When I was very young my parents went through a very acrimonious divorce, and one outcome was that I was not allowed to go abroad with my mother, or even out of London without my father’s sayso. My mother had a full time job and so found it difficult to look after me in the school holidays and my father found it impossible. So, every cloud has a silver lining, and a compromise of sorts was reached. I would spend my holidays with friends of my mother’s in Wales, in a little farm cottage near the village of Llanddew, which was quite near Brecon , in South Wales. These friends and my mother had all met at a school in Sherborne, Dorset, set up after the war for young ex-soldiers – about 150 of them- and about 50 girls who had missed a significant part of their education during the war. The school’s raison d’etre, was to make sure that everyone, including the teachers, all passed their Cambridge First Certificate in English, and then went on to higher education or work. My mother’s friends, Hanka and Janusz, met there and got married soon after. Luckily for me they soon had two children, Ewa, who was slightly older than me, and Monika who was a little younger.
They lived in the cottage pictured above with Hanka’s mother (Babunia – I have written about her before} with two labradors , Iskra (Spark) and Dyzio, (Dopey).
I don’t remember how many summers and other holidays I spent there. It all ended in 64 or 65, but until then I can remember my time there as almost idyllic. I say almost, because I do remember how sharply I missed both my parents. My mother used to come for the occasional weekend, but in a way it was worse because then she was with her friends and didn’t really have all that much time for me. Though I do recall a rare occasion when she went for a walk with us all – in her patent leather high heels – did she have any other shoes? – and we had to cross a ploughed field in order to get to the mushroom picking woods. She came back to the house, basket laden with wonderful ceps, as pristine as when she set out, much to everyone’s surprise and delight!
Generally speaking, though, I loved being there. In Wales I did not have to worry about anything. I was allowed to read as much as I liked, I was fed three times a day and I had company. Babunia would teach Ewa most mornings, mainly history I think, in Polish, and I wasn’t expected to join in. I didn’t really understand very much of what was going on, so I played a bit with Monika and did embroidery – I still have a traycloth I made there – andtried to help a bit generally. I was very shy so I probably didn’t initiate anything,
But best of all was Ewa who was the total opposite of me. She knew how to do everything. She could dance and sing and her father had built her a little house in the woods and we would spend hours there making up games and shows and generally living in the land of make-believe. In this picture you can just about see a corner of the house.
I am pretending to be a housewife. The word pretending is still significant. In these days of confinement to barracks I am still pretending. But that is by the by. this was also I believe the area for out stage. from time to time Ewa would prepare a show to which the family and friends had to come and watch. I found it very hard, but I loved watching her. She still produces shows in her locality I believe, which promote understanding between peoples.
The dress I am wearing was very pretty. The material was many shades of blue. I remember that Ciocia Hanka had made identical dresses for Ewa and Monika, and I was so envious. I wanted one too. So she made me one. It made me very happy. Especially as it had a belt which was tied very amusingly with shoelaces, so that it would go round my somewhat podgy middle. I think she had cut the material slightly too short and then had to improvise. I thought it was very clever!
Ewa was also crazy about ballet and horses. I wasn’t mad about either, having no sense of balance or or agility but I liked to look at pictures of Margot Fonteyn and Anna Pavlova and to read all the ballet stories.
But when we weren’t reading or dancing or drawing inside and it wasn’t raining too hard, we would go for very long walks, and this is what I would like best. Ewa would point out so many interesting things to me and Monika – she knew everything there was to know about flowers and trees – even how to climb them, which terrified me. We used to go a disused barn/house/shed – and spend hours in there too. I seem to remember her taking some flour and a pan one day and we (she) lit a little fire and we made some dough and called it bread. We ate it, too, though I don’t think it was as delicious as we made out.
All these reminiscences, in no particular order, come to mind because I found out this week that Monika has unfortunately died. I don’t have any photos of her, just recollections. I have not seen her or spoken to her since I was eleven and she was about 8, yet she stands out very strongly in my mind. Blonde, blue eyed, very lively and very kind. I am sure that never changed. She went with her mother and sister to Canada and for many years I did not know where the family was. A few years ago Ewa and I regained contact – and I knew that Monika used to go to Poland – so I was hoping to meet her there one day.
But – procrastination is the thief of time. A tragic way to prove the saying.