My mother, afterwards, declared that there hadn’t been an upside. She said it was the worst job she could imagine, running a large family hotel in the 1940s and 50s. But I don’t think it was all bad by any means. I think that over the years she became exhausted and, in the end, that was all she remembered.
Although it was a big hotel, they still kept a personal touch. They made a point of chatting to guests every evening and those whom they got on well with were invited to dinner on a Friday evening in their flat. Many people made return visits, year after year and they remained friends even after the hotel was sold. There were all sorts of parties – I’ve got a photo, one of very few from those days, of my mother, sprawled in a pile with several others on the floor, dressed in a strapless evening dress and laughing.
My sister was born in April of the year after they were married and a nursemaid was employed to look after her during the busy summer season. This was one advantage of ‘living over the shop’, for Mummy could pop upstairs to the flat to feed the baby and play with her at less busy moments. She always made sure she put her to bed and read her stories every night. My sister remembers the hotel much more than I do. She used to go to the children’s parties that were held and made friends with some of the children.
The nursemaid’s name was Violet and she had a little boy. Unusually for those days, she and her partner were not married – I suppose one of them was waiting for a divorce, because the day came for their wedding. Afterwards, she showed my parents the photos, including one of the little boy clutching a poster saying “Happy Wedding Day, Mummy and Daddy”. This lack of embarrassment was unusual in the late 40s!
My father drove a motor bike and one day my mother had a go. She always said that co-ordination wasn’t her strong point – she had never been able to play a wind instrument, as she couldn’t move her fingers and breathe in as well as out, all at the same time! So it was decided that she shouldn’t be let loose on the road, but have a go in the ballroom. She was given careful instruction on how to twist the handlebars to control the speed. She shot straight into a large pile of chairs at the far end of the room…safer in her car, it was decided.
My father’s father did not have good health by this time. As soon as Malcolm and Jane got married, he signed over all his possessions to Malcolm, to save death duties. He had to live for seven years to escape them. The dearest wish of his son and daughter-in-law was to sell the hotel and move back home to Oulton Broad to look after him. He used, they found later, to check with his solicitor how long he had to hang on, to save his son’s inheritance. He did live that long, indeed, and a few weeks later he died of a heart attack. My mother remembered Malcolm receiving the phone call and his silence afterwards. He put on a black tie in mourning, and never wore a coloured one again.
I was born in 1953. I missed the Coronation, but I was present at the celebrations, although I couldn’t see a thing, which was a bit frustrating. My father’s cousin was married to the Lord Mayor of London and they were invited to a couple of grand dinners. My mother hired an evening gown – I’m sure that she told me it cost £25 to hire, which is incredible for 1953. Whatever must it have been like? She was one of these people who doesn’t change shape in pregnancy and never needed maternity clothes. She was, in fact, sick through both her pregnancies, constantly, and ended up a lot thinner after the birth than she had been before she’d been pregnant. This had no effect on the babies, my sister weighed 8.5 pounds and I was a stalwart 9 pounder, and long with it. The midwife confidently predicted I’d grow up to be a 6-footer. It didn’t happen. I didn’t quite make 5 foot 3…
When I was born, their marriage was going through a bit of a difficult patch. I think they had been working too hard for too long, with few holidays and no money for most of the time. They had been so poor that, for example, they could not afford toothpaste and cleaned their teeth with salt. My mother did buy furniture at local auctions – Victorian furniture was deeply unpopular at the time, and she used to put down £5 a week for flowers, pick the flowers from the gardens and save the money. Neither of them drew a salary. My mother adored me and said that I’d meant everything to her at that time.
It was temporary – not her love, the marital blip – and in any case, there was at last some interest in the hotel. Fred P0nt1n, who was starting up his chain of holiday camps, came to have a look round and made an offer. He suggested, instead of paying the full price, giving part of it in shares in his company, but my parents, seeing his overweight and wheezy frame, decided it wasn’t a good bet and declined. P0nt1ns went from strength to strength and Fred himself outlived my father – not the luckiest decision, financially speaking, that they ever made. In fact, neither was the deal. Seaside holidays were taking off in the mid-fifties and they received other, better offers for the hotel. Not that my father would contemplate them – he’d shaken hands and a gentleman’s word was his bond.