More about people…
Also living at Gran’s house was my Auntie Winnie – spinster younger sister of Mum and the middle child of the five. She was unkindly described by Dad as Twitter and Bisted. A great one for spoonerisms and puns, my Dad. It’s true that in those days she was very cranky. A natural blonde with wispy hair, a big behind and thick spectacles, she dressed exactly like Gran, in very elderly clothes, corseted firmly in her formal brown or navy dresses, with a lace modesty vest tucked down the front to hide her ample bosom. She wore ‘Granny’ shoes with clumpy Cuban heels, pointy toes and a single laced bit across the instep. Cranky she may have been, but she played the piano like an angel and gave me my first piano lessons. She worked as a secretary in a firm which made pianos and according to my Mum she was hopelessly in love with her married ‘Chief.’ In later life I learned to appreciate her even more, as I realised how she had sacrificed her own life in order to look after her parents. In the end she had exactly six months of retirement before dying at 61 from cancer, surviving Gran by only a year.
And then there was Aunty Joan – the youngest of the five siblings – married to my favourite Uncle away in the army at Catterick Camp. Uncle Bob’s parents were French but he was born in London, but his voice and accent had a romantic quality which had all the females of the family drooling over him. On the rare occasions we were all able to be together we had marvellous concerts on that lovely grand piano: Bob and Joan sang ballads, Winnie played Chopin – I can never hear the Fantasie Impromptu without seeing her sitting at the piano in the back room at the grandparents’ house, with the trains passing every few minutes on the elevated line at the bottom of the garden; Mum would play Lizt’s Hungarian Rhapsody (her party piece); Gran sang Tell Me Pretty Maiden, are there any more at home like you? and Alice Blue Gown. Sylvia and I were required to ‘give us a toon’. Regular requests would be My Grandfather’s Clock and Noel Coward’s London Pride. Grandad of course would keep us entertained for hours with his naughty songs. We always finished with the sentimental Bless this House, when Gran would dissolve into tears. I don’t know where all that music came from, as with a big family, there had never been money to spare for piano or singing lessons. The two other uncles, Charlie and Horace were away in the army.
Sylvia and I would go to the station to meet Grandad, Winnie and Joan, when they came home from ‘business’ – it was always called that, never ‘work’. The Metropolitan and District Lines ran behind the gardens in Gran’s road, high up on an embankment. To get to the station we had to go under the railway by a lovely echo-y subway, and we would play there for ages while waiting, shouting and running to make the echo. What a nuisance we must have been! The other side of the railway, Harrow School was just across the fields, and the sound of church bells will always take me straight back there, to summer mornings walking with Gran and the Aunts to Mass in Harrow Catholic Church. I thought that Church was beautiful, with lots of white marble.