My Old China Ealing

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There were dinner parties, she says: Bob Monkhouse and his wife were among their friends; the boxer Freddy Mills was Cherry's godfather. Mummy loved entertaining and did it brilliantly - she always has done. Our neighbours seemed all to be witty and eccentric. Rare moment: Fern with 'Mummy' and 'Dada'. But the TV presenter has few memories of her father as a child.

I remember one couple who drove a vintage Bentley, their Irish wolfhounds lording it in the back, complete with goggles. My father remained a glamorous, if shadowy, presence throughout my childhood. There were no pictures of him in the house. I only knew what he looked like because I'd see him on TV, when I would wave to him madly.

I understood enough about acting to know that he couldn't wave back, but obviously he could see me, just as I could see Mummy when we did plays at school. One afternoon in midsummer, when I must have been about four, I remember very clearly being put down for an afternoon rest and informing Johnson - the teddy who had displaced Mr Holly in my affections - that I was 'too old for an afternoon sleep'.

It was one of those brilliant summer days that childhood memory is filled with, and I wanted to be outside in the garden playing. Although the curtains were drawn the window was open, and it wasn't long before I heard voices. I got up, stood on a chair and peered out. There, sitting on the swing seat were my mother, my sister and a man.

Instantly I knew who it was: He was there, it turned out, not to see me, but to take Cherry away on holiday and my mother hadn't wanted me to know what was happening, fearing - rightly - that I would feel left out. I don't know why he didn't keep in touch with me. Maybe he felt he had forfeited the right to interfere. Maybe my mother wanted to keep me to herself. But from his perspective, while he barely knew me, Cherry had been his golden girl.

It must have been hard for him not to watch her grow up. All I was told was that there was another lady whom he'd met before he met Mummy, and that he'd had to go back to that lady. Whether that was true I still don't know. But to all intents and purposes I never had a father, or the life that went with it.

Divorce was rare in those days. School friends might have had fathers they rarely saw - bankers who worked in the City, or film directors away on location for long periods of time - but at least they were a presence in the house.

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Their coats would be hanging in the hall. Their shoes would be by the door.

There'd be a toothbrush and a tooth-mug in the bathroom. It came as a great shock later to discover that men washed their hair! I mean, how girly! They had so little of it, what was the point? Our holidays were always spent in Cornwall and my memories of them are of eternal sunshine, happiness and freedom. The guillotine on our charmed existence came down shortly before Christmas , when I was six-and-a-half years old.

There was a large mortgage on our house, and my father was having to fund his other life at the same time. My mother fought to retain the status quo - to keep the house and the lifestyle that went with it - but ultimately it was Dada who had to pay, and when the money ran out he had no option but to sell.

Grown up: Fern with her second husband Phil Vickery and, right, in her younger days as a TV presenter. The change in our fortunes was dramatic. Our new home was built in a style that could best be described as Sixties box. At our old house there'd been a gardener and a housekeeper. Now, when the fire had to be laid, it was Mummy who raked the ashes and brought in the coal.

Tall and willowy, with jet-black hair, an hour-glass figure and skin like porcelain, she had the timeless elegance of a Vogue model. But she was living under great strain. Early one morning, a little over a year after we moved, the phone rang. I watched as she walked across to the window, lifted the receiver and said 'Hello' then fell to the floor.

The only sound was a woman's voice saying 'Hello! I jumped up, put it back in its cradle, then tried to get Mummy to talk, but she just lay there on the carpet, looking waxy and yellow with her eyes closed. My next memory is of sitting in our neighbours' kitchen having breakfast. Someone must have taken me to school. I spent the rest of the day trying not to show how frightened I was.

I didn't cry, I just kept on smiling. If I didn't cry, it would be all right. But something was wrong. Although her eyes were open, she didn't turn her head towards me. In fact, she didn't move at all. I can't remember now what I felt, but the shock, the sight of her lying there not responding in any way, must have been terrifying.

This was my mummy Later that evening the doctor returned, and when he came down from seeing his patient, he took me into the lounge for a chat. Mummy had had a stroke, he said. He explained how electricity makes our brains work, and that it crosses from one side to the other, like a ping-pong ball, and that Mummy's had stopped in the middle, which meant she couldn't move either side of her body or speak.

Strangely, for me, the days that followed were a happy time. For a few days I had this mute and immobile person all to myself, feeding her, giving her drinks, brushing her hair and generally playing nurse. She recovered her speech comparatively quickly, but it was a full year before she was back to her full self.

And then came another jolt to my world. I was about nine years old when I first met George, the man who would eventually become my stepfather. He worked as a public health inspector and was a balding man with silvery-grey hair round the sides, always neatly brushed, and a neatly clipped moustache. He looked exactly like the military man he had once been.

At first I liked him coming over - it was nice having a man around the house. But it wasn't long before I realised things had changed. From being Mummy's little girl, I felt suddenly displaced in the pecking order. Until then our house had been surprisingly free of rules.

Now rules were everywhere. I had to knock every time I entered a room. I wasn't allowed to sit next to Mummy on the sofa. I had to go to bed on my own and there was no more tucking in. The familiar clack-clack of her heels was silenced overnight George wasn't a tall man, while she was 5ft 10in. As for make-up - well, George didn't like it.

And this was a woman who had never dreamt of leaving the house without her 'face' on. I don't remember now if I showed how unhappy I was or whether I simply confided everything to my teddy, dealing with it all by popping my first imaginary 'Fern Britton pill', as my husband Phil calls it - that is, radiating my broadest smile while inside falling apart.

George's great aim was to achieve 'a champagne lifestyle on beer money' and he was an early fan of DIY. On one occasion he decided the fireplace in the lounge could do with being bigger. Next thing we knew there was a howling gale coming through the house. He had attacked the wall with a little too much force and knocked through to the garage.

His most eccentric way of saving money was in the area of food. Part of his job as a health inspector was to visit supermarkets whose freezing systems had broken down. In order to claim on insurance, the food had to be officially condemned. George would bring back whatever he thought was still edible. There was nothing wrong with it, he assured us. He only brought back stuff that hadn't started to thaw.

As for a freezer to keep it in, ours was one he'd found on the local tip. Obviously chucked out by a shop, it was branded Coca-Cola and had a sliding top. It kept us going for years, as indeed did the salvaged food. For weeks we'd live on boil-in-the-bag cod or Bird's Eye orange mousse. One day, after I had left home, I came back for the weekend to find my mother standing at the twin-tub washing machine with one hand behind her back.

It was another item of equipment he'd rescued from the tip. The situation was getting ridiculous. Switch to new thesaurus. France , French Republic - a republic in western Europe; the largest country wholly in Europe. Mentioned in? References in periodicals archive?

The remaining ground floor and all of the first and second floors are occupied by a substantial maisonette. Three-storey Bank House. It's a Georgian Grade II listed maisonette and is where she opened her fledgling school of dance in Bedford Gardens, Kensington in A first floor maisonette with 2 double bedrooms.

AFAMILY of five have pleaded to be moved from their one-bedroom council maisonette after an arsonist torched the tiny property. Demolition of 3 storey tenement block Block A , comprising maisonette flats on upper stories and retail units on ground floor.

The maisonette is laid out over two levels and offers proportioned living space, which has been upgraded to create a cosy, traditional feel throughout. Two years ago the Tesco consortium was one of four short-listed for the ambitious redevelopment plan for Hebburn's s centre and maisonette homes which were described as depressing.

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It was in , the year I was born, that my father had his first starring role in a film - ironically named The Birthday Present. Service was excellent, overall a very pleasant experience. One day he said he'd pick me up from school. Gunner Who 06 of 06 thisfolder c: It has already required two years of careful planning, as curators navigate the complex world of safeguarding, data protection and parental permissions required to show the faces of Year 3. We were served by Hayden who was really attentive and explained all the different cuts of meat very informatively. Here, some top dermatologists share their favorites. Best for special occasions.

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