First real memories 1936/7
In chapter one, I wrote Iris’s story as closely as I remember her telling me. It was an eye-opener as I knew virtually nothing about those early years. I made it the first chapter because it was so important to the rest of my stories. As she continued her story it started to stir my memory, we were talking about the same things but from a slightly different view. The earliest thing that I remember with any certainty was the Coronation of King George in April nineteen-thirty-seven. I was sitting on a man’s shoulder watching the Coronation parade march past Bell Corner. Then we all followed the band to the party in the Dingle, up St Anne’s Hill. There was a play about St George and the Dragon. The Dragon came from behind a big tree, I remember it so well because I was terrified. !!
The man whose shoulder I had been sitting on was our lodger, Fred Barker—later to become my stepfather.
Iris went on to describe the whole pageant and as she did so, it all started to come back to me. We went through one thing after another, some things I remembered well, but others were completely new to me.
The only other early memories that I shared, are just flashes of happy moments, but once again Iris was able to fill in the details. Such as my first outing to the seaside, probably again when I was about four. Three or four families in the back of Jimboy Salmon’s green-grocery van. Iris said the children were being sick with smell of cabbages and the swaying of the old lorry. It must have taken ages to get there, we kept stopping along the way for the kids to get some fresh air, and even more often on the way back. We were sitting on sacks of vegetables and the grown-ups sitting on beer crates. I wasn’t impressed with the seaside because the big waves kept knocking me over. It was much better on the way back, the grown-ups were drinking and singing, it was the first time I had seen people drunk, they were so funny.
I obviously can’t remember many details of these early times, so I have had to write them with quite a lot of make believe, and with some help from Iris, her memory is amazing. On the other hand, making believe has always come very easily to me, as mum always said.
“Alan, I never know when to believe your fanciable stories, where on earth do you get it all from?”
I believe some are quite true, but I suspect that I told a few of the stories so convincingly that even I don’t know what is true or what was just from my imagination. That is why I say my book is part fiction.
Growing up in Chertsey is something that doesn’t need any fanciable story telling. It was what most kids would call perfect. We had the lovely countryside to play in, fields that always seemed to have long grass sweeping right up to the woods, dark and mysterious in some places and like a fairyland in other parts. With Hazel nut groves and Chestnut trees everywhere. The children found it was a battle to pick the best time to go gathering these nuts before the squirrels took them—a battle the squirrels usually won.
There are three rivers flowing through Chertsey, it is virtually an island. There is the large river Thames marking the border of Surrey and Middlesex. The lazy Abbey River—possibly diverted from the Thames to flow nearer to the Abbey to keep the fishponds full for the Monks, it re-joins the Thames at Chertsey Bridge. The river Bourne which flows right through the heart of Chertsey before joining the Thames at Weybridge. All the rivers, full of fish from Dace to Pike, as did the even smaller Dummies Stream that snaked through the fields and the town, disappearing under the roads, and then surfacing again here and there before joining the river Bourne.
Chertsey bridge is very old, its white stone arches set in the green fields and trees make it a favourite photographers subject. Crossing the bridge and turning left, then following the river takes us past Chertsey lock and onto Laleham and a ferry taking us back to the Abbey. On the other side of the bridge is Dumsey Deep or Meadow. It is another favourite spot for us kids, on each side of the river the banks are so shallow that cattle could stand almost in the middle of this quite wide river. Along the towpath the river loops almost in a semi-circle making a beach with a bathing pavilion with steps down to another safe and very shallow bank, again it is possible to wade out to the middle quite safely. The pavilion was looked after by a man who was also a lifeguard, he would keep an eye on us and even teach us to swim.
I look back at the families in our little area, all of us in the same boat, without two coppers to rub together. All we needed for a whole day up the ‘Bridge’ was pack of sandwiches and a bottle of Tizer—sometimes we didn’t even have that, we knew how to make the best of things. Of course, I saw how children from other parts of Chertsey were better off than we were, and I suppose I wished that I had a nice swimming costume, but it didn’t bother me that much.
It was also around that time when I first saw an electric train. We had been in the top fields of Mr. Stanford’s farm, he always left the blackberry bushes to ramble to keep his cattle in. It is a street picnic where six or seven families would spend the afternoon picking blackberries. The field is surrounded by these huge brambles, they were so high that we needed a walking stick to pull the heavily laden branches down, the biggest blackberries always seemed to be at the top. They were so plentiful that our baskets were soon overflowing, then we would all sit down and share our sandwiches and lemonade, and then play rounders or football, we loved it. This sort of thing would happen quite often, sometimes we would all go together up Chertsey bridge or St Anne’s Hill for the whole day. We must have looked like refugees, with our prams and bags for the picnic.
On this day I am sitting on the kissing gates of Lyne fields next to the railway bridge watching Don and Kenny Edwards, they are fishing in Dummies stream that flows under the bridge, while I am busy eating all our blackberries. Don has given me a lovely red apple that grows wild in the hedges, it is very small and rosy but tastes so sharp it is impossible to eat, he teases me all the time.
A steam train on approaching Chertsey station would normally give a couple of loud blasts of the steam whistle. and we would wave to the engine driver to give us another loud blast. The sound we heard on this day was more of a loud creaking groan, and the click, click, clickety click of the wheels on the railway joints. The boys quickly scrambled up out of the stream and joined me on the gate. Slowly emerging from the trees lining the track came two passenger carriages without any engine to pull them. They came to a halt right in front of us over the bridge. The passengers were leaning out of the windows and waving to us.
I think this must have been one of the very first electric trains to have used this track and was full of important people. Seeing two carriages almost silently moving over the bridge full of waving people with no steam engine anywhere to be seen, was a sight I will never forget.
. I can still remember an amazing amount of detail of those few minutes. The shiny new paint and the gold lettering on the side, the strange smell of electricity from the sparks that flashed from underneath the train when it pulled away. And seeing it magically glide out of sight into Chertsey Station, without a single huff and puff of a steam engine.