I suppose I was around ten years old when I first saw myself in a full-size mirror. We had looking glasses at home as they were called, these were just bits of a larger looking glass that had been broken in into a hundred pieces when we were bombed. Only a little part of your reflection can be seen.
I’ve heard people say that I’m a bit of a dreamer and in another world. I think all kids are the same, I’m a kid, what do they expect? This day I was brought down to earth in a rather abrupt way though, more of an air crash you might say. I was crossing the road at Bell Corner, and I saw this rather odd figure reflected in the glass door of Miss Stotts ladies’ outfitters. As I moved closer, I realised this gangly individual walking across the road like an old man, was not some old man at all, it was me.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the reflection was distorted by the gummed paper stuck on the glass—this was to stop flying glass from an exploding bomb.
I stood in front of the door, moving from side to side to see my whole body. I was not happy with what I saw. I had no idea that this is what other folk would see. I had a totally different image as I walked around Chertsey
Perhaps they are right, maybe I am living in a world of my own. In my mind’s eye, I am this young Tarzan figure loping through the undergrowth of Pyrcroft Road. Swinging from hanging vine to hanging vine, at one with nature and all the animals. Sometimes trying to give a Tarzan call like the boy who lived in the lodging house—he sounded just like Johnny Weizelmul.
Instead, I was looking at this lanky, knock-kneed kid in short trousers. The trousers did nothing to help the image. They were a bit grubby and too long for short trousers. While I am taking all this in—with ever increasing dismay— I noticed out of the corner my eye, what looked like a pair of super-sized lady’s bloomers twitching in the main shop (whoever thought of using an enormous pair of lady’s knickers as the curtains for the changing room was a total genius)
I might be mistaken about the knickers, but that is what the curtains looked like to me.
I managed to swivel my eyes around to see what was causing these giant bloomers to take on a life of their own—my mum had told me never to look in Miss Stotts window as there were things on display not for my eyes. Actually, Dave Mawford and I had spent many a wet Sunday afternoon—it always rained on Sunday— trying to fathom what on earth all the stuff in Miss Stott’s window could possibly be used for.
Suddenly the bloomers parted and in what seemed a completely unfriendly facial expression—as if she had just chewed a wasp—as my mum would say. There was a lady waving her hands about and saying something—I think the gist of what she said was for me to vacate her doorway, I couldn’t quite read her lip’s, but I don’t think it was very friendly.
These few moments were to change my life, no more Tarzan fantasies. Instead, I set my mind on self-improvement. First of all, my round shoulders had to go, this was surprisingly easy, but the knocking knees were more difficult. I practiced my walk at night so I wouldn’t look silly and after a while it became natural. My shoulders square, arms swinging, and my head held high, I felt great—I found the hardest bit was pushing my knees apart to stop them touching. I would now proudly stride down the town with a feeling that I had changed my image.
I was returning from doing some shopping for mum and was passing Pippernell Izzi’s ice cream shop in Pyrcroft road. Ahead of me I spotted Mrs. Mant, she was at her gate talking to the lady next-door. They were both wearing identical pinafores and turbans, probably bought from Miss Stotts. I vaguely wondered about their bloomers as well but quickly dismissed the thought.
They were both standing with their arms folded, a fag hanging from their lips, I could see by the jerky movements of the cigarettes that they were busy putting the world to rights. I thought here was my chance to show off my new walk. I straightened up with arms swinging and attempted to push my knees apart as I strode towards them. The trouble was I had not yet perfected the ‘knee thing’, and this caused me to walk in a slightly odd way. Adults are not always aware that kids have very acute hearing, and as I neared the two ladies, I heard one say.
“Look, what’s coming up the road, that poor Mrs. Waglin, as if she doesn’t have enough to put up with already”.
Mrs. Mant replied,
“Yeah, it’s such a shame, they say there is always one in every family”.
They kept stock still as I got nearer, their fags now just hanging motionless, their eyes swivelled as I passed them. I swung my arms and tried my best to keep my knees in order.
There was a burst of laughter as they watched me stride up the road, this didn’t bother me much though. Being told all the time you live in another world you get used to it.
I had the last laugh though, my new walk has made me keep my shoulders back and the stoop has gone, I now feel so much more at ease as I walk around Chertsey.
There is just one fly in the ointment, I am now quite bandy.