We write 2017 as I re-read these sketches and make small alterations. I'm in a process of catharsis, I suppose. Reading about an era long past and often barely believable is sometimes painful. Nothing is left of those days, after all.
Something to think about
Quotes: I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. (Maya Angelou)..The destiny of every human being is decided by what goes on inside his skull when confronted by what goes on outside his skull. (Eric Berne).. Work while you work, play while you play - this is a basic rule of repressive self-discipline. (Theodor W. Adorno)
Sunday, 21 June 2015
Miss Plum has a curious set of fans, friends and acquaintances, most of whom seem to live in gay or otherwise hybrid situations. We students have met some of them at her house, for instance at parties or in formal environments, but most of all at Covent Garden, where Miss Plum has renewed her ambition to be a household name.
Saturday, 20 June 2015
Friday, 19 June 2015
This is either the road to hell or just plain nemesis. Only posterity can tell.
At nine sharp we first year music students are gathered together in the Duke's Hall at the Royal Academy of Music. If we thought we had already completed the long journey to success, we are in for a big surprise.
Tuesday, 16 June 2015
One of the hazards of leaving home is having nowhere to go, either because you have not planned anything, or because your plans are thwarted in some way. The former hazard applies to me and I cannot understand to this day why I never thought about it. I was going to London. That’s all that mattered. Where I was going to lay my weary head was a question I had simply not asked.
The last year at school is eventful, but at least things have a kind of pattern. Leaving school is the end of an era for everyone and more so if one knows that one is going to leave everything behind and virtually start a new life somewhere else. Not that I could have put that into words at that time.
Looking back, I realize that Dada and Mama may have talked about it to one another, but they had never discussed it with me and somehow we didn’t even think about where I would be living in ‘the big smoke’.
Monday, 15 June 2015
Daily life is an adventure and a constant challenge to one's ingenuity, I discover. The other thing I have learnt is that nothing really changes. I think the Indian caste system probably gets it more or less right, though I find it offensive and unjust. You are born into a certain milieu and have to come to terms with it, however awful it is. But isn’t that still the case? The children of affluent parents have more choices and more opportunities.
Miss Owens seems quite pally with the teacher in charge of theatricals at our school. She has already intimated triumphantly that she will be taking a leading role in the all the Gilbert and Sullivan productions at the school. The next one is dues during following winter term. We are not usually regaled with a teacher, but these are exceptional circumstances, we are given to understand. I wonder how exceptional it all it. Has our excellent English teacher been brow-beaten into consenting to her participation?
I suppose all girls at every school can tell stories about their female teachers, about jealousy, resentment, even hatred, or dare I mention it, infatuation. I am no exception, though infatuation is not an emotion I experience except involving boys who don’t know I exist and film stars in films I’ve never seen. Robert Mitchum is the star who intrigued me most for years and years, though to this day I have never actually seen him in a movie.
I try to get on with most people, but as luck will have it, Sarah isn't the only person to live between the bus stop and school.
As a sort of reward for not being a social entity, my many and varied talents are starting to become known and I'm being pushed by all and sundry along on the road to the kind of fame or maybe it’s notoriety that I now realize I have always wanted.
Although Mama tends to get annoyed about things she thinks are premature because she hasn't thought of them first, she is at the same very mindful of her duty to us children. My brother has no interest in any of the occupations that absorb me, so he is kept happy with new bikes and money for the cinema. Nobody has found a way to interest him in anything but mechanical things, mainly cars, and that is a bitter blow to Mama's plans for an academic career for him.
No, not me. I never went to boarding school. I’m sure I would have hated the close proximity of all those other females.
However, One of my new friends is an ex boarding school girl named Janet Bidston-Clarke with an ‘e’ who joined the school round about the same time as me. Janet has the most la-di-da speaking voice I have ever heard. She seems altogether more mature than all the rest of us. She has quit a boarding school for reasons I never discovered to live with a really old great aunt (she calls her 'Auntie' almost crushing the word to make it rhyme with jaunty) called Anita Orlando, which I am told is Italian.
It is not quite true that when you live at the seaside you avoid the sea, at least during the summer holiday, but it is not quite false either. The novelty of living where people spend their holidays wears off, but the sea is still there to enjoy, and teenage girls are tempted by the sand and water to go in little groups and spend hours either shivering because it is cold, or burning because it is hot.
Wednesday, 10 June 2015
One of the skills most valued by girl guides and brownies seems to be the ability to survive for an unlimited period of time on three matches, a pound of sausages and a bag of liquorice cartwheels.
Though I have given up the brownies as a bad job, I am nevertheless fascinated by the tales of adventure Hilary regales me with when we are cycling along to and from places.
I am now at the end of junior school, having passed the 11+ and thus qualified for grammar school. I have been so good at my lessons and so ingenious at the obligatory IQ tests that I have jumped a class to become the youngest in the next one up and only have 4 primary school years instead of 5.
Tuesday, 9 June 2015
One of the high-spots of the social calendar is open day at Hislop Grange, which has a long tradition stretching back into the mists of time when there was a really historical building on the site before it crumbled and fell down to be replaced by a mock Baroque manor. Local people make their way up the long pebbled drive up to the mansion, which is a dubious edifice in a poor state of repair, and the residence of people who ought to be Lord and Lady something or other, only their names are Mr and Mrs Hislop.
At about ten years of age, I’m having my first real taste of being a celebrity. Uncle Arthur is now mayor of our town and Aunt Jane is the mayoress. As they have no daughter, I am to accompany them to some of the functions, sit in the front row, shake hands, award prizes, and generally do the done thing.
Of all the people I least like to remember, I think Auntie Bronwen is at the top of the heap. Reluctant as I am to celebrate her existence in any form, I am duty bound to include her in my ramblings, not least because of the cutting remarks, her favoured form of communication, that still ring in my ears, reminding me of my mortality, frailty, or stupidity, as appropriate.
One of Mama’s biggest failings is her basic insecurity. People who seem to know more, or lay down the law about anything they do happen to know, are considered by Mama to be awesome, especially if they are also well to do. How Aunt Aggie’s Uncle Joe came to be wealthier than all the others is a skeleton in her family cupboard and a constant annoyance to her.
My cousin Nan is two years older than me, two years cleverer, two years more musical, and two years prettier. At least, that is what Aunt Aggie claims. And Nan already has a bosom, which makes me quite worried at times. Do I want one? Do I have a choice?
The business now in hand is the cantata, which is coming together after many exasperating and tedious rehearsals. I am almost 10 years old and I would like to sing a solo, but I’m not going to. There was early mention of me doing so, but the organist’s brother’s wife’s sister’s niece arrives from the back of nowhere in the USA,, so I’m on the back burner and quickly grasping that it’s not what, but who you know that really matters, an experience that is to be repeated many times over in different guises.
Monday, 8 June 2015
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”
Some people’s families come up to scratch. Some don’t. And some lurk in those shadowy areas in between the bad and the good. Like mine.
On Dada’s side it’s hard to keep track of who’s who. Some of them I only meet at their funerals. Others are part of the standard entertainment I am offered when parked out at their various domiciles during the interminable summer holidays.
Not that I’m complaining. Anything is better than a week with Mama’s elder sister and her finicky ways and pathological hatred of children (especially me).
We are not very sociable in our family. Mama doesn’t like the hassle of hanging around being pleasant to people she doesn’t care for, which is nearly everybody, so most of the people she knows are people she meets accidentally in the street, and she does not visit them or have them visit us.
Unfortunately, even she can’t avoid being sociable now and again, and if you have to socialize, you have to be dressed for the part. That applies to me, too. I have to wear a hat and coat for Sunday school, and my best clothes are worn only on high days and holidays, so that I regularly grow out of them before they show any signs of wear, and they have to be sent to a good cause.
Sunday, 7 June 2015
I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then.
Most of my family except Mama, who can’t decide if she believes in God and is on the no-I-don’t side, make a habit of going to chapel. I have been introduced to this custom at an early age and see no reason to question its purpose or benefit. I am never asked if I want to go, but that’s probably because they wouldn’t have taken no for an answer anyway. As far as Mama is concerned, Sunday is a traditional day for the Sunday joint, Gardener’s Question Time and her afternoon sleep.
It is the middle of the night and I am sleeping in the witch-dragon’s snowy-white bed in her room full of bric-a-brac and club books bought by the yard. She has gone on a bus-tour of France with the landlady of my Uncle Sam who is really his girlfriend, but he doesn’t sleep in her bed because the bank might take some of her pension away if they find out she’s cohabiting. In fact, he hasn’t got a bed of his own. He sleeps on a put-you-up at the foot of her bed. That’s what Mama always says, being anxious to maintain a high moral tone even in the family of in-laws she privately considers questionable and a bit incestuous.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
I follow my cousin Jack around. I really admire him. He has left school prematurely to be a farmer and he already knows everything about everything. If he had not been a farmer’s son he could have been a great something else. There is a piano in the other parlour at the farm, but he never had to practise. He calls Mama Auntie. If he had to call her Mama he would probably have to practise the piano.
“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know.”
Some things in life soon get forgotten. Other things stick in one’s mind and refuse to budge.
From a very early age I am sent to keep Aunt Jane company during the school holidays and I learn ladylike things from her that I might not have learnt elsewhere. How could I avoid it, given that Aunt Jane is a whizz at anything connected with nearly all the elegant pursuits a gentlewoman has to have at her finger-tips, not counting playing the piano? To compensate for her lack of musical education, she could invent and sing an alto part to any hymn tune. I don’t know if Mama could do that. It is traditional Welsh and I never went to chapel with Mama.
Miss Jones, the witch, the ogress, the buck-toothed dragon, has raised the alarm.
When I arrive at our house, chilled and now a bit worried about the consequences of my adventure, I am embraced lightly and smacked hard, given a hot bath and a milky drink and put to bed.
No questions are to be asked until next morning.
At the ripe old age of four, I fall head over heels in love for the first time. It is a sobering experience and in later life I will try hard to avoid such dilemmas, though, in retrospect, they caught up with me now and again, usually with disastrous consequences. My hero is blond and has a florid complexion. He is stodgy and wears short grey flannel trousers and scratchy, hairy, hand-knitted, gaudily Fair-isle patterned jumpers. His name is George. He is as shy and inhibited as I am, so we do not talk about our mutual affection. In fact, I never actually find out if he loves me with the same breadth, width and depth as I love him.
Saturday, 6 June 2015
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The 5th Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5-7 Bible (ESV)
The 5th Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5-7 Bible (ESV)
Starting nursery school is probably the most radical intrusion into the early, relatively uncluttered life of every child. Time does not impose its unreality upon us until we start running out of it. By then, we are far away from the timeless, childlike world of spirits and spirituality. When we are small, we can magic away the here-and-now and thrive in never-never-land, where everyone stays the same age and even inanimate objects have minds of their own. In our early innocence, we are skilled at stretching and shrinking the hours. There is no past and no future. Our present day ticks until bedtime puts an end to our consciousness. Our chronological barriers are restricted to sleeping-time and waking-time, and even they are often blurred.
Thursday, 4 June 2015
Soon the jaunts in the car over the hills and back again cease. My hunch that we would find somewhere else to live is justified. I will be in walking distance of the school I am to attend and the house we are moving into is exactly between the school and where Auntie Ada lives on the farm with Aunt Jane and Uncle Arthur and Jack. So we leave the hilltop village and move into an imitation Georgian house with only a high wall separating it from the main road.
I am three and a half, and now Mama’s second child is imminent, I have been told very little about the addition to our family, but the onus of looking after me has fallen more and more onto Dada’s shoulders during the last few months, and the decision to send me to school before my sister arrives is a relief to all. I am a rather grownup three year old, busy with noisy renderings on the piano, adorning colouring books and telling stories. I like pretending to be the princess in a castle, and I am drawing pictures of what my sister will look like, and willing Mama to think of a really nice name for her. Mama and Dada are looking for a bigger house to replace our American style bungalow up in the Welsh hills.
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
Whatever Mama does all day, she is always harassed.
Since nobody has much time to play with me, I play alone or with the sister I am sure I should have had. Mama has sewn me a doll, which she calls Belinda. I want to call her Susie, but Mama thinks the name is inappropriate for such a beautiful doll. She refers to the doll as Belinda so persistently that I forget my own name for her. If I had a sister, she would be called Susie, I decide.
Today is a special day. I am two years old, at last old enough to visit my aged grandfather, who has stopped being a tyrant and become a senile old man confined to his bed most of the time. The time has come to be reconciled. I am the white flag of truce, I suppose, dressed in my prettiest frock, with my wavy, fair hair combed back prettily and tied with a bow. I am aware of the solemnity of the occasion, and when I am led into the old man’s bedroom, I realise that I am in the presence of death.
It is late spring and already quite warm, so, in accordance with the current ideas on childcare, I am put outside, rain or shine, for my afternoon nap. Mama likes me to sleep as much as possible. Not, as she maintains, to ensure healthy growth, but because I am less trouble asleep in the garden than awake in the parlour, waiting to be entertained and not taking ‘no’ for an answer.
Amabel, Beatrice, Christabel, Dorcus, Emma, Fatima.
On and on, from A to Z. No candidate escapes Mama’s close scrutiny. She has even perused Dickens and Thomas Hardy for likely ones, preferably names that have otherwise fallen out of use. Whatever her attitude to motherhood might be, careless is not a word I can use to describe it.
I am staying with Aunt Jane on Uncle Arthur's farm, because my father has to go to the office every day. Mama was found to be suffering from a thrombosis and has been pronounced temporarily unable to care for me, for which verdict I assume she is truly thankful. She is grateful to be rid of me, if only for these first few weeks. I find myself trying to forgive her and not really being able to.
I am often left alone during my waking hours. The bevy of nurses coming and caring, caring and going bewilders me. A clock ticks loudly and inevitably, striking the feeding hours and reminding the tardy of the swift passage of time. I miss the warmth of my cocoon and the gentle thud of Mama’s heartbeat. The effort to get into the world may not have been worth it after all. My twin sister, the disembodied one, is now so far out of my reach that I can hardly believe she ever existed at all. My sense of loss is deep, painful, and enduring.
“When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.”
William Shakespeare, King Lear, IV:6, 1606
"I can’t go through with it," my twin lamented as she evaporated in the warm liquid in which we floated, almost indistinguishable from the living creatures that still inhabit the watery element. We reflect the stage of human evolution millions of years older than ourselves. But she would not say why she could not proceed down the long road into the future. We had been destined to be born together, she and I, but something stronger than us both had pulled her back from the very edge of life and now I was destined to be a solitary soul in a solitary world and my fate would be to search for her.
“We mortals cross the ocean of this world
Each in his average cabin of a life”
Robert Browning, Bishop Blougram’s Apology 1855
I always had a little difficulty with the borderline between fact and fantasy. I was taught to be truthful, but the truth is not always satisfactory or effective, especially in retrospect, so some of it has been embroidered, sometimes quite lavishly; there are chronological gaps, and certain events are no longer, when or where they happened.
No matter. This is not a history book.
No matter. This is not a history book.
The autobiographical sketches will be added gradually. They are not available in book form at the moment. Will they ever be? With the number of published books rocketing thanks to vanity publishing on-line, it's getting harder to make a book pay unless you are already a best-selling author, so I will release this book the way I have released all the others, hoping they will be read and even enjoyed by some. A list of my other books will appear in a side-column, but for the time being, consult the link to my diary-type writings for orientation.
The first chapter of the book is actually the introduction, but I make no apologies for including it because my motivation to write is not vanity, but an attempt to remember something of my life.
Ahead of getting started, I would like to thank you for looking in. Any comments are welcome, but will be moderated.