Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Friends, holidays and cookbooks

                                   FRIENDS, HOLIDAYS AND COOKBOOKS


My mother continued cooking, finding small jobs cooking an evening meal for an elderly couple, or looking after an invalid lady, or, at one time, cooking the lunch in a small Montessori School.  She had always collected recipes, and she had several folders of them by now.  She now decided that she would try and write a cookery book for schools.  She spent hours sorting out all her recipes into different categories, we approached several publishers and finally one of them. Dennis Dobson, agreed to publish it.

 I reluctantly set to and typed the whole book, Miss Barrows wrote a glowing Preface, and in 1955 the book was published!  It was nicely presented, with a cream binding, and an attractively designed cover showing fish and vegetables in blue, white and yellow.  It was called Better Cooking for Large Numbers. It did quite well and a few thousand copies were sold, for which my mother received royalties.

All this helped to augment our income.  I was earning £6 a week at the time, not a great deal, and I began to take on extra work in the evenings.  I did all kinds of work, as an usherette in the cinema and the theatre, serving out food in a Bridge Club.  Through a secretarial agency in Sloane Square I found some very interesting jobs.  One of them was working for Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s daughter.  My job consisted of writing out cheques for bills which she then signed.  She, meanwhile would walk round the room with a glass of whiskey in her hand, talking into the phone, sometimes quoting her father’s speeches.  It was obvious there was no-one at the other end.  At the end of the evening she would escort me fondly to the door, swaying on her stockinged feet.  I liked her and I felt sorry for her.  I was not religious at the time, and yet I found myself sending up little prayers for her.

Completely different, and again famous, was Father Trevor Huddleston.  He had returned to England after being thrown out of South Africa for his support of the black people.  He needed help to answer the deluge of correspondence that he was receiving.  He was tall and stern, and I was very much in awe of him, but I greatly admired him for his commitment.  I would take piles of letters home with me and type the replies on my little Olivetti portable.  After I finished working for him, I sent him a donation and received a thank you letter which I still I have to this day.

All this extra work enabled us to go on holiday.  We went several times to Spain, which was probably the cheapest country at that time.  We visited Madrid, and Majorca, where I completely fell in love with flamenco dancing, and once we stayed in Deya, where we stayed in a guest house run by Robert Graves’ son.  I remember lugging all my painting gear with me, though I did very little painting.  These visits abroad were exciting and gave us a glimpse into another way of life and another cuisine.  My mother was never happier than when she was traveling.

Since I had produced my sketches in Mousehole, I had been going to evening art classes in London.  In those days evening classes were free.  I remember going to St. Martin’s School of Art.  I was always disappointed with my work, I never seemed to be able to reproduce the free, spontaneous  drawings I had achieved in Cornwall.  My drawings seemed to me to be wooden and lifeless.  Nevertheless, my interest in art had been awoken and in my free time I visited all the galleries in London and all the exhibitions going.  In this way I was slowly educating myself and learning about what made a good painting.

I also loved the cinema and the theatre.  My mother would sometimes come with me to the cinema, but because of her increasing deafness she would never go the theatre.  I remember going to see Laurence Olivier as Othello.  He was my hero at that time, and I waited at the Stage Door to get his autograph.  I saw many other good plays, Waiting for Godot was one.  Another play was called Five Finger Exercise by Peter Shaffer, who later went on to write Amadeus.  I was enthralled by this play and wrote an enthusiastic fan letter to him.  I had a very nice reply from Peter Shaffer, and I still have this letter too.  What appealed to me in this play was the character who followed his own bent, and not what he was supposed to do.  It was my first introduction to the idea of following your bliss.

A girl whom I had known in Liverpool, who was a veterinary student, got in touch with me and asked if I would like to go to dances at Chelsea Town Hall.   So on Saturday nights we dressed ourselves up and off we went.  I never enjoyed them. We would sit on the chairs round the hall, waiting for someone to ask to ask us to dance.  Glenys was an easygoing girl and got on well.  I was not a good dancer and had no small talk.  I never met anyone I liked or who liked me.

Through Glenys I made another friend.  She was Polish and  a semi-invalid.  She had studied architecture at Liverpool and had asked Glenys if she knew of anyone who would like to visit her at home.  I said I would go and began to visit Alina, and we became friends.  Alina’s father was a Polish colonel;  he had fought with the British in the war, had been injured and now kept permanently to his bed.  I never met him, but Mrs. Boheim was a sweet,pretty, and homely woman who always cooked us a Polish meal.  They lived frugally, but with great dignity, having known a much more splendid life in Poland.  I always enjoyed visiting them, and my mother was invited along too,  and she and Mrs Boheim became friends.

I was now beginning to think that I should be making more money.  I was still applying for jobs with publishers, but without success.  I remember one interview, with Weidenfeld and Nicholson, where I was seen by a very pretty and assured young woman, who must have been my age.  Her name was Antonia Sanford, later to become the historical writer and wife of Harold Pinter.  I did not get the job, of course.

I saw an advertisement for a secretarial job in ICI, with much higher pay.   It seemed more important to get a better paid job than to continue with my dreams of work in publishing.  I applied and got the job.