A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs
Within two months I was pregnant again, and within four months we had moved house again. I was just as under the weather with this baby too, and also had a baby to care for. My husband was often away on army manoeuvres and what were called practise camps, so there wasn’t much support around.
The one difference this time was that I knew another young army wife with two young children who was as lonely and stressed as I was. Neither of us could drive, but we both had a telephone. We spent hours on it, never saying anything of much import, but just whiling away the time talking to another adult. We had very little in common, and when I moved house again some months later, I never heard from her again. But we’d each served a purpose in each other’s lives at that moment in time.
This time around too I also had the absorbing interest of watching my daughter growing. I’d discovered a fascination with child development after reading a sociological magazine called New Society for several years. Now I was watching child development in action. I knew from my reading that from eighteen months to three years, when the brain is at its most active, children are like sponges, soaking up words, information and new skills and that between the ages of eighteen months and three, the toddler’s brain is twice as active as the adult brain.
As I watched my daughter, I could see that the range of skills babies acquire -physical, mental and emotional – was awe-inspiring. And I was watching a baby of ten months thinking and deducting. One Friday afternoon as I sat on the sofa feeling ill, hearing the helpful local grocer deliver our box of groceries for the week and leave it in the kitchen, my ten- month old daughter skated into the kitchen on her bottom, her normal mode of getting about. I let her. Some-time later she came through to the sitting room and tugged my hand, making it clear she wanted me to go into the kitchen.
When I did, I was awed. She had unpacked the box, putting the butter, cheese, bacon and yogurt by the fridge door which she couldn’t open. Neither could she open the cupboard door under the sink but the things like wash-up liquid, harpic, vim etc were neatly lined up by the cupboard door.
The jams, tins of baked beans etc, were neatly lined up on the lowest shelf in the larder where they were stored. Everything was in its place. Unbeknown to me she had watched me and learned where everything went, even stuff like baked beans and cleaning materials that she had no truck with. She’s continued to organise me ever since…
Her brother’s birth some months later and a fortnight early was so painful that I passed out, having no pain threshold at all, and my last thought being; “this is worse than anything I thought possible.” When I regained consciousness, I found a whole host of seemingly worried people gathered around my bed. I left hospital the next day so that my daughter wouldn’t notice that I’d gone and revelled in being thin again, and fitting into a tight pale blue dress bought by mail for three pounds from Kings Road, Chelsea, fashion capital of the world for my generation!
Shortly after the birth of his son, my restless husband decided to apply to learn Mandarin-Chinese and take off for Hongkong. This entailed spending a year at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, before attending Hongkong University for several years. So we had to find somewhere to live within reach of the capital.
One night I was cursorily scanning the personal columns of the Daily Telegraph looking for somewhere to live. My husband was away with his regiment on manoeuvres, and I was filling in the trying gap between the baby’s ten o’clock and two o’clock feed.
I found a few lines offering a country house in the right area for nearly the right price – for a year. The next day I rang. The owner was delighted – he was off to Greenwich Naval College and wanted someone to keep his house warm. “Chudor, ya’ know,” he told me, listing the bedrooms… he said he’d pay the gardener.
We arranged a time that weekend to inspect the place, and when my husband returned the next day he went off on what he called a recce. He came back looking rather panic-stricken. “It’s bigger than Hampton Court,” he said, “and looks like it too, all red brick.”
Reference books describe the place – Layer Marney Towers – as a Tudor palace, composed of buildings, gardens and parkland, dating from 1520. The handsome red brick gate house is the tallest in England.
Undaunted, I persevered, rather fancying the idea of living in a stately home. We’d never be able to heat it, my husband argued, and then I saw the light – with an eighteen- month- old and a four- month- old, that mattered.
So I returned to the personal columns, and struck gold a week later. “This one sounds OK”, I said,” right area, right rent, and only five bedrooms” (my ideas had expanded considerably since my brush with Layer Marney Towers the previous week). I rang the owner – same story – wanted someone to live in it for a year, this time while he wound up his boat building business in East Anglia. “You’ll love it,” he said, and reeled off the amenities: “there’s the garden bedroom, the oak bedroom, the red bedroom, the four- poster bedroom, and the end bedroom…” My husband panicked again.
But a few days later we set off on a light June evening driving through quiet Essex lanes, with honeysuckle and dog roses winding in among the high hazel, hawthorn and elderberry hedges. We found Newney Hall (also a listed historic building) dreaming between fields and hedgerows, a small lake – which in the twilight was almost black and edged with a tangle of lilacs and shrubs – lying between it and the road. The house, Tudor red brick, and Essex pantiles on the upper floor with casement windows, stretched beyond the lake, reaching into a circular lawn with a cedar in the middle. Beyond that, a walled orchard.
As we walked down the gravel drive I could hear the sounds of music coming from the house. A knock on the door revealed a rather vague looking woman with a viola tucked under one arm, and the bow held in her other hand, as though she could hardly bear to stop between bars to open the door. “George!” she called imperiously, and the seigneur hurried to welcome us. Within minutes the deal was done, and we moved in a week or so later.
The house had been built in the time of Edward the Sixth, Henry the Eighth’s son, and all the land around had been gifted to Wadham College, Oxford in the same reign, so nothing in the landscape had changed for over four hundred years. The fields and trees, lanes and barns were untouched by time, and since there was no sound of traffic, no jet planes practising, and only occasionally the sound of a distant tractor, the whole place lay wrapped in an almost primeval peace. There was no other house in sight.
Wood pigeons cooed incessantly somewhere in the trees, cocooning us in their summer sounds, the donkey in the next field brayed occasionally, the cows mooed as they shambled past to the milking shed at the farm beyond the house. The old black painted, red-roofed tiled barns, grain sheds on staddle stones, and stables were laid out around a square, where the cows sheltered in winter. I walked across to the cow- shed every day, my eighteen month old trotting along beside me, baby on my hip, and carrying a big cream- ware jug in which to to collect my fresh milk. We also went there to pick up new-laid eggs from the farmer.
The house was built from huge beams and filled in between them with a mixture of mud and straw. They were plastered over, and the walls were about three feet thick, with deep window ledges where I put books and vases of flowers. Two old aunts had been living in the house before expiring and gifting it to George. In the mid-sixties they were over ninety, and the house was unchanged since the days when they had been born back in the 1870’s. So was the dust. When I moved an antique chest of drawers to dust behind it, a thrush disintegrated into fine powder.
I scrubbed and polished, opened windows, put flowers in jugs in the deep window sills, polished brass, and made the tables shine, re-arranged the country Hepplewhite chairs, and the drop-leaf Sheraton table, cleared thick cobwebs from behind the family portraits and arranged our still -new wedding presents, clocks and silver, antique oriental rugs and a few good prints and pictures, all my books, and the baby’s equipment and paraphernalia.
I spring cleaned from top to bottom, washed curtains, scrubbed floors, and polished and dusted the elegant Chippendale chairs. It was like living in a time warp. No heating, a gas stove so old I’d never seen one like it, and neither had the serviceman when he came. If it’s working, best leave it, he said, shaking his head. I had a big kitchen with a big square scrubbed table in the middle, red and white checked tiled floor which needed scrubbing on my hands and knees every week, and a real larder with marble slab. The only gadgets – my wedding present pop-up toaster and a wooden spoon!
At weekends, we filled the house with friends and others. School friends from Malaya, friends from my laughing, irresponsible army days, all of us weighted down with two and sometimes a half, children. Anne coming to stay while her husband laboured through Staff College, forgot the address, so simply peered at windows of large houses till she saw toys in them, she said.
Others came in distress, a girl friend known since childhood days at Catterick, diagnosed with MS, a fellow officer of my husband’s who’d been court- martialled, and who had nowhere to go; then there was the Polish-French, Quaker student at London University who’d never been invited to an English home in his previous three years, and who told my husband I worked too hard – which puzzled me exceedingly – didn’t everyone who had children?
There was the person behind an SOS in the personal columns of the Telegraph – pregnant and needing a home. She stayed for six long weeks, lolling around the house in pink, fluffy, bed-room slippers, never leaving me in privacy with my new-found neighbourly friends, and not enjoying my food. She’d left a previous haven because she didn’t like the vegetarian food. She left us after six weeks for another address, presumably hoping the food there would be better. She’d arranged to give the baby to a woman who wanted one!
And there was my teenage cousin who introduced me to the Beatles – not in person! She had a genius IQ and had been sent to an expensive boarding school to make the most of it. But she hated her school, and at this juncture, her mother too, so she came to us for regular holidays with tangled hair and skimpy skirts. There were parents and in -laws, brothers and their girl- friends, Helen, my former colonel, now a god-mother… and then back to primeval peace during the week
All this entertaining meant lots of food and cooking. Now we were at last the grateful recipients of marriage allowance, I was able to move on from mince and baked beans and tins of stewed steak and indulge in good food and pander to my sweet tooth with chocolate souffles, choux pastries, croquembouche, mousses and more.
My husband meanwhile had made plenty of new friends in his new working environment, including a pretty blonde girl called Angela. Although I liked her when he brought her home, we had several fierce rows because he went to parties with her, leaving me at home with the babies. I tried everything to make home seem attractive, cooking delicious dinners for him, having a drink waiting for him when he got home…
One night during one an angry argument about Angela, I dumped his steak and kidney pudding and vegetables on my husband’s head in despair. Mistake. He was a tall powerful man who never understood that when he hit my head with the full force of his hand, I wasn’t doing a Hollywood as he called it, when I sank to the ground too nauseous and dizzy to stay upright. On this night, apart from painful physical reprisals, I’d given myself lots of cleaning up to do.
And later, I lay in the long sweet -smelling grass in the orchard, where I’d seen the red fox glide through, and cried my eyes out under the late evening summer sky. At twenty- seven I thought no-one would ever love me.
To be continued
Food for threadbare gourmets
I’ve always made the same recipe for chocolate mousse, using an egg per six squares of dark chocolate, but this three ingredient recipe from NZ cookery writer, Annabel Langbein, is a delicious quick alternative. She uses 200g dark chocolate and recommends chocolate with as high a chocolate content as possible – I use 72% .
Break the chocolate into squares and melt very slowly and gently with a cup of cream and a cup of white marshmallows. (250 ml of cream, and 100gm of marshmallows.)
When smooth and melted remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Beat remaining cream to soft peaks and fold through chocolate mixture. Pour into glasses or bowls and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.
Most recipes recommend putting the ingredients in a bowl and placing over boiling water to melt. I’ve never bothered. I just put everything into a saucepan and gently melt. The trick is to do it slowly so the mixture doesn’t go grainy but becomes smooth. And if it does become grainy, this doesn’t affect the taste, so you can soldier on regardless! And I always add a few drops of vanilla to the mix.
Food for thought
We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.
Ernest Hemingway, American writer and hell-raiser
Having huge issues with internet, so apologies for no response to the beautiful comments before this page clicks out on me. Back soon !!
35 responses to “Living in Splendour”
Oh, Valerie, from your delightful ten month old to an abusive husband – what a chapter. Now to go back and catch up…….. 🙂
So good to hear from you Sally… having issues with the internet, and timing out as I try to catch up on blogs and comments, but hope to get sorted soon, love Valerie
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It’s an amazing story Valerie though not always a happy one..
xxx Massive Hugs xxx
So good to see you David, and thank you for your enthusiasm… so glad you find my story interesting – so encouraging – hugs to you too, Valerie
Another wonderful quote to remember. Thank you for that.
Once more you’ve taken me on a tour of your home and your life with your vivid and heartfelt descriptions. You did indeed work too hard and, it sounds like, for an ingrate. You left me sobbing with you at the end of your beautifully told story.
I’m enjoying the sound of thunder and heavy rain as I write. Something soothing about it in the wee hours of the morning before the sun is up and hubby is at work.
Sending much love to you and himself.
We have the rain and thunder too ,,, and are enjoying the elements too…
Our internet is playing up, and we never got back to you to say thank you for your lovely e-mail and painting… he was primed and then we time out…
Thank you for your beautiful comments… you know what a gift your words are…Love…
Thank you for letting me know about your internet. That has to be frustrating. At any rate I’m glad you did receive the email and the attachment. It was fun to combine two of my passions, swimming and painting. ❤
Shalom and hugs to the both of you,
Steak and kidney pudding on the head was a rather restrained action in the circumstances! I am glad you didn’t waste any gorgeous chocolate mousse on him.
Ha-ha, Amanda, glad to know I have your support in the food throwing department !
And good too, to see your comment, thank you, and know you’re still reading !!
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I had a feeling Valerie that your ex.husband’s frustration at life and his sense of entitlement would erupt into violence and my heart cracked for you as your story has unfolded. Your courage shines through as you offered different souls a home space. The sparks of pure energy that you showed in finding that home in the first place, highlight your inner fortitude. Hugs Xx
Jane , what a beautiful and perceptive comment… thank you for all the lovely things you say, and for your loving support…so good to be in touch..
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Hugs for you, Valerie ❤ xXx
What a promising start and what a sad ending! It must be satisfying to you to be able tell the story, Valery.
It’s been a fascinating exercise to go back and tell the story – as you say, Peter… I expect you must feel the same as you share the ups and downs and ins and outs of your long winding road to be with your beloved wife… it’s so good to see your smiling face each week…
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We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in. Ernest Hemingway, American writer and hell-raiser
Sigh! I swung from excited to delighted to wondrous enchantment, to crying, as I read this installment.
Oh, how my heart broke for you. That man was tremendously broken…the light of the whole sun must have floundered him…and he didn’t care.
As for you…what joy and misery. Your amazing courage and fortitude is outstanding. Still…my heart breaks for you and this time in your life.
It’s been a fascinating exercise to go back and tell the story – as you say, Peter… I expect you must feel the same as you share the ups and downs and ins and outs of your long winding road to be with your beloved wife… it’s so good to see you smiling face each week…
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Dear Linda, what a heart warming supportive message from you, thank you… the main thing is – I survived… but had to jump through a lot of hoops to make life work !!!!
Yes, I loved that quote from Hemingway, even though he was not one of my favourite people !!!
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He isn’t one mine either. His life-style….well, you understand.
Valerie, that “ending” broke my heart for you. What a complete jerk. But I was so fascinated to read about your daughter’s organizational and leadership skills at such a young age. You have had such a rich life, even with its low places. Send you hugs across the miles.
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Lovely to hear from you Luanne … so good to know you finding my story ‘rich’ even though it was often ‘hard’ – there’s lots more to come !!!
Yes, children’s development is utterly amazing isn’t it…and – I have to say – I still marvel over the development and transformation of Perry into the amazing little character that he is, when he felt safe and loved and secure…hugs to you and a tickle behind the ears to him !!!
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Yes, I can see that your childhood was unique and quite difficult. You are so resilient to come through it so well. Ah, Perry! What a little love! He has come SO far. Who could believe a little feral-acting cat could be the biggest lovebug of them all? I will pet him for you!
I honestly don’t know how you survived in that marriage as long as you did, though I know a person’s options were very few in those days. Your daughter’s early skills were amazing. Being an ‘older’ mum I also was aware that children from naught to three were like sponges and I devoted those and as many years as she would allow to teaching our daughter, not lecturing, but demonstrating and providing opportunities for her to blossom. It was the best thing I have done in my life, and I’m sure you feel the same. It heartens me to know that you now have love and a much deserved life you enjoy. xx
Lovely to hear from you Ardys… yes, watching our children grow, and fostering their talents and happiness is an utterly joyful process, isn’t it… I simply loved being a mother…
Thank you for your kind and understanding words … yes, in the end, I have found happiness, even though those I love don’t accept the path I have now taken… which does sadden me.. .que sera sera….
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Some of those I love have found it difficult to accept the path I chose too, but I haven’t regretted it for a minute 💕
Pity your husband chickened out on Layer Marney Towers – what an experience that would have been! The alternative sounds good, too.
Even under the provocation of having dinner dumped on me, had I ever struck my wife she would have left, immediately. That had been drilled into her from childhood. Too bad all abusive men don’t receive the same treatment plus a hiding from someone stronger than themselves to reinforce the lesson.
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I agree… I’ve sometimes regretted we didn’t take that wonderful opportunity… and yet… I loved the alternative…
ah… I understand what you’re saying about your wife, but I had nowhere to go having married in order to leave a home where I was unwelcome, and all my money had gone… and then I was pregnant when he started strong-arming me !!!!…
The problem with my husband was that he’d been a spoiled mummy’s boy all through the war, and his father when he returned put most of his energies into running his church… .
In he end, I made another life – which will emerge in the next few weeks !!
Thank you for sticking with my saga !!!!
You were really between a rock and a hard place! I look forward to, at least, a happier ever after!
Your descriptions & your words just pull me into the picture you’re painting….I can see & feel the house …& I can see & feel your frustrations with the husband….I think he deserved the pot of steak & kidney in his lap never mind the plateful! …oops sorry to be another Angela though !!
Help don’t know why that came up ‘anonymous’ ….dratted techs things…anyway I’ll sign with my name & send love & best wishes too!!
Angela, always lovely to hear from you… and it’s such a gift to know that you enjoy my words, and can ‘see’ what I want to share – I finally beat the internet, and managed to get the picture of Layer Marney Towers up….
Glad you approve of my food throwing !!!!
Thank you for both Comments – love Valerie
Goodness…Layer Marner Towers, now that’s impressive….a lot of dusting & vacuuming though!
Valerie, this is enthralling. You tell such a good story! I dropped in for a read while I’m out at the bach and have a little more time. My lap top has been upgraded and seems to deal better with the slow broadband out here in the wilds, and so I can now read your posts. Hurrah!
Juliet, how lovely to see you and know you’re there !
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm, it’s so easy when writing about oneself to wonder if it’s really interesting to others… so your words mean a lot to me …
Computers are such a puzzle and so utterly indispensable these days aren’t they ! Enjoy your time at the bach, love Valerie
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Just when I thought there was sunshine in your life, another issue pops up. You are tenacious and a survivor. Looking forward to the next chapter.
Hello Kate, thank you so much for sticking with my saga …
When I read your comment, and was thinking about what to reply, that deliciously trite remark: ‘into each life a little rain must fall ‘ , popped into my mind !!!!
The sunshine comes and goes, but mostly comes when I get over the hump as it were !!!! Thank you, as ever for your encouragement…