Trees and Monkeys #1
My eccentric Uncle Claude was a practical joker. Claude Lyons must have known conjuring tricks because, as a child, he would bring coins forth from behind my ears when I sat on his lap at Beech Lodge, his brother Lewis's grand house in Liverpool. He told me, and I believed him, that he had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace at 3.00 pm every Wednesday. I even told all my classmates at Belvedere GPDST, the school for young ladies in Liverpool, that I had a VIP for an uncle.
Uncle Claude lived in London far away from the provincial city of Liverpool. He had done well for himself and owned the Claude Lyons electrical company in Hertfordshire, still managed today by my first cousin William. However Claude was unhappily married to Zia dividing the house in Hendon but living apart, he on the ground floor and she upstairs because she refused to divorce him. Divorce laws were not as they are today even though their marriage was in-retrievably broken down. How they hated each other!
Claude engaged an Italian housekeeper called Anna from Salerno, past her sell by date, in her mid forties during the late 60s. One winter he got pneumonia, she nursed him and they fell in love despite their age difference. A son was born named Lewis in memory of his brother and business partner but lovingly called Gino.
I went to stay a week with Uncle Claude and Anna in his large West End Lane, flat when I got a part time job at The Ideal Home Exhibition in the late 60s. I moved in after having stayed a while with my cousin Ruth who was married to the South African lawyer Lionel Hodes in Child's Hill, north London.
I always spoke Italian to Anna who maternally fed and watered me. We got on well but I never asked her, as I would today, about her background. I didn't even know her surname. She was just Anna from a village near Salerno, south of Rome. Then disaster struck. Gino got the flu. Anna nursed him before going down with the flu herself however she still cooked pasta for us, the Lyons family. I always offered to help wash the dishes and she refused. The kitchen was her territory and no one entered it.
One day my best friend Maureen Lyons arrived and I introduced her to Uncle Claude and Anna. Later that evening, he told me to pack my bags and never to come back refusing to say why. Confused and very upset I took the train back to Liverpool crying all the way. My mother rang her brother demanding to know why I had been kicked out. Claude said I didn't introduce her as Mrs Lyons and I treated Anna like a servant speaking in Italian and never once helped with the dishes! My mother reacted saying that Anna was not Mrs Lyons reminding him he was still married to Zia! It was clear too as my uncle did not speak Italian that he felt he was an 'outsider.'
I never saw my uncle again.
Two synchronistic occurrences happened. Once, years later when I had bought a flat at the end of West End Lane on West End Green, I had gone into the local wine shop up on the Finchley Road, a few minutes from my Alexandra Mansions flat, to order some wine for Christmas. The man had an order book and was taking down a delivery order. For some reason I looked at the order form even though it was upside down. It was addressed to my uncle Claude! I turned around to see my cousin William selecting bottles of wine to send his father for Xmas as they did not speak. William did not approve of his father producing an illegitimate half brother when he was well into his 70s. Despite the fact that cousin William lived 5 minutes away from me in Avenue Mansions, Finchley Road, I had never been welcomed to London nor been invited to his home. What a family I had!
On another occasion my friend Anna Mae Silver lived in a flat on West End Lane close to Uncle Claude. I was in her flat and sat on the telephone table-cum-stool which housed her post in the hall waiting for her to get ready to go out. For some reason I glanced at the envelope of an obvious Christmas card. It was addressed to Claude Lyons put through the wrong letterbox! I took the card to post and considered for a while writing a note on the reverse but never did. I just posted it and that was that!
Written in Golders Green, Costa Cafe, London on 14.8.17.
Read in conjunction with 'Trees and monkeys' #2