Sunday, 10 September 2006

the Family Story, Part 2 - The Bolter's Child

Oh crikey, I have a decision to make. Run with Helen or stay with the little boy?

The child wins it. It’ll save backtracking.

Malcolm was just 4 years old when the First World War broke out, and a year or two later, his mother left him for her lover, Colonel Wake. His father (who, from now on, I will call the Major) was still away in the war, so Malcolm was sent to boarding school in Oxfordshire when he was only 6.

During the holidays he either went to stay with his grandparents in London or Lowestoft, or with his godparents in Wallingford. They had two daughters who were a little older than he and so at least he had playmates and a family life there. I used to visit the house when I was a child, it had a lovely garden running down to the River Thames. The sisters used to call him by the nickname of Coney (a country name for rabbit).

I wonder how he reacted to the loss of his mother. Like most children of his social class at that time, he would have been brought up by his nanny; maybe he didn’t miss his mother too much on a day-to-day level. The only little snippets of tales I have from that period, however, seem to me to indicate a withdrawn, but strong-willed little boy, but then I don't know other stories to counterbalance that.

Once, at his godparents' house, he locked himself in the loo. But he didn’t know how to unlock the door and refused to answer to the calls of the anxious family outside, who tried to explain how to work the latch. Eventually, the gardener climbed a ladder to the window. Malcolm has spent the past hour or so whittling away at the windowsill with his pocket knife. There wasn’t much left of it……
Their own faults I reckon, for giving a little boy a knife.

On another occasion, when newly at school, he was unable to eat his pudding with a spoon and fork. Just out of the nursery, he was accustomed to using a spoon only. He was not allowed to leave the table until he had eaten his bowlful with a fork. It took a long time. I have no idea how long. But, for the rest of his life, he never used a pudding spoon; he could only use a fork.

My mother once found a copy of a letter, among old papers. It was from his father (who had a secretary, who kept copies of letters) and said that his mother asked to know what present he would like for his birthday. The reply was “please tell my mother I want nothing from her for my birthday.”

In London he spent most of his time with the servants and returned to school speaking broad Cockney, which was soon put a stop to by the ridicule of the other pupils. He played with a splendid methylated spirits-powered steam engine, which his grandfather remembered playing with as a little boy in the drawing-room of the Mansion House, when his own grandfather was Lord Mayor of London.

6 comments:

Geena said...

I know that things were different back then, but I've always thought it barbaric to have sent little nippers away to school. As you said, maybe the fact that he'd been brought up by a nanny meant that there wasn't really a bond with his mother. Sad anyway.

You have such a rich history Z. Beautiful.

Z said...

It seems dreadful doesn't it. He would have gone to prep school anyway at 8, but at 6, and in wartime.

He never said anything about it at all, though not in a secretive way, he didn't say a lot about personal things except to my mother, who told me all this.

Lisa said...

Hope you had a wonderful birthday.

I've added you to my blogroll so I can continue reading your wonderful stories.

Z said...

Thanks Lisa
x

Gert said...

My father was sent from London to boarding school in Bath at age 7, in 1935. They confiscated his teddy bear, because big boys don't need tedy bears.

Z said...

Oh Gert, isn't it sad. I suppose that's how we Brits developed our stiff upper lips. Downturned, but there you go. :-(