Wednesday, 28 November 2007

MY STORY Chapter 10 Back on Terra Firma

A few months after we returned to the UK after a long sea trip Alan left the Merchant Navy for good. He found a shore job as an Engineer Surveyor for an Insurance Company. We eventually moved to London after about 6 month’s training in different parts of the country. I accompanied him while training. Some of the lodgings we stayed in were fine and others quite strange and we would have to move on quickly. We had little money so were not staying in the most salubrious of lodgings. One place in Scotland, our host’s Father was a serious alcoholic who stayed up all night eating oranges. The next morning there would be orange peel strewn everywhere. When I look back now I wonder how I ever survived some of these experiences.

We are both Northerners, Alan from the North East and me from the North West, but we eventually settled in London as this was the area that Alan’s company placed him. He worked from home, going out doing his inspections in the morning and his office work at home in the afternoon. Friendship wise we were starting from scratch so we needed to get to know some people.

I had always been in Brownies, Girl Guides and Rangers so was pleased to find there was a Boy Scout group meeting at the corner of the avenue where we lived. I went along to see them and they welcomed me with open arms as they were in need of an Akela for the Cub Pack. We were renting a bed sitting room in a large house in a predominantly Jewish area. It turned out that this was a Jewish Scout group and although it was closed to non-Jewish children they were happy for me to join them as long as I adhered to Jewish practice with the boys where necessary. Very quickly Alan was drawn in to help also and we made some deep and lasting friendships with other Scout leaders. However this Cub Pack was different to anything I had experienced before. Many of the parents were very wealthy and the boys would arrive at Cubs in chauffeur driven cars. When trying to get the boys to learn certain tasks they would ask why, as normally their Nannies did it for them. The parents however were always more than grateful when we took the boys camping and taught them some self-sufficiency. All in all it was a good experience and only came to an end when we moved away from the area some 5 years later.

During these 5 years living in London, alongside our social life I needed to work and found my niche in the Almoner’s Department of a local general hospital. Almoners who originated from wealthy people giving to the poor, became State run departments of Social Work. It always amazes me that this was the field I gravitated to because hospitals and illness frighten me. I think I was trying to allay my fears in the midst of a very interesting and rewarding job.

This was where my love of gardening began. My first garden was two window boxes on the window ledge.

So here we were attempting to get on with normal life after our exotic beginnings on board ship. However, the storm clouds are gathering though I am not aware of it. Probably as a result of my dysfunctional family life as a child I set out to try and create the perfect life. I think also I was wanting to prove to my Mother-in-Law that I was not too young to marry her son and could manage not only as good as anyone else, but better.

Also during this time my Mother suffered her first serious mental breakdown. She had undergone major surgery and while she was in hospital my Father, who had never been left to fend for himself, had a nervous breakdown and was found wandering in another city having lost his memory. Consequently my Mother returned home from hospital and instead of convalescing was immediately back into caring for my Father. It was too much for her and after a complete nervous breakdown she ended up spending a whole year in a psychiatric hospital. My Grandmother who was a widow and was helping care for my 11 year old brother, fell and broke her leg so Alan and I dropped everything and drove North to see how we could help. Alan’s company were very understanding but the hospital where I worked insisted that I would lose my job if I ever took time off again in this way.

After a week the best solution we came up with was to bring Stephen,my young brother to live with us until my Grandmother and Father were fit to look after him. In our bed sitting room we had 2 x 3 foot beds pushed together and we slept 3 to the bed with Alan in the middle. We lived like this for about 6 months. My friends from the Scout group kindly arranged for my brother to attend the Jewish school. They were very good to him and gave him lots of clothes as we had brought him down almost in what he stood up in. I remember him coming home on the first day and saying, “Barb, what’s a Gentile?” As you can imagine I was like a Mother to Stephen during this time and we became very close. He emigrated to Australia in his early twenties and I never saw him again. We eventually took Stephen back home and almost immediately another of my brothers who was a junior Chef on a large sea going liner decided to jump ship somewhere in the Mediterranean and he turned up on our doorstep when he got to London looking for help and financial support. Fortunately we had made friends with a neighbour in the bed sitting room next door and as she was going away for a while she allowed my brother to use her place while he was in our care. The sad part of this was that not long after she returned she decided to end her life in that same room one night while we were sleeping.

This brother Kenneth developed Muscular Dystrophy and he too emigrated to Australia before becoming wheelchair bound and apart from seeing him briefly when my Father died, I never saw him again. My other brother Geoffrey stayed in the UK and he too developed Muscular Dystrophy and became incapacitated.

As you can see my year of having nothing to do but amuse myself on the ship and visit the many ports, quickly turned around to something very different. The pressures and stress were building up and my way of dealing with it was to just try harder to make everything perfect. We will see the outcome of this in the next chapter.
My First Garden

The garden of our bed sitting room

As a child I longed for a red velvet dress

Stephen posing in his new clothes

The cubs at camp standing to attention for 2 minutes silence

A trip to the village store
The Akela
Gilwell International Scout Camp


Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Barbara, your life story is inspiring. It truly is. Such a lot of heartache with illnesses and losses on all sides. I will be staying tuned.

Thank you for sharing that photo of your first window box garden. It's lovely as are you.

Penless Thoughts said...

You have had the most amazing life!!!!

Mob said...

That is so neat to read your story and then see the pictures that go with it. Alcoholics eating lots of oranges, I've never heard of that before. It sounds like something from a strange dream. I love the fact that your love of gardening sprouted from two windowboxes.

Sara said...

Wow, it gets more and more interesting, and I am eager to read the next chapter. Thank you for sharing your story.

BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

What an inspiration you are, Barbara! Your life story is so amazing!

Willow said...

It would have been hard to have my brother emigrate halfway around the world and never see him again. I went halfway around the world, but I always came back to see my family.
Two brothers with muscular dystrophy! Is that coincidence or genetic?
Thank you for sharing your life story! I look forward to seeing how God's grace worked miracles for you.

Raindrops to Rainbows said...

Gosh, what an interesting but upsetting time you had. I always hate the thought of family members just going their own way and never being seen again. I really think that families are meant to be together, my own family is very split as youve probably realised from my posts, and i really wish it wasnt that way.
I love the photos that you put on your 'my story' blogs, so interesting as they are from a time which i never knew. And your figure is just so typical of the time, that nipped in waist that is getting less common today as more and more junk food invades our lives.
And i have to say that the window boxes are lovely!

Betty said...

Are any of your siblings living?

What a good sister you were and Alan a very understanding husband.....I'm beginning to wonder is there anything you haven't seen or done?....interesting life..Betty

inspired said...

wonderfully post :]
p.s the 2 posts were the same story but 1 on NE29 the other TWF :]

Wild Rose said...

Hi Barbara,

I didn't realise that you are a northerner ~ you have a really interesting story.

Marie x

Crafty Gardener said...

It is always so interesting to read your posts Barbara. What a lovely little first garden you have. Are you still in touch with the friends you made from your cub group? I was a leader with Girl Guides of Canada for 17 years .. such wonderful memories and lasting friendships.
Do you keep in touch with your brothers in Australia? I have a cousin who lives there but over the years we have lost touch.

Maddy said...

What an amazing life, you really must publish your story Barbara.

I'm sending you a bit more of your story today so look out for at least six emails. Each will contain a family group.



Teresa said...

Somehow, I missed this one and jumped to chapter 11 too soon. The story of your brothers is very sad to me. It sounds like you never did see Stephen after he goes to Austrailia. I won't ask about him, Kenneth or Geoffrey, I will just keep reading as maybe you mention them again. Life certainly became different after the days on the ocean. I will skip to chapter 12 since I have read and commented on 11 already.