Taking advantage of the better weather and making an early start, we finished the planned planting and the new bed by the pergola. The morning was fine, but as we set off for Helen and Bill’s barbecue in Ringwood, raindrops began to fall. In fact they didn’t amount to much although they did force the party indoors. The gathering was a small one including the hosts; their sons David and John and their partners Jen and Stephanie; Jackie’s other sister, Shelly, her husband Ron, and their daughter Jane. We were fed substantial ‘pickings’ and drinks all afternoon and had a great deal of fun swapping stories. All this was rather poignant for me because I had known Jackie’s sisters and Bill when we were so much younger. We had spent most of a lifetime apart and yet in many ways I felt it had been no time at all.
Bill was fascinating in talking about his wartime evacuation as a six year old. This was in the days before Local Authority Social Services Departments or the Child Care Departments which preceded them. Vetting was minimal if it took place at all, and some of Bill’s stories reflected that. I was reminded of a time in 1967 when, as an Assistant Child Care Officer, I had advertised for foster carers for a set of twins. One of the applicants, a no doubt good-hearted elderly woman, had written: ‘If you put labels on them with their names on them I will meet them at the station’. This, no doubt, had come from her knowledge of the evacuation process from 1940. It was exactly Bill’s experience.
At one point I managed to spill a glass of red wine all over my beige linen suit. As I mopped it up and Helen ‘confiscated’ my glass because I had ‘been a naughty boy’, I told the group of another occasion on which I had had to mop up alcohol. Some thirty odd years ago in a pub by Wandsworth Bridge I had been sitting at the garden picnic style table/bench with some friends. This was in the days when you could smoke in public places in England. On that hot summer evening there were several drinks on the table, as well as two very large, very full, heavy, industrial style ashtrays. As I sat on one side of the bench, two of the others opposite me got up at once. This upset the table which toppled in my direction, tipping me backwards onto, fortunately, the grass. There was I, on my back, legs trapped between the seat and the table, covered in sodden dog-ends and other people’s beer. The one drink that had not been spilt was the upright pint of Guinness which I still clutched in my right hand. On that occasion I had been wearing a track suit, so no harm was done. I have yet to see what the dry cleaners will make of today’s disaster.
I am grateful to Helen and Bill for their having preserved an extremely precious drawing. In 1966, when Jackie was 17 and I was 23, I made a pencil portrait of her which I gave to her mother. Unbeknown to me Veronica Rivett kept that drawing all her life. When sorting out the house after my former mother-in-law’s death, Helen offered to take care of this for Jackie. When Jackie and I got together again she asked for the picture for the home we share in Morden. Unfortunately it could not be found. By Jackie’s birthday last year we were reluctantly giving up hope. On that day she received an e-mail from Helen attaching a scan of the portrait which had obviously been unearthed. Bill delivered it to Elizabeth’s a week or so afterwards.
Our evening’s drive back to Morden was in pleasant, sunny weather, although clouds did seem to be gathering. We had no need of more food when we returned.