The Recovery

For several weeks Mary needed me every moment in the day. I slept close to her in bed so that I would be there for her if she woke up. She would call out for me even if I went out of the room in the daytime for more than a few minutes. Her doctor gave her strong sleeping pills, yet she still woke up frequently. Curiously enough she was constantly falling asleep during the day.

Mother’s constant presence caused more trouble. She soon became jealous because I gave more attention to Mary than to her. She showed no sense of sorrow for the loss of her son.

When someone commits suicide there has to be an inquest. Mary’s doctor told the authorities that she was not well enough to go. Mother was there at the time: “I’ll go! Which coat shall I wear?” I felt disgusted. How could any mother behave in such a self-centred manner? I knew I must get her away from Mary as soon as possible. Her mother, my grandmother was about ninety years old. She was nothing like her daughter: quite the opposite She was fit for her age and her mind was clear. Her second daughter, also very well, lived with her against her will because she thought her mother should not live on her own and she herself needed a home. I wrote a letter to them to ask if they would have Mother to stay with them for a short time. One of the things I had to do was to find two separate flats so that Mother and Mary would not have to live together. They agreed grudgingly.

We were very lucky because the man who was in charge of the allocation of rented property in Harlow had himself suffered from a difficult mother so he knew what it was like. He was very helpful. In a short time he found two small flats. That was just the beginning. Mary’s flat needed to be cleared out and the contents removed to the two single flats.

Luckily Mary had good friends in their flat close to her own. They offered us the use of their second bedroom whilst the new flat was being prepared. But nothing could be moved yet until Mary

showed signs of getting better.

I saw at once that I should have to stay in England for at least two months. All these changes took time and we did not know how soon it would be before Mary was well on the way to recovery. I sat down and wrote a letter to Bob telling him the situation.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate I received a letter back from him that upset me and made me very angry. The gist of it was that I had never intended to stay for only two weeks. My brother’s death was just an excuse to get away from him and the boys. If I wanted a divorce I could have one.

I was too angry to get upset. Anger leads to action not to depression. It actually gave me more energy to do all the things I had to do. All my feelings about never having had a supportive childhood came to the front. I thought, mistakenly, that Bob knew me well enough never to have considered I should have engineered such a base plot.

Again with hindsight I know that he just did not have the understanding and insight to see what a difficult situation I was in. That letter affected the way my marriage went and my ultimate decision to decide for a divorce twenty years later.

Mary was a member of an amateur dramatic society, one of several in Harlow. They had got together to produce a special Christmas entertainment. They suggested that I bring Mary along, even though she was still far from well. As we sat there, the doors of the hall flew open and there stood four big men, one with a beard. “Who is he?” I asked Mary. “That is Charles Nyman”. Mary wanted to get married and have children, but so far the two men she went out with did not suit her, with reason. I looked at this one and I said at once “Now that is the sort of man you should marry!” How did I know? I sometimes think I have a touch of the second sight.

Charles was very concerned about what had happened. It was clear that he liked Mary very much. From that day on he kept a close eye on her and shook her awake every time she fell asleep. When I finally felt Mary was well enough to cope he said to me “Don’t worry. I will take care of her.” About two years later they married and had one daughter and three sons. She is now a grandmother. He died too young at the age of sixty-seven. His last words to me were “You will look after my little girl won’t you?”

Everything turned out all right. Mother came back to her new flat. I stayed with Mary, helped her to decorate her new flat. For some weeks she lacked physical coordination and concentration then she gradually recovered all her faculties. The time I was there seemed to go on forever. I felt that I had been there for years. However, no good things last forever, nor do bad things. I was so pleased to go back from the English winter to the sun of Venezuela and my dear little boys. They were overwhelmed with delight. So was Bob, but I hadn’t forgotten about his letter.



The Shock

The shock hit me on a Saturday morning. The first telegram from my sister told me that our brother, Colin was seriously ill. The second was received a short time later. Colin had taken his own life by putting his head in the gas oven. Looking back I am touched by her thoughtfulness in giving me this dreadful news gently.

All that week, before this happened, I had been in the depth of misery but that morning I rose relieved and happy. Why? In retrospect I think it must have been the same moment that he died. I had had premonitions before, but never as severe as this one. I would like to think that he was at peace at last.

My-two-year-old son Quentin was sitting on my lap when the second telegram arrived. I had never cried so hard in my life. Tears cascaded. They took me over. My magic camera brings back to me in an instant the full vision and pain of that time. I can clearly see Quentin stroking my arm, his eyes fixed on my face. “Funny Mummy. Funny Mummy” he said. I had no idea of what was going on in his head. Neither Bob nor Robin were visible to me in that moment of shock.

After a while I calmed down and began to think rationally, I knew that I must go back to England. I knew Mary had had a hard time with both our mother and our brother who had gone to live with her in her small rented house. I knew they were both irresponsible, especially where money was concerned, and she had a demanding job as an infant teacher. Colin had left the navy and told her he was trying to get a job. Mary did not tell me how difficult things really were. I am sure she was trying not to worry me. But she was my little sister and I knew her well enough to know for certain that she would not be able to cope on her own with such a calamity. I was right.

I told Bob I must return to England at once. He was very reluctant to let me go, but he did. We had a good maid, Argenida, who was very capable and loving with the children. I told both boys that I had to go away but I would come back soon. I intended to stay for two weeks only. In the event the problem was much greater than I had anticipated.

The journey back was horrific. No jet ‘planes then. The first one went to Canada and the second to London Airport. Halfway across the Atlantic one of the four engines failed. We had to turn round and go back. Everyone was very calm but inside they were probably as scared as I was. I knew that we should probably be alright but I also knew that once one engine has gone there is also the possibility that the rest will. I had read about such a disaster only a few months before. Whatever would my family do if I died? I began to get very angry with my brother for causing all this distress.

However, I got back to England safely and was met at the airport by a friend of my sister, one of the few people who had a car of his own at that time. When we arrived at Harlow in the evening. Mary and Mother were naturally very glad to see me. Mary told me the story of Colin’s death in detail. Apparently, when he first came back home, out of the navy, he seemed to be happy. Mary introduced him to her friends and he was invited to parties with her. She soon discovered that he was a heavy drinker and when he was in that state his behaviour was aggressive. It wasn’t long before no-one invited him any more.

He went off on his bicycle to London most week-days under the pretext that he was looking for a job. He was doing nothing of the sort. He told Mary he would find a job in the Post-Office. After a while it was clear that this was not true.

On the last day of November there was a special party for Halloween. Colin stayed in the house with Mother and Mary went to the party. Next morning she was fast asleep in bed, having come back late. Mother was the first one up. As she went to the kitchen door she couldn’t open it. She must have guessed something bad had happened. She let out a loud shriek that woke Mary up. She ran downstairs and pushed the door with all her might. It had been taped all round the other side. The kitchen was full of gas.

She did everything right. Colin was lying with his head in the oven. First she opened all the windows, then she rang for an ambulance. The men arrived very quickly, carried him out of the kitchen away from the gas and began to try to resuscitate him. They worked hard. After a while some colour came back into his cheeks. Mary felt a moment of relief; but it was no good. He died. They sent for the doctor to sign the certificate of death, then they took him away.

It was two days before I arrived. At first Mary was upset but in control of herself. Mother was her usual self. The doctor came the next day and put me in the picture. He gave her a prescription mostly to help her to sleep. Mother needed nothing.

The next day Mary began to talk to me. She was no longer herself. She told me that Colin had gone to another place. She said a priest had come to see her and told her this. He quoted from the Bible: “In my kingdom there are many mansions”. Mary interpreted it to mean that Colin was still alive somewhere. Mary did not go to church, but mother did. Because of that he called to see her. What presumption! I was very angry with him for being such a fool. I sent him away when he called again and told him never to come back.

Mary was not herself for a while. Her voice was different and she seemed to be in another world. The common name for this is a nervous breakdown. No-one fully understands it. A good psychoanalist friend told me that it can happen to anyone when things get too much for them and they cannot cope. In many cases, those who recover come out stronger than before and it rarely happens again. We all have our limits. He said it was an escape mechanism that we go into to give us relief from extreme suffering and time to get back to normal. At that time all I knew was that my sister needed my support to stay with her as she slowly got better. Even more important, she needed to get rid of the burden of our mother. I knew I must somehow separate them. I had help from Mary’s friends and from the kind man who was in charge of finding rented flats for people in the community. A lot of work had to be done before I could go home. I finally went back in late January when I knew she was well enough to look after herself in a flat of her own and Mother had another some distance away.



Learning From Our Children

I became a psychotherapist when I was over sixty and I practised, on my own, for the next fifteen years. It was a good time for me to start because I had a wealth of different kinds of experience of both myself and other people. It is not a profession for a young person to do well. We are all so different that it is hard and well-nigh impossible for us to understand situations about which we know very little. Only geniuses like Shakespeare can know that. Trying to put ourselves into other people’s shoes is incredibly difficult. It doesn’t matter how many books we have read and how many people we have met, it all comes to nothing unless we are always listening and noticing what is going on around us. As you will know by now that this is one of the things I enjoy most.

Mothers who spend time studying what interests their children most will soon get to know some of their most important individual characteristics. It is a wonderful preparation for having good relationships with them when they are grown-up. But I have discovered that those who have the strongest wills to get what they want can have very different strategies. They are often the ones with whom we have to be most patient and at the same time very clear and very firm. Children like this need to know when you mean ‘yes’ and when you mean ‘no’ . Give them an inch and they will take a mile. We have to remember that however rebellious the child, the more he or she still needs to feel safe and secure.

It is all too easy to get into fruitless arguments. If you let that happen the child will lose respect for you. The same applies to teachers. I noticed, when I was one, that children are not fools and the teachers they respect are the ones who have strict rules and stick to them.

Both my boys were such in quite different ways. Someone once asked me if I had a favourite child. I thought for a moment and then I said “I like best the one who is giving me the least trouble.” In Victorian days and earlier, obedience and “goodness” were considered as virtues. How wrong they were!

When Quentin was old enough to toddle I took both boys to the club swimming pool. We usually went in the early afternoon when it was nearly empty and easier for me to keep an eye on both. Robin could already swim so I had to place most of my vigilance on Quentin. At one point I was giving Robin a few tips as he was learning a new stroke. He was doing very well. Suddenly I heard Quentin yelling with all his might “Here I come!” He was standing on the top diving board at the deep end. I couldn’t stop him and he jumped off. He couldn’t swim. I was in my bathing-suit. I didn’t immediately jump in, I waited for a few seconds to see what he did next. He rose to the surface, looking jubilant. I waited another couple of seconds and believe it or not, he who couldn’t swim, dog-paddled to the steps and climbed out. I was astounded. He was about two years old.

He stood up and said “Now I am going to do it again!” “No you are not!” I said and he stopped and gave me a dirty look. He didn’t start an argument but I praised him just enough but not too much. I never took my eyes off him when we were at the pool again. However he never tried a second time. It was enough for him to have tried and succeeded.

Quentin and I have certain things in common. We both like to start new things on our own without anyone helping us. The difference between us is that when I jump into the deep-end to start a new business I am always scared stiff. I put myself into the position I want to be in, believing I am right but terrified of going very wrong. We both take risks but Quentin takes greater chances than I ever would. Robin and I also share certain traits. In fact all three of my children get bored easily and we are always coming up with new ideas.

Getting to know them so well when they were children built up trust between us, despite the difficulties of teen-age problems which are inevitable with strong-willed people. Not only did they go through different changes as they learned from their own experience. I also matured and got to know myself better.


Flora and Fauna

When I think of Venezuela, vivid images spring into my mind. In the dark evenings after our supper we sat outside on the veranda, playing our favourite gramophone records and enjoying the glowing colours of the flowers and trees in our garden. The plants included a lemon bush whose golden fruits glowed like lamps. I have never seen lemons like them anywhere else. They were small, more like limes, but they were very sweet. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t pick some to use in my cookery.

There was a banana tree with large leaves that threw shadows on the grass, making it just the right place to put Robin’s paddling pool. Most of the time there would be a hand of bananas in varying stages of maturity. There was a big tree which bore brown fruits that tasted like toffee. The fruit was not very big but the stone in the centre was enormous. Robin loved them. One day, for a second, I was very frightened. I heard a choking sound coming from the garden. I raced outdoors, seized Robin, turned him upside down and banged his back with all my might. Fortunately he coughed up a large stone very quickly. He loved the fruit but it was the first time he picked it himself. I thought they were too high for him to reach. But I was wrong. Because everything was so different we parents had to keep a sharp eye on our children for situations that would never have occurred in the UK.

In the middle of the day after lunch, most of us retired for a siesta and there was no-one about. Robin soon found out that this was the time when the grass was soon covered entirely with iguanas, bathing in the sun. He waited till they were still, then he would rush out of the garden door and chase them. They are nervous creatures. As soon as they were disturbed they would get into a panic, running in all directions and falling over each other, making a noise like pieces of armour clashing together. They fled to the high bushes round the grass and up to the roof. Robin screamed with delight. They often left their droppings. “Can’t we put a toilet there for them so they don’t mess up our veranda?” said Robin.

During the rainy season when the rain really was heavy, often for several hours, extraordinary things happened. One day Bob and I got caught in the middle of an avalanche of storm and wind on the way back home from a visit to a friend. He was driving the Jeep because the road was not good. We had difficulty staying on the track so we went very slowly. After a while the rain died down and suddenly we heard an outburst of croaking going on all about us. Bob put on the lights and we saw an amazing sight. The whole of the ground around us was covered completely with frogs making a riot of noise.

Before this rainstorm, everywhere, in all directions there were nothing but brown trees and bushes. Nothing was green. It all looked dried out. The next day we returned to the bush and saw to our amazement, the most beautiful flowers all over the place.

I had never seen anything change so quickly! The heavy curtain of water brought everything back to life. These wild places near the equator produce startling changes with astonishing speed. This also happens with people. It seems that the environment has a powerful effect on the flora and fauna and the people who live there.



After my first son was born I was delighted despite the fact that he took several months to settle down after his traumatic birth. However by the time he was six months he was a cheerful little chap. I was fascinated by seeing him changing almost day by day. Bob took a while to get used to him. Little by little he overcame his initial jealousy because I spent so much time with him. Knowing so little about such matters I did not know that this is a common reaction in men when they first become fathers. This was particularly strong in Bob who was still getting used to being married and having me to himself. I was his first and last girl-friend. I was beginning to see just how much he needed me. Never throughout his long life did I ever see him attracted to any other woman. I filled a very important gap in his life. He also mattered to me, but not so much.

I was learning how important the mother/child relationship is. I had no such problems as do some women, such as post – natal depression. Thinking back I realised that at last I was capable of making a very strong relationship with another human being and that solved one of my biggest difficulties. With all three of my children I was very happy to give them all the love and understanding that I unconsciously knew I had. I got every bit of it back.

Knowing how much Bob missed by being an only child I soon realised that we must have another baby soon. At first he was against this, but as he began to get to know his own son, he reluctantly relented. I became pregnant after nearly a year but miscarried after only a few weeks. This did not upset me at all. I felt that if this had happened so soon the chances were that the baby was damaged and I certainly didn’t want that.

It took some time to become pregnant again. All went well and my second son, Quentin was born two-and-a-half years after Robin. The baby thrived from the start. I was glad to have another boy, not because I didn’t want a girl, but because I thought that two of the same sex would gain more from each other. Quentin was a happy, easy baby which was just as well since Robin went through some of the symptoms of jealousy, but fortunately, as the baby grew older , Robin took to him and they got on well. Their temperaments were very different. Robin had a tendency to be pessimistic and Quentin was the opposite. As they grew older they enjoyed each other’s company and went through the useful experience of fighting and making up afterwards.

One day when we were back in England again and they were aged five and seven, I was in the kitchen when I heard shrieks and rushed into the living-room. They both shouted at once to get in first. After I had calmed them down I said “I don’t want to hear this sort of thing again”. In one voice they both said “It was only a friendly fight, Mum.” I then learned that this is what brothers do, so in future I let them get on with it.

Another day we were all set to go on a picnic, then the rain began to pour down. Robin burst into tears and said “Our picnic is ruined”. “No it isn’t” said Quentin. “We can have our picnic here, sitting on the floor.” This sort of thing is very useful for brothers and probably for sisters too, but I don’t know so much about them.

My one and only daughter was born much later. At that stage we had decided to stick with two children. At first I was annoyed because I wanted more time to myself, but as it turned out I had a daughter to whom I have often said “You were the best mistake I ever made!” Old mother nature was at it again.

With such a gap between Kate and the boys everything went well. They both took to her and she was very fortunate for the love they gave her. Our family was complete.

Kate also had two sons with only sixteen months between them. We all lived close to each other in Cambridge, so I saw a lot of all my family and still do. From someone who never thought she wanted children it is quite remarkable.

Ah! I forgot about Bob. He also was very pleased to be a father. We both came from families that were unable to give to us what we really wanted, because we were never really able to connect with them, except for the early baby periods. I still managed to develop my own gifts. More of that later. But the best part of my life was the family Bob and I created together.


New Pastimes

My first year in Venezuela was very enjoyable. There were so many new places where we could go. Bob had a company jeep that we could use for the week-ends. We liked to go off into the wilds, not exactly jungle but not too far, where there were only very primitive roads, often with big holes in them. We never knew what we might come across. We took a packet of sandwiches and a bottle of water with us. When we found an interesting spot to explore, we would carefully get down into the road and walk a little further into the bush. One Sunday, when everything everywhere was quite still, I noticed some movement on the floor ahead, looking as though there was a small bunch of leaves waving about. Was I wrong? Indeed I was! As I got closer I realised in horror that it was a nest of baby snakes in perpetual movement. We retired as fast as we could and got back into the jeep to eat our lunch.

In these wild places there were small groups of people living in a very primitive fashion in small villages. We rarely saw them because they stayed away from the track, possibly because they valued their privacy. One day as we were travelling in the jeep, I suddenly said to Bob “Where did you put the sandwiches?” He turned for a brief moment to look and at the same time a big hole opened before us and our jeep fell over sideways. Suddenly a group of young men, scantily clothed, appeared from nowhere making a lot of noise. Chattering away they placed themselves all around us and lifted the jeep back on to the track in seconds, whereupon they began to give cries of delight and danced around.

They were clearly friendly and pleased to be able to help us. Bob offered them money but they absolutely refused to take it. They were still dancing around in exultation as we drove away. They were even more pleased that we could speak Spanish to them. They hadn’t expected that from the likes of us.

Another favourite place was Lake Maracaibo which makes a large hole along the northern edge of South America if you look at the map. Work finished at Bob’s office after Saturday morning. I had the picnic ready and we set off for the beach; this time in the car because the road was good enough and clear of bushes.

Many of us went there. Several loved sailing, but neither Bob nor I wanted to do it. It was fairly safe to swim in. The beach was lined with palm trees so we had shade and could tie our hammocks there. Sometimes we would stay overnight. We made fires and sang songs. Our cars were useful for bedrooms for the smaller children. One day we had an invasion of crabs, slightly reddish in colour. They suddenly emerged all the way around the shore about mid-day. It was unnerving to see such a number, they looked like an enormous moving rug with no beginning and no end. They got closer and closer and soon we got back in our cars and left before they reached us.

When the children had birthdays we followed the South American rituals. A “pinata” like a large cracker, crammed full of small presents, were attached low enough in a tree for the children to reach. Each child was given a padded stick and they all bashed away until the bundle was torn and the small gifts would fall to the ground where they were quickly picked up.

We all got very used to South American music, songs and dancing. I have always loved them. Many of them have a strong feeling of plaintiveness expressed in such a way that they are heart-rendingly beautiful. The best of them seem to have a universal appeal. “Besame Mucho” (Kiss me a lot) was popular in many different countries, including ours in the 1960’s.


A New Life

Sunshine, sunshine and yet more sunshine; especially when we leave our own countries in winter. The contrast seems magical. Like everything else in life once we get used to it, it all becomes ordinary. The sun rises every day at six and goes down every day at six because we are very close to the equator. There is no winter here. We have a rainy season instead, only we never know how much we are going to have here, sometimes very little, other times so much that it blinds us to everything else just as if we were surrounded by a turbulent sea. When the rain is sparse it alternates with sunny days. The Venezuelans call this “Un dia de invierno”, that is, “A day of winter”. They take every advantage to soak themselves in the rain.

We expatriots all have a small bar in our houses and go straight to it as soon as the sun has gone down. There is something in the tropics that makes us think we need alcohol at that time. We both enjoy a gin-and-tonic with bitters and ice-cubes. Sometimes we have two, but that is rare. It becomes a ritual mark for the end of work and the beginning of leisure, especially for the men. Some of us stay at home, others might go out to the old part of Maracaibo, usually to enjoy an evening meal in one of the small restaurants where the sea-food is superb as we are very close to Lake Maracaibo. We might make for the spacious and comfortable club-house with a large swimming pool beside it. We all resort to our favourite pastimes: some go to the club-house to talk with each other and exchange information, and from time to time to watch new films, dance to different kinds of music and play games such as bridge, bingo or darts.

We all have live-in maids, with few exceptions. The heat is so intense that doing housework is too much for most of us. Our children are in safe hands because Venezuelans love them, the men as much as the women. We have American supermarkets that we have never seen before and we can leave the children at home which makes it easy to shop. My view about children is changing, now I see so many of the little beings running cheerfully about. I am beginning to think I would like a child. One of my many motives is that it is much easier to take care of infants in the tropics: not having to spend hours dressing and undressing them in the winter as we have to do at home.

Mother Nature made up my mind for me. When I became pregnant, I was one of the lucky ones in that I felt very well throughout the nine months. This was so with all my three children. They all came late, not early. For the first time in my life since my earliest childhood I felt completely relaxed and carefree. I have always had a tendency to worry about the future except during those times.

Once my first son was born, my second maid went around looking very grumpy. I asked her what the matter was. To my astonishment She said “You won’t let me look after the baby when you go shopping”. Her face lit up when I said I would be pleased to let her do so. The butcher in the supermarket congratulated me when he noticed that my baby had been born. “I hope that you are breast-feeding him. It is much the best food for the child!” In no way could I imagine a butcher saying such a thing in England. I loved the feeling of the value of family that I had never noticed at home.

For the first time in my life I didn’t have to worry about money. The furniture was all provided by Shell. We had washing machines and all kinds of electrical equipment we had never seen before. At that time in Great Britain nearly everything had to be done by hand. Washing clothes was particularly onerous.

I went shopping in the car and soon got used to the way the native people and some of the foreigners drove. I had to keep my eyes wide open in every direction.

I had never learned to cook in England because of the strictness of the rationing system. I bought an American cookery book because most of the food products came from America and they had different ways of measuring quantities. I went mad with excitement. I tried two or three new recipes every day. I did all the cooking myself because I wanted to and also because the maids all preferred their habitual dishes. In most families the mother would cook and the maid waited till we had finished and then cooked her own.

My elder son nearly died when he was born and for a long time he ate very little. After we had eaten he would wait until the maid had cooked her dinner, then asked for some of hers. He learned to eat fried plantain bananas and many other foods that were native to Venezuela . When we went on leave in one of the finest of liners, he asked the waiter for fried bananas, bacon and orange juice. Naturally there were no fried bananas so he lived on bacon and orange juice.

He looked so frail sometimes that I was quite worried about him. He was still eating little in his teens. I can hardly believe this big, strong, fifty seven year old man grew from such delicate beginnings. When he was twenty-five he married a wife of Greek descent who is a splended cook of mostly mediterranean foods and he has eaten well ever since.


A Dream Fulfilled

At last I was given my passage to Maracaibo by Shell in 1952. England was recovering from the war. Food was still rationed and as I passed through London there were great holes all over the place waiting to be filled in and reconstructed, to repair the damage done during the war. The general atmosphere was bleak. We were just getting out of winter and much as I loved London I was very pleased to leave it behind. First, I crossed from England to Holland by ship. I spent the night in Amsterdam and embarked on a Dutch liner the next day. I breathed a sigh of relief. The ship was very comfortable and the food was superb. It was the height of luxury. I felt I was leaving behind everything I was tired of. I enjoyed that trip more than any of the others I was to experience in the future. Every day was warmer than the last. I spent many a happy hour reclining in my chair on the deck, watching what was going on around me. It was wonderful to be waited on without having to raise a finger. The sea and the sky were constantly changing. We saw flying fish who sometimes landed on the deck and were thrown back into the sea. At that time, very few people went on cruises. Most of us were removing to new jobs abroad. I met more than one young woman who was also going out to join her husband. The further I moved away from England the happier I became. We stopped for a few hours at the island of Madeira which was full of beautiful flowers and buildings. Finally we disembarked on the island of Curacao and Bob was waiting for me. We spent a few blissful days together. We were lost in the joy of being reunited. I remember very little of it now. We went for walks on the beaches after dark and were fascinated by the softly crackling sounds of hosts of hermit crabs. We arrived first at Caracas and then to Maracaibo by plane. We were driven from the small airport to a rather gloomy two-storied house in the old part of the town. Ours was the ground floor, with large, heavy doors at the back fastened by locks. An American who worked for Shell lived on his own upstairs. Outside the house was a long American car. “That is ours” said Bob. You can now drive wherever you want to go. I gazed at him with horror. “Oh dear. I have only just got my licence!” I had only the basic number of lessons in England. “You’ll be alright. You must take your chance.” said Bob. I had already noticed the number of cars whizzing past and it worried me. However I got used to it, although I had two or three small collisions in the first few weeks. Opposite our house was a very ramshackle building that looked as though it had been thrown together with sheets of metal. The door was open and I saw a massive refrigerator within. Outside was a big car. All the people who lived around us were Venezuelans. Many had big cars so that they could make some money by taking foreigners to such places as the open market where we could buy fresh vegetables meat and fruits, many of which I had never seen before. We soon found out why the locks on our massive back-door were necessary because a lot of thieving went on, especially late at night. I found this un-nerving. Most of we foreigners lived in ground-floor houses, painted white, in compounds built by Shell for their foreign enployees. Each house had a small room with its own bathroom at the back. They were for the housemaid. Most of us employed one because it was too hot to do anything very energetic. I had never enjoyed doing housework so I was delighted with this arrangement. I had a huge advantage because of my Spanish skill. Most of the wives never tried to learn the language and gave orders to the maid in a peculiar English with a few Spanish words thrown in. There were some women who only did ironing. Poor things! They could always find work because the office men had to wear white shirts that often had to be changed two or three times every day. You always knew where they were because they kept up a litany of “Ay! Que calor!” that is “Isn’t it hot!” Even when we lived in the compound ourselves there were still break-ins occasionally. Most people were very poor. It was the younger men who would try to grab something they could sell. If they were caught in the act they would give you a wide grin, wave in a pleasant way and saunter off. At that time we felt much safer than we are today There were no drug transactions then.


After University

Bob sent me a beautiful diamond engagement ring on my birthday. We married in Liverpool in the morning of 6th July, 1951 in the Registrar’s Office and had lunch afterwards in a restaurant. My mother and Bob’s father were there with four friends. I graduated in the afternoon. Bob arranged it so that we could go off on our honeymoon to France and Belgium the next day, to make the most of his two weeks holiday. It was my second visit to Paris and the first to Belgium to meet Bob’s mother’s brothers and sisters and his cousins. I was envious of Bob’s fluent French. “Why does your wife speak better French than you do?” they said. That wasn’t what they meant. I had a different accent because I had learned French at school but Bob was bilingual from birth, with the same accent as his family.

Then we went back to London. Bob had a small flat in Finsbury Park and I joined him there. We were still hoping that Shell would offer Bob a job. I tried hard to find myself a teaching post in London but at that time such jobs were few and far between. I didn’t want to be a teacher, but it was the first thing I thought of that would pass the time until we could go abroad.

I think I must have been too proud to take any old job. I was tired of that in my school holidays when I needed money to buy clothes. Now, for the first time, I had nothing to do. Finally, Bob received the awaited letter. He was to go just before Christmas on a liner to New York and then he went in another liner down to Caracas. He loved it, but neither of us wanted to be separated again, It was Shell’s custom to see how their employees who came from England, Holland and America, settled down well for about a year before they brought their wives over to join their husbands. Once again I had to go back to Blackpool and wait.

I still felt an obligation to stay with Mother for a while and also because there was Mary. Bob sent me an allowance and I spent the year making clothes for a warm climate. I felt anxious about my sister. I suggested that she apply for a teaching place with Shell in the primary school for the children of employees from England, Holland and America. Mary had recently earned her teacher’s certificate for infant and primary schools at Goldsmith College. She did very well there and discovered that she had a great skill for teaching children to read. Despite that, she was turned down by Shell. Now, of course, Goldsmiths has been a university for some long time.

Colin had left school. Neither of my parents seemed to take any interest in what he would do. Mary and I were very concerned about this. We thought it might be a good idea for him to to go to a training college for boy sailors. We talked to him about it and he liked the idea. In fact he enjoyed the training and achieved high marks as a telegrapher. He had to sign on for 9 years.

I was more and more eager to get right away from my mother for ever. She continued to let out rooms and thus had enough money to live on. Eventually Mary went to Harlow New Town where they were crying out for teachers for their new schools. She was given a semi-detached house. She invited Mother to leave Blackpool and come to live with her. Colin then could come to stay between voyages. This was a great mistake that led to tragedy.


Just What I Needed

Professor Allison Peers was an unusual man. He loved Spain and South America and he wrote several books that made him the most influential academic in the increasing teaching of Spanish in English schools and universities. He seemed very old to me then, but he was still in his late fifties. He was by no means an attractive man but he was dynamic. He ruled our small department and made all the decisions. He decided who were the best students and what grade they would receive. So I was told by the students who were older than me.

The degree exams were in two parts. One at the end of the third year and one at the end of the fourth. I went through year three as though in a dream. I missed Bob a lot. He was now working in a London bank so we saw very little of each other. We exchanged letters. Bob’s made me laugh with his whimsical humour. Train journeys were expensive.

When I got the part one result I was horrified. Mine was the lowest exam result possible: a third. I can remember very little about that year except for the first and only interview I ever had with my professor. I felt very lonely and I could not bring up any enthusiasm for the work. Never had I felt like that before.

For the first time in my life I couldn’t concentrate. I spent hours in the library but I did not seem to be soaking up new work as I had always done.

For the first and last time my professor summoned me to his study. He was silent for a

moment then he spoke. “Come in and sit down. Whatever happened to you?” I burst into overwhelming tears and in between the sobs I talked about my unhappiness at home, how difficult my father was and how hard I worked at school and all sorts of stuff of that kind.

He waited for a while and then he said “Listen to me my dear and I’ll tell you what to do.” I stopped crying at once. I was overwhelmed by hearing him call me “my dear”. I knew instantly that he had decided I was one of his special students, which he at once confirmed. “You are good enough for a 2:1.

I believe you can get there despite this appalling result. You must forget about everything else and work every day as hard at you can and if you do that you will get a 2:1”

What I needed most was to be recognised as an outstanding student by the great man for whom I had the greatest respect. I said something like “I will do that. I won’t let you down.” That was it. I got my 2:1 That was all it took to force me out of the depths of despair. We never met again. He had high standards, he rarely gave a first and not many 2:1s. At last, after so many difficult years I became a graduate. My foot was on the first rung of the ladder that I thought would lead to success.