“My mother inspired me to feminism” said I on Radio 4’s Reunion to Sue McGregor. “She went back to work when I was nine (and she 53) and made something out of nothing.”
She was asked “Can you type, Mrs. Taylor?”
“No” she replied “but I can use a typewriter.” She got the job and “can do” was embroidered on her name tapes.
A year later, she was given a pay rise, a title (Deputy Superintendent, Women’s Educational Centres) and over and above considerable administrative duties, began to teach English and Arithmetic to student nurses.
“Why do you want to work?” I asked as if she didn’t already.
She replied, hands always busy with something – washing, folding, cleaning, peeling, feeding the dog – ”Your father would give me anything that we could afford but I want to buy my own.
I don’t want to feel guilty every time I buy a lipstick.”
Three years later I watched fascinated as my father removed a wad of money from his jacket, put it in front of her place at the table and asked for his cigarette money. The joke was arranged. She grinned, he grinned and I grinned too, asking “What is all that money?”
“It’s called a Chicago roll” he said, “what gangsters carry.” It was his month’s salary.
Even with both of them earning, there wasn’t very much and he disliked money. But, liberated man, he boasted about how much better she was with it than he.
She was generous with him, with us, with me. Her indulgences were Tweed eau de cologne by Lentheric, Aristoc stockings (in boxes of three) and having the sheets laundered.
She bought her own clothes, most of mine and spent wildly on my shoes. Her feet were terrible, shoved into a size too small after her father left and money was tight at home.
She had her hair done once a week, slathered her nails in almond oil, kept house, walked the dog. Read a daily newspaper and two monthly magazines with a far higher quality of editorial than we have now plus the National Geographic and some part of a book every day. She and my father were enthusiastic moviegoers and both liked to learn.
This is the woman who when I asked her what class we were (I was 14 and it had come up at school) replied crisply
“Educated darling, and there aren’t enough of us.”
She hated her name and once I asked her if it was ever shortened to Et or Ettie as I had read somewhere.
“Briefly” she said, face like a thundercloud. “Ethel is a horrible name. And Maud. We had a golden retriever called Maud.”
Years later, I told her in conversation about some friends whose beautiful Chow had run away. ”What was it called?” she asked.
Unthinkingly I answered “Ethel”.
“Well of course it ran away” she expostulated. “Poor dog!”
She was frustrated by the lack of much social life – my father was an intensely private man -but after his death, she had 15 years of neighbours’ suppers, lunch with friends, the Pensioners’ Club, outings to the theatre, grand gardens and places of historical interest. If her formidable and very real charm failed her, she lined up what we called her steely blues with a temper made ferocious by its clarity. I recall weeping as a small child at the sharpness and suddenness of it till she said quietly” Now, stop it. I know I make a noise. But it’s over and done in a minute, and I don’t hold grudges.” And she didn’t.
We had an awful parting, for reasons too long to go into here, but I remember her as wildly funny and quite extraordinarily patient with a difficult late child who was often odd and ill.
“You’re a changeling” she told me. “God knows where you came from.”
But she supported me through illness and endorsed my efforts, arguing and appreciating. She even understood why I changed my name – because she changed hers.
She felt that the heroine of August in Avilion by Ella Monckton was so like her that she took her name and there we are, photographed in Tatler when I had spoken at the Women of the Year lunch –
“Mrs. Jane Taylor and her daughter Miss Anna Raeburn.”