IV – Return From America

AFTER MY RETURN FROM AMERICA I spent the summer in Ireland, not eating and being and feeling completely useless. My parents were money worried and distracted by the baby. Corries, our home, had been sold to the American family who had originally built it and we were living in another large old house belonging to family friends, so the usual question cropped up “What to do with Philippa?” The answer, more cousins, this time in Vienna.

Jenny Franklin was married to Francis Guth whom she had met on a train in Mexico. Jenny had been doing mosaic murals for the University of Mexico. She was a talented artist. Francis ostensibly had a linoleum manufacturing business near Vienna and an interest in a firm designing ski clothes. I could learn to design ski clothes though I had never skied and was both inept and uninterested in sport. Francis was also a famous gourmand and erudite writer about food.

Their flat in Vienna was in a large modern block just outside the Ringstrasse. It was luxurious and large but oddly impersonal, and my role was basically to be a companion to Jenny, who I was fond of.

Francis was often away on business and we were discouraged from going out into the city, so no museums, galleries or famous Viennese cafes. We did have one trip to see the Hungarian border. I saw no sign of either places making ski clothes or linoleum. Decades later I was told that Francis was in the C.I.A. which would explain these anomalies.

Anyway, after about only three months I was dispatched back to Ireland, this time first class on the Liner America which sailed from Bremerhaven via Southampton and called in at Cobh on the way to New York. I was quietly drawing the forest of cranes on Southampton docks when Salvador Dali came over to look at what I was doing. He was with his wife Gala and I knew who they were but was far too shy to speak to them. He looked through my sketch book and told me I had to be a painter. My mother had kept a postcard of his crucifixion in her room and I had seen his paintings in Paris. His small kindness gave me courage which is the most precious gift anyone can be given.

So, home again. I told my parents “Salvador Dali says I must be a painter,” the response predictably was OUT. This time to London with ten pounds and a job hand sewing in Hardy Amies workshop. Having been taught by nuns I was a very competent hand sewer. I had absolutely no other even remotely marketable skills. I lived in a small bedsit in Kensington. I had no friends and the sewing job lasted for less than two months. I had about six jobs in the next six months, among them assistant in Foyles bookshop, shop girl in a greengrocers,and an artist material shop and framers in Kensington Church Street.

Eventually I found a job as a live-in au pair with a family in South Kensington. Lady Savernake nee Wills was divorced. She was dark, vivid and very sociable. The children were David, a quiet very well-mannered boy who was away at prep school, Sylvia aged around eight and Carina, two years younger. They had a King Charles Spaniel called Suzie and there was also a Swedish au pair called Babette.

I liked them all, though Babette’s culinary speciality of mashed potato and swede turnip with chopped apricots through it served with boiled meatballs was arguably one of the least palatable dishes I have pretended to enjoy. Consequently my duties came to involve doing the cooking, the ironing and washing, helping with homework, babysitting the girls, walking the dog and general housework. I had my own room, some free time, some sort of security and was mostly contented if not actively happy. I also had a small wage.

Neville Terrace was within walking distance of the Royal Albert Hall and that first summer I went to as many of the Proms as I could. Most memorable was Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting Haydn’s Creation with choirs of hundreds. I came out reeling with the sheer power and beauty of it.

The V&A and the Natural History Museum near and fairly popular with the children, also Kensington Gardens. Drawing and painting were permitted. One summer we spent a month in a cottage on Lady Savernake’s father’s estate Meggernie Castle in Glenlyon Perthshire, which was happy as the children could run fairly wild and I could paint. At Christmas the family went away and I was left as house security alone in London – Denny’s tinned chicken and mushroom pie was my festive dinner.

Later that winter fate, in the form of Clody Hall-Dare, intervened. Clody was a childhood friend from Ireland. She recognised me on Kensington Church Street on a cold rainy evening looking hungrily at buns in a shop window. Clody was in her first year at the Byam Shaw School of Art just up the road. She introduced me to the school and paid for evening classes for me for the rest of that year.

PhilippaIV – Return From America