’s home, but he was often sent away to school. There were many Aunts and Uncles. He went to school at Brighton under the care of my Great Aunt Fan[6] who ran a pub. I remember her and many Indian Army cousins resplendent in their uniforms.
Another sister, Clara[7] ran the Newmarket Inn, just outside Brighton. Still there...
I remember staying once with grandmother and my sister. Why was she so heartbroken at the death of Sister Clara’s husband Sam? Must be a story there somewhere…
As a toddler I vaguely remember ‘The Lodge’ after all the fuss had died down. My mother[8] had been parlour-maid there. Outraged by the idea of their marriage, grandmother withdrew all plans for my father’s further education (including Edinburgh University) and threw him out. They had to marry secretly in a Registry Office[9], as my grandmother would have stopped the marriage, he being under 21[10]. I was born about 13 months after, so it was no shotgun wedding. Romantic story? Yes! But is all truly lost for love. ‘Lost’ being the operative work. Lost to the world a superior brain without further education. Stifled by the need to provide. A wife with little education, no companionship there, no understanding. A good mother, housekeeper and cook. Yes, a good parlourmaid.
 Reconciliation with my grandmother took place by the time my sister was born 15 months later (Elsie, known as Sally, b.27.9.1915 d.2013).
Escape!! “Your country needs you” - so off he went and joined the army[11]. War is a wicked and cruel thing. But there you are, the human race is wicked and cruel – all colours all shapes and sizes. But to my father it was the happiest and most interesting period of his life. Not like the poor devils sent to Europe, he was sent to Baghdad, Mesopotamia (now the capital of Iraq). Here he began to learn the language, blossomed and grew in importance. Went to India, saw Table Mountain. At 89, he could still recount these trips as clear as ever, his tired voice taking on a new vigour.
But ask him what did yesterday, last week, last month? He could have had a very good job in the Middle East, after the war ended, but of course with her limitations my mother refused to go. So back home he came to unemployment and his responsibilities. No ducking those in his upright soul (he was not like the wishy-washy lot we breed nowadays). Although the marriage was totally incompatible, mother was a worthy woman.
Before I get carried away too far, we should look at the maternal grandparents. Grandfather (Thomas James Burnett) was brought up spoilt by a bevy of sisters. His father was a Scot (William Andrew Burnett, b. 1825, Ayrshire) whose family came to Lambeth where at first they kept cows. I ask you - cows in Lambeth - its hard to believe these days. After that, they took a pub. My great grandfather however is reputed to have gone to Australia twice to ‘seek his fortune’. He missed it of course, but there is supposed to be a ‘Burnett Creek’ named after him[12]. His wife was Mary Ann Roberts (b. 1835, Strood, Kent)[13].
Maternal grandmother Sarah is a shadowy figure[14]. She died when my mother was 11, the only survivor of six stillborn children. Thomas James (Archie as he was known to all the pubs and racecourses, married again, and the very much loved granny of my childhood (Minnie née Barton) emerges together with the four members of the second family. The youngest, Gladys (née Burnett, married Charles Robinson), only four years older than myself, has been a true friend all my life.
Back to Brand Street and the constant noise of trains, the poverty of the twenties. In these enlightened days poverty is blamed on the social system and the government. Do-gooders rant and rave but how much of the answer lies in ourselves. Father was unemployed for a time, mother did ‘charring’ jobs and took in lodgers, getting up at 4:00am to do her washing by candlelight before going to work. All neighbours in the little street varied in their degrees of poverty. But take the extreme case - a family living at the end house. This man had a job, but everything went into the pawnshop Monday morning to be redeemed by Friday’s wages. Then into the pub to get drunk all weekend. 26 children eventually, in fact the mother was still producing at the time the eldest girl started. They had nothing on their feet, and the backsides out of their trousers, rags for clothing. My mother tried at first to help by giving good outgrown clothes, but these ended in the pawnshop or the pub, never on the backs of the needy children. Surely these people produced their own poverty by their feckless and irresponsible behaviour. God help the taxpayer if the social security system had been working then, the father need not have worked at all, but get drunk seven days a week instead of only two.
My mother Louisa, armed by her thrifty Scottish genes, made a £1 go twice as far as anyone I have ever known and could produce a good meal out of a few oddments. Custard cream biscuits were a luxury only for Christmas. All biscuits were sold in 7 lb tins, and inevitably on weighing and handling produced many broken ones. That was our treat, 1 lb of broken biscuits for 3d.
My sister and I often visited ‘The Lodge’, it must have been very early in our lives as grandmother (Sarah) came to live with us when I was five. The old house was pulled down and replaced by a block of flats which are still there. So much fuss and sadness. A broken hearted old man (Mr. Brown) pensioned off his servants, sold up his home and went to live with a niece. A portfolio of photographs of the house I still have, but have not looked at it in 50 years. It is stored away somewhere. What shall I do with it? There will soon be no-one to remember.
The kitchen, with its large dresser, huge coal range, and enormous scrubbed deal table. When Alice brought the master’s breakfast tray down, my sister and I always ate the cut off tops of the two boiled eggs. What a funny thing to remember in addition to a large brown and white picture of a small girl saying to a large dog, “Can’t you talk”. As a treat occasionally we were allowed up a winding stone staircase to the grand holy territory above. Best I remember the music room with its grand piano. Mr Brown made many friends among the students of the Royal Academy and they were invited to dine and make music. Quiet as a mouse, my father was allowed to sit in the corner. Here his great love of music was born. Many, many famous names he can remember as students playing at the ‘Lodge’. Then vaguely I recall the morning room and a beautiful desk. In the garden were little tombstones (sic) for the extinct household pets, but otherwise I remember it as a damp place with a lot of trees.
So grandmother had the two rooms on the first floor. I remember it crammed with furniture and horrible pictures of Jesus crowned with thorns. The sitting room was a mass of Victoriana. A corner cupboard full of fascinating bits of china, black shiny horses on the mantelpiece and a musical box with bells and butterflies. However the ‘piece de resistance’ for me was the polyphone. A glass fronted cupboard that took a large metal disc with pinpricks. You put a penny in a slot at the side and the disc revolved to “Soldiers of the Queen” or whatever. There was a cupboard full of discs on which the player stood. The only other one I ever saw since was in a museum in Cape Town, 45 years on. An attendant was kind enough to insert a coin and I was transported back all those years.
Mother and grandmother never really got on. No wonder father kept out of the way. I did not really get to know him until I was grown up. But that sitting room was my sanctuary. The old lady and I were very close, but when she died, everything was ruthlessly sold. For a time I dreamed about running away from home.
Back to those early days, and that first terrifying day at the local church school St Paul’s. We were not allowed to play in the street at first because the children were considered ‘rough’. Small wonder my mother was known as ‘The Duchess of Brand Street’, neither she or my father set foot in that little pub, but the goings on at closing time were a secret source of curiosity to my sister and I. The independant, self-contained human being I became was largely determined by the fact that I was a stammerer. Still I remember clearly the first realization. Going into a little sweet shop for some ‘hundreds and thousands’, tiny round coloured sweets, stumbling over the words, and a cross, impatient man sending me out with a flea in my ear. The humiliation! After that, the nervous tightening of throat and tongue whenever I attempted to speak.
My schooling was misery. The other kids poked fun and imitated me, the teachers just could not be bothered to wait, and ignored me. The final humiliation was my inability to sing in tune, so I was pushed to the back, and told to form the words but never to utter a sound. I have always envied those who can sing – no stammer there. To this day I only let fly when the vacuum cleaner is going. Soon that outer shell grew, and I became unmindful, indifferent and even contemptuous of most of the human race. Another ‘lover’ was born. As children, my sister and I did not get on too well together. Not until our teens did we become life-long friends.
 My grandfather (Thomas Burnett) and his second wife (Minnie) moved to Cheriton, near Folkestone. We used to spend part of our school holidays there every year - the happiest part of my childhood. Archie kept house, as he walked bent double unable to work. Granny and the older girls worked in the summer 12-14 hours a day at the local laundry (Foster’s Steam Laundry, Cheriton). The time of white starched napkins and table wear and mountains of laundry had not given way yet to plastic and bits of paper. Formica was decades away. Unsupervised we were free to roam the hills behind Folkestone and a country lane all the way to Seabrook. Usually it was ‘hills’ in the morning, we sat in the sun waiting for the laundry hooter to go, then slid down the grassy slope, across a field, raced up Quested’s lane to lunch. Afternoons we walked to Seabrook, exploring the beach and the banks of the Military canal. It must have rained sometimes, but to me it seemed sunshine all the way.
After an illness, I was sent on my own to Great Uncle Alfred and Great Auntie Louisa for a holiday. They lived in Chichester[15], and had no children. A funny little cottage with a loo-shed at the bottom of the garden and a cellar where Alfred used to make little bundles of firewood to sell to the local ironmonger. In his charge of an afternoon, I learned to watch and enjoy cricket. This interest in the game has never waned, but learning to bowl over-arm under the instructions of my 11 year old grandson Jonathan in Australia at the age of 66, was a little difficult.
In spite of my stammer, progress was made in my education. At 13 years I went to Regents Park Central School, where additional subjects such as French, Shorthand and Typing were taught.
My sister Sally, who was so clever with her hands, went to a Trade School in Hammersmith to learn soft furnishing upholstery, curtains, loose covers etc. She was also an excellent dressmaker – self-taught, could sketch very well and (‘lucky girl’) had no stammer and such pretty blond hair and blue eyes and a much more gentle disposition than mine. My father was years ahead of his time, in that we had to have the best education possible, learn a trade, so that we could always be independent, and not have to do other peoples’ housework, like my mother. This trade earned my sister many openings, and stood her in good stead always, especially when her first husband (Charles Blundell) was killed during the war, and she was left with two little girls to support.
At this continuation school, I came under the wing of a very understanding headmaster. Only the grammar schools in those days took pupils to Oxford, Cambridge or Matriculation, forerunners of General Certificate of Education. He coached about six of us for the senior Oxford, and commanded our total respect and affection. The teaching profession today is sadly lacking such men, and the standard of education for school leavers is far below that of my generation, in spite of ‘modern’ methods and expenditure of vast sums of money.
Another milestone. My passes on my Oxford were sufficiently high to get me a scholarship to the Senior School of Commerce at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and pay my parents the sum of 5/- a week. This does not sound much, but in those days wages were only between £2-£3 per week. My father stepped in here, bless his heart, and literally forced me to attend evening classes for speech training, to cure the stammer. These classes coupled with the new school, where I was treated as a normal person instead of a half-wit, and no-one knew of the impediment, I had to cope in a fascinating and interesting new environment. Those classes changed the whole course of my life. I lived in the real world instead of lonely daydreams.
Children growing up now in inner city areas face so many problems that were non-existent in those ‘bad old days’. No racial problems, a healthy respect for law and order. Although somewhat in awe of the local ‘bobby’, we knew instinctively that he was the bloke to approach if lost or in any difficulty whatever.
At one end of the street was a wide pavement space and high walls. Here we played ball games, chasing games (very popular), hopscotch, girls with dolls prams, ‘mothers and fathers’, boys, cricket and football. It was our territory and we seldom mixed with the children of the next little street before reaching the high wall of the railway. There was some rivalry which mostly amounted to the calling of rude names. The poor little devils outside the pub that waited and waited for parents were beyond the ‘pale’.
Gradually our horizons widened and we wandered further afield. The stairs and long tunnels of the Marylebone Tube Station were always good for a scamper - until we were chased out by the porters. The main line terminus at Marylebone Station however was our mecca. The delivery wagons in those days were horse drawn. Exploring Harewood Avenue, we first came to the stables. How well I remember the warm hay and manure smell of those stables, the huge shire horses, the loving care of their drivers. How could you feel like that for the internal combustion engine?
Some drivers let us look and admire, and even pat the horses head; some chased us off as soon as we peeped in the yard. Next door were huge loading bays which could occupy our attention for half an hour or more. Then the terminal itself was good for numerous diversions. The 23 bus came in and out, and for 2d you could go all the way to Bond Street, and a large taxi-rank.
By this time grandmother had helped my father buy a taxi-cab, and he became a London cabby for the next 40 years. Earlier he had found a job with Smiths of Cricklewood, the well-known makers of car accessories, but a mishap with a lift and a Rolls Royce put pay to that. Opposite the terminal was The Great Central Hotel, a very grand building, catering for very grand folk. Adjoining was the Wharncliffe Rooms, where banquets and various functions were held. Evenings we would sometimes stand outside (not of course on the red carpet), and watch ladies in beautiful gowns, firs and tiaras, gents in top hats and cloaks or resplendent military uniforms. Maybe we gazed in awe at beings from another world, but we had no spiteful envy or desire to grab what they had and demand a share.
Enough it was that in our free world we could work towards the same end; and I have not done so bad, although formal functions of that sort have never appealed to me. Yes, Marylebone Station – always busy always something going on. The staff there got fed up with us sometimes, and who can blame them, but compared to the thieves and vandals of the present time we were little angels.
Regents Park was only 10 minutes walk away. Primrose Hill, the Zoo, Hampstead Heath about 2½ miles. The Park had most things, lawns with ‘do not walk on the grass’, a boating lake, beautifully kept flower beds, football and cricket pitches, children’s playground and sand pit, in which we were not allowed to play ‘dirty’ said my mother, the broad walk where we searched for squirrels, and the inner and outer circle which housed the Zoological Gardens and Bedford Ladies College. We gazed through iron railings at the young ladies from another world. Little did I dream then that one of my own daughters would swell their ranks, taking a special degree in biochemistry - a subject not only totally unknown to me but also totally incomprehensible.
Fortunate we were. There was no media cramming the calamities of the world down our throats morning, noon and night. Radio was in its infancy, thrilling indeed to listen to Jack Payne’s dance band, Uncle Mack, David and Toy Town.
Even so the difficult times of the twenties did not completely pass us by. I remember the General Strike of 1926. My father could not go to work to earn the rent as the strikers would have turned the cab over. The Welsh miners sang and begged along Oxford Street, claiming to be ex-servicemen which seemed to make it all the more poignant. “Unemployed from Jarrow”. Harsh words bandied about at Speakers Corner. I remember hating the complacent face of Mr Baldwin and his pipe. Anyone in work was thankful and held on to their jobs. Money was scarce and I remember having to wear second hand clothes.
After my grandmother died we had a succession of lodgers, some comical, some I heartily disliked. One old boy I often helped up the stairs. He used to do ‘washing up’ at the Grand Central Hotel, and all the remains in the bottom of the wine glasses were collected in a jug, which he drank before coming back to his room. Small wonder he always slept in his boots.
(Back to the Polytechnic) Life was changing. We still had lodgers, but my father was an established taxi driver, except when there was a concert at the Queens Hall, Albert Hall or the Promenade Concerts (“The Proms”), when he would hide the cab somewhere, sneak in, and lose himself in the world of music. He is the one who should have written his memoirs. The stories he could have told us, of the famous and infamous people who rode in the cab. His discussions with the conductors of the day – Malcolm Sergeant, Adrian Boult, Thomas Beecham, etc.
My mother had a permanent job with some Americans living in the flats overlooking Marble Arch. I still have some black Wedgewood the lady of the house threw out, because the coffee pot was broken. After a dinner party mother would bring home lots of tit-bits of strange and delicious food left over. Also I still have some books that came from their library including my first AA Milne.
Not so good to me at that time was having to wear discarded clothing of a grandmother. The old dear was very good to us, and when I passed Oxford she gave me a beautiful leather writing case. Not only are Lady Bountifuls sneered at nowadays, but also our patriotic waving of the Union Jack, our respect for law and order, and King and Country.
These clever young men from the Universities ridicule and turn upside down all our cherished beliefs. Satire, kitchen sink plays, violence, evils in all forms, degrading sex, religion, politics, entertainment, marriage. Now, satire I enjoy immensely, maybe we did have our heads in woolly clouds, and needed many reforms. It is all very well to destroy something, if it is wrong, and if there is something better to take its place (Oh yes. I read Bertrand Russell!).
What have we got is terrorism, near anarchy, vandalism, crime of immense proportions, sex shops, moral decadence and broken homes. We are moving towards Marxism and repression, the like of which was not seen in our imperfect, muddled world of capitalism. The substitution of one master for another ruled by the Trade Unions. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the early struggles of working men for a ‘fair go’ is inspiring reading. A systematic clamour for more and more for doing less and less, has brought England to economic ruin, while the Trade Unions bosses struggle for political power.
Who cares about the little man now? We buy goods from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Germany while our own people are unemployed. Who with a grain of sense is going to invest in Britain with our industrial record of strikes and malpractice over the last thirty years? Ah well, talking of changing times has led me far astray, to a world 45 years or more beyond the Regent Street ‘Poly’.
At the Poly, I’m still in the clouds on the threshold of growing up, boy conscious and with the pangs of adolescence. Our bath night in a tin tub in front of the kitchen fire had gone. We lined up at the local baths at half price on a Saturday morning. A waiting room with long wooden forms where chattering, noisy children pushed and shoved their way forward to ablutions trying the patience of the bath ladies who turned on the hot and cold outside the cubicle with a lever. The swimming baths were there too. I learned to swim at an early age and still have a bronze medallion for life saving. Fortunately I have never been called upon to exercise this doubtful skill.
For some years my mother had always put away 7s/6d per week for an annual trip to the coast. Our digs when we got there were always miles away from the sea. It was a long trudge to the beach every day but how we loved it; and how we cried when it was time to come home. Ramsgate, Margate, Bognor, Shanklin, St Leonards and, later in my teens, Devonshire which was paradise indeed. Both my parents were town people, but from earlier ancestors I must have inherited a love of the countryside. Even Sunday School outings to the wooded areas around London were heaven. Bluebell time at Stanmore was within walking distance of the tram terminus. We often walked to Hampstead Heath; we walked everywhere in those days. I preferred the naturalness of the heath to the park. We always had a dog, from the time grandmother bought my first puppy as a birthday present. Toby and Bill I remember most. We walked miles and miles.
Saturday night was the highlight. Late shopping was the rule, as before the days of refrigeration everything had to be sold off. In Church Street, where all the stallholders bellowed in competition to dispose of their stock, the stalls were lit by garish paraffin flares, and my mother would go from one end to the other in search of the cheapest bargain. She may not have had much education, I never knew her to read a decent book, but no one – yes, no one - ever diddled her of a farthing. You don’t know what a farthing is do you? A small coin[16] that would buy a sticky fire-lighter, liquorice boot laces, gobstoppers or acid drops.
At the Home and Colonial Stores in the Edgeware Road the fish was auctioned, and we came home triumphant for our fried fish supper. Even when we collected boyfriends, they too shared the weekly treat. We took so much for granted.
The streets of London were comparatively safe. Even the drunks at closing time were harmless enough. Crowds at football matches might have been eloquent and excitable, but never vicious or destructive. When we were out late at evening classes, the theatre or dances, it never occurred to us to be scared. Nor do I remember ever being molested, as we blithely walked what were fair distances home in the early hours. Mugging had not been invented. Pickpockets there were of course, and the professional burglar, but without the umbrella of the welfare state, poor people in those days were fairly honest, in spite of their poverty.
My parents were great theatre-goers although it meant queuing for the gallery and sitting on hard wooden benches. It was the great heyday of the West End Theatres and they got to see the cream of our 20th Century dramatists – George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Terrance Rattigan, Galsworthy, Priestley, Novello; the wealth of talent was enormous. I count myself lucky having seen in the flesh so many great names - Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans, Marie Lohr, Ernest Milton, Laurance Olivier, Gus Elan, Harry Lauder, Tom Wall, Ralph Lyn, Robertson Hare, Jack Buchanan, Stanley Lupino, Ralph Richardson - I could go on forever. So many of the theatres are no more, including the Metropolitan Music Hall, Edgeware Road, where I saw many old timers, including Nellie Wallace and Wee Georgie Wood - the last remnants of variety where the rainbow ends. The Old Vic was struggling with Lillian Bayliss, all the great names passed through her stage door. My father used to take us, through dark and mean streets from Waterloo Station to queue for the gallery. I must admit I found Shakespeare a bit much in those days, but always enjoyed his birthday celebration on the 23rd April where one act from half a dozen plays was the order of the day. My father with great pride pointed out Miss Bayliss in her box, but I am afraid I only saw a very insignificant little old lady. Having recently read her biography, now I can only marvel.
Inherited from Archie, my grandfather who was an avid reader, I was a bookworm from the time of ‘comic cuts’ and Weary Willie and Tired Tim. I went from them to school stories of Betty Barton and Angela Brazil to Jean Stratton Porter. From there to my favourites - Galsworthy’s ‘Forsythe Saga’ and Hugh Walpole’s ‘Herries’ series. I was enthralled with Margaret Mitchell’s book ‘Gone with the Wind’ - ages and ages before the film was made. For some reason I read lots of plays; can’t think why (I don’t think I could do it now).
Finally the reading I still do, in between whodunits and historical biographies. The modern novels of intimate sexual antics, and descriptive violence, sordid squalor make me shudder, especially four letter words, but I love a thumping good story where true love and virtue always triumph over vice. The ending of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ left me shattered, and miserable. We are nearly there (writing this in 1982), and big brother looms ever nearer, in the shape of Trade Union bosses and militant tendency. Perhaps I have at last come out of ‘cloud cuckoo land’. The world seems violent, greedy, selfish, dishonest and heading for chaos. I will not be sorry to leave it. They can keep their mod-cons and micro-chips, but I grieve for my grandchildren. At what age do they stop being lovable, and become monsters.
As a young girl I dreamed of a career, travel, and emancipation. I still believe in equality of the sexes in law and opportunities, but women’s lib has a lot to answer for.
It is now December 1984; over two years have passed since my last sentence. The story of my life seems to have got lost among a lot of personal impressions ancient and modern. How do you keep to the point when unfolding a life story?
My years at the ‘Regent Poly’ were great. I joined the cross-country running club, and rowed a skiff on Regents Park Lake. I enjoyed the gym, but was never one for organised and competitive games. With Gladys and Kathleen we explored the countryside at weekends. Went to matinees at the West End cinemas to avoid German lessons. Before 1 o’clock it was only one shilling. My sister was already working at a high-class furniture store at Tottenham Court Road. Boyfriends were brought home and we began to enter the realm of dances and parties. I still had to wear 2nd hand clothes and envied my sister her own money.
My turn came and I got my first job at a clothing wholesaler near Smithfield meat market. Boy! How you could smell the meat in the summer! Typing letters, chasing up orders and being a general dogsbody. Good experience, but not my cup of tea. From there to a Patent Agents Office “Monolines” in High Holborn opposite Gamages. A funny old boy called Neroslavsky and his two sons, George and Victor. The old boy tried to seduce me, and would not believe I had not slept with anyone at 20 years of age. (A comical phrase – there is no sleeping attached to it). From first fright, I treated it as a joke and my innocence must have been a protective cloak. Looking back I was saved from many ‘a fate worse than death’ by it. George was always pulling my leg and marvelling that anyone could live with their head in the clouds. I was popular with him as I remembered everything I typed, saving him referring to the files, which he made a mess of anyway. Ideas come to us from would-be inventors. George searched the patent Office records to see if it had been done before. If not, a patent was applied for and Victor tried to flog same to some unsuspecting manufacturer. I was in the middle of the three-cornered friction between the old boy and his sons, so I moved again to some Greek ship-owners in the City.
An interesting change but I was still filing and typing letters whereas my real interest lay in accounts. The offices were modern and near the Baltic Exchange where shipping business was done. The City of London was a fascinating place so full of history. The shipping world of cargoes was new and exciting, especially when the survivors of a wrecked ship landed on the office mat, very bedraggled and sinister looking. The Greeks were not registered in Britain, therefore not subject to our laws. Consequently the crew were the flotsam of foreign ports. We often saw the Masters and Officers, a different story, all within the family so to speak, well to do and a very varied bunch. The decline in British shipping was already there – 50 years ago, undercutting by foreign shipping, us unable to compete. What a familiar story over the next decades. However they brought in a young man for the accounts, over my head. So I took umbrage at being kept to lick the stamps, and scoured the Tuesday ‘Daily Telegraph’ office vacancy column.
During this time my social life was expanding. The speech training classes were a godsend. So many different people, all struggling with speech defects like me. Jeff and I were the only young ones. He was on the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and some years later was found dead at his desk. Andrews the businessman (I lunched with him once at the ‘Cheshire Cheese’, a famous old London eating house immortalised by Dr Johnson, Boswell and Charles Dickens); Antrobus a smart civil servant; old Neill, the borough surveyor of West Ham, the perfect gentleman; and Barton, the telephone engineer, who had a master key to all the installations depots in the country. He once took us round an enormous exchange underneath Oxford Circus where all calls went through. What a revelation to us mere users and complainers of the system. What price STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) then and the micro-chip and what of the thousands of workers it has replaced. Mrs Gittins, a very lively and witty elderly widow, working herself to the bone to educate a young son. Wonder if he appreciated it. Perhaps as in so many cases, her ambitions for him were uppermost.
We had outings and social evenings together. I remember a ride in a handsome cab horse drawn around Piccadilly with Barton. We were great friends and laughed a lot. Jeff and I too seemed set on a permanent association, then WHAM out of the blue, Reg turned up. 55 years or so later still at my side. How the Gods have smiled on us and we have done so little to deserve it. During the speech training we learned relaxation, then to stand up and talk for two minutes or so on any given subject. You can imagine how varied they were. Many of my ideas were formulated at this time, and how grateful I was for the help and friendship of these people, especially Miss Beatson, our teacher, a lovely lady with such a sense of humour. Teaching deaf children was her life’s work, and she was totally dedicated.
Meanwhile my pretty sister had collected a group of friends. I too became involved and eventually we formed a club, with President, Secretary etc. to organise our free time. Believe it or not it became Kuckoos Kamping Klub or KKK. Farmers were friendly to youngsters in those days and we soon had three outlets for summer camping. Just outside High Wycombe, Penn near Beaconsfield, and Hertford. Beautiful country in those days. The lads built a trek cart for the heavier things which we stored in the barn. Easter, being too cold for camping, we would take a bungalow on Canvey Island. In the winter we went dancing, roller skating and (best of all) hired a small hall off Marylebone Road Saturday nights where we held tramp suppers, gave shows, dressed up, meetings and discussions – ‘the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts’. What wonderful days they were, no drink, no drugs, no smokes, not enough money. We were pretty hard up. I’m sad for the youth of today, swamped in cotton wool with mod-cons, consumer goods, and the welfare state and bored, bored, bored.
More personalities. The framework must be the Hughes Bros. Their influence on the rules, atmosphere and general standards of behaviour were paramount. Ernie the eldest was President. A good deal older than the rest of us he had returned from a spell in Canada and had a good job with Hoovers. He held onto some land in Canada for years, dreaming of going back, living with that regret for a lifetime. Then Will[17] the next brother. At 19 he was sent to Singapore on a rubber plantation, as the Daddy of them all was a clever chemist in the rubber trade. That did not work out, so he joined Ernie in Canada. What a contrast, it nearly killed him and Ernie had to bring him home. Then Laurie, a clever engineer. Our lives have run parallel, he still lives 15 minutes walk away and Reg my future husband was next, he 18 years and myself 19 as far as I remember. As I write this I am now 70 years of age. Do I hear you say “senile and past it”. However, my transfer of interest from Jeff and Bob was instantaneous, although at our first camp he did throw a bucket of water over me, as I was complaining of being too hot. I cannot recommend it as a guarantee of love at first sight. Ken was only about 12 years of age so did not feature much in those early years. The boys were all clever engineers. The wives complained of being ‘nut and bolt’ widows.
From a fall out of a tree, Reg developed a tubercular knee. I think he was about four years of age. Fortunately his father was doing well at the time, and could afford a Harley Street specialist Dr. Jackson Clark. The local hospital in Wembley wanted to amputate at the knee. X-rays were very new. Gran Hughes kept the photos for years. Jackson Clark promised a cure, but said it would take 10 years. It did! From an invalid carriage to an iron splint (a handy weapon against inevitable bully boys), a convalescent home in Broadstairs, all resulting in a late start at school at 11 years of age and two odd sized legs.
He has naturally had a bit of a complex from this, especially as his Mum being tired of overalls and oil spattered menfolk was determined to have a white collar office clerk with clean hands – a status symbol in those days. So he was sent to a commercial training college to learn shorthand and typing. Talk about water off a ducks back!! From a good opening with the British American Tobacco Company and a spell with an insurance broker in the City at St Catharine Dock House, he was soon in a garage crawling underneath cars. His father’s business failed and he developed cancer, maybe from doing research into rubber tyres. Ernie and Will had had public school educations, but Laurie was only half-way when things collapsed. Nothing left for Reg and Ken. It was a hard and sad time for the family. I only met his father once - then it was in the workshop at the end of the garden splattered with oil. He was a very clever chemist and his genes worked through to my middle daughter Janet. He died at 59 years.
Back to the ‘Kuckoos’. There was Bob, my boyfriend at the time of joining the club, Harold and Connie the only married couple, Charles Henry, known as ‘Bundle” at school, (my sister’s first husband), killed in an air crash 1945. A superb athlete, a great extrovert and a basis to our theatrical fun with Reg, Percy and Don. Who will forget Don? Game for anything, a marvellous comedian and a good singer. Our own Eddie Cantor, a natural for the entertainment world. After several years of good comradeship and fun he disappeared from our ranks and no one ever knew what had happened. Pop as my father was known to the group, being a London cab driver penetrated the East End where he lived; but drew a blank. A constant visitor at our house he teased my mother unmercifully and she loved it. Then handsome Eddie a musician and also at school with Reg and Bundle, killed at the YMCA during the blitzkrieg on Plymouth. He was in the navy.
The girls, myself and my sister, the three Hannerman sisters, Francis who married Will, Elsie who married Laurie and Jenny, Doris who married Percy; and then Stella who married Ernie. Sounds like a marriage bureau, but at the beginning, except for Connie and Harold, we were all single and fancy free. But it was inevitable that couples began to pair off and lead separate lives as courting couples. Although it may seem unbelievable to the present day generation, the segregation of the sexes was a natural line-out to our generation. Separate tents for boys and girls, Connie and Harold used to split up as well. I remember a bungalow on Canvey Island with only one bedroom crowded with the girls. Too cold to camp out in the garden, the boys stretched out in sleeping bags up in the roof. It was a mercy no one came through the ceiling. I loved those camping days. Hard ground, smoky tea, the unforgettable early mornings - I had never seen the dawn. Best of all, the campfire in the evening when we sang and sang (me very quietly as I have no voice and can’t keep in tune). ‘Home on the range’ was our theme song. I still cannot hear it without a catch in the throat. We had a rota system for the many chores, rough and ready, no camping mod-cons like sissies have nowadays. Perhaps from this distance it has a rosy hue, but the fun and laughter is still with me. I can remember the outrage my sister and I caused by wearing short shorts down our street. What nonsense!! We were ‘damned to the primrose path’. This makes me sceptical of the general condemnation of the clothes and hair-dos of modern youngsters. Beneath the passing fashions they are the same insecure adolescents trying to find their way in a rapidly changing world, conditioned by their environment, television, declining moral standards - but still good, bad and indifferent. Nice and nasty has nothing whatever to do with race, colour or creed. Religion has much to answer for. Even as I write fanatical Moslems are murdering Christian passengers on a highjacked plane to try to gain the release of convicted terrorists in Kuwait.
Inevitably as we grew up and couples married, the club had to go the way of all flesh. Those halcyon days could not last forever. Life, jobs and circumstances intervened.
The eldest of the Hughes family was a girl, Rhoda. She worked in an office in Wembley but had very poor health, probably induced by having five brothers. Gran Hughes had a brother who went to the Boer War and stayed in South Africa. Rhoda went there on a prolonged visit, found herself a job and eventually married a Scot who was three years of age when his family moved from Scotland to Pretoria, South Africa.
From the Patent Brokers, I moved to offices above a garage at Hyde Park Corner. Two elderly, well to do, brothers came in and out. I was the only staff. The garage was in a mews off Knightsbridge, by the Alexandra Hotel, (bombed to the ground during the war) and leased from the Duke of Westminster. Below was ‘Ginger’ the mechanic, Bill, jack of all trades, and Old Titcombe who lived on the premises as foreman and caretaker, old and fat, he sat on a box all day. Upstairs a reception area with telephone, three offices, one for the brothers Law, Charles and John, mine where I reigned supreme and the other just a lumber room with a rackety back staircase down to the garage. The premises were so old. The garages had been stabling for horses and carriages and the rooms above staff quarters. These now converted to lock up garages with flats above that commanded a high rent for being old and quaint and opposite the Park and Rotten Row.
Some of the tenants were famous or infamous. On looking back there were many dubious activities going on, all above my head at that time. Many famous names used the garage lock-ups - Basil Eyston a racing driver, Lord Rothermere’s girlfriend with a large Pontiac, old Mr Carlisle from Park Lane, with a gorgeous sit up and beg Rolls Royce. Valerie Hobson the film star, etc., etc.. Petrol was sold in cans, no pumps. My job was to answer the telephone, organise the chauffeurs, a very mixed bunch I can assure you, keep all the accounts, deal with correspondence and send out bills. Also I read about four books a week from Marylebone Public Library, part of the Town Hall. Ah, that Town Hall, I remember it well. My youngest daughter, Sheila, was married there. Ascending the steps to the impressive entrance, passing the stone lions on guard, I felt somewhat guilty having sat astride them many times and played hide and seek through the hallowed portals some years before.
In the draw of my desk too were bits of knitting and odd jobs of needlework, not that I have ever shone in that direction. Now, my sister was a natural at all kinds of needlework. Two of my girls have inherited her gifts, the eldest, unfortunately for her, takes after me. I ate my lunch in Hyde Park, and purchased the office tea and biscuits from Harrods. A cushy job that lasted until the war when my secretarial skills were to disappear from London Town forever.
It was to be five years before Reg and I were married in 1938 and my sister also within six months to Bundle. To get round family duties at Christmas, we collected all together and stayed at a hotels. Hastings and Cliftonville are the two most memorable. Don was a riot as MC and took over. Our modest theatricals came in very useful. We must have been a tonic to the staid, more middle aged and respectable other visitors. They found it incredible that Christmas morning we visited a Milk Bar, (the origin of the modern coffee bar of today), and the elderly ladies were delighted to find holly in their beds and cotton stitched to the sheet, the other end of which was outside the bedroom door, to be gently pulled after they had retired. Laurie and Elsie had Spanish costumes for a tango which always gained applause - a handsome couple. Eddie gained boos and storms of abuse in his get up as Adolf Hitler and Bundle as Tarzan in a little bit of tiger skin really was something.
The war clouds were gathering. At ‘The House of the Two Stone Dogs’ in Hastings, we inadvertently landed among a gathering of left-wingers, where the communist ‘Daily Worker’ was the only newspaper read, and Neville Chamberlain’s name was mud. It was just after Munich. So who dressed as Neville Chamberlain at the fancy dress ball? Don of course. There was nearly a riot, but a fun and good humoured one. We parted good friends. It was a salutary lesson for our narrow conservative souls.
Most of us were married by then. Reg and Ken started up a small engineering workshop in Harrow. I used to take armatures to re-wind at the offices. The phone always rang while I was counting the strands of wire in each slot. They were dipped in shellac and baked in my little gas oven. I never was able to use that one for cooking.
With my sister marrying as well, we felt we could not desert Pop and Gem, (the kuckoos affectionate nick names for my parents), in the slums of Marylebone Station, so we bought a new semi in Wembley in the suburbs that were sprouting all around London in the thirties, converted it into two flats, one for them on the ground floor and the upstairs for us when we married. We bought kitchen cabinets that had been in a fire, rolls of second hand carpet that had to be sewn together and fitted to cover the floors. We visited auction sales for furniture.  £30 that flat cost us, but at that time it did represent ten weeks wages, and loving toil. Not many couples spend their engagement days sitting on the floor sewing bits of carpet together, scraping and painting burnt woodwork. The soft furnishings were the best; all made by my clever sister. Bundle was better off with a good job and they were having a house built to their own design just outside Slough.
During this period too, Reg and I discovered our love of quiet places, hills, woods, the lonely shores of Devon. We began ‘walking’ and have been walking ever since through the highways and byways of Britain. We can still do about 10 miles a day at 70, but for how much longer, who knows? Holidays at Dawlish are highlights - The Warren, Haldon Moor, Teignmouth (mmm, that rough cider) and Pop trying to photograph a well known engine ‘George V’ as it roared along the sea wall knocking the tripod flying. A steam-engine - an object of wonder to my grandson. Little did we know that life was going to change beyond recognition. Adolf Hitler aimed to be Master of Europe. I had read ‘Mein Kamp’ - so dull. The quiet unsophisticated world we had known was going up in smoke. I was 25 and we had been married 14 months.
We were the proud owners of an old Rover car bought for £20, and as the news grew worse we volunteered to take Will’s wife and baby son to friends on the Welsh border. Here at Oswestry we heard the fateful speech of Neville Chamberlain in the bedroom of an invalid man who had been in the 1914 lot. He burst into tears and, with much trepidation, Reg, Will and I jumped into the car for home. Shall I ever forget it? We were very nearly the only car travelling towards London. On the other side of the road, piled high with belongings, were thousands of cars racing away from the capital. Even the old car got the jim-jams. We were pouring almost as much oil as petrol into it. However we made it; Will to his empty house, and us to our flat in Harrow. Reg had to close the workshop, with nothing doing because of the uncertainty. People did not even pay their bills. My job, too, that was keeping the flat going, folded up as the garage at Hyde Park Corner was closed and empty. The birds had flown to the wilds of Scotland. Reg looked for a job. The only one he found was at High Wycombe 30 miles away. A new factory one built on a country road on the edge of the beautiful beach woods of Bucks.
We drew our last £7 out of the bank and bought a tandem bicycle. I, who had never ridden a bike in my life! But the car was a right off and we needed to get home to our flat week-ends from miserable lodgings near the factory. We could not afford the train fare.
The war years have been so well documented. Thousands of children with labels on sent away, the courage of the people sleeping in the underground railway system emerging at daybreak to find smoking ruins. I shall never forget standing on the railway bridge in Wembley watching London burn. That blazing red sky brought a cold numb horror. How resilient are the human race, but what a pity that it needs war or severe adversity to bring out the best in us. In times of peace and plenty we are greedy, selfish even idle, but war brings out admirable qualities of courage, self sacrifice, generosity and a community spirit. There was even a radio programme recently where inhabitants of a small town in the Yorkshire looked back with nostalgia to the war years, seeing a better world. Our health too, for adults, children and babies, was far better on very small rations of food.
Reg settled well enough in the machine shop of this beautifully situated factory, and soon found himself doing special work for the Swiss technician. The factory was making optical instruments for the Navy and Air Force. Jean-Maire the Swiss had been trained by Zeiss of Germany and was on the Nazi black list, terrified in case they ever invaded. How we laughed at his fears, cocky as ever. It was years until we knew what a close shave it had been. Dad’s Army and all those pathetic farm carts, and hastily made barricades across our country roads meant to deter those efficient panzer divisions of the German Army – ludicrous! After some weeks I also got a job at the factory, assembling gun sights for the Navy’s Aldis lamp. This I enjoyed, it was so different to office work. Mixing with women for the first time was not easy - catty and petty. It was my own fault, as I had not told my garage bosses that I was married, so my wedding ring was tucked in an envelope in the bureau at the Wembley flat. I was not used to wearing it, and in the upheaval completely forgot about it. Meanwhile one of the girls Pat, whose husband had gone into the Air Force offered us a room with use of the kitchen. This served its purpose but when a small bungalow at Lane End, three miles from the factory became available, we raised a mortgage and bought it moving, Gran Hughes, brother Ken and ourselves into it. We sublet the Wembley flat to the milkman to cover our share of the overheads. Ken also found a job at the factory.
Life was very uncertain. Call up for the armed forces was done in age groups, and we had already decided to carry on until Reg’s age group was called, then we would both go, he to join either Eddie in the Navy or Bundle in the Air Force, and myself into either the WRNS or WAAF. It was not to be. By the time Reg’s call up papers came, he was doing skilled work in a reserved industry that was necessary at home, and I was prey to irrational feminine impulses. My sister had a baby, Jill. Bundle and I waited together for the birth. I remember him pacing the floor saying: “This is the proudest moment of my life”. He would still be so proud of her, a lovely girl but alas she was only four when he was killed. Two of my sisters-in-law had babies, so I thought I wanted one. Looking back I cannot think of a more ridiculous and unsuitable time to increase the birth rate - wartime, living on one wage packet, crowded into a small bungalow with no mod-cons and the in-laws. However, reason has no power when Mother Nature takes a hand. Controversy is fierce at the moment over surrogate motherhood, test tube babies, and artificial insemination. Legal, religious, medical, social experts, all screaming their views at one another. Who is to judge such rights and wrongs? Certainly not me. I can only remember the longing and the tears every time the monthly period turned up. Then low and behold one month it did not. We were jubilant and I felt like ten men, working until about eight months.
By this time my office training had leaked out, and I was Secretary to the Manager of the Optical Department, also doing logarithms for Jean-Maire. No computers then, pages of calculations for the curve of the lens. When the new General Manager needed a secretary, I was offered the job. Although very flattered, Wendy was well on the way by then, so my brilliant business career was ending. Then the bungalow next door became empty. Our guardian angel sure was a pet! Ken had a motor bike, so he and Reg raced around Buckinghamshire trying to track down the landlady. Living space and accommodation outside London was gold dust. But that dear old lady when she knew I was expecting a baby let us rent it. We overlooked Andleton Common; at the back a large garden and field with the best views of hills and woods we had ever had. How I have always loved that part of the country, woods full of primroses and bluebells, country pubs and a duck pond. Hills, wild raspberries for jam and a gorgeous walk to Hambleton Weir on the upper reaches of the Thames. Downhill all the way, though pushing the pram home again was uphill work. The M40 motorway now goes through the lower part of Andleton Common. How long before this ‘sceptred isle set in the silver sea’ is buried under concrete?
No mod cons though. Old fashioned coal-range. I had never handled such things, although my mother and grandmother had been familiar with such. My grandmother refused to have anything to do with tin foods or new fangled gas stoves. No mains water. There was a pump by the kitchen sink to manhandle water from a well into a tank in the roof. This fed a lavatory and cold tap over a tin bath and kitchen sink and ended up in a cesspool down the garden. For hot water (a long story this) first you pumped the cold water into the loft, then filled a bucket from the kitchen tap and carried it across the kitchen to the farthest corner and poured it into a stone copper. Underneath this was a hole for a fire, which was lit with paper, chopped wood and coal. When the water was hot (in half hour or three hours according to the way of the wind), you ladled it out again into the bath or sink. For the bath you made sure of putting some cold water in first otherwise you burnt your bottom or could not sit down.
Four rooms, and aso-called bathroom. Well that was it – not much, but paradise to us. Ken was an electrician, bless his heart. By scrounging flex and plugs and watching local ‘for sale’ notices I soon had a small electric cooker, electric kettle, boiler for the nappies, and a curtain to cover that black monstrosity. Also had a cement path outside to the coal shed – heaven!
Arriving one day to find me struggling, my sister turned tail back to High Wycombe. Where she found it I don’t know, but she arrived back with an electric hot plate. Such a godsend, as the solid one on top of the cooker took hours to get hot. Not good when a baby is yelling for grub. I’ll never forget either that she travelled down from Blackpool, (where Bundle in the Air Force was taking a training course), with young Jill not quite two in a dark crowded train to be with me for a while when I came out of the maternity hospital with Wendy.
What a placid happy and good little soul Wendy was. At the clinic I used to boast to other mums, under an erroneous impression that it was my training which made this baby business easy. How stupid can you be?
Janet came along 17 months afterwards and taught me a lesson. As a baby she was happy and good, but oh boy!, when she got out of the pram! Lively, mischievous, wilful (“I want what I want when I wants it!”) attitude, and the bane of Wendy’s life. Chalk and cheese. Wendy was very, very shy, slow of thought and action, with eye trouble, all of which made her a late developer. Janet the opposite.
The war years were not too harsh in the country. We kept chickens, so had plenty of eggs, grew our own vegetables, gooseberries, apples, strawberries and redcurrants for jam in the garden. Extra rations and ‘off ration goods’ could be obtained at the village shops, as we had many visitors for a safe night’s sleep once the bombing of London began. They had to sleep on the floor. Soap coupons I could give away as the rainwater from the well was so soft; sweet coupons too, as that was not encouraged.
The little girls were so lucky. I can still see them pushing their little wooden prams made by Dad, across the common and down the garden path. The dolls were home-made from knitting patterns, stuffed with old stockings cut up very small, but well loved for all that. Soon after Wendy came, Reg volunteered for the armed forces. He did not relish answering the question: “What did you do in the war Daddy?” and having to admit staying behind in a reserved occupation. It could not have been more extraordinary, the way fate intervened. During a short game of cricket (working hours were seven days a week - finishing at 5 o’clock on a Sunday was like a half day), his damaged knee was hit by a cricket ball. For a few days he was completely immobilised at home. During this time a War Office official visited the factory to find out what sort of work he was doing. The firm gave their views, his never got an airing, so that was that – no go!
We used to hear the bombers from Naphill Bomber Command flying over the bungalow at night, and watched with apprehension the few scattered survivors limping home, but we did not know how bad things were. Eddie had been killed. Then horror of horrors Bundle, too. I was in bed with a jaundice attack, (known in the family as ‘Bobbie’s ’orrible turns’ – I was prey to them until the menopause). The scene is etched on my memory, and that telegram sent by Pop. Somehow I got over to Langley, near Slough, about 10 miles away. Jill was about four and Hazel about nine months, a fat little sweetie crawling around a playpen. I don’t remember much more of that sad time, only the coffin being lowered into the ground, the Air Force guard of honour and at the coffee and sandwich session afterwards Jill asking: “Is it a party Mummy?”, which still brings a lump to my throat.
My parents were a tower of strength. Pop taught Sally to drive, and fitted a motor on to her sewing machine, and she took up her trade of soft furnishing. She lived in a ‘well to do’ area of Slough and ‘Cayleys of Windsor’ found her plenty of work. Bundle too had left her comfortably provided for. The children kept her going and she faced the task bravely, but I so well remember her saying: “You know Bob the only fun in having children is sharing them with someone.” She did a good job - Jill and Hazel are loving, devoted daughters and she is a very popular Gran.

Taking up my pen again, it is July 1985.
This retirement lark seems to take up a great deal of time, and trying to sit quietly and throw my mind back 40 years is difficult, so much intervenes, including a visit to Australia to visit middle daughter Janet, who emigrated with her family nearly 12 years ago, leaving such a gap in our lives. But more of that when and if I ever get that far. I did take her the first 19 typed pages of this tarradiddle, in case this clutter gets lost in a future upheaval.
In our seventies now, the future can be very uncertain to say the least. Janet reminded me of stories in the family I had missed out, such as turning up first at the geriatric home (next to the Marylebone Registry) by mistake, for our lunchtime wedding. The porter on the gate said, “This is where you end up mate, the beginnings are next door.” Being Friday, Reg had to go back to work in the afternoon, as his two weeks holiday did not start until Saturday morning.
We had a supper party for family and friends in a little restaurant at Alperton. Don brought a pet rabbit to console my mother for my loss! She was horrified and refused to touch it. Laurie and Elsie took it, as they were renowned for taking in birds with damaged wings, unusual pets such as a monkey ‘Bimbo’, guinea pigs, and even minding a lion cub on occasion. Pop took us to Waterloo Station for the boat train connecting with the midnight ferry from Weymouth to Guernsey. So we spent our first night on desk, huddled in the shelter of the lifeboat against the wind, landing at St Peter’s Port at 7:00am. All sensible folk who had been up all night had breakfast and a few hours kip. Not us we were much too shy. An elderly couple also staying at the little house had just purchased ‘Monopoly’, a game that remained popular for years. My grandchildren still play. They were dying to try it out and pounced on us to make a foursome, so it was 2:00am before we retired, hardly able to keep our eyes open. What a laugh! What a wedding! I never did have much respect for the conventions. There you are Jan, that’s the story I forgot, except that Dad also got sunstroke. We returned to cope with the workshop, and plans for a life that all went haywire with the onset of World War II.
The end of the war with Germany came. Wendy was completely bewildered by the celebration party on the Common, but how happy everyone was. I remember an old boy giving her 3d for being last in the toddlers running race. Wendy never did hurry – what do you have to hurry for? Jan was only 14 months. But what to do? Brother Ernie was fed up with factory life, and he talked of taking over a small holiday camp place in Wales, with us, as family holidays would be much in vogue with the return of all the troops. True enough. Reg, too, hated factory life, and with the Unions getting more powerful it was no place for him. The idea fell through as Ernie’s wife was unco-operative, but the idea left us with a bee in our bonnet, culminating in the purchase of a large old house at Westgate-on-Sea.
We were advised against it by my mother, Reg’s mother enough of the rest of the family to fill a book. Mind you it was good advice a lot of it, as we found to our cost. Not much money, two small children, two years and three and a half years, no experience whatever, naïve beyond belief, uncommercial, feeding and looking after 20/24 people per week from May till October, food rationing, where every cup of tea had to be entered on a form – all this and two pairs of hands. We must have been mad; it nearly killed us.
Only those two dear little girls kept us sane with their funny ways. The old house had a lovely long garden on to open fields, 24 fruit trees, chickens, an air raid shelter that the girls used for play. Very neglected they must have been, but they had a happy hunting ground, even if I never had time to wash their socks! We did two summers, always full but not charging enough. Dead as a doornail in winter. Reg unable to get work, only six letting bedrooms. The money would not go around. Still having to visit auction sales for furniture and equipment. My sister, bless her heart, a war widow, helped us so much. Her two girls and mine were always together, and got on so well.
So on to ‘Kingsmead’, the real focus of our subsequent family life. I cannot pass by without a lot of conflicting emotions even now, as we live only 1½ miles away. A lovely Georgian House overlooking lawns and flower beds, numerous paths to a sandy beach – St Mildred’s Bay. Front drive and forecourt for a dozen cars, 17 bedrooms and usual offices, large spacious rooms with typical period, ornamental doors, panelling, beautiful mahogany staircase and open Adams fireplaces. Large garden enclosed by elm trees and a high wall, and spacious cellars that served many purposes.
The estate agent was a persuasive salesman and we were a couple of greenhorns. We found plenty wrong with the plumbing, much dry rot and other lesser things, but bowed down with debt to the Bank, and with brother Ernie and my sister, we soldiered on. There was no difficulty in filling the house with families on holiday. I was lucky too with staff. Local ladies born and bred in the area knew far more about the catering trade than I did. Frankly I was terrified when Reg took it on. There was so much work to be done. Luckily in those days, a comfortable bed, good food (my saving grace), and pleasant surroundings were all people asked. Not like nowadays.
What can I say about the next 25 years? We led a strange life, perhaps that is why our family unity is considered ‘odd’. Unless you have lived in a little seaside town you cannot imagine the contrast between summer and winter. “Eight months hard labour and four months solitary confinement” as Reg often quoted. He did not really take to it. Coming from an engineering family of five sons, he dreamed of having his own workshop, and something more interesting. But we were well and truly lumbered with debts and a young family to bring up. Sheer slavery!! As the house was not large enough to manage by just overseeing staff, we had to do the lions’ share of the work ourselves. The human race at close quarters, serving their meals, making their beds is definitely not endearing. We did meet such a lot of nice people (in the minority), who came year after year. We watched their families grow up along with ours. The time came when their children started visiting with babies of their own. This is when we considered it time to give up. We were lucky mostly with staff. Reg was marvellous at keeping them happy and ensuring their loyalty and best endeavours. I was easy enough to get on with (I think) and could work with people, but was a dead loss at supervising or giving orders, which is why cooking for 40/50 people seven days a week from May until middle of September rested mainly on my shoulders - with much help of course.
The first few years were hard, really hard, inexperienced as we were. Perhaps therein lies a reason for our success. Not knowing any better, the 12 families we catered for every week, we welcomed and entertained as an extension of our own family. Breakfast, even elevenses coffee if the weather was bad, lunch, afternoon tea, four course dinner, tea and biscuits at 10 o’clock in the lounge, and I forgot early morning tea as well. Cots, high chairs, special meals for tiny ones, washing and ironing facilities, baby sitting, a table tennis room, and games in the garden. Many of the staff stayed for years, coming back each season - Frank, Mrs Mead, Mrs Rust and of course Rocket (Mrs Rockliffe), my ‘right hand man’ in the evenings for 16 years. The children loved her and squealed with delight as she chased them round the kitchen with the mop or broom. Then Georgette, the French girl, who came as an ordinary visitor one year then as a chambermaid for several more years, to learn the language and became a friend of the family. Wendy and Janet had a memorable holiday in Paris with her when in their teens. Years after, she came on holiday again with husband Pierre, and two nearly grown up children.
Glad, my mother’s half sister helped the first three years, ‘living-in’ the first year, (Reg and I slept in the cellar), and then buying a little house in Westgate. Josie and Susan, her two girls, constant playmates for my two. Josie, being that much older, came in for a lot of responsibility. Then Glad remarried and went to live in Watford, moving round over the years, Ramsgate, Folkestone. I still visit her in Deal, now 76 years old and nearly blind.
Wendy had just started school when we moved to ‘Kingsmead’. During the upheaval Janet developed a stammer which worried us a great deal, thinking of my own unhappy experience. As the dust settled however it disappeared, thank goodness. Apprehensive of Wendy’s entry into a council school, we sent her to a nursery school, where she just sat and looked. She was so very shy, and a squint aggravated this shyness.
So the years rolled by. Our lives cut into two separate parts. The summer season was such hard work, the children left to run a bit wild, but making many friends. “Who is coming next week we know Mummy.” Then the winters, our road (Sea Road, Westgate) known as cemetery walk. But how we looked forward to our family life, because it was so limited at times, and that is why it meant so much.
As we shut the door on our last visitor at the end of the season, we were jubilant. The children ran up and down the stairs laughing and shouting, we danced in the hall, choosing which bedroom we wanted to use, having been shut on the other side of the big swing door to the kitchen quarters in cramped sleeping quarters for the summer. “Can we have tea on the trolley, in front of the fire in the big lounge” - forbidden territory in the season. A long parquet flooring strip there was used for dancing to a regular radio programme of country and music hall tunes, called ‘Those were the days’. When older, a real treat was to stay up and listen to Saturday night theatre. Something Reg and I still do, in preference to the sickening violence or rubbish on television.
Janet fretted when Wendy went to school. She wanted to go too, but when her turn came, she wanted to stay at home. The educational system was struggling immediately after the war, with large classes, inexperienced teachers, and a new disregard for discipline. Wendy sat quiet as a mouse in the back of Mr Bullock’s class for six months, before he discovered she could read. Reg had taught her to read at home.
There was so much work to do on the house. It took us years. Earning a bit in the summer, spending it on all the things needed in the winter. Kitchen equipment, an antiquated old coke boiler to replace, carpets, curtains for the huge windows. My sister did the main curtains, beautifully professional. Auction sales for furniture, blankets, linen and towels, crockery and cutlery. Decorating never ending. Reg, Glad and I also went to cookery classes. That was a laugh!
After Christmas the money was always all gone, and we lived on credit until the next season. The cash deposits on summer bookings were a life-line. We learnt a never-to-be forgotten lesson that first year. At the end of the summer it looked as though we had taken a lot of money, so feeling we had earned it, Reg, my sister and I had seven days at Spiez in Switzerland, while Glad looked after the family. We very nearly starved that winter. End of February the bank said, ‘no more money’. I hardly dared face, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
However Switzerland was like entry to paradise after the austerity years of the war, and food rationing still severe. That breakfast on Basle railway station, unbelievable! Patisserie full to overflowing with fancy bread, rolls, cream cakes, gateaux, candies, chocolates galore. Meals in the hotel that belonged to a different age and a different time. The scenery too, the mountains and lakes, it was like a dream. Then bump, back to reality.
Our previous holiday had been nearly ten years earlier in July, and Hitler let all hell loose on Europe in September. We went to the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, staying on a farm. Our first visit to the ‘land of our fathers’. Very unwelsh in outlook those days, but with names like Hughes and Roberts, we were not totally frowned on. Lovely hills, lovely bays such as Rhossli Bay – three miles of sand with not a soul to be seen. The farmer even went to Swansea market, 20 miles away to sell his produce and return with groceries. Now it must be caravans, supermarkets and freezers. Ugh!
I wish we had kept a diary of sorts. We met so many people of all shapes and sizes. Nice people, funny people, detestable people, and ginger-haired little boys with freckles that we knew were trouble with a capital ‘T’ from the word go. We kept a black list of folk we never wanted to see again, and a standing joke in the kitchen was about “which table was going to get the burnt bits this week?” Only once in all those years did Reg ask a family to leave. Known by the rest of the visitors as the ‘Giles Family’ (cartoon characters of a particularly unpleasant nature, including the belligerent grandmother). They packed up after several days and went without paying. The rest of the folk bought bottles of champagne to celebrate their departure, and an enjoyable continuation of their holiday.
Reg took up golf.
Sheila was born in No. 15 bedroom, cold and draughty. It was the end of December 1950. Still struggling, still in debt, and Glad moving away. What a silly time to have another baby!! But what fun and pleasure she brought into the family. Just over an hour old, she squeaked at the admiring Reg, Wendy and Janet. It was to set the new pattern to our family life. The girls were delighted, Wendy 8½ years and Janet 7 years. Sheila was a real live doll to them, our lives centred around her growing up, constant interest and amusement for us all. I was so lucky in my waitress that year. Connie was a Birmingham girl who had a baby boy about the same age, looked after by her mother. Although never seen, ‘Connie’s Mum’ entered our lives. Her word was law, her advice followed in all our minor crises. When things were a little behind hand, we sent Connie to keep the guests quiet by talking about ‘her Mum’. The girls loved her, and she was marvellous taking a lot of the care of the family off my shoulders. I was somewhat concerned however when I found Connie in the kitchen having her supper, Sheila on her knee being fed with ginger beer and chips at eight months old. Looking at Sheila today at nearly 35 years, it did her no harm at all.
Happy uneventful years lost in the mist of time. My sister married again after a lonely six years. Jack arrived, and in due course so did Peter, Julie and Sally, constant summer visitors as the years rolled by. Our prospects gradually improved; we bought a car, the girls went to a convent school near Canterbury, as the secondary school in Westgate had such a very bad name. Janet got the 11 plus, as the scholarships were so called, and went to the grammar school in Canterbury ‘Simon Langton’, named after a very early Archbishop. Wendy stayed at the convent until nearly 17, having added shorthand and typing to her 3 ‘O’ levels.
Christmases while the children were young were great times. My sister and I took it in turns. ‘Kingsmead’ was a lovely place for Christmas parties. We sat up until 1-2:00am making up the stockings or ‘pillow cases’ for eight children, then the little devils were chasing all over the house by 4:00am. The large kitchen and public rooms were so spacious, if sometimes a little chilly! No gas central heating then. Cold winds off the sea straight from the North Pole, but nothing could damp our enthusiasm - decorating the house, making mince pies, candies, toffees, biscuits, cakes, Christmas pudding. We rolled up the dining room carpet, put old socks on our feet and slid up and down on the parquet floor of the large dining room to make it suitable for dancing. We hid parcels all over the house, and put a large Christmas tree in the large bay window of the dining room. Jack, my sister’s second husband, was a very generous man and the family always arrived loaded up with goodies galore and a second turkey.
In the early years there was another new baby up to three, Pop and Granny always, and also Uncle Laurie and Auntie Elsie. Having no family of their own, our family Christmas was really something for them. They were both so good with children. His train set was set up and enjoyed by all - if the children could get near it!! Finally in desperation they kept pinching bits and setting up a rival layout in the corner of the lounge. Laurie and Elsie were always good for theatricals and dressing up, ad lib pantomimes and good sports. I remember them one year arriving in their little blue car, Laurie dressed as Father Christmas with balloons tied on all around the open car, us all on the balcony outside No. 1 bedroom cheering madly. We played ring-a-roses on the beach, had table tennis tournaments, hide and seek and so many silly games. Boxing Day evening Jack usually took us out to dinner at one of the surrounding hotels, leaving a lot of high-jinks and midnight feasts at ‘Kingsmead’.
Jack and Sally owned some grand properties in the Slough, Windsor area, when his building business was doing well. ‘Brockenhurst’ with the long rhododendron drive, tennis courts, beautiful garden set in the beach woods, gardener’s cottage, glasshouse with peaches, and paddocks. The rooms were beautifully proportioned with panelling and a lovely staircase. This was a jewel, gracious living of an almost bygone age, sold afterwards for building, another small step towards the concrete jungle with behaviour to match. Mill House Farm was wonderful when the children were into pony riding. I remember one year, Jack’s young beef cattle got out and destroyed the Colonel’s garden. Lakeside Drive, Sandlea and Foston - all these remain in my memory like pictures in a dream. Enjoyable times, they sped away so quickly. Children growing into teenagers, wanting to do their own thing. Boyfriends and marriage; the natural breaking up of the old order that has to come. But how lucky we were to have such memories. We sit on the sidelines now watching the next generation keeping the spirit going. What comfort there is in continuity, in this rapidly changing world of violence and bitterness. 
Holidays. In the early years we went to stay with my sister or my mother. When Sheila was a baby we bought an old car, a Wolseley 18hp coach built saloon. The 1934 MG two seater we had during the war had to go when Janet was born and we needed every penny for our move from the Chilterns to Westgate. Suddenly when Sheila was six years, Janet and Wendy 12 and 13½ years, I realised how quickly the years were flying, and if we did not get in some good family holidays, the birds would have flown the nest.
Our first venture was Spain, Costa Brave before it was spoilt – 1956. I answered an advert in the ‘Sunday Times’ for a furnished bungalow complete with two maids at Tamariu.
We loaded up the Austin A70, what a good car it was; why oh why can’t we make them like that now? Mrs Rust our much-loved waitress for a good many years, came as well with her husband. Four adults, three children, passports and AA documents, and the kitchen sink, we embarked on the great adventure via the car ferry to Calais. The foreign package tour was unknown in those days, so we really felt like explorers. Except for Mr Rust, we all enjoyed the little French hotels and strange food. Poor chap. Take away his beer, fish and chips, and he was lost. I remember picnics by the wayside, mosquito bites, long straight roads lined with Poplars, quaint French towns and villages.
One hotel was taken from a pantomime where Sheila giggled and said she felt like Goldilocks in the three bears’ cottage. The Pyrenees, dusty roads lined with olive and cork trees into Catalonia. In spite of the language difficulty we got on well with Anita and Anna Marie, the Spanish maids. The bungalow was built on the hillside overlooking the sandy bay and rocky cliffs. The nearest little town was Palafrugell where the peasants still brought their produce to set up along the roadway for sale. I wonder what it is like now?
Gerona, a city of impressive buildings in the Moorish style. San Feliu at carnival time, gay with flowers but an open sewer opening up on the beach. Reg was somewhat appalled by the flimsy construction of the houses, water tanks on the roof, and electric cables just slung here, there and everywhere in careless abandon. Unfortunately we did not know but tennis balls had found resting places down the drain holes on the terrace. Unimportant until it rained, and oh boy did it rain! The ground was dry and rock hard so the water gushed down the hillside. Sheila, only six years old slept on a lilo bed on the floor. In the morning she was floating in about 4 to 6 inches of water. Mr Rust being in the building trade soon paddled to find the cause. The floors were lovely stone mosaics and hey presto by removing the tennis balls the water drained away. A memorable holiday indeed, in spite of the ardent attentions from the Spaniard in the local sweet shop.
Then followed visits to the Lake District and Wales. We all loved climbing and walking. Such celebration when Graham telephoned the hotel at Ambleside with his first successful medical exam results. Amusement when Tony Piper a boyfriend of Wendy’s called at the Royal Hotel at Llangollen, to enquire for us: “Do you mean the man with all the children?” asked the hall porter - rare things indeed at the ‘Royal’ on Deeside.
One year we took the girls to Spiez by road across France back to the ‘Hotel des Alpes”’ where we and my sister spent such a memorable time just after the war. The same proprietors, older like us, with that professional, friendly attitude of the Swiss hoteliers, second to none. Two things I remember most of that holiday, those dreadful loos at Neuchatel when we were desperate, and chasing all over Switzerland in search of chairlifts for Sheila’s benefit.
The early package tour idea gave us the chance of skiing holidays. The first time to Leysin on the French/Swiss border. Such a wonderful holiday, including New Year, especially for teenagers who lived on the coast with plenty of sea and sand, mountains were so different. The second and last time was in 1963 at the end of a very severe English winter. Friends thought us mad to go in pursuit of more snow and ice. What a wonderful memory. To Saas Fee, we all went, in spite of a typhoid scare at Zermatt - the five of us, Graham and Tony Piper, Laurie and Elsie, my sister’s two girls Jill and Hazel, and last but not least, Jill’s husband John. Except me, they all went to ski, limbering up exercises in the village centre then nursery slopes, then more adventurous up the ski lift to greater heights. No cars allowed in the village, only sledges – marvellous.
I remember myself loaded with all the jackets and the movie camera at the lower level, with instructions from Reg to film him in action. He came by so fast, and disappeared over a high ledge into a mountain of snow, I was too petrified to do anything, so that marvel was lost to posterity. The night life was such fun, dancing and singing – Hazel and John doing the cha-cha; I will not forget. It has an aura of fairyland now.
The other great necessary project was living space. The girls were growing up, and we were all too tightly packed in during the summer. The hotel premises were not designed for a private section to be possible, although we had a private bathroom and sitting room built on at the back when Sheila was a baby. Reg bought a plot of land in a small road, just behind ‘Kingsmead’, and designed a chalet bungalow. In the winter of 1959/60 we got to work. First to clear the site of old apple trees and brambles. Reg at the top of one tree attaching a rope thereto, Janet on the other end. She threatened to pull hard, bend the tree, let go suddenly then hey presto – Reggie sputnik launched into space. We kept Sheila out of the way until the contract was signed otherwise the old dragon might have changed her mind about selling us the land – pretty fussy she was. Mrs Rust and I digging trenches, to the amazement of the Council Building Inspector. We bought a second hand cement mixer and named it ‘Mary Ann’. One weekend the girls and us moved 7,000 bricks into position round the site. A freelance bricklayer and builder Mr Smith (would you believe it), did the skilled work, Reg and I the labouring. My best friends crossed the road to avoid recognition when I travelled through the small shopping centre to the garage for another can of petrol, more sustenance for ‘Mary Ann’. Can’t blame them, I must have looked a sight in my old boots, trousers etc., all bespattered with sand and cement, but I loved it and never was one to care a tinker’s cuss for the approbation of my fellow human beings. I can still remember after 25 years - 18 shovels of sand, seven shovels of cement and enough buckets of water to make a crawling, slurpy splodge to be tipped into a wheelbarrow and guided round the site to where Reg was working. I learned to be careful as if the wheelbarrow was too heavy, it tipped me up instead of the other way round. Somewhere there is a little photo album recording our progress. How exciting it was but what hard work. I have since stopped criticising layabouts on building sites for standing about drinking loads of tea.
Ground floor. Entrance hall with large mirror, staircase. Large l-shaped lounge, with stone mock fireplace and seating the entire length of the wall with tree jungle type wallpaper, door to patio and garden. Jan’s piano and black box gramophone that rarely stopped. Bathroom and two bedrooms, ours and Sheila’s. The sunken bath caused trouble at first. Tea leaves from the kitchen next door came up the plug hole. Kitchen with archway to dining alcove, also with door to patio.
First Floor. Two bedrooms under the eaves, Wendy’s and Janet’s. Square landing with cupboards under the eaves, in fact there were cupboards under the eaves everywhere to the annoyance of the miserable old plasterer who grumbled it was like a ‘b… rabbit warren’. Also cloak room with washbasin, toilet and bidet.
Outside A garage you could drive right through to back garden so that the current white Jaguar with tiger skin covers could be washed from the kitchen doorway. Tiger skin? Ostentatious? Imitations of course, Jan loved them. A white gate with a wiggly path to the front door and white ranch fencing. I hate straight paths. At the back a paved patio, with swinging hammock (we bought this before we had anything to sit on in the lounge, except the floor), fair sized garden and poplar trees at the end. Happy days!
We have often passed it since, still looks nice, but someone has chopped down Sheila’s large tree where the thrushes nested every year, and half ways up between the branches was her ‘nature table’. Funny how people like stark bare surroundings to houses. I love secret places, old wood trees, bushes and camouflage. We called it ‘Sea Whiff’ but I still think of it as the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel.
Our life there, spent between ‘Kingsmead’ in the summer and ‘Sea Whiff’ in the winter was all too short. Graham’s parents went to Australia for three years. His Father was RAF and was posted to Woomera, his mother and sister lived in Australia. Graham then spent most of his time with us, especially when Ma Pellat threw him out from the vicarage where he was billeted. He and Janet were studying for university. Wendy was working in a solicitor’s office in Margate but they all helped out in the summer, as waiter, waitresses, chambermaids and stand-in kitchen staff.
Saturday mornings still dominate my dreams. Reg saw to the dining room and lunch for the incoming visitors. The girls and I with the current chambermaid, (Veronica Lake/so called), Rose, Ruby, Mrs Glading, Glad, Mrs Bunch, Ada, etc., etc. tackled the bedrooms. Piles of dirty laundry, moving cots and children’s beds about. Clean sheets, towels, toilets, bathrooms, landing, stairs - all to be finished by midday when the hordes descended on us. When young, our greatest trial was Sheila who constantly jumped on the middle of a bed where we were putting the clean sheets. Then the folding and counting, ready for collection soon after lunch by the laundryman.
It was at Mr Moore’s dancing school that Janet and Graham met, 14 years of age. From then he became an integral part of the family. The years of the Birchington Junior Drama Group were great, run by Mr and Mrs Burley. Mr Burley was a well-known artist in this area, and the scenery backdrops were so professional. The youngsters made their own costumes and props with professional help. For a few years they carried off all the honours in the Kent Drama Festivals. At Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, Graham took most of the leading roles in the school play. The most memorable for me was ‘Candida’ by Bernard Shaw.
Time marches on. Graham won through to be a medical student at Kings College Hospital in London and Janet went to Bedford College in Regents Park. I shall never forget our last Sunday evening walk, one of our favourites, Palm Bay around the coast to the to the Captain Digby. Graham and Janet excited at the prospects ahead, myself subdued and overawed by the certain knowledge that we had reached the parting of the ways, the end of an era and that life would never be the same again. The youngsters flying the nest, childhood over, and the inevitable breakup of our close family life. In the morning, we loaded up the car to take Graham to his Hall of Residence, and Janet to a bedsitter at Swiss College. On a snow and ice covered road we had a puncture near Eltham. Luckily near a garage, so we sat drinking coffee in a cafe while the necessary was done. Delivering Graham was not such a wrench, his parents were in Australia, but leaving our beloved Jan alone in that large, cold unfriendly room, her face at the window as the car pulled away is still something I prefer not to re-live. Dear Jan, silly Mum! Knowing it is the natural order of things, even not wanting things any different does not make the parting any easier.
We visited London a lot that first winter, meeting Jan in Regents Park, scene of my childhood. Then a bedsitter became vacant in the same house as Jan. Wendy was now working in London, having left the solicitor’s office in Margate, and taken a refresher course at Pittman’s College. She now had a job with an insurance company in the City, travelling daily to and from London daily was no fun, so it seemed a good idea for Wendy to join Jan at Swiss Cottage. They came home weekends quite a lot, but Sheila was the one that suffered. The bungalow, once the centre of noise, bustle and constant activity, was as silent as the grave. Reg and I, numb and miserable trying to adjust. Sheila, too, moving from the convent school to Dane Court School, Margate. I had no idea how different it was for her, and how much she had to cope with, in addition to a silent and different home environment.
Graham and Jan have now been married 20 years and they too are beginning to face the break-up of their family. We remember and sympathise but can do naught to soften the blow.
University holidays are long. Jan and Sheila still worked in the hotel during the summer holidays. Graham took jobs as postman, garage attendant, barman, etc. Reg did buy a flat in SE London for Wendy and Jan to share, but it did not work out too well and Graham and Jan decided to get married. Reg thought it premature as Jan had not yet taken her finals, and Graham had several more years to do before qualifying as a doctor. However her voice on the telephone that evening was so thrilled and excited. Although my heart sank a little, I could no nothing else but reassure her with congratulations. Years afterwards I became aware of the pressures on university students. Miles from home, many of them, on their ‘tod’ for the first time - drugs, sex, alcohol, smoking, left wing politics, etc. How difficult to go against the stream. My sister’s youngsters and mine survived the onslaught, but I have seen the heartbreak in many families, including brother Ernie’s.
So the stage was set for the final curtain, as our life gradually changed. So many memories, so many people – Mr and Mrs Hopper who every year made friends of the children on the beach, while not forgetting Kimi the dog. Mr and Mrs Hobbs and Susan who came every year, and how the girls looked forward to their visits. We still keep in touch. I had a letter only recently with the family news and special delight at having heard from Australia. Mr and Mrs Davis, Ann and John (or was it Stephen), one of the nicest regulars it was our pleasure to meet. He was a big noise in the GPO. The Lamberts, and those lovely photos we still have that he took as a professional photographer. That entertaining lot Jones, Davis and Cridge, who came every year at the same tine to have fun together. Jones’ son David with the heart shaped face of an angel and the temperament of an arch fiend. Murray’s Mum. That yellow and brown jumper with the stripes going the wrong way for her figure. The sole topic at the breakfast table every morning was whether Murray ‘had been’. The poor little fellow had his own toilet seat which went with him everywhere. A couple from Herne Bay bitterly quarrelsome, and fighting for the attention and affection of a two year old child, who was distraught and unbalanced by the tug-of-war. The whole house, myself included, were ready to lynch them by the end of the week. Thank goodness it was only a week, and they never came again. How cruel and selfish can you get?
The glamorous Mrs Fox and her three sons. Mr Fox was handsome and very popular, but some years later we heard he had committed suicide. Such a smashing family. How sad. Then the Steeds and Parkers, firm friends, spending their holidays with us until the children grew up to other things. Jerry Parker continued our association all through the changes at ‘Kingsmead’. Angela and Jeremy growing up and marrying. They have continued to visit even after our retirement, with Christmas cards up to this very year. Jerry was a very amiable and successful business man, pure gold. He had many problems with Jean his wife, Angela and Jeremy, tackling them with great compassion. Jean died a while ago and he has married again. If anyone deserved a break, he does, and I can only hope he now has a settled and happy relationship.
The Bardsley’s, a Fleet Street man on the “Sporting Life” - Jimmy was dragged to me to confess about a broken window in the playroom. “You didn’t mean to do it, did you Jimmy?” His honest answer I shall not forget, “Well, I did hit it with a cricket bat”. His sister Judy came in the later years, with her own children. Then Mr Cook, an ex-sergeant major, who was very popular because of his organised games in the back garden. I must admit to my chagrin that Sheila did hit his dear little Mary on the head, also with a cricket bat. Whatever provoked this unusual action, I never found out.
My household linen supplier Mr Collier and his family. Daughter Ann was chosen one year to be the beauty queen’s attendant at the annual carnival week. What excitement the annual carnival caused. The whole house assembled on the balcony to cheer the carnival procession, sports, competitions, etc. - Sheila winning a prize once as a cornflake packet with free gift. All disappeared, gone forever, with the Punch and Judy show, the concert party at the pavilion and the band on the promenade.
Our few years at ‘Sea Whiff’ were great. We had a private hidey-hole. The girls had their own rooms, no longer in cramped quarters at the mercy of summer visitors. Reg and I had an escape route in summer, and during the winter ‘Kingsmead’ was closed, and we all had our own ‘home sweet home’ for the first time since ‘Inglewood’ overlooking the common at Lane End during the war.
When Graham and Janet went to university and Wendy moved to London as well, it became too large and too expensive for our requirements. The government also had one of its periodic credit squeezes, so the bank called for repayment of a large overdraft. So ‘Sea Whiff’ was sold and back to ‘Kingsmead’ we went. We did one more season and Reg, with building assistance here and there, started the formidable task of turning the premises into flats. The master flat, first floor front, was for ourselves. This took several years, and we handled a reducing number of summer visitors as the work progressed, eventually to alter our source of income to the letting of holiday flats. More funny people in and out.
Graham and Jan’s wedding. I think it was 1964 or ’65. I forget. They have a smashing movie tape, so we have re-lived the auspicious occasion. His parents were back from Australia, so we had the traditional affair. Reception at a large roadhouse, known as ‘Chez Laurie’, photos, speeches, the lot. Jan made her own white brocade wedding dress. She is clever with her needle, something not inherited from me. They had a flat near the hospital, furnished mostly from the Blackheath flat. It all worked out quite well as she obtained her degree in Biochemistry (presented by the Queen Mother at the Albert Hall) and then joined the staff at Kings College Hospital in the Path Lab. She somewhat scandalised the ‘uppercrust’ of the hospital staff, by sitting in the canteen with the medical students. Not done, you know!! She was quite a VIP. Graham too passed his finals, and joined the hospital staff. This meant they were able to live in a hospital flat. A strange flat as the kitchen opened on to the bedroom, the living room, a long way away down a dark passage, but convenient to their respective jobs.

After the wedding, with Sheila and Wendy, we had a holiday in Ireland – the one and only time, before the ongoing 200 year old troubles flared up again. What has religion ever done for the human race except to divide it into separate camps of bigotry, hatred, inhumanity, violence, repression, etc., etc? Crimes of the very worst kind have been perpetrated throughout history in the name of one religion or another. ‘God so loved the world’, etc. – if that is love, give me old fashioned hate.
However back to the holiday. We motored across the widest part of Britain from Westgate to Fishguard. Left the car there and boarded the ferry. Dinner on board was tranquil, the little port on the Welsh coast peaceful and enchanting. Little did we know!! Being Friday evening, by midnight the last train from London had arrived full of Irish workers going home for the weekend. The world is full of Irish jokes, but this experience was no joke, especially the absence of a good night’s sleep. In the bunk below me was one adult and four children. The stairways, corridors, and every available space was crammed with noisy, restless, belligerent human beings - no emphasis on the word ’human’. The public rooms had to be seen to be believed – knee deep in Guinness bottles.
The ‘Emerald Isle’, so aptly named, was truly lovely. At Rosslare we collected our hire car, and motored across Southern Ireland. So many magic names: Waterford, Cork and finally Killarney. The small villages were poverty stricken and mucky. Elderly women in the old fashioned black of peasants, spat at us now and again - a perpetuation of the past hatreds between Irish and English. How ridiculous! Killarney Hotel however was charming, although the village itself, is mostly owned by Germans (so we were told). The lake, and surrounding scenery, were beautiful beyond description. Waitresses with lovely Irish eyes, mostly smiling, and a huge bluff commissionaire, who insisted we took a ride in a ‘jaunty car’, a small horse drawn vehicle. Sheila obtained a signed menu card by the Dave Clark Five, a current pop group staying at the hotel. Reg went fishing on the lake with a very knowing fishy Irish tourist catcher and we explored Muckross Park. The romantic illusion of Irish songs are legendary world-wide, but I was disappointed in the reality of those famous places, especially the ‘Rose of Tralee’. Tralee was very drab and unromantic, but the Isle of Kerry, Inch Sands where I found my first wild pansies, the mountains and coastal scenery were so beautiful, empty, peaceful and so uncommercialised. But John McCormak’s rendering of those Irish ballads will always be magic for me. We have never been back – the ‘troubles’ 400 years old have flared up again, and now in November 1986 are still going on. Insane, damaging hatred perpetuated by vindictiveness and intolerance. Life is so short; is it worth it?
Back to ‘Kingsmead’ where the re-arrangements went on. Good-bye to ‘Sea Whiff’, it was good while it lasted. Wendy shared a flat with office colleagues. Poor Sheila was left to share with us a home life suddenly bereft of turmoil, laughter and activity with the ‘black box’ in attendance. She went from the convent to Dane Court School at Broadstairs, truly thrown into the deep end. I certainly did not realise how different the schools were and how she had to adjust. No wonder her life became more outside the home.
The first part of the conversion of ‘Kingsmead’ began with a flat for ourselves, along the first floor front. The best for views across St Mildred’s Bay, cliff top gardens and the coast round to Margate. We glazed in the balcony. Such a view, such a time waster, looking out across the sea in its very varying moods. Adjoining was a sitting room and small No. 2 bedroom converted to a kitchen. How Jonathan as a toddler used to love running round and round, through the kitchen, across the balcony, into the sitting room, and through an archway back into the kitchen. We only had two bedrooms, a smart green and black bathroom, and large square hall, not forgetting our individual central heating system. The winds rushed down the North Sea from the Arctic to lash against the front of the house.
With the smaller number of bedrooms available we carried on for another summer, and restarted the work the following winter. A small flat at the back had been promised to Bert and Kate, Reg’s cousins. We hoped they would act as caretakers as Bert was useful as maintenance man. Unfortunately Bert died of cancer before they could move in, but we felt compelled to finish the flat for Kate, a rather formidable lady. I felt quite scared of her at first. The flat encompassed our lovely large hotel sitting room with French doors to the garden. However we converted a large ground floor bedroom into a lounge for the reducing number of guests, but it was not the same. So the work continued and we had six holiday flats, and no more hotel guests. The end of an era!
Meantime Graham passed his finals and continued to work at King’s College Hospital. Jan too a VIP in the Path Lab. Then along came Jonathan, three weeks early. Jan had only just left her post, a few nappies and vests only purchased the week before. A very inconvenient flat, difficult time for them. Jan kept her job for a time, leaving the baby in a pram under her window by the porter’s lodge. I still laugh when I think of her embarrassment when changing a nappy in the pathology laboratory, and in walked Professor Gray with a VIP on a conducted tour of the hospital.
Her grief over baby Brown dying of jaundice because the machine had erred. My tender-hearted daughter was not suited to such happenings. How she hated at college having to stun frogs by bashing them on the bench.
Graham and Jan then bought a little terrace house in East Dulwich, which was quite attractive. But coping with a house, journeys to and from hospital, baby and a job was very difficult and taxing especially for Jan; but she was able to find a good baby minder. That lovely dark wavy hair Joe had, just like Graham’s mother Eve, but Jan had it all cut off because someone called him a girl. Heavens above! You should see the male hairstyles of today. Boys have more curly permed hair and long, grotty styles than the girls. Graham was and is dedicated to his career and a very different cup of tea to Reg. They needed Jan’s wages as hospital pay was pretty poor in those days, and the hours long. I remember Graham doing 90 hours a week for £600 a year.
During this time Wendy came back to Westgate to live. She had had enough of London, and the last straw was being attacked with a milk bottle coming back to the flat from the cinema one evening. It was nice having her home again. She had to share with Sheila, but it was a large bedroom. We bought a ‘Mini’ between us, and she set about learning to drive, as Hill House Hospital where she had obtained a job in the office, was over Manston way and public transport almost non-existent. She soon passed her test.
Meanwhile Sheila struggled with ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. She was very unlucky, as her school was scheduled to go ‘comprehensive’ - the first in our area. A fancy idea of the Labour Government to enforce a more equal system of education. As if one human being has ever been equal to another from that first yell on leaving the womb. Many of our fine old grammar schools, with hundreds of years of history behind them, were done away with, or changed. All schools became co-educational. Twenty years on, the system by and large is an acknowledged failure, educational standards abysmal. From the poverty of the twenties and thirties I had a better education. However back to Sheila, the best teachers left and the pupils were left to struggle on in a changing and discordant atmosphere. She did manage seven ‘O’ levels and one ‘A’ level but it was not enough to go to college.
In 1968 I think it was, we cashed our premium bonds and made a long awaited journey to South Africa to see Reg’s sister. Just before the war she had gone for a visit to Gran Hughes’ only brother. He fought in the Boer War, then stayed there. Rhoda found herself a job, met Tommy and married late in life. He was a Scot, but his family went to South Africa in 1903. The old man’s Scottish accent, (Tommy’s father), was as broad as ever. He lived with Rhoda and Tommy, blind at 90 years of age, cantankerous as they come. No wonder Tommy, a real nice person, drank too much South African brandy. The old man was fascinating to talk to, as he had witnessed the growth of Pretoria and South Africa. He bought land in the famous Church Street, five miles long, lined with jacaranda. We were lucky enough to see it in all its glory; a sight never to be forgotten.
After much medical treatment, Rhoda at 40 years of age gave birth to ‘little Tommy’. The miracle baby (so described by her doctor). Joy knew no bounds, but at seven years of age, when out with his grandfather, he was somehow run over by a small tradesman’s truck. Rhoda sat in the local hospital for two hours and the boy died in her arms. Such grief I can hardly bear to think about it. But it was to happen again in different circumstances to my own daughter later in Australia. Rhoda and Tommy never really got over it. They visited England, stayed with us at Kingsmead. With little Tommy’s savings she bought dolls and presents for the two girls. Tommy helped with maintenance work. He was a carpenter by trade and there was plenty to do in those early days. Rhoda lived in a dazed world of her own, never quite with us. She again had medical treatment to try to have another baby, a desperate tortured soul, but nature knows what she is doing better than we do. It was not to be, and the adoption societies were wise enough to say ‘no’. That visit was the last time we had seen them until 1968, about 19 years later.
We had a wonderful holiday. Highlights were a visit to the Kruger National Park and a flight to Cape Town. The Kruger National Park was a game reserve as large as Wales about 400 miles from Pretoria. Contrary to our zoos, the animals were free roaming and we had to remain protected inside the car. In certain areas there were tall stockade enclosures, which were bolted and barred at night. Inside was guest accommodation, rondavels, round thatched native huts, motel type accommodation, shops, restaurant, swimming pool etc. Central barbeque cooking areas maintained by natives; a huge kettle always on the boil for tea and coffee. It was great fun, barbeques were right outside our experience at that time, and very eerie listening to the hyenas howling and animal calls so close during the night. After a fascinating few days we drove out of the park along Crocodile River to a hotel on the Mozambique border owned by a friend of Tommy’s. Lovely cool tiled lounge hall, such a relief from the tropical sun. We walked to the border post. Portuguese East Africa then, so peaceful, so quiet almost unmanned, we did not see a soul. How different it all is today, the conflict and turmoil in Africa. A wonderful, wonderful holiday. Those mischievous monkeys climbing all over the car... Tommy’s warning “For God’s sake keep the windows closed.” Reg’s favourites – those beautiful gentle giraffes. I bought a small stuffed one in Adderly Street, Cape Town and he still looks out of the landing window of our retirement home in Kent. Also a carved wooden crocodile about 12” long crawls up the lounge wall to this day. That came from Pretoriaskop Stockade Village.
While Tommy’s family had a big ‘do’ for his father’s 90th birthday, we flew to Cape Town for a few days. They were a large family, but not very united. No one had much time for the old man, (not that I blame them). One brother from Durban had not spoken to his father for 35 years because of a quarrel. Rhoda and Tommy were well and truly lumbered. All they talked of was “little Tommy” and his endearing ways, and what they were going to do when Grandpa ‘popped off’. I remember saying to Reg: “that old devil will see them both off.” How true. A few years later Rhoda died of a brain haemorrhage, dear Tommy, soon after, of grief and the brandy bottle. With no one left to torment the old man faded out. We had a few letters from the family. Rhoda had left us the hand painted Japanese porcelain tea set.
In Cape Town we met up with Jackie, brother Ken’s daughter. She had been born with ‘itchy feet’. About two years younger than Janet, she looked very much like Sheila. After various jobs here, like Rhoda, she upped and went to Pretoria, stayed with Rhoda and Tommy for a while. Here again that cantankerous old man spoiled the relationship and Jackie got a job with a newspaper in Cape Town. We caught up with her at the YWCA. Cape Town is majestic and lovely. Table Mountain, the Lions Head, Camps Bay, unbelievable white sand and a turquoise sea, fringed with palm trees. We booked into our hotel had our dinner and chatted to a group of medical students, one of which was coming to England for a course at Kings College Hospital where Graham was then working. Afterwards anxious to look at Cape Town, we left the hotel for an evening stroll. It was very deserted, and I must admit we got some very curious looks from groups of coloured folk. When we returned the hotel manager was ‘doing his nut’. White people never go walking after dark, only door to door in cars. It was our first experience of the fear that divides South Africa, and the trouble brewing into a confrontation that today (November 1986), is being fanned by extremists on both sides.
Jackie’s boyfriend David took us on several excursions, including a drive up Table Mountain to look down on the lights of Cape Town, a fantastic sight. We had lunch at his Mother’s house on the Sunday. Memorable indeed was a trip to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, if my geography is not at fault. Jackie and David married and still live in Cape Town with their two adopted children. His grandfather did leave David a sum of money on condition he spent it on a trip to England. We had an enjoyable reunion at ‘Kingsmead’, and Ken and Flo made one short trip to Cape Town several years ago before he retired.

It is now July 1987.
Retirement goes quickly and pleasantly. Trips to Australia and holidays with the family are recorded elsewhere, and this epistle has been much neglected for a time.
The distant past seems easier to remember, our last years at ‘Kingsmead’ hazy and muddled.
The next important event must be Wendy’s wedding. Through Kate in the ground floor flat she met Jim Stokes, radio operator on Shell tankers in the Far East. His family had lived next door to Kate for years, and he usually visited her when on leave. Thus Wendy became a sailor’s wife. His parents lived near Hastings so Jim bought a very nice little house at St Leonards. So my eldest daughter and my half of the mini flew the nest. The reception was at ‘Kingsmead’, two trainee waiters failed to turn up, causing chaos for me. Wendy looked lovely in Jan’s wedding dress. My sister and all her family were there, most of our family and lots of strangers from Jim’s family. That’s all I remember, as the two waiters not turning up made things hectic for me.
Wendy’s decision to marry Jim caused me a lot of misgivings. She was so gentle, so inexperienced as far as boyfriends were concerned so unworldly in fact, in the nicest possible way, a real “old fashioned gal”. My ideas of sailors did not match up with my daughter. However I kept my thoughts to myself and worried a lot. She seemed happy enough. She had a lonely time those first years. Her in-laws although quite close kept very much to themselves. She worked for a secretarial bureau in Hastings and had some interesting jobs - correspondence for Reverend Mother at a local convent. She always asked for Wendy (so easy to know why). Holiday duty at a jam factory, put her off jam for life, wrought iron gates, and cosmetic factory in Eastbourne. Her subsequent heart breaking worries belong later on. We visited her often and she had her car to get home whenever she wanted.
Meanwhile Reg had become involved with the local council’s decision to lease out the cafes along the seafront. The hotel was now in flats, so apart from maintenance he was a free agent, so together with a golfing friend and ex councillor, they took over two cafes, one in St Mildred’s Bay and one in West Bay which Reg was to take over on a three year lease.
Here begins a totally new experience for us. I must say I enjoyed most of it. You were there on the promenade, overlooking the beach, actually a living part of the holiday scene. For over 25 years I had been confined to the kitchen of the hotel. Reg was always good with employed labour, and we had an assortment of those. It was all or nothing. Bad weather we just sat and looked at each other, then the sun came out and it was so hot and hectic, it was exhausting trying to cope. The washing up!!! Plastic throwaways were unthinkable to us. Not enough buns, sandwiches, ice-cream, etc.. We made friends with all the locals and sunbathing layabouts.
Sheila was leaving school and Wendy still at home, so we had a week in Majorca prior to Sheila looking for a job. We stayed at a large hotel full of Jersey hoteliers about three miles from Palma. It was different and enjoyable, not so commercialised as now, but even so I remember being staggered by fish and chips and cup of char being sold by outcasts from Blackpool. Palma was very intriguing and ornate in a Spanish way. I also remember landing at Manston in thick fog, and freezing temperatures about 2:00am. Were we glad to find terra firma....
It must have been the previous year when the four of us went to Scotland. A long drive to Carbridge, seven miles from Aviemore, the skiing centre. I feel I have never seen enough of Scotland, each visit only whets the appetite, although the weather can be diabolical, thank goodness or it could have become like Spain. We did the usual things, lovely walks, driving along Loch Ness looking for the monster, Inverness and some golf for Reg. The girls went to a disco at Aviemore Sports Centre where Sheila was disgusted at the teenagers getting so drunk. Such a pity, funny way to enjoy yourself! So many of our younger and older folk are turning to alcohol and/or drugs. What an indictment on our so civilised society with such a high standard of living with all the mod cons, useless absolutely useless when there is no contentment in the heart and nothing to strive for. I have always been so grateful that all three girls have been and still are very abstemious when it comes to alcohol, but able to enjoy it in convivial company.
One evening we shall never forget, several musicians were at the hotel, and the proprietor played the violin. He closes down the decorous little cocktail bar in the lounge at the proper hour. Then we were invited to the back of the hotel where music and singing began in earnest, accompanied of course by drinks after hours, in spite of the fact that the police station was opposite. Such a great thing, almost made it legal, the policeman himself via the back door of course joined in. We Sassenachs enjoyed it immensely, but felt shamed in being unable to play an instrument or even sign with conviction. So the owner delegated Wendy and Sheila to serve the drinks, so that he could concentrate on his violin. One chap began to recite Shakespeare with enthusiasm, although his wife confided in me sadly that when he gets as far as Shakespeare it is time to take him home and put him to bed. I must admit that at breakfast the next morning, the proprietor looked much the worse for wear, and at dinner the grouse was so tough. Up to now we have never had an evening quite like it.
Sheila had a yen for the fashion trade and obtained a job with a department store, Peter Robinson at Oxford Circus. It opened her eyes quite a bit to the devious thieving habits of the human race. She was able to live with Jan and Graham, and also had a boyfriend Nigel. We liked him well enough and he fitted in well with the family, but my heart ached for Sheila, he brought her so much unhappiness. The women folk in our family are a faithful lot. The affair was so one sided, and dragged on for some time. Even now I can’t bear to think of the misery she went through. When little you can comfort and reassure your own through many ups and downs, but there comes a time when you can only stand by helpless even to reach through the fog of unhappiness that surrounds them. When young the hurts go deep. All three girls have had much more unhappiness than ever I had, but never have they come running home with their troubles or deserted their posts, but battled on which is rare these days.
So there we were just Reg and I left, and a café plus a few holiday flats, and two small blocks of unfurnished flats. Have I told you about those? I don’t think so. Such long lapses of time between writing these memoirs that I can’t remember where I am. Not surprising!! And to keep reading through my squiggly handwriting gets tedious. Heaven knows how it will be for anyone else having a go.
Must have been about 1960, when having built the bungalow, and the girls growing up and leading their own lives, we began to think about giving up the hotel. Being self-employed we had no pension to look forward to apart from the state one. The idea of carrying it on without the girls was not attractive at all. We had to provide an alternative income for our old age. Belonging to a hard working and fiercely independent generation, expecting the government or the taxpayer to finance our old age was completely alien and abhorrent to our way of thinking. How things have changed. Folk now sit on their backsides and expect the welfare state to cosset them from the cradle to the grave.
However back to the problem. Taking a leaf out of the book of a fellow golfing builder, Reg purchased a large empty house, or rather the Bank did and with the help of Smith the bricklayer and plumber, Charlie Attwood the electrician and me, he converted ‘The Firs’ into seven flats. I remember scrapping seven layers of tough old-fashioned wallpaper off one room. We worked hard in those days, but felt sad at dumping the Aga cooker, a lovely oak inglenook fireplace, also filling in the impressive front door and entrance hall. The plans were passed by the Council. Reg should have been an architect, he has good ideas.
These flats were finally let at about £2/week to elderly ladies. The rents paid off the bank loan for the conversion and we carried on at ‘Kingsmead’ for our income, looking forward to the day when the loan was paid off and the rents were ‘ours’. Like most greenhorns, we had overlooked the cost of maintenance and the taxman, so when Jan and Wendy went to London, Reg bought another one ‘Langhorn’. This was made into six flats, but the work was done by Mr Triggs, instead of us, with help. We kept these flats, some of them for the next 20 years. Owing to changes in the housing market when the old dears died off, we were able to sell the flats leasehold instead of renting. Reg was not cut out to be a landlord, too soft hearted. The last two were sold only last year (1986). Our property owning days are over and we have just the small private house in Birchington now.
The café years were an interesting diversion. Meanwhile a vacancy occurred for a local Doctor in Birchington. Graham, Jan and Jonathan were having a difficult time, and although general practice had never been of interest to Graham, for the sake of the family he took the job. At first he did an obstetrics course at Margate Hospital, and was given a hospital flat. In this area, general practice is either babies or old people, not really Graham’s cup of tea at all. In 1970, he was thrown into the deep end at the local surgery in Birchington and for the meantime they lived in the large top floor flat at ‘Kingsmead’.
This was a happy time for me. Jan so close, Jo-jo as he called himself toddling around and new baby Roderick. Let’s forget the panic over jaundice and remember it was the summer of playing with grandchildren. After nearly a year Graham was able to buy a lovely old house in Birchington ‘Old Gates’. Large wrought iron gates, profusions of hydrangeas and roses, panelled walls, the lovely blue room with a large bay window overlooking the garden, a study for Graham. Here they settled for about four years only just over a mile away. Happy times for us, calling in for a coffee, cup of tea or a spot of lunch when passing, always made welcome, and a joy to see two little boys growing up and sharing in their lives. Wendy too took a temporary job as receptionist at Graham’s surgery, living back at home while Jim was away.
Yes, now we come to Wendy, those heartbreaking events and difficulties of the next few years, tackled by a lion-hearted girl. I don’t suppose her children will ever realise how lucky they were to have a Mum like her. Jim away from home for a large part of the year, she stood alone, except for us. I like to think we helped. Jim’s parents had a little general village shop, such a tie, so unable to help.
When she became pregnant, joy knew no bounds; they were both delighted. As a child when anyone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, her simple answer was: “I want to be a mum”. Well she had the full implications of that thrown at her. We spent much time together; she was happy and fit. Jim managed to get leave at that time and our Susie was born. During a telephone conversation, the first chill crept down my spine: “Mum she has got a temper, just screams after each feed.” Small babies do not scream with temper. At just nine weeks old, a cancerous kidney was diagnosed, an immediate operation vital. No one expected her to survive. Wendy was advised to have another baby as soon as possible. On the day of the operation Kate, naturally still involved very much, drove me to St Leonards. Jim’s face as he opened the door still haunts me. Wendy and I enveloped in a fog of grief. I can only marvel at that strong spark of life in that tiny baby, that survived being opened up like a little rabbit and the bad kidney removed, then weeks in hospital, handled constantly by different nurses and doctors. None of the so necessary security of the baby and mother relationship. Small wonder that now, at 15 years, she is very introverted and unable to open up or confide, but a lovely girl, very pretty.
The following year is a blur of visits, sleepless nights, hospital visits, and Wendy pregnant again. Jim, of course, had to return to sea. Reg was very concerned and understanding being left on his own so much, while I journeyed to and fro from Westgate to Hastings; especially the last couple of months before Michael’s birth, when I could not leave her only for short spells while a friend stayed.
Dear Mike turned up the day prior to Janet’s birthday. Conceived in sorrow, born with a double squint, and this only the beginning. Two babies within a year, Susie needing constant attention, strange attacks of difficult breathing and glazed eyes. All praise to St Helen’s Hospital, Hastings and the local social worker they assured her the attacks would get less as she grew. The social worker was a marvellous friend and advisor, a coloured lady of whom I cannot speak too highly. When I thanked her once for her kindness to Wendy, she said, “Thanks, I mostly only get disdain for my colour, kicks and criticism. I don’t remember anyone ever saying ‘thank you’.”
How did Wendy cope? Sleepless nights with one or the other. I visited Hastings a lot, and driving a large estate car she brought the two babies to Westgate. No 15 bedroom was always made up for her. Here Susie had one of her attacks, and terrified I called in my doctor, Dr Lown. He turned pale when I gave the baby’s history. Wendy was well known to all the local medics having worked at Hill House Hospital. But miracles do happen and she survived against all the odds. , Jim’s parents had moved away, 60 miles separated us, it was getting costly and difficult especially in the summer, so Jim did the wisest thing and bought a little house near Canterbury. They are still there. But of course by moving day he was away at sea so guess who did all the packing up and moving. Luckily Wendy and babes could stay at ‘Kingsmead’ until the Sturry house was got ready.
Now the next bombshell! That pine kitchen at ‘Old Gates’ is starkly etched in my mind coupled with Graham’s announcement that they were emigrating to Australia, and would we join them. Was this to soften the blow, as blow it was. A gorgeous baby girl Harriett had been born the previous year. The close affinity between her and Graham was unbelievable from the start. The pressure of general practice was very heavy on Graham and the attitude of the other partners did not help. His heart was not in it, and Barbara Castle’s harassment of the medical profession during the term of a labour government proved the last straw. He and Janet had spent a holiday in Australia in 1965 while his parents were there. His grandparents lived in Sydney, several uncles and numerous cousins were strewn around that large continent. An advert in ‘The Lancet’ for a trainee child psychiatrist at Adelaide Children’s Hospital proved irresistible. He applied for the post and got it; much to his surprise I think. We could only stagger under the blow, force a smile and wish them luck. There was no question of us going. I could not desert Wendy and Sheila was young and having a difficult time. Graham’s mother had died of cancer while they were living at ‘Kingsmead’ in 1970. A shattering blow for him, as they were very close, so he had no one to leave that he cared about. Those lonely, lonely years for Jan, the heartache, I don’t honestly think Graham had any idea of how she felt. Our family ties are so close. My three sons-in-law find it difficult to understand.
Living so near we were involved in all the packing up and selling of the house. For a few weeks they lived with us after the furniture had set sail. Bitter sweet memories. Lovely, lovely Harriet, just over a year old, giving Reg an indignant piece of her mind when he picked up the newspaper or a book instead of attending to her. She was just learning to walk, but used his index finger as a prop while she explored the house and garden. Graham was enthusiastic and excited, at last a new career, a new beginning in the field of medicine he had always wanted. We were desolate. Sheila cried all night. On our return from the station after seeing them off, there was the empty button box, the buttons all over the floor; Harriet had been playing with them. The stiff upper lip crumbled and we all dissolved into tears overwhelmed by a crushing sense of loss. I remember Kate taking over and making the inevitable answer to a crisis – a cup of tea. Reg and I were numb, and behaved like zombies for weeks. Dear Sheila, how wonderful, thoughtful and caring she was in our misery. She came home every weekend, organised a Christmas day with my sister, a Christmas Eve dinner at a Greek restaurant in London, even a Christmas stocking for each of us on Christmas morning. To my everlasting shame I did not think about one for her. They had flown away on 16 December.

This transcription of Louisa Hughes’ manuscript was keyed in pretty much as written.

[1] 1853 according to the 1901 UK Census
[2] Marylebone Lodge, 4, Devonshire Place North
[3] 21st January, 1915, ‘Malignant Disease Transverse Colon’
[4] 1928, ‘Pneumonia’
[5] An East India Merchant (tea Planter).
[6] Fanny Stearn, 8th child of John Stearn and Sara Sophia (neé Smith).
[7] Clara Stearn, the 9th of nine children, ran the New Market Inn, 27 Brighton Road, Ashcombe, Lewes, Brighton
[8] Louisa (Née Burnett, 1891 -1964)
[9] 28th June, 1913, Hampstead Registry Office
[10] Charles Roberts (known as Pop) (b. 5 Jul 1892, died aged 90 in Feb 1983
[11] East Kent Regiment
[12] ?? Burnett Creek in southeast Victoria, near Deptford, starts at an elevation of 487m and ends at an elevation of 203m merging with Merrijig Creek.
[13] Through Mary Ann Roberts there is a strong link to Australia through her mother’s side - the Payne Family (convicts sent to NSW for stealing a sheep).
[14] Sarah Dyason b. 7.1867, Bow, Middlesex, d. 23 May 1902, 26, Cologne Road, Battersea, UK.
[15] 131 Orchard Terrace Orchard Street Chichester (1911 Census)
[16] A quarter of one penny or half a halfpenny
[17] Will was actually the oldest (14.10.1904), Ernie (24.7.1906), Laurie (28.6.1911), Reg (8.7.1915), Ken (1920)