Chapter 5: Penny – September 1970

Penny had spent her last year at St Hilda’s researching into Teacher Training colleges to find the best course for her to train as an infant teacher.  She was sure that she wanted to teach very young children and thought that reception class age would be the best as this age would be old enough to be out of nappies but young enough to need lots of love and cuddles.  Penny had to get her future plans sorted out well before the summer. For the last couple of years her father had been stationed out in Belize so at the end of the summer term she would be heading out to visit her parents in the Caribbean, hurray!

Having decided on the course quite easily Penny had to give much more thought to where in the country she would like to be.  Her life up until now had been very unsettled.  With a father in the army she had moved house and school every couple of years until she was sent to St Hilda’s.

In her short life she had lived in Essex, Cyprus, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Germany, Scotland and Yorkshire with her parents as well as Buckinghamshire (Aunt Geraldine) and Sussex (St Hilda’s).  It was no point planning her college years to be near her parents, as nobody knew where they might be next.  Her school friends, who seemed as close as her real family, would be flung to all corners of the UK and beyond.  The teacher training she would receive at each college seemed similar to each other.  The reality was that Penny must decide where to go based on her personal preferences.

Penny thought carefully.  She liked to walk and she realised that the vagaries of the British climate suited her; she actually enjoyed wind and rain as well as sunshine.  She had loved paddling in the sea and skipping pebbles on the beach at Brighton and striding along the towpath of the river Thames. She was a country girl at heart.  Penny dreamed of coming home to a snug, pretty country cottage with an Aga in the kitchen and the smell of baking bread in the air.  The sounds of children, and laughter, curling up with a book next to a roaring log fire, these were the things of her dreams; and her husband of course, the man of her fantasies.

Lincoln was eventually the choice she made.  It had everything she aspired to, river walks, not far from the sea and a pretty town (or City, more correctly) straggling down the hill from the stunningly beautiful cathedral sat on its apex.  The college, named after an ancient Bishop of Lincoln, was centrally positioned for all that the tiny City could provide.  There was a lovely Arboretum, mellow yellow stone houses, fascinating antique and curios shops and tiny tearooms dotted around.

Everything settled for September Penny was able to look forward to seeing her mother and father after nearly a year’s separation.  She would have to fly from Heathrow to Miami and stay there overnight then fly on to Belize where her father, as a Colonel, was commanding officer of the Army base.  She had visited there the previous summer with Suzanne in tow so she knew what to expect.

It had been towards the end of the girls’ last summer term together that Caitlin heard from her parents that they planned to go home to Long Island for a couple of weeks as soon as Caitlin finished school.  Her eyes sparkling with excitement, as she said to Penny

‘Come stay with me for a few days on the way to Latin America.  It’ll be such fun to have you.  I’m sure your parents won’t mind because you’ll be with us and the flight from NYC to Miami is much easier.  Becca and I had a brilliant time last year.’  So it was, with not much persuasion, that Penny had agreed and consequently experienced a slice of what she later called Caitlin’s own Disneyland.

After the ‘Cinderella’ experience with Caitlin Penny’s final destination of Belize seemed rather calm and very unpretentious.  Penny was delighted to see her mother and father and spent many a happy hour over the summer holiday talking to them about her hopes and dreams.  The climate was hot and humid most of the time, which did not encourage industry.  She lazed in the sun and snorkelled in the warm blue seas off the coast, protected by the barrier reef from the wilder ocean.  Her mother took her on a trip to see some of the ancient Mayan ruins telling Penny about the early civilisation that she had been avidly studying.

Penny’s mother, Gwen, had grown accustomed to being up-rooted from her friends and family and had learned to be resourceful entertaining herself with new hobbies and interests.  Penny was used to hearing her enthuse about the history of any new place she had fetched up in, or hearing that she was learning to speak German or Spanish, or that she was making curtains or painting and decorating.  She admired her mother’s application and unstinting support for her husband’s career having been denied the opportunity to pursue her own.  Penny’s mother had started a degree in History of Art but had abandoned it part way having met her father, Lieutenant Jonathon Morgan, and fallen in love.  His imminent posting had sealed their early decision to marry and Gwen soon found that she was not only married to her husband but to the Army as well.

With August nearing its close Penny had received her ‘A’ Level results.  With two Bs and a C, better than she had dared to hope and more than securing her place at college.   Thoughts of the next chapter of her life intruded into the Caribbean ideal.  Penny received a letter from the college giving her details of the start date and timetables for the year along with the address that she would stay for at least the first year of her course.  Her ‘digs’ were with one Mrs Donaldson in the Cathedral Close, which sounded very impressive as an address.  Gwen was very excited to have a new subject to research.

Penny travelled back to England and arrived tired but excited.  She made a telephone call to her new landlady confirming it would be all right and arrived in Lincoln about three hours later.  She was dog tired by the time she reached the house on Eastgate Street and rang the bell.  Mrs Donaldson greeted her arrival with quiet kindliness and showed her to her bedroom cum study that she hoped would serve her well.  Taking in her new lodger’s exhausted state with the practiced eye of a mother of four, Mrs Donaldson suggested that Penny took a hot bath and had a lie down.

‘I’ll bring you up a nice cup of tea in a while, my dear’ she said, leaving Penny to gratefully follow her advice.

Penny soon settled into life at Eastgate Street.  She was indeed based in the Cathedral Close and found that Mrs Jane Donaldson was married to Canon Peter Donaldson who was Precentor of the Cathedral and Head teacher of the Cathedral choir school.  The Donaldson’s had four children, Charles, aged 20 and Joanne, 18 both students and away from home.  Agnes, aged ten and Daniel, aged nine both at home and very much in evidence!  Penny loved the younger children and spent a lot of time with them helping with homework, reading stories and playing games.  When Jane thanked her for her help Penny just laughed and said that it was good practice for her.

For Jane her first experience of providing digs for a student couldn’t have worked better.   As she told her husband Peter one evening,

‘It’s almost as though I’ve swapped one daughter for another!  Of course I miss Jo but having Penny here fills the space she leaves, she is such a help with Agie and Dan.’ Peter too was pleased with their decision to offer a home to a student while their own child was away studying to teach.  Although he was a very busy man he was also very much a family man and missed his two elder children.  Charles was at theological college in Cambridge training for the church, having decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and Jo had started at Bedford at the same time as Penny had begun at Lincoln.

Teacher training absorbed Penny’s time during the day and she soon made friends with other students in her year.  However she often wondered what was happening in her friends’ lives and hoped that they were all as happy as she was.

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