The happiness of family


My sister visited this week from Tasmania – she came up to visit Mum ( and my brother and myself as well). I actually have two sisters and a brother. When Dad was alive we spent a lot of time as a bigger family but now it is just Rob, Al and I. We have spent a lot of time with my lovely Mum. Mum is not perfect, she never set herself up to be. She has many faults as we all do. One of her endearing traits is her absolute love of family.

When I was 11, Mum struggled to come to school for my afternoon tea for our parents. As final year before High School, we were in the top form and we had sat our 11 plus. I had passed and was going to Heriots Wood Grammar, which was presided over by none other than my mother’s Science Teacher from Chichester Grammar, who was now the Head Mistress. This event was arranged by the school. Encouraged by our teachers, we (children) put on an afternoon tea in the primary school canteen, bringing our own crockery and I think cutlery – we were told to set it out nicely for our Mum’s to kind of prove that we could join the human race and could put on a fancy High Tea for our first “grownup” occasion before we left Primary School and went to High School. It was an event every young person at our school was proud to take part in. I had to travel to school with my “stuff” in a shopping cart and try not to “break anything”. Which I did not. It was summer, and Mum was 8 months pregnant with Anita. She looked really good in her best maternity dress, a navy blue smock which went over a blouse. And she made a great effort to walk to our school in her nap time, and secretly I was really thrilled. There were moments when I  was a little embarrassed – like who has a pregnant Mum, but I coped – we had to serve the tea, pour it out, hand out the food and tidy up afterwards. That terrified me – I did not want to have an accident in front of Mum and my friends – like a crockery breakage or a milk spill.

I survived the ordeal, did not break any china – put up with our lovely male teacher that year Mr Forster being introduced to my mother. Then we had the journey back home with our best china – how scary is that – along an English pavement which was not very flat, there were always cracks to negotiate which were difficult – and we then were on “Summer Holidays”. What an Elysian time – warm days, blackberrying later on nearer September in the playing fields down the road – riding my bike everywhere. Lazing around at home reading books. Waiting for the baby to be born. Despite the fact that Mum had a very uncomfortable time with this birth – we – Alison and I – did not realize anything at the time. Somehow – Mum survived the first part of the labor – then started losing blood and her idea of having the baby at home, which went well with Alison – when she was 27, did not work out at 37 – there was an ambulance and Mum went to hospital – and we did not remember a thing.

Kids in our household were kids – Dad was ex Army and a Policeman so he was used to just saying that is how it is and that is what we do – end of story. When Mum eventually came home a week or so later – she had this lovely bundle – which Alison and I fell in love with instantly.

We had our cousin Amanda stay with us, at about 18 months old and she caught chickenpox – so we had to be in quarantine. Mum just loved having a bub around and caught the baby bug. Quite a few of her friends did too – so her former playgroup – Wednesday afternoon teas became another playgroup. Except for Auntie Peggy and Auntie Joyce who were not able to have any more – we were no exception in having a much younger playmate.

Then further excitement – we had another playmate due – and this time Mum went straight to Hospital – at Edgeware Rod, Rob informs me – and Dad came home from hospital looking like a very happy man. Dad its a boy isn’t it – I got it straight away. Three girls is a bit much – when it adds up to four women in a home including Mum. So now it was two men- and Dad had a son!

Both children we helped to look after – changing nappies and feeding. Mum had two very keen helpers. We had a tiny bungalow and it got very squeezy. We managed somehow.

Then we migrated to Australia – which was a big family time. We came by BOAC and we stopped everywhere. Zurich, Bahrain ( where we got out of the plane and saw lots of Arabs beautifully dressed in robes and headdresses), Karachi ( where Dad told us not to drink the water – so we didn’t drink anything) Singapore, Darwin then finally Brisbane. I am fairly sure we got out of the plane whenever we could except Zurich. Anita had a huge doll which she hugged the entire time. Rob ate cereal the entire trip – which was great – and he slept -so lucky – we were unable to sleep. When we finally arrived we were all wrung out by being awake for thirty hours – they decided to check out our entire luggage at customs but didn’t take apart Anita’s doll – we didn’t offer as we were over officialdom of any sort. We were kind of smug about it – as that would be an obvious place for any contraband – not that we even thought about that!

Mum was amazing for the whole trip – she made sure we were all fed and watered, and laughed about the luggage ordeal. We went to a local hotel in Brisbane City – strangely I spent my first honeymoon night there some years later – it hadn’t changed. Not the nicest of places ( a bit old fashioned looking) and there was an overwhelming smell of burnt toast – which will always be a memory of my first time in Australia. When we had flown in to Brisbane airport the whole land was swathed in a white mist – the buildings loomed out as colourful, wooden and on posts! Strange after the grey solidness of British homes.

Again Mum was positive and encouraging. We were glum and uncertain about the future. She was busy looking after the little ones, and getting something to eat for all of us – Dad disappeared in a flurry of looking for work, purchasing a car, and getting a rental home. We lived in a hotel for a couple of days, ( I think that was free) – then a motel for a week or so in the West End. Then to Norman Street and I went to Coorparoo State High School. Where a very cheeky “friend” borrowed my drink money to never return it, I failed all my exams and was top in French, and all the male teacher s wore shorts with long socks. Lucky I was only there for four weeks. Alison was relegated back to Primary School which was the other direction from my school. I remember how cold it was and we had left all our warm clothes in the UK.

Then at last we were in our own home in Holland Park, I went to Mt Gravatt State High – (male teachers still in shorts and long socks – I was used to it by now) the happiest time of my life at that time – as my UK all girls Grammar School housed a few bullies – although I did make some good friends there.

These times were uncertain for Mum – she really started to miss her family from the UK and she was a stay at home Mum. Travel to the shops was more arduous than a walk down the road in the UK – it was a long hot trek, and we lived in a hilly area. She jumped at the chance to go back to London, with me when I earned my first wages – we had four weeks together – and we visited relatives, old school friends. Mum ran into an old friend in Bognor on the street. We traveled all over – even going to Edinburgh – which Mum and I loved. When we came back – I could see she had really missed Dad.

She settled down a lot and studied and eventually had a full time job. This was very fulfilling for her – as it was with children – her first job as a nanny and then a Policewoman – involved people. Now even in the retirement home, suffering from old timers ( Alzheimers)  – she is interested in other people – and she continually thanks us for looking after her, and handling all the issues of her life.