We’ve been sitting long after dinner with mum talking about her past. Here is some of what we’ve heard:
At the end of their exams in the summer 1951, Dad and MuM and Spicek(sp?) the polish guy drove around Italy, Switzerland, and France in an old Vauxhall called Sir Henry Parkes (because it was better at parking than driving). In Rome they stayed in a large house owned by the Polish ambassador to the Vatican, who couldn’t go home and had no income, so was renting it out. He spoke French, which Spicek couldn’t because he had missed out on his education during the war. When they got back to Oxford they parked the car in the back alley (you had to have the parking lights on all night if you parked it in the main street). It never started again. When they left they bought a new car, and Oxford Morris that they brought home to Australia.
Mum and Dad used to go to Mr. Bywaters for Christmas. He spent a huge amount on a Stilton. Australia was beating England in cricket, and the Bywaters brothers used to come in early in the morning, close the windows (which the Australians had opened), and talk about the cricket. Mum and Dad used to say it’s too early, and the boys would say it would be tolerable your lack of interest in cricket if it weren’t for the fact that the English were using. This was the beginning of Dad’s interest in cricket. Mr. B. used to spend all Christmas finding the windup toys for hot breakfast.
Since Dad didn’t have a scholarship (the beginning, mum says in retrospect, of his I am a failure complex), Mum got a job as a social worker in the Radcliff hospital. Others got jobs as substitute teachers (“supply teachers”) in the West End, or on the Oxford Atlas. Her budget was 3 pounds a week on rent, 2 on housekeeping, and 1 on entertainment. She spent a stint in the pediatric wing, heartbreaking, one child had an ileostomy and eventually died, another had liver failure and, while the doctor gave the parents the bad news in guarded language, only wanted to tell mum about the cut on his finger. He died too. She said there wasn’t much malnutrition because of Lord Warning’s rationing “… don’t throw out potato peelings, because you’ll hurt Lord Warner’s feelings.”
Australia sent over the ewe mutton, cooked for an hour in the pressure cooker with a clove of garlic. She was in the butcher buying her 2 shilling leg of ewe mutton. He said, you know, Australia was great during the war, we couldn’t have managed without it, but please, tell them when you go home, no more ewe mutton. Ambrose Heath, “the piece of cod that passeth all understanding”, food columnist for the Guardian.
Now, on the way back from Italy to Switzerland, Mum said to Dad and Spicek, you guys are men and like tunnels, but I like mountains, so they went back over the mountain roads from Milano. This is why they got stuck in the floods in Bellanzona. Because their car wouldn’t start, being Sir Henry Parkes, they still had a place to stay on the second night of rain. The Ministry of Tourism had declared that all the restaurants must stay open for tourists, so a busload of French people showed up wanting food. Mum helped serve, and they said “Pasta, pasta, toujours pasta!” After they had all gone to sleep in their bus, the owner brought the real dinner and the good wine. Mum says she used to keep touch with then by Christmas cards for a number of years afterwards.
The sad thing is Spicek lost all his film because his photo equipment was stolen from the car. There is a photo he took of mum praying in Chartres as background which she regrets losing.
Mum says Dad left the communist party because they started telling him what sort of music he could play at his grammophone evenings. We heard this story because Mum told a story about Dad going up to Rex Mortimer in Ian Turner’s presence and saying “how’s the revolution?”. Ian was shocked that he would give him away.