Thursday, October 7, 2010

2. Mother and Father

My mother was beautiful, vivacious and talented, she could sing, dance and act. Her father thought she was too talented to join the cycling act and arranged for her to be trained at the Italia Conte Theatrical School in London. She had a very promising theatrical career ahead of her, but that finished the day she eloped with my father when she was eighteen, to the great fury of her father and to her own everlasting regret.  She never lost her love of the theatre and, had it been possible, would have done everything possible to put me on the stage. You see, I wanted to be a pianist, a singer and an actress. My mother tried to teach me to dance, but sadly announced that I had neither the build nor the grace to be a dancer, and she was quite right... In later years, even abandoned jitterbugging was beyond me.

My father was the most disturbed, unhappy man I have ever known. He was a manic depressive, and a violent alcoholic. Today his condition might be treatable, but in the 1920's  it was not understood, and it is only in recent years that I came to understand this illness, and was able to forgive him for all the unhappiness he caused us.  He was a clever man in many ways, bankrupt and penniless several times, but always managed to create another highly successful business.  Unfortunately, whatever he created he destroyed.

I had piano lessons which I loved, but the piano was removed by the bailiffs so, no piano and no more lessons! There was always an element of fear and apprehension in our homes.  Father was handsome, with a good sense of humour but we were all wary of him, and that was sad, because he desperately wanted to be loved.  But how can you love a person who hits your mother and makes her cry and who shouts and breaks things?  I may have been his favourite, because he only ever hit me once, because he thought I was laughing at him – which I was! Once he smashed and destroyed everything in the house that was breakable, even bending spoons and forks in half, while Jane and I hid behind the settee. When in rage he was incredibly strong.

I supposed that was the way the world was; mothers loved their children and fathers were to be feared. But sometimes it became too frightening, like the night in the winter of 1938 when I ran down the road barefoot, wearing only my nightdress, to fetch the police. I remembered that 999 was the number to dial for help so, when I reached the phone box outside the Post Office, I stood on tiptoes to reach up and dialled 999. “Please come quickly. My daddy is killing my mummy!”  The policemen found me at the telephone box and took me to a neighbour’s house and I remember that so clearly. 

The neighbour's name was Mrs. Lloyd, and I used to run messages for her. She started by giving me a penny a time for going to the shops to buy her cigarettes, then she found it was costing her too much, so she told my mother she would give me two pence a week in total. Sometimes I went to the shops four or five times in a week for the miserly tuppence. Mother thought she was very posh because she held Bridge tea parties. Anyway, Mrs. Lloyd took me in and gave me a piece of her home made jam tart, which had been baked on a enamel plate.  It had thick dry pastry all round the edge, and very little jam in the middle. The crust stuck in my throat and I tried to secretly feed bits of it to her white Sealyham called Billy.  I swore that when I grew up I would always put lots of jam in my tarts, little tarts full of jam.

Under today’s laws for the Protection of Children, Maureen and I would have been taken into care, but back then family violence was not taken so seriously. The policemen finally calmed father down and we all went back to bed. The next morning father was prostrate with remorse and promised, once again, never to behave like that again. We had so many sleepless nights that it is surprising we did so well at school, although later I did I develop a facial tick that took years to go away.

Well, that’s the gloom and doom part over for the time being, but you get the picture.  There are funny things to come, I pdromise you!

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