Take life as it comes
Today in Ohara it’s very hot and muggy, so I’m sitting at my antique old wooden desk with a large blue metal fan, blowing a soft breeze behind me. A thin grey mist hangs over the surrounding pine green mountains, filling me with a sense of sadness.
Strangely enough a week ago while doing some research on the Internet, I discovered an old newspaper article about an accident that had happened in the year 1956 published by the Corpus Christi Times. I was surprised and also shocked to read that my mother who was only 26 at the time, was mentioned in the article. It was an account of what really happened on that day when Dudley’s first wife, Mary, Maud Redgrave, the actress, died in a fatal accident. I realized that the story that Grandpa had told me many years ago had been softened a little, perhaps not to upset me, as I was still only thirteen years old, when he told me the tale.
An accident did happen at the end of March but it didn’t take place inside the grounds of my grandfather’s house Kedleston Hall. It took place when Mary was driving back from the local hunt that day. Mary, like my mother, really loved the traditional sport of fox hunting and she kept her horses in Derbyshire at the celebrated stables of the Meynall hunt. The origin of this Hunt can be traced way back to the seventeenth century. She enjoyed the thrill of racing through the fields and jumping over the tall hedges and farm gates chasing the cunning fox. Fox Hunting was one of her favorite pastimes. It was usual for every one to go to the local pub for a drink after the hunt was over. She was on her own so she decided to return to her lodgings at the nearby inn. It was already late in the afternoon she was with her white poodle, and driving fast along the country roads. Suddenly while she was driving, she suffered a subarchnoid hemorrhage, and died instantly, so she was already unconscious before the car went out of control. Tragically her car was reported to have skidded across the road and then crashed into a nearby tree, her beloved poodle ironically survived.
The way it actually happened and the timing must have been very shocking to everyone, who knew her at that time. For according to the newspaper, only four days earlier, her husband Sir Dudley Cunliffe-Owen and my mother had been named as correspondents in a divorce suit. They both hadn’t contested the charges. Dudley had been married to Mary Maud for almost nine years. I wondered what had gone wrong with their marriage. I remember Mary well, for she was a very attractive and a talented actress. I have a black and white photo taken around that time, of her in a hunting suit sitting together with me in a pony trap. Reading this old newspaper article from many years ago, I was shocked and I thought about it for a few days. Now I understood why Grandpa was reluctant to tell me, what had really happened on that day. It must have been awful for all those concerned at the time. Poor Uncle Freddy, Caroline‘s Father must have been under a terrible shock on that day. For he had suddenly lost his wife Juliana, his family, his daughter Caroline and his beautiful cousin Mary Maud had passed away. It must have been a terrible shock for him at that time.
I don’t remember ever saying goodbye to Uncle Freddy. We started to pack all our belongings, as we quickly had to move out of Chelwood house. Caroline, Charles and I were still too small to remember anything that happened at that time. Thanks to Uncle Freddy, he arranged for Dingding, our French nanny to stay with us children, until we were all old enough to enter a boarding school, that I think was a very, very generous gesture considering the situation at the time.
I faintly remember the house that we moved into with Dudley. Day by day we soon grew to love our new stepfather Uncle Dudley, for he was like an old friend to us all. He had often visited Chelwood, when we were very little and he loved to play with us children whenever he came to visit. I had known him since I was born, for my father and Dudley were very old friends. They had served together on the same warship in during the Second World War.
I still remember one day very clearly. Its late in the afternoon in early spring, we are all playing with Dudley in the children’s nursery. The sun is slowly setting and salmon pink fluffy clouds float in the darkening blue sky.
Bonk, bonk, bonk we precariously go down the stairs. I’m sitting behind my little brother on the huge back of Dudley, as we all go headfirst down each stair. Behind me on my back is baby Caroline clinging round my neck. We are all giggling while Uncle Dudley roars like a hippopotamus and collapses on the floor. We all roll off his back shouting, “One more time, one more go.” “No, it’s bedtime,” he says and he promptly leads us back into the nursery into the safe hands of Dingding, who has just finished washing the dishes from teatime. Wiping her hands on her apron, she asks us all to go and brush our teeth. Meanwhile she rolls down the bedcovers of our beds and puts a warm hot water bottle inside the sheets to keep our toes warm for it’s still a little chilly at night. We rush into the bathroom on the fourth floor fighting to get to the toothpaste first. The brass taps of the washbasin are new to us, and they are little stiff to turn on. My brother grasping the handle manages to turn the water on and we all stand in front of the mirrors, which surround the bathtub. As we watch the toothbrushes rise up and down, our teeth begin to glisten. I begin to think that I like this house, it’s smaller and more cozy than the one we had before.
“Where are we, do you know?” I asked my brother Charles.
“We are now in living in Dorset,” he replied
There are five floors to the house. The nursery is on the fourth floor and the stairs are quite steep so it made it very exciting when we slid down the banisters for meals. We all liked our new stepfather because he often played with us. He sometimes pretended to be the crocodile in Peter Pan or we would all pretend to become wild animals on safari and go roaring round the house chasing each other. If ever he had some free time he’d take us to the swings in the nearby park or even take us to the Zoo sometimes. Whatever happened to Uncle Fred we did not know, but our new Uncle, Uncle Dudley was so much fun: that our life every day turned into this hilarious adventure for he was always making us laugh.
A decision was made to move to Spain to Barcelona to a village called Sitges. Charles, Caroline and I and of course Dingding found ourselves on our first plane ride going south towards the sun. Dudley had rented a Spanish Villa,which was to become our new home for the following year. I was put into a Spanish kindergarten, so that it wasn’t too long before I was speaking Spanish like a native. I don’t know exactly why they chose Spain, maybe it was because Mummy had burnet her bridges by marrying three men who were all friends and who all moved in the same social circles. Maybe too many eyebrows had been raised or maybe it was just the desire to get some sun, after the dark and dreary winters of London. Anyway, life in Spain was colourful and exciting and imprinted very clearly in my memory. My mother was very happy at the time and very much in love. I was happy for both of them and although we lived there no longer than a year, I still have many happy memories of that year in Spain…
I can see now that everything that happened had a reason. It was difficult to understand it at the time. We were all so young , not only Caroline, Charles and I, but also my mother, father and Uncle Freddy and Uncle Dudley were still in their twenties. They were all friends that fell in love with the same lady… my mother.
Looking back at it now, though it may seem an unusual childhood, we all learnt a lot… Each one of us learnt a lot about life…………….