Friday, 19 November 2010


In Evanston, we lived in an enormous house across the street from Northwestern University; a big contrast to our hut in the desert! It was short-lived, however, because my father was asked to help his old school friend, Sidney Bernstein, founder of Granada Television to help set up a company called T.A.M (Television Audience Measurement) to do the same job in the UK as Nielsen ratings did in the U.S.  My father was a walking encyclopaedia about Radio and TV and he was the best person to advise the British about how to organise television audience measurement. This lead to him being the brains behind the first ever channel that had advertisements. (I will never forgive him for that!) It was now 1955.

I must mention an incident that happened on this first trip to the other side of the
Atlantic, to England. We sailed over to Liverpool on a small Dutch ship called the “Zuider Kreis”. It was meant to carry 500 passengers at most, and because the owners were obviously in need of finance to keep the ship in service, they packed it with approximately 800 people. They did not have enough life boats to accommodate the extra 300 passengers and to make matters worse; it had no stabilisers that were necessary for severe weather conditions. I must mention that the actor, Richard Dreyfuss, said in an interview that he travelled on this ship when he was about 10 years old which was literally the 2nd to last journey across the Atlantic prior to my time on it. My trip was to be its last.

We were pretty much halfway across the
Atlantic, when we were struck by a major hurricane which caused over 50 foot waves, torrential rain and the most violent wind you could imagine. With no stabilisers, we were hit by a massive wave (possibly equivalent to a tidal wave near land) which knocked our pathetic boat onto its side completely. At the time, I was in the children’s nursery having pea and ham soup, and we were thrown onto the walls where we slid around in the thick putrid green slime for what seemed like ages (in fact it was only for about half an hour). Before the boat could right herself, we were hit by a second massive wave. This caused chaos, as you can imagine, but I did not realise that a few people on the upper decks had been seriously scalded by hot tea, and fell down stairs, breaking necks and legs. I had no idea where my parents were at the time. Being only 5 years old, I could not contemplate the severity of the situation. As I said, it seemed like an eternity that the boat was completely on its side on the stormy deathly sea. The life boats on one side were completely under water, and we would surely have turned completely over like the Poseidon Adventure if we had stayed at that angle for much longer. We were lucky to be hit by this second wave which I think would have spelt the end of the Zuider Kreis had it not come. It wasn’t until I was quite a few years older that my mother told me how utterly life-threatening the whole episode was.

I went to the
American School in London in
Grosvenor Square
with my brothers for the six months that we were there. All I remember about this particular visit to England was that the chipolata sausages were fantastic. They were really sticky and had a great taste like nothing I had ever tasted. I have only once found those sausages since then, and have forgotten where I got them, which I am devastated about!

TAM was set up, we went back to America to our previous house opposite Northwestern University. We sailed back to America on the
“Nieuw Amsterdam” but this time, it was a safe and uneventful journey. I spent the next 3 years back in
Evanston, Illinois.

Each summer we went to my Grandmother’s house in
Sewanee, Tennessee. Quite honestly, I believe that my memories in Sewanee are the best I have of America. This town, high up in the mountains, is where the University of the South is located. It is populated by very aristocratic and educated people from old Southern families and most of the houses were huge with enormous verandas and balconies draped in flowers. As a total contrast, on the outskirts of the town, lived the white trash and poor blacks who were hired to care for these fantastic homes.

The best thing about summers in the
Deep South was the sound of crickets and the long hot evenings with crates of green Coca-Cola bottles on the back porch. We would often play Badminton on my Grandmothers back lawn until the local cinema opened at about . We would then wander slowly down and stop at the “drug store” to have an ice-cream before going into the tiny theatre. It only seated about 20 people but had great films and a cosy feel about it. I think, in actual fact that the main reason I loved the cinema so much, was because I was allowed to stay up later than usual.

My Grandmother had a black cook called “Mattie”, who was the spitting image of the black Mama who cared for Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Mattie wore a starched white apron, a bandanna on her head and was as fat as Orson Wells. I really loved her and her cooking was fantastic. To this day, I have a passion for hominy grits. My grandmother gave her an old washing machine one summer and I went to visit Mattie at her home in “Happy Hollow” to pay my respects. There, on the porch of her tiny wooden house, was Mattie, sitting on a rocking chair surrounded by about 15 of her children, grand children and great grandchildren, with the washing machine next to her, covered and filled with plants. They did not have hot water or electricity but were so proud of the washing machine; they just had to advertise to the neighbours their pride and joy. I will never forget the impression it had on me even though I was only seven year old.

When I was 8, my father was sent to
England once again, and my parents thought that this was going to be a permanent affair. This time we went on the “Queen Elizabeth” (the original liner which is now at the bottom of Hong Kong Harbour) which was like a 5 star hotel.  The Vienna Boys Choir was also on the ship returning from a major tour of America. As I was a show-off and tomboy, I climbed up the mast of the ship to draw attention to myself in front of the Choir. (I haven’t changed much!) My mother had taken me to two of their concerts in Chicago, so I knew they were very famous and incredibly talented. Not only was I in awe of them, but they were really cute boys who were only a few years older than I was.

Having arrived in
London for the second time, we lived in four different houses within 3 years; one in Hampstead, one in Kensington and two in Knightsbridge. Each time we moved, I had to go to another school.
I went to two; The American School in
London in Regents Park and Princess Gate (the US Air Force School). Then to my disgust, when I was 9 years old, I was sent to a private tutor in Bayswater where I had to be a weekly boarder for the next year.

Apart from being desperately homesick, I actually made some very good friends at this tiny school which only had about 12 pupils. It was in a very large flat which belonged to our tutor and she was married with a little baby nicknamed Snoogy, who was a delightful distraction from having to live in a school. Only 6 of the children were weekly boarders; the rest were day pupils.

Amongst my friends were two Canadian sisters called Vicky and Cathy Swanson, who I simply adored. Their parents had just bought Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire from Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; hence the two girls had to be weekly boarders like myself.

During the holidays, I was invited to spend a week at their home, which was to prove extremely unforgettable.

This ancient Medieval Abbey was probably the most beautiful and unique home I had ever stayed in. It was vast beyond belief, with endless rooms, servants’ quarters, and a 12th Century tower. There were even secret underground tunnels leading from the Abbey to various places 2 miles away.

On the first night that I was there, I was put in one of the bedrooms that had an enormous fireplace which went up to the tower. In the middle of the night, I woke up to see a strange figure standing between the mantelpiece and the end of my bed. It was translucent but had a definite shape and I could plainly see that it was a person wearing a full length habit with a pointed hood. The man was holding something like a book in one hand, and beckoned to me with his other hand as if he wanted me to follow him. I let out the most blood-curdling scream imaginable as I was so terrified. Within a few minutes, everyone came running to my room and turned the light on, but as expected, nothing was there to be seen. I had to go and sleep on a put-up cot in my friends’ room for the rest of my stay as I was too afraid to sleep alone. I was told at the end of the week that this apparition had been seen by several other people and the story goes that the skeleton of a monk had been found bricked up in the tower when restoration work was being done. He had obviously been murdered as his skull had been crushed by a heavy object. Whether one believes in ghosts or not, there is no other explanation as he had been seen by so many people. Not only that, but I read recently that a gardener who lived on the estate saw several monks in the middle of the night, who were walking single file down into a hole in the ground. In the daylight, there was no sign of a hole. It turned out, after excavation, that there was a tunnel beneath the ground which could not been seen above. Here is a clip from the internet about that actual event.

The secret tunnel from Notley AbbeyThere is a legend of an underground tunnel that runs from Notley Abbey, near Long Crendon, to The Prebendal, at Thame. Stories of secret tunnels are numerous but there is some evidence for the existence of this one. Two journalists visiting Long Crendon in 1892 make a passing reference to the tunnel in their report to The
Redditch Indicator. They write: "We talked long upon the mysteries of Notley and the wonderful underground passage, two miles in length, along the banks of the river to the Prebendal in Thame, but time and railway trains will not wait and we strode across the country just in time to catch the train and bade goodbye (but not we trust for ever) to the Old Needle Land (Long Crendon was a village that was once famed for its manufacture of needles)."
Mrs. Audrey Danny, who currently lives at Notley Abbey, also knew of the legend. She said: "When we first moved into this house nearly 30 years ago we were visited by an old lady of 86 who had worked here as a young girl at the end of the last century. She said she remembered a short passage being filled in where the present tarmac drive passes the front door; she had no idea how long it was - may be it was a cellar from the monastic period."
Frank Mitchell (writing in 1974) retells rumours which were circulating when he was a boy. The rumour surrounded a Mr. Lawrence, the gardener at the Prebendal, who lived on the estate with his wife and five children. It was said that one night at around
he was woken by the sound of a dog barking at the big house. He went to investigate and on reaching the courtyard saw what was described as a ghostly light coming from the derelict chapel, and a line of monks filing in to a hole in the ground. Mr. Lawrence followed the last one in and found himself in an underground passage, but his way was barred by a fall of earth. The next morning he could find nothing unusual, but the mystery was never explained. The rumour of the time was that Mr. Lawrence had found the entrance of the tunnel which legend said linked the Prebendal to Notley Abbey. However he was keeping the location of the hole in the ground to himself in the hope of possibly finding some buried treasure.

This was the first experience I was to have about the existence of ghosts.

By the time I was almost eleven, my father was called back to
America, for what we thought would be the final move. We sailed back on the ‘United States’, the world’s fastest ocean liner.

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