SHE died a long time ago now, but here she is again, signing in at the start of her diary for 1956: Doris E Taylor, 60 Monk Road, Bishopston, Bristol – Tel. no 41045.
We are staying with my mother and she has brought out a carrier bag full of diaries written by her mother. These diaries do not threaten Samuel Pepys but they are interesting none the less.
“Pat said we should throw them away,” says my mother, Margaret, referring to her sister. But she didn’t and here they are.
Here is a typical entry, for Saturday, January 14: “Jim and Stan went to a children’s party at Will’s. Win came to tea. Pat and Ken stayed in and played cards.”
Often an entry will mention the weather – with days being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and illnesses are mentioned often too, with colds detailed or trouble with bowels mentioned, too. But Doris and Jim seem to have a busy social life. Plays are seen often and tea is eaten – “Margaret and Jeff came to tea.” That’s my parents, long since divorced, but here they are again, young and going to tea.
I flick through the small pages of the Charles Letts Diary – “With the compliments of British Visqueen Ltd., Manufacturers of Polythene Film” – and arrive at Friday, October 5. The entry for this day reads: “Julian born at 2 o’clock in the morning, 6lb 9ozs.”
At that time in the wider world, not that long after the last war, nerves were shredding in the build-up to the Suez Crisis. Nowhere in Doris’s diary will you find a mention of anything outside of her world, and that is oddly comforting.
Instead she welcomes her first grandchild. The day after my arrival, Doris writes: “Went to see Margaret. Seemed very well. Then on to the social with Jeff. He stayed the night.”
My mother was still in hospital, confined to recover from the efforts of producing me, as happened back then. On Saturday, October 13, Doris writes: “Jim and I went to the Old Theatre to see The Rebel Queen. Very good but wordy.”
Tuesday, October 16 reads: “Margaret home today.” The following day reads as follows: “Went over to Hartcliff to see baby Julian. He’s lovely.”
Hartfcliff is an area of Bristol and we lived in a flat on top of a Co-op. Somewhere there is a picture of me aged about two on a tiny bike on the paved roof area above that flat.
We moved from that flat to a house in Long Mead Avenue, a walk away from Monk Road. Move forward to 1960 when the family calamity happened. My brother, Alistair, has been born and we are sharing an upstairs bedroom. Although I do not remember this, I climbed on his cot to reach the window.
The entry for Sunday, July 10 reads: “Julian fell out of bedroom window. Fractured skull and had stitches. Very worried about Julian.”
At the time of the accident, Pat was about to give birth, and on the Friday the entry reads: “Pat had Timothy, 7lbs 14ozs (Forceps). Went to see Pat with Ken.”
The next day, a Saturday, Doris writes: “To see Julian, looked better.” The rest of that entry is difficult to read, but I think it says: “To Clevedon in Jones’ car. Went back to theirs to have fish and chip supper.”
Tuesday October 19 reads: “To see Julian/Pat.” Doris had to do a double hospital dash by the sounds of it, to see her wounded grandson and her daughter and new baby.
Thursday, July 12 reads: “Julian home.”
Memory can be a mixture of what you can recall and things you have been told. I can’t remember being in the room with my baby brother or falling out of the window, which had been painted shut apparently. I can’t remember standing up in the garden, bloodied head and all, and reaching the doorbell.
But I can remember having a bath in the hospital and then coming home – on July 12, as I now discover – to be given a cake with zoo animals rooted in the icing. I think it was made by a neighbour.
I was three years old and that is a long way down time’s tunnel now, but it is interesting to see what life was like then for Doris and her family.
Saturday, July 13: “To Steers’ to play Scrabble. Rainy day.”
My mother tells me something I never knew. Before she was born, her mother Doris had a job on a newspaper, the Brentwood Gazette, Essex, in around 1930 – a good job, she thinks, possibly on the printing side. A newspaper connection that is new to me.