Love, War and Ice Cream: Family Stories

Love, War and Ice Cream: Family Stories

by M. Z. Fairtlough


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462093113
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/18/2012
Pages: 366
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.82(d)

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Love, War and Ice Cream

Family Stories
By M. Z. Fairtlough

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 M. Z. Fairtlough
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-9311-3

Chapter One

The End and the Beginning

He was in the motorcar and the three sticks in his fists bloomed magically into flags, as pretty as the flowers in the garden all around. He waved the flags and his brother and sisters did also, and the colours danced and flashed red and white and blue. Everyone was laughing and there was music and bells singing a happy song, soldiers were marching, drums and trumpets playing so cheerfully, and so many people, more people than he had ever seen in his life, were cheering and throwing handkerchiefs and flags and hats up in the air.

That was Harry's earliest memory, the day the War ended.

He had a jolly little life, with Mum and, when they weren't at school, his older brother and sisters: Gerard, Carola and Hilary. Mum was always there, with her sweet smile, her bright blue eyes, and the tidy saxon knots over her ears. He knew that was what they were called because earlier, when everyone was dressing for the celebration, Carola had been a bit rude about them.

"Not boring old saxon knots again, Mum." Carola wrinkled her nose when Mum came out of her room. "Why don't you put it up at the back, like you wore it when the Bakers came last week?"

"I don't have time to do that and this will be cooler anyway," Mum replied, checking herself in the hall mirror. She repositioned the sparkling crescent moon higher up on her lapel. "Now please get into the car or we'll be late."

Foster held the car door open. He also had dressed up, all in brown and on his head was a peaked cap with a shiny badge of a small cannon above the brim. He looked like someone else, like the picture of Dad near Mum's bed.

When all the family was sitting down on the cracked black seats, Foster asked, "Shall we leave now, Mrs Fairtlough?" Mum nodded.

He shut the door and they drove off in a cloud of smoke, through the gates, up the lane past the cows in the field, and out onto the road. This was the first time Harry had been in the car, as far as he could remember.

Mum said, "Would anyone like a toffee?"

Harry watched as Carola eagerly unwrapped the little package from Mum's hand, stuffed the golden lump into her mouth, and closed her eyes with a smile. Gerard and Hilary did the same. When Mum asked him if he wanted one, he nodded, even though he wasn't sure what it was that he might be getting.

Mum peeled back the thin paper and quickly bit the lump in two. "We'll share this last one," she said and he opened his mouth to receive the scrap of toffee from her fingers. Sweeter and stickier than honey, it was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted.

"Wave to the people," Mum said. Harry copied Gerard, his hand rocking side to side. The people crowding along the road waved back and they all looked so happy that he could not keep still. All he wanted to do was bounce up and down on Mum's knee. She shushed him and then the car stopped and Foster opened the door. The rumble Harry had heard in the car turned into a roar and he felt afraid for a moment at all the people shouting everywhere. But then he saw that they were laughing too, all of them except for the men standing on the green grass in front of the tall stone building with a spire that reached up to the clouds. The men were wearing peaked caps a bit like Foster's, and shiny coins on their jackets, and they patted Harry on the head. Then they spoke to the crowd while Mum held his hand tight. When the guns fired, he hid his face in Mum's rough skirt but then he heard everyone cheer and he cheered and jumped about too. Or at least as much as Mum would let him.

Suddenly Mum said, "We're going home now," and Foster was there again at the open car door, waiting for the family to get in. As they drove away, Harry looked through the back window and saw that everyone else had decided to stay.

* * *

When Zoë Fairtlough first moved to Blandford St Mary in 1938, the Manor House had seemed handsome enough. Although it had been renovated and added to several times, it retained a Tudor feel and function, with its steeply pitched roof, mullioned windows that let in the whistling wind, and towering chimneys topped with decorative chimney pots. Its numerous bedrooms, fine drawing room, and long dining room had been perfect when they had entertained, but now the main attractions of the house for her were the several acres of elegant lawns and gardens shaded by ancient trees, which gave her space to think and the children plenty of room to play.

It was late in the evening of May 7 1945 when the telephone rang, urgent and irritating against the gentle strains of Delibes playing on the wireless.

"Blandford 323," she said. She hoped it was not bad news—no one ever called this late.

"We've just heard that Germany has ratified the unconditional ceasefire!" On the other end of the line, the Commander at Blandford Camp sounded tinny but jubilant.

Somehow, she managed to sit down on the chair near the telephone table as he continued in that pompous little way of his: "The Prime Minister will be announcing the end of the War tomorrow morning, and I and the officers of Blandford Camp would be exceedingly honoured if you could join us in the celebrations after that, at fifteen hundred hours, outside the church of Peter and Paul on East Street. In consideration of all that General Fairtlough and you have done for our country, it is only right that you should be there. We are only sorry that the General cannot be with us. It's a tremendous shame."

In someone else's voice, she accepted the invitation. She fumbled as she placed the handset back on its cradle, and then she stumbled upstairs to her bedroom, throat-burning cries stifled into her handkerchief.

It was only six months since Eric had died, but while the War continued and others were losing their loved ones, she had managed to put her grief in a box to the side. Now that the prospect of normality had returned, now that everyone's prayers for an end to the War had been answered, that box had burst open and the reality of life without him was suddenly unbearable.

That night she had a dreadful nightmare where it seemed as though she had never even been married, and everyone in Blandford had not only forgotten her, but did not know her at all. In the dream, Eric was alive and well, but even he would not acknowledge her and was leading an awful barrack room ballad with a troop of soldiers, all of whom were maimed. Despite their bleeding wounds, they kept on singing louder and louder.

She was thankful when day broke at last and she could get up to ready herself, the house and the children to join the rest of their world in celebrating the German surrender. After she had given the staff their instructions, she spent a quiet hour in the garden collecting flowers and greenery for new arrangements around the house. The daffodils and bluebells would look pretty against the hawthorn.

She decided she would tell the children about the news later, or they would be too excited and tire themselves out, and there would be tears in that case. Even so, she found she could not help glancing at her watch over and over again as the seconds dragged all morning and through lunch.

At 2.30 p.m. on the dot, Foster said he would start the motorcar. He was wearing his Royal Artillery uniform, the one he had worn when he had served Eric all those years. At the memory, she had to look away and spent the next few minutes overfussing with her brood, giving each of them three flags of the Allies who had won: the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, and the Hammer and Sickle. "We're going to celebrate the end of the War," she said to the elder children, Gerard, Carola and Hilary, and they cheered as expected and ran all around, making the air electric with happiness. In the car minutes later, they sat up straight and proud to be British, but little Harry was like a puppy, squirming on her lap with uncontainable excitement.

Foster drove slowly past the merry throngs making their way into town. Gay bunting hung around lampposts and draped across doorways of the houses on the side of the road, and someone had even begun to paint the side of their house red, white and blue. All she could think of was that the staff from the camp must have been handing out flags from the early hours.

But where did they get so many flags so quickly? And where did they get the paint?

The people crowding the way turned when they heard the growl of the rare car. The men doffed their caps, and the women and children waved uncertainly. She waved back, her gloved hand moving barely side to side, and put on her smile. And when they arrived at the church, after Foster unloaded them all and she was standing with her children through the marching and the playing of the brass bands and the waving of the pretty flags, she tried to envisage her life without the familiar wartime routines and found that she felt afraid. It was a relief when the ceremony ended and they could leave.

At home, however, there was no respite, with people dropping in and the telephone ringing incessantly. Her mother called in the evening, when the madness of the celebrations had ended and Zoë was back in the comfort of the rhythm of the Manor House. The children were all tucked into bed, and she was reading while the fire crackled in the grate in a most soothing manner.

"How are you managing, darling?"

The sound of her mother's sweet, concerned voice was as much as Zoë could bear. She did not want this call to be long. "Very well, thank you. How did you celebrate at Dulas?"

"It was lovely ... hmm ... we thought we might have a weekend in London with all of us, a family V-day celebration ... dinner at the Savoy. We could stay at Di's. Would you be able to join us next week?" Her mother sounded tentative. Zoë could almost see her smoothing out the folds of her dress.

"I'm sorry, Mummy. We need the petrol ration for school visits, even just to get to the station. Perhaps we can get together again for Christmas." That was far off enough that she could steel herself for all the fun and jollity that was to be expected from a gathering of her family.

"... I understand, darling, but if you need help with finances or anything else, you know you can call upon us, don't you?"

Her parents lived life so well that Zoë wondered whether there was anything left at all of the fortune her father had inherited from his rich uncle. It had allowed her own childhood to be blessed with plenty, too much perhaps. She could scarcely believe that the girl in that life could have been her.

"No need to worry about us." She swallowed as she held back the tears. "What with Eric's trust and pension, I can manage. I don't need anything."

"Of course," crooned her mother, "but now that you must take care of everything on your own, are you managing all right? You're going to have to make some major changes."

"I know that! I'm not stupid!" There was silence at the other end of the line. She inhaled deeply. "It's all right, Mummy. When Eric retired last year, I had already begun to rein in expenses. In any case, we never lived lavishly. I must go now—so much to do."

Before meeting Eric, she had not given any thought to money and had been happy to accompany her mother into London on the frequent shopping trips for the incessant buying of, in truth, mostly useless trinkets from Aspreys and Harrods and the smart shops in Bond Street. And the clothes! So many, so often cast aside after just a few wearings. In fact, after her wedding, it had been liberating not to have to keep up with the latest fashions, and she had settled happily into the routine of an officer's wife with a much more limited budget. There were the twice-weekly meetings of the Welfare Committee to help soldiers and their families, lots of bridge, and an occasional evening of music. Then, as Eric's career had advanced, when he was promoted to the rank of colonel and then major general, and as the children grew older, her life had become more interesting, she had to admit that. She blocked those memories before they could swim into her eyes.

In some ways, it's lucky that Blandford St. Mary is a complete backwater, she thought. She rarely had to entertain now. When the Americans departed after D-Day almost a year earlier, their military-led social life had dwindled, more so when Eric died. With some regret she had let go of Cook and the housemaids and the gardener, retaining only Mrs Tomms from the village to help in the kitchen in the mornings. Foster, Eric's army manservant, stayed on as chauffeur, gardener and general handyman. Her mother sent down Edna, a nice Welsh girl, to help with Harry, as Nursie Greenwood, who had raised the older Fairtlough children, had gone to the Clarkes at Saltwood Castle. Now Zoë's daily routine was focused on the children and the garden, the church and the village, and on helping veterans and their families.

With the War ending, there seems to be nothing to look forward to any more. At this thought she felt the sadness envelope her again, heavy but familiar. She shook her head and marched out into the garden, where the night welcomed her with the scent of magnolia blooms and mowed lawns.

I'm being ridiculous. I should plan something, something fun that involves the children. Before the War that might have involved a picnic with cakes and sweets, but with rationing still severe there was hardly anything nice in the larder now. The toffees shared in the car had been the very last in the tin. Then she remembered the store of food that she and Eric had hidden in this very garden five years earlier, in July 1940, when German airplanes had first threatened England's shores.

"The Luftwaffe has attacked in the Straits of Dover. As Churchill predicted, the Battle of Britain has begun." As he spoke, Eric had looked on edge, with dark rings under his hot eyes and skin grey as stone. "It is anticipated that the Germans will increase the range of their attacks to cover a wider front."

"What's going to happen?" her voice had faltered, not so much at the news—everyone expected the enemy would attack—but rather at her husband's haggard appearance. In the two weeks since she had last seen him, he had become so thin that his uniform hung about his shoulders.

"We're not sure what they're going to do. Air raids are all very well, but the only way they can invade Britain is by sea, most likely on the Kent and Sussex beaches as they're closest to France." His breathing was short as he patted his pocket and pulled out a yellow packet of Asthmatrol cigarettes. "But we do expect German paratroops to land at any moment ... Let's talk outside." The house staff all had been vetted, but one could never be too careful. He said that it was better that they should not know anything, in the event that they let something slip by mistake to enemy spies.

The day could not have been prettier, in the way only England could be. Bees and butterflies hovered among the budding roses and the birds were trilling so that their entire purpose seemed to be to celebrate the beauty of life. Eric led her to the silvered bench at the very back of the garden, where the lavender mingled with the roses and honeysuckle. When he spoke again, his fingers moved gently over the back of her hand, tracing the blue veins. He told her that Germany aimed to gain control of the English Channel so that the Royal Navy would be unable to hinder their invasion fleet. "They have thousands more planes than we do, really good planes. And thousands more trained pilots." The corners of his mouth were pulled down, and his left eye was twitching. He stood up and his breathing sounded ragged and forced.

"Is it hopeless?" As she searched her husband's face, she gripped her fingers in her lap.

"Difficult, not hopeless." His smile was not reassuring. "Radar towers all along the south coast will warn us of approaching planes, and the Royal Observer Corps is watching the sky," he said, his voice low. "With that information, we have ack-ack brigades well positioned to support the Royal Air Force and defend the country." He sat down again as he began to wheeze. She made to get up but he put his hand on her knee to make her stay.

"So we just sit here and wait for the enemy to attack?" She heard her own voice pitch higher.

"No, we're not just waiting, we are prepared." He seemed certain, but was he trying to persuade her or himself?

"Not as prepared as we would like, mind you, but we stand a chance, a good chance," he said, his tone more decisive now. "Our fighter planes can spend more time in the air because we can easily land for fuel and ammunition, while their fighter planes need to refuel in France. So, although the Germans have thousands of bombers, their fighters cannot always cover them. That means that they are open to attack. And we will attack, you can be sure of that." Despite the rational argument, there was a frightening grimness about his eyes as he spoke.

"Will that be enough?" She was still watching his every expression, thrilled as always that he should choose


Excerpted from Love, War and Ice Cream by M. Z. Fairtlough Copyright © 2012 by M. Z. Fairtlough. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Family Trees....................xiii
1. The End and the Beginning....................1
2. El Salon Italiano....................17
3. Just Harry....................33
4. Fire in the Sky....................45
5. Trains, Tigers and Tea....................56
6. Laundry Day....................74
7. Summer Break....................91
8. The Fight....................106
9. Trial by Fishcakes....................123
10. Dire Punishments and Difficult Lessons....................141
11. The Dog in the Oven....................150
12. The Sad Story of Mariquita Perez....................163
13. The Coronation....................183
14. Ice Cream for El Caudillo....................192
15. Rebellion!....................200
16. El Futbolista....................212
17. Filling the Gap....................230
18. Vanishing World....................240
19. The Fork in the Road....................253
20. Marina's Revolution....................268
21. Asclepius' Prescription....................279
22. Lecciones de Inglés....................289
23. Love Letters....................312
24. Wedding a la Gaditana....................327

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Love, War and Ice Cream: Family Stories 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
venetiaM More than 1 year ago
I read six books on holiday including a Booker winner and this was the best. Utterly absorbing, a real page turner. Interesting way of helping you get inside the characters' heads, but with a respectful distance still kept for the living and their close connections. Of great interest to historians, particularly those interested in evidence of the lives of different groups of families in the war. A subtle but consistent feminist thread; these women were extraordinary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure I'd like Love, War and Ice Cream but the whimsical title and cover appealed and so I dived in. It's delightful and original on many levels! Told in the voices of two generations in Spain, Italy and England, it evokes perfectly the times, places and societies of post WWII Europe. I was drawn right in to the two families involved, so different and yet in many ways so alike. I came away knowing a lot more than I did about WWII history and European culture. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in multicultural biographies and also just a plain good read. The author website says a sequel is due next year and I'm looking forward to that!