Present time: Brexit and the coronavirus; and a look back to early marriage when we lived in Suffolk and Essex and neuropsychology was not even thought of
I am at home and have been at home for a total of eight weeks because of the coronavirus that has struck the world. This is not just the biggest disaster that has hit me in my lifetime (other than Sarah dying, of course), it is the biggest catastrophe that has attacked the whole of mankind for centuries! I’m trying not to feel sorry for myself as 1 remember completing the first book of memoirs, of which this is the second, just at the time when the British cast their vote overwhelmingly in favour of a Tory government and its support for Brexit. So we were left in the air, as it were, at the end of the first book having lost on Brexit a second time - and more convincingly. From one angle our arguments expressed in Book One against Brexit now look plaintive and irrelevant. Except that, from a different angle, another story seems to be unfolding from the viral lockdown, which suggests that leaving Europe could have been a very bad thing to do in the light of the need for individual countries to get closer together in their fight against a world pandemic. Trying to go it alone, as the UK and USA seem to want might be disastrous in any fight against such a giant opponent as coronavirus. Not that the countries in the European Union did much collaborative fighting against the virus when the time came to oppose the pandemic initially! Nevertheless, the British record for fighting coronavirus has not been good. In fact, it’s looking like being one of the worst in comparison with the rest of the world except for Trump’s USA, and maybe Brazil which is catching up at speed!
In the Guardian of 9 May 2020 Heather Stewart quotes Lisa Nandy, who was one of the candidates for leader of the Labour Party and now shadow foreign secretary, when she argued that the Conservative government’s ‘go it alone’ approach left Britain unable to prepare for coronavirus. Nandy calls our approach ‘exceptionalism’, taking on an isolationist route where Britain in particular champions the idea of a small island nation that would punch above its weight without stopping to think about how we’re going to exert power ... What we’ve learned in this pandemic, is that the global Britain approach that was supposed to put Britain first, has ended up putting us among the last’. Nandy went on to say, ’Britain was one of those countries where a myth of “exceptionalism” had taken hold, leading to “an enormous divergence” in the way the outbreak had been tackled, creating problems for citizens and businesses.’ As 1 write this a newsflash has just come on to announce that deaths in Britain have gone up by 468!
I am left wondering why it is that Mick and I feel, in the deepest part of ourselves, deeper than the immediate misery of the nation’s lockdown, a tiny bit buoyant? 1 think it’s because we know that when this disaster is over things will never be the same again. Many of our relatives and friends have expressed similar feelings, pointing to the many acts of kindness and expressions of social responsibility communicated by neighbours, shop assistants and people in the street. Will this pandemic really lead to the end of capitalism and materialism? And the other thing is that people have been noticing that nature itself is looking and sounding much better. Does this mean that eventually David Attenborough might live to see some of the global changes he has been urging the world to make? Also, on the news today they have been commiserating with adolescents who were about to take exams when coronavirus struck. I feel so sorry for them, they don’t know which way to turn and they are frightened of what the future may hold for them in terms of higher education and eventual careers.
We didn't have any of this in the early 1960s. Mick remembers that at the end of his teacher training course the college gymnasium walls were covered with hundreds and hundreds of job offers. Mind you, he also remembers his first month's pay, which was £34.00!
I’ve just checked on the Internet, the average house price in the 1960s was £2,530. We bought our first house in Brook Street, Colchester in 1965, when Sarah was a little over 2 years old, Anna was just over a year and I was pregnant with Matthew who was to be born in that house. We were a very close and busy family, Mick working seven days a week: his weekends were spent in lesson preparation for the coming week; which was an intense activity as he always aimed to make every single lesson entertaining and demanding for the pupils! And he helped me with such things as nappy washing, etc. There were only washable nappies available in those years! All three lots were washed in the bath and hung to dry on the very long washing line. Oh, and Mick also took up vegetable growing - which remained with him all our married life until about six years ago when we moved into a town house in Bury St Edmunds. 1 was keeping my mind active with various evening classes and cooking which 1 have always enjoyed plus trying to be a good mother to the children. 1 read to them, took them out regularly to the zoo, the park and did other things 1 thought would be good for them. 1 must say, though, that 1 was frustrated at not having a ‘proper’ job.
So there we were, a neat little family with our roles clearly defined and tending towards the traditional despite our socialist sympathies and hippy outlook. We were certainly hard-working. We did go to the pub once a week - at the top of the street where we met up with building workers who Mick had met when doing holiday jobs on the building sites; and then there was Mick’s family, his mum and dad, three sisters and a brother all living in Ipswich 18 miles due east. We had two great friends, Neil and Ann Dean, who lived in Ipswich and two more, Mike and Sue Crooks, who lived in Capel St Mary next door to Stratford St Mary situated half way between Ipswich and Colchester.
Stratford St Mary was a focal point for Mick before 1 met him, a place he knew well because one of its inhabitants was Ida Hughes Stanton, who lived in a delightful but run-down thatched residence know as Weaver’s Cottage with her companion Don Nevard, who was a jazz pianist. Ida was a striking bohemian figure from the 1930s who knew lots of celebrities from that era - which impressed a lot of working class kids from Ipswich and Colchester, interested principally in jazz and art, who used to meet at Ida’s to listen to jazz records, swim and punt in the river and end up drinking in Dedham.
I grew to love Stratford St Mary, so much a part Constable country, situated at a bend in the River Stour where you can still see Le Tal-booth pub and restaurant, which was described by Daniel Defoe in Moll Flanders one of the very first novels ever to have been written. This was in the early eighteenth century. Whenever we had visitors we would take them on a Constable country tour. The first stop was to go to a little wooden bridge over the River Stour at Stratford and take a photograph looking down the river. It’s the exact spot where John Constable painted Stratford Mill a painting which hangs in the National Gallery and for which it is impossible to buy a postcard or a print from the Gallery’s shop. There are loads of The Haywain of course, perhaps Constable’s most famous painting. I belong to the National Gallery’s support membership and 1 didn’t get any joy from them when I enquired why there was no reproduction of Stratford Mill. So, if you want to see it you'll have to go the National Gallery. Or maybe I can get a really nice photo taken to accompany this story? Even better, if we can make a comparison of the painting and a modern photo? That way we might be able to see what Constable does to change a site into a masterpiece?
One of our visitors much later when we were living in Flempton - it must have been in the early 2000s - near Bury St Edmunds, and when Mick was truly retired from publishing, was Elizabeth Warrington. Her important contributions in theoretical understanding of neuropsychological disorders, as Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the National Hospital, Queen Square, are renowned internationally. She came to visit as she was particularly interested in gardens and had a good garden at home in London. At that time, our garden was about one acre in size. Elizabeth seemed to appreciate it and, of course, we took her on the Constable country tour. This included Mick rowing us in a tiny boat a quarter way up the river and we believe this, too, was enjoyed by Elizabeth.
Sitting here at home on 22 May 2020 and not being able to go out because of the coronavirus lockdown, 1 am able to escape back in time through writing this memoir and I make no excuse for the inevitable name dropping that occurs in the text. After all, if you cannot drop names when writing an autobiography whenever can you? This next name is, in Mick’s estimation, un nom par excellence, and the story goes like this.
We were staying at Mike and Sue’s place in Capel St Mary one weekend when Mike informed us that on the Saturday night we had been invited to a party to be held in one of the bungalows recently built in the village. For some reason, and 1 don’t know why. Mick and I turned up at the bungalow without Mike and Sue, who came later. We knocked on the door and it was opened by a smiling Bobby Robson, ex-manager of Ipswich Town Football team and now manager of England! I didn’t recognise him immediately but Mick suddenly went very quiet and perhaps a bit pale. Anyway, this warm and friendly man asked us our names, drew us in to the front room and asked us what we would like to drink. Mick was able to whisper to me that the guy was Bobby Robson who, in the opinion of many experts was the best manager England ever had! The night at the party progressed smoothly with Bobby being the main person who looked after our well-being. We were impressed with his kindness, modesty, and above all his sense of fun! He didn't talk football all evening but was most interested in listening to us and talking about his brother, who was obviously a hero of Bobby’s, who had remained a miner all his life. Mick said later that Bobby made us feel ten feet tall - and added that's what he did with his football teams. He was certainly one of the most loved, admired and distinguished managers England has ever had. Just to give you some idea of his reputation, indeed his fame, 1 quote a small section from Wikipedia:
In March 2011, The East Coast train operating company named one of its first class locomotives, Sir Bobby Robson. In December 2011 the Port of Tyne authority named its new work boat the Sir Bobby Robson. In 2012 a statue of Robson was unveiled at St. James Park football stadium. On 16 July 2013, marking the 150th anniversary of the Football Association, the FA designated 10 August as the Sir Bobby Robson National Football Day, as a day to celebrate the national game.
Just one more person from those days, and this is Venice Manley, someone who died penniless, having spent her last few years in a poky flat in Finchley, London, where she had to share a toilet situated on the landing with several others. Despite having found fame in the music world she never found fortune. Mick’s connection with Venice was via Ida Hughes Stanton in earlier days as Venice was a major character in the Ipswich jazz crowd. Later in our marriage I also got to know Venice and coincidentally, at her memorial service held in a boat on the River Thames, I bumped into an ex-patient of the Oliver Zangwill Centre, who was attending the memorial service because he had been in her Georgian choir. To give you an idea of Venice, her history, her character, her beauty and her talent, I am going to quote from a tribute to her written by Helen Chadwick after Venice died in a London hospital 16 years ago and published on the Internet (Helen Chadwick, downloaded from the Internet on 22 May 2020):
Venice sang classical music and Eastern European folk songs, spirituals and her own songs. She taught singing to individuals, theatre companies and choirs. She worked in Canada, America, Germany, Holland and France. In the last five years of her life she ran Maspinzeli, The London Georgian Choir. She had a luminous presence. She sang in the acapella group known as Kite. As a baby she had been left by her parents with slightly reluctant neighbours for a year. But her parents never came back and when, at the age of eleven, she was run over by a bus and lost half her leg, they adopted her. She ran away the day she legally could and became a traveller of sorts. With her partner she became involved with the rights of the travellers in Ireland and later set up and taught in a Montessori school for their children with money she raised from Yul Brynner (whose mother was a gypsy) and the Beatles.
Figure 7.1 Barbara skiing in Colorado. We learned to ski cross-country in Colorado. Mick was jealous because I was better than him. He said it was because I have a lower centre of gravity. Ha-ha!
Her childhood dream was to be a dancer, but after the accident it was singing which became her passion, though she remained a graceful mover and dancer all her life and many people had no idea that she was physically disabled. She loved it when maxi skirts were the fashion as they covered her artificial leg.
Much later in life she finally found and met her birth father. He adored her and until his death this father was a great source of love for her. Even in hospital, when she was dying, at the age of 69, she remained an entertainer. Friends and singers came to visit her from far and near, the table was full of flowers and cards, and people came away laughing from her stories and antics, even though she was in terrible pain. A few days before she died we sang together many of her favourite songs.
Mick can add two stories from the late 1950s. One involves Venice’s expulsion from grammar school at the age of 13. She was guilty of tying toilet rolls round the door knobs of classroom doors in a classroom quadrangle; and less than two years since she had lost half her leg, she had to walk down the school hallway to the stage where she had to hand in her school scarf and hat, turn round and march out of the hall and out of the school gate accompanied by a posse of girls.
Mick’s own story involved punting down the River Stour, to Weaver’s House with Venice, Mike and himself after a night’s drinking in Dedham. It must have been in 1960, a year before I met him. As they approached their landing Venice stood up in the boat which in consequence tipped over throwing them all in the water from which they drunkenly swam to the river bank, Venice laughing loudest, and Mick worrying whether her artificial leg would fill with water.