Old folk at lunch

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Judith Middleton



This is just a small and disorganized memoir of a lady of whom I still think highly. Jude was the lady in my life before Anne. A curious thing about her was that she was what American sociologists call a "skidder" -- someone who moved during her life from the middle class to the working class.

Her father was a successful Melbourne businessman who sent both his daughters to Melbourne MLC (Methodist Ladies College) so she had just about the best education money can buy. MLC ladies acquire an accent, attitude and manners that enable them to glide easily into the "best" circles of English society.

An educated Australian accent is in any case pretty close to RP (Received pronunciation: The accent taught in British "public" [meaning "private"!] schools) and at MLC and other Melbourne private schools that accent is refined even more towards an English upper class standard. And Judy's sister did make that transition -- marrying a rich Englishman.

Judy however is a born rebel and all middle class values were not for her. She looked with horror at the middle class life that lay before her and wanted out. So she left school as soon as she could, took a humble job and never wanted anything more.

Mind you, she was very good at accents and could slip into a very good facsimile of RP if ever she wanted to. Though she normally spoke with a fairly broad Australian accent.

Another curious thing that quite stunned me was the effect of shoes on how she presented. I have never understood the way women collect shoes but Judy gave me at least a hint of it. She normally wore very flat shoes and in such shoes looked like the hippy she is. She just had to put on heels, however, and she immediately became a lady. Amazing. She is quite a pretty girl so that had something to do with it but I doubt that I will ever understand it fully.

And it was of course she who looked after her father in his final years. I am pleased to have known her.

Addendum

I know this is completely mad but I thought I might note another way in which Judith seemed to me to be something of a chameleon.

Optometrists make a great play of spectacles being some sort of fashion statement and it is undoubtedly true that different spectacles do somehow seem to convey different images of the person. And Judith's choice in spectacles did somehow convey the impression of a Melbourne Lady to me. She could be sitting in bed with her specs on talking on the phone and I definitely got the impression of being in the presence of a Melbourne Lady.

It was for a few moments almost like being in the company of the ultimate Melbourne Lady -- the redoubtable Susan Rossiter/Peacock/Sangster/Renouf -- a lady who definitely cut a swathe through her social circle in her time -- but in the nicest possible way, of course. No wonder Barry Humphries found/finds his native Melbourne infinitely amusing. Perhaps Jude was well out of it.

Addendum 2

I suppose this post is getting a bit discursive but maybe memoirs tend to be like that.

As I said, Jude was NOT a Melbourne Lady (and didn't want to be) but she did fleetingly remind me of where she came from occasionally. There was in fact another lady in my life who reminded me of Susan Rossiter/Peacock/Sangster/Renouf quite strongly: Jennifer Warner Wilson. And she was a Sydney lady rather than a Melbourne one. Jenny was a lecturer in Social Work at the Uni. of NSW while I was a lecturer in Sociology there. So we were formally well suited to one-another. She is a fine woman (do I ever get involved with any other?) and we got on well in lots of ways.

And she was demure and feminine but also with quiet assurance and a strong eye -- things that I see in Susan Rossiter (etc). I liked her confidence. Did she go to a private school? I don't remember but probably.

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