Saffron cake and bombs

My father’s pre-war Austin 10 remains in my mind. My last sight of it was after the war had started. It had been propped up in its garage on bricks, put away ‘for the duration’. The wheels had been removed. I don’t know what happened to it, or to the house which my parents had so recently bought next to open fields by the river. I do remember that my father said the car’s number began with JY, which was a Devonshire signature.

The house must have been sold at some point because we never never lived in it again. I remember the fun of driving over hump-backed bridges, as my middle swooped up into my throat and back again. And for some reason I recall the song ‘Katie by the cowshed’ as the adults sang the chorus in the car, echoing the staccato stammer with which a bashful soldier tried to woo his girl friend.

I was puzzled about the cowshed and the girl and the stammer. It was certainly a catchy tune. I have a memory of an open sunny road to the sea.

And then there was the windsock. We always looked out from the car for the windsock – red as I recall – and the adults told me it showed the way the wind was blowing. This was somewhere around the Yelverton area. I think that airfield must have been what is now Plymouth airport.

My dad wore his plus fours,  thick brown tweed with a small check as I recall.  My parents must have been yuppies for their time. My father, manager of a factory soon to be bombed to the ground, were friends with the bank managers and similar folk in the city.

And I remember having a serious, infant crush on a waitress in the restaurant of a store: Spooners it was called. And a small girl, older than me, called Nancy, who was the daughter of a neighbour. I was under instructions to be polite and join in the organised games at her party. Not if my infant ingenuity could avoid it That was the first time I heard the word ‘taffeta’, which I gathered formed the frills of her party dress. But I reluctantly attended.

And her mother’s saffron cake. That was delicious. I always looked forward to saffron cake.

That was something else about to change

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2 Responses to Saffron cake and bombs

  1. Rob H says:

    I’m not a war buff. Never been notably interested in the goings-on of great battles and such. But the way lives were lived before and after, the differences, always intrigue me. The hesitant peacefulness of your pre-war memory is moving. And then after things settled back down there’s a different kind of peace. Like a contentment that sort of sounds out resignation to the new things without being miserable. Hard to explain, and I’m surely reading more into these than is necessarily there. Thanks again, Llew.

    • lleweton says:

      I’m very interested in what you read into these posts, Rob, because I’m discovering things myself as I write them: especially that I am seeing, for the first time my parents as young adults. Yes there was a peacefulness in their lives in those pre-war years and there was no sign of anxiety after the war began. There must have been something deep in the culture which led them to behave normally. As a wartime slogan, much in vogue here at the moment and viewed with a mixture of admiration and merriment, declared: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. My mother was anything but a calm sort of person during most of her life, but she was then. I think that as a child, I picked up the sub-conscious seriousness of the time. That is probably why these images have remained so clear. I have a picture in my mind now, of an evening, dark already, probably about 7pm because I was still up, and my father coming in and saying to my mother something like: ‘It’s on.’ And they turned on the wireless. I see that war was declared on September 3, 1939, so it would have been dark at that time of day. The normality continued until, eventually, my father was called up at the age of 32. I remember him as he set off in his grey suit: no kisses, tears or hugs. I think he went off to the station on his own. I remember only normality in the household. Perhaps this was survival as much as stiff upper lip. The stormy years came after the war. Long after we moved from Devon my memories of that county meant home to me, even while I was still in short trousers. They still do. And I have learned as I write these messages to see these images of home as a metaphor (not a literal actuality) for our heavenly home, God willing.

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