Roam Alone; ROOTS

By Das, Lina | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 13, 2001 | Go to article overview

Roam Alone; ROOTS


Das, Lina, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: LINA DAS

ROSAMUNDE PILCHER had a rather solitary childhood, but she was too busy exploring the wonderful beaches and bays near her Cornish home to notice

I was born in 1924 in Lelant in west Cornwall, and much of my childhood was completely heavenly. We lived in a small, semidetached Victorian house overlooking an estuary and the Atlantic - a wonderful place for children.

There was a single-track railway, a golf course and a vast beach. It was all we could have asked for.

My father, however, didn't live with us. He worked in Burma, managing the river pilots who brought boats across from Mandalay. I hardly ever saw him when I was a child. He would come home once every four years, but, then, just as I was beginning to get used to him being around, he would be packing his bags again, ready for the return trip.

It was awful, but by no means an experience exclusive to our family - every fourth child, it seemed, had a father helping to run the Empire somewhere. When my father was home it was wonderful, but it could be a bit like having a really nice uncle coming to stay. There was never enough time to build a father-daughter relationship and, while it was hard for me, it must have been even more painful for him, having to say goodbye to his daughters and wife.

My first memory of my father dates back to when I was about six. It isn't a very detailed one, all I recall is that he was great fun, very stocky and tanned - he was a real sailor, in fact. He was also very well read and musical. And each time he returned from Burma, he would arrive bearing presents that always smelt heavily of Chinese paper.

His prolonged absences must have made it difficult for my mother and their relationship. They often seemed rather tense when they were together, and their reunions reminded me a little of Christmases: one always expects them to be so magical but they are invariably a disappointment.

It was left to Mum to look after us - a fate that she just seemed to accept. Sometimes she might protest, 'I have to do everything around here', but otherwise, she seemed content. Her main problem was that, because my dad was abroad so much, she had to run everything at home on a shoestring. His home in Burma was a pretty smart place and expensive to run (he always had a driver and staff on hand). It meant that, though we lived fairly comfortably in Cornwall, there was little money for extras.

Our house was bitterly cold, which no amount of wood fires could combat.

When_ eventually moved into a home with central heating - at the age of 40 - I can't tell you what a relief it was!

Fortunately, I got on really well with my mother - perhaps rather better than my older sister, Lalage, did. Lalage found Dad's absences very painful to bear. But, though Mum and I got on well, I never felt that she was an imaginative person, while I was the sort of child who spends all day dreaming and creating stories._um would sometimes dismiss these stories as 'stupid' - and compliments in general were always pretty hard to find in our home.

I don't think I ever heard anyone say something such as 'You look lovely in that dress', and we would never be praised for doing well at school. This struck me as normal until, years later, I joined the Wrens and, to my astonishment, heard another girl say to me, quite casually, 'Well it's all right for you, what with you being so pretty'. …

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