Monday, 27 August 2012

Life at Blackdown

                                          LIFE AT BLACKDOWN

Once I had settled down I began to be happy at Blackdown.  During the term time my mother was busy in the kitchen.   She was helped by two deaf and dumb girls who were devoted to her.  I did not see her so much, but I was always free to slip into her bedroom when I wanted to.  If she was resting I would curl up and read one of her books.  I do not think I had any awareness of how tired she was,  nor of how hard her work was.  I was absorbed in my own world.

My mother and I were able to stay at Blackdown during the holidays.  This meant that we were there with Commander and Mrs Hastings,  Dulcie and Maureen, and Beryl, whose parents lived in India.

Dulcie and I  at these times were as free as birds.  We would climb the trees in the orchard, play on the swings, or visit Miss Jackson who ran the chicken farm.  She was a friendly woman who always greeted us kindly.  She was permanently in jodhpurs and boots, with untidy, curly brown hair. 

Dulcie was fearless and was the main instigator of all our activities, and I was happy to follow her.  Once Dulcie and I had a fight.  She ran into the lavatory which had an open top.  I chased after her with a jug of water, climbed onto a chair and tipped it over the top.  The next moment out walked Mrs Hastings.  Mrs Hastings was a kind and easy going woman, but even she was annoyed.  To my fury, I got all the blame.

In the summer holidays  we would all go for a week to Branscombe in Dorset.  We slept in huts by the beach, the children in one hut and the adults in another.  My main memory of this was being teased by the bigger and older girls,  even Dulcie, who amused themselves by sticking pins in me at night when we were all in bed.  This stopped after I complained to my mother.

We spent Christmas at Blackdown.  I found an old train set in the waste paper basket which I thought would make a very good present for Dulcie.  I felt rather ashamed when she told me she had thrown it away it herself.   My mother cooked a superb Christmas lunch.  There were crackers and paper hats and we played party games.  During the Easter holidays I remember my mother making a great pile of pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, which we devoured, competing to see who could eat the most.

There was a large playroom with a big table where we would sit, cutting out paper dolls and dressing them with different clothes.  There were board games, snakes and ladders, draughts and ludo.  We would play cards, snap and rummy.

We seemed to be becoming one happy family.  Commander Hastings was a bluff and jovial man and his wife was equally genial, though somewhat ineffectual as a headmistress.

            And of course, I would read.  I read everything.  I read all my mother’s books:  Hugh Walpole, Dornford Yates, Mazo de la Roche, romantic novels.  I remember reading with fascination one of Walpole’s novels, where a naked woman was examining herself closely in the mirror. The love parts interested me most  of all. 

There were also children’s books.  I was given Alice in Wonderland, a Child’s Book of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson,  Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows:  all the classics.  Then there were books  like the Anne of Green Gables series, The Girl of the Limberlost, and Little Women, and Green Mansions by W.H.Hudson, a haunting and mysterious book. The Just William books were then being published.  I loved William, and I also loved fairy stories,  and do to this day.

Rummaging through the Library I came across a book by Lin Yutang on China, its history and philosophy, which fascinated me.  It was my first introduction to philosophy.  

During my time at Blackdown I picked up every childhood disease that was going, as one did in those days.  I was always in the sick room, with Miss Lane sleeping next door, so we came to know each other well.  Once I even contracted diphtheria and scarlet fever at the same time and I was very ill indeed.  One night I felt I was dying, as my heart seemed to keep stopping.  I remember praying:  “Please God, don’t let me die and I’ll never be naughty again.”   The thought of Miss Lane being so close gave me some comfort.

The next day I was rushed to hospital where I slowly recovered.  Of course I did not keep the promise I had made God!   I must have given everyone a scare, in particular my mother,  and I was thoroughly spoiled.  It must have been Easter time as I remember being given a huge Easter egg and my mother  keeping me supplied with all my favourite comics.

I also suffered from sore throats and had tonsillitis several times, and finally had my tonsils removed.  It was shortly after this that I found I could no longer see the blackboard.  My eyes were examined and I was given glasses for short sight.  It seemed like a miracle when I put them on and everything became sharp and clear again, instead of blurred.

During this time I also remember that I was given a small copy of the St. James Bible by the music teacher, Miss Sewell.  She must have been worried that I was becoming a little heathen!  Inside on the front page she wrote “Blackdown 1939”,  “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever.”  I still have that Bible today.  I probably have to thank her for the fact that when I was older I began to read the Bible, as I was very fond of poetry, and remembered it often in later years.

As well as being the house mistress, Miss Lane was the elocution mistress.  She had the gift of drawing out whatever there was in a child.  She certainly succeeded in drawing me out and I developed a talent for elocution. I was entered for the County competitions and always won a prize, usually Silver, never Gold, as I was too shy in the orals.  I loved reciting verse, as I was able to express all my imagination and completely forget myself.  When a School Play was mooted, Miss Lane gave me the leading part, the role of the Prince.  How exciting that was!  It never happened, I don't remember why, and soon afterwards I was to leave Blackdown.

I have often wondered how my life would have turned out had I been able to stay at Blackdown.  But that that is next chapter in my story.