Last night there was a powerful storm in the valley of Ohara, the house shook strongly and the windowpanes rattled all night through out the house. I could not sleep well, so I went downstairs to make myself a cup relaxing hot milk, infused with dried laurel leaves.
I sat for a while watching the wind blow through my garden and sipped slowly the hot milk. The maple trees danced in the strong wind, blowing all the dried leaves onto the garden floor. Too early for it to be a typhoon, the sudden storm had taken me by surprise. It was almost midnight, the rain was lashing down so hard, that a section of the wall beneath our roof was damp with drops of rain. I put a bucket under the drip and continued to watch the storm. There is nothing I like better than watching the trees dance, as they bow and sway in the nearby woods. I sat still and listened to the deep mysterious voice of the howling wind, as it grew stronger and stronger. My head began to nod and I fell fast asleep on the `tatami mat’ floor in our living room. Luckily I had a warm green woolen shawl on my shoulders. I began to dream and went back to the time when I became a bridesmaid a very long time ago.
I was only four years old. My godfather Anthony Berry who was an old friend of my mothers came to our house one day. Looking very happy he told my mother, that he had fallen in love with a lovely girl he had met; Cynthia Roche, who was the daughter of Baron Fermoy. He then asked my mother that he would be delighted if I could be one of the bridesmaids at his wedding. Anthony Berry was the sixth and youngest son of Viscount Kemsley who was a wealthy newspaper magnate. I’m not sure how he had met my mother or my father, but he was certainly in their group of close friends. My mother of course was delighted and was excited to hear that they planned to have their wedding at St. Margaret’s Church, which is in the centre of London, between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
Born in 1925, Anthony was a little bit younger than my father. He was a budding politician, who later on became the conservative Member of Parliament for the London borough of Enfield. The church they had chosen has been for centuries a popular venue for society weddings. Built in the 12th century by Benedictine monks, it is known to be one of the most beautiful churches in England. I remember being very excited when my mother told me that my godfather was going to get married and that he wanted me to be one of the bridesmaids. It was the only time in my life that I was asked to be a bridesmaid, so I remember it very well.
A few days later day, my mother and I went down to London to have me measured for the bridesmaid’s dress in Fortnum and Mason Department Store. The seamstress measured my height, waist and shoe and size for the wedding ceremony. It made me very excited, for I felt as if I was going to become a fairy princess for a day! After being measured all over we took a London taxicab to Harrods Department Store to buy a special wedding present for the newly wed couple. We then returned to Uncle Freddy’s house Chelwood, exhausted after our long day.
On the day before the wedding, we walked along Piccadilly Circus Street to pick up my order made dress. It was a white silk dress covered with white net, and had pretty puffed sleeves. The dress was very simple, the only decoration being a gorgeous wine coloured velvet sash. We had to wait awhile for the dress to be shortened a little, so we went downstairs to the ground floor. I was very hungry so she took me to her favourite restaurant to have a light lunch while we waited for the dress to be finished.
This was my earliest memory of the Soda Fountain at Fortnum and Mason. The pale turquoise coloured painted furniture reminded me of Peter Rabbit’s blue trousers. My mother and I walked past the grocery shop, the tea and jam departments and headed towards the soda fountain. On seeing my mother, the waiter guided us to her favourite table, we then sat down and looked at the menu. I ordered Welsh Rarebit which was grilled cheese on toast and my mother had a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of white wine. Many of my mother’s friends were also having lunch there, so I sat on my chair alone while my mother went round the restaurant chatting and laughing until the waiter brought us our food. She then returned to our table.
“Netia, would you like a knickerbockers glory for a dessert?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I answered.
“It’s a special ice cream sundae, which is very yummy,” she replied.
She ordered me one and the waitress bought it to our table. It was in a tall crispy cone and full of fruit, I slowly began to lick the ice cream and the hot chocolate sauce, which lay over the chopped fresh and poached pears. At the time I thought it was the most delicious dessert that I had ever tasted in my life.
After we had finished eating, we returned to the fitting room to pick up my silk dress. It was packed into a lovely gleaming white box for my mother to carry home.
The seamstress wished me good luck on the wedding day and showed us the way to the chauffeur’s car park, which was next to the department store. We then returned to Chelwood by taxi. Dingding was there, waiting for me to return.
That evening Dingding taught me how to curtsy properly and we practiced it many times as the next day I was going to be presented to the Queen Mother. That night I went to bed early so that I would be bright and fresh for the following day.
The next morning the sky was a beautiful blue with not a cloud in the sky. After an early lunch, our nanny Dingding helped me to put on my bridemaid’s dress. Feeling like a little princess, my mother and stepfather had hired a special Limousine taxi to take us down to London. We then waited in a special room for the bride to arrive at the church. Holding my mothers hand, I was overwhelmed by the size of the building. The gothic church’s steeple was built of faded beige and pink carved stone that soared into the sky. There were magnificent stained glass windows on all sides of the church. My godfather Anthony Berry, being a Member of Parliament, had invited the Queen Mother amongst many other important guests. I was one of six bridemaids and two pages. All I can recall of the ceremony was that the church was filled with many guests and the church seemed very grand and old.
The music of the pipe organ began, something stirred deep within me as we slowly walked behind the bride and her father, who was giving her away. The service was very moving and I hoped that they would be always happy together
After the Service was over we were taken to the reception that was being held at a nearby hotel.
At the wedding reception I was walking through the guests trying to find my mother, when some hot cigarette ash fell on my bare arm. Bursting into tears, I started crying. The Queen Mother just happened to be there and came to comfort me. Not realizing who she was and being totally upset by the painful burn I of course forgot to curtsy! The next day I was on the front page of the papers with the headline: “The queen Mother wipes away the little girl tears.” Some photographer had taken a picture of me crying at the wedding reception!
The dream faded away and I slept for a while. At the dawn of the day, the wind had stopped and the trees stood motionless in the garden. It was so quiet after the storm and I woke up remembering my dream. That day came back to me. I also remembered how my mother often teased me, saying that even at four years old, I was already on the front page of the Daily Express!
After that day every year, I received a Christmas present from my Godfather Anthony Berry. After my father died he continued to keep on interest in my welfare.
Years later in Japan I read one dayin the Japan times Newspaper that he had died.
On the 12th October, 1984 my Godfather was killed in the Brighton Hotel bombing, when a bomb was planted in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, during the conservatives Party Conference. He was only 59 years old. His wife Lady Berry was injured in the blast, but she survived. He left six children. A month later a letter came from England with a note from his solicitors. They wrote to me and explained that he had died and had left a small amount of money in his will for me. I was shocked to hear how he had died. For each year for many years he had always sent me a small gift of money as a present. The memory of his wedding and the pain of the fallen ash still remain clear in my memory. However the Queen Mother’s smile and concern for me that day, I will never forget………