diary · family · History

Nan’s Diary: Uncle Peter and Aunt Iris

It’s all a bit crap at the moment isn’t it, so I thought the next excerpt from Nan’s memoirs that I’d share would be in her words ‘a sort of cameo section about Uncle Peter and Aunt Iris…I think they deserve a mention, if only to give a humorous turn to things’. The haggard and pathetic paragraph is a particular favourite of mine!

“Uncle Peter was my father’s brother, about 8 years younger than my father. He was in the regular army when I was little (Coldstream Guards) and, although he wore civvies when he visited us, he looked very smart in his uniform on the occasions when he wore it. I remember when he got married, he wore it, including the bearskin.

Aunt Iris was a typical Londoner of the time, something our family was not used to. We couldn’t get over this apparition that my uncle was going out with, but I think he met her at dancing classes and later they went in for competitions. She was as thin as a rake and got done up like a dog’s dinner – flashy clothes, lots of fake diamond jewellery, which we said made her look like a walking Christmas tree – she plastered on her makeup, and her lipstick and nail polish was the same colour.

On more than one occasion when they came to tea (it seemed that they came every Sunday, but we didn’t get invited back very often) I commented that the nail polish and lipstick were the same colour as beetroot, which was true, but it didn’t go down too well.

They lived in a large beginning of the century estate, comprising of endless blocks of flats in Holborn. When we visited there on one of the few occasions, I remember distinctly that she showed off one of the bedrooms with cupboards purpose-built on three sides, and of wide dimensions to take all her dresses – there were dozens of them – tulle, net, lace with full skirts and bead/pearl decorations, as well as all her other gear. All the coats, suits and dresses had matching accessories and I can well remember dozens of pairs of shoes lined up on racks, handbags in boxes, hats in boxes, gloves in drawers and various jewellery boxes.

Uncle Peter was at Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk for most of his army time I think, although he spent some years in the Middle East during the war. When I was working in London during the war, he came back to England and I saw quite a bit of him during 1944 and 1945, especially when I was still at Queen Anne’s Gate.

I had always got on well with him – he was not a bit like my father by nature. Unfortunately, when Iris got wind of our lunchtime meetings, it did not go down too well, so for a quiet life, our meetings had to stop.

I only saw her once or twice more before I got married, but on that day she made a special effort to see me – she was in her late forties then and beginning to look a bit haggard and really quite pathetic.

On one never to be forgotten day, they came to our house on a Sunday and, as usual, she put her things upstairs on my mother’s bed. During the course of the afternoon, my brother Derek and I went upstairs and sorted out her things – Derek came downstairs in her fur coat and booties (it was a winter’s day) and square scarf round his head, while I donned a huge fur hat, the same colour as the coat of course, fur gloves and a crocodile handbag. We sailed into the sitting room thus attired to be greeted with gasps of horror and remarks as to the outcome of the state of her clothes.

Of course, we got the usual good hiding as we had to be seen to be suitably punished, and I assure you we didn’t have that sort of fun again. Years after, Uncle Peter said he didn’t know how he kept his laughter in, but had to in view of the diverse behaviour of all the other adults!


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