Wake up screaming . . . (episode 9)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling

April 8 1997

My mind explores its own labyrinth Harriet. I will tell you what happened between Sir Charmer and myself. And then I will tell you about my relationship with Austen: my child and your husband. This is what seems most logical. Also, I must say, since beginning to talk about these events – buried deep in the personal archives of my brain – telephones have started ringing in my dreams (telephones which, when I have lifted the receiver, have no-one at the other end) and I wake up screaming.

Like yourself, I accoutred myself in unobtrusive clothing on the morning I decided to follow Sir Charmer – and his two golden retrievers, Barkis and Peggotty – out on his walk to Netherton woods. Sir Charmer set off at a hot, licking, pace and I was hard put to keep him in sight on the darkness of the paths surrounding our country seat. On my mind was his latest set of odd remarks, which included: ‘there’ll always be the next one’ and ‘slowly slowly catchee monkey.’ I was luckier (or unluckier) than yourself because, after we had gone a mile or so, we started to approach the point where the path from the village joins the path from our house. And on it, without any question of an error, was Sindie, the young animal groomer from Netherton village. Her flame-red hair shone through the sapling birch trees which separated the paths at this point, and she was accompanied by her long-haired dachshund, Mitzi. Actually dear, at this point, I couldn’t bear to continue and stood rooted to the spot for quite some minutes – minutes during which I could hear low murmurings, and giggles, filtering through the foliage. I’m afraid I went back home Harriet for I loved Sir Charmer – much as you do Austen – and probably for similar reasons.

When he did return home, an hour or so later, I confronted him. I said, ‘If you don’t tell me the truth Charmer, I will carry on looking for evidence one way or another.’

And he said, ‘Alright. I have been seeing her. It’s hardly anything. Try to distract yourself . . .’

I said, ‘Is that the truth?’ I think I was so confused about it all – and so hoping that none of it was true – that I gave him this foolish get out.

Sir Charmer immediately reversed himself and said, ‘No. I hardly know her.’ And there matters rested.

I carved up the house Harriet (metaphorically speaking) and removed myself to the other end of it. I slept in the small room next door to Austen’s nursery for the rest of my married life and carried on my duties around the house with as little contact with Sir Charmer as possible. I’m afraid I never spoke to – or acknowledged – the girl from the village who, for some months, persisted in trying to wave to me from behind the steering wheel of her new Mini. But I was having none of it and eventually she gave up. I feel slightly bad about that now, I must say, because I realize that – living with her mother, who had schizophrenia -she was probably a vulnerable individual who simply succumbed to the attentions of the predatory Sir Charmer OBE.

To revert the subject back to Austen, I do, there again, feel slightly guilty. Austen was the most ravishing child; equipped, like his father, with the most bountiful good looks and the same Cerulean blue eyes. In the absence of a husband to whom I could turn, I simply gave my attentions – and affection – to the child. I’m afraid I lauded him for his beauty Harriet, when I should have developed his character. And perhaps he learned that, with such looks and charm at his disposal, there was simply no need to develop a character.

I should add, I think, that Austen was actually quite a creative child and it was the Dowager Lady Tankful who brought out this side of his nature on her weekend visits. I remember that he produced a very creditable knitted tea cosy, wrought in blackberry stitch, and also one or two Fair Isle boy’s jumpers inlaid with patterns of tall ships, passing. (I think the Dowager Lady Tankful – an individual with frustrated mathematical talents – must have helped him a bit with the latter!) I don’t know what happened to this hobby in later childhood for I’m afraid he was sent to boarding school at the age of seven. By then, my career with the Service was taking up more and more of my time and, in 1959, it was very common to send children from the upper classes away to school. Who knows exactly what has to happen for a child – and then the adult – to go wrong.

Well I’m tired now darling (and not a little upset). I am packing for my return to Forsythia Grove, so please can you address your next correspondence to my demesne there.


Mother (in law)


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