Olga’s Diary (Continued)
Hunters Farm: I applied for a job with a Major and Mrs Langford. They have a farm in Pulborough and live in a big Tudor house. I arrived for the interview and rang the door bell. When Mrs Langford opened the door she looked at me in surprise, so, I told her my name was Carmen Browne and I had come for an interview.
“But you’re coloured”
“Oh…. yes. I’m sorry” I said.
“Well, now you’re here, you’d better come in”.
I told her I was a widow with a young daughter at boarding school and that my husband had been a doctor and been killed when the tube station he was sheltering in had been hit by a bomb.
She explained that I would be cooking for the family and small intimate dinner parties, but no fancy food as she and her husband liked good plain cooking. I showed her my references and she read them twice. I wonder why, they’re very good.
Mrs Langford isn’t sure that I am the sort of person she wants and is going to discuss the matter with her husband and will let me know in about a week’s time. I won’t get the job.
She doesn’t like coloured people.
Good news: Mrs Langford wrote to me and said she would give me a three months trial period as she would like to see how things worked out when Marie comes home for the holiday. Thank goodness, I was getting worried. I didn’t want to ask the nuns to keep Marie again for the holidays.
The Langfords like her and so do their two children, Emma and Tim. The children aren’t snobs like their mother and they play nicely together and tell each other about their schools.
The convent has made quite the little lady out of Marie and listening to her talking with such confidence makes me feel she has more in common with them than me.
The children sat spellbound the other day, on the backdoor step of the kitchen, while Marie told them about a new film, “Never Take No for an Answer”, the nuns had taken her class to see.
It’s about a little orphan boy called Peppino whose precious donkey, Violetta, falls ill and he wants to take the donkey into the crypt of St Francis, who is the patron saint of animals, in the hope that this will cure Violetta, but everyone he goes to for permission says no he can’t. So Peppino decides to ask the Pope himself and he and Violetta have a long and hard journey to Rome with many obstacles in his way, but in the end the Pope says yes and Violetta goes into the crypt of St Francis. It’s a lovely film and very sad; I cried when I saw it.
Emma came to the kitchen and asked me if Marie could come for a swim in their pool but I told her Marie had to help me shell the peas for lunch. So Emma offered to help and then Marie could finish quickly. Mrs Langford came into the kitchen and saw what Emma was doing and was very angry with me.
“My children do not do the servant’s work” she said.
I was furious with her. Marie is not a servant. I am.
First thing in the morning Emma, Tim and Marie go the dairy and help George, the farm hand, milk the cows. Then after breakfast they all go off riding together and are gone for hours. It’s busy at harvest time and everyone is expected to help so they are all out in the fields until nearly dark, including the children.
Marie fits in well with the family and now Mrs Langford doesn’t like to see Marie doing kitchen chores, but they keep me so busy in the kitchen and sometimes I need help and it’s good to remind Marie that she is not one of them. I think she looks down on me sometimes.
Last night I dreamt about the day I made my first Holy Communion. There were 200 of us that Sunday morning in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. It was a grand occasion with the choir in the background singing “Mass of the Angels” while the service was in progress. And then we all left the Cathedral to the sound of Mozart’s Grand March. Outside the Cathedral there were group pictures of us all taken with our family and then onto a wonderful breakfast and the Alpha Band playing while we ate.
I know why I dreamt about this. Guilt. I was feeling guilty about not being at the convent yesterday when Marie made her first Holy Communion. Mrs Langford said I had to change my day off because she wanted me to cook Beef Wellington for a luncheon party which she decided to give on the spur of the moment. I tried to explain to her how important it was that I went to the convent and how disappointed Marie would be, but her bloody Beef Wellington was more important. She said I could take the day off, but I could have my cards at the end of the week. I need this job, I had to do it.
Letter to Mummy from Marie
Please don’t be cross with me. Sister Bernadette put my name in the naughty book again. Is that why you didn’t come to see me on Sunday? I am sorry Mummy. I didn’t mean to be naughty. I’m trying very hard to be good.
Sister Philomena says can you send some money for a new pair of shoes for me. These one squash my toes up and it hurts when I walk. Sister Philomena says they are too small.
I went to mass this morning and it was very nice. This evening we have stations of the cross, my favourite.
I have made two new friends. One is called Leonie and one is called Anne Truelove. Leonie sucks her arm a lot.
Please come to the concert Mummy. I promise I will be good.
Love and kisses from Marie XXXXX
The Concert at the Convent: What a lovely evening. Marie was so excited when she saw me and I was happy I’d come to the convent, although I was very nervous. I’d been hoping to buy a new outfit, but I couldn’t afford it.
Mrs Langford said I looked very smart so that was nice. I worry that Marie will be ashamed of me because I don’t dress as well as the other parents and I’ve put on a little bit of weight, well, quite a lot really.
Sometimes, you know, I find it convenient to let people think I’m Marie’s nanny.
A few weeks ago Sister Bernadette wrote to me and asked me to buy Marie a ballet dress as she had been chosen, along with nine other girls, to be swans in the chorus line of the ballet Swan Lake.
Once the orchestra started playing, out came the dancing white swans onto the stage, and my heart sank when I saw Marie. She danced on to the stage, the only blue swan amongst a line of white ones.
It didn’t occur to me when I bought her ballet dress that it should be white. I saw the blue one and thought blue is her favourite colour, so I bought it. There was a gasp from the audience when she appeared on the stage but she carried on dancing beautifully.
At the end of the performance each swan had to come to the front of the stage and curtsy to the audience and when it came to Marie’s turn, the audience gave her a lovely round of applause.
Wasn’t that kind of them? I was so proud, I cried.
I bumped into Mrs Langford when I came out of the betting shop in Horsham. Damn nuisance. I pretended I’d gone into the wrong shop but I don’t think she believed me. I don’t gamble a lot just a little bit now and again. Just to help me with the school fees.
I wish I’d paid more attention to Boysie when he took me to Kingston races. He always won. He said he knew how to study form. I don’t even know what that means. I just stick a pin in the newspaper or else if I like the name of the horse, I’ll back it. The first two times I bet I won and it seemed easy.
My luck’s not good at the moment.
Letter to Mrs Carmen Browne
Sister Bernadette, Headmistress, Our Lady’s Convent, Dartford, Kent
Dear Mrs Browne
I am disappointed to learn that you have once again fallen behind with the weekly payments we agreed you should make in order to cover the arrears and current fees for Marie at the convent. Please could you make a payment as soon as possible.
Whilst writing, I think you should know that Marie’s behaviour has deteriorated and her school work is poor. She has had to be punished twice recently, once with the cane and on another occasion she has had to do 100 lines.
I am sympathetic to your circumstances, but must tell you that Marie’s behaviour must improve or we will have to refuse to accept her as a pupil.
Sister Bernadette (Headmistress)
What can I do? I have asked Mrs Langford if she could let me have an advance on my wages so I can send the convent some money. She said she would think about it. Later that day she came to me and said how fond the family was of Marie and she had a suggestion to make.
“You are obviously finding it difficult to bring up Marie. What if I give you a cheque for £250 and we take Marie off your hands.”
I couldn’t believe what she was saying.
“No, I can’t do that”
“Well, Carmen” she said “you should give the matter some thought.
“Marie is a lovely child and even if you didn’t want to leave her with us, you should consider having her adopted. It is obvious you cannot support her.”
Marie is home for the Christmas holidays. She is unhappy at the convent and wants to leave. She says there is a nun who is very cruel, Sister Claire, and she is the one who keeps punishing Marie. I understand now why Mammie didn’t say anything to Sydney when he whipped us.
I think it is wrong that the nuns smack a child, but I cannot say anything because I owe them money. I have to find the fees before she returns in January.
Christmas Eve: Marie asked me if she should put a big pillow case or a little pillow case at the end of her bed for Father Christmas to leave her presents.
I snapped at her and told her he’s not coming this year. Oh God, the expression on her face. I heard her get up in the middle of the night and look to see if there were any presents. She said nothing about it the next day. I feel terrible. I have no money for presents.
Good Friday : There is a big crisis going on. Mr Langford has lost the keys to his study. He cannot open his safe without them so everyone has to search the house until they are found.
Mrs Langford asked me if I had seen them and, of course, I haven’t. I don’t go near his study. She has accused me of taking them and called in the police and asked them to search my room. She has told them that little knick knacks have gone missing for some time and suspected it was me.
A plain clothes policeman searched my room, opening the drawers, taking out our clothes and throwing them on the bed, going through my wardrobe, the contents of my handbag strewn over my bed. Marie was watching and crying. They broke my little statue of the Virgin Mary on the table by the bed. My bible was on the floor.
They found nothing. But they still took our fingerprints, mine and my little girl’s.
Shortly after the police left, Tim Langford found the keys in his father’s car; they had dropped down the side of the driving seat.
Later that same day I packed our suitcase and Marie and I left the Langfords, but, not before Mrs Langford had insisted on emptying my suitcase to check that I had not stolen anything from the house. I had very little money and I suppose I should have stayed because I was not keeping Marie safe, but my pride wouldn’t let me.
Baywood Farm’s front drive is about half the size of a football pitch and I knew that, as Marie and I walked unsteadily on the loose gravel into the country lane, the Langfords were watching us. Marie using both hands to carry her suitcase and me struggling to carry the heavier suitcase and trying to make as dignified an exit as possible.
I got a coach to London and went to the Refuge in Fulham to see Geraldine Franks and explained my position. I thought she would help me. She was very sympathetic, but, in the end she said she had no choice but to inform the authorities that Marie and I were homeless. I knew what that meant and left.
We went to Victoria Coach Station and got on a coach to Brighton. I had enough money left to buy two coach tickets to Brighton and four 1d buns. When we arrived in Brighton I found the nearest Catholic Church and begged the priest to help us.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.