Monday, 12 March 2012

Escape to China

Role models were quite few and far between for me. I idolised my Mum but I never saw her and knew even less what she actually did; my Nannie and friends' Mums were lovely but barely glamourous - so who did that leave? Well Gertrude of course!

I can't be sure what was bigger: her physical form (somewhere between statuesque and immense) or her reputation as she died long before I was born.

One apocryphal story is that she was on a health farm on a Polish island before Germany invaded and a messenger was sent on ahead to urge her out of he country, another that as a Southern Belle (albeit of epic proportions) she taught the Prince of Wales of the time to do the charleston (as nobody remembers, or cares, who was the particular Prince of Wales I suspect that the story was more important than the truth). I can, however, believe my Father's story that all the letters he received from her during the war were confetti as the censor took a dim view of her candid tales.

Life dealt her a few tough blows, and she was a global gypsy of the glamourous kind: a Danish American who never really found a home. She finally died in Japan; my grandfather was perplexed as to how to repatriate her until he remembered that Barclays Bank had a branch out there and got them to ship her and her effects back. We found her trunk many years later and it still contained her stars and stripes flag incomplete with 49 stars.

This is where my escape begins. As a girl growing up in her shadows how could I ignore her? She was paddled up the Congo in a log canoe to meet the venerable Dr Schweitzer (who apparently demanded that she left immediately but had to offer hospitality overnight while her transport was recalled - and so began a long friendship and a lifetime's correspondence) and machete in hand she fought the jungle to see Angkor Wat. Most memorably to me was that she was reputed to have lived a while in China. Apparently she wrote a book of her stay, a rambling account: as charming and unintelligible as her speech (she whistled on her in breath).

That rumour was enough for me. With little more than a replic of an old Chinese scroll poem I had fallen in love with the potential of the place. The vast open spaces of Mongolia, the rolling hills of the south, the changing territories along the Yangtze - a vast horizon of dream like promise.

China was my secret, my soul refuge where I could escape to forever if my life ever got too dire. It was so far removed from reality that it could always be there for me when things got tough. A broken heart, a horrible boss - whatever happened I always had a theoretical refuge I could run away to.

For many years it was just my secret. I surprised myself when I mentioned it to the man - by then he was 'the' man: a definite article! The man became the Hubster and what about China? It is no longer an escape but a reality, he surprised me by taking me there on honeymoon.

This is my entry for Josie's writing workshop. After six months away it feels good to be writing again, I am so pleased to find it still going - thanks Josie! See her badge on the right to find out more.


  1. Is this a true story?!?!! Either way, fiction or real this is amazing!

    1. Yes, all true (well, I can never be too sure about the Gertie stories). So glad you posted a comment - it brings it the full circle - her sister had a holiday home in the Outer Banks.


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