Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Anyone for Wimbledon Tennis? More Nostalgia and childhood by Jacqueline Howett

Wimbledon tennis, the famous windmill, and top left was the pub in Wimbledon village - my local Sunday teen Pub where we sit on the green drinking cider.

The windmill on Wimbledon common and tea house.
Nr golf course and Queens-mere pond.
Whenever Wimbledon tennis is on the T.V. it always brings nostalgia to me, but also reminds me of the passing years. I'm now fifty seven. It was in Wimbledon, a suburb of London where I was brought up as a child. I could hear the audience from the tennis courts clapping from my home whenever a tennis game was on. I was blessed to be living in this better part of London suburbia, I might add. It was much like a Hollywood of its day with its mansions and movie stars, and actors like Sean Connery- James Bond. Its tennis courts, parks, trees and commons, the windmill and famously named Queens’s- mere pond, and Kings- mere pond. The fashionable elite Sunday walkers or horse-riders who could well afford to stable a horse in Wimbledon village, or play cricket, crocket or golf. There was also the prim and proper eccentricity of village life that still holds today a certain style to reserved fashion, high tea and timeless pubs. And all this is just fifteen minutes from the heart of London.

From elementary school, I grew to love the world of books and go to the library after school. It was also my haven for peace and quiet as my parents didn’t get along, and soon separated. They divorced towards the middle years of my secondary school from Mayfield comprehensive high school for girls on West Hill, Putney. I was also the games captain, and so I was often down at the track running in Wimbledon Park.

me as a small child.
As a child I loved to listen to the children story hour on the radio. The radio show started out the same; ‘Are you sitting comfortably?”  I lay with my belly on the carpet, and with my elbows on the floor holding my face. ‘Yes,’ I would say out loud with a delightful smile. Then the radio announcer would say, “Then we shall begin.” I held on to every word like a treasure. I loved reading stories to my little brother, and my mother promted me to read to him more as she couldn't read very well in English. Before long, I started writing poetry, short stories and kept a diary. I wasn’t the greatest speller, but I was fair. I sometimes wonder if it had anything to do with being taught Greek at such an early age, then French at school. My English teacher told me I had great ideas but had to pay more attention to my grammar. I was also quite a dreamer, looking out the window up at the trees and sky. ‘Pay attention Jacqueline,’ I heard a lot. But I was listening; I was just a deep thinker and processed my information differently. My Art on the other hand always graded me with A+.
     My (latent) mother who passed away in 1996 was Greek, and she worked in fashion all her life in the heart of London. She spoke to us in Greek at home. My father, an English countryman had met my mother in Greece in the R.A.F.  A fervent Artist and wood craftsman who took on various jobs, mostly in sales in those early years. Eventually he remarried and returned to the English countryside, near Cambridge with his English bride. However, if my mother and father never had much in common they both loved ballroom dancing. And looking back on the happier times as a child, travelling to Greece each year for our summer holidays to visit my Greek Grandma and relatives in the world of olives, grapes, and siesta days of swimming, and doing as we pleased- many counted me at school to be so lucky.

My fathers side, on the other hand, was more like having an English Grandma like the Queen Mother in her English rose garden. Funny, she really did look like the Queen  Mother. Cups of tea and petite four sandwiches, clotted cream and jam scones were held with your little pinky in the air, and to preferably say ‘no thank you’ to a second helping. And we were never to talk at the table, ‘little children should be seen and not heard.’ It was always at the back of our minds- act proper. Quite often I was talkative and sent to my room with no supper for saying something derogative. I didn’t care for food much as a child, only puddings which my mother sneaked into me.  You know that song from Pink Floyd, ‘you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? Well my meat was always thrown under the table. It was also the Beatles era and George Harrison’s first wife lived across the way from my English Granny.
     My father left home when I was twelve. At fifteen I told everyone I was going to leave home as soon as I was of age, and that I intended to also write my autobiography. When I completed my comprehensive education I left school and went to work, and tried to help my mother in making ends meet like my older brother and sister, so I worked as a typist for a time. My mother didn’t care too much for my art and writing notions. She told me, in reality I had to work and make money first. It was also not easy for my mother to deal with me without my father around. Continued education was not an option living at home. I needed my father and I blamed my mother for her Greek ways that made him leave. She had dealt with prejurdism quietly from the English, let alone my father, and then her own children.
My father when he lost his temper would call her a Greek peasant, and then we as children found it so easy to emulate my father and hurt her that way too. I remember playing in my room as a very small child with friends, and I'd step outside into the kitchen and tell my mother, ‘when you come in my room with snacks, don’t you dare talk in Greek and embarrass me in front of my friends. You must talk in English.' Being Greek or an Italian was as taboo as being black. I was only half English and it made me feel like an outsider at times.
As I grew up, I vaguely remember signs in windows in town, ‘No rents to blacks.’ It disturbed my social outlook. Don’t get me wrong, I of all people encouraged having black friends, and I did. I even inherited more black dollies in my doll collection than I had white dollies, given to me by the only half black family across the street. I believe I knew there had to be a reason I had black dollies in my push cart, and I knew my little friends noticed as much too. (By the way, the girl that gave the black dolls to me, I heard threw herself off a thirteenth floor condominium building later as a teen, when her brother died of an over dose of drugs).

Then at my first year in secondary school, when I was about eleven or so, I remember there was a black girl in my class no one ever spoke to. I on the other hand was very popular, so one day I walked into class and put my arm around Ruth, the black girl, so the whole class would witness this, and I talked and joked with her, and told her not to be so shy. Then each day I walk into class saying, hi Ruth. She would smile and be so happy, and I could see her cheeks flush and tell her so. What followed was a shower of hi Ruth, hi Ruth from the whole class each day, and suddenly everyone was her friend. I felt proud of myself for breaking the ice.
     My Mother was on occasion maliciously told by a few  English to go back home to her own country, then one day she dyed her hair blond and everyone thought she was French. She laughed and played along when it suited her. For some reason the French were a permissible race, maybe due to their air of suave fair or that certain manner when they spoke with such intellectualism, or maybe it was  French bread and their cheese, caviar, champagne and high fashion, or maybe it was their fine Artists. Whatever, it certainly helped along in my mother’s understanding with how to fit into society with her own method for survival as a single working mother- way back in those days.
    At sixteen I decided to join a ballet that was advertised travelling Europe. That was the beginning of my own life. By eighteen I was married to my Greek Seaman and travelling the seven seas so to speak, I even tried to become a Morse code operator on ships just to be a little closer to my husband. At Morse code school in London, they asked me at my interview if I was a women’s Lib. I asked them, what has women’s Lib got to do with being a Morse code operator? They replied, “Well we just don’t have any women before serving in that position.” It set off alarms in my head to the days of the suffragettes I heard about in school. They threw themselves under the horses and killed themselves at the Darby races in order for Women’s rights. I distinctly remember every hair on my body rising when the teacher told this story. And somehow I knew what being a woman was coming to feel like as I ventured out alone. It seemed to fit into the same category as being black, just for being a woman.
What I looked like just after
my divorce- in my early twenties.
 My first novel, ‘The Greek Seaman’ was written much from my experience. My husband died early of a heart attack, much to the effects of his experience at sea, and many others said my divorcing him during his break down years and the loss of our child that was still-birth probably added to it. But his life was lived in paranoia that someone was always trying to kill him after our experience at sea together, and he was in and out of mental hospitals and given electric shocks to try and forget. I was told he died uttering my name on his last breath- even though we had long since been divorced.

     What followed were the Arab Oil years I had entered back in London, when Arabs were still uneducated, but were now allowed into Oxford, Eaton and Cambridge for a price. I travelled Europe living in Paris, Greece and London. Once the Arabs were educated the loose money stopped, and everyone turned around and it was the beginning of the computer era five years later. And I as a writer, I went off to buy a computer for my spelling and grammar, for my pen wrote and wrote my way out of London’s high society, as did my paint brush, creating Art which now turned to Abstract from realism.
During those years, whenever my Mother visited me my head was always under a pile of books, writing or painting and has been my life ever since.

North Wales, UK.

     Engrossed in my cocoon of creativity for many years, I now began to feel subconsciously a calling towards the working world, but I continued to shy away as I felt it to be too much to balance that reality, so I took off from London to a small cottage on a mountain top in North Wales to write for several years more from my savings from the property that I had acquired and sold in London. I could see the castle from my house. It was spectacular at night.

     In 1988, I came to America. For a long period in my life I had husbands and boyfriends that allowed me to write and paint, but a great part of me felt left out. The world again was changing fast. I in my cocooned world took on the shape much like living in a bubble. The world of workers was a far cry from my own. I knew nothing of landing into basic reality, yet I was highly intellectually opinionated.

As the years passed writing and painting, the world changed more, and an edge entered my life. It felt almost like a cliff I had to throw myself off was placed in front of me in order to enter the human race had happened when my mother died in 1996. I reached out to the world by placing more and more of my Art into exhibit.
     Being a stuck up brat/snob for so many years was not easy to shed. I was shy in public, and too much of a deep thinker. Yet, in the process the lady of letters was young enough still to be tattooed up so to speak, and could make it by herself in the world. The world was changing fast and I was propelled to catch up, and with my dreading change I was kicking and fighting much of the way. But it was mostly still only through the Art world.
I could feel a definite intense force was merging very slowly to bring my change about, but for some reason I had to let go of Shakespeare in the process, when I moved into a relationship with a man for six years who had grown up children. But then my memory to reciting all the classics went. Yet, I believe his children were somehow my mentors or guides towards my own independence and survival as they tackled their own first jobs. Being they were the children of this present era, I felt I learnt from them how to make a living in the main stream of the real world.
It was at forty nine, fifty; I had finally arrived into the working world, and I left my present abode in Maine and headed off to Florida alone, and with very little money I was ready to go to work.
      In 2002, I took on a job at first as a live in Caregiver to save for a car and apartment, and my books and art went in storage. With my not really knowing how to pump gas by myself and frightful of driving any long distances, I took my first plunge into my working life for Ms Work. Ironic don’t you think? Am I kidding? No, her name really was Ms Work. Well, I realized right then, how there was much more to this world than I could ever fathom, and it was only in my maturity that I understood it in this new light.
 I was the happiest girl on the planet. I had finally arrived into the mix of the working world. A late bloomer, but I had arrived. I was now being prepared to deal with whatever choices and challenges came my way independently. And as the years passed with these Granny’s, who I learnt so much from, my balancing a check book became clearer. I knew exactly where I wanted to be- on the beach writing my books and painting. I was now paying rent to my own place like I had just turned twenty one. And, oh- how I began living life all over again.
During this time, I began to do only twelve hour shift work earning me more money, and I began another novel- my third novel. (Somewhat of a funny book, I might add).  I wrote the notes down in my client’s garages or in my car. My car, an old 1994 mercury cougar was paid for from my own hard work and I still have it. It must be the only car on the road left with no polish. My writing life has been the most difficult thing to do, yet is still rewarding to climb. My being put to work was the most glorious thing to me in the beginning. Now years into it, I am relatively tamed, and I can say like most workers, it sucks, but a nice kind of- it sucks.
Oh yes, I have indeed arrived into this new era. So, as I deal now with further editing, my own reality show begins in my maturity. I’ve come a long way. Tired, you know it, but my mustard seed of faith is strong. I indeed did it my way and no doubt I shall survive.     
And as you see, there are small subconscious things I have carried with me from childhood. Did I want to see a black president? You bet. And yes, a long time coming…. The women’s issues- well, maybe in time the abuse will stop. But one thing’s for sure, this generation is certainly not making it too easy for a man to emulate his forefathers. Women of today are here to break the mode. And, if I could have my mother back today, things would have been different. I viewed her world growing up with such bias eyes. She was a brave and a very extraordinary woman of her time, just as so many women were.
Queens-mere pond, on Wimbledon common was a regular walk for me.
At the end of the path is a grave-yard, and behind the cemetry railings there, my mother is now buried.


  1. Interesting life Jacqueline, thanks for your recent comments on LindyLouMac's book Reviews.

  2. Great post Jaqueline - the descriptions of England and Wimbledon make me feel nostalgic.

  3. You have certainly lived a full and interesting life. Good luck with your books and your art. You do have many wonderful passions, it seems!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Memoir, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets