Wednesday, December 8, 2010

56. Corn on the cob and mulberry wine

Just as I remember Tom’s time at Officer Training College as a time of Bananas and Herrings, I remember the time at the cottage as one of corn-on-the-cob and Coca Cola, of which we ate and drank copious amounts. It was also a time of wine making. While we were living at Bushey Heath I had made six cases of country wines, parsnip and so forth, which Tom had put into store and later reclaimed while he was living in the mess, on his return from Bahrain. Tom would not drink commercial wines, but had a weakness for mine which had matured very nicely. In the garden of the cottage, we had two magnificent mulberry trees which were not, thankfully, buzzing with of insects. We also had a plentiful supply of tangerines and cape gooseberries. The possibility of Tom taking premature retirement had been discussed, and it seemed a good idea to have some wine waiting for him, he was also attracted to Rhodesia by the low price of cigarettes. On television today we see advertisements for Marula Liqueur, but I was making marula wine nearly forty years ago, as an experiment. I reckoned that if eating marulas fallen from the tree could make elephants and other animals motherless, it should suit Tom. Unfortunately I cannot hold my liquor, in fact I don’t like alcohol, but making wine requires a certain amount of racking, and in drawing the wine up through a rubber tube, in order to rack, one inadvertently swallows a certain amount of the stuff. It was after one racking session that Jeni found me mowing the lawn in the dark and the pouring rain, lustily singing “A Frog Who Would a Wooing Go”.

Tom, who dislikes letter writing, wrote almost daily and, although I missed his very much, I cannot truly say that I was unhappy. The cottage was in my name, I had a job I enjoyed and I loved the little girls. While obviously concerned about her future, and those of her babies, Jeni was getting stronger and beginning to “perk up”. After spending a fortune on an incompetent lawyer, we finally found a one who, after a spell in his think tank, devised a way of obtaining a divorce, but it was expensive and lengthy, and took about two years, but Jeni was awarded full custody of the children. No maintenance had ever been received, but Jeni was now free to think about the future.

Sheik Isa bin Suliman sent me an invitation to visit Bahrain, and it would have been the experience of a lifetime. He was fabulously wealthy and generous. In his dining room he had a large cupboard in which he kept gold watches, pearl necklaces and bracelets, gold and diamond cufflinks, which he handed out to his dinner guests like After Dinner Mints. He sent me six gold and pearl bracelets and a string of Bahrain pearls and to Tom he gave a gold Jager wrist watch and solid gold cufflinks with diamonds in the corners. He also gave Tom six white Arab stallions for the use of the Royal Air Force! These proved to be quite an embarrassment because although Tom was not officially allowed to accept gifts and horses, it would have been an insult to refuse them. The stallions were shipped out to some Air Force station for the use of the mounted police, but I cannot remember where.

When I was unable to accept the Sheik’s kind invitation, he paid for Tom to fly out to visit us instead. Later Tom flew on another indulgence flight, which landed in Salisbury, carrying members of the British Government who were meeting with Ian Smith, so he did spend two holidays with us, in the cottage, and seemed to enjoy life there. It must have been during one of his visits that my father and I resumed contact because he liked Tom very much and wanted to see him.

Tom was due to retire in about four year’s time. The chances of him finding employment in the UK at the age of 55 were not great, and we still had the problem of where to live. Buying a house would be impossible, paying rent to Air Ministry for most of our married life did not allow for savings, and so Tom applied for, and was granted, early retirement. Suggesting and encouraging that action was yet another of my big mistakes, a big part of him died when he left the RAF and he was never truly happy after that. But he had to face retirement some time.

Before Tom joined us I sold the cottage and bought a new, larger more modern house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, large dining room, huge lounge, nice kitchen and a garage, on a large corner stand. My father had a hundred fir trees to plant round the perimeter and they were ready for collection at the railway station. I wondered how I would transport them but there was no cause for concern, they were in four little boxes and each plant was no more that six inches high! To conserve water, I planted a plastic pipe in the ground next to the root of each tree, and into these pipes I would pour a mixture of water and liquid plant food. It was amazing how quickly they grew.

Jeni asked if she could give a little dinner party for a girl friend, her boy friend and her brother, who was supposedly coming as a date for Jeni. I went out for the evening so that they could have the place to themselves, and on returning found Jeni sitting on the big brick fireplace with a very nice looking young man who seemed to have lovely manners, who was introduced at Tony. The friend and her brother, who Jeni did not fancy, had left. We talked for a little while and Tony told me that he had just finished his army service and was still looking for a job, and then he left. As his car pulled out of the driveway, I turned to Jeni and said “He’ll do!”

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