I was disgusted at being condemned to yet another school, for I was by now longing to get out into the world and into war work as all my contemporaries were
doing. I was, to a certain extent, consoled by the fact that my new school was in London. At last, after more than eight long years, I was to return to the London for which I had never ceased to crave.
There had never been any love lost between Mother and Auntie Dick, and quite naturally the latter was deeply hurt and angered at Mother’s refusal of her offer. Had I known of it at the time, no amount of disapproval on Mother’s part would have kept me away from Auntie Dick, I only knew her very slightly, but from my first vision of her I laid my heart at her feet, and it remained there till her death. She never came to stay with us at home; she and Uncle Wynnard had called to see us once, and that had been enough for her. The primitive conditions at home horrified her, as did anything crude and inelegant.
Auntie Dick was one of the most exquisitely lovely people I have ever seen. She was very slender — in fact Mother remarked once in somewhat disparaging tones that she “looked as if she had been pulled through a ring” - with a halo of pale ash-blond curls; her skin was of a transparent pallor, and her eyes were a pale translucent sea-green, with a strikingly dark band of colour round each iris. Her features were clear cut and delicate, with a slight lift of unconscious arrogance. Agnes used to tell me that when Auntie Dick and her younger sister, Auntie Emma, who died before I was born, were out walking together as young girls, they were both so lovely that it was quite the usual thing for passers-by to stop and turn round to stare at them. Judging by photographs, Auntie Emma must have been an exquisite creature too, though I have been told that her hair was a bright corn gold, with a delicate wild rose complexion. Auntie Dick was the pure ice-maiden, and her personality gave the effect of a cold suppressed flame behind the ice. I do not recall that she often spoke or asserted herself in any way, but she had only to enter the room and all eyes turned to her. It was impossible to be aware of anyone else when she was present. She was always completely detached and aloof, a strange, unearthly creature moving among ordinary mortals and making them appear coarse and mundane by comparison. She had a brilliant wit, and a most amusing tongue, when she cared to exert herself, and was also an accomplished pianist and artist. But she never seemed to do anything much, and she never needed to. Her beauty and strange cold radiance were quite sufficient justification for her existence.
It was enough that she was.
Her husband, Uncle Wynnard, was her complete antithesis. He was stout and stocky, with a short black beard, and a robust
enjoyment of life. He adored Auntie Dick, and never seemed able to understand how she could have come to marry him. He was a most lively
and entertaining person, kindly and warmhearted, and hid a remarkable intellect behind a facade of completely idiotic chatter. His tough appearance was surprisingly belied by his
high pitched speaking voice, though he somehow managed to sing among the basses in the Bach
choir. The family never appreciated Uncle Wynnard at his true worth, and never attempted to hide from him their conviction that Auntie Dick had thrown herself away on him. This was where Father, together with many others of the family, made a very bad, and as it proved, costly mistake. Uncle Wynnard, though one of the most unassuming of men, held a very high position on the financial staff of the Times, and was, I believe, Financial Editor eventually. No one holding such a position, could have been the fool that the family seemed to consider him, and if only
Father had accepted his expert, and readily offered, advice, he would not have suffered the terrible financial losses which left him and Mother almost penniless towards the end of their lives.
I had the same fastidious nature as hers, and the same love and appreciation of the intellectual and gracious things of life.
This fastidiousness, though a desirable quality in many ways, is by no means entirely so. In fact in these modern days, it can be
a very real handicap. In my case, in addition to its general application, it takes the
particular form of a loathing of getting my hands dirty, and specially of touching certain things. Never in all my life have I been able to make myself touch either raw meat or raw fish with my bare hands, and it will be readily seen at what a disadvantage it places me in these days when we all have to do our own cooking
and housework. I well remember one terrible experience when I was quite a child,
we had all been out for the day, and the house was left empty as it was also the maid’s half-day. On the way home Mother remembered that there was nothing ready for supper, and one of the party rapturously suggested that we should take home some fresh herrings. Mother agreed, on condition that we each prepared and cleaned our
own. A cold horror came over me, but the family laughed my protests to scorn. As soon as we got back, everyone stampeded down to the huge scullery and clustered happily round the candle on
the table, all busily preparing their herrings. Mine was thrust at me, and I was obliged to take it, though with extreme gingerliness by the tail. I was utterly incapable of joining in the gory party at the table, and backed into a dark corner, while black waves of despair and nausea enveloped me. I liked grilled herrings and as quite ready for my supper, but I was prepared to
starve rather than attempt the ghastly business of decapitating and cleaning the
fish. Presently Mother missed me from the circle, and I was found, holding the herring at arm's length between finger and thumb, by the very tip of the tail, and nearly in tears between nausea, despair, and hunger. Seeing that I was in serious distress, Mother took pity on me, and
whether she or some other Good Samaritan, undertook the loathly job. I think Mother found my squeamishness very trying, for she had none of it herself, and never minded what filthy jobs she did, or how dirty she got her beautiful
hands. She tried unceasingly to break me of this, and I have myself made strenuous efforts of recent years, but neither
Mother's willpower, nor my own, have had the slightest effect.
Everything removed from the emotional arena and transplanted into the intellectual, becomes interesting and tractable and worthy of study.
This, I think, explains the paradox of my sentiments regarding the handling of raw meat, and the watching of operations, and it is applicable to almost every facet of human experience.
Despite the fact that Mother would not agree to my living with them, and how I raged when in later years this came to my knowledge, Uncle Wynnard and Auntie Dick were absolute fairy godparents to me all
the time I was at the school in London. Nearly all my half term holidays and Sundays I spent with them, and at their house I revelled in the intellectual and artistic circle in which they moved. It was at their house that I met
[Green Mansions] W.H.Hudson, and Leonard Huxley, the father of
[Professor of Zoology] Julian and
[Brave New World] Aldous, and many others of their ilk. I remember Mr. Hudson as a silent, hawk-faced old man, who looked like a caged wild creature in that elegant drawing room. His eyes had the far-away gaze of those accustomed to great distances, and he seemed to find it
difficult to focus either his eyes or his mind on the pettinesses of civilization. Auntie Dick and Uncle Wyrmard had continued the friendship started by my grandmother, and Mr. Hudson seemed happier and more at his ease in their company than in most other houses. After his death, Uncle Wynnard was one of his executors, and was largely responsible for the editing and production of the beautiful definitive collection of his works. He was also an active participant in the erection of the memorial to Mr. Hudson which stands in
Hyde Park. I was there at the unveiling. There had been a great deal of controversy about getting Epstein to design the
now famous “Rima”, and I shall never forget the hush of dismay that spread over the assembly when it was revealed at the unveiling. A
few advanced spirits approved, and applauded but most of the company literally gasped with horror. That must have
been in the early 1920's when Epstein was still considered incredibly shocking by the
It was Auntie Dick and Uncle Wynnard who introduced me to the wonders of Covent Garden Opera, Queen’s Hall and Albert Hall
concerts and to the glories of the Bach Choir. It was they who took me to Burlington House to the opening of the Royal Academy, to Lords’, to the Boat Race and to the Tournament at Olympia. We always went everywhere in a style and comfort which in themselves were an unbounded delight to me. They both wore full evening dress on such occasions as demanded it, and even though my plain little wardrobe could not rise to the
same heights, I did the best I could and made up for deficiencies by basking in reflected glory.
hour on every subject under the sun, and never tired of my eager questions. If from Auntie Dick I learned the refinements and elegancies of life, from Uncle Wynnard I acquired a breadth of outlook and knowledge of every sort and kind, for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.
The school I was attending was completely up to date and excellently organised. Although I was the oldest pupil I looked so much less than my years, and my education had been so haphazard and broken, that I was put in the fifth form, instead of the sixth, where I fitted in quite happily among girls of fifteen and sixteen. I longed to be allowed to work for public educational exams as most of the others were doing, but for some reason or other my parents had never seen the necessity for me to learn algebra, geometry or Latin, which put me at a hopeless disadvantage. I had learnt a fair
smattering of Greek from Father before I was sent to my first school, and as Miss Phillips, who was our form mistress, was also the Classics mistress, and a first class classical scholar, she gave me special coaching in both Latin and Greek. She was a real enthusiast on education, and was genuinely horrified to find how my education had been neglected, particularly when she came to realise how keen I was on study. Many were the hours of her own free time which she
voluntarily devoted to coaching me.
At Miss Phillips’ suggestion I was invited home to tea by one and another, and my snobbish little soul was shaken to the core when one of the prefects proved to be a butcher's daughter, and I was escorted through the shop, dodging the revolting carcases hanging there, on the way to the living rooms beyond. I was still more shaken when the head girl, as charming and nicely spoken a girl as one could meet, who was working for a scholarship to Oxford, invited me home. Her father owned a restaurant of the “good pull-up for car men” type, in a small road off Ebury Street. I can only hope that my good manners triumphed over my consternation.
At this time bobbed hair was becoming the rage, and one after another my class mates would appear with short hair, bubbling with delight at the freedom and comfort. During the last term at my previous school, most of us had started putting our hair up. As I had an enormous quantity of curly and unmanageable hair, this proceedure was of the utmost pain and grief to me. My hair was hot and heavy, and my coiffure of the most insecure. On arrival at the London school I found I was the only one with her hair up, and I frequently reverted to the down position during school hours, only putting it up when I wanted to be grownup out of school. Added to my troubles in keeping my hair up at all, was the fact that I have inherited the dolicocephalic cranium characteristic of the Vizards, which has always made the buying of hats a pure nightmare. Mother had the same shaped head, as Jack has also. Mother, who would never bow to fashion in any shape or form, invariably wore her hair parted in the middle and brushed flat, with an enormous bun of plaits at the back, exactly in the style of the ‘seventies. She never attempted to fit a hat on her head; her hats always sat square on top with an elastic under the bun.
Jack’s long head has always caused him as much trouble as mine has caused me; for years he was compelled to get his clerical hats made specially for him. In these more happy go lucky days he has wisely eschewed hats entirely.
When I had to add a mass of hair to an already elongated skull, my hat situation became desperate, and I longed more than ever for the neat round cranium of Father’s family. Bobbed hair dawned upon my horizon with the intoxicating glow of a lifelong problem solved, and I wrote at once to Mother requesting her permission to have mine off. If I had requested permission to enter a brothel the reaction could not have been more devastating. A really appalling atmosphere developed, and I was somehow made to feel I had committed some unmentionable obscenity in even contemplating such a step. Mother even went as far as to say she would not have me at home if I had my hair off. I was still sufficiently dominated by her personality not to dare to have it without her knowledge and consent, but I then and there registered a vow that the moment I came of age, my first action would be to have that hated mane removed. I kept this vow, though the intervening three years were filled with constant battles on the subject between Mother and myself. Mother had a terrifying way of giving all her wishes a Scriptural foundation, against which it was impossible to appeal, and it was this which always gave me the added fear that I was disobeying God if I tried to assert my own will against hers. In this way, quite unintentionally, she gave me the impression that the service of God was a ponderous, icy negation of all one’s personal desires or wishes, and this inspired in me a savage, furious rebellion against God, which persisted for many years.
One of my great joys in such free times as I did not spend with Auntie Dick, was to get on the top of a bus and book blindly to the end of the route and back. In this way I wandered down to dockland eastwards, and Middlesex westwards, and became a walking encyclopedia on the route of practically any bus, by their numbers. When Uncle Wynnard and Auntie Dick heard of these unaccompanied voyages of exploration, they were much concerned lest I should lose myself in some unsavoury neighbourhood, and get into serious difficulties. In order to guide my errant steps Uncle Wynnard gave me a beautiful little volume of maps of London, in convenient sections, which became my constant companion. I still have it, though it is dropping to pieces with use.
On one of these bus-top expeditions I was passing down Piccadilly and saw outside Devonshire House a large notice appealing for women to volunteer for various forms of war work. I was by now utterly weary of being kept back from the free life of other girls of my age, and of having to stay on at school when I was chafing to be out in the world. A day or two later, I carefully pinned up my hair, and put on what I considered my most grownup outfit, and deliberately played truant. I went to Devonshire House and presented myself as a volunteer. The lady interviewer was extremely kind, but openly incredulous when I told her, quite truthfully, that I was eighteen. I had for a long time been crazy about cars, and longed to be taken on as a driver, and I was cruelly disappointed to be told that I was obviously too young to be accepted. She advised me very gently, to go back to school and finish my education. I could have wept with mortification. Directly I appeared back in school, Miss Phillips pounced on me to know where I had been. I told her quite simply. She quite understood my motives, but said she was very sorry but I should be obliged to serve my punishment for absenteeism by being kept in on the next half-holiday to work out a Greek imposition. I was furious, for after all I was only trying to be patriotic and do my bit. I also pointed out to her, in my usual logical manner, that enforcing the imposition would only cause inconvenience to her, as she would have to give up her own half holiday to invigilate me, and on top of that she would have the extra work involved in correcting my Greek impot. Miss Phillips had an acute sense of humour and great understanding, and instead of scolding me, she burst out laughing and admitted that she quite saw the sense of my contention. However rules were rules, and had to be obeyed, pro bono publico. If I were let off, it would mean that others could claim the same exemption, and this would eventually undermine all discipline. As she had the wisdom to give me a sane reason for my punishment, I submitted with a perfectly good grace.
At eleven o’clock on the morning of the 11th of November 1918, we were all in our class rooms, immersed in lessons, though rumours had come even to our schoolgirl ears. As the hour struck maroons and rockets burst out, and from the windows we could see balloons rising on Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath. Lessons were abandoned and we were all called down to the assembly hall where Miss Moberley Bell told us the great news. The General Thanksgiving was said and the National Anthem sung, and then we were given our liberty for the rest of the day. London was mad, and I went mad in the hub of the maelstrom. Instinctively I made my way to the Mall through streets which were suddenly ablaze with flags and streamers. The Mall was packed solid, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall were seething, strangers danced with each other in the streets, everyone was singing and cheering. Somehow I found myself seated on the roof of a taxi with half a dozen complete strangers. The body of the taxi was crammed full, and a dozen others were clinging to the bonnet and bodywork. We crawled the length of the Mall, with people handing us up flags and balloons as we passed. I recall little else of that crazy day till late at night I found myself in front of Buckingham Palace, in company with several thousand others, all chanting “We want King George”, and singing “Tipperary” and all the familiar wartime songs. I oozed my way forward till I was up against the huge railings round the Palace Yard. As the excitement increased, I became pressed so tightly against those railings that I found I had vertical bruises up and down my body when I eventually got back to my digs in the small hours of the morning. I was battered and exhausted, but I would not have missed Armistice Day in London for a fortune.
The problem of my future career was still unsolved. Mother was still pressing me to enter a missionary training college, and I was resisting as firmly as ever. I was still hoping to be able to enter some academic career, though my earlier hopes of becoming a doctor had by now had to be abandoned. No one had any suggestion to offer, and I was desperately in need of advice and guidance. Miss Phillips was only too ready to encourage me in my ambition to go to the University, but was completely frustrated by my parents’ non cooperation. Apart from a career as a missionary nothing whatever was offered to me, and be a missionary I would not. For several more years Mother continued to cherish the hope that I would eventually succumb to pressure, but the more the pressure the stronger my resistance.
I had by now almost entirely succeeded in braking loose from the Victorian atmosphere in which I had lived so long. Life was opening up before me, exciting and vital, and I was on tip toe to plunge out and savour it to the full. But the tentacles of Victorianism were even then clutching out after me, and I was destined to be drawn back and immersed in the past more deeply than ever before.