Eileen Skuse has lived in 53 homes … and counting (it was 53 at time of publication but I think that number is still increasing) so it is fitting that she has titled her autobiography Too Many Homes of Eileen Skuse. Having now read the self-published book, I think she could equally have called it too many jobs or too many courses. Eileen is obviously not one to sit complacently upon her laurels.
Let me tell you something about this feisty eighty-four-year-old first and why I have her book for review. Eileen was one of the original members of the Stanthorpe Writers Group which had its first meeting in 2012. I warmed to her straight away, as did many of the other writers in the group. We soon found ourselves presented with beautiful name tags to wear at our meetings and she always brought along something interesting to share with us. Her sense of humour was immediately evident, as was her desire to help and her ‘can do’ attitude. She has a non-conformity about her, a quirkiness. These are the things, together with her age and her knowledge, that shine through in her autobiography.
A tomboy who preferred her ‘train set and wooden building bricks’ (29) to dolls, the author was fascinated by numbers and maps from an early age. As an adult, she was not shy about sex and took lovers when it suited. Dating agencies, nudism and swinging were explored and are mentioned in the book. Eileen didn’t seem overly phased by her husband’s sudden urge to visit a prostitute. Of all the jobs that she has held throughout her life, the enduring image for me will probably be her as a ‘sworn in, kitted out’ member of the Women’s Royal Air Force. Somehow that seems a good fit.
Somewhat of a hoarder and, by her own admission, a lousy housekeeper, Eileen has instead spent her life learning and travelling and doing interesting things. Never afraid to get in and give things a go, she’s successfully installed ceiling insulation, driven taxis and travelled alone extensively. She has undertaken a multitude of courses, including SCUBA lessons, library organisation, compost-making, defensive driving instruction (to name just a few). She’s attended a Nanny school, private music lessons and a weekend Reiki workshop. And that’s just a tiny sample. I was exhausted simply reading about it all.
A good editor would have eliminated the overuse of exclamation marks and the unnecessary use of ‘apparently’ and ‘I believe’. An editor may also have cautioned against the inclusion of the prologue ‘1851-1930’. There are some fascinating historical facts in this section but they don’t often serve the purpose of complimenting the autobiography. Those few snippets that are particularly relevant to the author’s life could have been incorporated into the later text (in the same way that she has done with other historical fact in a more entertaining and readable fashion).
Once we move into Part 1 which covers from 1930 (the year of the Eileen’s birth) until 1978, the author hits her straps. She tells us her birth was ‘less than four months after the Planet Pluto was discovered photographically and two months after the poet and novelist D.H. Lawrence died’ (3), giving the reader a clear picture of her milieu.
It was certainly no picnic being a child of the 30s and 40s growing up in London. She writes of sheets cut in half and the sides sewn to form the middle (unheard of in today’s throw-away society). She vividly recalls the war-time days and nights of air raids, bombings, damage and relocations. We read about days spent grinding through the traditional spring clean (something my mother used to do here in Australia). She tells us of the tedious task of rehanging cleaned curtains and ruffles, leading to her later avoidance of pelmets in any of her homes. ‘Also,’ she writes ‘I don’t spring clean – I move!’ (14).
The author doesn’t sentimentalise or overstate her obvious loneliness (or should I say alone-ness) but it saddened me to read that her parents always referred to her as ‘The Kid’. Occasionally she ruminates on her lot in life and her place in the world: … ‘I’ve always seen myself as the child on the outside trying desperately to get into the group’ (27). So many activities were undertaken alone: swimming, ice-skating, jumping onto buses and planes and trains and, of course, moving house.
If you read Eileen’s autobiography, I am sure you will come to the conclusion that she would be a handy woman to have around. If you were lost, she’d no doubt pull a map from her back pocket and guide you on your way. Or she’d calculate distances and directions by examining the night-sky. She’d roll up her sleeves and pull you out of quicksand or toss off her clothes and dive into the freezing ocean to save you. If your pilot lost consciousness, she could safely land the plane. I imagine she could quote Shakespeare to soothe your broken heart or sit by your bedside reading the classics in her strong confident voice. One thing is for sure, she won’t be the one sitting quietly in a corner doing nothing. Having met her, I can attest to those values she has, that idea that one just gets in and does.
The author uses the last few pages to share some advice, conundrums and ‘random thoughts’ such as ‘One advantage of constantly moving – nobody knows how old my clothes are!’(506). She also shares some regrets – just six of them – and, although it might be too late to learn to ride a skateboard (although never say never), there’s still plenty of time for her to find that perfect ballroom dancing partner. Last time Eileen moved it was to Warwick in Queensland. If you know of a good ballroom dancer out that way, be sure to tell them to look up Eileen Skuse. I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.
To purchase Too Many Homes, contact the author:
T: (07) 4661 1705.