Mary’s book ‘Happy World’ , about her childhood in Hertfordshire, was published while she was living in the cottage at Eye Manor. She felt that my sister Juliet had much the same appearance as herself some sixty years before, so Juliet was dressed in a Victorian outfit and taken to the local polyphoto studios and her happily smiling picture was used on the cover.
One of the more whimsical sections of the book concerns an ‘Invisible Playmate’ who was her companion as a girl. When they first met she asked him;
‘Are you my twin? Shall I call you Brother?’
‘No,’ he said, giggling.
‘Perhaps you are my dead grandfather?’
He giggled still more. ‘Not I,’ he said, ‘I am your Invisible Playmate.’
The Invisible Playmate was known affectionately as ‘Ip’, and when she first saw me as a baby, Mary astonished those standing around by shouting, in a loud cry of recognition, ‘Ip!’ In me, she had spotted her Imaginary Playmate who had at last been allowed to cease to be invisible and come into the world.
We children would approach Mary’s two austere rooms on the first floor of her cottage through the dark and cavernous downstairs room where Sophie presided over a black stove that never went out. Narrow uncarpeted stairs led up to Grandmother.
We used to go barefoot a lot in those days. Mary was in charge of our education and sometimes we went to our lessons barefoot. Mary would perplex us by commenting that we all had more than the usual number of toes. Six was the number she usually arrived at, and then would do a recount to assure herself that she hadn’t counted any toes twice. ‘No, there are definitely six on each foot.’
One day we consulted my father. ‘Daddy, Grandmother says we each have twelve toes.’
He, too, was perplexed. After pondering for a while he came up with an explanation. ‘When she lived in Ireland some people were still too poor to have shoes. She comes from a conventional background and feels you should put on shoes before coming to see her, but she’s too polite to say so directly, so this is her way of saying she’d like you to be wearing shoes.’
Grandmother took the education of myself and my sisters seriously, instructing us in many subjects, in daily lessons. She had invented various unusual ways of teaching mathematics and grammar which she tried out on my sisters. Being older and already at school, I escaped the worst of this.
Pilgrims Progress was her favourite book and another teaching device was a peepshow with scenes from that story that she’d constructed herself, to be shown in the dark, lit by a torch which could be changed from white to red or green.
Wind-swept Croachna Hill, just over a mile from Castle Freke, faces out towards the Atlantic and the sunset and the mystic isle of Moy Mell, and a dangerous submerged rock of the same name. Here, in 1901, in view of the countless sailors who would pass and re-pass through the years, Grandmother had caused to be erected a huge cross, as a monument to her first husband Algy, the last Carbery to spend his life in these parts and make his home in County Cork.
Mary must have known that the great Carbery Cross would be the largest memorial cross in Ireland. She told me more than once that, wherever else she might be, there is where her heart would remain on the windswept shores of West Cork, at Castle Freke.
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