Kathy Martin’s life story (4)
By Kathy Martin…
My life story continues!
Whilst at college, would often go to London and stay with Mimi Boshoff, who lived in Queensgate with her elder sister Michelle (unfortunately she had diabetes and died very young, as she went into a coma, when on her own, and was not found in time).
Left college at the end of August 1973 got a job as a Kensington nanny, living with the Henderson family. They had two daughters Sasha (this is when I first heard the name and fell in love with it!) she had her 4th birthday in the November and Serena, about 15 months. I earned £14 a week, but this was basically “pocket money”, as all my food etc was covered.
- Bought an afghan coat from Biba, on Kensington High Street, for £14 and took days to decide whether should “blow” a whole week’s wages on it!
- The “Winter of Discontent” when loads of people went on strike and we had regular, daily, power cuts.
- Spent Christmas, 1973, with Mrs Henderson’s parents (her father was the chairman of Rothman’s tobacco company and very, very wealthy) and was very miserable!
- Sasha didn’t want to wear a dress go to her playgroup (she wasn’t allowed to wear trousers!) and got her as far as the front door in her underwear, until she threw a tantrum, and this put me into the doghouse with Mrs Henderson!
In the early spring, Mrs Henderson called me to the sitting room and said that she didn’t think I was suited to the job, which did not surprise me, as I was not happy.
Left at the end of February 1974 and went to stay with Karen Rietdijk and her parents in Arnhem, Eastern Holland. Gave English conversation lessons to earn some money. Saw the film “Day of the Jackal”, Mr Rietdijk would not let us see it until we had both read the book, a book I have re-read several times over the years and still enjoy.
Jan Rietdijk, Karin’s eldest brother, had emigrated to Rhodesia with Lesley, his girlfriend from Kampala, and decided that I would go.
I was not happy being away from Africa and the Rietdijk’s convinced me that as a white girl on my own, this would be a safe place to live.
Returned to England, beginning of May 1974, with the sole intention of earning enough money to get back to Africa.
Took three short-term nanny jobs:
- Sasha German (again that beautiful name) who was a new baby born to a golfing lady and they lived in Virginia Water.
- A baby girl in Barnes, she was placed with her grandparents for two weeks, whilst her parents went abroad
- A new-born Jewish boy, Daniel, he had a 3 year old sister and his parents hired me to ease him into their lives and to help prevent any jealousy. They were a very generous family and loved my stay with them. His sister was very bright and although couldn’t read, knew the words of her favourite stories by heart! Daniel went through his circumcision ceremony when he was 10 days old and I was the only female allowed to be in the house, ready to “shove” a bottle of milk into his screaming mouth. The rabbi was a lovely man and explained to me how to look after his bandaged penis. I had to call him at about 03.00 as it came off and he came round and sorted it out! They gave me a large bonus when I left, which helped with my fundraising.
In August 1974, had a farewell party at the Two Sawyers, my parent’s local pub in Pett, near Hastings, which was attended by Peter, my godfather, and Muriel Wright (he was my father’s longest known friend, since they were babies in prams together). He spent some time trying to convince me that I should not emigrate!
In middle of August 1974, aged 21, flew to Bulawayo, via Johannesburg, as no direct flights were allowed. We touched down on the Cape Verde islands for a fuel stop and I remember the wonderful smell and heat of Africa greeting me as stepping off the plane!
Lesley met me and took me to her house; she had left Jan, and lived with Ian.
Went to see the Immigration people, as they were to refund my airfare (paid £245 and would have loved to have done an overland trip from UK to Rhodesia, but although the fare was only £200, did not feel that I had enough extra money to survive the four-to-five week trip). The phone rang and the Immigration chap said “I think, I have someone suitable right here”. It turned out to be the local Avis Rent-A-Car manager looking for staff. Went straight round and had the interview, two days later was offered the job.
My chosen career, as a nanny, was a bit like “coals to Newcastle”, as African nannies were cheap and plentiful. Getting the Avis job enabled me to move out of Lesley and Ian’s house to The Manor Hotel, a small residential hotel and full of aged spinster ladies!
Based at the Avis desk in Bulawayo airport, along with Ann-Marie McGreavy (Sasha’s godmother). We used to work an afternoon and following morning, being allowed to use an Avis car to go home for the intervening night.
Only stayed in the Manor hotel for a short time, before moving to a flat on the 1st floor of a block owned by a lovely Jewish couple and was extremely short of money. After I had bought a bed, dining table and chairs, paid the rent and obligatory phone, was left with little for food.
Luckily the Air Rhodesia staff were given a free three-course meal each evening, so, although I never got a main course, on my evening shifts, I would sit with them and have one or two starters and one or two desserts!
There were two canteen managers, one (Ted) of whom was sympathetic and one (Hamish) wasn’t, so I had to be careful on the “nasty” manager’s shift.
Existed at home on a diet of cereal and milk, on one occasion, was sitting in my flat feeling very miserable, had no idea how I was going to feed myself for the rest of the month, when my landlord knocked on my door. He could see I had been crying and got the story out of me. He said very little, dealt with the reason for his visit (can’t remember what that was) and left. About 30 minutes later, there was a knock at the door and his house girl was standing there with a huge box of tinned and packet foods! I ran up to his top floor flat to thank him and he said that as his daughter was in Cape Town, he would hope that she would receive help from someone if she was in need! This generous gift got me out of a great difficulty, I was too proud to let Mummy and Daddy know that I was in financial difficulties!
Another source of meals, was being asked to go to dinner with the business guys, who rented cars. Was always able to get out of any “extra” courses that may have followed with little trouble! I got myself a pair of Siamese cats, called Samson and Sheba, and they were great company for me.
My first Christmas on my own was strange, after having been used to family ones. However, George and Sarah Pollitt, my Avis manager, invited me to join them, with her parents, at a hotel. Remember we had about 10 courses, Sarah had warned me, so only had a taste of most of them!
There were some lovely people working at the airport and one of the security ladies, Laura, assured me that she had the perfect match for me, but that he was “back home” (i.e. in UK) and once he returned she would make sure we met.
This turned out to be Alistair George Martin!
However, although we started just as airport friends, it was nothing more than that.
Then he went to Salisbury for Sheila (his sister) and Peter Brookes-Ball’s (her first husband, Tom, Karen’s father, had left her) wedding in July 1975. When Alistair returned from the wedding on the last flight, he was “pissed” and came up to my desk. Asked how he was getting home and he said on the airport bus, but felt he was in no condition to make that journey and so offered him a lift home. With difficulty managed to get him to his flat on the 1st floor and gave him some black coffee. Alistair told me that he liked the fact I had “something between my ears”! He asked me to go out for a meal with him, but thought he’d forget! With difficulty, I managed to get him onto his bed, before going home.
When he and I were next on duty together at the airport he came to my desk and said “did I or did I not ask you out for a meal the other night?” to which I replied, “You did, but don’t feel obliged, it was probably the drink talking!” However, we did go out together and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, he had been working loads of overtime and so money was no object!
This developed into a relationship and eventually, just as Ann-Marie and I were going to sign the lease on a house together; he was transferred to Salisbury and asked me to go with him. Actually, to back-track a little, Laura, the security lady, who had first told me about Alistair, said to me one day “why don’t you two get married, you are made for each other!” Driving home from the airport one night, I told him this and he agreed that it was a good idea, so I told him to ask me nicely, which he did and I accepted!
My life continues next time