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Chapter SixteenElizabethan Widow - Preface

Chapter Sixteen
Elizabethan Widow


On Marjory’s return to Battersea she and Mick settled down to creating what was probably one of the happiest periods of her life. John, Alison and Jean were all living in London and she spend a day each week with Jean at the Mews flat. David and I paid occasional visits, Andrew kept in touch by letter and she had Mick to herself. There was, however, one cause of anxiety. Rita, now living at Peper Harrow, near Godalming, did not seem well. Since the birth of her last baby she had suffered from headaches and had become very fat, but this was put down to early menopause. On one of her visits to Peper Harrow my mother saw Rita suffering a bad attack of sickness and migraine, though she insisted she was well enough to accompany Marjory to the station.

My mother could not be idle for long so she decided to take up knitting, something she had not done since she had knitted our jumpers at Catley, over a quarter of a century ago. In due course she produced jerseys in thick wool in a simple stocking stitch for many of her grandchildren, though in the course of production one had to be ready to assist with dropped stitches, which her poor sight could not locate. She visited us many times in 1954 and ‘55 when I was a local Councillor, enabling me to be free to attend meetings while she looked after the baby, Simon. In spite of her poor sight I never hand any qualms about leaving him with her for she was totally confident in that role – as she was spending hours washing nappies at the sink and happily pegging them out in the garden. But her interests lay far beyond babies and we made many trips out. From the back of the car she would reminisce about her young womanhood.

On one of these visits to us she spoke to a group of middle-aged and elderly women who attended the Adult School class and chose as her topic an account of taking eight children to France. Mindful of her age and her poor sight she was urged not to tire herself and to sit down as she spoke. But my mother would have none of it. Though she was in her seventies and half-blind she stood and talked without notes in an extremely lively manner. The women were enthralled and I was amazed. It was as if I was back in the classroom at the Chivers factory – the same emergy was forthcoming, the same ability to compel her listener to take note by the use of variety of content and mannerisms. When she sat down it was clear that she was exhilarated by the experience.

On my mother’s 72nd birthday Mick and his girlfriend Janet announced their engagement, and were married six months later on Tom and Marjory’s wedding anniversary. This meant the end of an era for Marjory. She had enjoyed ‘looking after’ Mick and had appreciated the stimulus provided by their two young male tenants. Now it was decided that Mick and Janet would live in the flat and keep the tenants – but that Marjory would leave (was this one of her impetuous offers to please Mick?) So when Easter came and the wedding was accomplished, Marjory went to stay on her own at Jean’s Mews flat while the Richardsons were in Jersey, prior to their returning to Africa – this time Nyasaland. None of us was aware of the loneliness that speaks through Marjory’s account of those days – ‘the Mews flat seemed doubly isolated because there was a newspaper strike, and doubly silent because of the voices I should not hear there again.’

While the Richardsons had been living in England, Jean gave a radio talk on life in Tonga. When she and Philip and their children returned to Africa she wrote an account of their trip by car from Johannesburg up to Rhodesia, presumably as a basis for another talk. Marjory treasured that account. Jean described the drive from Capetown to Durban via the Garden Route and how they stayed the night ‘at the foot of the impressive amphitheatre formed by the Drakenburg Mountains, lingering next morning to watch the white pack-horses being loaded for the trip up into the Blue Mountains’. It was here that they visited the local museum of which Jean wrote:

The most wonderful sight of all was the marvelously preserved Bushmen’s coloured drawings on blocks of stone brought from the mountain caves. One fascinating scene – a herd of orange-coloured buck in flight, with pursuing huntsmen armed with bow and arrow – was so arrestingly vital after all these thousands of years that I turned to it again and again, half expecting to find that the springing deer had moved on a pace. But no, ‘forever panting and forever young’ the hunter and the hunted keep their ancient places on the stone.

When eventually they reached the Rhodesian border Jean described the first thrilling sight of the Victoria Falls and of the bronze statue of Livingstone inscribed ‘Explorer, Liberator, Missionary’ which stands at Devil’s Cataract.

Here he stands as he must have stood on November 16th and 17th 1855, immortalised in stone, leaning on his stick, Bible in hand, binoculars slung over the shoulder, with the Consular cap he always wore on his head; ‘feasting my eyes for long on the beautiful sight, the most wonderful sight I have witnessed in Africa,’ as he himself put it.

‘Into this chasm’, says Livingstone in his second book, ‘twice the depths of Niagara Falls, the river, a full mile wide, rolls with a deafening roar, and this is Mesi-pa-Tinya (the Smoke that Thunders) or Victoria Falls.’

We followed in his footsteps through the Rain Forest, which he called the Promontory of Evergreens, and remembered how he must patiently have dragged his measuring chain through it, making the painstaking calculations which were so surprisingly accurate. During our three days at the Falls we visited and photographed them in every possible light, and each night, as the moon was full, we stood in awestruck silence and watched them flowing like pure silk, with misty wraith-like vapours rising from the dark gorge beneath our feet.

Later they visited the Livingstone Exhibition (it was his Centenary year) where Jean commented: ‘I liked best the tin travelling-box with the pathetic pile of blackened candle-grease in the corner where the candle stood by whose light he wrote up his Journal and by which his followers saw him kneeling at the bed.’

Livingstone had been Marjory’s girlhood hero, her father’s family had heard a talk on him in Willingham in 1859, now here was her daughter in 1955 following in his footsteps in Africa. No wonder she treasured Jean’s article.

About this time Jean became very much more religious (High Anglican) and had both her children baptised and was herself confirmed. Most of us were by then agnostic, though in their youth John and Rita had been strict Evangelicals and both Marjory’s pacifist sons-in-law (Denis and Lawrence) had ties with Quakers. Marjory could sympathise with all, though I think she found only the singing and the memories of Ely Cathedral attractive in High Anglicanism, she was by nature and inheritance a puritan; it was her sister Mollie who with the passing years became High Anglican, binding her even more closely to Jean.

By 1955 Denis and Rita and their family were living in a large house in Sydenham and invited Marjory to join them. Within a few weeks of their moving in Rita found work as a teacher in a Summer School for Foreign Students in East Dulwich. However, with her youngest child under school age, Rita could not afford to be a long way from home, so after only two days on the job it was handed over to Marjory! This was the old Cambridge pattern. How often Marjory obtained work either in a private school or as a private coach and then pass on the job to Tom or one of her children. Now the roles were reversed – and Marjory, in spite of her very poor sight, was once more in her element.

Rita found other ways of earning money – correcting for a Correspondence Course, teaching a pregnant schoolgirl and children in hospital, as well as fostering children and taking in lodgers. Like her mother before her, Rita’s house was always overflowing with people and animals and there was continual financial anxiety. In spite of the energy she was expending Rita was obviously far from fit – as well as her stoutness and headaches she began to suffer fainting fits and her eyesight was deteriorating. Neither the doctor or optician could provide a satisfactory diagnosis (in fact the optician admonished Rita when she told him she could not see certain letters). Rita made light of it but Marjory was deeply concerned and tried hard to protect her from the many demands made upon her. This was not always appreciated, for Marjory’s love and concern for her children meant that her in-laws and grandchildren recognised that they were not the prime objects of her affection.

At Sydenham Marjory had her own sitting room to which she repaired when family life became too hectic. In it she had what became almost her most cherished possession, a television. With the exception of John, none of us had one at that time, and I think my mother relished the slight feeling of power it gave her to invite someone in to watch the moving screen. By now she had renewed energy, and though her sight was not good, she could read a certain amount but the television took the place of a newspaper and with that and her language school she felt in touch with the world.

It was at this time that John was granted a Nuffield Foundation Travelling Fellowship to spend a year abroad studying education in various countries in Europe, Scandinavia and North America. The experience made a deep impression on him and as a result, he wrote a book which was critical of the British selective system of education and expressing his belief in comprehensive schooling. The book was published in 1959 and Marjory was naturally proud and extremely interested in the subject matter.83 She cannot have expressed her pride to John for many years later he told me ‘When I showed mother the typescript of the book she made no comment. Then she said ‘I would have put the apostrophe in a different place’ (referring to a certain sentence). John added ‘she was perfectly right of course’!

There is much in the book that one might expect from a son of Marjory Ingle. She could agree that the teaching of languages in English schools was abysmal, though she was less happy about his view that Modern Languages should supersede the Classics. This was something that went against all her conditioning – and she believed that Latin was essential for understanding one’s own language. Certain phrases in the book seem to me to express exactly my mother’s approach to education. She who had never been trained as a teacher knew very well that ‘Teaching is more of an art than a technique, more of an attitude toward People and Knowledge than a set piece of information’, and had she not always tried to develop in her children and her pupils ‘that priceless asset – the desire to ask Why?’ Most of all do John’s criticisms of the teaching of History and Geography reflect Marjory’s ideas (the book written in the 1950s preceded modern methods in these subjects). Far more important than learning English history centering round important figures, John suggested, is the need ‘to try and impart a broad and tolerant understanding of how and why two Great Wars have scarred the world in which we live’ for ‘without this we cannot make fully satisfactory citizens of Europe, let alone of a larger community of nations’. This encompasses all that Marjory had worked for.

About this time Jean wrote suggesting that Marjory might like to go out to Nyasaland and later my mother regretted very much that she had not done so. It is indeed surprising that she didn’t take the opportunity, maybe she was too involved with her summer school teaching which she was loathe to surrender, not least because it gave her the satisfaction of feeling independent. By September 1958 Jean and Philip had come to the end of their tour and, after another car tour through Africa (this time taking in David and Ruth in Uganda), they returned to England.

Marjory saw in the New Year 1959 with Rita and Denis and wondered what ‘the Great Expectations’ were that Rita mysteriously claimed for the New Year. A few days later my mother flew to Jersey to join Jean and Philip, and from there wrote to Rita describing the wonderful view, adding that she wished Rita could be there. Rita replied ‘I love my life and would not change it for any other’. Since we led such very different lives there was always the problem for Marjory that in describing the comfort and ease of one home she inevitably aroused sensitivities in others. She was therefore doubly delighted when Rita wrote to tell her that her expectations had been realised and Denis had been appointed Children’s Officer for Balham. At last she could feel that Rita’s years of strict economy were over.

‘It was very cold in Jersey and we sat around the fire a good deal. I was making rugs and deliberately going to bed early for their sake’ wrote Marjory. By now, rug making had superseded the knitting. It not only gave her great satisfaction but also was extremely useful to Mick, Rita and me who all benefited from her gifts. Because of the gradual deterioration in her sight she made the very most of her delicate sense of touch and would sit for hours hooking small pieces of wool through the canvas using her fingers and not her eyes as guide. One of her pleasures when she came to Huddersfield was to go to the Wool shop, selecting masses of tangled and variegated coloured wools, leftovers from the mills, which we would then carry home proudly in the car – huge bags full, dustbin size – and she would spend hours untwisting them and cutting them into small pieces. The rug making was only abandoned six years later when Mick persuaded her that instead of having bruised and cut finger ends as a result of her relentless striving to finish yet another rug, she would be better employed writing her memoirs. She took to her new occupation in the same determined manner.

When spring came Marjory was relieved to hear that Rita was to go into hospital for a thorough investigation. After several weeks of tests it was discovered that Rita had a brain tumour, but on the very day when she was to be operated on, when she had already been given an injection, an emergency case was brought in and she was sent home for the weekend instead. Rita commented: ‘There’s humour even in a tumour’. At last, at the end of April, she was operated on and it was discovered that the tumour, thought to have been there ever since the birth of her last baby six years earlier, had calcified and only part was removable. In so doing they also removed much of Rita’s remaining sight.

In Jersey Marjory and Jean were concerned as to the outcome of the operation, so on Michael’s return to school at Rugby, Jean went with him and took the opportunity of visiting Rita in hospital. Later she wrote to Aunt M in Cambridge with an account of her visit:

‘she looks and behaves as if she had not even had an operation... except for her eyesight – she can’t read at all, knocks things over and tried to light the cigarette I gave her half-way up... She faces the fact with outward calm... hers is a very unusual case and last week she earned 5/- by going over to Kings College Hospital to be lectured on, while students examined her X-rays etc.

Like her mother before her, Rita was ever ready to earn money – and here was an opportunity not to be missed.

Jean’s letter to M went on to discuss what was to happen to Marjory once Jean returned to Nyasaland in September, for it seemed obvious that Rita would not now be able to have her. ‘Who was to have Granny?’ became a perennial topic of conversation from now on.

But Jean herself now had to face hospitalisation. She had confided to Rita when visiting her that she had a lump in her armpit, which she thought, had come when they had been skiing some months earlier. Rita urged her to see a doctor but it was not until several weeks later, after Philip had returned to Nyasaland and Jean had settled the children back in their boarding schools, that she at last visited a doctor in Jersey and was told she must have an immediate operation.

Marjory was alone with Jean in Jersey and had to be told. It was the sort of situation which, I suspect, none of us would have wanted to share with my mother, whose over-concern could create tensions. But Jean remained calm and organised, made arrangements for Josephine’s half-term holiday, cabled to Philip, and took her mother for drives. Marjory was deeply impressed by Jean’s behaviour and wrote:

Philip came at once and as the day of the operation drew near, Jean’s spirit rose. At the very moment when she was due to leave for the hospital, a sweep (whom she had ordered but forgotten to prepare for) arrived. She saw the funny side of this, and my last sight of her as she drove away from the Marmotte was of a gay and relaxed person who might have been going to a party.

Jean had her breast removed at the end of May and after seeing her in hospital Marjory flew to England to stay with us in Huddersfield. She told me that initially both she and Philip had wondered whether Jean was exaggerating her condition as they both knew that Jean had a tendency to hypochondria, so they were prepared to be sceptical. When they realised the seriousness of the situation they were amazed at Jean’s insouciance – in marked contrast to smaller ills she had faced in the past.

Following her operation Jean went for deep x-ray treatment in Cambridge. She had hoped to stay with Aunt M but this was not convenient, so Jean stayed in the Evelyn Nursing Home and saw M daily. Marjory was shocked that M was not prepared to accommodate Jean, but once the decision was made neither M nor Jean appeared upset by it. This shows the great difference between the Ingle sisters – Marjory could never say ‘No’ to any request from a person in need, however inconvenient to herself or others. Mollie was kind and considerate but immensely practical and was not prepared to let the even tenor of her ways alter in case the nervous strain became too great to bear.

Marjory now had the worry of two sick daughters, but was cheered by Jean’s message from Cambridge ‘I know that I am entering deep and uncharted waters, but I am not afraid’. This was exactly the language and approach that was dear to her mother’s heart. And when Jean called at Sydenham in the late summer, prior to her return to Nyasaland, Marjory reported that she was ‘light hearted and kept us all in cheerful mood, though Rita was lying very weak on the sofa.’

Within a few weeks Jean wrote from hospital in Salisbury, Rhodesia, to say that she had had her other breast removed, but she soon returned to Nyasaland and from there wrote to Marjory, thanking her for sending a book by Elspeth Huxley and for a regular supply of The Observer and The Sunday Times, adding:

Were you surprised at the Election result? We got up at 5 a.m. last Friday and heard the BBC direct – and listened until after 7 a.m., while we drank our morning tea. Everyone is very pleased with the result here of course, as there was a lot of talk about mass resignations, in support of our Governor, had the Labour Party got in.

I am enjoying being home again. It’s hot now, but quite easy for me to keep cool indoors. I am being very lazy, pottering round the house and garden, reading, writing etc. Did I tell you that Philip has bought me a mini-piano (on the Never-never of course!) It is due to arrive tomorrow. It will be lovely to have it.

There had always been a piano in the Sharp household. In fact in the late 1930s there were two – someone had passed one on to us. Marjory taught Jean to play and later Jean had violin lessons but there was none of the musical encouragement in our family as in the Ingle household at Ely. Alison may have learned the rudiments of piano playing from Marjory but certainly no more, because Marjory had no spare time. So Alison taught herself. She had a wonderful ear (as she had for language), and could play any popular tune on request. Her light syncopated touch rendering the favourites of the thirties could be heard at any time of the day or evening and remains for me an essential part of my adolescence.

When in November 1959 Jean wrote to thank Marjory for a bundle of newspapers she added that quite by chance she had seen a copy of the Listener in Salisbury, which reported a talk broadcast by John. In this manner Jean was able to keep in touch with events at home and said she regarded Monday as her Red Letter Day when she could be sure that the lunch-time post would bring news from her mother.

Marjory was pleased to be of use to Jean but there was little she could do for Rita. The house in Sydenham was large and Rita had only two hours each day when she had the assistance of a Home Help. She was provided with Talking Books and had a special dial fitted to the telephone, but though useful these were only of peripheral help. They could not alter the fact that Rita (as she once told me) was ‘simply being kept alive by pills’. Marjory endeavoured to protect her but her own sight was only slightly better than Rita’s.

At Christmas the Allens drove down to Devon listening to the Carols from Kings College as they journeyed. This was almost a family ritual. Ever since our Catley Park days a contingent of Sharps had attended the Kings College Chapel Carol Service on Christmas Eve, usually led by Tom. Marjory never went. She once told me that she connected the Carol Service with sweeping the stairs in readiness for Christmas Day – encouraged perhaps by the thought of one of her favourite lines from George Herbert: ‘who sweeps a room as for Thy cause makes that and the action fine.’

On New Year’s Day 1960 Jean wrote to remind Marjory that they could now talk of leave next year adding: ‘Last night we had a small party here – eight of us – and went on to the Club to dance until 3 a.m. You can see that I start the New Year in good form. I do get tired, but rest every afternoon and go to bed at 9.30 unless entertaining or being entertained.’ A month later she wrote to say that Philip had been promoted to Senior Assistant Secretary:

He is very pleased, as he is now out of the rut – this being a ‘super scale’ job. He is very busy with both the Monckton Commission’s visit and also the Queen Mother’s visit – although many people are wondering whether she will, in fact, come here now. The Monckton Commission is causing a lot of headaches. They are such a vast crowd – about fifty altogether – and want to tour all over the country. The problems of accomodation and transport are huge in remote spots.84

We are all very annoyed with the Press, who, we feel, made far too much of the so-called ‘riot’ in Blantyre when the P.M. was here. There were swarms of Press people here – a good 40 – and they were all the time looking for a good story. On that particular day, they had just been entertained to drinks in another room of Ryall’s hotel (where the Civil Luncheon was held). When they saw a crowd of Africans outside, they poured out, very merry, and some people say they ‘egged on’ the Africans.

We are expecting an announcement about a new Chief Secretary any moment now and also expect a new Governor next year, unless Armitage stays on. There will be a lot of changes here soon and maybe we shall all be abolished! That would please you, wouldn’t it? However, I personally don’t think that will happen for another 5 – 7 years.

In a letter written about this time to Aunt M, Jean enclosed a cutting from the Rhodesia Herald containing photographs taken at a Reception hosted by Sir Roy Welensky for the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan and his wife, Lady Dorothy. The photographs, in the style of The Tatler or The Queen, include one of a radiant Jean, apparently in the best of health, talking to Mrs Savanhu, wife of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs –the only black African photographed. In sending the cutting, Jean commented to M:

[The Macmillans] visit to Nyasaland was a great rush, and a headache for Philip, but, apart from the minor riot at Blantyre, all seemed to go off well. I enjoyed the lunch at Government House, although apart from conventional sentence, I didn’t speak to either one of them. However, in the afternoon, I took my guests up the Plateau to see the view, and we found Lady Dorothy doing the same thing, and she was very friendly and chatty.

The letter columns of this number of the Rhodesia Herald make interesting reading, reflecting something of the white residents’ attitudes at that time. One correspondent, ‘Working Woman and Proud of it,’ complains that, ‘Mr Iain Macleod [the British Colonial Secretary] seems to be more anxious to hear the views of the Africans than those of the European residents here… If the Rhodesians and Kenyan white settlers are 25 years behind the times, then the Africans are, to my mind, at least 200 years so’ and she castigates the ‘armchair critics’ of the London Press. Another correspondent in an ‘open letter to Mr Macmillan’ assures him that opposition to giving power to the Africans ‘springs from me no feeling of enmity, but from a deep seated conviction that, at the present, the average African has neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications, which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power.’

It was against this background that the Monckton Commission and the Colonial Civil servants, like Philip, were working. Jean, who had, in her early days in Nigeria, written that she preferred the blacks to the whites, had adapted to the white colonial scene, but had not lost her liberal instincts, and must, at times, have felt out of sympathy with her fellow whites. She had not been brought up by a completely un-race-conscious mother for nothing.

Marjory was receiving letters from Jean as she moved around the country, staying in Huddersfield with us, in Hove with Alison, in Walton with Mick and Janet, or in Sydenham with the Allens. She had become a floater – spending perhaps two months with each. At 78 she was still remarkably strong, ever ready to look after my son Richard for me, or iron or wash nappies, but her poor sight was a great handicap and she never went out unless I took her in the car. She would concentrate what sight she had for reading in the mornings when the light was good. By using a magnifying glass and an eye shade like a journalist or tennis player, and with the help of a spot light, she was able to write all her letters in very black ink often drawing heavy black lines in order to keep straight. She kept her little radio beside her bed and came to rely on it more and more, particularly as she did not sleep well. Most of all she liked to sit close up to the television screen peering at the features of well-known people in the political and literary world. John Freeman’s series of Face to Face interviews, particularly one with Lord Reith, were exactly to her taste. One birthday I gave her Who’s Who. She loved to look up an entry concerning anyone in the news, peering through her magnifying glass until she could make out the words and then triumphantly reading them out to us.

During this time she received a card from Andrew who was then in the R.A.F. in Germany. It simply said: ‘I was passing by Göttingen and I thought that you would like a reminder of it. So here are some views. It’s still a fine town! Hope you are very well! Love Andrew.’ This card brought back memories of Göttingen where Norman Ingle and his friend Chakrabarti had stayed as young men in the early years of the century, and where Jean had also visited in the 1930s.

Early in March Jean wrote to M arranging for the dispatch of some recordings of the Cambridge University Madrigal Singers and added:

The Monckton Commission are due to arrive tomorrow: then the Secretary of State: then the Archbishop of York, and finally the Queen Mother. Nyasaland will be in the news a lot in the next two months. After which, we hope somewhere else will be. It may be interesting living in history, but it’s all very wearing for everyone as well!

I’m a bit rheumaticky at present, and even had a whole day in bed last week. It’s fiendishly wet just now, and will be for another month, and my dilapidated torso is feeling the damp a bit.

Jean was constantly asking for news of Rita who was only able to write a few spidery scrawls in marked contrast to her mother’s bold black writing. It was as if Marjory was putting all her energy into those letters, willing her sick daughter’s recovery, and could feel hopeful when Jean wrote in April:

Last night we went to a Monckton Commission party, and afterwards had Elspeth Huxley back to dinner, on the strength of us both having a son at Rugby. She is a charming woman... All quiet on the Zomba front! I wonder if you’ll see Dr Banda on the T.V?

But at Easter Marjory received a ten-page letter from Jean. It was an uncharacteristic one with a dominant note of worry about their finances – the children’s school fees, Philip’s flight home, the piano – and though she doesn’t mention it, the high cost of hospitalisation must have been on her mind, for she had just spent a week in hospital following an attack of vomiting. The other theme of her letter was suggestions concerning a place for Marjory to live (presumably Marjory had confided to Jean her doubts about her roving life). Jean made many practical suggestions including ‘a nice, homely, warm, comfortable shabby digs – like undergraduates have’. She advised her to look in Sydenham newspapers. ‘If you only had somewhere of your very own, with no domestic ties, I’m sure it would be very much better for you than this constant moving around. Let the family come to you instead.’ This had some sense in it but Marjory had no furniture of her own and she had not lived alone since those far off unhappy days in ‘digs’ in Wallasey.

There was also an element of risk of an accident. On one visit to us she had hardly been in the house five minutes when I heard a muffled cry from her bedroom and found she had pulled the wardrobe on top of her. Such things as the kettle boiling dry resulting in a hole in the bottom became common. When visiting us she frequently caught severe colds (we had no central heating) and often ended up in bed being ham-handedly nursed by me. She also suffered the indignity of visits from Social Security officials every time she moved, for by this time she was claiming Supplementary Benefit and had to be constantly re-investigated. She wanted the money and liked the independence it gave her when she collected it from the Post Office, preferring this arrangement to a previous one in which each son and son-in-law contributed a sum for her maintenance.

In June Philip found time to write to Marjory. He had been very busy with the Queen Mother’s visit, during which time Jean had been greatly touched to receive a bunch of flowers in hospital with a card attached ‘from Elizabeth R.’ Jean, an ardent royalist, had missed all the celebrations.85 But Philip’s letter was to tell his mother-in-law that Jean was now permanently in hospital with little hope of improvement. Jean had rejected the idea of a possible delaying operation. This was of course, the news that Marjory had been dreading. She continued to write to Jean but no replies came.

Then at last Marjory received a badly scrawled letter from her daughter, written on Jean’s birthday in late July:

Darling Gran,

It was lovely to get such a beautiful letter at breakfast on my actual birthday – the mail takes 3 to 4 days here. I reproach myself for not writing to you before when I know from experience what pleasure letters give. I had letters, telegrams, flowers, little presents from England, Zomba and Salisbury – mostly at tea-time. Philip had arranged for three bouquets from a florist’s shop and three lovely cards – and at 4 p.m. he and the children marched in (Mikey having arrived on the Comet from London). We have had a slice of chocolate cake and a small glass of champagne (the two younger members refused their little bottle of baby champagne when they saw our, larger, stronger one!) Jo was taken back to Bishoplea just after 5 p.m. giggling, and actually sat down on the floor of my room when it popped open, so surprised was she at the sound.

They will come back 6 to 7 p.m. and then will go with Dad and unpack and have a good sleep.

My kind chaplain insisted on coming round at 11 a.m. and holding a shortened communion for the sick, with special laying on of hands. I’ve had a wonderful birthday and both your letters and little bird have helped to make it so. There are of course, hard patches to endure, but heavenly ones to brighten those.

Much love from Jean.

Scrawled on the outside is ‘I can’t use either of my arms or legs very – a sort of acute sciatica owing to the disease in the bones of spine etc. It’s like being in an iron lung.’

In Cambridge the practical Mollie Ingle had written to Jean’s chaplain, getting him to deliver flowers on her behalf. He reported ‘she has lost a great deal of her bounce and resilience which for so long had fooled the casual observer.’ A week later he wrote again to say that her condition had deteriorated and he had given her the last rites, he added that Jean had been worrying that she and Philip had only been married in a Registry Office and he had recently conducted a nuptial mass for them in the presence of Michael – a painful experience for a 15 year-old who only a year later was to be best man at his father’s wedding in Salisbury Cathedral.86

Jean died early in September and a week later our daughter Rebecca was born.
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