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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They told me you had been to her
There were four of us in the family, though there should have been five.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
[Further family notes, dated 1975.]