The tree of life 1943

   “Waggy are you coming out?”

A short pause,

 ”Waggy I know you’re in there, I can hear you sawing some wood”.

 I knew it was Pansy but I was at a hard bit of modeling and tried to ignore her.

  Then she started shouting louder, I finished the hard bit and looked out the window, there she was, hands on her hips, she still had her gymslip on and she really looked like Pansy Potter, the new girl in the Beano, her arms were thicker than my legs—which wasn’t difficult.

   Her three sisters had nice names, April, May and June, but her parents had run out of nice ‘month’ names and started on flowers and came up with Pansy.

   “I know what you want me to do, Pansy, but after yesterday I think we should wait for a while before we try it again”.

  “ I really want to do it now, if my sister can do it so can I”

  “I don’t think so”, I said under my breath, after hearing what my brother Don told me about what her sister got up to behind the ‘rec’ pavilion.

  “Come on Waggy, I promise it want take long”. 

  Girls seem to know that if they keep on about something they will always have their way.

  “ All right, but I’m not going to waste the whole afternoon like I did yesterday, I’m in the middle of something that I want to finish today”.

“ALUNNNN”

 I have found when someone really wants your attention, they always call you by your first name.

  That is, everyone except my mum, there were so many of us, she could never get the name right, so she would just shout anyone’s name, we would all look up to see who she looking at go from there.     

  I crossed the road to where the bomb had fallen a couple of years ago, it was now just a heap of bricks, but the front garden of one of the houses still had a bit of lawn and an Almond tree, mum said it was the tree of life because it was hardly damaged when the bomb fell, and it still had lovely blossom and almonds in the autumn, but they were not for eating, she said.

   Pansy was waiting under the tree, so was Danny, his house was badly damaged as it was directly opposite the bomb, but had been rebuilt and they moved back in. Danny was a bit younger than I but just as tall and always had a girl hanging around.

  This time it was Maureen from Cowley Avenue. The last thing I wanted was an audience, especially after yesterday.

  “ I’m only going to try this a couple of times Pansy”

  She didn’t answer; she just looked at me.

   She was the only girl in the school who had steel studs on her sandals, and yesterday they had cut into my hands.

  Posh boys, like my mates Alex and David always had brown shoes and had ‘Blakies’ on the soles, other boys had steel studs like Pansy had, I usually had plimsoles.

  I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible, I grabbed her foot and with all my strength pushed as hard as I could, Danny helped me and finally we did it.

  Pansy grabbed the lowest branch and pulled herself up into the tree.

  “There” she shouted, “ I’ve done it, my sister owes me a sixpence, she bet me I couldn’t do it”   

The Blame Game.

I am one of those people who are loyal to a team to the very end no matter how badly they perform. I have always been an optimist and I think something will eventually turn up.

I am obviously not alone with this loyalty and optimism.  I see every day how popular governments are, despite their dreadful failings. Elections and opinion polls show these failing governments still have the support of huge numbers of voters.

I think we optimists still want to give them the benefit of any doubt, unfortunately this benefit is rarely returned. In fact, we are told that they have followed the science and done everything possible to keep us safe. 

They also tell us it is the fault of people mixing and for not doing as they are told that over 100,000 people have died of Covid.

OK, let us say there is some truth in this wanton mixing and disobedience, would that really cause so many people to lose their lives, is it the 40,000 care home resident’s fault that they died before their time?  Or the dreadful toll of Doctors, nurses and all the other health care workers who didn’t wear the proper PPE?

100,000 people, it’s a number that is hard to grasp, to help you with this, imagine a big jetliner with about 300 people on board crashing and killing everyone………….every single day since the pandemic arrived.

Would you still fly in an aircraft like this?

Chances and Chancers.

It is amazing how the virus mutates and defeats all our best efforts to keep it under control, we are told it does this just by chance. 

Chance means it is possible that a mutation could occur in a really small group of infected people but is more likely in a larger group. In other words the larger the pool the greater the chance of a new successful variant.

In the UK, the successful wartime government was formed from a wide pool of men and women from all walks of life. Some were Lords of the Realm and others were ordinary people, they were chosen for their expertise rather than who they knew or who they were related to. So, there was a good chance of picking the right person from this very large pool.

 Compare that with the tiny pool we have now, many of them are actually related or just chancers in the know, and able to bid for PPE contracts for which they had little expertise and ignoring firms that were ready to supply.

  Imagine if we had this lot looking after us in those terrible war years.

As always, chance has played its part and now we have our very own UK Covid variant, not a thing to be proud of though.

Chertsey conkers or chess

Chertsey conkers or chess?

So, I have read the first few pages of ‘How to succeed in chess openings’. it is a book for primary school kids—five and six year olds. It seems to me that children of today are expected, and are able to grasp anything that is given to them.

 It didn’t happen in my day! At least not to me. They say that everyone is good at something at some time in their life, my moment of glory, although very short lived, comes to my mind whenever I see a nice shiny conker, (my horizons have never been very high).

The conker trees in Mr Stanfords farm were pretty good, if you could throw a biggish stick high enough you could have a nice big conker. It would last quite a few conker tournaments.  That is before David Ralph from Pound Pond Road came into the play ground with his special conkers. It was said he used to soak them in vinegar to harden them, but this maybe just a rumour put about by his victims.

There was a rather spindly conker tree in ‘The Carpenters Arms Pub’ in Pyrcroft road.  It never produced any conkers though, until one year I found a lovely unopened conker on the pavement. I looked up and sure enough the tree was completely devoid of any more conkers

. My friend David Mawford who lived opposite the Carpenters, and he should know this. Told me that the reason the tree never never gave any conkers was because the men would come out of the pub and have a Pee against the tree.

 Now, without putting too fine a point on this, it is sufficient to say that this poor spindly  conker tree used this —shall we say vinegary substance to enhance the single conker that it ever produced.

I couldn’t  wait to challenge the Pound Pond Champion and his favourite conker, some said it was indestructible.  We squared up in front of the rest of the school, even Mr Thomas came out to see us, the tournament lasted all of five minutes.

He won of course, but at least I lasted longer than anyone else.

I think that chess is a bit like this, some you lose and some you lose.

2020, That was the year, that was.

2020, That was the year, that was!

I suppose it all started to go wrong when I dropped my tiny new hearing aid down the toilet, and now I v’e got  an itchy ear, perhaps I should have rinsed it first but I panicked.  It still works though, just a bit squelchy.

Then the lock down came along and I couldn’t have the cataract in my left eye replaced, and now everything looks yellow through that eye.

My aorta valve replacement has been postponed again so I can’t do very much at all.

The other day I fell off a chair and hurt my knee and my son had to lift me up. 

Then I see the heroic NHS workers on the news, exhausted, worn down by this bloody virus, and there they are still working flat out.

It puts it all very much in perspective.

A morbid and depressing post I’m afraid but it’s being so cheerful that keeps me going.

The Queen’s gambit.

The Queen’s Gambit.

Chess, I have always thought was for posh people, that is until I saw ‘The Queens Gambit’ on Netflix. It is a riveting film and I, like hundreds of other non chess playing people have had the urge to learn the game. More fool me!!! As if I haven’t got enough to do.

 I mentioned slightly hesitantly, my interest in this game to  my son Iain—I say hesitantly, because Iain is a book worm, I once mentioned corrugated iron in a quite normal conversation, he disappeared for a few moments and returned with a huge book all about corrugated iron. I ask you, who do you know that would have such a book and also be able to find it in minutes.

Sure enough the words had hardly left my lips and as if he had several chess books up his jumper he immediately gave me some starter books about openings. Middle game and the end game. The books are for primary school children—I thought that was being very cheeky of him, I’m 89 in a couple of weeks!

I don’t swear very often, but ‘bloody top me’ what have I done, I can’t make head and tail of any of it. I think I’ll stick to painting.

 But on the hand we have got another lockdown, and I wonder how many new Grandmasters are at the beginning of their careers. It’s an ill wind as they say.

        The unforgettable whatsname.

“ Ohh, you know Effie, she was in that film about a tram driver who dropped dead at the wheel’.

‘Was it a recent film”?

 “Nooww! It was an old film, her name is on the tip of my tongue, I will always remember her because of her eyes. They were very wide apart and she had one eye brow that was more arched than the other. It made her look as if she was not believing what was being said, even when nothing was being said—f you know what `i mean”.

“No not really, Rosy, but I can see why you would remember someone like that but I’m afraid I can’t help you. Did the tram crash by the way?”

“Tram, what tram?.

“The tram in the film, that the woman with the funny eyes and high eye brows that you are trying to remember was in”.

I am eight years old  and once again sitting in the kitchen listening to Mrs Salmon and my Mum.  I am trying to visualise this woman with the wonky eyes and the disbelieving look on her face. You would never forget someone like that, would you?

I have a feeling this is going to go on all morning and I leave them to it but I often wonder if they ever remembered who this unforgettable whatsname was.. 

The Headless Horseman.

Before the war, there were several abandoned houses in Chertsey. One in particular was known as the ‘Haunted House’, it was situated on the corner of Thorpe Road and St Anne’s Road—I believe it is now a restaurant.

Since Mr Wade told us a story about the house, I have always felt a cold shiver when ever I was nearby.

Apparently, a rich man had bought the derelict house as an investment. During the re-building a friend of Mr Wade’s, Taffy Jones, was digging a trench for the new drains when he came across the original cesspit. The wall of the pit collapsed into the trench and it had to be emptied.

At the bottom of the pit they found lots of rubbish including some bones—human bones! That was bad enough but—there was no head. The news of the grisly find soon went around Chertsey, could it be ‘The Headless Horseman’?

This quirky old town had its fair share of ghost stories, and one story that is still told today is of ‘The Headless Horseman’?  A ghost that is seen riding down ‘The Old Coach Road’ in the middle of the night, and anyone who sees it will have some very bad luck.

Sure enough bad luck visited the rich man, almost as soon as the discovery of the bones he lost his fortune. He fled, leaving many unpaid bills, and the house was abandoned.

Now, here I am aged ten in the garden of the Haunted House, and against my better judgment, I have been persuaded by Teddy Wade and little Johnny Sewell, to scrump some apples that we could see in the back garden. they were cookers called Blenheim’s, but quite alright to eat.

Next to the apple tree, was a complete wooden staircase, Teddy said, the staircase was removed during the re-building to make the house  single-story, as the rich mans wife was disabled, but the house was never finished

 While we were sitting on these stairs eating the rather sour apples, Johnny said.

“Listen, I can hear someone talking”.

We stopped munching and sat absolutely still, I was ready to run for it, I can tell you. I’d  had a funny feeling ever-since we climbed over the fence.

The voice sounded like a very old man counting money or something, and it was coming from the old house! I have never been the bravest of boys, but this was making my teeth really chatter, Johnny said .

“Be quiet, Wegsy, it’s coming from that window” 

The trouble now was, that we had to walk along the path right next to the window to get out.

 As we moved nearer the house the counting got louder, and we saw that a window was open, the counting suddenly stopped, and on the window-sill was a new packet of ‘Players’ cigarettes and a box of Bryant and Mays matches.

I have never been so frightened in my life, I remembered Mr Wades story, this house really is haunted. First the counting now this new packet of cigarette’s just sitting there.

 But not so my two mates, they grabbed the fags with great alacrity, quickly lighting up and were soon puffing away and laughing at their good fortune.

Johnny, while he was enjoying his fag, looked at the ‘Players’ cigarette packet and started laughing.

 Printed on the packet was the slogan.

‘It’s the Tobacco that counts’

I know it’s an old joke but what would Christmas be without a Ghost Story!?

Chertsey, a shopping Mecca.

Chertsey a shopping Mecca.

The title of this little piece may surprise a lot of people, but in the late 1940’s—I don’t like saying “during or after the war ” because it makes me sound old. So, let us say it is August 1946.

 I’m fourteen and I’ve finally left school, and already I’ve had two jobs and am now on my third one. I have money in my pocket to spend as I wish—seven shillings! I feel like a millionaire.

It is Saturday afternoon, I am fighting my way through the crowds up Guildford street, there are so many people out shopping that I have to walk on the road—I kid you not!

Our little town was the best place for miles to do your shopping, we had a real choice of very good shops. Ethel Taylor and her lovely flower and green-crocers shop nest to Bushes Deli where you could but the best ham in town. Woolworths, Boots, Bon Marche The International, and wonderful bakers, and butchers, even a motorbike shop! People would descend upon Chertsey, from places like Staines and Woking.

There was just one thing missing from this wonderland of consumerism, there was a terrible shortage of pub’s—a little joke!

The men have been de-mobbed and have mostly come home, there are plenty of jobs and they had money to spend, new shops started appearing, who remembers when Denny’s came to town with their fancy bread and cakes, soft roll’s overflowing with cream—artificial cream yes— but they looked amazing, and the slices of Angel cake that melted in your mouth.

No longer did we have blended chocolate—a blend of milk and plain chocolate, now it was Cadburys Dairy milk chocolate, even the bread is white instead of a sort of Khaki colour.

This shopping explosion seemed to be here for ever, but I left Chertsey to join the Royal Air Force for my National Service and was away in Egypt for three years. I returned to find that other towns had got their act together and Chertsey now had some stiff competition and never quite recovered. Despite being developed as a commercial centre, some of the old shops still survive, but nowadays you never have to walk in the road because of the crowds.