At long last it was time for Bob to come home. He decided to go by ship to Italy, taking his car with him so that he could come home at his leisure, visiting some of the places in Europe where he hadn’t been before. But one of my favourite poets, Robert Burns reminded us that “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a- glay.” And so did Bob’s. He had barely embarked and was still in the Carribean area when catastrophy struck. The boiler room blew up, two men who were working there died at once and the whole ship caught fire.
Fortunately the ship was very close to the island of Granada. It was forbidden to go back to the cabins. Everything happened so quickly. The crew took care of the passengers, shepherding them to the life-boats as fast as possible. Bob had his camera with him. He took pictures of the sinking ship from his place in a life-boat. Everyone was amazed at how speedily this happened.
Everyone had to leave their belongings behind them.
The people in Granada were very kind and helpful. They were given accommodation and went shopping for new clothes. Bob found a tailor who measured him and produced a suit within three days. Naturally most people wanted to get home as soon as possible. Within a few days arrangements were made for everyone to fly home.
Bob sent a telegram home within hours of the disaster to say he would be with us in a few days time. The boys were wild with excitement when they heard the news on the radio. When he arrived my magic camera was in full force. I can see him now, dressed in a very strange suit and carrying a particularly fine new piece of luggage. He and we were all ecstatic! Quentin, in his usual fashion threw himself into his Dad’s arms. Robin held back for a moment because he had forgotten what his father looked like. Once inside Bob told us every detail of what had happened. We all sat round the table to have our tea, and there was a wonderful atmosphere of the solidarity of our family again.
It was nearly the end of the summer term. Bob proudly walked his sons to school and fetched them at hometime.
We went all over the place that summer. Bob loved the little red Mini Minor I had bought. He was so pleased to be back in England and the boys enjoyed telling their friends that they did indeed have a Dad who had been through the great excitement of being rescued from a burning boat.
Bob had finished his time with Shell and he got a very handsome sum of money when he left. Houses were incredibly cheap in England. We were still recovering from the war, very few people could afford to have a car. We were much better off than most people.
I asked Bob what he was going to do next. “Nothing” he said. After years of work he wanted to have a good few months to enjoy his freedom. He made it quite clear that he wanted to enjoy being with his family. When he first went to university he intended to become a teacher. He meant to do that once he had settled down. When we were still together in Venezuela we had discussed the possibility that I, who had ambitions, might start a business and once it got going he could join me in it. I certainly did not want to go on teaching for much longer.
I thought of us running a small hotel, but on afterthoughts that did not sound what I wanted. Charles, my brother-in-law worked in an antiques business that his father started after World War 1. It became very successful. I like beautiful things. He invited me to spend a couple of weeks in the London shop and I got hooked on the idea of running one myself. At that point we did not intend to have more children, so I could start a business when both the boys were comfortably settled in school. There was a fly in the ointment. I knew my boys were very bright but I soon realised that the education they were given was not nearly as good as our own. We began to think that we must find a public school with a good reputation.