Doris would invite herself to lunch with me in Hampstead, when the mood took her. I never dared to say no. Hers was a royal command. Even if I was frantic with children's activities or deadlines, Doris had to be accommodated. So I would drop everything and cook for her – soup, chicken casserole, fish stew. I know I wasn't the only person to whom she issued these decrees.
I remember one occasion when Doris invited herself on the day when my cleaning lady was due to come. Mrs Van always came on Wednesdays, and I could not possibly have rearranged her. My cleaning lady was not only my cleaning lady, she was my surrogate mother. I loved and admired her, and I always cooked lunch for her. So there we were, at table together, Doris Lessing and Mrs Van and me.
We got on well. Mrs Van Blerk was South African Cape Coloured, and had come to England just after the war with her white Afrikaner husband and her three children, in flight from apartheid. (Her husband died shortly after their arrival, and she supported herself and her family for decades.) Doris had come to England from South Africa at much the same period, without her husband and with only one of her three children, in flight from her mother. These two wise, hard-working women exchanged notes and I listened. It was a historic conversation. I have forgotten what was said, but I remember the mood. After lunch, Doris and I went upstairs to hide in my bedroom with our coffee, to allow Mrs Van to carry on with her cleaning. I was in awe of both of them.