In January 1952 the fun and games at Weir Pool came to an end when Eddy after two operations and two plaster casts, returned from France and the house was turned into a one-patient nursing home. Bedridden and propped up by countless pillows, he made life a misery for everyone, so I moved out and into the back room of a mews flat in Kensington owned by a friend who needed a lodger’s rent. This young man was very well connected socially and introduced me to the London debutante scene immediately.
At a wedding reception I became smitten by one of the pretty bridesmaids who seemed to regard me as something rather comical. 'Is it true that you’re French and import caviare?' she asked intrigued. 'Yes,' I replied.
'How exciting! Mummy used to buy little pots of it from Fortnums but can’t afford it anymore.'
'We supply Fortnums,' I informed her, 'Play your cards right and you can get a huge discount.'
'That’s awfully cheeky' she giggled, 'but rather sweet.'
Her name was Phoebe and I invited her to tea at that fashionable emporium the next day.
Fortnum & Mason’s was not one of the places I frequented. I never felt too comfortable among the customers, specially the bowler hatted, drain pipe trousered Guards officers with their debutante girl friends who behaved as though they owned the place.
Phoebe was sitting at a table in the tea room waiting for me. I had brought her a pink ribboned 2oz pot of caviare and placed it in front of her.
'Goodness!' she exclaimed, 'How super! Does this mean that I now have to play my cards right?'
'Hopefully,' I said, 'but not here.'
Over scones, Devonshire cream and raspberry jam, I learned a good deal about her. She had been presented at Court the previous year, had done the season, did not have a boyfriend, her parents were divorced, she lived with her mother near Windsor, had two brothers, the older one worked in the City, the younger was still at Eton.
She questioned me at length about my background then looked at me sincerely with wide open eyes and said, 'I don’t know why, but I do like you though you’re quite wrong for me.'
'Why am I wrong for you?' I managed.
'Mummy would never approve.' She screwed up her nose as though facing an unsolvable problem and sighed deeply, 'I’m afraid she wouldn’t consider you OCD.' I had no idea what she was talking about.
'Our Class Dear,' she explained, then, without pausing for breath, 'It’s all terribly stupid I know, but it matters terribly to her. She spent a fortune on my coming out so that I could meet the right person for the future because we’re not very well off and she lives in the 19th century and I won’t be twenty one and free to do as I wish for another two years.'
She put her hand on mine and squeezed it gently. 'I’m terribly sorry. I’ve been very rude, but I want to be honest because I know I could become really fond of you.'
Despite this major setback, she met me secretly for lunch several times in places where it was unlikely she would be seen in my company by anyone who knew her family.
Because of my apparent inferior upbringing, a more permanent relationship was out of the question unless I made a study of her mother’s absurd social conventions, learned the essential etiquette and could prove to be reasonably presentable. . .
I suggested she should teach me her rules of conduct so that when she deemed me ready she would not be ashamed of me, and she jumped at the idea.
'It’ll be easy peasy,' she said, 'because even if you make mistakes you are French so can be excused. What Mummy would never forgive you for, however, is putting milk in your tea cup before pouring the tea, as you did at Fortnums. An MIF is unforgivable.’
'MIF?' I queried.
'Milk In First. It’s just not done.'
From then on, she played Professor Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle and even got her older brother to join in my edification for good measure.
'You must never say ‘pardon,’ she told me on my first day of serious instruction. ‘I know it’s a French word, but it’s wrong. When you need to apologize you should say ‘I beg your pardon’, and if you haven’t understood something you should ask ‘What?' It sounds rude and abrupt and nannies don’t like it, but anything else is wrong.
On another day we had lunch with her brother Nigel in the ladies annex of his club in Pall Mall which in itself was unnerving.
'You should never ask for a ‘Sweet’ or ‘Dessert’. ‘Pudding’ is the only word you can use for anything from ice cream to spotted dick, and you’ll get keel hauled if you utter the word 'serviette' instead of 'napkin.'
'Jerry' or 'Pot' for chamber pot if there isn’t a convenient lavatory,' Phoebe put in, 'and never ever use the word
They both shuddered at the mention of the word.
Nigel gave me his tailor’s address. 'He’ll know what you should wear, and don’t pay him for months, he won’t expect it. And buy yourself a curly brimmed bowler from Locks of St James’s, a colourful waistcoat, and walk with a furled umbrella but don’t open it unless there’s a really serious downpour.
My conversion took a few weeks, put me in debt with tailor and hatter and, when Phoebe decided I was ready, I bravely accompanied her to Fortnum’s again to meet ‘Mummy’, a jolly, plump, carefree woman who downed a couple of gins in preference to tea and found me so acceptable that she allowed her daughter to come and stay at Weir Pool the following weekend.
Drew aged 20 in West London. 1950