Monday, 2 December 2013

(.... till I end my song)


            My mother and I returned to London in the autumn of 1952.  This time we were going to live here together, and we had to hunt around for a place to live in.  We would stay here for the next seven years and during that period we moved several times.  First we found a small flat in Kensington.  We found it a bit small and we moved to Thurloe Square.  Here we had a basement flat which was better, but rather dark.  We moved again to a flat on Clapham Common, which was larger but cheaper.  It was modern and bright and we stayed here for some time, although it took longer to get to work.  Our final move was to a rented room in Hampstead.  The room was in a large and comfortable flat owned by a Jewish couple.  We shared the kitchen and bathroom with the owners.  We very rarely met up and we both liked the location, which was close to the Heath.

         I was still bent on finding work in publishing, which was probably why I took a job working for Kegan & Paul, Trench Trubner, Oriental booksellers.  Books was surely the next best thing.  I recently came across some writing of mine about it.  I had written quite a lot.  Evidently I found it intriguing.  Here are a few extracts:

         “The shop stood on a corner, a tall four-storeyed building, grey and rather shabby, with dingy green painting which was slightly flaking off.  It was distinguished by a grilled doorway, and by its many windows, three on each side and Gothic arched in shape.  As you looked upwards, they became dustier and piles of books could be dimly seen inside, and propped up on the window sills.  They looked as though they had been there a long time and you could almost see the dust settling on them.  The rest of the room faded into greyness.

         It was winter when I first came, and bitterly cold.  I walked through the shop and into the back part, where a man and a girl were sitting.  They both looked up but neither of them said a word.  I asked if I could see Mr. Coles, the manager, and added, tentatively, that I had come to work there.”

         Mr. Coles was a big, loud man with a florid complexion.  He and I shared an office, he had a big rolltop desk by the window, whilst I had a much smaller one in the corner with my Remington typewriter on it and a stenciling machine at the side. There were books everywhere, on the floor, on the table, on both desks, as well as piles of correspondence.  Here is what I wrote about him.

         “I soon discovered that Mr. Coles had had many secretaries, both male and female.  My predecessor had been a man.  Mr. Coles had hoped that a man would get through his letters more quickly.  It was a vain hope.  I could soon see why.  There was a vast backlog of unanswered letters which had been accumulating over the past thirty years.  Mr. Coles’ way of dictating was discursive and leisurely.  His letters reflected his mood, they were not business letters, couched in formal terms, but personal and creative letters. 

         Whenever a letter could not be found, one assumed that it would be found on one of the piles on his desk.  Some of the letters were seven or eight years old, some four to five years old, but the main bulk was about a year old.  Such were the dilatory ways of the antique book trade, where some learned museum would suddenly unearth an invoice ten years of age and realize that they had not paid it.  Books would be sent a year or two after the original enquiry and letters answered, if the customer were lucky, within a couple of months.

         One might imagine from all this that the business of the shop was conducted in a leisurely and carefree old world manner.  Far from it.  Time always pressed on Mr. Coles as he rushed from one, two or three jobs to the next one.  When he was dictating, he was constantly being interrupted by his brother wanting him to price a book, or by the telephone.  With his feet up on the desk he would embark on a long conversation with Mr. Locke, the Secretary of the firm, a man of his own intelligence, and Labour to boot.  Many wisecracks, mainly political and economic, would fly back and forth between them.

         By this time it would be teatime.  Teatime was sacrosanct and was the one time when Mr. Coles would allow everyone a little relaxation.  He enjoyed his tea.  He would wipe his damp brow and lean back with a sigh.  The rest of us would congregate down in the basement, where there was a coal fire.  We would warm our backsides, eat our chocolate digestives or Petit Beurre biscuits and chat. Sometimes this extended to half an hour, when Mr. Coles would suddenly appear and we would rapidly disperse.”

         From where I sat, facing a dingy yellow, stained wall, I received all the draughts coming from the front door, and listened to the interminable conversations between Miss Mayhew and Mr. Transfield in the next office.  They were as different as chalk and cheese.  Transfield, who looked after the accounts, wore beautifully tailored suits, was fastidious and very neat.  He was logical and aseptic.  Miss Mayhew always looked rather grubby and one sometimes caught a glimpse of a dirty petticoat.  She had a wild imagination and loved to recount her dreams.  She was very keen on interior decorating and I learnt a great deal on how to stain floors, board up chimneys and make shelves, all in the cheapest possible manner.

         For a time I developed a slight crush on Transfield, but when he did not turn up for a date I discovered that he was a mother’s boy, and it came to a early end.  This did not stop him from drooling over me when we all went on our annual outing together, and he had drunk too many beers.

         He did not endear himself to me when my dear friend Kate, from Mousehole days, came in to see me.  She created quite a stir as she swept into the shop, dressed in a bright flowing skirt, long ropes of  beads, huge earrings, several jangling bangles, and her red hair.  She charmed little Mr. Coles Junior.  “Da-arling” she said when she saw me.  I heard Transfield mutter:  “The poor man’s Rita Hayworth.”

          I was not unhappy here and I was amused by the eccentricities of the staff, but I still felt that  I should be keeping an eye out for a job in publishing. I applied for a job in a small publishing firm which sounded promising.  I had become quite fond of Mr. Coles by now, he was in his way a kindly man, and 1left with some sadness.

         So I started my job in the new firm.  It consisted of one man and myself. I do not remember the name of it and I do not think it any longer exists.


Monday, 11 November 2013

(.... till I end my song)

                                       AND MYSELF – PART I

            Up until the age of four I was very happy.  My mother told me that I was a happy, gurgling baby.  She used to be stopped in the street by passers-by who wanted to praise her ‘beautiful’ baby.  We were very close, we were bonded together, just the two of us.  I knew nothing else, I did not need anything else, nor did I want anything else.  We were complete.

         My mother made me beautiful little smocked dresses, with puffed sleeves;  she made me a winter coat and a bonnet edged with fur.  She was a comforting, warm presence in my life.  I used to tell her how much I loved her:  deeper than the sea, higher than the sky, wider than the universe. I would stretch my arms up high and wide to illustrate.

         We lived first in Nice for about three years, then we moved to l’Abbaye, a convent/pension by the sea in northern Brittany.  My mother told me how I used to have long conversations with a beautiful Being, dressed in beautiful clothes.  He kept telling me that ‘everything would be all right in the end’ and I would repeat this to my mother.  Again, we had a very pleasant life.  I had plenty of small friends to play with;  my mother made her own friends, kept busy with her sewing and reading and social life  We were relaxed and happy.

         All this changed when I was four and my mother lost all her money in the Depression.  My mother now had to earn her living and I was left with the nuns at the Abbaye where we were staying. They promised my mother that they would look after me.  I do not know what explanations were given to me, or how I responded and I have absolutely no memories of that time or of any distress.  I began to live my life with the nuns.

         I remember the sister who looked after me, Sister Yvonne.  She was quite young, apple cheeked and cheerful.  She did all the cooking at the Abbaye and I would spend hours in the kitchen, watching her roasting meat, making puddings, white meringues in custard (floating island), serving up ice cream  in small, shell shaped glass dishes.

         I remember Sister Marie who helped Joseph in the garden.  She was tiny, with graying ginger hair and a striped apron tied round her black skirt.  She was always smiling and kind.

         Sister Marguerite I was afraid of.  She was ugly, with a sallow complexion and a large mole on her chin, with black hairs sticking out of it.  She was the one who bathed me in my combinations in the tin bath once a week.  She would bend over me and I would gaze, captive and fascinated, at her mole.

         Mademoiselle Abilly, the Mother Superior, was another formidable figure.  Very upright and stately in her long black skirts, she always looked quite severe.  I was in awe of her.  On one occasion my mother had sent me a parcel and I had to go and see her.  She removed a beautiful dress in royal blue cotton and told me that I would not be able to wear it, as it had a divided skirt, and little girls should not wear trousers.  I saw it disappear again inside its wrappings, with a feeling of helplessness and dismay.

         The other thing that disappeared was my beautiful, china doll with blue eyes that opened and shut;  she had long, black lashes.  I searched for it everywhere, but the nuns remained mute.  I believe they removed it because it had no clothes.

         I have no memory of any unkindness on the part of the nuns.  I know Sister Yvonne was devoted to me.  It was a strange life for a small child.  I remember pacing around the garden with the nuns, telling my beads.  I had been given a beautiful, small rosary of my own.  I do know that I picked up some very strange ideas about the body.

         There were no other children to interact with and I became very withdrawn and reliant upon myself.  Perhaps I was still having conversations with the beautiful Being. 

When I was five I started going to the village school.  We were given pleated overalls made from black serge.  I had to walk up the hill past the Curé’s house to the school, a two roomed building with a playground opposite the church.  My main memory is of being rapped on the knuckles by the teacher who was trying to teach me to write with my right hand.  I am still left handed in everything else.  Nothing was known in those days of the damage this can do to the child.

So when my mother took me away from the convent at the age of seven, I was a very different little girl to the one she had left behind.  I was withdrawn, very suspicious, passive, showing little emotion and very, very shy.  I spent all my time reading.  I think I had become pathologically shy and very afraid of people in general.

How did my mother cope with this strange, new child.  She was always telling people how nervous I was, and this stayed with me as I grew up.  My mother and I were alone in the world.  My mother still had one friend, the ever faithful Walter Tuck.  How much did she confide in him, I wonder?  On my eighth birthday he gave me a copy of The Water Babies, which I read through and through, even the most difficult words. I believe he tried to make friends with me, but I remained aloof.

My mother’s situation was very different now.  She was working hard and was very often tired.  She must have been worried about the future, about money, about my education.  She had always been slightly deaf, due to her contracting measles as an adult, and this was now getting worse.

We were now living in Jersey and my mother was working as a cook housekeeper for a large family with three growing boys, of whom I was terrified.  My mother was no longer the easy relaxed woman she had been, and I was no longer the trusting, confiding child. Nonetheless, I clung to my mother throughout my childhood.  Even though our relationship had so changed, she was still my bulwark against the world.  I was like a small animal, staying close to her and burrowing into her side.

I can only pay homage to my mother, to her strength of character, to the love she gave me, in spite of everything.  As I grew older, our relationship inevitably changed and we grew still further apart.

(to be continued)

Saturday, 24 August 2013

(... till I end my song)

                        MOUSEHOLE, KATIE AND ART

         My mother and I took the early morning train down to Penzance.  I sat watching the landscape slipping past us.  We began to get glimpses of the sea.  I felt the excitement growing in me, I have always loved the sea.  My relief at leaving London and Michael behind me was huge and I felt the tensions of the past year slowly evaporating.  It seemed that I was embarking on a whole new phase in my life.

         Major Kelly, the owner of The Lobster Pot met us in Penzance.  He was a pleasant, affable man in his late forties, casually dressed.  On the drive to Mousehole he told us he was a retired Army Major.  He had been able to buy the hotel with his annuity.  His aim was to turn it into a first class hotel which would attract an exclusive clientele, and he was especially interested in good food.  This seemed right up my mother’s street.

         We drove along the seafront at Penzance, lined with big hotels, then we came to Newlyn, a large fishing port in those days.  I loved all the fishing boats in the harbour,  with a sprinkling of sailing boats and yachts.  There were lobster pots and nets spread across the walls, and a strong smell of fish.

         Then we were in Mousehole, going down a steep, narrow hill,  twisting roads leading us past the small harbour and we were there.  A low white building, with small windows  outlined in blue.  There were window boxes filled with flowers, and a blue door  above which a painted board said:  The Lobster Pot Hotel - Proprietor John Kelly.  It was enchanting.

         The inside was as attractive;  salmon pink walls, antique pieces of furniture, highly polished.  Major Kelly showed us the dining room, round oak tables, copper candlesticks, more polished copper on the walls.   Large sliding doors  opened out onto a verandah with a blue and white striped awning and a view over the harbour.  There were flowers everywhere.  He was clearly very proud of it all.

         We met Mrs Kelly and Henry, a black spaniel.  She was a very pretty woman with blonde bobbed hair and was called Cinders.  She showed us our rooms, my mother was going to be in the hotel just above the kitchen, and I was to sleep in one of  the nearby cottages.  I loved my little room, it was small, with a bed, one easy chair, chest of drawers and built in cupboard.  There was  a table and chair by the window which looked out onto a narrow lane.  It felt very cosy.

         It all started off well enough, but soon my mother started complaining to me about the Major.

         “He’s too interfering” she said, “after all, I know what I’m doing after all these years.”  My mother had always been given a free hand in all the schools she had worked in, but she and Major Kelly did not see eye to eye.  She had her own ideas and he had his.  I looked on with some anxiety.  They had many arguments.  My mother finally gave in her notice, as she did not feel she could work with him.  I was dismayed, I had settled in and I loved the place.  We decided that I would stay on and my mother would  look for another job;  she soon found one, cooking in a nursing home further along the coast.

         I was on my own and I began to enjoy my freedom and the feeling of independence it gave me.  This was when I got to know Katie.

         I had been fascinated by Katie from afar.  She was tall and glamorous, with flame red hair.  Outgoing and extrovert, she always seemed to see the funny side of life.  She swirled around in long black skirts - it was the time of the New Look and longer skirts - wore dangling earrings and long beads.  She was in charge of the dining room, the drinks and the waitresses.   She had great warmth and a quick wit, and the most tremendous energy.  She would be on her knees scrubbing the floor one minute, and the next she would be serving the drinks in the dining room.

         Once my mother had gone, she took me under her wing.  Perhaps she thought I would be lonely.  She invited me to her bedroom, where we would have a cup of tea and she chatted about her life.  She was the sister of Kenneth More, the film actor, she told me.  She talked a lot about her daughter,  Juliet, whom she adored.  Before she was born she saw God coming towards her carrying her baby in his arms.  I laughed.

         “Was he an old man with a long beard?”

She rebuked me.  “I’m perfectly serious.” 

She often talked about Jesus and the Man upstairs, as she called him.  She felt she was looked after and wanted me to believe too, but I had no kind of religious faith in those days, and was simply amused by her.

         She asked me questions about myself and I told her all about Michael.  It was a relief to be able to tell someone, as I never talked to my mother about him.  A few days later she showed me an advert in one of the daily papers.  It said:   “Daphne, where are you?” and it was signed Michael. 

         “Do you think its him?”

         I pooh-poohed the idea.  I didn’t want to know.  Most definitely not.

         “You are not a mouse,” she said to me once.

 I often remember those words.  She saw beyond my reticence and shyness to the person I really was.  We were very different people, yet there was always a deep bond and understanding between us.  She would play a very important part in my life from then on.

         I loved Mousehole.  It was still a fishing village  then, with real fishermen propping up the walls of the pub and leaning against the harbour rails, looking out to sea.  I loved the narrow winding streets, the small harbour with its bobbing boats.  On my days off I would take the bus to Porthminster beach,  with a picnic lunch and a book.  Porthminster had a long sandy beach, with at one end the Minack Theatre, where performances of Shakespeare were put on in the open air.

 I remember that year as a succession of long sunny days.  I began to feel relaxed and happy.

Quite why I started making little sketches in my room in my free time I do not know.  I had bought myself a small sketchbook and some watercolour paints.  I had never done anything like it before,  although I had enjoyed copying paintings.  There was something about Mousehole which inspired me, and I wanted to get it down on paper.  I showed them to Katie and she liked them.

“They’re very funny.  Let’s do a book together.  I’ll write the words and you can do the drawings.”

So we started our book.  I drew Katie in London, dreaming of far away places.  I drew her in Mousehole with the admiring fishermen.  I drew the little bus going through the narrow streets of Newlyn.  I drew the maids, Sylvia, Gwen and Nita, the cook and mad Mattie in the kitchen, Mrs. Kneebone and Doreen who did the cleaning.  I drew Major Kelly and Cinders, welcoming their guests at the door with Henry, and Major Kelly playing Hamlet, and Cinders doing splendid things with flowers.  I drew squiggly little drawings in black ink and coloured them with watercolours.  I could not really draw, but somehow I was able to capture the quirkiness and the magic of that little village.  I have never done anything like it again. *

The summer passed quickly and I was very happy.  I was tucked away in a small office in the courtyard and I enjoyed the work.  I found Major  Kelly a pleasant and kind employer.  His wife seemed more distant, but I had very little to do with her.  The Cornish people were all very friendly to me, and I felt accepted by them.  Kate, I found, had her dark days when she would not talk and the maids told each other she was “in one of her moods.”  I was to find out much more about these later on.

I must have seen my mother from time to time and I kept in touch with her by writing.

 It was time to think of the future and I  decided to try and find a similar job in London.  I wrote to several London hotels asking for work as a receptionist.  I always got the same reply: they only employed men in that position.  Someone made the suggestion of an air hostess.  In those days it seemed like a glamorous job, plenty of travel and, of course, languages would be useful.  I had not much of an idea what an air hostess did, but I sent off an application.  I was called for an interview.   I had to face  an intimidating row of three men and a woman.

 “What is a pink gin?”  I was asked.  I had no idea.

“How would you deal with a drunken  passenger?”  Again, I did not have a clue.

This was clearly not a job for me.  I was politely dismissed. 

The summer came to an end.  My mother and I prepared to return to London. I promised to keep in touch with Katie, and I said farewell to my Cornish friends.  I have kept a warm place in my heart for Mousehole ever since.

*  We tried repeatedly over the years to get our little book published, and   finally, by one of those quirks of fate, it was published in 2008 under the title “A Small Hotel in Cornwall – The Lobster Pot”.  It was published by Diana Ayres of Trungle Books, Cornwall.

(... till I end my song)


            Now I have to talk about Michael.  I can feel the resistance in me, I keep putting it off, but I must do it.  I know it will release me, from what I do not know.  I have not thought about him for many years.  I have tucked away the memories deep inside of me, but of course they are still there, and now they are shouting to come out.

         When my mother and I fled to Cornwall, to Mousehole, early in the summer of 1952 - fled, that is the word, certainly for me - I wanted to put behind me all that had happened in the year since I met Michael.  I have talked to no-one ever since about Michael.  No-one that is, except Kate, whom I met at the Lobster Pot in Mousehole.  She became like a surrogate mother to me.  I could never talk to my own mother about love, men and sex;  these were all taboo subjects, just as any mention of my father was, except on the one occasion when she had written to me about him.  But I could talk to Kate.  Kate, with her warm heart, embraced everybody,  just as she embraced me.  And I needed to talk about it, just that once.

         When she kept telling me that she was seeing these adverts in one of the dailies, the Daily Mail or Star, asking for Daphne:  “Daphne, where are you?”  from Michael,  I pooh-poohed it, saying “Oh, they’re certainly not for me,”  and I closed my mind to the very possibility of it.  I did not want to know.  I was much too frightened.

         Now, all these years later, I have come to believe that it was indeed Michael, and that he was looking for me.  I am no longer frightened and he must have been dead for many years. He would more likely than not have died an early death.  Looking back, I have so many more insights into the whole affair, that at last I feel I am ready to write about it.

(to be continued)  This piece will be inserted later

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

"till I end my song ..."


         Was my mother worried, I wonder?  She was a great worrier, and here I was going off to London on my own, without even having a job to go to.  I have no recollection of it, so it may be that she kept her worries to herself.  I was nearly twenty three years old and as green and callow as they come.

         I found a woman’s hostel in Bayswater, not far from Hyde Park, where I could board and get an evening meal.  There were mostly elder women living there, and one or two younger ones.  I never got to know them very well.  One was an alcoholic who, from to time, became drunk.  She would become garrulous and maudlin.  I felt very uncomfortable when this happened, and sad for her.

         I applied for several secretarial jobs in the publishing world.  I went to see a lady at the Publishers’ Association, which produced a weekly journal for booksellers.  I saw a grey haired, rather severe looking woman sitting behind a large desk, piles of publications lying everywhere, and shelves of large, forbidding reference books behind her.  My heart sank.

         “Tell me about yourself,” she said, in quite a kindly way.

         I froze.  I had no idea what to say. I had nothing to say.

         She dispatched me briefly and swiftly.

         I found a job, working for a company which published magazines dealing with mechanical engineering and related subjects.  I was in a large shorthand and typing pool.  I spent the first day copy typing a document, rather badly.  I hated it.  I had no idea what I was typing.  On the second day I was called to take some shorthand.  I realized straight away that my shorthand was inadequate, and I was unable to guess the technical language.  On the third day I was given the sack and told, quite kindly, that I should look for a typist’s job.

         I felt humiliated and deflated.  Here I was with a degree and it seemed that all I was good for was a job as a typist.

         Luckily for me, it was a time when jobs were plentiful.  I found another job, this time working in the Library of a Petrochemicals company, which was located on Piccadilly.  Not ideal, but at least it was in a nice part of London and easy to get to from my hostel.

         The job consisted of making card indexes for the books in the Library.  I had to type out several cards for each book, so that they could be filed in the appropriate box.  The Librarian was an Austrian Jewess.  She was a formidable lady who completely terrified me.  The cards had to be typed with meticulous accuracy, every dot and comma and capital letter in the right place.  Nothing in my entire life had prepared me for this.  My mind seemed to turn to jelly.  Time and again the cards were thrown back at me, incorrectly typed, I never seemed to get them right.  My working days became a nightmare.

         I endured it for about six months and then gave in my notice before I was sacked.  The other staff, who were always very nice to me, told me when I left they had been afraid I was going to have a nervous breakdown. 

         I can’t remember whether I confided at all in my mother about my problems.  We never seemed to talk very much about intimate things, so I probably kept it all from her.  She must have worried, I’m sure.  She was a great worrier.

         So I struggled on, and I soon found another job, this time working for a large wholesale bookseller called Simpkin Marshall, owned by the notorious Robert Maxwell.  I was to be a secretary to the Publicity Manager, Mr. Brown.  This seemed like a step in the right direction.

         Mr. Brown was a mild mannered man, quite laid back, with large, gentle brown eyes, and not at all intimidating.  I began to relax in this undemanding atmosphere.  I had been going to evening classes in shorthand, so had slightly improved this skill.  Fortunately for me, Mr. Brown dictated at such a pace that I could get most of it down in longhand.  Every month we published a list of new publications, mostly fiction, much more in my line.  Mr. Brown allowed me to write the captions for these books.  This was not very difficult, but I was pleased and felt that at last I was getting onto the path I had planned for myself.

         Quite early on, whilst I was at Petrochemicals on Piccadilly, I had met an artist called Michael and this relationship probably helped to sustain me during my ups and downs in the working world.  I will talk about Michael in the next chapter                                                      

"till I end my song ..."



            My mother was still working in Stratford-on-Avon and after university I joined her at the Arden Hotel.  Miss Watney offered me a part-time job working in the office as a receptionist.

         I had decided that I would try to find work in the publishing world, with the aim of becoming an editor.  To gain entry into that world, I would need some secretarial skills.  I would still need those skills if I wanted to use my languages.

         Just down the road from the Arden there lived an elderly lady who was teaching shorthand and typing from her own home.  To call it a school would be a bit of a misnomer.  The typing classes were held in the garden in a greenhouse, large enough to hold several desks, chairs and typewriters, and this was where I would go every morning for the next few months. For our shorthand lessons we had to go up to Mrs. Ellis’s bedroom as she was bedridden and we would sit by her bedside with our notebook and pencil.

         I cannot say that I found this an ideal arrangement.  It was all so haphazard and there was no discipline at all.  Miss Palmer, who taught us typing, was a woman without any authority.  The other students were all school leavers around sixteen, keen enough to learn, as this was to be their livelihood.  I had no motivation as I was not interested and I did not apply myself.  So I never learnt to touch type, though I did eventually pass a test at sixty words per minute, and I never got a shorthand qualification.

         In the afternoons I helped out in the office, usually on my own.  To begin with I was very nervous, but gradually I got used to it and found that I could cope quite well.  I took phone calls, made reservations and dealt with the guests;  it was largely a matter of commons sense.  The variety of the guests made the job interesting.  I remember hearing Kenneth Tynan, the theatre and film critic, complaining bitterly as he was coming downstairs, that he had not been on the scene when the Scone of Scotland had been stolen.  Miss Watney would come fussing in from time to time and this always made me nervous.  Fortunately, she did not take a fancy to me, as she did one of the other girls, whom she tried to embrace in the stationery cupboard.

         In the evenings I sometimes helped the other waitresses in the dining room.  I always enjoyed this job:  the physical activity, calling out the orders, waiting for my mother and Miss Watney to dish up the plates, Miss Watney always painfully slow, but she was the boss and we had to curb our impatience.

         I got to know the other staff again, who were always nice to me.  I was particularly fascinated by Snow.  She was a widow in her fifties, a very intelligent woman with a sardonic wit.  She had short, crinkly grey hair and her face was creased with laughter lines.  She talked to me as her equal, which I liked and I longed to be like her.  There was another widow called Beck. She was kind and gentle, but there was something very sad about her, and I learned later that she ended up in a mental home. The only real waitress was a woman called Kent. She was tall, with a large bosom, and a beautiful, upright posture. She had snow white hair which she wore piled up like a meringue. I think she rather looked down upon the rest of us.  In my callow youth I looked down on her.

         Time passed, Christmas came and went, and at some point early in 1951 I decided that it was time for me to look for a proper job.  Armed with my flimsy secretarial skills and a first class degree I moved to London.  I had no-one to advise me about the realities of life.  They say that ignorance is bliss.  I was certainly blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Last year at Liverpool


            My mother had a new job working in a hotel at Stratford-on-Avon.   She must have had another row with Miss Barrows.  So that is where I went on my return from Spain.

            The Arden Hotel was a very pleasant, old fashioned hotel right opposite the theatre, down by the river.  It belonged to Miss Watney, a somewhat vague and elderly spinster in her seventies. Miss Watney was a lesbian and it was her partner, called Swoff, who was several years younger, who really ran the place.  Miss Watney liked to have what she called ‘lady’ staff.  All the waitresses were ‘lady waitresses’ and my mother was the ‘lady cook housekeeper.’  I do not think this policy extended to the chambermaids.

            I was going to earn my keep by working part time as a waitress.  I was quite used to doing holiday work.   Like most of the university students I had found jobs working at the till in a restaurant, making cardboard boxes in an ice cream factory, or slicing vast quantities of bread in a mental home.

            Waiting was rather more fun.  I enjoyed the work, which was varied and active and I soon got to know the other waitresses, who were a disparate group of middle aged women, mostly on their uppers, who had taken on the work as a temporary measure.  They were all known  by their surnames:  Snow, Beck, Kent,  Dixon and Fraser.  Fraser, whose name was also Daphne, was only three years older than I was, so we became friends and I know her to this day.

            There were many interesting guests.  One or two of the actors stayed there:  Leon Quartermaine, well known then, no longer so today;  Tanya Moiseiwitsch, a stage designer and her assistant;   theatre critics and University professors came for two or three nights.  The actors John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft often came over for lunch.  I remember the thrill of handing Gielgud his coffee.  They became the focus of much gossip amongst us and we lived vicariously in the light of their celebrity. 

Fraser developed a crush on Gielgud and fantasized that it was reciprocated.  We did not know then of his sexual orientation, of course.  Fraser was very proud of the fact that she was a descendant of Sarah Siddons, the 18th century actress, painted by Thomas Gainsborough and many others.  She did, in fact, bear a resemblance to her and was a striking looking girl, with dark brows, an aquiline nose and a cupid’s bow mouth.  She  had also inherited her acting skills as she was a very  good mimic, and often made us laugh repeating the conversations she overheard.

            Another guest for a short while was Christopher Fry, the poet and playwright.  I was fascinated to hear him say, at breakfast one morning, that he could never work when his mother was around.  All these things fed into my growing aspirations.

            My mother was not enjoying her job very much.  The work was demanding, and she did not get on well with her assistant, a rather sour faced woman with a Domestic Science degree who did everything by the book.  They often clashed, and my mother would become very upset.  I hated these occasions as they made me feel very uncomfortable and I never knew what to say to her.  Fortunately, Miss Watney appreciated my mother’s cooking, as she received many compliments about the food and so she usually took her side.

            Another of the perks we received for working at the Arden was free tickets to the theatre productions, and  I saw John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft  several times in King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew. Another play I remember was Measure for Measure, with Barbara Jefford.           
I had not liked Shakespeare much when I was at school, but seeing these great actors really made me appreciate him.


            The summer was over and it was time to go back to Liverpool for our final year.

            I did not believe in a God or in any religion.  My philosophy at this time was that life was all about developing oneself and whatever talents one had to their full extent.

 I was still trying to write:  I had embarked on a short story correspondence course for magazines, but found this did not fire my imagination and I gave it up. I had thoughts about journalism, but realized I did not have the confidence to succeed in that cut throat profession.  I was still writing poetry.  It was round this time that I wrote an introspective poem:

                        I?  What am I?
                        A net of nerves, joints, sinews,
                        Bound in a framework of bone and skin,
                        A mouth to swallow meat and swill down slops -
                        An eye to see and not perceive
                        An ear to hear and to forget -
                        In short a body - an object movable and
                        Visible in space  - breathing and expelling air,
                        Endowed with senses and with sensibilities -
                        Ah – there’s the rub.  For you seem to have learnt
                        The secret of living - but I
                        Slip up against the sores of the world.
                        Yet there’s something in me, elusive
                        And feather light - unseen  - unfelt – unknowable
                        Tender as a green shoot and shrinking
                        As a snail without a shell - ready to die
                        At will and always being born again -
                        An insubstantial - inconsequential - timid, moody thing,
                        That I would be willingly be rid of
                        And yet might tell me what I am.

            I never showed this to anybody.  Who was ‘you?’  I think I was probably thinking of Jean, who was going through life so light heartedly.  Her attitude to life was creative and imaginative.

            During all the years at Liverpool I had scarcely had any contact with any of the men, apart from our tutors.  I remember a bearded, intellectual looking man trying to get into conversation by
asking me what I was reading, but after my monosyllabic replies he soon gave up and retreated. Men almost seemed to come from another planet.   I still felt very self conscious and unsure, which made me very uptight and stiff, and totally unable to have a relaxed conversation.  I was only at ease when I was by myself.  I could always write what I was feeling, but talk about it, never.  Probably, to most people, I appeared very standoffish and unfriendly, but it was entirely due to fear.  Our knowledge of psychology is so much greater nowadays.   I must have used an enormous amount of energy to keep up this front, but it was a matter of self preservation and the only way I knew.

            The year sped by and it was time to take our final exams.  After all the hard work we could relax.  Both Mair and Jean had decided to be teachers and were going to do a teacher training course.  I knew I did not want to teach, I was quite sure I would never be able to keep order in class.  I remembered some of my own teachers, those who could and who could not keep order.  For those who could not it was a joyless task.  Apart from teaching, there were very few alternatives other than taking a secretarial course.   There was no Careers advisor in those days and very little help of any kind.

            The word went round like wildfire:  “Results are up.”  We all raced down to the main college Hall where the results were posted on a large board.  There at the top of the board I saw my name, the only one:  Daphne Radenhurst – First class General Honours BA degree.  I think I was as surprised as everyone else.

 Then came Second class, 1 and 2.  Mair got a 2.1 and Jean had a 2.2.  We were all relieved and delighted to have got through.  I felt that Jean should have got a higher grade, as she had real originality, but that didn’t necessarily give you good exam results.

I wrote at once to my mother who, naturally, was thrilled and very proud.  She came up to Liverpool to see me receive my degree, dressed in a hired black robe and a mortarboard.  It was a proud moment.

It  really seemed now that the world was my oyster.  How little did I know!




Sunday, 31 March 2013



            These are a few extracts from my letters to my mother:  they show some of the difficulties I had on traveling with an Aliens Certificate, reflections on Franco’s Spain and some insights into the character of Allison Peers.

         “Pension Juanista, Sanchez Toca, S. Sebastian   July 1949

         This part of the journey was the worst because we just couldn’t sleep and of course the French kept up a chatter all night long.  We got to Hendaye about 12h  and here I had a nerve racking moment because the man kept my passport for ages,
and finally said I hadn’t got a visa, so I said ‘oui, oui’ and pointed to the Spanish visa, then he said I hadn’t got a French visa, so I shouted ‘oui’ again, which was all I could say, and pointed, then he said I couldn’ go back to France again, so I showed him my transit visa, at which he seemed to agree that I was all right.  By that time I was feeling quite weak.  It was certainly a blessing I went to Birmingham, or I would probably have been stranded.”  (What this refers to I do not know.)

From the same letter:

“The regime here is noticeably strict, there are a lot of soldiers on guard all over the place, they patrol the post office and look at what you’re writing, and there seem to be a lot of them lounging about with nothing to do. I believe
the people don’t like it at all, they have no freedom of
         speech and are repressed all the time.”

         In a later letter I wrote:

         “I think the Spaniards must be about the noisiest race on earth.  Every morning
          about 7 I get woken up by a noise which sounds as if ten thousand cans are
          being thrown onto the pavement.  This morning I investigated and found that
          they were emptying all the rubbish bins which people had left out on the 
           pavement.  How they made quite such a noise I don’t know.  When they talk 
          they absolutely shout, you think there’s a crowd of people outside your  
          window, you go out and see two old women having an amicable 

         And in another letter:

         “Then on Friday, what do you think?  Franco arrived for his summer holiday.  Terrific preparations for his arrival.  Thousands of flags along the streets,
all red and yellow, and on the morning of his arrival a megaphone was set
up in the street, where we went and plonked ourselves about an hour before
so as to get a good view.  The megaphone was blaring away with popular
songs, and every now and then a voice would say Captain General Franco
is now at such and such a place;  he is approaching the outskirts of the city;
he is actually in the city.  It got quite exciting, like a horse race.  Then you’d
get a record of people shouting:  Franco!  Franco!  It was all designed to work
the people up, for although there were lots of people there they didn’t seeover enthusiastic.  In fact when Franco finally arrived we were more enthusiastic than they were.  Apart from a few half hearted shouts of ‘Franco, Franco’ nothing else happened, nothing like the roar that greets our Royal Family, so I don’t think he can be very popular.”

I was very politically innocent in those days.

In another letter I refer to the people in our class and Professor Allison Peers.

“There is one very odd couple, an old woman of about 70, who comes from Malvern, and her niece who is a little dwarf about 4ft high and exactly like a
monkey. She has a dry shriveled up face like a nut, and she seems to have a
malicious pleasure in annoying everybody. In class she acts as if the whole thing were being conducted for her sake, and as she doesn’t know a thing everyone else gets furious.  She has her match however in Allison Peers, the
other day he was saying something in Spanish and she asked him to translate
it;  he just bellowed ‘NO’ at her and cowed her into silence for the rest of the
lesson. We think that being so small she wants to be noticed and so makes
herself a nuisance.

We have found out a few things about Peers since we’ve been here. Apparently he’s a Catholic, for somebody saw him at Mass and he acts more
Spanish than the Spanish themselves.  We think he’s probably been out here
so much that he’s imbibed more of the Spanish spirit than the English.
Anyhow he’s completely different out here.” 

 (In what way I’m not quite sure now.)