I was clearing out my parents house. As always hundreds of small black and white shots of cousins,uncles, friends and the rest-undocumented, and therefore lost. Soldiers in the First and other wars,handsome women in long dresses and wonderful hats,dutiful children in sailor suits. Dogs and tennis raquets everywhere.A kliadoscope of the certaintity and duty of up stairs in Edwardian England.
Amidst it all a document written by my mother,Joan(1917-99) called “My Mother’s Secret”. Her mother came from a very successful music publishing family,the Bosworths,her father from senior members of the Raj,the Graceys. He eventually married three times,became a colonel in the Bombay Grenadiers and ran a very successful prep school Hilden Grange in Tonbridge.
One way or another a happy marriage wilted in the heat of Calcutta and the relative cool of Simla. As a child my mother noted that her parents door was always locked during the afternoon siesta. But by the early thirties a divorce was in the air. Mother had found someone else as her daughter notes “she must have met an officer who had wider and more cultural interests than sport, military affairs and the repetitive life of an army station. He could have been someone who could woo her more subtly and gently than my father.”
My grandfather did the right thing. He hired a private detective and went with him to Brighton where a prostitute and a hotel were found. With the documentation in order a divorce, with he as the guilty party could be solemnised.
But then tragedy struck. The man my grandmother wanted to marry died. My mother only found out the story later. Who the lover was, remains a mystery ,maybe he was one of the undocumented photos in the cupboard. For my mother writes,”When she died there were two portrait photographs of unnamed officers among her belongings but no clue as to whether either of them was the one she wanted to marry.”
While her mother was going through this trauma,she died young in l946,rather bitter as she had to spend the last ten plus years of her life living on the hand outs from richer members of the family,Joan ,my mother was going through her late teens and early twenties.
Joan to her death always resented her mother not confiding in her. My mother went onto Oxford and had a successful career in the Civil Service. She was always critical of her mother’s lack of ambition.
“I was puzzled why she failed to confide in me. Was she trying to protect me or herself from the stigma of divorce?Or were the barriers just too strong. How I would have understood her better if I had known her sorrow! How I would have sympathised with her!How my pity would have broken down the barriers between us! I could not console her with affection while she kept her reserve.”
The result was that my mother though a good woman found it,in turn, difficult to be emotional and intimate with her children. As the people’s bard , Philip Larkin wrote,
They fuck you up your mum and dad
They do not mean to but they do.