Being Virginia Woolf

Sometimes I pretend that I am Virginia Woolf, although I try to stay out of the water. I sit at my desk and hand write with a fountain pen.

Handwriting is not that easy in these days of keyboards and touch screens. You lose control of the pen and my writing, never good before the advent of personal computers, straggles across the paper.

Artistic, my mother would say. Bloody illegible, my dad would grumble.

They’d both left school at fourteen, my father an apprentice bricklayer, my mother travelled to Germany to see her father, working for the NAAFI, before learning book keeping. They met at dancing classes, my great tall, bony streak of a father and my little luscious dumpling of a mother. They lived around a few corners from each other, my father in the house where he, and his brothers and sister, had been born, a tiny terrace with a damp front parlour that was only ever used for storing bottles of pop. All the rage then, and my grandad worked for a brewery, a fine Kentish firm, driving a dray. Pop was one of the perks — all flavours: cherry, lime, lemon, orange, cola in scarily fluorescent colours. He kept pigeons, went pigeon racing, horse racing on Bank Holidays, my nan with sandwiches and thermos and a blanket over her lap.

My mother lived in a cottage inherited by her mother from Cousin Alice (I never understood the run of that story). Two up, two down, and walk through the back bedroom to reach the bathroom. My dad’s house didn’t have a bathroom. You washed at the kitchen sink, and had a tin bath, kept out the back on a hook, in front of the fire once a week.

The parlour in the cottage was quite different. Rosewood furniture upholstered in green and gold damask, my grandmother sitting there every evening, knitting school cardigans for the stream of children my parents produced. She worked in the post office at the end of her road, past the Chapel. She started in the post office in the war, so many women did, working full-time until she retired.

Her dad was very wealthy, owned a string of garages when it was a new thing, had several cars and a great house at Crown Point in South London, where they entertained, well, everyone, every Sunday. There were stories he’d made his money through profiteering in the Great War, he was a gentleman, it said in his passport, he married a barmaid and had thirteen children.

(from January 2015)

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