The end of my dream world and easy living had come. As had my shopkeeping and useful work.
Fred decided to return to town. He sold the country hotel and bought another in town near Kenilworth House. It was a beautiful place and I often wandered in the grounds. A little later Fred also bought a block of two flats. The upstairs flat was taken by an elderly couple and the downstairs was for my mother, sister and myself. I had been away from my mother for so long she didn’t have any idea of controlling me. I came and went as I pleased and settled in to being my own master. My guardian angel must have been watching over me and kept me out of trouble.
My education on herbs and plants started when I was in Devon. A cousin or something was a witch and we used to collect the herbs for her. She seemed to cure animals as well as humans. The nearest doctor in those days was a long horse ride away and he only came once a week to a makeshift surgery in the local bar. This meant the witch was in great demand. These days she would be called a herbalist but then it looked like magic. People were afraid of her and I can remember having to pass her house on the opposite side of the road in case she was offended by me. Such a lot of nonsense really but the gift of “Seeing” was handed down. After an aunt, I should know. I was next. An aunt had the seeing eye and told so many things, even how many children I would have and it came true for me later on. That was what I was doing on the day of the common fire. Looking for herbs growing in the area.
This aunt told me I would marry under odd circumstances and would have four children. As I didn’t care much for small children I only laughed. She was right. Not only that but on a certain weekend she begged me not to go away. I thought she was being old-fashioned and ignored her. So much for being a knowall later proved me wrong.
About this time my mother decided we needed a holiday so she booked us into lodgings on the Isle of Wight. I don’t know why it was only my mother and me. My sister must have been somewhere else. On our second day Mother booked a trip to the mainland to see the Naval Tattoo. We went over in a small boat, a little bumpy but okay. We enjoyed the show until the end when the wind started blowing. Oh well the other people in the boat were quite happy, there were three other couples, which made eight of us beside the crew, so aboard we went. As we made way out from land the weather became very bad. Waves were huge. One man there was an ex-sailor and said the waves were twenty feet high. I only knew they came crashing down and we had to start bailing. I was so scared. Suddenly this great big grey wall loomed up. I remember the ex-sailor swearing and grabbing the wheel. The boat turned so that water slopped over the side and I really thought we were going under. There were lights and a man with a megaphone was shouting. The grey wall looked like a house. It was a liner.” The Mauretania”.
The man in charge of our boat had not put up riding lights and the liner nearly ran us down. It turned back to rescue us but we were still afloat and our skipper said we didn’t need help. The storm got worse but by bailing we kept afloat. Ryde pier hove out of the storm and we thought the Lord be praised, but a man came out of a door and refused to let us land. He insisted we would be smashed against the heavy timbers. I was so scared by then I only knew I was cold wet and near death. The morning came and wind and waves died down. As we tied up to the pier steps a man came and asked for pay for being on the pier. I had never heard some of the words used by the ex-sailor and we didn’t pay, but another surprise awaited us. The police gathered us all up and after arresting the boat owner we all had to make a statement. Apparently he had already been fined twice for overloading the vessel and dangerous sailing. I heard he went to prison but he deserved it. I shudder when I think how near we came to death.
Another incident on the same holiday came when we were walking at Ventnor. Going past some tall iron gates my mother cried “Look at that”. It was a Fuchsia but as a tree. We only knew them as bushes but this was about nine feet tall. Intrigued we both stepped inside the gates to have a closer look. Suddenly a figure in a gown with a hood over his face stepped out. My mother screamed and ran. The figure caught my arm and with his finger to his lips picked a piece of the fuchsia and handed it to me. I was shaking but he patted my arm and bowed me out of the gates which he shut behind me. We asked about them at the local shop and learnt it was a sect of silent monks. They had taken a vow of silence and were seldom seen. The one I saw was nice.
The tide at Ryde is a circular tide and one morning I walked out to the edge of the water. It was a long walk but all the different puddles had such interesting things to see. When a boat came close to the sea edge and a man called me to hurry out to them I thought they were mad until I looked behind me and saw a sea of water between me and the shore. That was when I learnt about the tide. I haven’t been back.
I thought I would never be happy or settled or even get used to daily school, travelling to school on a bus and having evening homework. As a boarder the homework fitted in with free afternoons. No longer. Get on with it on your own. Nevertheless I still enjoyed school and had good relations with the teachers. I made the change from boarder to daily quite easily. Rules were still strict. One had to be polite at all times. One had to sit up straight with shoulders back or get a crack across the back with a ruler. I was used to this from boarding school and in later years I was so thankful for that training.
Despite this, I was still about to lose my stuffing....