“A well spent day brings happy sleep” Leonardo da Vinci
I can still remember my first term at day school. Each day my mother drove me down to St. Helier, the main town of Jersey, and dropped me off in front of the school’s wrought iron gates. I would trudge up the hill, clutching a heavy, elegant royal-blue Thermos style lunch box. Our cook at home was ordered to make me a hot lunch to take to school each day instead of having the regular school meals. Many of the pupils waiting outside for the school gates to open, pointed at it laughing and they teased me about it every morning. I was so relieved when the gates were finally opened and the pupils rushed in to their class. I waited outside for my one friend, Susan, to come in with me. She was also very shy, so we both made a promise to go into class together each morning. I faintly remember the classroom that we were in. The windows looked out to the sea, and I would often gaze out into the distance, dreaming of exotic countries on the other side of the world. The walls of the classrooms and of the staircase going upstairs were painted in cream and pale blue. As we walked upstairs to go into our class, my hand started to shake and my heart was pounding. I was afraid that some of the children in my class might try to open my lunch box again so it would get cold everyday. Susan tried to stop them doing this, but usually to no avail!
At that age I was so shy that if I was asked a question in class I began to stutter. My teacher told me to try and speak slowly, but the more she told me to stop the stutter, the worse it got. I sat down at my desk and tried to breathe slowly and relax. There were about fifteen girls in the first form, but I was anxious whether I would ever be able make any more friends. Every day some of the girls in my class would make fun of me and laugh whenever I got nervous. They started to imitate my stutter, so at that age I did not have many friends in class except for Susan and one or two other girls that I still remember. Things were not so happy for me at school. I was not good at any of the sports and I got teased a lot. However at home I was generally very happy to be out in the fresh air helping on the farm.
Uncle Dudley taught us all to love and enjoy life up to the hilt. He and my mother together I thought was a perfect match. They both loved outdoor sports such as sailing and skiing, and they also enjoyed farming and going out to the French restaurants on the island. They loved to sail to France and have champagne picnics on their boat. We all adored Dudley. He was always cheerful and joking about something to make us laugh. Very rarely he got angry and even when Mummy lost her temper with him, which she frequently did, he always thought that it was funny and would never let it ruffle him. He was someone who I deeply, loved, respected and admired. He was always very generous, fun loving, brave and had this incredible ability of always finding a way to enjoy every situation. We were not his children, but I never felt he was distant or removed from us in any way.
During the warm summer in Jersey, the beaches were all crowded with holiday makers, who came over in droves from England to bask in the sun, go surfing or just take advantage of the no-tax duty-free goods shopping in St. Helier.
The peak of the summer was a flower festival called the Battle of Flowers. Since 1902, Jersey has held an annual flower show, which is now very famous in Europe. Many different groups of people on the island make beautiful floats covered with flowers. Each parish on the island also makes a special huge float decorated with hundreds and hundreds of fresh flowers grown on the island. On the Battle of Flowers day many people take part in the procession as the floats are pulled along the main road on the island. Every year, we would look forward to this procession and became very excited waiting to hear which parish float had won the prize for the most outstanding design. If we were in Jersey at that time, my Mother used to take us all to watch the beautiful floats covered with fragrant flowers pass by.
My mother set up a little business selling our flowers at the market. We started growing fields of yellow daffodils, pink and purple gladioli and many others that could be sold at the local flower market in St. Helier, the only large town on the island. While we all worked in the fields, baby Juliet would sit in her pram with her lovely blonde curls, smiling at us working away. Later on her nickname became Dreamy because she was such a beautiful baby.
The following year, in the summer holidays, Charles and I went to Geneva to see our father. He had bought a house near the Leman Lake and was living there with his new wife Helene.
One day in the summer of 1958 Charles and I spent all day building a tree house, in one of the oak trees at the edge of our farm. In mid-July, when the days were long, it didn’t get dark on the island until ten o’clock in the evening. We had taken some nails and a hammer from the tool shed and, with some old pieces of wood, had succeeded in making a platform. We then built another platform about three meters high up in the branches. We were exhausted from sawing the wood and hammering, so we sat on the platform and took a rest. Our nanny Dingding had given us some fresh lemonade and digestive biscuits in a basket to take with us, as a snack. We sat down and opened the bottle of lemonade and drank it slowly and started to talk.
“Tomorrow, let’s finish the walls and the roof,” I said.
“Let’s make it like the one that the Swiss Family Robinson, built on the desert island. When we used to see Daddy in London, he used to read that story to us remember?”
Charles nodded and said, “Now that you mention the Swiss Family Robinson, that reminds me, we are going to see Daddy next Saturday in his new house in Switzerland. I wonder what our new stepmother is like. Will we have to call her Aunt Helene in the same way that we call Uncle Fred and Uncle Dudley?”
“I should think so.” I replied.
Charles said. “I’m really excited about flying on a Swissair plane to Geneva, I hope the stewardess will take me to the cockpit, to watch the pilots.”
Dreaming of planes, flying high in the sky, Charles fell silent then began to hum quietly, as the sun shone on the garden beneath the newly made tree house. The glorious light of the evening sun filled the oak tree with rays of light. Charles, who was generally quite a quiet child, became silent and sat there looking up at the sea gulls that were sailing away into the fluffy sheep-like clouds floating in the airy sky. Not wanting to disturb him, I sat daydreaming, trying to remember the sound of my father’s voice, as we had not seen him for a few years.
I sat in the tree house quietly looking at pretty flowerbeds beneath me as they were filled with the mellow light of the evening sunset. I started to gather up the tools that we had borrowed from the tool shed and climbed down our wobbly hand made ladder. The sun was beginning to go down so I called Charles, “Dingding will be worrying, I think we should go back to the house.”
Arriving in the kitchen it was teatime. There was a cook in, whose job was to help and prepare most of our meals, but it’s so long ago, I just can’t remember her name. She must have been there to help us in the kitchen as there were so many things that we had to do every day on the farm.
We usually had a simple high tea in the nursery at five o clock, often it was baked beans or scrambled eggs or mushrooms on hot toast. After teatime was finished, it was time for our bath and getting ready to go to bed. At six o’clock, our beloved nanny Dingding read us a story and put us all to bed singing French lullaby songs.
The next few days passed by in a flurry of packing and buying things to take with us to Switzerland. Mother called us to her room one day and gave us a lecture about talking to the servants. “You have special blood,” she’d say. “You must only talk to a certain kind of person.” I’d sigh thinking what’s so special about our blood? Every time I’d graze my knee, I could see that it wasn’t so different. My blood looked the same as everyone else’s. We were allowed to play with the Lewis children, who lived next door, as their father was a doctor but the children on the other side of our farm, we were forbidden to play with, as my mother was terrified we would pick up their accents. She was always telling us, who we could talk to and who we couldn’t. I felt deep inside that she was wrong about that and so everything she told us couldn’t really be trusted or believed. She then told me to look after my younger brother on the plane and make sure that we listen to the air stewardess. We both nodded yes and smiled, she gave us a hug and we got in the car to go to the airport, excited to be going to see our father again.