Jane and Malcolm, newly married, drove from Weymouth in Dorset to Oulton Broad in Suffolk, a journey of 200-odd miles. She must have been very nervous. She was quite unsophisticated and, although 23 years old, her teenage years had been passed in wartime and she had had no opportunities for travel or anything but local parties. Her husband was 36, well-educated at public school and Oxford, had travelled widely and spent six years in the army. She knew that he came from a wealthy family, although he didn’t have any money at this time.
They were met at the door by the butler, who greeted them as “Mr and Mrs Malcolm” and ushered them indoors. The Major and his wife were waiting in the drawing-room, the Major still recuperating from a recent operation on his gall-bladder. The Major was much taller than his son, with a bigger, burly frame. He had dark hair and a red beard and moustache. His wife, Helen, I’ve only ever seen in indistinct press photos. I know that she had the dark brown eyes that her son inherited and that she had been treated in the 1930s for cancer in her face. This early radiotherapy had destroyed her cheekbone and she covered her cheek to hide the hole, which would not close completely as occasionally bits of dead bone worked themselves out (I’m just the reporter, I don’t know how this worked at all. Sorry to revolt you all). She was careless of her appearance and simply wrapped any scarf round her face and tied it in a knot.
The Major greeted Jane warmly, invited her to call him Pa and poured everyone a glass of sherry from a cut-glass decanter. Jane felt more shy than ever. She never drank alcohol – once she had been plied with home-made cowslip wine by an elderly woman she was visiting and, having no idea of its strength, she became totally pie-eyed and could hardly walk home, but otherwise she didn’t drink at all. However, she couldn’t refuse and took a cautious sip and put the glass down on the table.
A few moments later, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hand flash past with the full glass and down again with it empty. Moments later, Pa boomed out “My word, my girl. You enjoyed that sherry, didn’t you. Better pour you another glass!”
I’m sure Malcolm had warned her that his mother was an alcoholic, but she hadn’t expected that. Ma (mother-in-law Helen) was unable to control her drinking and so it was controlled for her. She was allowed a glass of sherry and half a bottle of wine a day and No Gin under any circumstances. She craved more and would sneak a glass if she could.
Jane and Pa bonded immediately. The visit only lasted a couple of nights – there was still a hotel to run and this was June, coming into the holiday season. It must have taken some getting used to – from her father’s bungalow, attractive though it was, to a large house with a butler, cook/housekeeper, cleaner and maid, a chauffeur and three gardeners. It was the last remnants of a vanishing era.
At tea on the first day, she admired the silver tea service. It was engraved with the family crest and the lids of the kettle, the teapot and the hot-water jug were decorated with acorns and is very pretty without being fussy. When she arrived home in Weymouth, she went to unpack and found the whole service, complete with salver, in her suitcase. A little present from Pa to his beloved new daughter.