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An Ordinary Woman

Today would have been my Mum’s eighty-seventh birthday. Thelma was born in Islington Workhouse Hospital, on 15 September 1928. The workhouse had long been closed as a repository for the destitute of London, but the hospital still provided facilities for the local area.

At Mrs South's, 1929

At Mrs South’s, 1929

Victoria and burgeoning family outside their home in Vegal Crescent Englefield Green

Victoria and burgeoning family outside their home in Vegal Crescent Englefield Green

She and her mum, Victoria, moved around a bit in her first year or so, eventually fetching up near Guildford at the house of Mrs South. Thelma always referred to the lady as Auntie South, but I don’t believe there was any relationship other than friendship between Victoria and Mrs South. When Thelma was about eighteen months old, Victoria met a widower, Henry, a gardener and groundskeeper at Wentworth Golf Club, and they married in 1930. Henry already had four children, two the result of his first marriage, and two his first wife’s children. Thelma was suddenly part of a large family!

The family expanded, with four more daughters added in the next few years, Thelma grew up, went to school, and wanted to become a hairdresser. Unfortunately, Henry saw no future (or useful income) in her training as a hairdresser, and so she shelved her dreams and trained as a secretary instead.

While working at the tank factory at Chobham Common in 1948, she met a handsome young man, recently demobbed and trained in draughtsmanship. She always said that she thought Bill looked like the actor Danny Kaye, with his wavy fair hair and twinkly blue eyes! They married in 1951, and had one daughter.

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Over the years, Thelma worked as a cleaner of other people’s houses, a secretary to the hospital pharmacist, a homemaker and a supporter of Bill’s self-employment. They took holidays – two weeks in Mrs Fudge’s bed and breakfast in Poole Dorset, or touring around Cornwall, or renting a cottage on Exmoor. They never went abroad, never even had a passport. Thelma’s life may have seemed dull by today’s standards, but she was content. She baked delicious cakes, cooked simple meals, knitted, sewed her own clothes, visited friends in the village, and occasionally, when Bill fancied a day away from work, she would pack a picnic and load the dog and the food into the car and off they would go for a ramble.

Bill and Thelma on their wedding day

Bill and Thelma on their wedding day

She had always had a love of birds, and had been a member of the RSPB for many years. She started keeping birds in a small way, with a couple of canaries; Bill built her a large aviary, half under cover and half outside, and she filled it with zebra and other decorative finches, lovebirds, and more canaries. The zebra finches bred like rabbits, although the canaries only ever managed to have one baby. She loved watching the birds flitting around the in the aviary from the comfort of the living room, as well as enjoying the sight of the wild birds at the strategically placed bird table.

When she was in her late fifties, she was diagnosed with cancer. The operation and subsequent radiotherapy was deemed successful and eventually she was told she was in remission. Bill and Thelma celebrated their Ruby Wedding Anniversary in 1991, a fun evening party for which she made all of the food – none of your M & S party packs for Thelma!

Sadly, the remission was short lived, and by the time the cancer was diagnosed again, it was too late for treatment. She died quietly in Windsor hospice in January 1993, aged just sixty-four.

I suppose most people would deem such a quiet life rather boring. Thelma had no career to involve her, she did not have a lot of money to indulge extravagant tastes. She didn’t drive a car, or go out partying, or travel widely. She made a home for her family, cooked and cleaned for them, looked after the pets, worked in fairly menial jobs, and took up and enjoyed a few harmless hobbies. Like, in fact, millions of other ordinary women.

Happy birthday, Mum.

Thelma in 1991

Thelma in 1991

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