We arrived in London in 1958. Within a year or so of our arrival, Patty decided that the bags under her eyes were just too bad for a woman in her late thirties so she would have plastic surgery to remove what turned out to be little ‘sausages’ of fat, from around her eyes. She went into the London Clinic for the operation and took with her a neat little case which held her toiletries and other essentials. The case had been given to me as a going away present by a friend and had my initials – CCG – in ‘gold’ on the lid. [My mother had taken her maiden name of Grant when she divorced and, though my last name wasn’t Grant, we had all been using it as our last name to make life easier – three different last names were very confusing!] So, in the London Clinic, Patty was Mrs Grant. She was very surprised to see nurses popping in at all hours with big smiles on their faces for no apparent reason until, after a couple of days she found out that all the nurses, seeing the initials on the case, assumed that she was Mrs Cary Grant and they were looking in to see if they could get a glimpse of Mr Grant. Needless to say, there were some very disappointed nurses at the clinic!
Patty left the Navy in 1962, flailed around looking for work for the next twenty or so years, occasionally finding a settled job but becoming discontented after a few years and moving on to another job and another home.
In the meantime, the well-to-do families she was born into became much less well-to-do so that Patty, who had always thought she would be looked after financially, struggled. She found it impossible to save – if she had money, she spent it quite quickly. She was very generous with belongings – she gave away a whole set of lovely Japanese prints to an artist friend, pieces of furniture, clothes and, in the 1970’s, she gave away my daughter’s rocking horse which was just a plastic rocking horse but well-loved. ‘Veronica’ still hasn’t forgiven or forgotten!
Through good luck, in the early 1970’s, Patty was able to buy a house in the Ravenscourt Park area of London. It was a Victorian house which had been owned by Hammersmith Council in the past and used as social housing but was past its best by 1971. Patty bought it with a 100% mortgage and was able to bring it back to its former glory. It was big and beautiful with four double bedrooms, a through lounge-diner, a neat little kitchen, a utility room, a box room and a bathroom. The garden left much to be desired but at least there WAS a garden.
Just when we seemed to have settled down, I was made redundant from my job as a secretary in a business in Acton. I had never forgotten that I wanted to be a teacher and had applied for a five year, part time, evening teacher training course for which I had been accepted and was going to start in that September. Having been made redundant, I looked at the nearby Thomas Huxley Teacher Training College to see if I could achieve my dream more quickly by doing the three year, full-time course that they offered. This meant that my (really rather meagre) salary was no longer available to go into the family’s coffers and Patty decided we couldn’t afford to stay in the house any longer. She found a tiny and very old cottage in West Malling, Kent which, upon selling the big house, she could buy and move into. So, my sister and I and my daughter found ‘digs’ in London during term time. (Another story for another time.) After the first year in ‘digs’ we moved to West Malling and commuted to London when necessary.
Before her second marriage Patty had been an antique dealer in a small way, driving around the country lanes of Muskingum county, visiting farm houses and buying their unwanted items. One time she and two friends had been searching for antiques when they were in a terrible car crash. Patty came through unscathed, her two friends were injured but, fortunately, not fatally, but the drunken man who was driving with his mistress on the wrong side of the road, was killed. Apparently, the man was being pursued by his wife in another car and when she arrived on the scene, she blamed my mother for his death, presumably overlooking the fact that he was speeding away from her and had been drinking.
Patty had a great eye for decorative items and her home was filled with gorgeous old country pieces until she discovered modern furniture in the early fifties. I went to school one day, leaving the house full of things like an old wooden cobbler’s bench used as a coffee table, and came home from school to Charles Eames chairs, storage units and tables! Years later, in West Malling, Patty once again took up antiques and opened the downstairs of the house, which was on the High Street, as a shop for a couple of years. The problem with this was that she no longer drove and I had to become her chauffeur. I had no interest in the business at all, being busy with learning to be a teacher. I remember driving Patty to several antique shops around the area where she picked up a bargain or two then put them into the shop. Occasionally she would be offered some items privately on which she could actually make a slight profit but she was never a business woman and too often sold items at a loss rather than wait a little longer for the right buyer.
I finished teacher’s training college and was fortunate to find a teaching job in a small private school as the kindergarten teacher. I say fortunate because until that year there had been too many jobs for not enough teachers but in 1975 there were far more teachers than there were jobs! My teaching position was weird, to say the least, as I had trained to be a junior school teacher and was saddled with 3 and 4 year olds, some of whom couldn’t even do up their shoes yet. But, again, this is a story for another time.
Back to Patty. She worked as an interior designer for a large shoe company, then designed logos for various high street stores, helped out with the design of a new hospital in London, and then there didn’t seem to be any architect/design jobs for her so she became an ‘administrative assistant’. She commuted to London daily for a year or so but her heart really wasn’t in that kind of job and eventually she left that job and tried to find something a bit closer to home. I remember driving her into Maidstone for an interview at an architect’s office and when she came out she was certain that she would be offered the position – but she never heard from them. It must have been humiliating for her as she was then approaching sixty and was unable to find full-time work. She even went on the ‘dole’, which meant lining up outside the National Insurance office once a week and ‘signing on’ – (to my American readers -‘the dole’ was an unemployment benefit paid to those people who were seeking work but couldn’t find it and ‘signing on’ was to prove that those receiving the benefit weren’t actually working but had the time to stand outside the ‘dole office’ in a line until they could get to the head of the queue and sign a sheet saying they weren’t working). Patty stood in the queue for one week and after that refused to sign on or seek help which was rightfully hers but that she found very demeaning.
Patty’s go-to cure for anything that upset her was alcohol. The society she was born into used drink for social occasions and for relaxation – despite Prohibition. Her mother and step-father were both probably alcoholics. Each bought and hid his/her alcohol of choice from each other. If you wanted some Scotch you would find a bottle behind the curtain in the study where Bill, Ethel’s second husband, hid it or if you wanted Bourbon, it would be found behind the curtain in Ethel’s bedroom. There was also always a big bottle of ‘green medicine’ which turned out to be phenobarbital, a liquid anti-depressant to which my grandmother became addicted. My mother often had a swig of green medicine if she was nervous and she was nervous a lot! Rather luckily, I suppose, once we were in London, she couldn’t get hold of it so alcohol was the next best thing.
There were many weeks that went by that Patty didn’t drink to excess but, if something was going wrong, she would ‘fall off the wagon’ or, if there was a time for celebration, the alcohol would flow. One Christmas – years before we moved to West Malling – Patty and Judy slept on mattresses on the floor in the kitchen. (I think they thought we would be burgled for our Christmas presents. This idea really was beyond silly as we lived in a flat above a shop and the only way into the flat was via a set of fire-escape stairs to a flat roof on the back part of the shop and on to which our only external door opened into the kitchen.)
In order to sleep well on the floor and celebrating Christmas Eve, both Patty and Judy drank rather a lot of something alcoholic. Whatever it was, in the morning neither was feeling too well. I got the Christmas meal going while Judy and Patty went to bed. The turkey was cooking nicely in the oven, the veggies were ready to start and ‘Veronica’, Jennie and I were watching tv in the kitchen when the phone rang. The phone usually was in the kitchen but had been taken upstairs to my bedroom where Patty was sleeping so I ran up the stairs to answer it. When I opened the door I found that Patty’s bedding was on fire! She had fallen asleep with a cigarette which had fallen onto her duvet-covered chest and the smouldering mess had just reached the nighty she was wearing when I appeared. I tore the bed clothes off her, shouting at her to wake up – but she didn’t. She was obviously still under the influence of the alcohol and dead to the world. What luck that Walter, a family friend, had chosen that moment to ring and wish us a merry Christmas! Somehow, this near-miss didn’t stop Patty smoking in bed. It was something she did until she was ninety and went into a care home.
1981 was a year that started an enormous upheaval in all our lives.
Next time I’ll write about Patty’s life from 1981 to 2014