It was on seeing an old photograph of my mother in India at the time of the Raj, sunshade aloft, and sitting in some kind of chair which was suspended on two poles, and being carried by four orderlies, that I realised I must have spent my childhood in a somewhat privileged environment.
I was born near the very important town at Silchester, in Berkshire. Our local doctor brought me into this world and never charged the family for his services as my grandfather had got him out of some scrape or other at Cambridge when they were studying there.
The society I entered was not an ordinary one. One grandfather was a medical Knight for the royal household, the other a country vicar and President of the National Rose Society. Then there was a knighted uncle in politics and a great uncle the Dean of Salisbury. With such connections we were accepted in privileged society. But we were poor.
My father, after Wye Agricultural College was working in the British Protectorate of Egypt when the WW1 was about to take place. He returned to England to join his Territorial Regiment and was sent to India and Mesopotamia. There, in the battle of Hanna, he was shot by Turks in the Ottoman Empire's army and returned to England where he never really recovered.
We had a chicken farm and he had a war pension for income. But I think most of our money for living, education and the like must have come from relations.
My mother, used to court circles, found being a farmer's wife difficult. I remember her being in tears when the local band appeared in our drive at Christmastime to sing carols. We had not a penny to give hem. Perhaps they were given eggs.
My parents played a lot of bridge. Should they lose, fellow players would always volunteer to pay their debts. That was the way it was. Being in financial straits was accepted. It was who you were that counted.
We children, unaware of the family's plight, grew up with nature, riding horses and bicycles, fishing in ponds and rivers, swimming, dancing (we had a sprung floor) balls, tennis parties (we had a lovely grass court), and generally living an ideal life.
We had a maid called Constance who smelled of Lifeboy soap. She cooked good English fare on a blackened, coal burning range that also heated water. We made our own gas to light the house. Open fires provided warmth. Two wells provided water for the tank in the roof. There was a Swift petrol engine that did the pumping, but when we couldn't get it started (which was often) we took turns at the hand-operated pump in the kitchen. We grew and preserved most of our food, stored in a larder on the north side of the house (there was no electricity for refrigeration). I remember the pheasants there that were hung from the two longest tail feathers. When the birds fell to the floor they were ready to cook. I recall their horrible smell. But that was the way they were treated and enjoyed in those days.
That kind of life was coming to an end just before the Second World War. The chicken business collapsed because of fowl pest and the import of cheap eggs from Poland. My father was dying from treatment of the cure-all of the day, radium, and tried, unsuccessful to grow mushrooms. We sold the house, but not before turning the barns into a thatched cottage, where I sometimes lived alone as my mother moved to London to succeed quickly and become the Chief Welfare Officer for the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service). She took in lodgers (I remember a deaf General and a retired ambassador) at a time when German buzzbombs were landing indiscriminately on London.
The idyllic and privileged country days for me were over. I went to the USA as a war refugee and returned in 1942 to join the RAF and become a pilot. The war changed our way of life and the way we dealt with it and with our fellow human beings. I barely had an education, but learned much from my time in the Air Force and post-war, the thirst for missed knowledge.
The privileged country days of yore had been wonderful for me, though largely unappreciated. My goodness, how lucky I had been to grow up in such circumstances.
It seems like an age ago. And I suppose it is an age ago.