101: per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars

101: per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

None. I went to a good girls’ school where it was acceptable to be clever. Most girls went on to something like secretarial work or nursing unless they were considered really clever and went to university and usually ended up as teachers. I had a few ideas of what I wanted and didn’t want from work and in the end I followed an idea my sister gave me.

What did you want to be when you left education?

I knew I didn’t want an office job. I always liked science at school and wanted to do something with that and I also wanted to help people. My sister suggested podiatry to me and that is what I ended up doing.

Did your mother work?

Yes. When she was about 12, her father died and her mother who had trained as a court dressmaker returned to her profession. My mother helped out in the workroom and became an accomplished dressmaker herself. Then, when I was about 7, my father bought a cycle shop and she used to help out in it.

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

Yes I do. At its best it provides companionship and mutual help and security. Having family around you in old age is a definite bonus. The people I’ve known who haven’t had that are often quite lonely.

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

I was mainly interested in books and learning when I was young. But I do remember one day when I was at school suddenly thinking to myself, I wonder who I’ll marry? I remember thinking that whoever he was, he wasn’t in England at the time but was living abroad. In fact, when I did marry that turned out to have been true.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

I suspect my relationship was far happier than my parents. My mother was a rather unhappy person which made her difficult to live with, but my father was always very patient with her and they stuck together. I had two partners in my life. My first husband was a fairly fiery character but a really interesting and unusual person so I could never get bored. After he died in his late 50s, I had a long term relationship with another lovely man. We would have married except that I would have lost my pension if I remarried and that would have made it very hard to make ends meet. But we had a strong relationship and got on really well. I can’t remember us ever quarrelling. We gave each other space but also had lots of fun together.

Family:

How like your mother are you?

I think I am very different from her. I am quite peacable and quiet and love my own company. She was an unhappy person and always took offence at the least thing so it was hard to feel relaxed around her.

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

I really just wanted my daughter to have enough to live on and have a happy life.

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

My son was bought up differently, but that was the norm at the time. He was given a lot more independence and sent off on unaccompanied adventure trips with friends and taught things like self-preservation. My daughter by contrast was probably over-protected and treated as a bit of a delicate flower. But she was also quite shy and studious, whereas my son was outgoing, sporty and fun-loving and that also influenced the difference in their upbringing. Educationally, they were given the same opportunities and encouragement – if anything as it turned out, my daughter ended up with a much better education than my son.

If you don’t have children, what have you been able to do that having children would have prevented you doing? What has your focus been?

Certainly in the early days, we had a lot of help at home, so having the children did not make a big difference to that. I suppose I would have done similar things to what I did, but without the children. As my husband worked abroad a lot, I travelled with him and we lived quite a lot of the time in foreign countries. In those days, accompanying wives often had a lot of social responsibilities to support their husband’s work and that’s what I did. It was a really interesting life. Later on when we settled back home, I helped him in his business. I kept up a small amount of podiatry as well.

Expectations and Dreams:

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Being a young adult in WW2, there were some quite frightening moments. But we tended to take them in our stride. I remember having to go to air-raid shelters at night and taking my bag so I could leave for work straight from the shelter the next morning at the usual time as if nothing had happened. There was a time when we were meant to be evacuated to the shelters but my mother was too ill to be moved so we just stayed in the house and hoped for the best. Then when she died in the middle of the war, I had to look after the sale of the house and clear her effects although I was only about 25-26 at the time. In retrospect that was probably quite a brave thing to do, but at the time I just got on with it  because it had to be done.

What drives you?

I don’t know that I am particularly driven. But I like to do things that support other people.

What are your values?

Caring for others and being kind and supportive.

Age:

How old are you? 

101

What has been your favourite age to be and why?

There have been all sorts of times of my life that have been good. I often think that the war years were some of the happiest times because despite the danger, people worked together and looked out for one another and we lived every moment to the full because life was precious. Then the first ten years after I married were exciting because we were living in quite exotic parts of the world, meeting interesting people and doing interesting things. I’ve always loved travelling and from my early twenties on I have visited all sorts of interesting places. I still try to get away occasionally even now, at age 101.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

I was very fortunate when I was young. We had a very easy life in many ways and the world seemed a kinder, gentler place. But I think the young today have a lot more opportunities than we did.

Obstacles:

What are the pros and cons of being a woman?

I was perfectly happy with my lot and didn’t really have any problems with womanhood.

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Probably the biggest responsibility I had was as a plotter during the war, covering the area of greater London and having to plot the course of enemy aircraft. The work was very intense at times and we had to be very quick and accurate. There were other challenges too, like adjusting after the death of my mother who died in the war and having to deal with her estate as a 26-year old. Then after my first husband died – that was a big adjustment, learning to live on my own again.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

Coming from a family of dressmakers, I’ve always been aware of clothes and what they look like. So both with my background and my later life as a military and diplomatic wife, looking smart came very naturally and that’s never really left me. I’ve always dressed in a way that makes me feel confident and attractive.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

I like light classical music. My husband and I loved ballroom dancing, so I would also add dance music of the 40s and 50s.

Do you have a life’s motto?

The RAF motto is per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars. We’ve always used that in our family to encourage one another in difficult times. And when things were difficult or uncertain, we’d tell each other “it’ll all come right in the end” and usually it did.

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