Canadian capers – part II

If you missed part one, it’s here

PHOTO - TORONTO - ST CLAIR W edit

Exploring further afield, we were struck by the almost comical comparison, size-wise, between the UK and Canada. Our roads were narrow and winding, theirs wide and impressive; our houses modest, many of theirs roomier, especially new-builds. And when it came to cars, ours seemed mostly ‘toy-town’. Food portions too made our eyes widen. Order a sandwich in the UK, and you received two slices of white bread with a filling, and that was it. No pickle or side salad; Canadian-style, you also received French fries and a salad. Our rationing system had been harsh! This extended to clothes. I was used to wearing a dress twice before changing. How embarrassing!

W96XOCe editIt wasn’t long before we all found jobs: husband eventually became a Driving Instructor, passing all the strict tests, while I became secretary to a Count de Salis, who had another home in Switzerland and was a friend of Charlie Chaplin‘s (I was very impressionable in those days). The company was Canadian Reinsurance and suited me just fine. Everyone was friendly, except one French Canadian girl, but she eventually forgave me for being English!!

P1010018 editLooking back, we made the most of every hour. Television was still a novelty, there were some excellent films to see and wonderful music to listen to. We attended a fabulous Jazz Concert featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet Dan Vickery, played cards, went bowling, drove on wonderful WIDE highways to picnic near the many, clear lakes. The sheer size of the country was mind-boggling: the trees endless…conifer and deciduous aplenty. We journeyed past forests bursting with pines and spruces, green and splendid in their majesty. We explored nearby towns and environs, read voraciously (well, I did) and wrote dozens of cards and letters back home extolling the virtues and wonders of Canada.

20190730_141448 editWe were wowed by Niagara Falls (twice), camped near a river when I heard my first rattler (but didn’t see it), I never moved so fast! Six of us hired a large tent and pitched it near Lake Penetanguishene (?) but never slept a wink as the men joked: ‘Hush… did you hear that? Could be a bear/snake or Indian…’ creeping up in the darkness, when all I saw were nervous Chipmunks.x

20190730_141500 editAnd then it snowed… Not snow as we knew it in England – where just an extra soupçon brings life to a sudden halt, but heavy snow and BLIZZARDS. At first, we were enchanted – the countryside was a beautiful landscape of glistening, silvery white, until getting to work was a chilly experience: ‘over-drawers’ and thick boots a must. But the street cars coped well for the most part and the snowploughs did an excellent job, except in outlying areas.

For leisure-time, our men made toboggans and we had great fun skimming down nearby hillocks. We were like pigs in mud! Then, quite suddenly, our tenure was changed by an innocent occurrence.20190730_141507 edit

A guy we befriended on board ship: Tommy, was an “expectant father” when his wife was whisked into hospital, where she gave birth to a son, who – sadly – was not expected to live. He eventually returned home, naturally deeply upset, when the phone rang and an apologetic nurse explained there had been a temporary mix-up, and not only was the newly born child a girl, she was also in the best of health, once, ecstatic, he had high-tailed it to the hospital to be reunited with mother and new daughter, he called on us to share the good news and out came the shnaaps. By then, what had been a light fall of snow had become a raging blizzard, so we suggested he stay the night in our spare TV room. Apparently, not a good idea.

The next morning, our zany Latvian landlady– who we often found sitting on the stairs watching and listening to us as if we were suspect drug addicts or something, came up in a great state of anger and over-excitement shouting “You go, you go, no-one else stay here. Against rules!” And so, in another blizzard, we trudged the streets after work, in the dark, looking for yet another retreat.

toronto-storm-vintage-image editWe found one, and yet again, our landlady said. “I don’t allow locks on the doors!” What was it with Canadian landladies?! We later discovered why this particular woman didn’t like locks. She was riffling though our belongings. We double-checked and were proved right. What was she looking for?! We decided not to stay any longer, but before we left, the police arrived and arrested her for threatening a child with a baseball bat for hitting her only son. We certainly knew how to pick ‘em…

Roost No.4 was something else altogether and we had fun there. Friend Tommy was ‘overseer’ of a rambling rooming house in down-town Toronto. The basement was “going cheap” and apart from needing a clean and paint-up – which we soon accomplished, we moved in. We painted “Hernando’s Hideaway” over the doorway (from “The Pyjama Game” on at the time) purchased a few bits and pieces and soon made it comfortable.

A “very friendly” young lady occupied the large, ground-floor front room and I commented on how many men friends she was lucky enough to have and how clean she was… Naïve’s not the word! She vacated the premises after a short stay and two men moved in. On the third night of their tenure, we were woken up by, what sounded like a battalion of men from The Royal Mounted Police, (fortunately sans horses) and the new tenants were arrested for drug-smuggling. Oh, we did see life!

20190730_141514 editThere followed a hiatus of calm and we went about our business and enjoyed life. There were countless cafes and restaurants to dine and wine in, and my company gave two fabulous parties; one in the summer on the Yacht Island on Lake Ontario, the other in the elegant house of our senior director at Christmas time, full of festive cheer. We drove to Ottawa and visited Montreal – where a cousin of my husband had moved after marrying a Canadian, calling on an Indian Reservation and meeting an educated “Chief Poking Fire,” and family. Educational and interesting.

Reading the above, you may be surprised to learn that, despite the good times and our great experiences, our feelings of homesickness grew rather than diminished. So, saying a sad farewell to the good friends we had made in Toronto, we returned to the UK. Home is where your heart is, after all. That’s not to say, once we had settled down again, that we didn’t miss Canada. We did and considered returning. But I then became pregnant with our first son and didn’t have the heart to deprive our mothers of grand-children!

Footnote: Many years later, we were lucky enough to visit Vancouver, and The Island, both of which we fell in love with. Two of our good, Irish fiends moved and settled there and were wonderful hosts. Canada is certainly a beautiful country and well worth a visit.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

 

Picture credits: John Chuckman collection, Scotch Moss on Imgur, The Vintage Inn, personal collection

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A tribute to my father

20181207_201010My dad – in serious mode one day – told me: ‘I lived for one day in the reign of Queen Victoria!’ (he was born on 2lst January 1901 and she died on the 22nd.) Other than it was a fact, it played no role whatsoever in my father’s life… but, while not destined to shine on the world’s, or any other, stage, for a modest member of the hoi polloi, he was a man to stand up and be counted.

Named Charles Edward, first child of Rose and Charles Mansfield, he grew up in the company of four brothers and two sisters: a Cockney, born to hear the bells of Bow church. Aspiring for better conditions than those surrounding them in the east end of London, not to mention fresher air, the family moved to rural Dagenham Heathway in Essex, and a small villa backing onto verdant fields, leading, eventually, to the River Thames. ‘Little Charlie’ was a nipper in a sailor-suit with golden curls at the time, as recalled in a wall-framed photo, while his hair darkened with the years and even grey was a late-comer.

The whole family worshipped in the Catholic religion: Charles senior threatened to belt anyone who did otherwise, and was a force to be reckoned with. Conversely, he was a giving man with a lively personality and was a Freemason. The whole family – while outwardly a tad arrogant, despite being gregarious and fun-loving – were most charitable and kind. Grandad was one of the founders of The Working Men’s club nearby, and it later amused me to see my other, financially poor, benign Grandad Samuel having a pint under a framed photo of the stern-looking “CM”…

Although all the boys attended state schools, dad’s two sisters were sent to a convent school and both were gifted needlewomen and did “good works.” Dad was a bright scholar, particularly in English and art, received high grades and a few awards, so it was a surprise that he chose to work as a Lighterman * on the River Thames, like his father before him. (While Mansfield senior had chosen to ‘rise in the ranks’ and had a financial stake in the company they worked for.)

As the First World War was then raging and Charles was seventeen, he just caught the tail-end and served as a Royal Air Force cadet, which whetted his desire to fly.
SEPIA DAD – circa 1918

A blue-serge clad, fresh-faced youth,

‘broom-handle’ back,

swaddle-legged “At ease” proud –

gazes at me – unseeing,

from his sepia world.

 

His eyes are filled with

anticipatory excitement:

for he flies in fancy with the stars

by night – gazes with ardent longing

on the winged air-borne phantoms

silhouetted against the moon.
No clairvoyant messenger

foretold the future.

How could he have known that

in but two decades

he would. again. experience the horrors of war;

be captured for posterity in similar stance?
The burning question remains unanswered;

What to do with tyrants?

A dichotomy…

Could genetic engineering one day hold the key?!

Joy Lennick

 

Familiar with the lively personalities of brothers ‘Prince,’ (named after a tug!) Harry, Basil and – the younger, much quieter, Bernard, I’m sure Charlie enjoyed the years between 1919 and 1928, around the time he met his future wife. The Mansfield brothers sparred and boxed, fished, and played raucous games of cards, in between cutting up many a rug in many a dance-hall, and downed many a pint too. Charlie, being the eldest, was often taken to the Opera by his father (much to his dismay…) but he enjoyed fishing with him on many a weekend morning, and it remained one of his favourite hobbies, of which there were many. Charlie also played cricket now and then, and enjoyed a game of football.

One night, while dancing in The Cross Keys Public House in old Dagenham,. he caught sight of a beautiful young woman called Lila, and was soon enamoured. They danced well together and that was the beginning of a loving romance which lasted fifty-five years.

Much to the chagrin of his parents, Charlie married his sweetheart, Lila, in a Registry Office instead of the Catholic church, and they settled for a VERY mock Tudor house in Rush Green, Romford, Essex where I first aired my lungs – moving to a newer house in Dagenham to be nearer the railway station and shops, where they remained throughout their long, happy, marriage. Dad eschewed cars, preferring cycling and enjoyed walking, and soon proved to be a dab hand at gardening. Being a plotter and planner, and a great lover of roses, he soon had his pride and joy mapped out on paper and in fact.

There were climbing roses, gloriously abundant and draped over fences, standard roses and bush roses in various shades and aromas: a favourite the yellow ‘Peace,’ and many other flowers vying for attention. He also grew beans, carrots and potatoes for a while, plus tomatoes, and we had wild loganberries growing over the back fence, which we drooled over. He loved pottering in his shed and cosseted a modest lawn. I can imagine how he swore when that nasty, infamous man with a moustache waged war on the world and he had to dig a huge crater in the middle of his precious plot for an air-raid shelter to be erected!

I was the eldest and only daughter, to be followed by three brothers. Terence John was born two years after me and Bryan Charles four years, while Royce Kenneth arrived just before the end of the war. Dad was an ethical, fair-minded man and only ever smacked me twice. Once when I beheaded his prize tulips (aged two) and mum warned him “Don’t you EVER hit her again!” but he was obliged to when, as an ardent reader, and teenager, I ignored his plea to help my mother one Sunday morning. He pulled me out of bed with such force, I hit my head on the door and vowed to leave home. But it rained, so I didn ‘t… We always knew when we had displeased dad by the stern look on his face, and quickly behaved as we were all a bit afraid he might erupt. He had that sort of strong presence we respected, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Although fairly self-contained, he could and did wax lyrical now and then and wrote strong letters to the local paper on subjects he felt passionate about, but also loved a good, earthy joke.

During his leisure hours, my father was always busy as he enjoyed hooking rugs with my mother (they made several) and was drawn to making model aeroplanes. He had a small table in his bedroom and I can still conjure up the strong aroma of dope**… When complete, we often went to the local park to send them airborne. They didn’t always survive!!

Apart from reading a lot, being artistic, dad loved to do Calligraphy, of which he was a dab-hand. He also collected stamps and his decorated books were a joy to behold. And he loved words…Whenever the family joined in a Christmas or birthday celebration, he carefully planned party games, often including “Truth or Lie?” or some other word teaser.

Charlie editedIn 1939, while already serving in the Air Force Reserves, dad was one of the first to be conscripted when World War II started. After seeing us safely evacuated to Wales (Merthyr Tydfil), he then left for ‘parts unknown – probably France,’ he told Mum. There were tears and anxiety before we received two letters, from France, as suspected. In one letter, he told us (having thoughtfully packed a teapot! And tea…) after a long train ride: ‘Guess who went up to the train driver for some boiled water?!’

They called the first part of the war, “the phoney war” as there wasn’t much action in the UK or France, but it soon hotted up after dad had a brief spot of leave. Decades later, I was to read his diaries kept at the time (excerpts of which I re-recorded in my memoir My Gentle War). While out walking at dusk in the countryside… “Searchlights picked up a Jerry bomber and a Bofors gun was letting rip. Suddenly, a ball of fire headed towards me as a shell left the muzzle- It seemed to approach me at zero feet at about 400 miles per hour!! Needless to say, I dived smartly into a ditch. The shell was later described as a “Flaming onion”. It reaffirmed my belief that life is very precious.” He saw plenty of action after that incident and he and half a dozen of his fellow airmen were machine-gunned by a low-flying German aircraft but luckily escaped injury. Apparently, their ‘digs’ were in a huge, abandoned, farm building near Merville, and dad came upon a small café/homestead run by an attractive woman called Clemence, whose husband was in the French army. (Reading between the lines in his diary – maybe because of his very blue eyes and charming manner – methinks she fell in love with him!) He drummed up business for her café, urging her to cook egg and chips for the Brits and hamburgers for the American soldiers camping nearby. A firm friendship was formed, until the Germans advanced and Clemence begged him to: “Stay with me, Sharlie. I am frightened of the Bosch. We can live in the South of France.” He gently explained that he loved his wife and children and there were many tears before he left. The Germans were, by then, unstoppable and he and his unit were lucky to escape by ship to the UK before Dunkirk. He wrote in his diary of how terrifying was the bombardment by the German aircraft the night before they were shipped back. Many boats and ships were blazing out of control and he likened it to “Dante’s inferno!”

Clemence wrote to my parents after the war, and on my first holiday abroad, I spent several, memorable and enjoyable, unique days with my Godmother in her home just before I left school, when I was spoiled a treat! Clemence remained in touch with my parents for many years and even sent us a food parcel when things were a bit tough before rationing ended.

In the latter part of the war, luckily, dad was stationed mainly in Essex, so was able to spend short leaves at home with mum. My youngest brother, Royce was born in this period, just before the “all clear” sounded. Naturally, at the war’s end, we were all ecstatic to, again, be settled in our old home. Our head count was complete, unlike in our paternal grandparents’ house. My sweet, shy, Uncle Bernard, aged 22, (Dad’s youngest brother) a navigator in the Royal Air Force, went down with his plane, and plane and crew were never found. Grandma never wore black and always lived in hope he would return one day…

Dad soon adapted to “civvy life” and again working on his beloved River Thames. Our house was within “hooting” distance of the river and when I was curled up in bed at night and he was working late and it was foggy, I would listen out for his tug’s mournful “fog-horn” and hope that he was safe.

When he retired from work, dad embraced it with enthusiasm. He and mum had a few, enjoyable holidays abroad, and there wasn’t an hour that he didn’t know what to do with…We bought him a sheep-herding-type-dog – not much called for in Dagenham – he called Whisky as he was black and white, and they became good pals. There was a small lake at the end of dad’s street and it was arranged, through his love of fishing, that he kept it stocked with fish and an eye on it; like a Bailiff. He had a punt, and he and Whisky, I’m sure, spent many happy hours there.

Sadly, in his early eighties – having smoked a lot in his younger and Air Force days – dad’s lungs gave up. Mum was bereft and we all missed him and his very strong presence. Dad acquitted himself well while on earth and was always happy to help his fellow-man, especially in WW II when he came upon a poverty-stricken French family and gave them a Christmas they never forgot. As I grew older and thought more on the subject, I realised that dad, while not in the least ambitious, was one of the most contented men I ever met. He knew exactly what he wanted from life and it was kind enough to give it to him on a plate: a loving wife and children, enough muscle, brain and good health to work hard, and to indulge in many hobbies to his heart’s content. RIP dear dad, I always imagine you in your gum-boots, carrying a watering can… I bet your garden is the most beautiful.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019
*Lightermen transferred goods between ships and quays aboard flat-bottomed barges called “Lighters” in the port of London. Because of the many fogs in the early days, the river was a treacherous place at night and I recall dad telling mum on a few occasions: “We fished another poor sod out of the river last night!” when they chanced the narrow, slippery path leading from several pubs… There is a “Waterman’s Hall” in St.Mary at Hill, Billingsgate, London dating from 1780 and it is the only surviving Georgian Guild Hall.

** Dope is a chemical lacquer used in model making, not to be confused with the ‘waccy baccy’ variety.

“MY GENTLE WAR” is available from Amazon and Kindle, Apple, Nook (Barnes & Noble). Scribd, Kobo, 24 Symbols, Tolivo and Page Foundry.

 

The Mimosa in Spring and a cat called Basil

Further memoirs of a hotelier…

mimosa-1798388_640After the typical uncertainty of the British winter, the first sighting of the golden Mimosa tree growing by the gate, always created a great upsurge of spirits. My favourite season was upon us: Spring, tra-la, with all its inherent delights. Our hotel bookings were steadily growing; recent paying guests, already ensnared by our seemingly good care and cooking…had re-booked for their summer holidays (hurray!) and several travelling salesmen, who regularly chanced Bournemouth’s way, had re-booked for their business trips. So, we must have been doing something right! It was a good feeling.

The good feeling was further nurtured by the sight of a beautiful, half-Persian cat – just out of the kitten stage – offered to us by Mrs. Solomon’s niece: ‘I can’t cope with any more felines…’ she admitted. Vis a vis “Faulty Towers” (of TV fame) – while our establishment was nicknamed “Faulty Towels” – we decided that Basil was a fitting name for the latest addition to our family. I had always been drawn to dogs rather than cats, but this gorgeous little bundle of fun stole my heart, and being greedy…stole youngest son Robert’s too. In fact, it soon proved to be a case of “Basil the heart-thief” as even guests who didn’t like cats, took to his winning ways. Both regal and cunning (doubtless like some kings in history) Basil had other seductive traits which served him well. But one day, he caused disruption when the Captain of our local Bowls team, who played on the pitch opposite our hotel, rang our bell with Basil under his arm. ‘He loves sleeping on our pitch and has stopped play twice!’ he announced, through gritted teeth, so I had to keep him in one room thereafter, whenever there was a bowls match.

sunset-3008779_640On the rare evenings I had an hour or so off duty to watch a programme on the TV or read, Basil would drape himself across my shoulders and neck like a fur boa and take a nap – he knew how to play it, all right! He even brought me gifts now and then – like a grasshopper or a petrified sparrow; sometimes a wee, comatose mouse, all of which I tried, desperately, to save… Mostly, we lived in complete harmony, despite him being naughty enough to sneak in rooms and lounge on any bed he could… until one, fateful night when he decided to explore the terrain adjacent to our parking lot. Tragically, while dashing across the road, he was killed outright by a motor bike. I never knew I had so many tears in me…. and as we were half-full of guests at the time, I had to save them until I was alone. Robert and the rest of the family were also shocked and grieving. Basil certainly left his mark on us, even though he had only lived out just two of his lives in real terms.

Meanwhile, there were needy guests to deal with, and while I had always been a voracious people- watcher, I didn’t realize just how pertinent that would become in the near future. Looking back, we were quite lucky with most of them, although one annoying woman loudly announced as I passed her dinner-table, “Oh, by the way, there’s a cobweb on our ceiling!” I naturally apologised and later removed the offensive object. We had our first vegetarian book a room for a break, but managed to please her. In fact, she seemed delighted with our efforts. Life was rarely the same most weeks and the variety of guests was entertaining to say the least,

afternoon-2049485_640A Mr. Ham (payment courtesy of the DHSS)* tried to evade paying his way but GB** was up to his game, and on hearing that he hadn’t received his usual cheque (a blatant lie) suggested two things. That either GB accompany him to the Post Office to cash his cheque or the local police station… The fact that the guy’s name was Ham and the next one to book a room for a few weeks was a Mr. Bone, tickled us. It didn’t take much… Mr Bone, as it turned out: a lanky (boneless?) character, was a bachelor and an oddity and he told us that he trawled the churches each Sunday, after services, favouring those offering free coffee or tea, and biscuits if you please! Finding usually only lone women of a certain age, he would ask (shyness not being a problem) ‘Are there are widder women looking for another man?’ I believe he was eventually “rumbled” and none-too-politely asked to leave. I was reminded of the old saying: “There’s nowt as queer as folk.” Another, memorable, couple who booked in for a week, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and told us ‘This is a first… we’ve never stayed in a hotel before!’ As we weren’t completely full that week, we were able to spoil them with extra-special treats, which was fun.

And so our customers came and went – one couple – he a salesman, she a local girl, became engaged and held their party in our dining room; and we had a party of four workmen: two Irish and two Scots. As they were working on a contract nearby and started work early, we cooked them breakfast an hour before the other guests, and to fill their obviously hollow legs, cooked them huge turkey legs and made meat pies and equally filling meals, which they ate with relish.

white-845071_640‘We’re on to a winner here, Mrs…’said one of the Scots. That was good to hear, especially after all GB’s – and my – hard work in the kitchen, but GB thought he was ‘taking the proverbial’ when he asked me to ‘Go to the store and buy me some new shirts.’ The cheek of the man.

After the workmen and Misters Ham and Bone left, we had a quietish week and then all systems go…as the summer season started. But, while we worked our butts off, we enjoyed the mainly jolly company of our paying guests who had stayed before and become friends – even if some ignored our “last drinks at eleven” ruling. The calm before a mini-storm comes to mind.

One evening, a young man booked in, ate a meal and went for a walk. He returned with a young lady and they watched TV in the lounge before smuggling her into his room, unbeknown to us. Come midnight, we heard their laughter…a tricky situation was afoot. I knocked on the door and asked him if he knew what time it was. He was flippant and rude when I asked the young lady to leave… but – banging the door behind them – a few minutes later, they both left. Relieved, I went to bed. He didn’t return, but left several police-1463975_640items of clothing behind and some underwear in a drawer. After two days passed, I rang the police and reported the incident. Two policemen arrived, examined what the guy had left behind, and hidden beneath the underwear, discovered a large knife, which disturbed a few hairs on my neck, literally speaking of course! I never saw “Joey Barton” again, but did hear he was later wanted by the police for staying in various hotels without paying. Hey ho.

For the remainder of our time in the hotel business, all remained harmonious and peaceful, except for one irate man – with family in tow – who ‘thought I’d booked a holiday!… ’ but hadn’t, during a Bank holiday period. I felt sorry for his family, but every bed was taken! Oh, the highs and lows of hotel life… A learning chapter to be sure.

*The Department of Health & Social Security

** GB – “Gordon Blue”

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Photographs via pixabay.com

A tribute to my dear mama/mum

Until I went to school aged five, I called my mother Mama. Her birth name was Lila Elizabeth Havard, after a Fairy Queen her mother had seen in a play! ‘Mama’ was my God-mother, Aunt Doris,’ suggestion as she had grandiose ideas as to my up-bringing and saw me as a little lady of breeding who would doubtless learn to play the piano beautifully, knit Fair-Isle sweaters, blind-folded, embroider as if to the manor born, and POSSIBLY end up marrying someone higher up the ladder (and I don’t mean a window-cleaner.) As it transpired, while I may have mastered Chopsticks, and The Bluebells of Scotland, sewed a fairly neat hem, and even made a peg-bag, and a few cushion covers, etc., I’m afraid I disappointed in all other areas. And, because a strange, deranged little man with a moustache wanted to dominate the world and promote a “Master Race,” I didn’t attend the Convent School my aunt had mapped out for me. Meanwhile, I enrolled at the local, Dagenham village school, before being whisked away to live on a Welsh mountain when war was declared in the September of 1939. Then, realising I just belonged to the hoi polloi, I thereafter called my mother mum.

The Mansfields (my paternal relatives), needed to “set the scene,” thought they were a cut above. There was Royal Doulton china and crystal cut-glass in the display cabinet and a framed picture of Churchill on the wall to prove it!! The ladies of the family also bought glossy periodicals which “the toffs” purchased; and shopped in the very best West End stores whenever possible. Oh, and both Dad’s sisters owned FUR COATS, and wore Perfume by COTY… But I mustn’t give the wrong impression as, with the (later) exception of one of their number, they were consistently kind, caring, charitable and generous. But quickly back to mum…

Lila - editedSo, what was she like, my pretty, loving mum? Imagine a blue-skied and sunshiny day, with a soft breeze blowing and birds wheeling in the sky… That was my mum. She epitomized Spring and was blessed with a sunny, happy personality. (On later reading Laurie Lee’s book “Cider with Rosie,” mum put me in mind of his quirky mother as their sense of fun were similar!) She was a perfect foil for Dad’s no-nonsense: a spade is a spade, sterner make-up, although he had an earthy sense of humour, was as reliable as the clichéd Rock of Gibraltar and loved her to bits… Around five feet two inches, with a slender figure, mum belied an inner strength which repeatedly revealed itself.

Born in 1906, she lived to experience the Great Depression in South Wales and helped look after her two younger sisters. Grandad said she had ‘Dark brown hair like fine-spun sugar…’ A brick-layer and later, shop-keeper, he may have been, but he was a gentleman and charmed the ladies. Mum had left school at fourteen and worked selling ribbons and cottons in the market and in her parents’ greengrocer’s shop/and on a pony and trap serving customers living in the mountains. Too soon, everything was ‘on the slate, please, mun’ because of The Great Depression, and money was fast running out. Aged seventeen, mum begged to go to London to work but Grandma was convinced it was worse than Gomorrah. ‘Duw duw, you could be murdered, or worse.’ she cried. But, when feeding her family became critical, Grandma relented. Mum pointed her “winkle-pickers” in the East End of London’s direction and worked as a Nanny for the two children of talented Jewish tailors in Stepney.

Soon Lila was not only a Nanny, but taught how to cook Jewish dishes and do intricate beading work. Linking up with her best friend, Edna, the pair went dancing on their one day off and, as she said ‘The streets weren’t really paved with gold,’ as promised… but the lights were brighter and you could have ‘six-penny-worth of fun’ and watch American pictures too. She saved hard and soon had the requisite ten pounds to add to her mother’s hard-saved purse. Her family: Mam, Dad and three siblings, caught the train to Dagenham Dock station with packed suitcases and little else and were given a new Council house in Becontree, which her enamoured mother announced, was ‘Like a miniature Buckingham Palace!’ Mum said that was pushing it a bit… But it had a new roof which didn’t leak and a bathroom downstairs, three bedrooms up, and a proper garden at the back. ‘Not like that old slum in Dowlais,’ Grandma was heard to say.

Leaving the Soloman’s employ with regret, Mum then became a cinema usherette, also working part-time in the building’s café with her sister Peggy. She found life fun as she loved to dance and, being pretty, caught the eye of many a would-be suitor. One in particular pursued her and they became engaged, but he spent too much time on his motor-bike and Mum wasn’t cut out to play second fiddle to a bike! The move couldn’t have been luckier for another dancer and natty dresser (first in his crowd to wear plus-fours, it is said… ) called Charles (Charlie) who quickly stepped into the breach. He and Lila won a few prizes for their prowess on the dance floor – including “The Black Bottom’”- of the Cross Keys public house in old Dagenham and were soon seriously courting.

Lila and Charlie - editedEager to show off his new girl-friend to his family, Charles invited her to tea, much to the delight of his father, also Charles: a well-heeled Freemason, who had a penchant for pretty faces… The females in the family, however, on being introduced to an uneducated girl “from the Welsh valleys” almost had them reaching for their smelling salts… but Lila was polite, friendly and possessed a winning smile and they gradually accepted the inevitable. Charles was smitten, but found it difficult to ‘write my own life script’ as he later discovered. The happy pair were married in a – horror of horrors – Registry office, while the Mansfields were staunch Catholics, a fact the Father of the local church found difficult to comprehend and led to harsh words being exchanged. Although to keep the Mansfields’ happy, when I arrived on the scene, I was Christened by a Canon, no less. (Dad said ‘She should have been fired from one!’ when I decapitated his row of red, soldier-erect tulips, aged two.) After the birth of my second brother, the Priest visited our house and tried to persuade Mum to marry “in the church,” but went beyond the pale when he suggested all three of us children were illegitimate, and was quickly shown the door.

Like most working-class women then, mum was familiar with the Monday-wash-boiler, the scrubbing board and the outside mangle. Although we had indoor plumbing, we had no central heating until the mid/late 50’s – and only had a gas-fire for warmth on in the bedroom if we were very ill (once with measles). The stove in our tiny kitchen was much cosseted, as was the rare fire in the lounge fireplace. And the telephone, also installed in the 50’s, was almost revered, as was the “new-fangled” TV set.

Meanwhile, mum – by then a trained hairdresser – crimped and cut hair to help expenses go further, cooked delicious meals for the five of us and was everything a good mum should be. Then – wouldn’t you know – the lunatic little man mentioned above, started strutting his stuff and war, an incomprehensible state to us children, was declared. When rationing was introduced, Mum made all sorts of filling dishes, using more potatoes and vegetables from our garden, bread and fruit puddings and ‘apples in blankets’ (pastry) to fill our corners…she also made sure we had concentrated orange juice, cod-liver oil (ugh!) and Virol to keep us healthy, as – in due course – did dear aunt Sal. If any of us children received a B or C for our school-work, she’d give us a hug, sympathize and say ‘Never mind, you’ll get an A next time…’ while dad was the opposite of impressed…

paul-jespers-114448-unsplash plane - editedDad, having been an Air Force Cadet at the end of World War I and in love with aeroplanes, re-joined the Air Force and was one of the first wave of airmen to be called up for duty. After hastily digging a huge hole in our pristine, green lawn, he erected an outdoor air-raid shelter, as instructed, and then accompanied us three children and mum to South Wales. We were to stay in the relative safety of her cousin Sarah Jones’– Aunt Sal to us – tall, thin house, set into the side of Mountain Hare, just above Merthyr Tydfil. It didn’t have all ‘mod cons’. like ours, but I was enchanted with gaslight and candlelight… not so with the outside “lav,” with squares of the Merthyr Express on which to wipe one’s bottom!

Mum stayed on awhile, but dad had to join his unit in France. Having entrusted brother Bryan to the loving care of another aunt in Ebbw Vale, as Aunt Sal couldn’t cope with three children due to a badly ulcerated leg, mum left to stay with her mother and do “war work.” As mentioned above, Mum wasn’t very tall and quite slender, and we were surprised when next we saw her, as she had developed muscles…after working on a moving assembly belt of Army lorries at Ford’s Motors. She later moved to another company, where she was taught welding and became even stronger. Fortunately, during the first part of the war, it was fairly quiet, so we were transported back and forth a few times, especially as dad was given leave from France before things hotted up. Thereafter, Dagenham, and more specifically: our house became a dangerous place to live in as it was near the River Thames; Ford’s Motor works, churning out war machines; a huge drug factory and a railway – all likely targets for the German planes. A land-mine fell at the end of our street and demolished many houses and killed several people, but our house was only marginally damaged. In all, we were evacuated three times: to Merthyr, Neath and – with my secondary school, to Derbyshire. Towards the end of the war, dad was stationed near enough to visit our home and mum gave birth to my third brother, Royce (despite being warned about the aphrodisiac quality of eels to which he was partial). As mum was unwell, the doctor advised her to stay somewhere quieter, and the most generous family, who lived in Neath, Wales – and had two children of their own – took the five of us in, as aunt Sal was ill. You can imagine our sheer joy when peace was declared and we were all able to return to our own home: shaken and stirred but still intact, and dad was, at last, demobbed.

Lila 2 - editedDuring our absence, we soon discovered, Mum had re-decorated several rooms herself. There was a shortage of wallpaper, so she had “stippled” the walls with a design in a contrasting colour and I spent many odd times imagining all sorts of animals and magical “objects” floating up to the ceilings… It seemed, Mum was able to tackle most things, and a great advocate of “make do and mend.” She was always darning socks, turning shirt collars and bedsheets, and aware of the hard times, often said “That will do…” if an item of clothing had a vestige of life left. A keen dancer herself, she encouraged me when I reached my teens and joined the youth club. Mum and her father both won prizes for dancing and she played a mean piano. I recall her pounding the ivories in our Welsh centre during her visits. “Amapola,” “The Seigfried Line” and various popular tunes and songs were requested during her time with us, and she urged me to take ballet and tap lessons, which I adored.

As far as “lessons subtly-learned” while under my parents roof were concerned, Mum in particular emphasized that I should ‘show willing and be helpful to others’ as she did…and, while sex was never actually discussed, whenever I went out with a boy, she always told me to ‘be good now!’ which I interpreted as ‘keep your legs together,’ which I dutifully did, much to their annoyance. Every week, Mum and I went to the local cinema to see the latest British or American film and lapped up all the glamour and fantasy and she loved reading “Nell’s Books on Wheels” delivered locally every week She was particularly fond of romances and favoured medical tales. Mum had a knack of bringing sunshine into the house with some of her embroidered tales of people she worked with and even when it rained for a few days, managed to lift our spirits. Fortunately, both my parents were able to enjoy several holidays abroad as we children grew older, and still managed to impress on the dance floor!

As time wore on, and after I married, mum took advanced cooking courses and learned “Silver Service Waitressing,”securing an excellent post in the directors’ canteen of a large company nearby: May & Bakers, and worked there for several years. When she retired, she hated it, so arranged wedding functions and 2lst birthday celebrations and the like, with the able assistance of one of my sisters-in-law, Doreen; and made beautiful, iced celebration cakes. She also did flower arranging and made bridal bouquets, buttonholes and the like… (and even won prizes for her arrangements at the local Town Show.)

When my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding, as my husband and I were then running a hotel, we were able to entertain them with family and friends, for a fun weekend. It was so good to be able to make a fuss of them for a change! Sadly, as dad approached eighty, his lungs started letting him down – he was a heavy smoker when young and in the war, apart from working for so many years on the river. But he made it to eighty-three. Mum was, naturally, at first desolate at his passing, as were we. But we sold her house for her and bought her another, smaller one, just around the corner to ours.

Her hands were rarely still thereafter. She made delicious petit fours and boxed them up as gifts at Christmas time, still made large and small assorted cakes, and embroidered many pictures which my husband framed for her. She also knitted toys, covered coat-hangers and sewed lavender bags. We were able to take mum and a friend on two continental holidays – which she loved, and we spent many happy hours together. She so enjoyed being in the company of our three sons and her other grandchildren, was alert and keenly interested in them and what was happening in the outside world. She only went on one “Old people’s outing” as she termed them (aged eighty) but said: ‘I shan’t go with them again…Some of them clicked their teeth and talked about their operations all the time’

It was tragically ironic that mum – apart from a worn heart – and comparatively healthy for her age, was struck by an unlicensed car a few inches from a kerb, while out visiting a relative, suffered a broken hip and lapsed into an unconscious state for six, long weeks before dying. It was the most cruel blow of my life and I was bereft, but I still carry her treasured memory in my heart, as I will until I fall of my own perch. Mum loved all us four children unconditionally and, despite our faults, thought us “the bee’s knees…” and, as we thought she was too, you can’t ask for more than that. Can you?

If you’d like to read more about Joy’s life during Wold War II, order her book: “My Gentle War” which went to No.1 on Amazon Kindle in the Social history and memoir category.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Plane photo by Paul Jespers on Unsplash

Condoms, Carols and a Crème Caramel

Back-tracking, I actually found a few minutes in my frantic day to recall the first day we ‘opened for business’ at the hotel, and giggled … I must explain here that my ‘Gordon Blue’ can – to use a favourite expression – “turn on a sixpence.” If he didn’t turn back as quickly, it could have proved a problem … He has a complex personality that quite intrigues me, as he is also kind, thoughtful, romantic and very funny at times. But … on that morning, he was understandably feeling both tired and maybe a little edgy. As I walked into the kitchen, I had to quickly duck as a slice of burnt toast sped in my direction like a frantic frisbee … ‘Seig Heil’ I said and goose-stepped as he barked out an order. ‘Count to ten … that helps sometimes!’ He did and sanity prevailed. We had worked together before when we had a shop, so were soon running things smoothly and good humour reigned. With a fully-booked Christmas on the horizon – 26 bums on seats – fractious hosts would have spelt disaster.

eric-rothermel-23788-unsplashThe attractive “sales goodies” the previous owners had either promised or predicted were like sand on a shore, and we soon discovered that some subterfuge had taken place. Bookings, or names in a ledger didn’t mean anything. There were no bookings … The three fish fingers, spoonful of peas and handful of frozen chips left in the fridge for our resident’s dinner the day we took over, spoke volumes. The “Burtons” had been stingy hosts! We, of course, binned the uncooked meal and Ms.Groves dined splendidly that night. But enough of negative talk. There was a large Christmas tree waiting to be purchased, plus presents and a special menu to compose …

As for the expected guests, we had worked hard, advertising and spreading the word what we, the NEW hoteliers, had to offer. Our eldest son, Jason, had designed an amusing logo for our stationery, and the gift tags for the presents, but was working, temporarily, in a nearby shop. We were charging an ‘all inclusive’ modest price as we were just cutting our teeth, which included four meals on the 25th (with gift from said tree) and three meals on the other three days. We were advertised as a family hotel, with a pool table for the youngsters, TV and books or soft music and a bar for the adults.

In the midst of our busy schedule, a most attractive young lady from Bristol booked a few days break, and her personality was such that we immediately clicked. Friendly and chatty, she requested that her mother join her from Chelsea for a few days. She duly arrived: a well-endowed, well-bejewelled, well-perfumed character who yanked the bell of my alert alarm system. A perfect “Madame” if ever there was one. Surely not …

invitation-3112030_640Proof arrived when I was dusting the daughter’s dressing table the second morning after they arrived as I accidentally knocked a largish clutch bag on the floor, spilling the contents. It suggested the following: a) that she was the over-zealous employee of a Birth-Control company, and carried a generous supply of their wares, b) had a rapacious sexual appetite, or c) was a prostitute. Mother and daughter owned cars … but would they try and smuggle in prospective clients later that night? But all had been peaceful the night before, and they hadn’t even appeared for dinner that night … GB was consulted and we were on red alert.

Our bedroom was, fortunately, on the ground floor, so when the door-bell rang at around 2.30 am (GB remained asleep … ) I grabbed my dressing-gown and hurried to the hallway where the younger woman was standing, brimming with apologies:

‘So sorry to wake you, but Mummy’s had news of some problem at home, and had to return immediately and my aunt in Bristol had a fall and I must go to her.’

More of the convoluted tale emerged as she paid me monies owed while we sat on the stairs. She then hugged me, thanked me profusely and disappeared into the night. At least she was honest re money!

The following days seemed marginally boring … but, thereafter, it was a case of sleeves rolled up and the business of extra shopping and cooking preparations, plus the fun of ‘”decking the halls with holly” etc.

gaby-dyson-1148582-unsplashAfter I had served a full, English breakfast and cleared the tables on the magical 25th, I made the largest crème caramel I’d ever attempted. The dish was gargantuan and I’d found an enormous round tray and covered it with silver foil to serve. Surely the caramel would crack. It didn’t! Hallelujah. After dinner later, one guest, who eschewed the traditional pudding, had three … portions. A light lunch was served at 1 pm, turkey/chicken/or pork, etc., at 6.30 and a light supper at 10 pm. (My non-Kosher husband is Jewish; sufficient food vital as air … ). To be honest, there were some guests who “pigged out” to put it crudely. They were going to get their money’s worth … or bust! As for our two resident ladies, Ms Groves “turned out” in her best finery, while Mrs Solomons somehow managed to look as though she’d dressed in the dark, bless her, but they both enjoyed themselves enormously. They engaged with the other guests, and as dusk descended and with lights dimmed, the atmosphere grew even jollier.

As Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol:” ‘It is a fair, noble adjustment of things that, where there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’

Satiated by good food, wine and music, the atmosphere mellowed in our dining room. Our inherited, elaborate, antique sideboard, stacked with edible, seasonalchristmas-party-780x450 treats, wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of Dickens scenes, but not in Tiny Tim’s humble house, that’s for sure. But laughter and fun are not exclusive to any strata of society and there was plenty of that around! We played a few, silly parlour games, cleared an area for dancing and played every seasonal song composed. We certainly slept soundly that night!

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

 

Photos: Eric Rothermel Gaby Dyson on Unsplash, Bru-nO on Pixabay, askideas.com

‘Fire!’ and separate tables!

Or the everyday life of a hotelier…

We were still wondering about our quirky guest, nicknamed “Dr.Strangeglove,” but gradually life showed us a more mundane face, and as it was then winter, and a little more peaceful than usual, we had more time to update and renovate .

Fortunately my ‘Gordon Blue’ – who had been an excellent cabinet-maker in his time – capable of fitting out kitchens and bedrooms, etc., and a dab hand at DIY, decided, as he wasn’t ready, time-wise, to refit the kitchen then, would place a large “splash-back” behind the cooker and bought a panel of Formica (all the rage then) to temporarily fit the need. Measurements were carefully made, and doors and window opened to dilute any aromas around. Our few paying guests were out and it was an ideal slot for the job. Or so we/he thought…

fawlty fireCarefully applying the necessary glue to one surface of the Formica, GB climbed on a small ladder, armed with said panel, leant over the stove when WHOOSH! The panel he was holding became a flaming shield…Fortunately, he acted with sensible speed, dropped it on the floor, and did what could only be described as a demented flamenco dance and put out the flames. HE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE STOVE’S PILOT LIGHT!! WHOOPS… Luckily, he only singed a few hairs and had very mild burns on his hands, and I, being at the extreme end of the kitchen was OK but aghast at the scene which played out before me. You had to be there…

Assuring me he was ‘All right!’ my relief turned to despair as a million – no exaggeration – particles of burnt Formica formed a “black snow-storm” swirling around the dining-room. The beautiful snow-white spotted muslin curtains covering six windows (put up that morning) were covered in black blemishes, as were all the clothed tables (ready for dinner later!!).

Surprisingly, I didn’t cry as I realized time was of the essence as they say… Unbelievably, I was able to shake most of the black smuts off the curtains in the garden, so only had to replace a few fresh ones, luckily available! Luck was also on my side as we had recently bought ‘over-cloths’ made of a wipe-able material, soft to the touch, although slightly plasticised, which protected our white damask ones underneath. Of course, the vacuum had to be employed, the duster used vigorously and the kitchen floor washed, but all things considered, we managed OK. GB had thrust his hands in cold water and later smeared them in Vaseline. I shuddered. It could have been so much worse!!

We only had four guests for dinner that night, which was served, surprisingly, on time. Little did they know, as I smiled and made small-talk, of the drama which unfolded just a few hours earlier!

There followed a brief, fairly quiet interlude, until our new paying guest arrived that is…

Ms Groves approached me in the lounge: ‘I have a good friend called Mrs. Solomons and she’s looking for somewhere to stay for a few months before she goes to paint in the South of France. Have you a room available?’ I had, she inspected it; was happy with the terms and so, later, moved in, with a few other belongings and her clothes.

Mrs S, a widow, was a sweet, untidy but friendly lady, who always looked a little “un-ironed” and her hair-bun kept losing its clips. She was also a little unaware of the time, whereas Ms. Groves was a stickler for appearing and being ‘ON THE DOT!’ as she reminded me if we were ever late serving her afternoon tea… (with a little smile of course!) Anyway, you get the picture…

mrs richardsOn Mrs S’s first day with us, I moved a slightly larger table in place, picked some flowers from our garden and made a small arrangement to greet her and called Ms. Groves to approve before she arrived. Well… she stepped back, her face like thunder and her hands started shaking.

‘I have never shared a table with anyone, ever!’ she declared, as if a crime had been committed. And so, with a shrug, I laid two tables and they conversed in loud voices for the duration of Mrs S’s stay.

I relayed the scene to GB and we said in unison ‘Shades of Separate Tables.’ (I wouldn’t have been surprised to see David Niven walk through the door… )

And so life continued, with Ms. Groves seated for dinner by six o’clock and Mrs. S always hurrying in at five or ten minutes past, while Ms. Groves frowned, tutted and visibly checked her watch.

It wasn’t long after Mrs. S’s arrival, that my father had a heart attack, and, as we were in Bournemouth and he in Essex, made hurried plans to visit him in hospital. We had no other guests booked in for two days, so laid a table in the dining room with kettle, toaster, various foodstuffs and a flask of stewed steak and vegetables, with fruit to follow. We only planned being away one night, and, thankfully, Dad hadn’t had a heart attack, but had pulled a muscle underneath his heart.

burnt-toast-in-toaster-with-clipping-path_40453-215What a kerfuffle when we arrived back at the hotel… Ms. Groves burnt the toast at breakfast-time which set off the fire alarm… The Fire Brigade arrived and the Chief said we had been totally negligent leaving two elderly people alone in the hotel!! (Both fit as proverbial fiddles). Further, the Chief didn’t know that we had alerted the owner of the adjacent hotel that we had to leave for the night. GB. nearly hit the roof….‘And,’ Ms. Groves informed us, pointing at several crumbs adorning the carpet between their two tables, ‘by the way, those crumbs are HERS!’

We went right off Ms. Groves after that!
Look out for more posts about life in “Broughton Hotel”

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

Fawlty Towers images © Copyright BBC Television

 

Another chapter from my life book: Prostitutes, Ms. Groves & ‘Dr. Strangeglove’

After the ‘Doctor Clouseau’ incident (see December’s post), and having sold our successful green-grocery business for several, valid reasons, we bought a very mock-Tudor house in Ilford and lived there for ten good years. During that period, I worked part-time in my most exciting job EVER, for an old established publishing house, based in the City of London, called Kaye & Ward Ltd., As secretary to the two female editors of the ‘Childrens’ and ‘Adults’ books, it was an education and delight. Hooked on words, to make up a ‘mock children’s book’ and meet artists, occasionally writers and illustrators was a treasured bonus. But another ‘life curve’ was on its way when, seduced by the tantalizing idea of running a ‘Tea Rooms’ – for my other half and I both enjoyed cooking and people – we sold our house and bought a business in Bournemouth.

We were to discover that, seemingly, half the population also wanted to run Tea Rooms, and so any decent establishments were very expensive and sought after. PLAN B was then considered. We decided on the hotel business. Bournemouth and surrounds were vetted and combed, and we found “Broughton Hotel,” a splendid Edwardian house, covering three floors with a manageable garden and reasonable parking area. Eleven bedrooms sounded just about right. A genial bank manager was successfully courted and papers duly signed. We were HOTELIERS!!

Our enthusiasm and optimism overcame a few blips…and I soon had an enviable waist-line again… (and muscles where women don’t usually have many…). But, hey, onwards and upwards.

dt-fawlty-towers-1We were, temporarily, a little deflated when a local butcher asked us where our hotel was located and, on learning its position, guffawed and said in a loud voice “Oh, my God, that’s where the Prosies touted for business until recently!!” (It was thickly wooded by pine trees, so understandable from their point of view.) On noting our open mouths…he quickly added that “It’s out of bounds for them now, though…” What a relief, though still food for thought! (We, much later, experienced the secret company of two plains-clothes detectives with powerful binoculars who surveyed the area once our dining room had been vacated after dinner… They declared it “Safe!” while hovering over-long on the shapely figure of one of our female guests waiting for a friend on the opposite side of the road…

It was only when we were moving in, that we realised we had ‘inherited’ a sort of ‘comfortably-off’ (despite claims to the contrary) elderly resident, who was an entrenched Ms! (once in charge of the local telephone exchange.) “I have to pay into a Cremation Fund” she told me, “…so have to be careful with my money! You won’t be putting up my charges will you?” (My husband rattled a large box of matches, with a wicked gleam in his eye when I told him…) We soon realised she almost laid claims to ‘owning’ the building… but she was, at first, polite and manageable, so we acquiesced.

Dungeon-like lighting and dark corners were banned: mirrors; lighting, plants and pictures adorned the walls and suitable areas and the brown cabbage-roses wallpaper removed from the residents’ lounge. Ms. Groves kicked up quite a fuss about our ‘refurbishments’ but we stood firm. When, at a later date, a guest took umbrage at Ms. Groves ownership of the TV set and we offered to buy her one for her room, she nearly exploded! Our ‘dear little octogenarian’ was proving to be anything but…A short period of sulking ensued but she still refused our offer, while grudgingly accepting she had to share the only set.

Life was far from dull for long…. and we survived one or two near mishaps, one mishap (saved for another occasion), and a couple of minor floods…We also managed our first Christmas without a scratch or divorce papers being thrust on either of us… Our bookings were growing pleasingly (despite no ‘Answer-phones’ then) and we had return visits from Travelling Salesmen and weekenders alike. Our prowess at cooking for around 10 to 28 people was steadily growing and we still have the ‘Guest’s book’ with blush-making comments to prove it. (While we didn’t serve pheasant, partridge, pate de foie gras or truffles… we could cook an excellent roast dinner and offer rice and pasta dishes and vegetarian fare, with salads, soups and tasty desserts aplenty. And all for a reasonable sum!) Short-stay and longer-stay guests came and went with little trouble and, to be expected, we had some memorable types who left a more indelible mark. Let me tell you about one in particular…

peter-sellers-as-dr-strangeloveOne night, at around 10.30, pm, our doorbell rang and I discovered a shortish, long-haired, middle-aged man standing on the step. He was dressed in a three-quarter length, sheep-skin coat and wore jeans and cowboy boots, with a scarf nonchalantly knotted at his neck and a shoulder-bag on one hip. Ummm!

‘Good evening, madam,’ he said with a brief smile…’ I’m a physicist looking for a bed for the night. Can you oblige?’ (Husband later suggested I should have replied ‘Have you split any good atoms lately?’ but my brain’s slower than his…) ‘Certainly, sir.’ I heard myself say, and he was shown a suitable room, then ushered into the lounge where he partook of a round of ham sandwiches and coffee as ordered. Ms. Groves had just vacated her usual armchair and the TV set and he made himself comfortable, as our other guests had left that day.

The next morning – having professed to have ‘Slept like a log.’ and been scrutinized by our resident at the next table, I served our new guest’s breakfast and was requested: ‘Would you kindly cut up my bacon and sausage please!’ and it was only then that I noticed his right hand was encased in a black glove (shades of Dr. Strangelove, later naughtily altered for private consumption to ‘Dr.Strangeglove’ ). Taking in my slight change of expression, he explained…’ It was badly damaged in the flash-back accident.’ ‘Oh dear!’ I exclaimed, rather lamely. Our new guest later engaged our middle son in a game of snooker (?) and bent his untutored ears with talk of nuclear fusion and the like. I believe he let him win the game so that he could escape…’Mr. Wellington’ as he had signed the visitors’ book, then progressed to the lounge, where he turned the TV channel to a children’s cartoon programme while Ms Groves nearly choked on a mint she was chewing while watching a documentary. I had the misfortune of entering the room at that precise moment, and quickly assessing the situation and not wanting blood shed over our new carpet, (further noting the rolled up Crossword puzzle magazine and the thunderous look on the scientist’s face) commented on what a lovely day it was for a walk in the sunshine.

‘Madam, would that I could…I’m afraid I have to forego the sun since the flash-back accident.’ I believe I uttered something quite inane in reply..

doctor-frankensteinLater that same day, two young nurses were driving through the County, and desirous of stopping halfway through their journey, booked in for the night. Our other visitor was soon conversing with them most animatedly, and they later told me how knowledgeable he was, that he had once been a medical doctor, before taking up science and, further, was a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington! When one mentioned that her brother had lost two fingers in a firework accident, he offered to operate and replace them (I’d heard of fish fingers, but really?!) What, with one good hand?

Our strange Mr. Wellington stayed on for another two days (during which time he nearly asphyxiated our permanent resident by smoking countless Gauloise cigarettes in the lounge, despite repeated requests that he cease.) Ms.Groves spent the time thereafter either in her room or took several walks and expressed her utter disgust at the situation. Naturally, I was relieved when Mr. Wellington announced that he was leaving. ‘My housekeeper has erased much of my work off the blackboard and I have to return home. Also, my Jaguar is ready, dear lady, so I regret I must leave. I have so enjoyed my stay and shall return in the autumn with a few of my scientist chappies.’ (How did he receive a message from his housekeeper? I hadn’t noticed any pigeons around and there were no mobile phones then?! ) Just after his departure, the telephone rang and a mechanic called Jim asked:

‘Have you a Mr.Campbell staying there? Only his Ford’s now ready for collection.’

‘No,’ I replied, ‘Just a Mr. Wellington who said his Jaguar has been fixed. And he’s just left!’

‘Sounds like him,’ he laughed and rang off.

So, who was ‘Mr. Wellington?’ or should that have been Mr. Campbell? Or was he just another Walter Mitty?

Note: Hard to believe, but the above story is true. Apart from the Duke of Wellington, I have changed the names for obvious reasons. When I later wrote a book about hotel life, the magazine “Good Housekeeping” wrote a short review, but they wouldn’t accept a story about Dr. Strangeglove, as they deemed it ‘too surreal,’ Or words to that effect.

There may be a couple of ‘follow-up’ stories about our hotel life, which could hardly be called ‘pèdestrian,’ and when we finally ‘threw in the towel,’ something quite extraordinary occurred. I was approached by a publishing company (Kogan Page Ltd., of London) and commissioned to write a modest book about running a small hotel! It even went to a reprint. How about that?

© Joy Lennick 2019