Welcome to these Hubbard pages. They're a somewhat disorganised collection of photographs and stories I've published since this website started life in 1998. They've all Grown like Topsy, growing without supervision or prior planning.

That planning has now arrived in the form of hubbardplus.co.uk - my sister Judith's website. She is actively researching our Hubbard family history.

I do not intend to change these pages, as there are so many other websites linking back. Please visit hubbardplus.co.uk

Nick, January 2013


VICTORIAN HANGOVER

Chapter 2

Mother

Mother was a most strange character. I have never understood her, nor have I ever been able to give an adequate description of her to anyone who did not know her. She and I loved each other with an intensity that was almost frantic, and yet, once I began my emancipation from her entire domination, which began when I was sent to boarding school at the age of thirteen, we could never really like each other. Our house was never big enough to hold us both for more than short periods at a stretch, and our desperate love for each other was matched by the really frightening power we had of hurting each other. 

The word “Intense” describes Mother’s nature better than any other. I believe she was naturally of a quick and impulsive temperament, intensely emotional, and with a hot and violent temper.

All her natural impulsiveness was crushed and battened down by her overwhelming sense of duty, which had its roots in a stern and rigidly Puritanical Christianity. Not once did she ever give way to her temper in dealing with us as children, and the restraint that she put upon herself was communicated unconsciously to us, producing such paralysing terror of her displeasure, or even of her disapproval, that I, at least, would a thousand times rather have had a quick shake or even a spank, than endure the terrible, annihilating atmosphere, which froze my cowering little soul.

Mother was small and slight, gentle in her speech, and quite devoid of any conscious self-assertion, but such was the strength of her personality and willpower, that she was the dominating force before whom the rest of the family were as reeds in the wind, She saw every aspect of life in clear-cut black and. white, there were no half tones with her; either a thing was right or it was wrong, and once she had brought that shattering sense of duty to bear upon anything, no amount of argument or persuasion could move her. Heaven and earth might crumble around her, but once she had decided upon what she considered to be right, not one iota would she budge. My father and brothers never dreamed of opposing her, yet nothing made her more angry than for any relation or friend to remark that she “wore the trousers”. Had I been of a more gentle and amenable disposition I should have become nothing more than her echo and shadow, as indeed I was for the first thirteen years of my life. But I had inherited her own inflexible will, together with the independence of spirit characteristic of Father’s family. Hinc illae lacriinae. Hence these tears.

Mother’s was the spirit of the early martyrs who went joyfully to torture and death for that which they felt to be right. I have often thought that Mother would have positively enjoyed martyrdom for her principles. She had very little patience with any weakness moral or physical, and she has told me that when, as a child, she had cut or grazed herself, she would rub salt and vinegar into the wound just to see how much she could make herself bear. When each of us was born she would never have any anaesthetic whatever, even in the case of one of my brothers who had to be helped into the world with the aid of forceps. Her attitude was that it was God’s Will that a woman should pay the price of suffering in childbirth and that it was morally wrong to alleviate it in anyway. 

And  yet, so strangely contradictory was her nature, she was kindness and gentleness personified if anyone were ill or in need of help. She was a nurse by training and, what counts for even more, by instinct, and during my frequent illnesses both during my youth and right up to the present day, my one almost unendurable longing has always been for Mother to look after me. She knew exactly how the patient felt without needing to ask, and had an absolute genius for giving the right attention at the right moment.
Mother had no fear of anything visible or invisible. I have often seen her slight little figure walking unconcernedly through a herd of cows in a narrow lane, pushing aside the blundering heads that towered around her as calmly as she would brush aside a fly, while I, mea culpa, cowered in terror behind the nearest gate.

The house near Dean Forest to which we moved in 1910, and which was our home till Father’s death in 1935, was a great rambling old place with enormous dark attics, approached by a winding staircase in the thickness of the wall, and huge underground kitchens and cellars and long flagged passages. When we first went there, straight from a pleasant modern house in Ealing, with electric light and all the usual amenities, there was no lighting except by candles and paraffin lamps. It was a creepy old place, which always scared me into a state of nervous panic, and yet for a number of years during and after the 1914 war, Mother lived there entirely alone, day and night. Every night before going to bed, she would perambulate the whole house from attics to cellars, with only a candle in her hand, in order to perform her duty in seeing that all was well. 

During the war Father, who had retired and given up his practise in 1910, spent several years in doing locums for younger men who were called to the Services, he himself being over age. I was at school, and my brothers in the Army and later at College, but Mother was quite determined to do her duty in keeping the home open for any one of us who should be temporarily free. Whether or no she even felt fear or nervousness I never knew. Perhaps she did, but forced herself to conquer it, as she forced herself to conquer every normal human weakness. Father and the rest of us hated her being there all alone, but she considered it her duty to hold the fort, and no amount of persuasions or appeals had the smallest effect.

I hope I have not drawn this portrait of Mother hitherto in lines of excessive sternness. During my childhood, before the great chasm opened between us, I was her constant companion and always happy in her company. She taught me almost exclusively until I was thirteen, and my timetable was as carefully arranged and adhered to as in the strictest school. She had been taught as a child by Aunt Wese, and. had used the books from which all her elder sisters had learnt, which dated from at least the year 1837 or thereabouts. Mother had the slightest intention of moving with the times, so I also was taught from those same books. They were almost all in the form of question and answer, and to this day I believe I could, if asked any question from those old books, immediately reel off the appropriate answer, word perfect. Everything had to be learnt by heart, but as I had a sponge-like capacity for soaking up information, and a most adhesive memory, lessons were never any trouble to me. I have been told that I could read simple words while I was still so young that I could not even speak them correctly. I believe one of my cousins, ten or twelve years my senior, actually taught me the alphabet, and incredible as it may seem, I have been told. that I knew it before I was eighteen months old. Certainly I never remember the time that I could not read, though my memory goes back to an astonishingly early age.

In my frilly frock - aged 2½ years.

Note the hand-made Madeira embroidery.

My younger brother, Ben, was born about six weeks after my second birthday. I distinctly remember the indignation in my little mind when I had to give up my accustomed seat at the hood end of the pram to him, and be moved to sit at the handle end. It must have been in the previous summer, when I was about eighteen months old, that we paid our final visit to Woodbine Cottage, Rustington. This delightful old cottage is still standing, and I have frequently been past it in later years, but I remember it quite clearly from my early visits. I remember being put out in the pram under the trees for my midday sleep, and the story of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve always brings an immediate picture of that garden to my mind.

Another very early memory, partly reinforced by Mother’s accounts in later years, is connected with her mother’s death, it was the occasion for a grand reunion of the entire family. At the time Mother and Father and we children were sharing a house in Chiswick with my grandmother and Aunt Wese, and I must have been about two.

I just have a faint recollection of the old lady in a big shawl and lace cap. After the funeral was over all the men of the party gathered in the dining room for a smoke, while the ladies retired to the drawing room. As was usual when Mother had visitors, she sent for the nurse to bring me down. But where was I? Not a sign of little me to be found anywhere. Frantic searching all over the house were to no effect. Presently roars of masculine laughter were heard echoing from the dining room, and there was I, very small and pretty in my frilly frock, standing on the hearthrug with the utmost composure, entertaining the gentlemen. I do not recall the actual occasion, but I distinctly remember the forest of long black legs towering above my head, and the circle of kind masculine faces, many of them bearded, which seemed to touch the ceiling. I also remember one of my uncles lifting me between his hands and holding me high in the air over his head, and the giddyfying sensation of being swung down to the ground again remained with me as a recurrent nightmare for many years.

Mother had much of Aunt Wese’s gift of extempore storytelling, and would also recount to me many of the spontaneous stories that Aunt Wese had told to her in her own youth, with added embellishments of her own. I also loved Mother’s stories of her own childhood and younger life. Two of her sisters, my Aunt Sophie and Aunt Jessie, the latter being Mother’s favourite sister and the nearest to her in age though eight years her senior, had gone out to South Africa in the late 70s or early ‘80s in response to an appeal for nurses to care for the many Englishmen then engaged In the development of the diamond mines. Aunt Sophie had died out there, and Aunt Jessie had married one of her patients. Before her first baby arrived they had sent for Mother, who had just completed her nursing training, to go and help Aunt Jessie. She joined them at Kimberley having made the whole journey entirely alone, including the final stretch by ox wagon, as the railway had not arrived within many miles of Kimberley. Soon after the baby’s birth the surroundings and general conditions proved so disastrous to it that it was decided that Aunt Jessie and Mother should take it down to Cape Town in order to save its life. Uncle William could not leave his work in Kimberley, so those two girls, both in their early twenties, made that long journey by ox wagon entirely alone with a sick baby, in the care, such as it was, of a half breed of the name of Klaas. I wish I could remember how many weeks it took. They both picked up a certain amount of Taal, or Afrikaans as it is now called, which stuck in Mother’s vocabulary to such an extent that it was many years before I realised that such words as verkekers, biltong, rimpey and vegweiser were not the normal names for field glasses, dried meat, leather straps and sign-posts. She invariably addressed Father as Baas, and had taught him to call her Umphasi. If my spelling of these words is incorrect, I can only plead that I have never seen them written, and am reproducing them purely from oral memory.

The baby died, but its brief life was the cause of experiences which afforded subject matter for endless stories which I was never tired of hearing.

As well as making me learn all my lessons by heart, Mother also taught my brothers and me an enormous amount of religious instruction, all of it by heart. I had a great deal more of this than they did, as they both went to school at a much earlier age than I. I received the full impact of Mother’s energies in this direction. Selected sections out of the Bible and later whole chapters and Psalms, the Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Ten Commandments, and endless hymns out of the A. and M. all of these I could reel off word perfect, in response either to the appropriate question, or to the first two or three words of the required selection.

I was spared learning the Athanasian Creed largely, I imagine, because of Father’s opinion of it, which he, in later years, expressed to me in the beautiful rolling words of Virgil, “Monstrum, horrendum, ingens, informe, cui lumen ademptum.” Despite this, there is a brutal beauty in the pounding, battering rhythm of the Creed, which has always exercised a tremendous fascination over me. Father was quite as good a Christian as Mother, but his was a far gayer and more light-weight temperament, and his impish sense of humour made it impossible for him to resist teasing her, particularly on matters which she regarded with her characteristically intense seriousness.

By the time I was about thirteen I had exhausted even Mother’s almost inexhaustible resources of learning matter, and shortly before I left home for boarding school she finally admitted that she was at her wit’s end for any further religious items for me to memorise. As a last resort she set me to learn the Thirty Nine Articles of  Religion, but we both found these heavy going, and I had not conquered more than the first half dozen or so - which included all the books of the Old Testament in their correct order, also the non canonical books of the Apocrypha — before I went to school and relinquished them with sighs of relief.

I could memorise anything, poetry or prose, as long as there was a strong musical rhythm in the words. I can still patter off the the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes and numberless excerpts from Isaiah without an effort, and seldom have to refer to my Prayer Book for any of the Psalms or Hymns A.and M. but selections from the New Testament particularly the 14th Chapter of St. John being deficient in rhythm, were rather more of a stumbling block. When I was given speeches from Shakespeare to learn at school, I always found them a bitter trial. They never seemed to have any rhythm that I could get hold  of, and being told that they were poetry made them more of a hollow mockery than ever. I have always taken a dim view of Shakespeare. On the other hand, any poetry that appeals to me, such as Kipling’s verse and much of his prose, I can memorise after merely reading it once or twice, purely on account of the rhythm. During one of our school holidays my eldest brother and I set ourselves the task of learning by heart all the poems in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. We achieved our purpose, even to the extent of mastering the complexities of the uncorrelated pronouns in the verses commencing

They told me you had been to her
And mentioned me to him.


Even now we can usually recite most of them correctly, and the vision of my brother, now a middle aged clergyman of great erudition and serious mien, rattling off those nonsense rhymes with great speed and accuracy, is a delight and edification to his schoolboy sons.

Family

There were four of us in the family, though there should have been five.

MARY WADDINGTON

The first child, a daughter, would have been ten years older than I, and my only sister. She was stillborn purely on account of her great size which so long delayed her arrival in the world that she was suffocated. She was a most beautiful baby, and looked more like a child of two months old than a new born infant. Mother had a photograph of her, surrounded by flowers, beautifully printed on porcelain, which, despite her own acute illness she had insisted, that Father should have taken. We used to be shown this photograph once a year on the baby’s birthday. Mother contracted puerperal fever and her life was despaired of for many months, during which time Father’s hair, originally a soft brown, whitened to the silvery snow which we all knew and loved so well. The shock of losing the longed for baby, and the subsequent illness, followed by years during which the hope of any further children was abandoned, seemed to have had an extraordinary psychological effect upon Mother. Her whole outlook on life appeared to have stopped short in the early 1890’s, which probably accounted for much of the fantastically old-fashioned upbringing to which I, as the subsequent daughter, was subjected.

All the dreams and desires which had been built around that child were transferred to me. My eldest brother, Jack, four years my senior, and the second brother George, two and a half years older than I, being boys were given far more individual liberty than I was. I always felt that Mother had strong preconceived ideas of what her daughter should be, in character temperament, and personality, and any deviation that I showed from this specification, and I deviated in every imaginable way, Mother took as a bitter disappointment and personal hurt. Her ideal of a daughter seemed to be a docile, home loving girl, keen on Sunday School teaching and sick visiting, in fact the epitome of the dutiful daughter of the 1890’s. The whole of my younger life, from the age of thirteen onwards, was one ceaseless struggle to develop my own individuality against the overwhelming odds of Mother’s personality and wishes.

Arthur Benoni

The youngest brother, Ben, two years younger than I, was one of those sad cases of Mongolism which occur so inexplicably, and so often, in families where the other children are gifted above the average. His was not a very severe case, and he eventually learned to read and write quite respectably, but he was always very small and backward for his age, and was still scarcely more than a toddler by the time I was nine or ten. He was a happy, loveable little soul, though subject to appalling fits of obstinacy, during which no one could do anything with him except myself. Most of my childhood seems to have been concerned with looking after him, and for many years I was the only one who could understand his stumbling speech. Later on, when I went to school, Mother found the sole care of him more than she could manage, and he was sent to be cared for and educated by some friends of the family, for despite all the pressure brought to bear upon them by the remainder of their families, my parents would never consider putting him into a home. Mother would never thereafter have him at home except during my school holidays.

Jack

Jack and I always were, and always have been, the closest of friends. He was a fair, quiet boy, always thoughtful and gentle, and brilliantly clever in the way expressed by the word “Brainy”. From the first he was much taller than I, so much so that my shoulder has always fitted nicely under his arm. Our customary attitude, indoors or out, was close together, his arm round my shoulders and mine round his waist. We have always been very much alike, and have even been taken for twins, despite the difference in age and height. As children, and even during our school holidays, we would always slip off together, and roam about in our usual attitude, completely oblivious of the world, engrossed in endless stories which I would spin, in the true Vizard tradition, straight out of my head. If my imagination faltered for a moment, his quick “Yes, go on”, would immediately stimulate me to fresh extravaganzas.

Never once, that I can remember, have we ever exchanged a sharp word, and I cannot recall that we even indulged in the usual squabbles of nursery days. When Jack was away at school my storytelling activities were transferred to Ben, so I was never without an appreciative audience, and could hold either, or both, of them enthralled for hours.

George

George was a very different proposition. He was an extremely handsome child, with huge brown eyes, usually gleaming with wickedness, and a mop of dark gold curls which later deepened to brown. His looks were entirely belied by his temperament, for he can only be described as a perfect little devil, hot-tempered, turbulent and utterly unmanageable, his whole nature seemed to be in a permanent state of revolt against anything and everything.. He took a fiendish delight in upsetting and annoying people, and when Jack and. I were quietly playing together, he would rush in like a whirlwind and send everything flying, then dash off again before we could lay hands on him. All the storminess of his nature was vented on me, and he made my life a burden and misery with his tormenting. I have had my arms black and blue from elbow to shoulder with his pinches. He was utterly “contrary”, and always did the precise opposite of what we others were doing. 

At the seaside he would refuse to come bathing with the nurse, Jack and me, but as soon as we were dried and dressed again, and placidly eating our biscuits on the beach with Mother and Ben, George would walk off into the sea fully dressed and with his white linen hat on, and stroll about quite calmly in water up to his neck.

He never made any attempt with his lessons, and never passed a single exam at school. As far as we could make out, he spent most of his time at school in chasing the Headmaster’s fowls, and great was his delight when one day an unfortunate hen dropped her egg in mid-air. According to George’s own account he caught it in his cap, and took it to the Head Master’s wife, oozing virtue from every pore, telling her he had found it, and was promptly rewarded for being a good little boy with a cake. 

George had an absolute genius for acting the good little boy when it suited him. His great brown eyes, golden curls, and thin, handsome little face, enabled him to get away with juvenile villainies which would never have been exonerated in a small boy of less appealing appearance. George’s policy was one of complete and exclusive non cooperation, he would not even join in the games at school, and Jack has told me that on the football field George would always stand with hunched shoulders and sulky glower making not the slightest move to join in the games. When the ball was deliberately kicked to his feet, in the attempt to make him take part, he would merely look more sulky and obstinate than ever, and remain absolutely motionless. Nothing and nobody could get any co-operation out of George whatever, unless he chose. He never joined in games with Jack and me, but spent almost all his free time in building churches with a very large and comprehensive box of bricks that had belonged to Father. These buildings were really most remarkable for a small boy, and George would spend hours and days, and even weeks, on the same building. A special table had to be given up entirely to his buildings, for if ever one of us others dared to approach his precious churches, the resultant tornado of fury was so violent and alarming, that Mother saw to it that as little occasion as possible was given for an outburst. Even as a very small boy George was always drawing churches, and as he grew older he would get photographs of famous cathedrals and reproduce them with his bricks in the most wonderful manner. It was not surprising that when the time came for to choose a career, it was architecture that he turned to. He became the most brilliant student of his year, and he who had never passed any exam in the whole of his previous life, came out top in every exam at the architectural college, and carried off prizes and diplomas wholesale. For several years he had a most promising career in architecture, and his powers of design were quite exceptional, but then he gave it up and took Holy Orders.

For some strange reason, despite our devotion to each other, Jack never seemed to consider it any part of his duty to interfere in the ceaseless warfare that raged between George and me, or to protect me from his bullying. His attitude was one of Olympian aloofness, and in later years I have recognised Jack In the account of the Jewish riots about St. Paul, where it is recorded (Acts ch. XVIII v. 17) that they took and beat Sosthenes before the judgement seat, and Gallio cared for none of these things. Jack was Gallio to the life; George and I would grip handfuls of each others golden curls and indulge in shin kicking matches to the accompaniment of uproar and shrieking fury, and Jack would unassailable hold on his way until the tyranny was over. Neither did it ever occur to me to demand his protection. When I have asked him of recent years, why he never intervened on my behalf, his reply, in tones of benevolent confidence was, “Oh, I knew you were quite capable of taking care of yourself”. And so I undoubtedly was. On one occasion George had driven me to such a pitch of ungovernable fury that I seized a heavy slate that was in the nursery and flew at him like a small, shrieking Gorgon. Although I could not have been much more than five or six, and he much bigger and two and a half years older, such was the force of my fury that I beat him down in a corner, and deliberately set to work to beat in his skull with the edge of the slate. I still remember that I was quite determined to kill him, and it is quite likely that I should have seriously injured him had not our concerted shrieks brought the nurse running with Mother on her heels. I was snatched up, still flailing the air wildly with the slate, while George was picked up completely dazed. Jack took not the slightest notice, though he remembered the incident clearly enough to remind me of it recently.

It is only fair to George to add that his Confirmation had a most remarkable effect on him. He seemed to become a different boy entirely, and although he did not by any means become a saint overnight, yet his old cruel bullying of Ben and myself very soon became a thing of the past. His kindness and devotion to Ben, which was quickly responded to by the gentle affectionate little fellow, remained unbroken to the end of Ben’s life. In my case, I had served far too hard an apprenticeship at George’s hands to be able quickly to forget, or to entrust him with my confidence, and for a long time his overtures of friendship were treated with the utmost suspicion on my part. Eventually, however, we became, and have continued, excellent friends, though as we are as much alike in temperament as Jack and I are in features, our friendship has more often than not, resembled a state of armed neutrality, in which hostilities are liable to break out at a moment’s notice, and we have never achieved the deep affection and comradeship which Jack and I have always enjoyed.

[Further family notes, dated 1975.]

Contents << >>