We moved to Bedford when Kate was nearly two years old and the boys were eight and eleven. I knew that sooner or later we would run out of money. It was imperative that I should get a business going as soon as possible. Teachers’ salaries were still very small in those days. Bob’s father had recently married for the second time. Neither of them were my sort of people, but his new wife had a great love of children. They had bought a small cottage in the countryside and they were always glad to see the children. I had to work out how I could plan to establish a business and make sure I spent enough time with Kate.
Bedford had for a long time been sought after as a good place to retire to by professional people who had spent most of their working life in the Raj. Those who had children sent them at an early age to public schools in England. Bedford was an ideal choice because of the plentiful and cheap, big and beautiful houses and the Harpur Trust with its four excellent public schools, two for boys and two for girls.
I suggested to Bob that it might be a good idea to buy such a house and invite his father and his wife to come and live there with us in their own apartment and bathroom. They agreed. We bought a lovely house with three reception rooms, a beautiful stained-glass window facing the street, half way up a wide staircase, seven bedrooms, two bathrooms and a spacious garden full of shrubs and trees with a lawn where we could play badminton. We all loved it. We were close to the centre of the town and to the schools. The boys could ride there on bicycles and we had a garage. Bob had the whole place decorated. It looked wonderful when it was finished. We spent three very happy years there, then things changed. Bob’s father and his wife, although they were very kind to the children, decided they would leave and buy a small house at the other side of the town. Anyway, Kate was nearly ready to leave nursery school to go to Bob’s school.
Moreover, the house was costly to maintain. We reluctantly accepted a very good offer for it and bought a smaller one in a very pleasant part of Bedford that was, at one time, a separate village.
During those years I had rented a small shop near to the centre and set myself up as an antiques seller. For the first three years there I earned hardly a penny. That was hardly surprising since I knew very little about the goods I was buying and selling. Opposite me was an old man who had been a dealer in antiques all his life. He wasn’t best pleased to see me opening up, but he soon realised how little I knew and took pity on me by giving me some help. Not that it made much difference. However, I soon grasped that this work was not for me except for my meeting of many different kinds of people. I realised just how easily I could talk to anybody and quickly grasp some of the inner workings of the minds of complete strangers. I have always been able to do this, probably as the result of my magic camera and close observation of what people say and how they behave.
I was getting desperate and frustrated. I had a big car so that I could carry things I had bought and other objects that I had sold and delivered. At that time there were many auction sales especially in very big houses that no-one wanted to buy. It was a bright sunny day. I parked my car and wandered around from one room to another until I came to the library. It was beautiful. I looked at the rows of well kept books, many of which looked as though they had never been touched.
I then remembered that every sale of old houses had lots of books, yet hardly anyone bought them. All my life I had read books of many different kinds. I like to learn new things especially about people and animals. Of course we are all animals but we speaking ones don’t like to admit it. I was just getting into the work of Darwin and his colleagues.
Books always seemed to be offered at the end of sales. Something new had crossed my mind, something so astonishing that I had never thought of it before. Why had I been dithering about with antique furniture and glass etc. when I could have been buying and selling books instead? The first block of books were being offered. There was a pause. The price was lowered two or three times and no-one raised a hand. I hesitated for a moment and then I put up mine. I got it for a very low price. After that I bid for every lot. Then there were offers of the old book-cases. They were all quite big. Only the small ones that would fit into modern houses were sold and not for very much.
I wondered whether the taller ones would fit into my shop. I decided they would. I bought several of them for low prices. At the end of the sale I had spent very little money, something like £250. A plan had presented itself to me. I hired two pantechnicons to deliver the lots to my shop in two weeks. This would give me enough time to have everything in the shop taken away to the nearest auction rooms which happened to be very close to my place of business.
Within a very short time I became a bookseller. The book-cases were very useful and fitted in well. For the rest I bought some cheap free-standing wooden shelves.
Everyone including Bob thought I had gone mad. Instead I had done exactly the right things. Very few people were interested in old books at that time. Most of them were old gentlemen. I knew of no woman who had done such a thing as I did. But I was right. I never looked back.