Thursday, 9 October 2014

The End of The Beginning

As school days come to an end the question is what next?  My mother had been brought up to believe that girls should not be educated for ‘blue stockings are a bore they have no small talk’.  She decided that I should go into the hotel trade as a cook and entered me for a course at a college in Gloucester.  For the first time in my life I rebelled and announced that I wanted to go to agricultural college to learn about pig keeping so, escorted by both my parents I was interviewed by the Principal of Kingston Mauward College and entered as a farm student for Autumn 1955 subject to first spending a year working on a farm.  The opportunity for that came when I overheard our cousin Sally Sparrow, who had inherited a big house and two small farms near Plymouth, say she needed help.  It wasn’t long before she discovered I was most useful as a housemaid and general odd job girl so I found myself taking tea to her PGs (paying guests) in the early morning, hoovering acres of floor and sweeping mountains of stairs, washing sheets and all by hand for she had no washing machine in those days.  I led a double life because Sally tried to maintain standards of another era where staff lived and worked behind a green baize door; there I made some real friends but because I was family I ate in the dining room with Sally and all her guests.
To make ends meet besides running the two farms Sally took in young officers who were ‘standing by’ submarines in refit in Devonport, as well FCO families on leave from the Sudan.  Behind the house was a big walled garden where she grew fruit and flowers for the London market so I helped there as well which is why a young submariner found me under a gooseberry bush one warm July afternoon.  Under a gooseberry bush?  Yes, for how else would you pick the biggest fattest gooseberries that grow in the middle of a very large bush other than lying on your back and wriggling right into the middle?  Before long George Hayhoe and I were ‘walking out’ every evening accompanied by Bung, a small and vociferous Siamese kitten who hurled abuse at us if the grass was long and wet as he struggled to keep up, and Sally’s very old labrador Commodore who would amble ahead and then turn clearly thinking ‘what, you young things at it again, come on – catch up.’ 
At supper one evening early in October George leant across the supper table and in front of about twelve of Sally’s guests and said, ‘Enough of pigs, I’ve thought of another job for you,’ but no amount of questioning would persuade him to say what it was for three long days.
To celebrate my birthday on 10th October the submariners took me to The Sportsman’s Arm in Ivybridge and toasted me in champagne – I remember wondering why anyone should enjoy it; I said it tasted like Enos fruit salts.  The moon was full and when we got home it seemed too early to go to bed so I offered to show George a trap door in the attic which opened onto the roof.  In a valley between two gables, under the stars George asked me to marry him and, being a nicely brought up girl, I said ‘yes please!’
Next time I’ll go back to the beginning of the war when the Free French Fleet sailed into Falmouth Harbour.

ps.  Did you spot the spelling mistake?  Never trust a spell checker! 

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