“Always look on the bright side” Venetia
The spring half-term came, and I was wondering where we were going to live. I was very relieved that Dingding came to pick us up at Jersey airport and then took us back to our house. I felt happy to be home, but also half afraid to meet my new stepfather.
We all sat down to have lunch in the nursery. Charles, as usual, didn’t want to talk much, and Dingding told me to wait as Mummy would be home from the hairdressers soon. Suddenly the door opened and Mummy flew in with a big smile.
“Hello darling, did you get my postcard?” “Yes,” I mumbled, “You could have told me yourself earlier on, I found out from the William Hickey page!” I angrily retorted. “There, there, don’t be upset,” she answered. ”Can we go and see Uncle Dudley sometimes if we want to?” I asked. “Of course darling. I’ve promised him that he can come and take you all out, once or twice a month. Don’t worry you’ll see him; we’re all going to be friends. “
Charles and Caroline pulled a face and said, “What about Jane and Sally? We don’t like them very much - they are tales and cry babies!” Mummy frowned, “I knowing they are little nervous but they won’t be with us all the time - they’ll be with their mother sometimes - so do try to get to like them. After lunch, unpack your things and rest, and then wear something really pretty and nice for dinner. As it’s your first day back, we’re going to have a special treat. You and Dingding and all the children can come down to the dining room for dinner, I want to formally introduce you to your new stepfather.” She left the room, and I groaned inside, “Yes Mummy!” I went into my room to read one of my favorite novels, ‘Little Women’, as I was so stunned. I needed to hide and forget what was happening.
Later on in the day, the dinner gong rang and Dingding took us all downstairs, using the main staircase, with its elegant white banisters and wide, soft grey carpeted stairs. We all walked slowly downstairs, I realized that there was a tall portly man with a moustache standing in the hall watching us. He looked a little nervous too and was puffing at a cigarette and smiling at us as we came down the stairs. I remembered seeing his face somewhere before. He usually wore dark beige corduroy trousers, with a beige viyella check shirt and camelhair vest. Tonight he was in a dinner suit and looked quite handsome. He seemed to be a different personality from Dudley, for he was rather quiet and withdrawn. However when he looked at my mother, suddenly his eyes softened and he seemed to be hopelessly in love with her. My mother was still very beautiful, a perfect size ten and with her large eyes and long legs, she still could bewitch men. She was only 32 years old at that time, very gay and entertaining, and had obviously swept this man off his feet.
“Darlings, this is John, your new father. You are to call him Uncle John.” “Good Evening, Uncle John.” We took his hand and curtseyed to him. “Good Evening,” he said,”I hope we are going to like each other.” He smiled. Looking at his face, he seemed to be so much older and more serious than Uncle Dudley. The lines on his face showed suffering and yet when he smiled, which wasn’t very often, his face changed and he became almost handsome. After our melon for the first course, the cook had made a traditional English beef stew. Conversation at dinner was very slow and strained. Caroline, Charles and I were all staring at him, trying to figure him out. He asked us if we liked school and whether we liked going to church or not. He then told us that our mother had been redecorating his house and it was now finished and we could all move in. He said that he was looking forward to all of us coming to live with him. He then told us that his house was about four hundred years old that it was haunted, but the ghosts in the house didn’t harm anyone! He smiled, and I watched him while he was speaking, trying to make out if I was going to like him or not. I could see that he was trying to be nice to us, so I thought it was only fair for me to try and be nice to him. If we decided to hate him then it will only make things more difficult for everyone so maybe it was easier, for the sake of peace, to try and get to like him. I kept on looking at his serious face.
At last the dessert came. Our cook had made our favorite desert, old English trifle. The jelly was covered with custard and whipped cream. It was so delicious that we gobbled it all up. We then asked our mother permission to leave the table and returned to the nursery room upstairs with Dingding. “It’s too late to have a bath now,” she said. “Change into your pajamas and brush your teeth please.”
We all raced into the bathroom and made funny faces into the mirror while brushing our teeth. “What do you think of him Neishe?” Charles asked me, “Well I don’t think he’s going to be a wicked stepfather. Actually when you think of it, it’s always the stepmother that’s wicked, like in the story of Cinderella and Snow White,” I smiled. “I think we should try to like him, just for harmony’s sake, he seemed to be very nervous, quite unlike Dudley,” I added. Charles retorted, shaking his head, “Nobody can be like Dudley. I guess I we’ll just have to put up with him.” “I want my Daddy.” Juliet cried as she was still only five and hadn’t understood what had happened yet. Remembering what Dudley had asked me to do, I picked her up and tried to comfort her. “You’ll see your Dadley soon. I’ll tell you what, I’ll come into your bedroom and tell you some stories ‘til you go to sleep OK?” Taking her little hand, I took her to her bed and tucked her in and began to read to her, from the Aesop Fables. Slowly she closed her eyes and fell fast asleep.
When the spring break was over, we returned to school once again. We did go and stay with Dudley once or twice during the vacation. We played a lot with him and watched home movies that he took of us, when we were little. We also watched some Mickey Mouse cartoons, all together huddled up in one big bed. We stayed awake with him late into the night.
While we were with him my mother and John went away to England for a few days to go to the horse races. So, for a short while, the tension that was in the house dissolved a little. Recently we didn’t ask permission any more to go to her side of the house, as we were afraid to maybe see him in her bedroom or to catch him in the bath. So, while they were away we roamed the house quite freely playing hide and seek in all the rooms. One day we went into the drawing rooms to see if anything had changed. A few things had disappeared which Dudley had taken with him. Their wedding photos were replaced with photos of John and his family. One day while they were in London I decided that I wanted to make some more pocket money, so all of us children could all have a midnight feast, secretly in my bed room. So, I went into the garden and cut lots of the flowers and made little posies to sell outside to the people passing by our house. I felt a bit like Eliza Dolittle in”My Fair Lady.” I think this was my first business enterprise that I ever did when I was a child.
I put all the spring flowers into a toy wheelbarrow and pushed it out of the grounds and sat by the main road with a sign saying “1 shilling a bunch”. Many of the cars that were driving by stopped to buy a posy and to ask me who I was. It was a lot of fun. Suddenly a Citroen screeched to a stop and a large voice boomed. “Venetia, what are you doing?” Oh dear! I hadn’t realized that mother was returning that day so early. She was very angry; I was promptly locked up in my room for a day with no supper and told to go to bed. I think she was more mortified that I had disgraced myself as a tradesperson than about all the flowers I had cut in her garden. A few days later, I was chuckling to myself on the plane back to school, remembering mother’s angry face that day. I think that that was the beginning of the battle between us that lasted from that day on, for many years to come.”