|Sally Blake - Wimbledon 1986|
Ironically, although my grandmother took to wearing a little Coty in later years, my mother was brought up in the kind of family where the wearing of scent was actually considered rather vulgar. Referred to as “pong”, nice girls from good families were told it was “common” to smell of anything but “a nice soap”. Her mother was a Wyndham. Former Earls of Egremont and Dukes of Somerset, they’d bought their ennoblement off James I, but the intervening years had seen the extinction of titles and selling of property so that the present head of the family now languished under the diluted title of Baron Egremont and Leconfield in an apartment at Petworth House in West Sussex.
My great aunt Stella had visited once. In the days before the National Trust took it over, she’d roared up in her MG sports car, spraying gravel at the windows and simply knocked on the door. The housekeeper took her around. Disgustedly viewing the pictures in the family gallery and noting “they all looked like aunt Daisy”, she never quite got over the fact that her branch of the family had ended up in middle class Llandaff. Stella, who deserves a book of her own, was the youngest of the Wyndham sisters. Fatally beautiful, she drove fast cars, and (no doubt to the silent martyrdom of her devoutly Catholic mother,) collected husbands, having babies with each of them. Rather like Scarlett O’Hara, whom she so closely resembled with her black hair and grey-green eyes.
It was the first of these husbands, John, with whom my baby mother fell madly in love. She adored him, and resented Stella deeply for snaffling him. She would sit in the back of their car, gazing at John’s hands on the steering wheel, loving the manly watch on his wrist, and emanating resentment as Stella sat next to him, oblivious in her wedge heels. John was a pilot in the RAF, and when the war came, almost inevitably, big, jolly, smiley John was sent on a mission, and didn’t come back. Sally never forgot hearing the news when she came home from school.
Brought up to believe that she was in some way responsible for Christ’s suffering on the Cross, Sally knelt in the still burning embers of the fire to pray. She believed that the more it hurt, the more efficacious her prayer for John’s safe return would be.
It didn’t work.
In time, Stella was called up to Buckingham Palace to collect a medal. She said she wanted to throw it back in the King’s face. But she didn’t. Instead she curtsied, and accepted his stuttering thanks for her sacrifice, came back home to Wales, and shut herself in her room for a week.
With not a little prescience, when others were sending their children to Wales to be safe, my grandmother sent my mother and my aunt to the South Coast. Shortly afterwards, Llandaff Cathedral graveyard received a direct hit. Obviously, the casualties were already dead, so the damage caused was mainly to their dignity - not least when next door’s Jack Russell, Billy, came home grinning from ear to ear with a greenish brown thigh bone clamped between his teeth.
My mother was always sad she didn’t get to see that...