ODDS AND BOBS
My mother continued to find small jobs: cooking an evening meal for an elderly couple, or creating delicacies for an invalid lady. At one time she cooked lunch in a small Montessori School, which was located in the grounds of the Brompton Oratory, a church in South Kensington. I used to visit her there and became interested in Dr. Montessori’s philosophy. I liked the idea that children should be allowed to gravitate to those things that appealed to them.
My mother was always collecting recipes, and she had several folders of them by now. Why should she not write a cookery book for schools, she thought. I pooh-poohed the idea, but my mother persevered. She spent hours sorting out all her recipes into different categories, and then into chapters. I wrote to several publishers and finally one of them, Dennis Dobson, agreed to publish it.
I reluctantly set to and typed the whole book. My mother wrote to Miss Barrows, who wrote a glowing Preface in return.. She wrote:
“’The Principal’s chief pre-occupation is the food.’ …Not until Mrs Radenhurst loomed on the school’s horizon did this ‘chief pre-occupation’ of mine give me any sort of satisfaction, but at end of her first week in the kitchen I began to realize that with the same food bills we were getting really exciting meals.”
The book was published in 1955! It was nicely presented, with a cream
binding, and an attractively designed jacket in blue, white and yellow. It was called Better Cooking for Large Numbers. To our surprise, it sold quite well, and my mother received royalties.
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. I quite enjoyed this, as I saw free film shows and several performances of Camino Reale by Tennessee Williams.
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. I was very excited about this. I knew that she had been married to Vic Oliver, and was divorced, and that she was an aspiring actress.
She was warm and friendly when I arrived, sat me down at a large table and produced a large cardboard box containing piles of bills. My job was to write out cheques which she then signed. Whilst I was doing this, she 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. Sometimes she would come over to me, ask me if had a boyfriend, retire disappointed when I said ‘no.’ At the end of the evening she escorted me fondly to the door, swaying on her stockinged feet. I was deeply affected by her. Though not religious, I found myself sending up little prayers for her.
Completely different, and again famous, was Father Trevor Huddleston. He had spent several years in Africa supporting the black people. He was recalled to England by his religious Order because his activities were creating political problems. On his return he had written his best selling book “Naught for your Comfort”.
Now he needed help to answer the deluge of correspondence that he was receiving. He was tall and gaunt, with a jutting chin, and I was very much in awe of him. I was deeply impressed by the force of his commitment and his spiritual integrity. I would take piles of letters home with me and type the replies on my little Olivetti portable. In fact. after working for him, I sent him a donation almost equal to the money he had paid me. I received a thank you letter which I still I have to this day.
All these extra earnings meant we could go away on holiday. We went several times to Spain, which was probably the cheapest country at that time. We visited Madrid and Avila. We went up into the mountains, where I experienced one of those moments which we would now describe as ‘bliss’. The beauty of the mountains, the clear air, the stillness, all gave me one of those moments of clarity and of expansion.
We visited Majorca, where I completely fell in love with flamenco dancing. The passion and the drama resonated with something deep inside me. I experienced what is known as ‘duende’, the intense emotional state – part ecstasy, part desperation – that is the essence of flamenco. I never shared these thoughts with my mother.
I remember arriving at our pension in Majorca, I was busy putting clothes away in our room, when my mother said: “You’re just an old maid really.” I was deeply hurt, it was my heart’s desire to get married and have children. At the end of the holiday I commented on our Spanish guide’s lovely long eyelashes. My mother said: “I didn’t think you’d noticed.”
Another time we stayed in Deya, in a guest house run by Robert Graves’ son. It was set high on a hill, surrounded by lush vegetation. I had lugged all my painting gear with me, though I did very little painting.
These visits abroad were exciting, giving us a glimpse into another way of life and another cuisine. My mother was never happier than when she was traveling.
Ever since I had produced my sketches in Mousehole, I had been going to evening art classes in London, which in those days 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, the National Gallery, the Tate and Courtaulds 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 by Beckett 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 him 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.
I used to go to dances at Chelsea Town Hall with a girl I had known in Liverpool who was a vet. On Saturday nights we dressed ourselves up and off we went. I never enjoyed them. I always felt like a wallflower. Glenys was an easygoing girl and got on well. I was not a good dancer and had no small talk. I did meet a young man called John, he was Welsh and he asked me for another dance. Afterwards we sat on a bench in the Square and talked for hours. He told me at first he thought I was cold, but then changed his mind. This was probably due to my insecurity. He later sent me a card telling me he was going to the States. I felt quite sad.
I found my mother worried to death when I got home that night, and had to assure her we had just been talking. After the Michael episode she was never going to trust 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. I felt sorry for her and so we became friends of a sort. She was very autocratic and very conscious of her social status when she lived in Poland. Her illness had made her painfully thin, with dark shadows under her eyes.
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 some Polish meal, and sometimes borscht. They lived frugally, but with great dignity, having known a much more splendid life in Poland. I did not always enjoy my visits to them, as they were sometimes strained, with Alina snapping at her mother and Mrs Boheim smiling patiently. My mother was sometimes invited, and she and Mrs. Boheim got on well together.
The novelty of Allen’s was wearing off. I had a long bus journey every day. I began to think about 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 have a better paid job than to continue with my dreams of work in publishing. I applied and got the job.