Family affairs

I closed the previous episode with an  account of how, one Saturday afternoon in, I think, 1982, I instantly recognised my mother's unintroduced voice on the telephone - having last heard it in 1944 when I was aged just ten! I have tried to keep these memoirs as closely as possible to their chronological order but here I'm going to fast forward for a moment to 1993, when mother lay dying in a Milton Keynes hospital and I was returning from another trip to the USA. I remember that flight, one of those 'redeyes' from Chicago that discharge you into a mostly deserted, often rainy Heathrow with most of the UK happy to be still fast asleep. I remember it because, with all the aircraft lights turned low and sounds only of  the drone of engines and sleeping people, I wrote my very first little verse since leaving school. This is it ... so far as I know seen until now only by mother and the other folk in her hospital ward ...

To my mother

So many fine things, fine mornings.
Long evenings, beauty, new things
And the many kinds of earthly love
That through our trials live on
Now and forever in the stars above
And never from my memory truly gone.

With my love
Your son, Bryan
21 April 1993.

My beautiful mother Marie was the daughter of General of the Salvation Army, Albert Osborn  and Captain of the Salvation Army, Evalina. Their pictures from Wikipedia are below; probably taken around 1915 ... I think Evalina was my grandmother but cannot be quite certain for the General had three wives, (consecutively!) outliving them all. Albert and Evalina's daughter Marie had six or seven siblings. I don't know just how many. My father Eddie Islip had also been born into a strongly Salvationist family although these, my paternal grandparents, were unpaid Salvationists. In 1932 my sister Shirley was born to Marie and Eddie, followed by myself in 1934 and then my sisters Tina and Maureen.(Father told me that although I, Shirley and Maureen were 'his', my sister Tina was not his.) I retain two versions of my parents life together before and during WW2; the version with which I grew up through my teens as told by father and the version as told in female confidence mainly to my wives Joan and Dee by my mother. We would all like to re-write parts of our history, would we not? (Please note I'm trying my best not so to do right here!) According to father my mother was a bit of a spendthrift, well addicted to a fast social life and men in general. According to mother my father was a tyrant and a bully, partial to masochistic sex, the result of being brought up alongside his two sisters by a subserviant mother and a father who frequently made him stand for hours, for the most minor of offences in the corner of the room facing the walls. However, it seems that father as a young man was presented by grandfather Islip (who had made large profits through building works in WW1) with his own building business, which unfortunately went into liquidation in the late 30's. According to father, his partner had defaulted and defected with all the loot. At any rate, father was not forgiven for losing the money.

When grandfather Islip lay on his Hastings deathbed (lung cancer) his doctor summoned all three of the children. The last will and testament was read out. My aunties Kay and Peggy were to split the estate between them and father got - nothing! He had, I was told my grandfather declared, already had - and had wasted his share! Afterwards the doctor urged the three of them to say their goodbyes then go wait in the living room. Ten minutes later doctor brought them back. Grandfather was dead. Very soon afterwards grandmother Islip also left this mortal coil. But looking back it does seem odd to me that their three children, brought up in such a strongly moralistic tradition, each had to suffer at least one divorce.And I do mean suffer. Divorce must rank as one of the most painful of self-inflicted wounds.

Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. Probably my very first memory at five years of age, all the family sitting around the radio in our Chigwell, (northern suburbs of London) house. I hear still the sad and sonorous voice of Prime Minister Chamberlain: ... No such response has been received and therefore this country is at war with Germany ...  This sounds like a lot of guns and jolly good fun, I thought.

By that time father had used his masonic contacts to secure a position as a quantity surveyor in Whitehall's 'Ministry '(of War, as it became). He was therefore exempt from military service, being required to help manage the building of wartime airfields and encampments. One of his sites was Burtonwood in Lancashire and it was to this area, in Walton-le-Dale, that the family migrated soon after the outbreak of the war proper. I don't think mother appreciated the move away from the bright lights of London town. At any rate her relationship with father soon descended into that well-remembered emotionally disturbing shouting v silence match. Eventually mother embarked on an affair with one Walter Smith, a plumber and sergeant in the platoon of Home Guards commanded by father. I remember this man very well, for after doing some work in our attic he curried favour with this particular nine year old by presenting him with the most beautiful object I had ever seen: the egg of a starling in the purest of azure blue. The beginning of a lifelong interest in wild birds (and their eggs as a boy, before birds nesting was made illegal.)

Late in 1944 came the split. Mother went off with Mr Smith, taking Tina and Maureen with her by rule of the courts which had allocated my elder sister Shirley and myself to father. So this bewildered duo were entrained, unaccompanied, to London. My final memory for the following forty odd years of a beautiful mother who I adored and who loved me was of her waving and weeping on the platform as the train pulled away from Preston railway station. Father had a house in Pimlico opposite the famous / infamous Dolphin Square on the banks of the river Thames, but Shirley and I were at once sent off to our respective prep (boarding) schools in Abingdon, Berkshire. I have no idea whether father had already begun his own love affair with one of the Ministry typists, Julia Wicksteed. I suspect that was the case. In any event Julia became my stepmother. Regrettably I could never find it in myself to do very much more than tolerate her presence, especially throughout my troubled teens. She died in the 90's (in her seventies) in a Hastings Nursing Home.

I am not about to allocate blame for this chaotic dissolution of a family but I most surely can advocate the state of lifetime monogamy ... In my own, deeply held view the sins of the fathers etc should never be visited upon their progeny, whatever happens outside of their marriage. Perhaps these views - yes, very much unpopular according to latter day lore - can at least in part be attributed to my paternal grandfather. According to father the family only discovered after his death that their father had for many years supported a second, secret, family throughout most of his adult life. Yet grandmother and grandfather lived and died together - it seems to me quite responsibly and even happily -well  into their eighties. How about your own conduct? you may well be thinking. I can only respond that I honoured and would always have honoured my marriage vows, come what may, 'til death did part either myself or my wife.

As I say, in or around 1982 mother made a truly shocking contact with me and mine. I arranged to go to see her. To my (and father's) amazement it turned out that she had been living, albeit in very reduced circumstance within half a mile of father's sea-front apartment - where he had been living for some twenty years with his second wife, Julia. I tried, perhaps half heartedly, to bring about a rapprochement between my parents but that didn't work. You do try to stay away from fire once you have suffered a burning, do you not? But I am glad that my children had the chance of a contact, even if only a scanty one, with their grandmother - and ditto with a grandfather who could find it in himself to give them so little of his time as they grew into adulthood.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this blog while digging around for my genealogy on Google. Islip being the name of my mother's side of my lineage, which I knew little to nothing about beside the fact that my Grandad Islip is an author, I searched for "Islip Author".
    My search resulted in a link entitled "Bryan Islip (Author of Going with Gabriel)". After reading your name, I remembered when my father told me of my Grandad Bryan, so I narrowed my search to "Bryan Islip" which lead me to this page.
    As I read your words "...and the version as told in female confidence mainly to my wives Joan and Dee by my mother" I knew I had found what I was looking for.
    A conversation I'd had years ago with my oldest brother Adam came flooding back to me. He told me that my mother's biological mother had passed away and that her father had remarried a woman named Delia.

    I believe that you are my Grandad. My mother's name is Julie. My father's name is Robert Noon. I am their youngest son Henry Jack Noon.
    Leaving England as a young child and having been raised in America I know only what has been told to me by my father and my brothers of my family in England.
    From the contents of this article I can see that you know your lineage fairly well. I would very much like an opportunity to speak with you about this and to have the opportunity to get to know you.

    My e-mail account is

    I hope to hear from you soon.


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