Friday, 19 November 2010


We moved to the countryside outside a small town in Illinois called Libertyville. It was ideal for an 11 year old like me because my parents bought me a horse and I was as happy as a sand king for 3 years. When you are that age, all you are interested in is country life, friends, and plenty of space to frolic. I went to the local junior high school and was at last fitting in with my peers. I would fast become a country hick!

My horse, named Ebony, was the only thing that made me feel really blessed. He was very beautiful; black with a white star on his forehead and as fast as a racehorse. Our home was a ranch-style house and had a 2-car garage with a loft and a stable with a tack room at the back. There was also a large coral for a horse to run around in. So it was the perfect place for my horse to live in luxury.

Every year in
Libertyville, there is a local event called “The Frontier Days Parade”, in which there are floats, bands, clowns and cowboys. All the schools in the area are represented as well, and this particular year, my horse and his best friend “Patch”, were my school’s mascots. Patch was the spitting image of an extremely fat Thelwell pony, as wide as he was tall. I dressed Ebony up with a Mexican blanket and borrowed a western saddle which made him looked simply fantastic and Patch was dressed in the same Mexican theme. Together, they look like Laurel and Hardy!

The parade started out perfectly and there were hundreds of people lining the main street with children waving banners, blowing whistles, wearing cowboy outfits and shooting off cap guns. Ebony and Patch followed my school band and were well behaved until suddenly, Ebony spotted a bit of candy wrapper which had blown by the wind in front of his path. He has always been terrified of shiny paper for some reason and this was no exception. One would have thought that the noise of the cap guns, and all the other colourful things going on around him would have driven him wild, but no. It was the candy wrapper! He suddenly reared up and started to bolt straight through my school band. The band was scattered and divided like Moses parting the sea. As I said, Ebony was as fast as a racehorse, and when he was spooked, there was no stopping him. He ran the whole 2 miles home with me still on him, fearing for my life. When we approached his stable door, he was still going too fast to stop and I had to duck just in time to prevent myself from being decapitated by the top of the door. Unfortunately, my legs hit both sides of the door and I scraped all the skin off them. When I got off, my legs and Ebony’s were shaking like leaves. His nostrils were flared, the whites of his eyes showing and he was frothing at the mouth. I don’t know who was more scared!

The amazing thing is that there is a photo of us following the band in the school yearbook which was taken only minutes before the disaster.

Less than a month later, I had another life threatening adventure but this time is was due to an act of nature. I was at school and suddenly, there was an announcement over the intercom saying that a huge tornado was on its way towards the town and that the whole school was to be evacuated. Believe it or not, all of the children had to make their own way home. I lived much further away than the majority of children so I had at least 2 miles to walk. My teacher told me that if I heard the sound of 10 locomotive trains that I should jump into a ditch and hang onto the grass or a root of a tree. Well, low and behold, when I was out of the town and about half way home, the skies darkened like midnight (even though it was only midday), all the birds stopped singing and minutes later, that dreaded sound was heard. Only it was far louder than I imagined it would be. I literally ran to the nearest hole, ditch, whatever, and hung on for dear life. The howling wind was suddenly everywhere, having been able to hear a pin drop only seconds before. It became so violent that trees were being ripped from their anchorage on the ground. Bits of rubbish were flying about, and quite honestly, I was afraid to raise my head after that so I stayed put with my face in the earth with my fingers stapled to the dirt. As quickly as it came, the tornado was gone and all became silent again. My mother told me a few days later, that the entire roof of the town’s supermarket had been found 5 miles away and was completely mangled. Not only had many homes, shops and other buildings been totally demolished, but many people and farm animals had been killed. You don’t know how lucky I felt.
One unforgettable event took place in 1963 when I was in my Social Studies Class at school; a moment that I and millions of others will never forget.  It was in the afternoon and suddening, there was an announcement over the school intercom that President Kennedy had been shot. Initially, there was a hushed silence and then all hell broke loose. We were all told to go home immediately to await further news. Soon after it was announced that the President was dead. Life was not the same for a very long time in America from that day on. There are always things in everyone’s life where we remember exactly what we were doing when something catastrophic happens. This was my first but not last of those times.

Life went on peacefully after that for a few months and then, I was forced to go with my parents to England for a few months on a prolonged business trip. This time, we sailed on The ‘France’ from New York to Southampton.

Once we arrived, I had to go to my private tutor in
London for a few months, but this time, not as a boarder. One of my brothers was still in oarding school and the other was at University, so they managed to escape this trip.

Our return trip was on the “Queen Mary”. That would make six ocean liners that I had been on in seven years.

Just as I was feeling “at home” back in America, with my close friends who I thought I would grow old with, unbeknownst to me, my parents were planning to go back to England permanently for my father to retire in about a years' time. Because of this, they felt I needed to go to a "posh" private school in Chicago which was based on the English School system, as apparently American schools were approximately one year behind English schools.

It was 45 miles from our home each way and my father, who was working in Chicago at the time, had to drive me to and from this school five times a week. The saving grace of having to travel so far each day was the fact that I was with my father. I adored him and he was my best friend; it was “our” time without any interruptions. I could tell him everything that was going on in my life, good and bad. He would listen intently and give me all the advice I needed which made me feel so secure. I remember listening to the car radio on our drive home each day and waiting to hear what pop song would be number one. He hated pop music but knew I loved it, so it was a ritual that he would turn to the pop channel at 5:50 to hear the top five songs. There was one particular winter’s day on our drive home when a blizzard was blowing and the windshield wipers were at full speed trying to clear the huge snowflakes off the window. The number one hit was “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles and I remember to this day that the wipers were going back and forth in exact time to the beat of that song. Every time I hear that song, I see the wipers and the snow storm. I was probably one of the first American Beatle maniacs because my father had brought home their first album (Meet the Beatles) when he had been on a business trip to
England long before any of my friends had even heard of them. I had become smitten with them immediately and insisted that all of my friends hear the album. The rest is history.

With regards to my school, all the kids were rich beyond belief there and I felt like a poor country bumpkin. We never had fancy cars, or a swimming pool, like most of the kids, even the ones who lived near me in the country. My parents used their money for non prestigious items and put it in the stock market, savings and education. They were not ostentatious at all and, in fact, were probably the most cultured and educated people in Libertyville. But at my age, all I felt was that we were less well off than anyone else. To me, anyone who had all the trimmings of the rich, and had been to
Disneyland for their holidays, was obviously very well off and totally enviable.

Anyway, I must just mention one more thing about my life in Libertyville before I get onto my new life back in England. My very first boyfriend, Ben Peterkort, who lived right next door to us in Libertyville, contracted spine cancer about 3 months before we immigrated. I did not know he had cancer and just thought he had been moaning about back pain to get sympathy and cuddles from me. But a few weeks before we left, lock, stock and barrel, he went into hospital for an operation. My mother took me to see him in hospital a few days before we left for England to say goodbye to him. She had found out that he had terminal cancer from his mother and only had a few months to live; however, I was totally oblivious to this fact at the time. Both mothers felt it was best not to tell me or Ben until after my departure. Ben had not been told he was dying and they feared I would be too emotional in his presence that would make him suspicious. After I said goodbye to him, my mother told me, as we were leaving the hospital walking down the steps, that he only had about 6 months to live. I was devastated! He was my best friend, my first French kiss, and the only boy I had ever loved at the age of 14. He sent me many letters to England for the next few months (some were 17 pages long), telling me of his love for me and what he was going to do when he left the hospital. Then suddenly the letters stopped coming. It wasn't until I was at my convent boarding school in the depths of Sussex that I got a letter from his mother saying he had died. It was only 6 months after I had said goodbye to him. I still dream about him to this day. He was only 15 years old.

This time, we travelled over to England on “the Empress of England” which was to be my last ever voyage on an ocean liner. We sailed up the St Lawrence River from Montreal to Liverpool, and watched whales and dolphins following alongside the ship near Newfoundland. It was a really beautiful sight.

As soon as we found and bought a house in London, I was packed off to a Convent Boarding school in Sussex. I felt so homesick, desperate and confused that I consoled myself by becoming incredibly naughty to draw attention to myself and become known. Boarding school was bad enough, but being an American in an all English school, was too much to bear. So I became the class clown and daredevil. I spent my entire first 2 years washing dishes as a punishment for the various pranks I got up to.

My best friend was Louise, the second daughter of Lord Astor of Hever. She and I once borrowed bicycles from 2 day girls and peddled off to
Hever Castle which was only a few miles away, for a cream tea provided for by her old Nanny. We did this without permission and were grounded for our crime. But it was worth it. Louise became a nurse in later life and would often baby-sit for Finian, my future son, when he was first born as he was very delicate and sickly. I could not trust anyone other than a nurse to care for him.
 But I am skipping many years and need to get back to 1967.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Vicky,
    I am LOVING reading your memoirs. They are brilliant and so fascinating! Please keep them coming!