Thursday, November 18, 2010

54. Bulawayo - visit No.3

Because of his musical talents, Patrick was friendly with Des and Dawn Lindberg, who often hosted musical Sunday afternoons, and I spent some time at their lovely home. Dawn was a delightful, very artistic and talented woman and I thought Des treated her with less respect than she deserved. They were very liberal for that time, allowing their black staff to sit in their enormous entrance hall to enjoy the music. Des was a very good photographer and took some lovely pictures of Jeni, Juliea and me, and when it was time for me to leave Johannesburg, it was Dawn’s brother who came to my rescue and took me and my luggage to Johannesburg station. Jeni and I hugged for a long time before saying goodbye; parting was extremely hard for us both of us. The marriage was a complete disaster, and my parting words to Jeni were “Whatever you do, do not get pregnant again.”

The journey from Johannesburg to Bulawayo by ordinary train was much more fun than the expensive Blue Train. I shared the compartment with a delightful Afrikaans lady who, in typical Afrikaans style, had a huge picnic basket filled with lovely food. Afrikaans women are famous for their cooking and baking. Although her command of the English language was limited, and my knowledge of Afrikaans was zero, we enjoyed each other’s company and she insisted that I share her food and not spend a fortune in the train dining car. From what I hear, one could not enjoy such a safe and comfortable journey to Zimbabwe today. Eventually the train pulled into Bulawayo station and there, once more, the family were waiting to greet me. It was a joyous reunion.

Of prime necessity in Africa is transport, and on a very limited budget all I could afford was a motorised bicycle, and I don’t mean a motor scooter. A motorised bicycle was an ordinary bike with something like a garden mower engine attached to the chain, it ran on a tiny petrol tank holding about half a gallon of fuel, and it had to be peddle assisted up hill. Of course my mother did not expect me to contribute to the household expenses at this stage because I had no money – so what else is new? – but later Tom found ways of buying American dollars in Bahrain, and sending them to me whenever possible. Although the black market value was much higher, I took the dollars to the bank for exchange because I was not about to get in trouble with the law. A resident’s or working permit was easily obtained under Ian Smith’s government, and I was employed as an assistant buyer with African Associated Mines. Soon I had enough money to buy a Honda motor scooter which I just loved. Crash helmets were not obligatory then, and I would ride home for lunch or out of town up to Waterford where Jane lived, at thirty miles an hour, or even faster.

Something I have not mentioned before. On my previous visit Father had wanted me to buy a cottage on a one acre stand, supposedly for Tom and me when Tom retired. I told him that I did not have the money for the deposit and that I could in no way commit to anything so important without Tom’s agreement, but he threw a temper tantrum and said well he would buy it then, which he did. Father borrowed money for the deposit from a man who wanted the money repaid in England, because of UDI there were lots of illegal deals going on and, sometime between that visit and this one I had, in fact, met someone in London to whom I handed over the money father had borrowed. This meant that it was Tom who had paid the deposit although the house was not in his name. There were tenants in the house and the rent was paying off the bond. I cannot tell you how, but Father had a way of getting people involved in stuff, willing or not. A few years later when the police were investigating the money lender, father dropped me right in it, our transaction was uncovered and I was in danger of being prosecuted. I was questioned by the fraud squad, or exchange control board or whatever, and gave a truthful account of the whole business. The result was they dropped my case and went looking for bigger fish to fry.

Now we come to another crucial part of the story, and I just hope I have not yet lost you! One evening Jeni telephoned me from a public telephone in Johannesburg to ask if she could come up for a short holiday. It was obvious that she was not alone. Question and answer indicated that this was not to be a short holiday, but a permanent arrangement and while this news did not surprise me it did present several problems, number one being, how was I going to find and pay for accommodation and support us all on my meagre salary?

Father had so enjoyed having me at home, I really had gone out of my way to keep him happy, and he was terribly angry at this new turn of events. We will not emphasise the misery of it all, but he forbade mother to see us or help us in any way, the old “make your bed and lie on it” attitude, and so before Jeni arrived I rented a small caravan on a camping site for a month. When I met Jeni at the bus station she held a tiny toddler by the hand, carried one small suitcase, and was five months pregnant, or thereabouts. The immediate problems seemed insurmountable, but I was so happy to see her.

53. Moving On

Within a year I was a grandmother and Patrick and Jeni, with their baby Juliea, moved down to Johannesburg, which worried me because Jeni was now in a strange country without family or friends and I knew how lonely that could be. Now here comes another big mistake – gosh my story is full of them. Following Ian Smith’s declaration of UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) all legal proceedings carried out in Rhodesia were considered to be invalid. This meant that Jeni and Patrick’s marriage was not recognised, making Juliea illegitimate. I made the mistake of writing a letter to the Sunday Express, in high dudgeon, under the heading “Just Who Are The Bastards” Snappy heading, eh? Since service personnel are not supposed to have any contact with the press, Tom was very upset when I told him what I had done. A very smart gentleman from the Sunday Express came to the house to interview me, and we discussed quite a few problems that UDI was causing us, i.e. the Rhodesian postage stamp was not recognised, so every time I received a letter from Bulawayo I had to pay double postage. At the end of our interview Tom extracted an assurance from the reporter that my letter would not be published. And he kept his word. They did not publish my letter; they made the interview the front page story! I heard Tom groan as he picked up the newspaper from the front door mat. Of course he was in front of the Provost Marshal on Monday morning getting a right old roasting which, surprise to say, he did not pass on to me. At a Provost dinner party a few months later the Provost Marshal greeted me with “Given any more interesting interviews to the press lately?”

And that is a dinner party I will not forget in a hurry. It was being held in the RAF Officers’ Club in London and was, I assumed, a formal affair. We travelled up by car and I wore a long dress, long gloves and diamante jewellery, only to find that the other wives were wearing crimplene dresses, tweed skirts and twin sets! There I stood, outshining the crystal chandeliers and the silver candlesticks, and the compliments paid me by the gentlemen did little to lessen my embarrassment. After that I made a dress with an extension tacked onto the skirt that I could quickly transform it into a short dress in the ladies room if necessary. Tom also had to promise, in future, to always confirm the dress code.

I must confess that I was homesick for Rhodesia, the sunshine and the family, and if anything came on television showing pictures of the Victoria Falls or Rhodesia in general I would burst into tears. I was so unhappy that Tom suggested I go to Rhodesia and stay there until he retired and could join me, which was unthinkable because retirement was years away. What made things worse was the fact that the black dog, which had been following me for years, was getting closer. Sometimes he would lag behind a bit, sometimes he would get right up close, he was a mean, unfriendly animal, and he would follow me for another twenty years before he was finally named and tamed. His name was Depression.

Juliea was less than a year old when Tom was posted to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf; the British Forces were moving out of that area and he was to oversee the closing down of the Provost units. This posting was a nine months unaccompanied tour of duty and we had to vacate the married quarter we were occupying when he left so I would have to find somewhere else to live. But where? Even if I kept on working our combined incomes would not be enough to rent a flat for me, and pay Tom’s mess bills. I had no family or close friends in England with whom I could stay. Then Tom suggested that I go to Rhodesia for a working holiday, travelling via Johannesburg where I could see Jeni and the baby. I would have to work because the sanctions that followed Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence meant that no money could be transferred to Rhodesia, not even to dependants. I would return to England when he was allocated a married quarter after he finished in Bahrain. It seemed to be the perfect solution.

In Germany I had acted in “The Heiress” with Joyce Heslop, she had played the heiress and I had been her aunt, which was strange because she was older than I. Tom and Joyce’s husband worked together and it transpired that Joyce was about to visit her family in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and wouldn’t it be nice if we travelled together? She was already booked on the Windsor (or the Edinburgh) Castle. I had intended flying, but Tom thought the sea trip and the company might be more fun, and I would be able to take extra luggage. Sounded like a good plan

Our husbands saw us safely on board and then left, Tom turning away very quickly because he did not want me to see him becoming emotional, and I because I did not want him to see me tearful. Little did we know that our separation was not to be for nine months but nearer three years and looking back it seems even longer.

The cabin I shared with Joyce was very cramped, two bunks and a wash-hand basin. We were at the end of a hallway and children would run races down the corridor crashing into the thin wooden partition at the end which constituted our cabin wall. There was also a flight of stairs outside our cabin door on which people would sit late at night, singing and talking loudly. The waitress in the dining room was a real love! We were the first sitting and she would bustle round saying, “Come on you lot, I’ve the second sitting to get through yet”. Heaven help us if we were late! The one amusing thing was that on the passenger list our cabin was shown as being occupied by Mrs. Winter and Mr. Heslop.

First Class passengers, it seemed, were allowed into the tourist section, but not the other way round. An American male joined us on deck every day, which I found slightly irritating, and he must have been well off to be travelling “first”, but there was something about him that wasn’t quite right. He said he was dying of cancer, but I suspected that was a cry for attention. He wanted to invite us to dinner in “first” but had been told that this was not permitted. I started to tease Joyce about her admirer until one day, when he and I were alone, he turned to me and asked “May I kiss you?” Well, I am a friendly, obliging sort of person who does not like to hurt people’s feelings, so I said “Yes, if you want to”, expecting a peck on the cheek. It was a shock to realise that it was not Joyce he fancied, but me! Well, I was quite good looking at forty five, a bit overweight, but OK. He wanted to know if I would stay with him for a few days when the ship docked in Cape Town. No way! Well, if that was not convenient, could he come up to Rhodesia and see me there? All this took me completely by surprise and Joyce and I spent the rest of the voyage dodging round pillars hiding from him. It was very annoying but funny at the same time.

Several times men, sometimes close family friends, to whom I have not given the least bit of encouragement, have taken me quite by surprise with their unwelcome advances. I always told Tom about these incidents so that he could make sure I was never left alone with the unwanted admirer. On a couple of occasions he wanted to say something, but I said I could handle the situation and he should be flattered that other men fancied me! Ending those friendships would have hurt the wives, but some of the encounters really surprised and annoyed me. Honestly, the cheek of some people!

Joyce and I were booked to travel on the famous Blue Train from Cape Town, me to Johannesburg and Joyce through to Salisbury, and it was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. We left our cases in the luggage van and boarded with our overnight bags. It was comfortable enough, but nothing like we had been led to expect, in fact the only thing blue about the blue train was us! The air conditioning was set so low that we froze and when the conductor said that the setting could not be turned down, (or was it up?) we asked him to bring the bedding so that we could wrap up in the blankets. He said that this would be difficult because it was only morning and they were not allowed to issue bedding until the evening so I said, through chattering teeth, that if he did not give me a blanket I would pull the communication chord. I think we spent two nights on the train, and I was quite happy to leave it at Johannesburg.

My first reaction on seeing Jeni was one of shock. She looked like a bunch of white sticks, and it was a tearful reunion. We took a taxi to her cold, sparsely furnished flat in Hillbrow, and there I first set eyes on my beautiful, precious granddaughter. No thumb sucking and hiding her face in mummy’s shoulder, but a big smile and arms outstretched to her grandma – well, her Biddy. She was so full of life and it was love at first sight, and I could see that Jeni was immensely proud of her.

Because Jeni had to work, Juliea (always Jules to me) was left in the care of a morose black girl who never played with the child. I think it best we pass over the whole Johannesburg visit bit, and let me just tell you about the temp job I took there.

When I had applied at the bank for travellers’ cheques I foolishly said I was going to Rhodesia and I was refused because of sanctions. Had I said I was staying in South Africa I would have been given an allowance, albeit it small in those days, as it was I had only a small amount of sterling. My stay was to last about a month and I would need money. One of Jeni’s neighbours recommended me for a temporary job as receptionist to a specialist surgeon. Having previously done medical reports etc., for my nasty registrar, I thought it would be easy, until I found that almost all the patients spoke only Afrikaans! The names, the addresses and general information were all in Afrikaans and I could understand none of it, but in spite of that the doctor seemed to like me. Maybe it was because I cleaned his consulting rooms, and tidied up the X-ray storeroom. I wonder if he knew that those thousands of x-rays could have been recycled and the silver extracted. The glass on his X-Ray viewing screen was so dirty I wondered he had not diagnosed malignant growths in all his patients. But I did make a big mistake when I removed the ceiling to floor curtains and took them home to wash. All well and good, the dark brown curtains turned out to be a lovely, bright orange BUT they were made of some form of fibre glass or nylon and should not have been spun! But spin them I did, and then spent the whole night with iron and steam trying to iron out the bends. Once rehung they did not look too bad and perhaps he did not notice the bends, because when my time to leave came he asked me if I could not possibly stay longer? Then he paid me more than I was due and would not accept payment for calls I had made to Bulawayo. He said to the friend who had recommended me, “Since she has been there, my rooms seem to welcome me in the morning”. I think it must have been the orange curtains.

A qualified nurse had been engaged to take over from me and when she arrived she asked me if I was in pain. I said, yes I was, because I had slipped and fallen on the tiles in Jeni’s flat. She said that if I would wait until the doctor had left the surgery, she would fix it for me. When we were alone, she asked me to stand up straight. Then she had placed her hands on my back and on my stomach and I felt the heat from them penetrating my body. After a few minutes she removed her hands and the pain went with them! Imagination? I don’t think so, because I could now bend and turn with ease. This nurse told me that, when on night duty at the hospital, she would sometimes sit with an anxious patient during the night and lay her hands on him/her. The patient was sworn to secrecy or she would have been in big trouble but, sometimes, in the morning they would be pain free and discharged themselves without having surgery.  Well, strange things do happen, and my back did not trouble me again for a very long time.

52. Bushey Heath

Air Ministry had bought a few semi-detached houses scattered among a very nice housing estate in Bushey Heath near Watford and, as Tom was working in London at Air Ministry, one was allocated to him and, although I had no kindred spirits or service facilities round me, I was delighted. Tom drove into London every day in the Taunus, which disgraced itself one day by breaking down on a three lane motorway in, of course, the centre lane! Poor man, I don’t know he got out of that one. With my dependents now reduced to one, and with time on my hands, I called in at the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Services) to see if there was any voluntary work that I could do. I was surprised that they had no need of my services, but left my name and phone number anyway. A couple of weeks later they called me, saying that a painter working on a block of flats was worried about an old couple he could see through a window. Apparently the old lady was crippled with arthritis, and was getting round the flat by leaning on a tea trolley while the old man seemed to be sick and just sat in an armchair all day. They asked me if I could do anything. That was a bit of a tall order; one cannot just knock on the front door and say “Good afternoon. Can I help you?” On the other hand, why not? So I made a note of the address and the following afternoon, I did just that. After a very long wait, the door was opened about four inches and I could vaguely see the face of an old man. I said, “Hello, I’m Cynthia Winter and a little bird told me that you might need some help with your shopping.” He was about to close the door when, risking having my wrist smashed, I pushed my hand through the opening, handed him my card and said, “Well, if you do need any assistance, just give me a call.” I reported back to the WVS that there was nothing more I could do. Actually, it was more a case for the Social Security Services than the WVS.

About a week later the old man telephoned me. They needed some prescriptions collected from the chemist, would I get them? Of course I would, so I went to the flat to collect the prescriptions, which were handed to me round the door. I collected the medication and there was nothing to pay because they were pensioners, so I delivered the medication round the door again, and that was that. After a few more little shopping trips they began to trust me, and I was invited into the flat, which had an internal staircase from the street, and it was all indescribably dirty. Daisy and Arthur were in their seventies and been married only a couple of years, both for the first time and theirs was a strange story.

Daisy had lodged with a chemist and his wife "Mumsie” for over forty years, Daisy never told me what she had done for a living, and I never asked her. I never knew Arthur’s occupation either. The chemist died and Daisy and Mumsie continued living together until Mumsie had to move into an old age home. Daisy visited her friend as often as she could and there she met Arthur who was also an inmate, and they began a secret “liaison”, which resulted in Arthur running away, well not exactly running, from the home and eloping with Dolly. It was the talk of the home for weeks. Mumsie was furious!

A few weeks after their first call Arthur, who had been ill for some time, was admitted to hospital, so I took advantage of his absence to clean the flat. I must confess to wearing rubber gloves to strip the bed and when loading my washing machine, giving everything two washes and pints of Lavender Stay soft. There were plastic imitation lace mats on furniture which disintegrated when I pulled them off to dust and polish. I needed a paint scraper to get the grease off the cooker and draining board, and I will not describe the bathroom and toilet! I took Daisy to visit Arthur and they exchanged secret letters, hers were addressed to “Big Chief” and his were addressed to “Squaw”. Well, there is no accounting for pet names. After some surgical procedure he was eventually discharged.

One day Arthur called me to say that he could not do anything with Daisy. She wanted to go to the bathroom but could not stand up, let alone walk. I hurried round and, on examining her medication tray and questioning him, I found that he had been giving her one pain killer at night and four sleeping pills during the day instead of the other way round. No wonder the poor creature could not stand up! Much more of that and it would have been goodbye Daisy, goodbye. There was other medication as well and I stood each bottle on a piece of paper with the instructions written down in large letters and told him not to mix them up again. Squaw was a sweet little lady, but Big Chief was a stubborn old fool and they were absolutely incapable of looking after themselves.

The next employer to have the advantage of my business expertise was the confectionery marketing division Nestle, a chocoholics dream come true. I was a Merchandiser. We had just bought a second car and the advantage of this job was that I would be paid mileage. As a Merchandiser I had a ‘round’ of about twenty stores which I had to visit at least once a week. The stock of Nestle had to be checked, the manager advised of promotions, and the Nestle allocated space neatly packed. I learned aspects of marketing about which I had been ignorant as a shopper. Shelf space is allocated according to turnover and, as Nestle was one of the less popular brands, our shelf space was about eighteen inches. Merchandisers were a ruthless lot. As I was leaving a supermarket on one occasion I saw the Cadbury rep arriving, so I went for a cup of coffee and then returned to the shop. The wicked man had stuffed all my chocolate bars into a box and hidden them under the stand and used up all my space! So I did likewise! So there!

The hourly rate, plus mileage, was excellent, but it was all so boring and, as I said to the area manager, I was padding my record sheet in order to make it pay. He said that he had not expected me to stay longer than the four months. There were one or two amusing incidents, like the time I went for a meeting at head office, somewhere in Middlesex and, as usual, lost my way going home. Thoroughly frustrated, I saw an ambulance marked Harrow Hospital and so, hoping it was going to the hospital and not to an accident, I followed it. You see, I knew my way home from the Harrow hospital because Tom had been a patient there. It was while working for Nestle that I thought I would buy a wig so that I would always look smart and well groomed. This worked well until I bent down to load a pagoda with chocolate bars and when I got up the wig stayed on the pagoda. Another time I was carrying my brief case in one hand and a large cauliflower just purchased from a barrow in the other. As I turned a corner the wind blew under the wig, lifting it off my head sideways, where I impaled it with the cauliflower, wearing it like some expensive hat. These days my hair is extremely sparse, but I remain wigless.

My next job was with the Education Department at Boreham Wood, which I enjoyed because for the second time I had a middle aged, single female boss whom I respected. So what with the job, Daisy and Arthur, and Tom’s nephew, Alan, who came to live with us for nine months, I was pretty busy, but I missed the African sunshine, I missed the family and I missed Jeni who had no desire to return home. Who could blame her? She had a good job, a nice life and was very involved with Patrick, who wrote asking for permission to marry her. Tom refused because she was only eighteen, away from home and we knew nothing about the man, apart from the fact that he played the guitar, worked for the British South Africa Police and was Irish. The letters became more persistent, and Tom very reluctantly gave his permission. I should have packed my bags got on the next plane and looked at the whole romance in person. But I didn’t, I just cried buckets as I packed a trunk containing Willie Wabbit and his basket chair, some of Jeni’s books and treasures and shipped them off to Bulawayo.

51. Scampton and back to Bulawayo

The next posting was to Scampton in Lincolnshire. Jeni decided she did not want to go back to school, even though I made the idea financially attractive. Tommy, to our great sorrow, told us that he did not want to return to England, he had decided to live in Holland and pursue his music. We had been told years before that Tommy and Jeni were both University material, and now neither would have the advantage of that higher education. Why did my beautiful children have to grow up so fast? Everything seemed to be falling apart.

It was winter when we arrived in Scampton and moved into an ex officio quarter, where I thought we would stay for at least a couple of years. Jeni started working for an engineering company and was attending evening classes for further education. She went to work in the dark, spent the working hours under electric light and came home in the dark.

We had not been there long when Tom was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to Air Ministry. Between married quarters again and without accommodation, Jeni and I flew to Bulawayo for a holiday so that she could meet her maternal relations, intending to return to England as soon as Tom was allocated a married quarter.

It was wonderful, being back in Bulawayo, and the family all fell in love with Jeni and she with them. She enjoyed being surrounded by other young people, went to parties and, being such a lovely girl, had suitors galore.  One suitor was a very good looking Irishman called Patrick. He played classical guitar beautifully and the music was very seductive. So was he.

The friends she made were all living in beautiful permanent homes; they had friends from schooldays, they had a history, they had a life. They were not gypsies like us, owning nothing and belonging nowhere, so when Tom wrote that he had been allocated a married quarter, it was no surprise when Jeni said that she did not want to return to England with me just now. And so, with a heavy heart, I agreed that she could stay, at least for the time being. My father and mother both adored her and, as Father seemed to have mellowed somewhat, I felt I could safely leave her with them. At the back of my mind was the unspoken thought that if she stayed, one day when Tom retired, we might move to Bulawayo and be a whole family for the first time.  And indeed I did return, but not under the circumstances I could have foreseen. How many more wrong doors was I to walk through?

50. Wildenrath

Wildenrath was a much smaller station than Rheindahlen, our previous German posting, but more friendly and family orientated. Our married quarter was just like the one we had occupied in Rheindahlen, but this one had a huge cellar which was cold and windowless. It housed a boiler, for washing clothes, and was meant to house a washing machine, packing cases and spiders, but Tommy claimed it as his sanctuary.

School, I sensed, was a problem. In my opinion, the teachers in overseas service schools were not the old fashioned, dedicated kind. Like the rest of us, they were transients, and after the excellent school at Bangor, where Tommy respected the masters, he could not settle. Both Jeni and Tommy were highly intelligent and quick to spot mediocrity. Tommy fell foul of the Padre who was unable to discuss, rationally, questions Tommy asked him. As my son began his journey into rebellion, I berated myself for leaving Ireland.
It will seem that Jeni is hardly ever mentioned in my recollections. This is simply because she was so like her father, quietly tucked away somewhere with a book, doing her homework, getting good marks at school, keeping her troubles to herself, and seemingly in control of her life. She was stunningly beautiful and I loved making clothes for her and just watching her grow. It never crossed my mind that anyone could hurt her, or cause her unhappiness, she was our princess who would marry someone wonderful and live happily ever after! Nothing bad could ever happen to my Jeni, because Tom and I would always keep her safe. At least that’s what we thought.

There was an RAF Hospital at Wegberg, a couple of miles away, and there I worked for the Registrar, a very unpleasant young doctor who had begun his medical studies while a prisoner of war. He was short, big headed, stubborn and lacking in compassion. After a few months I transferred to the orderly room at Wildenrath doing boring work, but in better company. I needed a car to get to work and back and, as Tom had a very beautiful blue and white German Taunus, I needed something cheap and economical. Hey Presto! The Pink Blancmange entered my life, so called because she looked as if she had been turned out of a jelly mould. The make escapes me, but she was smaller than a Fiat 500, was like a funfair bumper car with a sun roof, and it could turn on a sixpence. The windows were so low down that people talked to me through the roof. She had two doors, no boot, and space enough at the back for two garden gnomes. She required double declutching. Amazing as it may seem, Tom managed to fold his six foot two inches length into her and when she was hit by a Mercedes at an intersection, while Tom was driving her I might add, the damage to the Merc was thousands of German Marks, while the Pink Blancmange was hardly touched.

The drama society was of a very high standard and although we did not have a beautiful theatre like the one at Rheindahlen, the venue available was adequate and, more importantly, we had good directors. I went along to audition for a role originally played by Joan Greenwood but, although I put on high heels and my most seductive voice, I did not get the part. However, I had made an impression, although not one I had tried to create, because a director came up to me after the auditions were finished and asked me if I would play the Athene Seyler part in “A Breath of Spring”. If you remember Athene Seyler, you will understand how I felt. If you don’t remember Athene then picture Margaret Rutherford, and if you don’t remember her then picture someone very large and extremely unattractive!

But it was at Wildenrath that I reached the peak of my amateur dramatic career. Under a brilliant director I played June Buckeridge in “The Killing of Sister George”. It must have been a pretty good performance because my son confided to his sister that he was afraid their mother was a closet lesbian! In later years, in Bulawayo, I played Mrs. Mercy, another character in the same play, and was surprised when several people asked me why I had not been cast as June Buckeridge (Sister George)? It seemed churlish to say that it was probably because the woman who did play that part was married to the director, but to show how unsuited she was for the role, there were certain lines that she was not comfortable speaking and so they were left out of the script. They were the lines about George keeping some hairs she had found in Childy’s hairbrush in the bathroom and they required the actress to drop her hard butch voice, and become genuinely sentimental, and the actress could not do it. Never mind, I enjoyed being Mrs. Mercy.

Producing plays was a new and very challenging experience for me and I discovered that Jeni was a very talented actress, although she did not enjoy being directed by me because I was a hard task master. I remembered the time when she about five and I had found her standing on a chair, looking at herself in the dressing table mirror, making sad faces until she actually cried. I asked her what was the matter and she said “I don’t know, but I am so unhappy!” She had also acted so well in a school play that I did not immediately recognise her when she made her entrance, as a screaming harridan. It was quite a performance, for someone usually so reserved and quiet.

The children were maturing fast. It was while Jeni was baby sitting for a young aircrew pilot and his wife that she was introduced to gin and smoking. Had I known I would have locked her in her room for a very long time, but I did not know and she has never been able to kick the habit. The smoking I mean, not the gin. Jeni was also becoming more aware of boys and we were somewhat amused one evening when we were driving her, and her escort, to some function, and could see in the rear view mirror that she was trying, accidentally on purpose, to hold hands with the young man and getting nowhere. She did not know, although we knew, that he was gay. Meanwhile Tommy became very involved with a pop group he had put together, was out playing gigs and had also fallen in love. My children were getting into bad habits and bad company and I wished, fervently, that we had stayed in Ireland. This time I had definitely gone through the wrong door.

Tommy and school parted company, and he desperately wanted to go back to England to be near the girl he loved, the pretty little blond daughter of an Army Major who had just finished his time in Germany. He was so unhappy that I could see he could either leave with our help and blessing, or he would leave and try to survive alone. The break had to be consensual and without anger or bitterness, and so Tom arranged accommodation for Tommy in a YMCA in London. One very sad day I drove him to the ferry, suitcase in his hand, guitar strapped across his back and money hidden in his shoes. Like his mother, he was out on his own at seventeen; tears blinded me as I drove away from the dock. We heard from him from time to time, he became involved with a band, made money cleaning restaurant kitchens at night, and sometimes sleeping rough. He had also made some money by painting miniature pictures, on little rounds of cardboard with pins secured to the back, making them into brooches. The pictures illustrated lines from Beetles songs and he made them to order. They were brilliantly done, and I still have two. What he never did was ask for help!

We received an urgent call from a hospital Registrar to advise us that Tommy was in hospital, needed emergency surgery and, because he was under twenty one, they needed our permission to operate. By the time I reached the hospital the surgery had been successfully completed and his sweetheart was at his side. I do not remember where I lodged, but I stayed in London for a few days and before leaving, gave Tommy a photograph of Tom and me to remind him that we loved him, and an envelope containing some money. I told him that he could do whatever he liked with the money, but that we would be very happy if he would spend it on a ticket back to Germany to stay for a while at least. A few days later he was back with us, suitcase in his hand and guitar over his shoulder, nothing in his shoe, bloodied but certainly not beaten. He soon found a job which, as usual, he did extremely well, collected his old band back together and started playing "gigs" at service clubs in the area.  And us?  Well, we were on the move again.

49. My first visit to Bulawayo

I had last seen Jane in 1949 and my mother and Maureen in 1953, and it was now about 1964. After my visit to the operating theatre in Bangor, the family clubbed together and bought a plane ticket to Bulawayo so that I could recuperate there. We had been unable to sell our little house in Bangor so it was left empty while Tom, Jeni and Tommy moved into a transit hostel at Wildenrath in Germany. Jeni was the little mother, doing all their laundry and generally keeping everything together, while I flew away to Africa. Here I must mention how delighted I was when all the furniture I had reconditioned sold at a very good profit, after Tom had said I would not get much for that old stuff!

The flight to Bulawayo was very long because, at that time, planes could not fly over other African countries. We first landed in Nairobi where, on landing, the little unaccompanied girl who had slept with her head in my lap most of the night, decided to throw up all over me! We took off again and next landed in Salisbury, where we were accommodated in the Jameson multi-racial hotel for a six hour stop over. By now I smelled decidedly unpleasant and had an almighty migraine. I bathed and changed my clothes and then, because we were entitled to a meal and room service, I ordered a lobster thermadore, something I had never before eaten. Migraine or not, I was determined to try it.

Everyone was at the little Bulawayo Airport to greet me, waving and smiling and jumping up and down with excitement. My first reaction was that they had all grown very old, forgetting that I had also aged. The next shock was their accent; it was a mixture of Australian and Yiddish! Africa has a unique vibe about it, the light, the air, the colours and the warmth, were so comforting after the English winter. I was taken to the Matopas, the Zimbabwe Ruins, the Victoria Falls and across to Livingston in Zambia. It was all so magical there in 1964. The Victoria Falls were magnificent, but the walk through the mist was somewhat spoiled, by Mother taking the opportunity of us being alone to regale all Father’s indiscretions and evil doings over the past twelve years, which I really did not want to hear while in that wondrous place.

Being with my family again, seeing them all settled together in the lovely town of Bulawayo, enjoying a full social life surrounded by old friends, made me realise how alone I had been for so long. When it was time to go I really did not want to leave.

My father, who loved making big gestures, had arranged for a retired army cook to make a huge Christmas cake for me to take back to Germany. He had provided all ingredients, plenty of dried fruit, cherries, brandy and icing sugar; it was beautifully decorated and packed in a specially made, large wooden box for the journey. I sat with the heavy box on my lap from Bulawayo to Wildenrath and all the stations in between. The top of the box had to be prised open so customs could inspect the cake, they even wanted to cut it open to see if there was anything concealed inside, but relented. I joined Tom and the children at the hostel and we were still living there when Christmas came. I walked into the dining room, proudly bearing the cake which was to be shared by staff and residents alike. There was an embarrassed hush as I tried, in vain, to penetrate the icing sugar with a carving knife. It was like stone. Eventually the top was prised off with the aid of a hammer and large screwdriver, but the cake underneath was dry and hard without a single currant or raisin, let alone a cherry or drop of brandy. And to think I had nursed that wretched thing over land and sea, across continents and through the hazards of customs!

48. My family move to Africa

As often happened when we were about to move, I had another dose of invasive surgery and needed to rest. Someone came up with the bright idea that I go to Bulawayo to visit my family. Tom, Tommy and Jeni could stay in  a military hostel in Germany until a married quarter was available. I flew out to Africa.

Now you will be forgiven if you skip the next two pages because they are just about how my family came to live in Bulawayo, and had lived there for some years by the time I arrived there on my first visit.

To go back a few years, my sister Jane, her husband Tony and their children Caroline and Stephen, had settled in Durban and encouraged Father, Mother and Maureen to join them. Jane thought the warmer climate would better for Father’s legs and she missed Mother. Father went first to see what Africa had to offer and to look for employment. He stayed with Jane, Tony and their children.

Father was used to quiet, well behaved little girls and disliked boys, especially when they “zoomed, zoomed” round with their toy cars. I am told that on one occasion he nearly throttled Stephen, which did not make for happy families. Tony was a very quiet man, an incredibly talented actor who loved books and poetry and a peaceful family life. Serenity flew out the window when Father walked through the door.

At first Father made a great deal of money selling property, at one time sending mother an arrangement of flowers so huge that it would hardly fit through the front door at Maviswood, when what she was really in need of was a five pound note!

Mother was having difficulty selling Maviswood because the property was under-pinned and the iron pins could be seen from the car park. Eventually she sold it for five and half thousand pounds and, as I told you in a previous episode, it is now advertised on the Internet as a nursing home for the elderly, so it is probably worth a couple of million at least.

Father’s two brothers, Tom and Bill were also living in South Africa, and the three of them decided that their mother should move from her old home in Fulham, and join them where they could all look after her. She was to live with Uncle Tom who could accommodate her. In your dreams, Grandma! You should have stayed in Fulham!

Of the three sons I think my father cared for her the most and my mother was always very kind to her. When Grandma came to lunch with us on a Sunday, Father would carve the leg of lamb and ask “Would you like the knuckle, Mother?” Grandmother would always say yes, and my eyes would fix on that knuckle as it was put on her plate. There were several things I promised myself I would do when I was grown up, one of them was to have the knuckle off the leg of lamb, and another was to pick over the turkey carcase after Christmas, picking out all the little bits of stuffing that had been left inside. I have done both - more than once!

Eventually Maviswood was sold and Mother left without regrets, she had worked herself to death for years and, at the final count, had just enough money to buy the tickets for Maureen and herself to Durban. Saying goodbye to her was heartbreaking for me, I loved her dearly and thought I would never see her again.

By the time Mother and Maureen arrived in Durban, father had lost his job, was broke and living in a small, grubby little flat which had only one bedroom. Maureen had to sleep on a bed in the sun porch. But he started another business selling clothing to Africans in the townships and outlying areas. His agents were smartly dressed and travelled around showing samples and taking orders. The samples were carried in small suitcases embossed with the logo “Wenlock Agencies”.

In South Africa the “The NATS” (Nationalist Party) took over the government, and overnight everything in the country changed. The red letter boxes and post offices were painted yellow, the official language became Afrikaans, and many members of the civil service were moved so that areas previously administered in English were now under the control of the Afrikaner

Tony decided to move to Rhodesia where he found a job in Meikles Department Store. I think he had had his fill of the Lawley Clan because, after Father moved out Jane took Grandma to live with them. Maureen was not happy in Durban, sleeping on the porch, and so Jane, being Jane, said “Come and live with us in Bulawayo!” And so Mother was left with Father, in Durban, daughterless and very miserable.

Then Father tried to defend himself in court on a driving offence, in front of an Afrikaans judge, and lost his case. His clothing business collapsed (though not because of the change of Government) and so Mother was delighted when he agreed to follow the family to Bulawayo where he would be able to make a lot more money. Poor Tony, he had to resign himself to the fact that he was never going to be rid of Jane’s relations. (By now poor old Grandma had died in an old aged home, at the age of 89 deaf, and blind).

Father had arrived in Rhodesia broke, but, it was not long before he had another enterprise going which was almost a licence to print money. He started a mail order business selling very high quality vitamins pill. One label was “Nu Cell” packaged in gold boxes and aimed at the European market, and the other label was Dr.Schnaple's aimed at the African market, packaged in a plain brown bottle. He advertised in African newspapers and magazines in Rhodesia and the surrounding African countries and the orders came rolling in. The advertisements implied that the pills would enhance sexual performance, which it may well have done. Every morning father would go to the Post Office to despatch the orders that had arrived the previous day, then he would empty his post box and take home more orders and a stack of cheques, postal orders and cash. To begin with he had an office in town and an assistant, my sister Maureen.

Thinking they were writing to a genuine Doctor, although nothing was ever printed to suggest this, the customers would pour out their troubles in their letters. “Dear Doctor Schnaples, what can I do? My little Johnny won’t stand up!” No, he did not have a sick little son. Another customer had actually placed his penis on a piece of paper and drawn round it to illustrate the size, not stating whether it was active or inactive at the time. Many of the writers had venereal diseases and father would send them a course of his vitamin pills which, I suppose, was better than nothing because most of the men did not have access to medical care.

The pills, which were delivered in large metal barrels, were made by a very reputable pharmaceutical manufacturer in Bulawayo. They were bottled and labelled on the kitchen table using a pill counting tray made to Father’s design. Father also advertised a cream for stimulating the penis which he made up himself and had, I think, an element of Vic's vapour rub in it, which would have made anything stand up! Once upon a time one could buy Dr. Perkins “Pink Pills for Pale People”. Father’s were “Pink Pills for Poorly Penises”, well actually the pills were more red than pink. Personally I have never been a great admirer of that appendage. I quite liked what it could do when in the mood and in good health, but I could not regard it as a plaything or a thing of beauty. Blame the man in the raincoat for that!

Dr. Schnaples appealed to the Africans’ obsession with his sexual prowess; it was a genuine, very good vitamin pill, did not do anyone any harm and certainly brought in the money. The business began to go down a bit, or rather the money was being spent faster than it came in, and so father closed the office in town and worked from home. I can still picture him sitting at the typewriter, typing the address labels for the orders, while, Georgie, Mother’s magnificent ginger cat, sat on the desk trying to catch the keys as they clicked up and down.

So, by the time of my visit in 1964, the family were all living in Bulawayo. Maureen was now married to Brian and had a little girl called Elizabeth, and Jane had produced Jeremy, a brother for Caroline and Stephen.


47. Back in the work force

The scraping and varnishing of furniture done, it was time to start earning some money again. Now, the Belfast accent is pretty strong and I had difficulty understanding it, so my choice of employment was inappropriate because it involved gathering statistics for the BBC. I was given a list of social classes to be interviewed, so many of each age group, men and women, type of profession or trade etc. I usually ended the day looking for an eighty year old intellectual bricklayer! I could only say “I beg your pardon” just so many times in an interview so I did rather tend to guess the answers. Then I worked for an engineering company, typing correspondence and specifications dictated into a tape recorder! If my understanding of the accent was difficult, the understanding of engineering and technical terms was zero. It was a very stressful job.

Tommy and Jeni saved up their pocket money to buy bicycles and I added the amount that I would have spent on bus fares, plus a bonus, but riding from Bangor uphill in the pouring rain was very hard work. It was especially hard for Jeni because she wore spectacles and they were not fitted with wind screen wipers, so sometimes I would drive in to collect them and they would leave the bikes at school. While we were at Finningley, Tom had bought Tommy a second hand guitar from Sgt. Cresswell, and music became his passion. He would bring young chaps home, and they would retire to his bedroom, taking with them my plastic washing up bowl, wooden spoons and empty beer cans filled with gravel, and they would make music. I think they were all unemployed and I have no idea where Tommy met them, but they did enjoy the sessions and the piles of sandwiches and tea provided. Later Tommy acquired a couple of amplifiers, gathered other aspiring musicians around him, and tried to form a band. Sometimes they rehearsed in the garage, which must have been hard on the neighbours. He began writing songs, but school had to take priority.

As soon as she had learned to read, Jeni had a great love of books. If I don’t mention her very often it is because she was such a quiet child, always reading in her room, she never attracted a following of squealing, giggling teenage girl friends. In fact, half the time I did not even know she was around. There was a leather bound, second hand complete works of Dickens for sale that Jeni wanted and so we made a deal. It was the beginning of the school holidays, and I said that if Jeni would do the housework I would get a temp job and buy her the books. Done deal, and she looked after us all very well indeed for about a month, I think.

Once Tom joined us, we had a very happy time in Ireland. We lived nowhere near a mess, I was not required to attend all the boring cocktail parties and Tom kept fairly good hours. In Cyprus there had been only one television station and the programmes were so amateurish that service families did not have sets, but now we could watch Z-Cars and wrestling, Dr.Who and all kinds of stuff. The Saturday afternoon ritual was to put a folding picnic table in front of the fire, load it down with a toaster, a loaf of bread and anything we could think of to spread on the toast, like sardines, peanut butter, cheese and jam and watch Television. Jeni had fallen in love with a four foot high blue and white fluffy toy called Willie Wabbit, who would join us sitting in his very own little wicker chair. Tommy, who was a great animator, would try to control Willie who got overexcited whenever the Z-Car theme tune was played. Wrestling was hugely amusing, all well choreographed and dramatic. Our ladylike little daughter would yell, “Kick him in the guts! Break his arm!” There would be tag wrestling, two brothers fighting two other brothers with the two outside the ring giving great dramatic performances, almost out performing the two actually fighting in the ring. Great entertainment and not over the top like the wrestling we see on television today.

Now, I must tell you about the time I worked for Shorts of Belfast, a company that built and repaired aircraft. In the Services you are trained to do as you are told with no complaints and no refusals and so working within Union Rules was completely foreign to me. A light bulb and a screw driver were responsible for my first encounter with the shop floor stewards. The office I worked in as secretary to the Engineering Manager was on the ground floor leading off one of the hangers. It was an extremely dark place that seemed to form a trap for all the dust and dirt blown in from the hanger. The boss was away for three days when the feeble electric light bulb above my desk blew. I climbed onto my desk, removed the bulb and took it down to the stores for a replacement which was adamantly refused. “Rule No.1 Health and Safety. Do not climb on desks, you might fall off and break something. Rule No.2. Do not touch anything of an electrical nature unless one is a member of the Electricians Union. Go back to the office and get the boss to fill out a requisition form for a new light bulb”. “But, my boss is away for three days and I cannot work in the dark!” “Sorry, love. Nothing without a requisition. And don’t think about bringing a bulb in and fitting it yourself or we will have you!” The last thing I wanted was to be ‘had’ by the foreman, so I retreated.

Well, at least I could clean up the office a bit. I brought a bucket and some cleaner from home and started cleaning the room and washing down the walls. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” screamed a voice from the office door. My heart jumped and I swung round. “Cleaning my filthy office.” I snapped back. “That is the work of the cleaners.” I was told. “Then for Pete’s sake send me one. Every time I take a piece of paper out to type a letter I have to wash my hands. I cannot work like this.” The cleaners had too much to do and anyway, cleaners can only wash walls up to shoulder height, higher than that was a painter’s job. Cleaners are not allowed to climb ladders. Health and Safety regulations you see. The floor workers clocked off at 4.30 p.m. and I clocked off at 5.00 p.m. that gave me half an hour each day to clean a part of my office without being seen. If the foreman noticed that areas of pale green were gradually being revealed around the walls, he said nothing.

The boss returned, the necessary requisition was placed and the Electrician and his assistant arrived. The assistant climbed the ladder, tested the dud bulb which was duly pronounced broken by the electrician. The assistant went back to the stores while the Electrician stayed and guarded the ladder. Half an hour later the assistant returned with a new bulb which the Electrician, as the expert, screwed into the light fitting, first ensuring that the wall switch was turned off. The assistant then switched the light on and “hey Presto” the Electrician said “Let there be light” and low and behold, there was light! I signed the requisition to prove that the work had been done to my satisfaction and off they went, having taken two men half an hour to do something I could have done in five minutes, without the use of a ladder.

The screw holding the handle to a draw of my filing cabinet was loose and so I went to stores to ask them for the loan of a screwdriver for five minutes. The store man’s eyes glazed over. “What do you want that for, love?” I just want to tighten a screw on my filing cabinet.” There was a sharp intake of breath. “Sorry, love. That is a chippy’s (carpenter) job. You will have to get ……” “Forget it,” I interrupted, “I’ll use my nail file!” Mutterings about the Unions followed me down the hanger. There are a hundred such stories I could tell you, but the very last straw was my typewriter. Now, the work entailed typing many stencils which were then used for duplicating. The typing standard of the operative showed up by the number of red blobs made by the special ink used to cover up mistakes. My stencils were well blobbed. Anyway, typing stencils quickly clogged up the keys of the typewriter and so, apart from the weekly routine cleaning and oiling my machine needed extra cleans. So I was brushing and cleaning one morning when the shop steward, a nice chap with whom I was on good terms, came in. Almost turning white he said “My, God, Si, What are you doing?” “I am cleaning my flipping typewriter, what do you think I’m doing?” “But there are engineers who come round to service them.” I put down the brush and gazed heavenwards. “Every three months they do, not every flipping morning! How can I type with the keys all clogged up with wax. Why do you think I have a cleaning kit in my drawer?” His face was wracked with confusion until he reached a compromise. “Well, O.K. But please don’t let anyone see you!”

I could tell many other equally silly stories about the Unions at Shorts. The amazing thing is that the factory is still operational. I would have thought that with all the stupidity it would have gone bust ages ago.

Of course this happy time could not last, and two years on Tom was posted to Germany for the second time and we agreed that Tommy, Jeni and I would remain in Ireland, in our own little house, so that the children could stay on at Bangor Grammar School where they were doing well. I love all theatres, except the ones in hospitals, but I was about to make my fourth appearance on the table, this time in the operating theatre of the Bangor Cottage Hospital. I made my usual good recovery and very quickly had the other three patients in the ward in stitches – figuratively speaking. I had scratched the surface of their staid Irish propriety, we were in the ‘womby’ ward so it was not difficult, and I was reprimanded by the sister on duty for causing too much raucous laugher. Tom visited me and I kissed him, just to make sure the old hormones were still active, and all was well. When he was about to leave for Germany the thought of seeing him only two or three times a year was unbearable; and so I made one of the worst mistakes of my life – I said we wanted to be with him, and so we put the house on the market and prepared to move.

46. A home of our own

We had barely moved into the house and taken delivery of all our stuff from the auction houses when Tom came home with a long face, to tell me that he had been posted again. I was speechless to say the least. Had we been living in England it would not have been too bad, he could have lived in the mess and at least come home week-ends, but we were living across the blooming Irish Sea and Tommy and Jeni had started at the Grammar School in Bangor. I felt that, just for once, he should appeal, which he did and the posting was changed to a three months “attachment” which meant that he would be away for three months. He would be living in an Officers Mess, which would put a great strain on our finances, and he would be unable to come home during that time because he was not due any more leave or railway warrants.

There was plenty to keep me busy. I stripped the dining room suite, which comprised a large bow fronted sideboard, draw leaf table and six chairs and also a lovely wooden lounge suite with loose cushions. The cushions were the very devil to cover because I had bought a Sanderson print with a large pattern which was difficult to line up and match. I had never made anything with piping before so it was one big learning curve, and I was pleased the children were at school and could not hear my language. Becoming bolder, I restored two chests of drawers and a wardrobe and returned a couple or pieces to the sale room because they were riddled with the dreaded “worm”, which was prevalent in Ireland.

Eventually our three wooden packing cases arrived from Cyprus, in a British Rail delivery truck driven by a man no more than five feet high and very fat. He should have had a label on him stating “This Way Up”. “Who’s going to unload them?” he asked. “Haven’t you got anyone with you? I did not know you would be delivering today”. “Well, I’m here now and I’m on me own, and I got a bad back”. No more to be said, and there were no hefty stevedores walking the streets looking for a job. There was a lowering thing on the back of the lorry, and with much huffing and puffing, and the hope of earning some sort of remuneration, Humpty Dumpy and I pushed the boxes onto the lift and down into the street, where they remained. He drove away with a small tip and all my good wishes for the recovery of his back. Moving solid, wooden boxes into the house was impossible, and so I levered the tops off with a hammer and screwdriver, and unloaded our worldly goods from the road into the house. Later the sides of the boxes were taken to a timber yard where I made friends with a nice man who, for a couple of shillings, cut out the shapes I had drawn on the wood so that I was able to make a fixed, drop down table for the kitchen, a cover for the central heating boiler, and a little built in dressing-table shelf for myself. Reminded me of the packing case furniture we had at Pink Pillars in Nicosia, only mine was better finished!

I became very friendly with the couple next door, Brenda and Henry, and one day I was quite startled when Brenda banged on the front door, burst in, exclaiming in her heavy Belfast accent, “They moving in!”. I knew a young couple had bought the house next door to her, and I had seen the removal van there the day before. I also knew that Brenda had taken in a couple of parcels for them and that they had chatted over the fence. So, what could have caused this outburst? Did they have six dogs or destructive children? What had THEY done? “They’re Catholics” she almost spat the words out. “And if any more of them move in we’re moving out!” I stood there, open mouthed. To emphasise her point she continued her tirade with “And what’s more, he’s turned.” Turned what I wondered. Later I learned that if there is anything an Irish Protestant hates more than a Catholic, it is a Protestant who has turned his back on his church to become a Catholic. I wanted to laugh but did not dare.

The Rev. Ian Paisley was at the height of his venom at this time, but Henry, who was a very nice young man, tolerant and a real Christian, (whatever that might be) was attending secret meetings with members of different churches to see if some kind of peaceful settlement could be found to stop the lunacy. The venue of the meetings was announced only hours before a meeting for fear of the information getting out and violence descending on them all. I asked a young girl once how she avoided getting involved with a Catholic boy at a dance, or a social held outside the church, and she said that first you ask his name, and if was Patrick, or one of the other saints, you did not have a second dance. What the heck does it matter which path a person takes, if any. I quote the Beatles “All you need is love, love is all you need”. Sadly, there is not enough of it about. When I worked in an engineer’s office in Belfast, five of the young girls from the typing pool were going out to lunch. I asked one of them, “Are you taking Maggie with you?” She replied, “Of course”. I assumed a mock startled expression, “Don’t you know she is one of ‘THEM’?” Nudge, nudge, wink, and wink. The girl laughed which heartened me because it made me hope that the new generation would see the stupidity of it all. But, that was almost fifty years ago, and nothing has changed.

45. Belfast and bigotry

Where on earth were we going to live in Ireland? Tom was appointed Officer Commanding RAF Police Detachment in Belfast, somewhere in the dock yard I think, where there were no married quarters and no furnished houses to rent, at least not in our price range. The children and I spent some time with Tom’s family in Milford Haven while Tom went to Belfast on a recce and found us lodgings in a Boarding House in Bangor with breakfast and high tea supplied. Tommy would stay in Milford for the time being and go to Milford Haven Grammar School with his cousin, Allen. We bought an Austin Mini and Jeni and I drove to Fishguard and caught the ferry to Rosslair, in Southern Ireland. During that night President Kennedy was assassinated and all the people to whom we gave lifts throughout the day, on our way north, were devastated.

We were welcomed at the boarding house by Mrs. Baron whose husband was at work and her son at school. The family were vegans and followed a very strict, healthy diet. She told us that her husband had been dying from something nasty and the doctors could do no more for him, so they had turned to nature’s way of healing. He stopped smoking cigarettes, they ate very small portions of fruit and vegetables, he was cured and none of them was ever sick. I saw their supper, already prepared in the kitchen, on tiny side plates, just a few grapes, some dates and bits and pieces. Not much for a growing boy. I read some interesting cases in their health magazine. There was this one chap who was covered in ulcers which would not heal, and he was given up as a hopeless case, until he went to a health clinic. There they wrapped him in hot, steaming blankets, and when they unwrapped, him the smell of anaesthetics from surgeries undergone many years back that came out was overpowering! Eventually he was healed. Amazing.

Mrs. Baron did not inflict the small, healthy meals on her boarders. Our table was laden with every kind of home made bread and scones you could think of, plus dishes of butter and home made jam. The stew and “tatties” were delicious and within a month I had gained 8lbs. Oh, but it was luverly!

Bangor was about half an hour's drive from Belfast; in 1963 it was a delightful little town, although I am told I would not recognise it now, and I felt we would be very happy there. There was an excellent Grammar School and the climate seemed to be quite mild, in fact I did have roses in my garden in December. But first we had to find that garden. There seemed to be very little property to rent. After buying the car my “secret stash” had been reduced to four hundred pounds and we had the expenses of the boarding house to pay. Anyway, just out of interest we consulted an Estate Agent to see what was on offer and we were a bit taken aback when his first question was “What religion are you?” I thought for a moment and then said, “Well, Church of England I suppose. Why do you ask?” “Well,” he replied “You would not want me to show you houses in a Catholic area would you?” I was confused. “Why not?” I asked. “No, matter,” He replied “I will try to find you something suitable in a nice protestant area”. And that was that. Later I understood what he meant. The cheering information was that property in Ireland was less expensive than in England, and paying off a mortgage would not cost a great deal more than the usual married quarter rent. I was very excited at the possibility of buying a house.

We were driving round a little suburb in Bangor when we saw a semi-detached dormer bungalow with a “For Sale” board displayed. I suggested that we knock on the door to see if anyone was at home. Tom said he did not think it was the polite thing to do on a Sunday, but I told him that if the people really wanted to sell they would not mind. So I knocked on the door and was invited in, and Tom and Jeni followed. It was a darling little house, almost new with two bedrooms upstairs, a single bedroom, dining room, lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs, and in spotless condition. Each door was painted a different pastel colour which relieved the white paint everywhere else and looked very pretty. The garden at the back was small and a front garden was open to a quiet side road that circled the estate. Oil fired central heating, I would never have to chop wood or break up coal again! There was a problem in that the only toilet was in the bathroom, which was to cause much clutching of groins and hopping on one leg early in the morning, but we coped. I really liked the house and its position, and I did not care if it was in a Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Heathen area. Cyprus was a hard act to follow but this was near the sea and the scenery was beautiful.

Property in Ireland cannot be sold outright, I think because all the land is owned by the church; however a 99 year lease was acceptable, as was the price. It cost two thousand four hundred pounds, with a 5% deposit. So, with a deposit of one hundred and twenty pounds I had two hundred and fifty pounds left to pay the legal fees, light and water connection and buy furniture and carpeting. Tom said I would be unable to do it. Big mistake! Tell me I cannot do something and I will show you that I can.

While we were waiting for the owners to vacate, I started going round the auction houses, sometimes even taking Tom with me, in spite of the leather hat-box incident. Second hand furniture was cheap but, remembering the bed bugs in Egypt, I did get new beds in a sale. A small wooden commode came under the hammer and I thought it would make a nice sewing box and an extra seat, so I put up my hand and started the bidding at half a crown. People turned and stared at me. There were no other bids, and I could probably have got it for a shilling. I never again made the first bid. One could sit on old sofas and armchairs during the auction and I used to amuse myself by surreptitiously sliding my hand down the sides of the furniture to see what I could find and up came combs, ball point pens and hair grips and sometimes a coin. As children, Jane and I used to search father’s chair from time to time and sometimes we found enough money to buy ice creams. After the restoration of the natural yew table at old Mrs. Dragon Dear’s house, I felt I could restore any piece of furniture by scraping it down, sandpapering and polishing. Again Tom said “You’ll never do it, far too much work.” BUT! Would he never learn?

44. Christmas up the mountain.

There was a high level of security on the bases in Cyprus and so the wives of military personnel were encouraged to work in the offices. I brushed up on my typing skills, and went for an interview, and there something strange happened. I was talking to one of the other applicants, a corporal’s wife, and it turned out that we were sort of related. She was the only child of Evelyn, Grandpa Shaw’s step daughter. Evelyn was a very strange person, who walked around like a bag lady, was too mean to have electricity or television in her house, and when Meals on Wheels brought food for Emmie, her sick mother, she ate it. She would not light a fire for Emmie, and the poor woman died in misery. We knew all this from my aunt Doris who used to visit Emmie, who was Doris’s step mother I suppose. When Emmie died she left a barely decipherable will leaving all my grandfather’s fortune, plus two acres of prime residential land in Thundersley, to Evelyn, whereas my mother and my two aunts were entitled to 25% each. My mother wanted to contest the will, but it would have taken years and money to do so. When Evelyn’s husband had died he left several shops on a main road, which were rented out, so this young woman later became very wealthy indeed, and had not need to type any more!

I passed my typing test and became employed as secretary to a rather dishy Group Captain, I think he was Chief of Intelligence or something like that and I probably got the job because Tom was working in security. When the Group Captain had to formally entertain visiting Service Personnel he would invite Tom and me to join the party to help out. The most difficult dinner party was for some Iranian pilots who spoke no English. We were amazed to learn that they were paid about the same amount as our admin corporals.

Tom gave lectures on security and counter intelligence to all the personnel at headquarters, all except me because he barred me from attending. Perhaps he thought my presence would have made him nervous, but I was told that he was a very good speaker, which surprised me because he was normally so nervous and shy. Anyway, I was employed and I could start saving again.

We visited other old friends, Peter and Trottie Derby, with whom we had shared the disused NAAFI at Pershore. They were living in Larnaca and had two monstrous boys, Chris and Barry, right little terrors who treated their mother like rubbish, but she adored them. Barry, known as “Bar, darling!” would accidentally, on purpose, kick his mother’s poor arthritic leg whenever possible. He would also eat only burnt chipolata pork sausages. How I loathed that child. I hear he grew up to be a successful barrister!

While we were living in Limasol Tom would attend ‘dining in nights’ in the mess up at Episkopi. The narrow mountain road was dangerous in daylight with a sober driver, but at night coming down in the dark the worse for drink was lunacy, and I would be frantic with worry. More than one drunk went over the edge of the mountain. There was one awful accident there when a perfectly sober woman collected a new car in Limasol and, on her way back up to Episkopi, accelerated round a corner, instead of breaking, and literally flew off the mountain road into the forest below. Neither she nor her daughter was badly hurt because they landed in the trees! There was quite a hold-up on that road afterwards because everyone wanted to stop and look at the strange sight of the car sitting on top of the trees in the middle of the forest! The rescue operation was a mammoth task because there were no roads or tracks through that mountainside forest. The story goes that Volkswagen immediately gave her another new car. I always treat mountain roads with the greatest caution.

During the two and a half years we were in Cyprus we lived in six different houses, but they were all nice houses, with running water! However, water was in short supply and could be cut off without warning, like the time when I was in the shower, lathered from head to foot. We were going out to a mess function and it was a hot night, and so I hoped that I would not perspire soap bubbles through my evening dress. From then on we always had a bucket or two of water in reserve. Then, after a detachment to Ayos Nicholias, Tom was allocated a married quarter at Episkopi, which was our last move.

Cyprus in 1960-62 was a beautiful place to live. The sunshine, the views of the mountains and the sea were breathtaking. We could play in the snow up in the mountains in the morning and drive down to the beach and swim in the afternoon. We drove all over the island without restriction or borders, and even saw camels there. It was possible to drive a car on the beach right up to the edge of the sea, the beaches were deserted, the water clear and blue without waves or tides. The sea was so buoyant that Tom, who could not swim, would float on the water for hours, watching the fish through his snorkel. Standing upright on the beach we could see that he had a line running right down the sides of his body, the front part that was submerged stayed white while the back of his body was sun tanned brown. It looked quite strange. Jeni swam wearing a huge pair of flippers which looked like fins – hence her nickname Fins.

It was Christmas and Rachael decided we would all drive up the Trodos mountains and have a Christmas picnic up there in the snow! I took hot soup in a flask, the Christmas pudding, brandy sauce and jacket potatoes. Rachael provided the salad, rolls and meat for the braai. It was bloomin’ freezing up there. We arrived at the picnic site and Stan unpacked the braai and tried to get the fire going. He had not taken into consideration the difficulty of starting a charcoal fire at that altitude, especially in winter. Well, he huffed and he puffed while Tommy ran circles round the fire like and aeroplane, flapping his overcoat, trying to create a breeze. Rachael, Jeni, Sally, Robert and I huddled together in one car trying to keep warm. We ate the hot soup and the Christmas pudding, but Stan was determined that we would eat the braai before we left the mountain. By now we had eaten enough and did not want the darned meat. Almost two hours later, just to keep the peace, we choked down some pieces of undercooked, fatty lamb, broke camp and went home. Christmas never has been a very successful festive season for me.

Two smells of Limasol remain in my memory, the fresh sweet smell of the citrus blossoms wafting up the mountain from the lemon, grapefruit and orange groves, and the appalling smell which exuded from the carob factory! As soon as we neared the factory the windows of the car were quickly wound up. It was surprising that something that is used to make ice cream, and is so nutritious could smell so terrible. Chocoholic that I am, I never liked carob chocolate.

We left Cyprus shortly before the division of the country and I cannot visualise that beautiful place with refugee camps and high rise hotels. I could never go back; it would sadden me too much. I hated saying “good bye” to our dear little car and our good friends, but Tom was posted to Northern Ireland, and it was time for us to go.

43. The Fashion Show

Before joining the WRAF, Rachael had been a fashion model, so she decided to make a bit of money by opening a model/charm school to teach the Greek Cypriot girls how to walk, and how to develop more self confidence. I have already told you about the Greek family that lived opposite us in Nicosia: Greek Cypriot girls were heavily chaperoned and not at all liberated. Because of this school, Rachael was asked by the Greek social set to put on a big fashion show in aid of charity. Models, professional and amateur, were organised, a shipment of clothes was ordered by the owner of a local dress shop, and the hotel venue booked. We spent hours decorating the ball room with rose covered arches, beach settings with deck chairs and stuff, and it looked really lovely. It was far more interesting and attractive than just a cat walk. Children would be modelling beachwear and they were to carry buckets and spades and beach balls. A great deal of work was involved, with rehearsals, stage managing etc, but when we came to do the parade we found that the charity had overbooked and there were tables and chairs and guests sitting all over our stage settings and there was barely room to move. But it was to get worse!

The dresses were late arriving and everyone was panicking about the fittings and which model was to wear which dress. Without the dresses I had been unable to write my commentary, nor work out the order of appearance, and we were due to start in an hour!

The clothes were finally fitted and I rushed to my typewriter, only to find that the girls had taken all the labels off the clothes and so I had no information as to fabric, designer or price. Come to think of it, nor would the owner of the dress shop when he got the clothes back. I had to type something, so I asked one of the girls if she could type while dictated to her as I was getting myself ready. She agreed and sat down, only to realise that she could only type in Norwegian! Chaos and Panic reigned. One of my worst recurring nightmares used to be that I was on stage without a script and unable to remember my lines. I went down to the ballroom, sat down at my table, microphone plugged in and my nightmare became a reality. I tried to improvise. “And, here comes Barbara wearing a bright pink dress with Palliachi buttons” “Just looks at Janet’s lovely white beach bag”. Meanwhile, the models were trying to pick their way through the diners, tripping over sets that had been moved, finding the beach chairs in which they were supposed to sit had either been folded up or were being sat in, and there was nowhere to put the flipping beach balls, buckets and spades. Rachael, who was modelling, tripped and nearly fell, but cleverly turned the slip into a Charleston. Everyone started to talk and we got the slow hand-clap. Fifty years later I still cannot remember it without shuddering. Well, perhaps I laugh a bit as well!

The show happened to be taking place on the same night as some Turkish political demonstration, and outside crowds had gathered and people were shouting. We wondered if it would be safe, out in the street, for people leaving a Greek hotel. Rachael and I decided we would rather face a crowd of excitable Turks than stay inside the hotel with a crowd of hostile Greeks. Sally and Jeni had been modelling beach wear, and our main concern was getting them away to safety. We got into the Simca, roared out of the car park and arrived home a bit shaky, but safe.

Tom was assigned to counter intelligence at the time and said later, that had he known what was to happen in Cyprus he would never have sent for us. But, up until then, Cyprus was my happiest place and we were so fortunate that the real trouble did not begin until after we had left.

We were enjoying such a lovely life that I could no longer bear the unhappiness pouring from Tommy’s letters and so I flew to England to fetch him. Three other boys had been withdrawn from his boarding school that term, and I think the Head Master was worried. He proposed that, if Tommy would stay for the two remaining weeks of the term, the school would forego the following terms fees to which they were entitled. The RAF would not pay for that term if Tommy was not there, and we did not have that amount either, so I had to agree. The disappointment on his little face when I told him he had to stay for two more weeks was just awful. I asked him if he had expected to come with back with me, he did not reply but just pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket. He was all ready to leave. The headmaster wanted me to find out from Tommy is he had been “bullied” but Tommy was silent on that issue. Had I but known, or even suspected ………….! He had stuck it out for over a year but, mainly because he was not interested in sport, he did not fit in. He was so happy to be back with us, and we were more than happy to see him because his flight had been changed at the last minute, and the plane on which he should have flown crashed, killing everyone on board.

42. Cyprus

I cannot remember if we flew to Cyprus in a civilian or a military plane, but it was my first experience of air travel and it was not nice. There was a great deal of turbulence, and poor Jeni was very sick. Fifty years ago air planes were not as sleek as they are now. The landing in Nicosia was somewhat bumpy and frightening, and the heat that hit us on disembarking reminded me of Egypt.

By the time we arrived in Cyprus, British rule had ended and the island was independent; the war between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots was yet to come. We were very fortunate to be there in the quiet ‘in between’ time, but we were well aware of the hatred between the Turks and the Greeks which had its roots way back in history.

We had our share of moves in Cyprus. The first house, in Nicosia, we called Pink Pillars because the two pillars holding up the entrance were painted bright pink, and we rented ‘furniture’ at a weekly rate. The mattresses were new, stuffed so full of straw that it was like a ball, and when we tried to climb to the top we rolled back down again on to the floor! The other furniture had stencilled addresses under chair arms, at the back of drawers, under the table tops etc., like ‘Station Commander, RAF Nicosia’. It was rubbish stuff made out of scrounged packing cases. In a café across the street the juke box played the theme tune from "Exodus" very loud all day long, and it echoed round the empty rooms. Very hard on the nerves. The local bread was not very nice and so I learned how to make my own, and the dough rose beautifully on the warm veranda. I cannot remember the school Jeni attended, she was whisked away on the school bus every morning and returned in the afternoon, but she learned to play the recorder and would sit outside playing
'Little Bird’ while, away in the distance, another young musician played the same melody on a violin. They never met, but it was very sweet.

A Greek family lived across the road from us, and I thought there was the mother and father and a young married couple, either the son and his wife or the daughter and her husband. When I became friendly with the girl I was surprised to learn that it was, in fact, her brother who shared the bedroom with her. She was not allowed to spend the night alone in case “something” happened to her! Apart from in her working environment, the girl was never allowed to be alone, in spite of being twenty two years old and earning her own living working in a bank. When she did finally meet a man she liked, and of whom the family approved, the two families used to meet on the beach and the courting couple would swim out to sea, dive down and kiss underwater! I was in their bungalow once and noticed that they kept brooms and stuff in their inside toilet and only used the toilet outside in the yard. They considered using the toilet in the house to be very crude and anti social. I tend to agree.

Tom’s father died and left Tom about two hundred and fifty pounds, which was enough to buy a little blue Simca. I just loved that car. One day I was driving from Larnaca back to Nicosia when a Greek Cypriot driver decided to harass me. He slowed down and kept close to me when there was no chance to overtake him, and then speeded up on the open road, and his behaviour quite unnerved me. Then he gained speed on a wide, steep hill but our little Simca had the guts to overtake him and then I dropped back and I played his game all the way back to Nicosia, which gave me great satisfaction and, I could see from his face in the rear view mirror, annoyed him intensely.

After a few months in Nicosia we moved to Limasol, to a hiring just outside the town, where we lived opposite our old friends, Stan and Rachael Grayson and their children, Sally and Robert. Rachael had been our babysitter years ago at Netheravon when she was a WAAF and before she married Stan, another RAF copper. We had also been stationed an hour’s drive away from them in Germany, so we were delighted to be reunited. Tom and Stan were both in the Provost Branch and, since our time in Germany, had both been commissioned from the ranks, so they had a lot of interests and old friends in common. We had so many happy times with them.

One evening I telephoned and asked them to come across for a bit of supper. Rachael said that they had just showered and were not dressed, so I told her it was only pot luck because I had cooked too much, so to please just come over in their dressing gowns, and I would expect them in about half an hour. During that half hour Tom and I rushed round like crazy; he put on full mess kit complete with miniature medals and I donned a long evening dress and put on my diamante earrings and bracelet and a quick dash of lipstick. The dining room table was decorated with bowls of hibiscus blossoms and lighted candles and we were waiting for them at the door when they arrived. Stan was wearing shorts and a Tee Shirt while Rachael was dressed in a cotton house coat with a scarf tied round her wet hair and we looked down at them with utter disdain. Their faces were a study and their greeting unrepeatable.

Another time I happened to say to Rachael that I was not happy with the arrangement of the furniture in our house, it lacked ‘style’. When I returned home a couple of days later, I thought for a moment that I was in the wrong house! Doors had been removed, rooms opened up and furniture rearranged. Pots of grasses and stuff stood in corners and it was all very much “Homes and Gardens”. Rachael had been very busy! Another Saturday evening Stan brought over some home movies to which he wanted to synchronise a commentary with our tape recorder, this was long before video recorders. Stan started off, “The car is all ready, and here comes mummy with the picnic basket. Doesn’t Sally look pretty in her new dress?” and all that sort of drivel. Rachael and I got bored with the whole thing, so she went home and I went to bed. The next morning I found an unhealthy number of empty beer cans on the table, so I rewound the tape and listened. Well, I had never heard such a load of drunken rubbish in my life. They had given up on the commentary and were pretending to be American news casters; they did commentaries on car racing tracks and told stories. I carried the machine over to Rachael, still wearing my dressing gown, and we listened in utter disbelief. I started to walk back home, forgetting that it was now Sunday morning and all our Greek neighbours were walking to church, and I got some funny looks. As I opened our front door Tom was standing there, already dressed, looking very sheepish and holding out his hand for the tape. After a mock struggle I said that he could have it, on condition that he listened to it so that he could hear how idiotic he sounded after a few too many drinks! It did not have the slightest effect on his future drinking habit. Stan had the largest repertoire of funny stories of anyone I've ever known.

41. Parties and problems

I dislike parties intensely due partly to the fact that I am not comfortable in crowds, and partly because I have no patience with the inane chatter of the sozzled and semi-sozzled with whom one cannot hold an intelligent conversation. Fear grips me in the pit of my stomach when I see people I love and respect change before my eyes from sensible responsible people into groping, leering idiots. Also, I don’t like the taste of beer or spirits, apart from Crème de Menthe Frappe, and that lovely creamy coffee tasting stuff, but I avoid those because they make my face go red. My tolerance to liqueur is zero and, as my darling Tom used to say, “Give her a sherry and she’s anybody’s”. My childhood experience of drink does not help. However, when one’s husband is a member of an Officers’ Mess one is required to attend Mess Functions.

I remember Tom arriving home after a 'dining-in' night at the Officers' Mess, to which he had worn his very expensive mess uniform, complete with miniature medals, covered in dust and dirt from some boyish games they had been playing. I believe they had brought beds into the dining room and had been racing them up and down the halls, or something. As I remarked to him the next morning, when he was better able to comprehend what I was saying, “If Tommy came home with his school uniform messed up like that he would be in big trouble!”

Of all the many parties attended the most memorable were four held at Finningley, three of which were fancy dress. For the New Year’s Eve Party I decided that, as Station Security Officer, it would be fitting if Tom went as a good fairy and I went as the witch. I made him a very full skirt from a folded over sheet trimmed round the bottom with tinsel, a vest top trimmed with more tinsel, a tinsel crown and a wand sporting a large star tied to a piece of flexible metal tubing so that it swung about all the time. I also made him a blond wig out of canary yellow knitting wool. It was probably the cruellest thing I ever did to him. My costume should have disguised me completely; long black robe, tall witches’ hat, teeth blacked out, green makeup and false hook nose, so I was not very flattered when someone came up to me on my arrival and said “Hello, Cynthia. Where’s Tom?” In retrospect, it was stupid of me to think that Tom would walk into the mess in his fairy dress stone cold sober, verily he had to be well ginned up before I could get him out of the front door!

Arriving at the mess he dumped me, as was his custom, and went to join the lads at the bar. Some time later he passed me, saying something about going home, so I followed before being served with my supper. It is my habit, when in a temper, which isn’t often, to polish things, usually the floor, so if some giant had lifted the roof off our house that night he would have seen one blonde wigged, rouged cheeked, very drunk good fairy passed out cold on the bed, and one very pissed off witch frantically polishing the parquet floor in the lounge. Another temper giveaway is when I make toffee or paint my nails red. And a Happy New Year to you too!

The next fancy dress I opted for something a little more decorous. He would go as a parcel, aptly “waiting to be posted”; the term used when one’s present tour of duty is almost over. A huge cardboard box, which had contained a filing cabinet, was found and inside I attached a shelf for his lighter and cigarettes. A large hole was made in the side through which a glass of ale could be passed in and the empty glass passed out. The box was addressed in large letters to “Officer Commanding R.A.F. Episkopi, Cyprus, tied up with thick string and with some large stamps drawn in the corner. He seemed quite happy, tucked away in his private drinking box until I noticed a little circle of aircrew lads circling the box, round and round. I asked them what they were doing and they said that they could see how he was getting the ale in, but they wondered how he was going to let the ale out, a problem neither of us had foreseen when we strapped him in there. Inevitably, the time came when he needed to retire to the gents, which he did, followed by five or six interested spectators. I was never told the outcome, or outgo, but when he returned the box did not look damp! Then a Land Rover was driven up to the entrance of the Mess in which sat a couple of chaps who were hell bent on taking the box to the post office in Doncaster. None of them was fit to drive and, as I explained to them, the Post Office would not be open at 0100 hrs on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately beer was spilt all over Tom as they tried to lift the box onto the Land Rover. I was dressed as a clown.

The theme of another party was desert islands. Tom went as a native with a stick through his nose. I don’t quite know how the effect was managed but it was an optical illusion. The Officer Commanding dressed as a pirate with false oozing boils stuck all over his face. I told him he had a perverted sense of humour, after which he told Tom that his wife had called him a pervert, which I had not. My costume is forgotten.

And finally there was the Christmas Party when I had to go into Doncaster to attend an audition for the Doncaster Players, who were casting “The Waltz of the Toreadors”. Tom was Orderly Officer that night and could not escort me, so I said I would see him at the party later. I was wearing a tight fitting, short emerald green satin dress with black beading round the neck, a matching stole with black fringing and a new pair of high heeled black satin shoes that were killing me. Snow lay thick on the ground but the heater in Goldilocks was very efficient so I did not feel the need of a coat. Anyway I did not have anything that would go with this outfit. I was also wearing Jet, dangly earrings and carried a black satin bag. The audition went well and I was given the part of the dressmaker. I was rather thrilled because this was the first time I had auditioned for them.

The road back to Finningley ran alongside the race course and it was here that Goldilocks decided to stop. Stop, dead as a dodo. I tried cranking her, but no go. Outside the car was nowhere near as warm as inside and my teeth started chattering! The last bus left Doncaster at about 10.00 p.m. so I thought if I ran, or rather hobbled, alongside the racetrack up to the traffic lights, where the road took a left turn for Finningley or went straight on to Bawtry, I would catch it. I kept looking back towards Doncaster because, being a country bus, the driver would stop if I waved to him. I still had quite a long way to go to the lights when a huge lorry slowed and stopped and the driver asked if I wanted a lift. I accepted gladly, and asked him to please drop me at the traffic lights, all the while talking, or rather shouting, about my husband waiting at the Mess and wondering what had happened to me. Actually, I doubted said husband had given me a thought all evening.

Well, I knew I was in trouble when the lorry shot over the traffic lights and on to the Bawtry Road! I shouted at the driver to stop, and he said he knew what I was, and what I wanted, and who did I think I was fooling! It must have been the tight fitting emerald green dress, and the fact that he had needed to use two very strong hands to get me up into the cabin.

After screaming and hitting him, he stopped the lorry at a lay by and pushed me out of the cabin from whence I landed head first into the snow. I was very relieved to be out of there because, about that time, there had been a couple of murders on the Bawtry Road, a fact I had forgotten when accepting the lift.

There was not a car to be seen, and if one had come along I think I would have hidden in a hedge rather than accept another lift. This was farming country, not a house in sight nearby but I could see, across a field, a little light shining in a farmhouse window, which was surprising because most farmers were in bed at that time. There was no choice but to set off, across the plough-ridged field, towards the light. Oh, my poor feet!

If the farmer was surprised to hear someone hammering on his front door so late at night; he must have been quite alarmed to find a frozen, green clad creature standing at his front door. I explained briefly what had befallen me and asked if I could use his phone. He was in his pyjamas and dressing gown, lovely woolly slippers on his feet, and about to get into what would probably be a nice warm bed. I finally got through to the camp but Tom could not be found, so I spoke to a young aircrew friend who I knew had a car. I told him the long story, explained where I was and asked him to drive down the secondary road to the farm and I would walk down the road to meet him. “Fine,” he said “see you soon”.

Well, I walked and walked and walked some more, until at about midnight, I reached camp. Frozen, weary and almost hysterical. My now ex-friend said that he thought my call for help had been a hoax started by a chap whose girl friend he was chatting up. When I finally told Tom my sorry story he asked me, “Where did you say you left the car?” For the second time that night the word “murder” entered my frozen brain.

To be fair, he did ask if I had taken the number of the lorry but, having landed on my head in the snow, I had been unable to take down numbers. I left the party, walked to our house and thawed out in a nice hot bath.

Parties are never quite like that at Command Headquarters!

I was cleaning the kitchen, minding my own business, and not looking for trouble, when there was a knock on the back door. A good looking young aircrew officer was standing there holding a curly haired little boy by the hand. He introduced himself as Barry Riley and his little boy Tony, and asked if he could use the telephone. Because Tom was Station Security Officer and on call 24/7 an internal phone had been installed, and Barry wanted to call the Station Medical Officer because his wife, Kay was ill. Kay was pregnant and, as had happened when she was carrying Tony, her little body turned into bile. I don’t know the medical term for it, all I can say is that she was one sick little lady and had to go into hospital, be fed intravenously and had a bad time of it. I offered to look after Tony while Kay was in hospital. He was a dear little boy and, apart from being terrified of the vacuum cleaner, was no trouble at all.

Kay Riley was a lovely girl, very tiny and very sweet, one could barely see that she was pregnant at all and so when the doctor delivered twin girls everyone was very surprised, to say the least. “No more” the doctor said. “Definitely no more”. I so admired Kay who, though still exhausted from her illness, from the shock of giving birth to twins and from looking after Tony, Barry and the babies, kept her house immaculate. There was never so much as a dirty cup on the draining board. The twins were just crawling when Kay discovered she was pregnant again, and the poor girl was suicidal. I could have killed Barry. Between Kay’s stays in hospital, I now had Kay, Tony and the twins staying in my house, with Barry coming in for meals as well. Tommy was not yet away at school so, some of the time I was catering for nine of us, albeit the twins were bottle fed. To add to the problem, I was waiting to have surgery on my right hand to remove, or whatever they do with it, a carpel tunnel, so sometimes the hand was so screwed up I could not put a teat on a bottle. The pain at night was excruciating.

Barry was an extremely selfish, self-centred young man, and never once gave up his Wednesday afternoon game of golf to look after the children so that I could have break. Kay was determined to have the expected baby adopted, which was a crazy idea because she was a Catholic, and a wonderful mother who loved her children. So, I came up with the even crazier suggestion that we would take the baby with us to Cyprus, where we were shortly to go, and give it back to Kay on our return. Tom agreed, in principal, he always went along with my most irrational ideas, and the offer was made. Then we found that Kay and Barry both had families, who had kept well in the background so far, so what on earth was I doing? With Tommy at boarding school, Jeni growing up nicely, what did I want with a baby? As it happened we left before the baby was born. I received a letter from Kay about six months later, enclosing a picture of the four children. She wrote of the fourth child, another little girl; “She is such a little angel, and so very good. It is as if she knows that I did not want her and is trying not to be a nuisance”. I never heard from her again, but sincerely hope that was her last pregnancy.

Jeni and I took what was to be the first of many air flights, this one landing in Nicosia. It was a very turbulent and nauseating ride. Tommy could not picture us in Cyprus, in fact in one very sad letter he wrote “I feel like I don’t belong anywhere anymore!” He spent a couple of holidays with Jock and Doreen in Milford, and they were so worried about him that they suggested he live with them. But we did not know where we would be stationed on our return, and Milford was a long way from any likely bases. We decided to leave him at Ripon a while longer.