The beginning of a different kind of life.

It was a pretty miserable time for me. I lost a lot of weight, I was positively sylph like but I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of getting slim. I looked a bit gaunt. Friends at school tried to console me, two in particular, Rosamund the older Canadian English teacher.and Betty the languages teacher, both spinsters (horrible word) My married friends tended to stay clear, I think that is quite common. You become a completely different commodity when you are single again. I can see how awkward it is for them because it’s like taking sides and it is easier to ignore you and your past partner. Rosamund looked after her old aunt in the most idyllic cottage with a massive rambling garden and orchard. She just used to invite me to tea, something quite simple but caring. She would just let me read my book in the summer garden. Betty did much the same thing and I knew I could talk to them if I needed to. I was getting along in the house which now seemed rather empty after having been too full a short while before. Two things happened to change that 1) I had a bad burglary when most of my things were stolen and clothes and my belonging thrown all over the place and 2) the evening appearances of the husband of Robin’s mistress. I must say I was pretty scared by him and his unwelcome attention. I came to dread the nights, Betty had a spare room and I used to stay there. I was having difficulty keeping up the mortgage too. She needed a lodger so to cut a long story short I sold the house and went to live there. in Shephall Lane still near the park.

 

Betty's house

Not this one but exactly the same. It had a good long garden with good soil and I grew lots of vegetables.

 

shepvegetables

Betty Collins

Betty, who was much older than me, had had an interesting life, she was born in Birmingham and went to Birmingham University to study French and German and became a teacher. As the war broke out she was in Berlin but managed to get home safely. She became a committed supporter of Peace News, spending spare time giving out leaflets. Her school ironically was moved to Coventry, just about the worst place you could be, she became an air raid warden. Almost before the war ended she knew that she wanted to do relief work. She gave up her job and went to train at Mount Walton, run by the Quakers. It was a centre for all kinds of after the war relief efforts. Her first posting was in southern France, near Montauban, helping the Spanish refugees that were pouring across the border. She specialised in clothing but especially boots and shoes as many of them had none.

 

1947secours-quaker

After a while she was head hunted by the American Friends Service (AFS) to run a centre for university students in Freiburg in Breisgau in the Black forest. More of that later in the story.

Finally she went to Berlin to run Mittelhof, a community centre. This is it.

mittelhoff

What you have to remember was that Berlin was decimated, there was nothing to eat, buildings were shattered and there were thousands of displaced persons and refugees. She did a huge amount with mothers and children at the end of their tether. One of the trustees, was Harold Poelchau, a pastot who was chaplain in Tegel prison.

harald

He had been with Bonhoeffer when he wrote some of his major works.. Bonhoeffer was hung, naked,  in 1947. Once when we were in Berlin he took us to Spandau, a spine chilling place.

spandau

Amazingly he was also part of the famous plot to assassinate Hitler with Von Moltke, he wasn’t discovered but most of them were hung. He and his wife Dorothee, rescued countless Jews. Later we went to stay with him and his wife in Zehlendorf, Berlin,and they came to England, we took them to Cornwall for a holiday.

In Berlin Betty was still working for American Friends Peace Service and they won the Nobel Peace Prize, she was part of it. Her name, amongst others is on the citations. Before the war and after she had been on holiday courses in Poland and had two special Polish friends, Anya and Wlodek, I know I have been off the art track but this is where I can pick it up again. Betty and I used to go to Poland to visit them (in the 60’s) and that is when I discovered the eastern European wonderful art textiles.

abak1

Above.  Textile figures

abak2Maria Abakanowitz.

I was besotted by their power and inventiveness and then I started to work almost exclusively in textiles. Nobody in this country was doing anything like it. They have such power. Almost a complete change of direction but in the past I had made the ill fated rope chicken!

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