Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ursula Wolff, my mother

Just back from my mother’s funeral – she died on October 3rd – so am just recording some family memories put together for the occasion. Not my blogpost, really. 

Memories of Ursula Wolff

Her son Matthew 
Mum had very strong memories of her childhood in India and shared them with us often.  She often mentioned her first seven years in Lahore. Having a race with her father in the garden and being shocked that he didn't let her win! She remembers travelling by train, winding up through the hills to Simla or Srinagar where she would spend the summer with her mother and sister to escape the heat of Lahore.  Mum had exotic stories of travelling back on the ships from India to England via the Suez canal and stopping off in such places as Malta.  She had vivid memories of playing with a little friend on the upper deck and splashing around with hoses while the sailors, who played along, were trying to wash down the decks.

Mum spoke often of her wonderful aunts who looked after her while she was in England and her own parents were in India. She visited her Aunty Madeleine and Uncle Eulich (one of her father's sisters and her husband) in Muswell Hill every Sunday and became close to her cousins. She spent her holidays with her Auntie Trixie and Uncle Fred (her mother's sister and husband). After the war, she went to live with Auntie Cissie and Auntie Charlotte (two more of her father's sisters) in Lutterworth. It was in Lutterworth that she met our father.

The second world war of course had a big impact on our mother. An incredibly generous person, the war also taught my mother not to be wasteful, lessons which people are only now beginning to re-learn.

I'll remember Mum for so many wonderful things but especially her love and warmth.  She had lots of interests and enthusiasms including beautiful gardens, books, travelling to new places, spending time with people from other countries, looking after animals. She passed many, or even all, of these passions to her children, and to her grand-children to whom she was devoted.  

She had a great sense of humour, an infectious laugh and sparkly eyes.

I have fond memories of Mummy and Paula giggling together conspiratorially.

My friends remember Mum for her generosity and for treating them as if they were her own family. Her simnel cake is famous amongst them. Some have the recipe and have lovely memories of savouring her beautifully decorated and delicious simnel cakes. 

Her daughter Isabel 
a.  Her famously lavish hospitality when family and friends visited – the table groaning under the weight of her chocolate cakes, sandwiches, home made biscuits and brandy snaps, flans and her ‘incomparable’ chocolate mousse (Frances Mary mentioned this to me.)   She loved cooking – especially anything sweet.
b.  Her love of the Scilly Isles – a place that she and Paul discovered together, and that they were to visit again and again with their children and, later, grandchildren.
c.  Her infectious laugh.
c.  She adored having foreign exchange students in the house, from France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and devoted herself to helping them learn English, making them practice their vocabulary and pronunciation again and again, and with Paul, she was energetic in showing these children as much of the UK as could be fitted into their stay – the Cotswolds, the Lake District, Lyme Regis, Devon and the Scillies. They all have warm memories of the generous interest she took in them.
d.  Her love of gardening – she was extremely well informed about the botanical names of plants, and she and Paul filled their walled garden at Rugby, and later at Canalside in Northwich with a blaze of ceanothus, cotoneasta, clematis, roses, phlox, lilies of the valley and many others.
e.  Her love of animals – she happily made room for dogs, cats, gerbils, stick insects, and, with slightly more reluctance, Rupert the Rat who Angela saved from vivisection.  It was a ‘pity’ she said, that it had a ‘rather revolting tail’.
f. One defining characteristic was a kind of (slightly innocent), girlish charm. 
g. Mummy had a lovely smile and was a very appreciative person.

Personal Qualities

a.  Mummy showed a lot of courage.  Born in Lahore, the eldest of 3 children, she was sent home to St Martin’s convent in Muswell Hill and there were long years when she didn’t see her parents, who were still in India, and unable to get a passage home because of the war.  Mummy went there at 7, in 1931, and only saw her parents again in 1936, then not until 1943 when her mother - we called her 'Nonna' - came back on her own. She saw her father again in 1946 so she hadn’t seen him for 10 years. She bore this with fortitude, never complaining in later life about it, simply saying that it was just ‘the way it was in those days.’  But her sadness at not having a family life with her mother, father and two younger siblings can be imagined.  However she spent happy holidays with her Auntie Madeleine, Uncle Fred and her cousins in Ealing, and later, when she left school, with two maiden Aunts in Lutterworth.  It was here, aged 17, that she went to work locally as a secretary at Power Jets, where Frank Whittle and his team had developed the jet engine, and were testing new fighter jets for the war.  One of the team of young engineers was Paul Wolff, just down from Cambridge, who had noticed Ursula’s blue eyes, her very pretty face, and her laughter.  So he plucked up the courage into her office and ask her if he could have a pencil from the stationary cupboard, which was her domain.  As this went very well, he then he asked her if she’d like to go to a concert with him at the de Montfort Hall in Leicester, and that, pretty much, was that.  They married in 1953, and moved to Rugby where they bought 75 Clifton Road, a house in which they brought up their four children, and which they were to own for fifty years.  At their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2003, Paul said in his speech ‘Ursula was my first love, and is my only love.’  She had the blessings of a strong and happy marriage, and of having had four children.  She had to bear the great sadness of losing Simon, in 1995, and again showed courage and fortitude in this.  In their retired years she and Paul spent many happy times together going on holidays or trips to National Trust properties or gardening together or, best of all, spending time with their children and grandchildren.

b.  Very affectionate mother, endlessly interested in what her children, and grandchildren, were all doing – never happier than when we were with them.  Very welcoming to all her children’s friends.   She was a devoted daughter to her mother, Irene, and a wonderful daughter-in-law to Paul’s mother, Lucy, both of whom spent nearly every weekend at (my parents’ home in) Rugby.

Her daughters-in-law
- She had an eye for a good bargain and loved to share the results with everyone in the family. Useful household items (cake tins, handy-sized colanders, letter scales, purses) were distributed at regular intervals.
- Although she was home-loving and very family-centred, she definitely also had itchy feet! She loved going for drives in the countryside and calling in for a pub lunch somewhere (though she stuck religiously to lemonade)
- She adored sitting in the sun - anytime, anywhere - and was quite happy to wait outside on a bench in the sun whilst the rest of us wandered off and did other things. A picture of contentment.
- She loved the seaside and thought beachcombing great fun, especially looking for pretty shells
- She had a stock of family tales of past adventures and places visited. She'd start the tale off and get Paul to fill in the geographical and chronological details. A family ritual.
- She had firm favourites both in literature and film. Every Christmas (and many other times too) we would watch videos of Mr Bean and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Cue shrieks of laughter from both grandma and grandchildren.
- Ursula loved playing with all her grandchildren.
Ursula tended to stock up on things. We have only just run out of cling-film from the cottage!  (5 years after it was cleared.) 
She was very good at throwing and catching and never dropped a tennis ball!

The grandchildren 
- She loved doing "Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear" when we were young
- She liked teaching us the names of flowers (on the Scillies)
- She had a great laugh
- She loved going out for pub lunches

My friends Lena and Ulf, who live in Sweden, wrote:  “We are very glad to have had the opportunities to meet Mrs. Wolff a couple of times. We liked her "British lady" style and her wits, humour and bright mind.Ulf remembers especially taking your parents on an outing to Öland, and when asking them how they found Öland, Mrs. Wolff answered with british "not-get-impressed" tone of voice: Well, I think it just looked like Siberia... Ulf just loved that comment. We also have very good memories of Mrs. Wolff from the years we met in Rugby. We also cherish Mrs. Wolff´s concern for us sending us a piece of your wedding cake as we were unable to attend the ceremony. We still keep that particular parcel in our fridge and it has even accompanied us when changing houses.”

I had nothing left to improve on this, save that she had a good sense of humour, loved jokes, and loved shopping – especially for bargains!

October 10th 2012

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