Lesley Dorothy Dickens

Lesley Dorothy Dickens was born in 1908 at Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, Ireland. She married Norman Ramsbotham (later Ramsay). They had two children, Valerie born in 1942 and Charles Anthony born in 1944.

Lesley and Norman Ramsbotham Wedding - 1940

Lesley and Norman divorced when the children were no longer small and on more than two occasions, Lesley came out to South Africa and stayed with her brother, Arthur and his family. Since Rosemary, my sister, was frequently in England, working,  Lesley spent quite a lot of time with us. Rosemary was very friendly with the Stothards, Betty and Ralph and often went to visit them in Yorkshire.

Lesley was highly intelligent. Each time she visited us, she was studying something and when Lesley studied, Lesley studied! The one time it was Yoga at which she excelled. In a family where the girls more often than not busied themselves with embroidery, knitting and sewing, she was treated to innumerable gasps and oohs and aahs  ... to see an elderly lady (as she was, then, to us) standing on her head or walking on her hands was certainly something quite different to us.  Cartwheels too. She was most certainly a Dickens.

Once when I visited her in Swindon, she accompanied me to the railway station and right there and then on the platform started performing aerobics and touching her toes as she wished me luck and waved me goodbye. I couldn't help thinking at the time that I was pleased she was doing all this stuff as I was leaving and not as I was arriving.

When Rosemary wasn't at home, there was invariably a bedroom available and Lesley stayed; sometimes for as long as three months. She wasn't unwelcome but three or four months at a time was sometimes a strain on the family. Two Dickens's in one house was sometimes....well, you know :-)

Another time, she'd no sooner arrived and unpacked and we'd had our first meal with her, than she had a whole pile of books out on the table. She was teaching herself shorthand and, during the day, going to the local technical college to learn typing. She learned quickly and in no time she was out at the crack of dawn, with a job, returning late in the evening.

She was interesting, articulate and shot straight from the hip. Very quick to tell us how we should be helping our mother (which we did but would've given anything for her to do the same)! Every evening, after dinner, she would apply herself to her reading, writing and maybe even arithmetic. She was definitely not domesticated in the sense that our mother, Roma, was. Nor us girls, for that matter. Mum taught us everything she knew and, to this day, I smile at my sister Felicity, who must've inherited the 'lace gene' from our Grandmother May Agnes. Felicity is invariably to be found with some handwork in her bag, ready to be pulled out and stitched finely with lace all over the place. If Felicity could stitch lace to her silverware, she would.

It must've been the times; for Roma's mother, Granny Crumplin as we called her, was the same with lace. Felicity often tells the story about how she and our cousin Noel-Ann were given yards of lace by our Gran and told to 'gather it up, now, and don't let the thread break, whatever ye do!' She would then stitch the gathered lace, up and down, row after row, to cover an ordinary calico bodice until it looked the most expensive blouse in town.

Thinking about Felicity also reminds me of when she and Noel-Ann used to spend the odd weekend with Granny C. and when it was bath time, they would be severely admonished to 'make sure ye sit back to back now'. We still chuckle about this.

Oh yes....back to Lesley!

She was fiercely independent, Lesley was. Small, fine boned and dynamic and, as previously mentioned, two Dickens's in the house was, at times, definitely not ho-hum!  It came as no surprise when we learned she had trained as a pharmacist and had been an ambulance driver during the Blitz.Bet some of the blokes had to jump and make it snappy...if they could!

Cool headed and ever-practical, Lesley wanted nothing. You could not give her a gift; if it did not suit an immediate purpose. Unless her shoes had holes in them and needed replacing, she would just thank you very nicely and make you take them back.  Or, she would tell you quite bluntly, that someone else needed them more and that she would give them away.

Another time I visited her in her Swindon flat,I took with me some parcels of delicacies which we could eat together; thus precluding her from giving them away but when I went to bed that night, there was the most beautiful nightgown (no, not black!) under my pillow. As much as I protested, she insisted I keep it. She was the most generous of souls. Very kind, very self-deprecating and very stubborn but you couldn't help liking her.

Her son, Charles, too, visited us a number of times in South Africa. We had no idea he was in the country until he pitched up one day, telling us that he was working in nearby Nigel, home of Union Carriage Works, helping to build, well....carriages, of course! :-)

I met Valerie, her daughter, much later ... after Les died in 1988. She was living in Surrey but she'd come into London for the day to meet me.

Like Charles and their mother, she was also very bright and just as unconventional. We wrote spasmodically and in her last letter some years ago, she mentioned that Charles had lost a leg in an accident; he had been a courier for the Royal Bank of Scotland in London.  Her children are:

Lorna b.1966; Jason b.1968; Arran b.1971; Topsy b.1977

Valerie went to live in California some years ago, following her children as they left, one by one. At the time she didn't like England; the weather; the tax system.....another Lesley ....but, again, like Lesley, highly intelligent, very well read and a very nice person. She would think nothing of getting a back-pack and trotting off to some foreign land ... the Middle East, Amazon country or wherever took her fancy. Quelle courage!

                                                Valerie - 1992

One time, she returned with a little parcel - in the form of Topsy. With a daughter and two sons already, she said she had wanted another child, so  went off in all directions to make this possible. You have to hand it to her!  Topsy, I also met. A sweet child who adored Lesley and vice versa.

As I write, I can't help thinking that all the Dickens's are/were highly intelligent, some more so than others, and some a little more athletic, eccentric, feisty or fey than others. No matter, to me, they're a fascinating bunch all round.

Some years later (I can't remember when because there was a time when I was visiting England frequently) I was spending time with Maureen and Mickey, and Mickey took me to visit Lesley in a home where she was spending what were probably her last years. I remember that visit with exquisite embarrassment; when, in front of Mickey (whom I hardly knew) she called me a sexpot.Now had Mickey been Gregory Peck, that would've been a different story. In his latter years, Les had begun to look a little like Le Beau Peck with his white hair and black moustache and eyebrows).

This is the latest photograph I have of Lesley and it was taken in 1991 - a year before she died. I never saw her again. 

                                             Lesley - 1991

Muriel Dickens

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