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Pruning of the Vine

Reviews

Dear June. I hate reading but I read the martial from Pruning of the Vine last night. Very impressed! It is a wonderful rich portrait of loneliness and despair. Page turning reading. I finished it at 4-30 a.m. All that Phyll is going through is very compelling and perfectly developed.

Susan Hampshire, actor.

June is able to capture a range of characters in minute detail. Her scene setting is gripping and the build up of tension, brilliant! Her observations are both funny and sad and the highs and lows of Phyll’s journey is a real page turner.

Karen Savage, Script Supervisor.

Synopsis

Set in 1964, THE SWINGING SIXTIES – a time of social revolution; economic change and sexual freedom.

Jettisoned into this society of fast changing attitudes is Phyll Fielding, a petite, attractive, 40+, ex-West End actress, still reeling from the trauma and speed of her marriage breakup.

With no family, Phyll had married too young to an older man, accepting his pre-war ideas of ‘a woman’s place.’  Now it is the nineteen sixties and she is out on a limb!

Manipulated out of her inheritance and smart London address by ex-husband Patrick, she finds herself cut off from friends and theatrical contacts while he heads for California taking their teenage son (an aspiring tennis professional) with him; a quick divorce, a new life and a younger, well connected, American wife. Patrick’s mid-life crisis is being financed by Phyll!   

With very little capital, vulnerable and desperate for a home, Phyll is seduced by the charming estate agent who then persuades her to buy Brook Cottage; one in a terrace of four, deep in the country. He neglects to mention that it is cheap because it has a history: Murder by burning, in the 17thcentury.

The story opens with Phyll driving back from London, reviewing her options. She had headed out that morning powered by optimism and determination, but hopes of getting work in the theatre through contact with the ‘old acting crowd’ had been a face-saving failure. Too proud to tell even her best friend, Marguerite, that her ex-husband Patrick wasn’t maintaining her, she had left the city with no idea of how she was going to survive.

Phyll is an intelligent, capable woman but she has no qualifications. Now, with money running out, no job and demands from the bank, she is coping with mind-numbing fear, with drink and prescription drugs.

Although Phyll appears to be adjusting, she is not fitting into village life.  Naturally vivacious and stylish, her ‘too eager to be friends’ smile is off-putting, leaving her alone and achingly lonely.

In the silence of the cottage she starts to live a dream-like reality, one she can cope with; preparing for a theatrical come-back, rehearsing lines, acting out auditions for imaginary agents and convincing the bank manager, that ex-husband Patrick would soon be back or failing that, at least start paying maintenance.

Phyll had financed Patrick and their life-style, bailing him out of unwise forays into business, with dividends from her inherited investments. She had cushioned his failures, massaged his ego, apologized and understood his fury when pregnancy meant her leaving a starring role in the theatre and the loss of the social spinoff which he assumed was his future. “That was the agreement Phyll; no children. How could you do this to me?”

(But he had become an attentive parent when he realized the celebrity status and social contacts in America, which came with having a sport-talented son!)

A diplomat and a juggler of other people’s expectations, Phyll partially blamed herself for Patrick’s midlife flight to youth and glamour. By constantly bolstering his ever-needy ego, he actually believed he was all he thought he was – and that was a lot!

Not long before he left her, Phyll had succumbed to his pressure and put her bank accounts in joint names; big mistake. Now she was paying for her stupidity, and the budding ‘Women’s Rights’ movement, that Patrick had dismissed in vulgar terms, had started to appeal to Phyll:

“If men were all they were built up to be, we wouldn’t need women’s liberation in law,” she thought bitterly.

Phyll gets involved with a village wedding where she meets Andrew; internationally respected church historian, 50+, a true gentleman with a good sense of humour. He drives a new Jaguar sports car and is definitely Phyll’s type!  Their attraction is breathtaking and mutual but unfortunately, he is committed to several months’ work abroad; he will contact her when he returns. She didn’t like to ask when that would be – and her diary stretches empty… “And oh, how quickly does new love doubt, without reassurance.”

Days drag like weeks, letters to theatrical agents receive no reply and, desperate for company, Phyll goes out one evening to a local hotel for one cocktail; all she can afford.

‘This is 1964. A woman can go into an hotel lounge, unescorted,’ she steels herself – but it is not the Savoy and this is not her era and she is nearly raped by a guest.

Ashamed,  and terrified of scandal, she hides indoors and soon, numbed by tranquilizers and drink, painful reality drifts further away…

Now she moved in ultra slow motion, carefully, noiselessly; a shadow moving though air that refolded itself behind her, resealing wounds, entombing secrets…

Still no news from Andrew – then Marguerite, Phyll’s longest and dearest friend, phones:

“Come to London, I’ve heard that one of the ‘Old Crowd’ is setting up as a theatrical agent!”

But the agent turns out to be ex-husband Patrick, home on a brief visit, offering nothing more than a session between the sheets; for ‘Old Times’ sake.

Disgusted, she turns him down, and ego bruised, Patrick delivers the final blow; she will never receive maintenance!

Unwittingly, Patrick deals himself a bad card; too much to drink, he later brags of his triumph to mutual friends , underestimating their loyalty to Phyll.

No one signs with his agency!

•••••

‘One setback after another; will it ever come right?’ On the train ride home, holding back tears, Phyll is exhausted by yet another failure but she knows she can’t give up the fight.  She has one asset, her last security:

I’ll sell the cottage, move back to London and live off the money until I get work. I’ll show the bloody man, she decides defiantly.

He didn’t even mention our son!’

Hurrying from the station she sees Andrew!  ‘Phyll!’ he calls loudly, sheer delight on his face and smiling, joy in her heart, she steps out – into the path of a passing van!

•••••

Phyll was becoming aware of hospital sounds and of people quietly coming and going, of her wounds being dressed and gentle words that sought response – but she didn’t want to respond. Oblivion was warm and safe – but safe from what?

Don’t know. Don’t think. Don’t go out there.  She is protecting herself from a fear she can’t even remember

“Not too badly hurt,” her young doctor whispers to Marguerite, “but knowing her circumstances as I do, she might be suffering from stress related amnesia.  It is transient but her emotional state will dictate when she comes out of it. As you will be moving into her cottage to take care of her affairs, I think you will soon find the reason why.”

Discovering the desperate state of Phyll’s finances,  Marguerite seeks the advice of Andrew and Stella, Phyll’s very caring and discreet neighbour.

Without hesitation Andrew insists on clearing Phyll’s debts, personally. It is not a loan and he expects nothing, for in Phyll, he confides, he feels he has found his soul mate.

Andrew sits by Phyll’s bedside and whispers to her, convinced that on some deep level, she will understand that there is nothing now to be afraid of.

Furious that Phyll has suffered so much, Andrew contacts a barrister friend. The question is, how could Patrick legally have stripped Phyll of all she owned? And if he hadn’t done it legally…!

An investigation is set in progress and it didn’t take long to unravel. Patrick was not a clever man. He had simply forged Phyll’s signature and had opened an account in joint names, at another bank!  All dividends and paperwork, directed there, had then been forwarded to America. Nothing actually illegal (apart from forging the signature!) just that Phyll knew nothing of it!

•••••

September: Phyll and Andrew are becoming very close but she cannot commit.  Blaming herself for Patrick’s flight, Phyll wants to be able to provide a family home for their son, should things not go well in America – and if that means taking Patrick back….

‘I was in boarding school when Father died and Mother sold our family home. I felt abandoned, I didn’t belong anywhere. That mustn’t happen to my son.

There was also another reason for Phyll’s reluctance to commit. She hadn’t tasted true freedom.

Divorce, loneliness and poverty, had been a tight cage.

In those dark days, dear Stella had been a beacon of hope and example. Phyll admires Stella and longs for what she has; self-confidence, independence and self reliance.

Phyll didn’t want to be beholden to anyone, ever again.

‘I love Andrew,’ she told Marguerite, ‘but I inherited my money, my security, and it was taken from me. This time I want to be my own security, I don’t want to marry for it. I need a job or a project. I need to prove myself to myself.’

One evening, Marguerite and Phyll were talking about Patrick, when the idea came.  He had wanted to start a theatrical agency and failed. But why couldn’t they? Between them they had a vast number of contacts. It could also be an agency for office staff and they could run it to start with, from Marguerite’s spacious flat in Mayfair.

Early December: Launched with a lavish cocktail party, the agency has really taken off.  Phyll spends long weekends in the country with Andrew and four days in London; life is perfect – almost. Phyll still worries about her son and so she writes, telling him of her success and assuring him that if things should not turn out well, he was to think of her cottage as his family home; somewhere secure.  She gets just a card in reply:  “Thanks Mom.”

•••••

A few days before Christmas.

It is beginning to snow when Patrick turns up on Phyll’s door step, armed with flowers and powerful emotional blackmail:

“Our boy loved your letter and the idea of a proper family home again, with his Mom and Dad under one roof. Phyll, let’s give it a try, for his sake.  Why not sell this cottage and move back to London? I’ll take over the business and you can look after me.  Just like the old days.”

Then he turns on the charm and tries to seduce her!  The gall of the man!

It is a moment of enlightenment! Phyll’s head clears:

You can’t live another person’s life for them. Adrian wasn’t a boy, he was a happy and successful young man. He wouldn’t be coming back to live in England in the foreseeable future.

The odds were that Patrick was here because his new wife had thrown him out – and knowing American lawyers, she might be stinging him for maintenance!

The word ‘karma’ came to mind!

It is a wonderfully freeing moment when, insisting he sits down and listens, she delivers a back-log of home truths.

Where is the sweet woman I married?” Patrick complains all forlorn, as she closes the door with him on the outside!

She wasn’t worried about him; Patrick was one of nature’s survivors – and suddenly she felt light-headed, almost intoxicated!  She had finally pruned herself from the past and from the vine of other people’s expectations – and it was so freeing!

Life is better than she could ever have imagined.

Four days in London running the business with dear Marguerite, meeting up with old friends, going to the theatre, then a long weekend, every weekend, in the country with the man she loves.

She has it all; she is her own woman.

Phyll had waited a long time for this moment. Smiling, she reached for the phone and dialed Andrew’s number.

It was time to enjoy all she had worked for.

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