After leaving school, my father went to Oxford, where he read Natural Sciences at University College. Apparently, he was one of the first group to study Biochemistry. He loved academic life – my mother always said that, if it hadn’t been for the war, he would probably have returned to Oxford and ended up as a don. He also enjoyed the social life of a wealthy young man.
He had the sort of well-rounded education and interests that are less common now than then, and the money to practise them. He was a scientist and mathematician who also read widely on all sorts of subjects, both factual and fictional. He enjoyed music, jazz and classical. He loved the cinema and had, at home, his own purpose-built cinema, where he hired films and, acting as projectionist, showed them for his friends. There was a separate projectionist’s room, though it was just used for storage when I was a child. It was, overall, a large building and would have easily seated 80 or more people, though I don’t know how many came – it could have been that part of it was used for dancing or eating and drinking. Why does one never think to ask these things when there’s someone alive who would know? Although my father died relatively young, he had lifelong friends who lived into their 80s and they would have told me, if only I’d asked. He must have been much wealthier than them, but I’m sure that was never an issue – we were still comparatively rich when I was a small child (though death duties had already made large inroads), but I was completely unaware of that and my father would certainly have spoken in exactly the same way to anyone, whatever their background or income, and treated them the same too.
He also enjoyed speedboat racing and we have several pewter, stoneware and silver tankards which he won as prizes. The large stoneware steins were won in Germany. His own boat was called OverWeGo – I have seen one photograph of him racing in it, but that was a long time ago. It must be around somewhere, probably tucked into a book. His enjoyment of speed extended to his cars too and once he was summonsed for speeding. His father was a magistrate and it was Malcolm’s fate to appear before him in court. He was fined half a crown, which his father paid on the way out. Indulged? Well…….could be.
But the family didn’t entirely live for pleasure. The Major had become a town councillor and then Mayor of Lowestoft, as well as a magistrate and a member of Suffolk County Council. He was extremely concerned about the high level of unemployment and he arranged for elaborate gardens to be laid out in South Lowestoft near the seafront. If ever you visit Kensington Gardens (the Lowestoft version!), my grandfather was responsible for its construction, with its many little beds and elaborately intertwining paths, which gave the dignity of a job to a good many men. We still have the gold key he was presented with when he performed the opening ceremony. I have the feeling, though I don’t know for sure, that he helped pay for it – maybe by providing the Westmorland stone of its construction, possibly through helping to pay the building costs; it seems an extravagance for a town in an age of recession. At home, he had a similarly designed rock garden laid out, on a smaller scale although it was still a quarter of an acre in size, with a waterfall at one end and little streams running through a succession of ponds, finally ending at a large round pond with a fountain.
Helen, my grandmother, supported the Major in his public works, although she suffered, at some stage, from cancer in her cheekbone. The early radiotherapy of the time cured her, but she was left with a wound in her face and she unselfconsiously wore a scarf tied round her head. Not a beautiful, draped scarf, just any old scarf tied like a bandage. She still drank a lot and was certainly an alcoholic by this time. She had an acid wit, I’m told, but I’ve never gained much inkling of her as a person. My father was never close to her, probably because she had left him as a small child, and he didn’t speak of her much.
When I was growing up, on hearing my surname people would say to me hopefully “any relation of the Major?” and usually there was a story to be told. He certainly accepted the social order and his place in it (quite a long way up it) but with it came responsibilities. One story was of a man who heckled him as he left the council chamber, ready to get into his chauffeur-driven car “You rich bugger! All right for some, what about those of us who can’t get a job” “What’s your name, my man?” boomed the Major. Unafraid and aggressive, the man told him. And the next day, a ton of coal was delivered to his house, with a letter offering him a job. This man told the tale to my mother thirty years later. The Major was respected and loved, and he certainly loved Lowestoft and its people.