I met Adrian on Friday 13th of November 1970 at the Oxford bridge club; I had gone to Oxford to retake my A levels and whilst there I had seen posters saying “Ladies’ Evening at the Oxford Bridge Club”. It turned out that Adrian and his friend, Simon, had agreed that the club drew men to it and so they decided there should be a ladies’ evening. This “unlucky day” proved to be good luck for me and Adrian because when I arrived at the club a particularly unattractive man asked me if I had a partner and when I said “no” he asked if he could play with me and I said “yes” at which point Adrian came bouncing in and said he would play with me. When we sat down at the table he told me he was the treasurer of the club and so had to get up to collect the money that the players paid; I remember thinking that he must be very good if he was the treasurer and I hoped my history of family bridge wouldn’t let me down. As it happened that evening we came second out of all the couples and so obviously I played all right! I still enjoy thinking of the times I played family bridge, or with Adrian.
That evening Adrian put my bike in the boot of his car and drove me home. I went to Exeter University to be near Singleton and I made a number of male friends which was, I suppose, a reaction to having been at a girls’ school. My parents were both psychologists, so to find out about the real world I chose to read politics. I don’t know that I really found out about the real world. On the day when I was planning to write to Adrian to tell him to join me in Exeter he sent me a letter to say he was coming. Adrian had been an accountant and then he trained at the Tavistock Centre in London to become a teacher. A few years later we were living together in my basement flat in London and then we moved to Witney where we bought a house in Chapel Road; Adrian taught and I worked as a journalist.
When I left Exeter I wrote to the radio and newspapers asking for a job; I went for an interview at the West Oxfordshire Standard where I got a job. My colleague, Denise, and I had a good time writing for the paper. I interviewed Douglas Hurd who was our local MP and tactfully didn’t ask him about his marriage which had just failed; he must have been relieved. Adrian read the paper which was a weekly and he mentioned an article that said there were plenty of elderberries around this year; I laughed and said that I had made that up and that you shouldn’t always believe what you read in the papers. My happiest memory from that time is how Adrian and I went together to a shop in Oxford called “Provisions” which sold the food we needed.
On many occasions when Adrian had had his full share of wine he asked me to marry him; I said “no” but then one evening when we were in Singleton talking about our futures I realised I couldn’t live without him and so I asked him to marry me. We were married in 1974 in St. Minver as Adrian said we had to be married in a church or his mother would complain! When we were married I said I didn’t want to have children while I had a job. Then when we were on holiday in France with two friends, Vivien and Greg, I became pregnant with Barnaby; because of all the duty-free gin we had drunk I claimed he was conceived in gin. I carried on being a journalist until Barnaby was born. When Barnaby was a baby we lived in London; I remember one day feeling uncomfortable in my leg and when I scratched it a mouse ran out!
After I gave birth to our second child, Henry, I realised that I was going to be the mother of sons. Jonathan followed and then Oscar and we both are proud of our boys. We laughed a lot when the children were little and I really enjoyed being a mother. I enjoyed reading to the children; Henry liked the stories about He-Man; He-Man’s enemy was Skeletor. I made Henry a He-man cake with Skeletor inside it. I cooked special birthday cakes for each boy for several years.
My mum came to visit me often and she enjoyed the children; Dad was still in practice in London but he would also come and see us often. He had high blood pressure and found living in Cornwall at Singleton brought his blood pressure down.
Besides being a journalist I was an antenatal teacher for the National Childbirth Trust. Later, I saw an article in the Independent saying that the Humanists were looking for more officiants, and so, while standing on a railway platform with Oscar aged three, my friend Nicki and her three year old daughter, Rosanna, I announced that I was going to become a humanist officiant. This involved me doing funerals and weddings; the most notable was my first task which was a wedding on the cliffs near the Minack Theatre where a London girl married a pirate from Penzance. I wasn’t surprised that they soon went their different ways. My first funeral was of a baby, Lucy, who had died before she was born, but as an NCT teacher I knew about parenthood so I was able to talk to the parents and one set of grandparents who came to the crematorium; I certainly will never forget the man walking in with the little white coffin. My diploma in human relationships and counselling skills proved very useful when I talked to bereaved people; one such rang me up and said that talking to me had been like a counselling session! Through the antenatal teaching and as an officiant I became known in Truro; both of these roles give me happy memories. I have met a lot of professional people as well as friends, and I had happy relationships with these groups.
Something that makes me very happy is having so many friends who are prepared to come and visit me at least once a week.
Henry and Sally’s wedding at Singleton was great fun and it rings bells about our wedding. They were married in St. Minver Church like us. When Jonathan married Lori, a Romanian, in Romania I wasn’t able to go to the wedding; instead, a friend of Jonathan’s offered to make a film and record my words, which I did a few days before the wedding. I remember I said that I was Jonathan’s mother but due to ill health I was unable to come to the ceremony. Adrian said it was very moving and some people cried. A group of my friends joined me, dressed for a wedding, in Falmouth Road, and we watched the ceremony which was transmitted by mobile phone to our television so we could see the actual event and share the happiness of the occasion. Then a week or two later Jonathan and Lori came to Cornwall and hired the Barn at Trelissick for me and about twenty of my friends to celebrate their union. This was a generous act by Jonathan. As I write this Lori is in labour with their first child.
Another occupation I have always enjoyed is swimming, both in the sea at Daymer Bay and other places in Cornwall, and in swimming pools. Soon after I became unable to walk I asked Adrian and John, my brother-in-law, to carry me into the sea at Daymer Bay; this in fact involved three helpers as, often, Jonathan or Oscar would be responsible for moving my wheelchair away from the water’s edge.
Being in the water gave me a sense of being supported and of familiarity because I always loved swimming. For a number of years I went to the pool at Truro Leisure Centre where I swam, mainly on my back, and did a good number of lengths.
Another physical activity that I used to enjoy was playing tennis. High in my list of happy memories is the time when I was at school and I played Anne Lloyd who was a very good tennis player and the whole class sat round the edge of the court to watch this match; my great pride was that I won a few games although, inevitably, I lost the match. Afterwards Miss Hurst, the teacher, said she felt she should have given me a head start as I played so well! I used to play mainly with my family on the court at Daymer Bay car park; I was never very good at running for the ball, which now, of course, I understand. Similarly I had to give up playing bridge when I could no longer hold thirteen cards in one hand, showing how the illness has slowly sapped away my abilities, but the happy memories remain.
I watch cooking programmes now on telly which remind me of when I cooked; pates, birthday cakes, chutneys and marmalade were my particular skills.
When I read this I realise what a varied life I have had; even now, in my present state, I can find happy moments: for example I have just had my 63rd birthday and I received twenty cards to celebrate it.
Mary Smith 30th October 2014 (Alexia Smith was born this afternoon)