I had two good friends, Alice and Jonny, when I was a young child, and I am still in touch with them. Friends, family and Singleton have always been important parts of my life.
Before I went to Francis Holland School, I lived in Kensington with my three siblings and our parents who were both psychoanalysts, though only my father practised at this stage. My mother was quite vocal about politics and at the time of the General Election in 1964 she put up a poster for Harold Wilson on the ground floor, while, in the floor above, my father put a Conservative poster. My father once told me that people should never buy a leasehold house; however, while my mother was away in France with Oliver, he went on to buy a leasehold house in Egerton Terrace where he had always wanted to live, which shows what a contrary nature he had! Mum and Dad got on well and accepted their differences; we were brought up in a household full of contradictions. Dad would push us in some directions and Mum would push us in other directions. Maybe living with all the contradictions meant that I was able to do the things I’ve done and I think it shows in the variety of things I have done: being a university student, a journalist, a Humanist officiant with a diploma in human relations and counselling skills, a National Childbirth Trust teacher, as well as a wife and mother.
My brother, Oliver, has inherited our father’s aspirations which also include sending his son to the BEST school, Eton. My father had grandiose ambitions for Oliver and me, having been sent to Marlborough himself! Oliver went to Eton after comprehensive coaching and I was sent to a “nice” girls’ school. Mum and Dad had a respected friend whose daughter went to Francis Holland School and Dad knew it as a GOOD school. My older sister, Jessica, begged to go to a boarding school and Mum chose to send her to Dartington. Looking back, perhaps Jessica wanted to get away from me who, when we were younger, probably annoyed her as I was taller than her and quite quick-witted. Later, Lucy also went to Dartington Hall and I remember that Mum, who had also been at Dartington, helped to dig the swimming pool there. I imagine that Dartington was seen as a progressive school when Jessica and Lucy went there. Before Oliver and Jessica went away to school we attended a totally eccentric school run by a very old lady called Rene.
When Jessica was at Dartington I spent many evenings listening to my parents talking to their friends about psychology, their friends being notably Donald Winnicott and Masud Khan, who claimed that he hated Jews although he obviously loved my mother who was one. He loved me too but I had to put up with him feeling up my skirt and into my knickers; I have terrible memories of him but I didn’t tell my parents because I thought they knew.
I decided to go to university in Exeter, which was the nearest university to Singleton that I’ve always loved. I decided to read politics and I said it was because I would find out about THE REAL WORLD! When I was called for an interview I had the wits to think that I should say something clever, so when one of the tutors asked why we were reading politics I didn’t tell him it was to stay away from psychology but I said I wanted to discover whether thinkers like Marx, who had written books, had ideas that worked. I think this is how I got an unconditional place at Exeter.
At university I planned to meet a man who had been to a minor public school who had a car, so when I went to the Freshers’ Ball I was picked up by Tony who seemed quite a sparkly man; he was a radical leftie who also read politics. I told him I had a boyfriend in London and he said that he had a girlfriend in London. Adrian and Chrissa often travelled together on the miserable journey back to London when they had left their partners in Exeter. My memories of Exeter involved the pleasure of meeting boys; we often went off for weekends at Singleton, being driven by Tony. In the second year we had to move into digs so Tony and I, plus three friends of his, Rupe, Taffy and Doug, and another girl, found a house together. When we moved in the blokes chose which rooms we would have by drawing names out of a hat. I insisted we ate meals cooked by us together and am graced with having taught all four blokes how to roast a chicken. My friends at that time noticed that my walk was unsteady but I didn’t notice it.
Adrian had given up accountancy and was miserable in London; on the day when I wrote that he should join me he wrote to say he was coming to Exeter that day. Our story continues to this day.
Writing this and publishing it on my blog means I am telling my children and grandchildren what my life has been like. I do not have regrets apart from not being able to cuddle my grandchildren while they are young, but I think my sons and daughters-in-law know this. My father often said that life isn’t fair; this has been a great help to me coping with MS. From my crazy background I have also learned how to cope with whatever life brings, and I begin to see that I may have passed this on to my children, and it will be passed on to their children.
Mary Smith 23rd November 2015