Tag Archives: marriage

The Land between the Rock and the Hard Place

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Am too technically incompetent to reduce the size of this outrageously large picture

A Life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

I loved my time in the army. I made friends I still have today. I could afford holidays with them in Provence, and Majorca when it was still empty and unknown. I had beautiful clothes. I had a social life that swung between visiting married friends at weekends, to parties with dashing cavalry officers and staying with their titled parents, to holidays on my own roaming the beloved dales and the moors of Swaledale, or riding across Exmoor and Lorna Doone country on my best friend’s horses with her family.

My army career blossomed, I received promotions very early and was given responsibility far beyond my rank and years, being promoted to captain when I was twenty- two. My last dream job was lecturing all over England and Wales armed with a car and a driver, which also meant staying in the best hotels and in my spare time exploring cathedral towns and remote villages in glorious country-side.

It all came crashing down one day at home on leave. A letter arrived for me from my step-grandfather. I thought it might be a suggestion to meet for lunch as we sometimes did. But it was a deeply underlined request to come to his flat secretly one evening – and tell no-one – in capital letters.

My stepmother saw her father’s hand-writing and insisted on reading it. She hit the roof and accused me of having a fully- fledged affair with him. Her dislike for me – we could only be in each other’s company for short periods before her hostility began to manifest – now crystallised into loathing, and she blamed me for leading him on, and aiming to get my hands on his money – a gold digger she called me.

I left home feeling I could never return, and when my father, who had never taken the episode seriously, began secretly coming to see me I felt that I must be causing trouble between him and my stepmother. I felt the only way out of the impasse was to get married and make a home of my own, and then it would be natural that I wouldn’t be coming home.

With that intention I soon met someone, convinced myself that I loved him, and we became engaged. The engagement survived the freezing legendary winter of ‘62/63, driving around in his unheated MG in a sheepskin coat, and I was grateful too, that this was the year woolly tights were invented.

My engagement ring somehow symbolised the future. I had just wanted an in-expensive antique ring, but my future mother- in- law apparently deemed this unsuitable. She invited me to tea, and as we finished our cherry cake, a knock on the door produced the local jeweller with a tray of conventional rings with no price tags. I was mortified, but chose the ring I disliked least, feigning delight, and knowing that she was paying for it, not my fiancée.

Trying to be like all my friends and pretending that I had a normal loving home like everyone else – it had always felt so shameful not to be loved – I organised a traditional wedding and paid for it…from the engagement notices in the Times and Telegraph and printed invitations, to the flowers and church, the wedding cake and reception, the cars and the white satin dress. During this time, I had returned home, and paid my stepmother an in-ordinate sum for the privilege of sleeping on the sofa, since my step-grandmother now lived in my bedroom.

My new husband had grandiose ideas, so we were booked into the Savoy Hotel for the first night of our honeymoon, before travelling first class to Cornwall, where after a night in another expensive hotel we caught a plane to the Scilly Isles for two weeks in another expensive hotel.

Our first night in the Scilly Isles life came crashing down again.                                             My husband asked me for a cheque to pay for the honeymoon, pay off all his debts, and his overdraft at the bank. “I promised the bank manager I’d pay it with your money as soon as we were married”, he told me. (I’ve sometimes wondered what the bank manager must have thought of this promise)

The amount swallowed nearly all my savings after the expense of the wedding. It felt as though a prison cell door had just banged shut behind me. I wept and rolled around on the bed in agony. My husband simply couldn’t understand why I was so upset. He simply couldn’t see why it felt like a betrayal. And I was right to fear the future. This was only the first of many betrayals awaiting me.

Somehow, I put the misery to one side, and tried to make the best of things. Just as well, as within a couple of weeks I was felled with morning sickness. Only it wasn’t morning sickness. It was all day sickness. I carried a saucepan around with me, in the house and in the car. In 1963, two years after thalidomide had been withdrawn, the doctor was not going to give me anything to help, he just said it would pass, so I tried every folk remedy from raw carrots to ginger biscuits!

I also got hopelessly behind with things like the washing! Being something of a dandy, my husband owned fifty- two shirts, and one hot June day we came to the end of them. They were all piled into the dirty linen basket. With a handful of other young married couples, we had gathered in someone’s army quarter to pass round The News of The World and read the latest instalment of the Profumo scandal.

My husband was down to his last shirt – so old it had no sleeves, but he’d hidden this deficiency with a tweed sports jacket. Everyone ribbed him mercilessly until he ruefully took off the jacket – with an apologetic glance in my direction – revealing the humiliating shirt and my in-adequacy!

It was worse when we were visiting his mother at Christmas. She was a perfectionist who ruled her family with an iron hand, but not with that velvet glove. She found her precious son was wearing summer pyjamas in winter. She was mystified – I gave him lots of warm viyella pyjamas – she kept saying until I confessed they were all stuffed in the dirty linen basket… but pregnancy was no excuse for not looking after her son properly!

Towards the end of November, sitting on the sofa, feeling ill as usual, and waiting for my husband to come home, he arrived through the door in some haste at twenty-past seven. He hurried to the radio and turned it on saying President Kennedy had been shot. As I was pooh-poohing any truth in it, citing De Gaulle’s escape from 140 bullets the year before, the Archers – the long running farming serial –  was interrupted.

An announcer told us that President Kennedy had just died. Like everyone else, we were stunned – it seemed unbelievable. The life and light of a leader who personified hope for the world just snuffed out. The inspiration of our generation gone, with no warning. Only grief and disbelief left to us.

Two days later we were at dinner in Winchester with my oldest school friend from Malaya. Her husband turned on the television to watch the news. As we watched, still shaken and shocked from the assassination, we saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, there under our very eyes as we watched – at that very moment in time. That, too, seemed unbelievable. The whole world seemed to rock.

Lack of money beset us from the start of the marriage, as my new husband was a year too young to receive ration allowance, which started when officers were twenty-five. The idea was to discourage early marriage so young officers were keener to go out and be killed fighting than if they had a wife and family!

With all my savings gone, in the last few weeks of pregnancy we were so skint, that I gave my husband the only good piece of jewellery I had ever bought for myself – an amethyst ring – to go and sell to raise some money. Predictably we didn’t get very much… just enough to buy food for that weekend.

We had moved house, from a posting in Wiltshire to an army quarter in Essex, in the last month of pregnancy, and I had managed to get a bed in a London teaching hospital. Still vomiting to the last, I weighed a stone less the day after the birth. To the envy of the other mothers, my clothes were hanging off me after the baby was born – unscathed by her mother’s ordeal- bouncing, bonny and over seven and a half pounds.

I had never gone back to the unhelpful doctor, so had missed out on pre-natal information, and had no idea what birth was actually about, my best information being from’ Gone with the Wind’ and Melanie hanging onto a knotted towel so as not to groan.

No knotted towel, but gritted teeth meant that I heard the nurse in the labour ward tell my husband he might as well go home since I was asleep. So he did, even though I raised my head and said I was awake! When the baby was born later that night, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life when she was placed in my arms already sucking her thumb.

That beautiful moment was somewhat marred some hours later when a trainee African doctor from Khartoum who hardly spoke any English, and didn’t seem to have heard of anaesthetics, marched in, ignored my protests and sewed me up with nothing to dull the pain.

When that was over, I was handed a telegram which had just reached the hospital. The words simply said: “Gone to Cyprus”. My husband’s regiment had been sent – as the last men standing – to douse the flames of civil war in Cyprus. The month before in January, after  Zanzibar had exploded, the armies of Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya had  mutinied over pay and conditions, and each government had asked Britain to send troops to help. It felt as though half Africa was in a state of insurrection with British troops flying everywhere.

My husband’s regiment was on standby for the next emergency, and it had arrived- Greeks and Turks at each other’s throats in Cyprus. The Daily Express wrote that “25,000 Turks have already been forced to leave their homes”, and the Guardian reported a massacre of Turkish-Cypriots at Limassol on 16 February 1964, the day my daughter was born.

It’s hard to explain how vulnerable I felt – psychologically I needed someone to care for me while I cared for the new baby, while we were suddenly much worse off financially with me in one place, and him in another. I hardly knew the house we had just moved to, and I was terrified of my new born baby, not having any idea how to care for her.

I left hospital after a week and went to stay with my in-laws for two weeks. Then my father drove me back to the army quarter I’d briefly lived in. Painters had come in while I was away, and the house was cold, damp and depressing with white paint spots over everything, including my bright new, stainless steel, wedding present pop-up toaster. The painters had obviously not bothered to use drop cloths. All my neighbours –  other army wives – had packed up and gone home to their families, so I was high and dry and alone.

I couldn’t drive the car parked in the garage, had no phone, and had to walk pram and baby through the cold foggy February weather to the village shop two miles away, to get shillings to feed the gas meter for heating. I was frightened and depressed. And the baby had colic. She cried for most of the day and night while I paced up and down with her in my arms, before collapsing with a fierce migraine when she was six weeks old.

So now, like the other wives, I packed up too and went to stay with my in-laws in London for a few weeks before taking the train to Manorbier at the furthest tip of Wales, where my best friend from our army days now lived. Her baby was a year older, and the weeks spent here were full of joyful jokes, as though we were still carefree and unmarried. Her friendly husband watched us in tolerant amusement. We still hark back in our letters to the fun we had then, and I turned my life around in that time. My daughter thrived and I got my courage back again.

When I returned to the house in Essex, I had enough energy now to tackle the over grown lawn, mowing three square feet with a push lawn mower every night after the baby was in bed, until I completed it. I began walking the pram into town a couple of miles away and attending the baby clinic every week for weighing and measuring, until they said I only needed to bring the baby every two weeks. It never occurred to me to tell them that this was the only time I saw anyone to talk to.

And now a few old friends came to stay, and one or two families trickled back into neighbouring army quarters.  I stopped fearing that my husband would be shot by Greeks or Turks. His regiment had now become part of the UN peacekeeping force, patrolling the Green Line.

After six months he returned and I was rather taken aback to find a cache of new clothes made by a local tailor in his luggage, and also to discover that he had learned to swim, thanks to the friendship of a girl from the Foreign Office. He hadn’t mentioned either of these things in his in-articulate weekly letters, but I pushed my surprise to the back of my mind.  The second day he was back, I realised as we sat in the sunshine in the garden, that I was bored, and supposed that this was one of the inevitable stages of marriage.

To be continued…

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 I’m not really a meat eater, especially when it comes to beef. So cooking one of Himself’s favourite things – spaghetti Bolognaise  – is always a bit of a chore. But I’ve just discovered the answer for me – in the Daily Mail of all places. Only three ingredients needed, and the whole thing can bubble away while I beef up the Bolognaise! I halved the amount, so used one tin of tomatoes, the recommended onion, and three tablespoons of butter. For four people, double the ingredients, apart from the onion. Don’t chop the onion, just peel and cut in half. Put everything in a saucepan and let it all bubble gently for forty -five minutes, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, fish out the onion. The resulting rich smooth tomato sauce over pasta and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan is food for the gods. Who needs beef?

 Food for thought

‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ Stella Adler – actress and acting teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life’s Like That

My life, like many, is not so much a drama as a tale of tiny things. But in the end they add up to a life. This is the tale of a few days of this week.

Tuesday          When I walked through the cemetery to the marble bench to sit in the sun, the grass seemed to be sprinkled with flowers like pink confetti. They were bright pink with yellow centres, the size of primroses, but only growing half an inch from the ground. I sat on the warm bench and looked over the turquoise harbour.

A monarch butterfly floated across and came to rest on the purply-blue flower of a creeper in the tangle of shrubs leading down to the water. I watched the orange and black wings spreading over the amethyst flower, and watched it lift off again, and swoop and flutter in a wide circle before coming back to the same flower. It then drifted to another flower head, before settling on the grass, presumably to digest its meal.

When it rose again in the air, it dropped down to a shrub where another monarch was already feasting. The two rose in the air, fluttering and dodging around each other, until my butterfly was driven away, and did a wide arc halfway round the cemetery, before coming back and settling on another bush.

I drifted back home, missing Cara the cat, and realising that when she had stopped coming with me but sat by the gate, and then, didn’t even cross the road, but sat by our path, waiting for me to return, she wasn’t being cussed – she was obviously too weak or weary in those last months to come springing across the grass with me, her tail held high, and perfectly straight.

Wednesday          Went for a walk to get away from the problems besetting me in the house. I passed a monarch butterfly fluttering on the pavement. It’s wings were almost completely chewed away, presumably while still in the chrysalis by a voracious praying mantis, but its head and body were intact. It lay there, fluttering the fragments of its ragged wings. I put it in the grass, and went for an illegal wander round Liz and Richard’s empty beautiful garden looking over the harbour.

On my way back I looked, and the butterfly was still struggling. I nerved myself to carry it to the pavement so I could stamp on it and put it out of its misery. I laid it down, and it spread its pathetic little rags in the sun, and I had the sense that it was enjoying the sunshine. I just couldn’t bring myself to stamp the life and the consciousness out of it. So I carried it gently back to the grass, and laid it in the sun.

The colours today are like summer, aquamarine sea, and snowy white foam as the waves dash onto the rocks below. The sun shines, and a bitter wind blows. It seems to have been cold for weeks, so we’re chomping through the walls of logs piled up in the garage.

It was hard to go out tonight, but I’m glad I did. Our monthly meeting when people talk about their life. Journeys, we call them. A woman who lives nearby told us how she had dissolved her three generation family business in fashion, and looked for somewhere in the world to serve. She ended up teaching in a Thai monastery, where her experiences there and at various healing sanctuaries were life- changing. She was glowing.

Thursday          Another bitterly cold day with the sun shining brightly. But the oak tree is shimmering with its new spring green, the crab apple has pink buds peeping out, and nasturtium and arctotis are beginning to spring up in their lovely untidy sprawl through the other greenery. A clutch of tuis are sucking the honey in the golden kowhai trees across the road. They are all covered thickly in their hanging yellow flowers along the roadside, and always seem like the heralds of spring.

Yesterday I got my sweet cleaning lady to help me rip down the white sheets which serve as a canopy on the veranda in summer. Have n’t had the strength in my arthritic hands to do it myself. I’ll wash them and use them to cover things in the garage – not sure what, but there’s bound to be something that will benefit. She told me the four ducklings she’d rescued sit cuddled up to each other at night and cheep for ages. “ I’d love to know what they’re saying to each other”….

Before going to Tai Chi, I rang Friend to thank her for lunch on Sunday, and found her devastated. They’d taken Smudge the cat to the vet because he’s dribbling blood and saliva. He has cancer of the jaw, and they’ve brought him home to try to eke out a few more weeks with him….

Tai Chi was freezing in the scouts hall. Coldest night for a long time. I noticed how pinched all our frozen old faces were by the end – and even the few young ones!

Friday           I rang Friend, she was struggling to get the cushion covers off the sofa, where Smudge had taken refuge from the icy night. They were covered in blood and saliva, so I promised to get my sheets from the veranda washed and dried by tonight so that she can drape them over the two sofas. Then took her for a consolatory coffee at the Market, where we gorged ourselves on good coffee and delicious lemon cake well blanketed in whipped cream… so much for diabetes and arthritis!

As I was writing this, I heard the noise of many children all chattering at onceGot up to look out of the window to see why, and saw two little girls making their way down the steps. I got to the door as they did, and was assailed by both of them talking at once as loud as they could. They were collecting for an animal charity, and the commotion was simply two seven year olds talking at once, and neither listening to the other. I emptied my purse of change and they went on their way well pleased.

So this is life, what happens between getting up to make a cup of tea to take back to bed in the morning, checking the e-mails and reading blogs, keeping the fire piled high with dry logs, and going back to that warm bed at night, with the electric blanket on high, a tray of tea for last thing, and a good book!

This is the raw material, and whether we make a silk purse out of it, or see it as a sow’s ear, it’s up to us. It can be satisfying or it can be boring, but the choice is ours. But as I go through my gratitude list at night before slipping into sleep, there seems much to thank the God of Small Things for.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends dropped in for glass of wine, and apart from a tin of olives stuffed with anchovies, which is a waste of good olives and anchovies to me, I had nothing for the wine to soak into. (I’ve taken to heart the advice to always have a few bites of something first, so the sugar in the wine doesn’t go straight into the blood stream. I also find the wine tastes much nicer if it isn’t sipped on an empty stomach). A dash to the village shop, and I came home with a little pack of the cheapest blue vein cheese, and a carton of cream cheese. Mixed together they make a lovely spread on little chunks of crusty roll, or any good water biscuit. It was enough.

Food for Thought

We thank God then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of events of the day…

From Christian Faith and Practise in the Experience of the Society of Friends.

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