I made my first appearance on planet earth in July 1960 in Old Windsor, England. My parents waited eight years before taking the plunge and having another child. Which is probably not surprising as I don’t imagine it would be a picnic raising twins in post-war Britain. Living in an upstairs flat with no running water, too afraid to take the babies out due to the great smog of ’52 and without the modern conveniences we enjoy now must have been a test of fortitude for a young mother.
My early recollections of my father aren’t that clear. He was fifteen years my mother’s senior and was often unwell – nervous dyspepsia was the doctor’s diagnosis. A gentle and loving family man, he worked as an instrument inspector for British Airways, or BOAC as it was known then. I remember him coming home and talking to my mother about work and health problems and hearing them say how nice it would be to escape The Rat Race. I had no idea what a Rat Race was, but escaping it seemed like a very exciting adventure and I wished I could make Daddy better by helping to make this happen. Not long after my fifth birthday my parents announced that my father had been offered a job with NAC in New Zealand. Great excitement in the family! We were Escaping the Rat Race in an aeroplane and starting a new life on the other side of the world.
After a long and probably quite arduous journey for my mother with two thirteen-year-olds and a five-year-old, as well as a husband whose health was rapidly deteriorating, we arrived in Auckland. We stayed at a place called Tui Glenn for a short while before moving down to Christchurch so that my father could start his new job. He never made his first day. Desperately in pain and unable to keep any food down, my mother took him to see a doctor as soon as we arrived. He was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital where surgeons opened him up to operate and then promptly stitched him back up again. He was riddled with cancer. It had started in his pancreas and was relentlessly taking over the rest of his frail body. He was given two weeks to live.
My mother, bereft and worn out with grief, broke this news to us not long before Christmas 1965. Christmas morning came which we spent at the Stoneyhurst Hotel where we were staying at the time. I got a green knitted bobble hat and some mint chocolates on a Wedgewood saucer. I’ve still got the bobble hat. It reminds me of a little five-year-old girl, of spending a forlorn Christmas in a strange land and feeling as though my whole world was falling apart.