December has always been a happy month for me as Christmas is heralded by my birthday on the 12th, Presents. therefore, could be anticipated, and though people around me threatened gloom in 1939 because of the war, I do not remember being particularly perturbed. Apart from soldiers being trained to build pontoon bridges across the Thames a little further down from the weir, our guest refugees complaining about clothes rationing and the sudden disappearance of bananas, the early months of the conflict made little impression on me. My mother gave up trying to teach me anything and passed that duty onto Honorine our new cook who sat me down in the corner of the kitchen and saw to it that I did a few arithmetic problems and read stories aloud to her from an English book, none of which she understood. She was a roly-poly woman with an infectious laugh and as lewd a sense of humour as Maman in Nice. Within a week of settling in one of the attic rooms and taking over command of the kitchen she was shocked to find out that I did not know the facts of life and promptly enlightened me on the subject in great detail while stuffing a chicken. 'If men had more control of their little willies there wouldn’t be any wars.' she said.
One evening in December, when we were sitting by the drawing room fire, my father read out an article in his newspaper about how the German warship Admiral Graf Spee had been scuttled in Montevideo harbour.
I had never heard of Montevideo let alone Uruguay and this quite shocked him. Questioning me about other capitals of the world, he realized that my knowledge of geography was negligible and that I was also remarkably ignorant on most other subjects.
Seeking advice from the headmistress of my sister’s school, she informed him that, as so many city children were being evacuated to the country because of possible air raids, she was thinking of taking in a small number of boy pupils from good families to alleviate the situation, and suggested I attend her school as a sort of guinea pig to see how things worked out?
So, at the start of the following term, I joined my sister at Miss Hatfield’s, the only boy among forty two girls, and the only pupil to leave the seat up after using the lavatory..
I cannot deny that I enjoyed my short time there..
I knew what girls liked and disliked because my sister was one, but my knowledge of why they lied, how they manipulated others, pretended innocence and instinctively knew how to twist males of any age round their little fingers was greatly enhanced. Though I didn’t have any particularly attractive attributes, as the only male I was unique and so prey to female curiosity. Brother-less Lucy, for example, paid me sixpence to show her something she had never seen before...
Unfortunately I became infatuated with Sybil, my age, who had long flaxen hair, green eyes and would have been pretty but for an upturned nose that suggested she thought herself superior to others. It wasn’t that she was a snob exactly, but she did let me know that I wouldn’t be invited to her birthday party during the holidays because we were ‘trade’, worse, in ‘catering’ and 'foreign'. I never met her parents who must have been responsible for this attitude and anyway gave up on her when she told me she preferred horses to humans.
Apart from English, arithmetic, geography and history, I was taught how to knit and crochet and quite liked playing netball and rounders.
When I invited Jane, Brenda and Carol round to the house one Sunday afternoon to play with me and their dolls, my father decided I should be sent to a boy’s boarding school as soon as possible.
It was the kiss of death.