I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
Miss Jenkins, Remembered
Looking back on my childhood now I realise that there are large chunks that I just cannot remember. It was not an ideal childhood for me; it was strict, hard and, at times, violent, yet there are some happy times that I can recall. Most of these involved a dear friend whom I did not appreciate until years later when it was too late. I just felt that I had to write these down, in order to keep the memory of an old lady alive, otherwise she would be forgotton.
She was a dear old lady who always dressed in black, full length skirts with tight-laced, high-necked tops. She was, in point of fact, Victorian in so many ways. It was like she was trapped in a time warp. Her house was only a few feet away from ours and it had a high wooden gate which had pedestrian access along with wider gates that were for horse drawn carriage access. Between these gates stood a tall stone pillar with a beautiful stone vase on top. As you went through these gates you could see the steel rails where the carriage wheels used to roll, and the cobbled area for the horses hooves. Her garden was just imaculate with a beautiful Victorian-type summer house and twisting, grassed paths through the lovely flowers beds.
She shared this house with her slightly deranged sister, who forbid her access to the kitchen and, indeed, to half of the house. So she used to do her cooking on an old paraffin stove which I recall as being very ornate and again in Victorian style. This cooker was kept behind her chaise-longue when not in use to hide her embarrassment. Her part of the house had a window in the living room which faced the street, and she would always put a post card in this window if she required any shopping or other chores done; this was my signal upon my return from primary school.
She was, indeed, very good with me and my then best friend Andy, who did not visit her as much as I did. However I remember her taking us on the bus down to Findhorn which was, in those days1 a small fishing village, totally unspoiled but typical of the time. We would watch the fisherman come ashore and drag their green and black boats up the shingle shore and turn them over with their hulls exposed. We used to sit and watch them repair their nets as she told us stories of her days in service to the Baden-Powell family.
She was governess to Lord Baden-Powells' children when they were young, and told us of her trips to India, the jewel of the Empire as she called it. We were taught something new by her every time we met her. She would try and teach us etiquette and manners and how to behave socially. In fact, if it were not for her requests to my mother to go out with her, I don't believe I would have ever got out at all and, looking back on it, I am sure Miss Jenkins knew this.
My mother had no objection to my spending time with her or helping her out with small chores, in fact she encouraged it. As long as my own work was done in our cafe and shop, it was all right for me to go. In fact it was because my parents had this business that it made my life so hard at school. All the other kids thought that we were rich, a fact that was just so untrue, in fact we were possibly even poorer, but at least well fed. It also meant that both myself and my sister always had a list of chores to do as soon as we returned from school, leaving little time for play.
On one occasion I arrived at Miss Jenkins house with a black eye I had received from an earlier fight at school, and she was horrified! I then had to listen to a long lecture on social behaviour, and how to avoid such conflicts in the future. Alas it was no good, however, as all the rest of the kids at that school had never been taught Victorian values, so that occasion was often repeated much to her horror. She was indeed, if nothing else, a good Christian, and I have always remembered her with so much affection. On one occasion I received my very own, brand new rain coat and my mother insisted that I go and show this to Miss Jenkins - leaving to me to think now that it was indeed bought by her anyway. I went as instructed. Miss Jenkins made me do a complete turn and admired it saying what a smart young man I was wearing it.
So you could imagine my horror a few days later when I had to go home and tell my parents that it had been stolen from the cloakrom at school.
My mother, of course, did not believe me, saying that I had indeed sold it, and gave me a thrashing for its loss - a point not missed by Miss Jenkins when I went to tell her about the coat. She just gave me a gentle hug and a sweet and told me not to worry, and that there are bad people in the world as well as good ones. I can still see her to this day with her head held high and the whale bone uprights on her collar making sure that it was held up, as they would jag her neck if not. I remember her stature and grace and the way she always corrected our grammar and behaviour even if it was not up to her standards. I never did see any of my proper Grandparents much, as they all lived in England, so I never had the Granny that I heard all the other kids talking about. Yet I had far better - if I had realised it at the time - a dear old lady, who taught me so much, set my values and goals, who was taken away from me just as I was realising how much she meant to me. I saw the card in the window one day and knocked on her door; she never let me in, which was strange. She just handed me a letter to post saying that she was not feeling very well, and could I come back tomorrow, but tomorrow never came for her. Gone, but never forgotton, a dear old lady.