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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Land Lady's Story

One week out of every six, our company had a long standing arrangement of booking a motley crew of five girls into Vi's Bed and Breakfast accommodation. A tradition well established long before I ever crossed over the door step, I have no doubt it continued to hold strong long after I finally upped to quit in search of pastures new.

Lord only knows how long Vi had taken in lodgers, but I do know that when I first arrived, her two "girls" had both been working there coming up for nigh on twenty years. Both married with families of their own, they didn't live on the premises, nor were they, other than by years of shared history, in any way shape or form related to her. They were the solid backbone of the place, and as part of their taking care of the day to day running of it, their duties frequently expanded in to also taking care of Vi, too.

 

A mostly functional alcoholic, it was only when she fell off on a bender, (not as often as it might have been) that things had a tendency to fall apart. A large Vodka with a thimble-full of tonic ("Just a splash, my dear!") was her tipple of choice. Bone thin, with skin so transparent you could read each vein, Vi's face still held a whisper of her natural beauty, framing as it did the biggest, bluest eyes I've ever seen.

I knew she was old (most folk are to an eighteen year old), but it's only now that I'd guess that she was probably a whole lot younger than her body had us believe.

 
We liked staying at Vi's, she was usually far too far into her cups to enforce any curfew on us, and if, when we did trawl home we were ever noisy enough to wake her, she'd simply happily don her dressing gown and slip down to join us. Vi loved company and was a good-humoured drunk. Cranking up the volume on the battered record player, she would pull up anyone who was willing to dance.

Every third record played had to be Barbara Striesand in a duet with Neil Diamond, "You don't bring me flowers". Slightly jarring after a few spins, but it kept her happy.

 
She said it reminded her of her third husband, a well known national t.v. newscaster whom at that time still read out the ten o' clock evening news. It was hard to picture her once on his arm, but her sitting room was adorned with photographs of them both together, proof positive of happier days.  Her house had been turned over to nothing less than a veritable shrine to this man, the one whom she still claimed to adore.

I believe they had a son together (or maybe he was from her second marriage?), I think he settled in America. Either way, she saw little of him. Yet despite it all, Vi still somehow managed to carry herself well, or at least when sober. She had a soft, cultured voice, a kind heart and a delightfully sharp, wicked sense of humour that I often found myself at the brunt of.

Her "girls" didn't tend to the cooking side of things.  It fell to Vi to serve us all up a full English breakfast each morning, something she usually excelled at. I say usually, because there were times when she failed to stir until long after we left for work. Hammering on her bedroom door proved useless, experience taught should she sleep in, she'd be hung-over and listless for the remaining day.

Being as how we were only a few of several paying guests, her failure to show didn't always go down too well.  Us? Well, we soon learned to cobble something for ourselves from the kitchen, but we certainly drew the line at sharing these fruits of our labours with any other of our fellow food-forsaken lodgers. (If we had to fend for ourselves, they could darn well do the same!)


I loved hearing Vi's stories. She came from genteel stock. Not expected to work, she had led a much restricted life up until the outbreak of war. Although her family lost most of their wealth over this period, she claimed it was one of the best times of her life. Finally released from the suffocating confines of keeping her mother's house, she found the challenge of driving an ambulance around London during the the Blitz an exciting, if often terrifying rush. She discovered a purpose, not to mention a rich and risque social life.

Private nightclubs flourished during this time of rationing and restrictions. In those uncertain times, young service men sent home on short leave faced the very real prospect that it may well also be their last. Whirlwind romances and broken hearts abounded.
When Vi found herself pregnant, she told no one.
Her beau had long since disappeared (she claimed he was shot down over France). Whatever the reason, frightened and abandoned, she finally returned home to be forced to confess all. Shunned and banished, she soon found herself speedily secreted away to deliver her baby alone, at an anoymous home for wayward ladies. Her daughter was allowed to stay with her for six weeks before being forciblly removed from her arms.

She was made to "put it behind her", it wasn't discussed, because as far as her family were concerned it had never happened. That's the way it was back then.

A little later she met and married a handsome, young Air Force Captain.  As her parents approved and given that she was also so desperate to leave home, he appeared a good enough prospect to her at the time. Gone for far longer periods than he was ever on leave, Vi eventually went back to ambulance driving, but she did not return to the clubs.

Finally, at the end of the war, when her husband came home for good, they moved to settle in with his parents to his hometown of Bristol. By now they were little more than strangers, and living in a cramped house under her in-laws roof, Vi found herself pretty miserable.  Lonely and isolated, she missed her friends and pined for her previous life in London.
When their financial circumstances eventually improved, they managed to lease two rooms of their own above a fishmongers shop. (Vi claimed she still couldn't smell fish without coming over all queasy.) She did try her best to make it work. She'd hoped a child might help to bond them, but that wasn't to be. Suspecting her barren (since it obviously had to be the womans fault), her husband finally lost interest, and ran off to set up home with a pretty young clerk from his shipping office.


Finding herself with no money nor any means of earning any, Vi was forced again to return home to her parents house, once more bringing shame and disgrace upon them. Divorce held a huge stigma in those days, they found it hard to forgive her.

A few years later, she was made to feel grateful when her parents married her off to a widower more than twice her age. He drank and was violent, but she stayed until he died.
She didn't much mourn his passing.
Once more on her own, she at least had a little income with which to provide for herself.  Recalling happier days, she decided to  return to London and to put herself through secretarial college. She was still only twenty-nine. Finding a position in the BBC, this is where she eventually met and fell in love with what was to prove to be the biggest love of her life, her handsome, famous TV news broadcaster.

I don't know how long they were together, nor do I know of the reasons they parted, but I do know she never recovered from their separation.
.
Yes, she was well past her prime by the time I met her, but from what I can tell, Vi had led one hell of a life. So here we are Vi, this post is for you, I can still see you dancing around your sitting room, shabby robe half undone, nursing your trusty vodka and ("just a splash, my dear") tonic in your hand, as you sway along, lost in favourite memories of a happier time.
.
(Re-posted from 2008.)

68 comments:

Mushy said...

How dreadfully sad, yet beautifully painted in my mind by your words. One of many sad stories still occurring even today.

How blessed we are to have our family intact...for how much longer none of us knows...another reason to hold them close each day.

Hope the sun is shining where you are today Carol.

Shrinky said...

You are right Mushy, sadly some things never change. Yes, the sun is out today, I've just come back from a walk on the beach to find your lovely comment sitting in here waiting for me. Smile.

Scott from Oregon said...

Awwww...

Larger than life stories always have a larger than usual backbone of sadness to them...

Way to go Vi...

Good on ya for showing up and giving it all a go...

CJ said...

Tonight I shall raise my glass in honor of Vi. Quite a life, although much of it seems shrouded in sadness. You conveyed her story beautifully Shrinky. I can just picture her, sitting at the table with you girls, remembering the happier times and enjoying your company.

Maalie said...

Oh dear, you almost have me weeping there Shrinky.

I think I shall have a gin with just a splash of ton...... Nah, just a drop of angustura bitters will be enough tonight.

Les Becker said...

You DO have me weeping, Shrink... what a wonderful little movie playing in my head. I'd like to kick that newscaster's butt without even knowing what happened. He should have stayed.

But, then, I suppose, I wouldn't have this memory of yours to play, would I?

More characters like this, please.

pat houseworth said...

Well written albeit sad Shrinky....have to tell you I hated that song too. Never liked it one bit, but did enjoy the story while the You Tube version played in the background.

SJ said...

So sad yet in a way inspiring.

Rachelle said...

Dear Shrinky,
How have you been my friend? I have missed you dreadfully...
I do love characters like these, they brighten up our lives, and give us a window into another life, don't they?
Slainte~
Rachelle

Akelamalu said...

You paint such a vivid picture of Vi I can really see her! What a varied and somewhat troubled life she had, but I'm sure she enjoyed some of it.

yesbuts said...

You have such a brilliant way with words.

Vi - never hear the name now,part of a lost slippers and fag generation.

Jay said...

That's quite a story, and Vi must have been quite some lady!

The home for Wayward Ladies .. I had an aunt who went that route, TWICE! LOL!

She ended up happily married though, to a man who adored her for the rest of her life.

CHEWY said...

A grand story. What a photographic memory you have to have retained all those details of Vi's life. It's a short biography. I love how you wistfully wrapped it up in the end.

Helena said...

I love the way you tell us these things...

one thing- please tell me she came from GENTEEL stock, not gentile-? LOL! Not that I've anything against us gentiles....

Catmoves said...

Thank you Shrinky, for your soft and oh so gentle interlude. Great character drawing. You are a marvelous talent.

Helena said...

erm....

small crisis stations over at my place Shrinks.... any ideas?

Alex L said...

She sounds like quite a courageous lady.

quilly said...

Vi sounds like quite the colorful character. You told her story well, with humor, compassion, and love,

Don't forget to come by Punny Monday.

Shrinky said...

Cheers Scott, yeah, I think you would have liked her.

Shrinky said...

cj, Vi would have loved the thought of you raising your glass to her memory, of that I am sure!

Shrinky said...

Ah maalie, (teehee) yeah, maybe a splash of angustura bitters is a wiser choice..

Shrinky said...

Okay les, we'll put him on our hit list for when you finally make it over here, get one in for Vi! (Giggle)

Shrinky said...

I'm with you Pat, give me something a little more upbeat any day.

Shrinky said...

Aw, that's good to hear, sj.

Shrinky said...

Hello Rachelle, how lovely to see you again! Yeah, lots of happenings since we last caught up together, we really must have a good old gossip soon. x

Shrinky said...

akelamalu, I think most lives have both tragedy and joy woven through them, it's just some have a little more than others.

Shrinky said...

You are so right yesbut (hiding my slippers and fags from view..)

Blush.

Shrinky said...

jay, I have a feeling I might have liked your aunt enormously!

Shrinky said...

Well chewy, I am virtually face-blind, can't even cross the road without getting lost, and I have no head for anything technical at all, BUT, I do have the ability to retain silly little useless details to rattle around my head.

Shrinky said...

helena (laughing my head off) thank you soooooooo much for that! Haha, yes, I've corrected it. (Blush)

Shrinky said...

Hey catmoves, stop swelling my head (shove)!

Big cheesy grin..

Shrinky said...

Yes alex, I believe she was.

Shrinky said...

Thanks quilly, I'll be sure to stop by.

Suldog said...

As others have said, sad and lovely at the same time. Some people are just survivors, and Vi falls into that category, eh?

She certainly deserved her drinks (and they probably helped her to stay as sane as she was.)

Good job, Shrinky. God bless you and her!

Shrinky said...

Suldog, thing about vi was, regardless of the age gap between us she was still a child at heart, innocent and curious about everything around her, you couldn't fail but to be drawn to her. I'm sure she touched a lot of lives.

CrazyCath said...

Shrinky, I go away for a week and come back and what happens? You have posted loads of stuff for me to catch up on and as usual it is quality stuff that brings tears to your eyes.

I find it hard from my own experiences to consider the positives or "functional" side of any alcoholic, but you paint such a picture with words that is not rose tinted, but neither is it blackened through pain (as my memories sometimes are). You write in a realistic and human way. You are a talented soul you know. Off to read more and catch up...

mythopolis said...

I am guessing this is an account you are re-posting from an earlier time. I'm so glad you did! It is a wonderful read with elements of both an historical period of time in Vi's younger days, and the personal stories of how her life unfolded over the years. It is a remarkable story and could easily be adapted as a screen-play. I can see the various characters, and it is full of images both of her life, but also of those much later spending time with her and hearing her stories. Simply wonderful! An homage.

Raven said...

What a character she was! And what a life she lived! Thanks for sharing her story, I enjoyed it immensely. :)

Putz said...

o0h my goodness, is all that true??????i guess i have led a very sheltered life, i swear as i listen to you all i want is for this woman to have had some joy and happiness really from deep down

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

Goddess bless Vi

mrsnesbitt said...

The war gave much sadness. Yes family is integral to our everyday blessings and happiness.
Dxxx

Shrinky said...

Wow Dan, you have no idea how much you've made my day - I am beaming from ear to ear, reading this! what a beautiful thing to say (can't stop smiling).. thank you my friend, it means a lot to me. I've been a bit lacking for inspiration as of late, so thought I'd troll out one of the older posts for an airing, to see if it could motivate me to do some "proper" stuff again..

Shrinky said...

Hi Raven, yeah, she was a one off, our Vi (smile).

Shrinky said...

Yes Putz, it's all true. I have no idea what happened to her in the end - I guess she has long since passed on by now, but I think she did have some pleasure re-living her memories.

Shrinky said...

Ha, yes Jackie, I reckon she is with her now, and blessed indeed!

Shrinky said...

I couldn't agree more, Denise.

mythopolis said...

Well, blogging over time gets to be a long procession of posts, and yet, new readers do drop in and connect from time to time, so, I think it is great to pull something back up from the archives and give it another day. Newer readers (like me) will enjoy these anew, and long-time readers will enjoy reading once again, a familiar and wonderful story!

Brian Miller said...

smiles. i am glad she could dream of happier days...her tale is a sad one and rather epic...well told shrinky...engrossing read...

chewy said...

A grand story. What a photographic memory you have to have retained all those details of Vi's life. It's a short biography. I love how you wistfully wrapped it up in the end. - If you can do it, I can do it! (reposted my comment) LOL!

ladyfi said...

Wow - what a memorable character. Lovely description!

Shrinky said...

You are such a generous lad, Dan, one of the many reasons why I love you so much!

Shrinky said...

Cheers Brian, I believe everyone has a story to tell, don't they?

Shrinky said...

Chewy, I think we might both be pushing our luck here - swat! (laughing)

Shrinky said...

Hi Ladyfi, thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words (smile).

Parabolic Muse said...

Oh, this is such a well-written portrait. You really brought her to life for us.

Grandma's scrapbook said...

here's me, step by step stigoh you in the cabin, how are you, hope all is well,I wish you all the best

Middle Child said...

I felt like I could see her and her eyes - there are some people who when you think of them its the eyes you see the most - I like to think its because they have a good spirit - in spite of what else they may or may not do... thanks for the story - its wonderful

Shrinky said...

Hi there Chrissie, thanks for that, and yeah, she certainly was larger than life..

Shrinky said...

Hello Grandma's Scrapbook, thank you, the weekend is going well, hope yours is too.

Shrinky said...

Hi Therese, I agree, the eyes can tell a lot about a person, don't you think?

Margaret Benbow said...

Dear Shrinky, most people would simply have dismissed Vi as a lost person--but you saw the beauty in her eyes and in her spirit. You give tribute to the grace notes that somehow survived in someone pummeled by life. Vi could never completely be lost, now that you have found her.

Suldog said...

My goodness, Shrinky, I know by now that you're a wonderful writer, but you do still surprise on occasion. This was a great portrait done in words.

She certainly had reason to drink, didn't she? When you got to the part where you mentioned she was still just 29, my mouth gaped open. She had lived three full lives by then.

Well done.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

October 3rd 2011?????? Have I just been down the collider?????

Shrinky said...

Awww Jim, consider yourself well and truly huggled, bonny lad!! ((x))

Shrinky said...

Bob, you are a VERY astute bear - how come nobody else noticed (blush)?? S'alright, I think if you keep shtoom, I might still have gotten away with it..

tattytiara said...

Sounds like she never stopped fighting for a happy life, bless her heart. You tell her story beautifully, I'm sure she'd be honored by the tenderness of your words.

Pat Tillett said...

Very sad...
It seems that the happiest and most free folks have a history of sadness. You've really put this one together well. I enjoyed it very much! Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Hey - I am certainly happy to discover this. Good job!