Jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Jumping to the wrong conclusion.

I was so keen when I started school, that when the teacher would ask the class a question like; “What do we all come to school for”? I would shout out what I thought was a completely reasonable but totally wrong answer. Even now I do the same thing when I am a bit stressed or simply as a joke. Last Wednesday, I was lying on the operating table of the Manchester Royal Infirmary about to have an angiogram. This is where a tiny camera on the end of a wire is pushed up the artery of your arm and into your heart to have a look around. There are several monitors and an Xray camera hovering over my body.

The nurse who was preparing me said. “Alan do you know what you are in for today” and as a joke I said. “To see the dentist”? Although I could not see her face behind her mask, I could tell by her body language that she was not amused.

 I am always surprised at what some people find funny others don’t. It reminds me of a conversation I overheard in the care home that my wife Wendy was staying in. Three of the elderly lady residents were having a nice chat in the dining room, Lillian was saying how she liked to have things done and dusted, she said “If it needs doing you may as well do it straight away”, she then said. “After all, don’t they say that ‘Mastication is the thief of time'”? Judy, her friend, smiled and said.

“Lillian, I think you have got the wrong word. The expression is ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’, it’s an easy mistake to make, so many words sound just the same but mean different things”. They both laughed and Dolly, who is at least ninety, and not quite hearing what is being discussed, said.

“In that case, I reckon that it has stolen about six months of my time”. 

The three old ladies fell about laughing, tears rolling down their cheeks.

Now, I know I’m a bit slow, and it is mildly funny, but after all this time I still don’t think it’s very funny at all, or am I missing something?

Life with Wendy.

There is no getting away from it girls are annoying, they are always interfering with our games, like that June Moore who lives down Cowley Avenue. We are playing cricket in the road outside her house and she keeps swinging on her gate and asking silly questions.

“Have you got a girl friend Alan”? She keeps this up all the afternoon, it’s one thing after another. June is in my class at Stepgate’s and all the boys like her, but I think she talks too much. How can anyone concentrate on wicket keeping when someone keeps going on and on. If I don’t stop the ball it would go all the way down to the end of the road to Tucker Wells house, and the other boys would start shouting at me.

At the age of ten, I have better things to do than to talk to girls. It’s not that I don’t like girls, for instance there is a very pretty girl who lives in Barker Road . Her name is Wendy Hills, she looks like an American child film star, very pretty, but a bit shy. Thats how I like them, nice to look at but not at all talkative. I see her every day at school or out playing. One day I saw Wendy sitting on the back of Miss Paynes bike, she looked very upset and crying. She was covered in little red spots and was being taken home as she had German measles. She thought a German bomber had given her the spots.

Eight years later in 1950, I saw her standing at her garden gate and told her I was joining the RAF and would she write to me as a pen pal. She didn’t exactly say no, in fact she didn’t say anything, just giving me a look that some people might have thought was a no. But I still wrote to her when I was in Egypt though, I never had a reply, so it probably was a no.

In 2012 I was invited to an art exhibition in Chichester by my school friend Maureen Toobi. She said we could drop in to see her friend who lived there and had lost her husband a few years earlier. As soon as I walked into the room I thought Maureen’s friend looked a bit familiar, and after a few words I realised it was Wendy. Of course she couldn’t remember me, but she did remember my handsome brother Don. Every one knows my brother Donald!

A few weeks of driving down to Chichester, and 70 years after I thought she was like Shirley Temple when I was a ten year old. Wendy finally became my girl friend.

I proposed to her 6 months later—at our age, 78 and 80 you can’t hang around and we married in 2012.

I told everyone we had to get married, and it was a shotgun wedding. This didn’t seem to please her very much though.

We had an 18 month honeymoon and never stopped laughing.

wendy 101
Wendy , about 12 years old.

Chertsey and steam.

I am not sure how old I was when I first saw an electric train. We had been in the top fields of Mr Stanford’s farm, picking blackberries and trying the cider apples that grew in the hedge. The apples were small and very rosy but looks can be deceptive, tasting so sharp they were impossible to eat. I am sitting on the gate of Lyne fields next to the railway bridge watching my brother Don and Kenny Edwards. They are fishing for tiddler’s in Dummies stream flowing under the railway bridge, while I am busy eating all our blackberries.

A steam train on approaching Chertsey station would normally give a couple of loud blasts of the steam whistle. The sound I heard on this day was more of a loud 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 carriages and then coming to a halt right in front of us. The passengers were leaning out of the windows and waving to us. I think this must have been the very first electric train 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. 

To find out when electric trains were first used on the Chertsey line, I looked it up on Google, it was 1937. I would have been five years old. Eighty-four years later 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 came from underneath the train when it pulled away. And seeing it magically glide into Chertsey Station without a single huff and puff of the steam engine.

Now when-ever the beautiful new steam train goes huffing and puffing through Chertsey, there are crowds of people waving to the passengers. What goes around comes around. 

The Tranquil Thames.

The tranquil Thames?

December 1946 was very cold, power cuts were making things worse. Even the coal in the railway trucks was a frozen mass and difficult to deliver. Most council homes had just one open fire to heat the whole house so burst pipes were another problem. For us the woods of St Anne’s Hill were a handy source of fuel, plus some wood offcuts that I brought home from my job in a Shepperton boat building firm.

The firm: Kenneth M Gibb’s, had the workshop in a very old traditional Thames boathouse which was raised six feet off the ground to allow for the occasional floods. I have never been colder than I was in that draughty old building, the only time I felt warm was when I had to keep a row of primus stoves pumped up for the steam bending box. The timbers had to be steamed so that they could be bent into all sorts of shapes for the boats.

Another job was making the tea and helping the craftsmen. I was amazed at the skill of these men, everything was done with hand tools, most of which they had made themselves. During the many blackouts I had to keep dozens of candles alight, it’s a wonder the whole place didn’t burn down.

The only man I can remember was Horace Gardener—I suppose having a name like Horace would make him memorable! but he was also larger than life and kept us all warm just with his jokes. We certainly needed something to keep the cold out during that winter.

Then in March, the weather changed dramatically it became very mild and it rained continually. The rain melted the frozen snow, but the soil, also frozen to several inches, could not absorb it, the water flowed straight into the rivers and this was the start of the 1947 floods. The floodwater was so high that it started to come in-to the workshop.

Mr Gibbs, normally a very cautious man, decided to simply push the thirty foot long ‘Freebooter’ out on the water. It was virtually ready to be taken out anyway. This would save having to cut the roof as it tilted down to the ground. The large doors of the workshop were opened and with a lot of shouting and heaving, ‘Freebooter’ gently floated out onto the flooded bank with lots of cheering and laughter. 

I don’t know who it was, who first noticed that the boat seemed to be lower in the water than it should have been. I think it was Mr Gibbs, a man I have never heard utter a swear-word in the months that I had worked for him. In that moment the calmness seemed to desert him, I thought he was having some sort of a fit.

Through the port-holes of this lovely boat, could be seen what looked like, a fountain, in fact there were several fountains of dirty Thames water. In the hurry to take advantage of the flood, water was pouring through the twenty holes for the keel bolts that had been overlooked. In a matter of minutes, despite the men jumping into the boat to plug the holes, all that could be seen was the top of the cabin.

Because of the floods, I couldn’t get back to work for a fortnight. When I did, I nearly cried, seeing my lovely black shiny boat, the paint work that I was so proud of, all ruined.

Poor Mr. Gibbs was never the same again, but he had been insured and was able to carry on.

I left Mr Gibbs in 1948, but I heard that in 1950 a horse called ‘Freebooter’ won the Grand National at 33/1. I was told the workers and Mr. Gibbs, won a good deal of money. It was as if Freebooter was paying back.

Freebooter was renamed ‘Freebooter Noir’ and was last seen in Cyprus!!!!!


Chertsey or Chelsea.

Chertsey or Chelsea.

My mother was always very proud of Chertsey, she said it had so much more history than places like Addlestone or Staines, and even Weybridge with their piddly little bridge. Even Oatlands Palace in Weybridge, she said, was largely built from the ruins of Chertsey Abbey. after Henry 8th knocked it about a bit in 1536. 

I never thought much about this until a few years ago when I visited Chertsey museum, a gold mine of information There are not many local towns that once had an Abbey or a legendary young woman, Blanche Heriot, who it is said had an American hit song based on her story: ‘Hang on the bell Nellie’. And what about our football club, Chertsey Town, playing and winning at Wembley! It’s just as well that the name of our town was changed from Cerotesege to Chertsey all those years ago, can you imagine shouting come on Cerotesege? 

Talking about Chertsey Town football club, I was told by my very good friend Alex Lees, that in the 1950’s the team was invited to play a game in Spain. They had a lovely time the Spaniards were very welcoming. But the football match was a different kettle of fish. It seems that Chertsey had been confused with Chelsea, and the Spanish players were on a par with Real Madrid. Needless to say, Chertsey suffered a rare defeat, although Alex said only because of home advantage—he would say that, wouldn’t he?

The confusion with our famous town and Chelsea even carried on when I joined the RAF, all the new recruits were saying where they came from and I said Chertsey. A boy from Wales said “Ooh, there’s posh”. I let him believe it. Even my blog benefits from this confusion, madeinchertsey has a worldwide following, China, Russia, Italy, Turkey and many more. I wonder what they all think when they read about the antics of a load scruffy kids from Chertsey rather than the posh people from Chelsea.

A date to remember.

A Date to Remember.

Summer 1944, aged twelve and a half, I have been in St Dominic’s Open-Air School for the last seven months recovering from some sort of illness. As soon as I was home my mother wasted no time in finding me a little job. It will give you some pocket money she said. The Bargain Centre, next to Bon Marche, in Guildford Street was managed by Mr Perring. My wage was eight shillings and sixpence—about 45p, for a couple of hours after school on Thursday and Friday and about six hours on Saturday. My job was delivering groceries, sometimes as far as Addlestone. On this day I was late getting back to the shop and Mr Perring was waiting to lock up. I thought I would be told off but instead he said I had worked very hard and he gave a pack of dates. These dates were really meant for cooking and were off the ration, the ladies who worked for Mr Perring would eat them like sweets—so did I when no one was looking. He said I could take the bike home as he had already locked the shop up.

It’s been one of the hottest days of the year and still very warm, so I thought instead of going straight home I would use the delivery bike and ride up to Chertsey Bridge and have a swim to cool down. There were lots of people at the Bathing Pavilion, and because I had no cozzy I went in up near the Pylon where no-one was about.

  Afterwards as I was riding back along the towpath, and I saw Sheila, a girl from my class, I offered her a lift home in the bike’s basket, she just laughed at the very thought of it, so I just walked along with her. We stopped and sat on the bank to watch a tugboat go by and were chatting quite nicely, but I’m not very good at talking to girls and I was soon wishing we would get up and go home, but then without any warning she grabbed my arm and said.

 “I bet I can beat you at arm wrestling, I always win with my brother”.

  I have to say this gave me quite a start, and before I could say anything, she was bending my arm back and winning every time. It was really too hot for all this and after a while we just lay back in the long grass.

“Phew, I’m so hot, I’m going in for another swim”.

  Now what can I do, I had no swimming costume, so I just sat still.

“Come on then”, she said.

And started to undress in front of me, I tried to look the other way and although I turned my head, my eyes stayed straight ahead. She stood up and luckily she still had her swimming costume on under her dress

  I quickly ran in to the river, holding my bits so as not to embarrass her, she didn’t worry about me though, she just jumped in.

  She was a better swimmer than I and could stay under water for ages, and I never knew where she would come up,  she nearly lifted me clear out of the water. Finally, we climbed out and lay down again in the long grass, she let me use her towel to dry myself, but once again I didn’t know what to say

  Luckily, I remembered Mr. Perring giving me the dates.

  “Would you like a date, Sheila?” I said.

  She smiled and said. 

 “That would nice Alan, when do you think”?

 “Well” I said “Now, I’ve got some here, and I started to unwrap the packet of dates.

  Then, with what I can only say was a rather harsh look she said.

  “Alan Waglin, you are bloody unbelievable, no, I wouldn’t want any of your bloody dates”. And she started to get dressed in a very animated way. Her mood, which a few moments ago was gay and abandoned had now turned quite grumpy. After all these years I still don’t know what went wrong that afternoon, I thought everybody liked dates.

The Royal Visit.

The Royal visit.

Chertsey is full of surprises you never know what is going to happen next. Here we are in Teddy Wades garden, full of kids, chickens, rabbit hutches and even two pig sties. Whenever there were too many kids milling around, we would jump over Dummies stream into the open ground between Teddy’s garden and those of Frithwald Road, where we had a camp. 

Our camp was just a hole in the ground with a bit of corrugated iron as a roof. We had pinched some potatoes from Mrs Wade, and were cooking them in a tin with some water from the stream. Suddenly there was a terrific rumpus from one of the houses in Frithwald Road, it was family row. Family row’s, were a common sight in our part of Chertsey but this was something really special.

Out of the bedroom window came a chair then a mattress followed by all sorts of things. We quickly jumped back over the stream and up into the hollow tree stump in Teddys garden for a better view. There must have been six or seven of us up there, it’s a wonder we didn’t fall out. But it was worth the risk as it went on all afternoon.

Then my brother Bernard came around to tell me that we had important visitors, it sounded like he said that the King’s sister had come for tea. Before I could ask what was going on, he just got on his bike and left me to walk home in some sort of shock. Did he say The Kings Sister?

My Mum was standing at the scullery door looking a bit mad, she whispered something, then gave me a clip round the ear and started washing my face with a cold wet flannel before pushing me into the kitchen.

Everyone was sitting at the tea table, with lots of sandwiches and cakes. They were all looking very smart and at the top were two people in uniform, the Lady had a hat with gold trimmings, like a crown almost.

 I didn’t know what to do, so I just gave them a nice bow, like I have seen people do for the King. This made Iris start to giggle.

Then Mum said.

“Say hello to your Auntie Tina and Uncle Alfred, they have come all the way up from Hastings”.  

Then the penny dropped, it wasn’t the Kings sister, it was my mum’s sister from Hastings—an easy mistake to make as it sounded the same.

 She and her husband were officers in the Salvation Army and had been visiting a local Chapel In Addlestone.

They all kept looking at me and I thought they were waiting for me to say something.

I’m only seven, so, I said in my most posh voice.

‘May we start’

And everyone started laughing, even my Aunt and Uncle.

 I wished I was back in Teddy’s garden eating the rest of those lovely potatoes.

The tea leaves have spoken.

Mrs. Salmon was one of those women who was respected by everyone, she was larger than life both mentally and physically. She was a second Mother to me when our family was threatened with being placed in to care in the early 1930’s. Most of my stories have at least a passing mention of her, she was my Mother’s best friend, I spent many Saturday mornings listening to the two of them going over the weeks gossip. In Chertsey there was always plenty of that to talk about. 

As my Mother worked every weekday, Saturday was our washday. I liked to help with the ‘mangle’ wringing the clothes out and hanging them on the line. This suited me as it was the only time I had her to myself. And as a bonus the chance to hear all the gossip. Sadly, the gossip—if you could call it that—was usually about a family who had lost someone. This time it was poor Mrs Martyr in Barker Road, her young son was on HMS Hood when it was sunk with hardly any survivors.

Good fortune or bad luck was always the main topic with Mrs. Salmon, they both believed in any signs, and after I had made the tea, there would be the reading of the tea leaves.

Even at the age nine I had my doubts about how anything could be forecast by some little bits of tea swirling around the bottom of a cup, but they swore by it. So, I was quite interested when Mrs. Salmon took my cup and twisted and turned it until the leaves ‘spoke to her’ as she would always say. She showed me the bottom of the cup and pointed to a cross and next to that, was what she said was a foot—I have to say, that was stretching it a bit. She looked at me quite seriously and said.

‘Now Alan, everyone has a weak link in their body and the leaves are telling me that your weak link is your feet, you must take very good care of them as they can easily be damaged’. My Mother, looking concerned said.

‘Yes Alan, you’ve got to be very careful, look at your legs they’re like a couple of sticks, it’s a wonder to me that they can hold you up at all’.

After this vote of no confidence in my legs, I have been very careful, but calamity. Mrs. Salmon’s tea leaves proved to be right. I was playing football and I heard a crack as I kicked the ball—I had broken my ankle. I could hear Mrs. Salmon saying. ‘The tea leaves never lie’

I now think there must be some truth in these old customs, after all my ankle was swelling up as I looked at it.

Admittedly, it was seventy eight years later, but it still counts. 

Chertsey Rec.

Chertsey ‘Rec.

St Anne’s Hill, Chertsey Bridge, what would all our Chertsey Facebook groups do without these two wonderful places. I always feel so lucky to have been able to enjoy their magic, from my earliest memory to the last time I visited them in 2019. But there another place. The Rec.

One of the most irritating things of growing old is the loss of recent memory, I forget my friend’s names and even what day it is. Fortunately, we oldies compensate this by remembering long forgotten days, they just come in-to our minds without any invitation. I recall my mother telling me of her childhood in the greatest of detail, I sometimes thought she must have made them up, how could anyone do this? I am now a similar age to my mother when she was telling me about her school days over seventy years before. And I find I can do the same, it’s nothing short of magic.

For instance, today on my way back from the hospital I saw a low wall around a Church. The wall was about two feet tall and made with black bricks, the top layer of bricks was rounded with railings on top. Instantly I was taken back to Chertsey recreation ground, or rather the wall along Sir William Perkins School next to the ‘rec. My sisters had taken to the park and had lifted me onto this wall so that I could walk along it, I must have been very small. 

Nothing very special about that of course, except that it is so fresh in my memory. The wall was black with the top layer made of rounded brick’s it also had several different heights meaning I had to lifted up several times as I walked along it, the last level was too high for them to lift me up. The wall has probably long gone but it’s still there somewhere in my mind.

At the hospital today, the Doctor asked when I was last seen by his team, and I couldn’t remember, he looked it up and told me it was last January. Such is life. 

Tooth Fairy!

Tomorrow I am going out into the big wide world for the first time since I was told to isolate myself in March. I am going to Manchester University Hospital to see when I can be taken in to have a new aortic valve fitted. In normal times I like to wander about in the lovely park just across the road from us.  If I do go to town it is usually just window shopping. When you get to my age there is not much that you need to buy apart from odds and ends such as shaving stuff.

It was while I was in Boots the Chemists last year looking for some tooth-paste that as I  was bedazzled by both the range, the price and the claims of one particular firm. I wonder if this tooth-paste maker will ever run out of new ways of enticing us to buy their latest wonder product.

This made me think of what I did as a child to keep everything in my mouth in a healthy condition, the answer is not much. I never cleaned my teeth with anything  except rubbing them with salt now and again. Not really the best way to look after them and probably why I lost a few teeth before I was fourteen. Salt was used for all manner of cleaning jobs, salt and water as a cure-all such as an eye wash or to clean a small wound.

Before the miracle of SR tooth-paste, my brother Don, who was about.eleven and just a year older than I was .Told me what the soldiers did to clean their teeth when they were in action. He gave me a little piece of Fairy soap—a laundry soap and said that if I chewed it as if I was eating something for a few minutes  my teeth would be sparkling clean, and this is what the soldiers did.

“Just chew it for a little while until it foams a bit”. he said.

I’m not sure if it did make my teeth sparkle, but it did make me feel very, very sick.

To be fair to Don though, he never told me to swallow.