Underwear Was Important

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It was towards the end of the 1970s that I first met the Webers: George, senior lecturer in liberal studies at the local polytechnic, bespectacled, moustached and normally clad in a hairy pullover; his wife Wendy, mother of six, ex-nurse turned children’s author, dressed (as many of us were in those days) in ethnic beads and slightly tiredlooking Laura Ashley; and the Weber children, baby Benji, the twins Tamsin and Amanda, Sophie, Beverley and the oldest, Belinda, a sulky beauty then preparing to take her A-Levels. Oh, and I mustn’t forget Pussy, the Webers’ podgy and suspicious cat.

We tended to see them once a week, often in the Webers’ homely but by now somewhat shabby stripped-pine kitchen, over a glass of George’s homemade plonk and one of Wendy’s Elizabeth David cassoulets. I really got to know them quite well.

I got to know their friends too, especially Wendy’s two old chums Trish and Jo. Trish, one-time art gallery assistant, mother of baby Willy and stepmother of Jocasta (art student, living at home) was married to handsome Stanhope Wright, creative director of Beazeley & Buffin Advertising. We all disliked Stanhope, a real smoothie, who we knew was two-timing Trish with any piece of skirt that came along. Jo, a no-nonsense tracksuit-wearing sports coach, had also made an unfortunate marriage, to Edmund Heap, a whisky salesman for International Brewhouse Inc. (‘Pleased to meet you squire!’), and was now the mother of two unattractive teenagers, Jolyon and Julian (founder of The Snotty Throttlers pop group).

I liked and identified with Wendy – harassed, conscientious, a bit sharp, and weighed down by a terrible sense of guilt and social obligation. I understood her aggravations and her angsts – an outbreak of nits at school, unreasonable demands from the twins’ form teacher for instant robin costumes for the Christmas play, anxieties over the death of Kenneth the guinea pig or a visit from Great Aunt Winnie, envy of Pippa and Hamish down the road, who had a weekend cottage and children destined for private schools instead of Fletcher Montacute, the local comp (though of course neither of us would have admitted it). I shared Wendy’s disapproval of the way her daughter Belinda allowed her stubbly boyfriend Jasper to treat her (after all, what had we women’s libbers been fighting for?), and I was as appalled as she was when her publishers Walmer & Wilcox watered down her bravely realistic children’s book set on a housing estate and turned it into another soppy middle-class Janet-and-John scenario.

George was a dear too, though he did tend to go on rather in a liberal-studies post-modern kind of way about his so-far unpublished collection of critical essays, Weimar, Chicago and the Cultural Squashball. Like us, the Webers couldn’t afford what Wendy, with a sniff, called ‘expensive foreign holidays’ but sent postcards from Tresoddit, the little place they always went to

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About the contributor

Hazel Wood has moved on from making robin costumes and now hovers on the fringes of the Literary Life. She lives in North London and still runs into Wendy Weber and her chums.

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