Karen.

 

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For this story, the word ‘Kingston’ from my last story, was the memory trigger, and Bentall’s in particular.

Summer 1962, I was, and still am a shy person. Shy people will know how harrowing this story would have been for them in the same situation.

I was thirty, my wife Ann and I, having been married for four years, were expecting our first child in a month’s time.

For some reason, that I now find inexplicable, we decided to take my five-year-old niece, Karen for a day out in Kingston.

We found our little niece amusing, she had lots to say in the car journey to town, she was a lovely looking child and her mother Sylvia, had dressed her in a very nice pink frock.

******

Had we not already been expecting a child, I think that day in Kingston, would have prevented us from ever going into parenthood at all, never ever!!

*****

For as soon as we entered the large showrooms, our angelic little niece became a tornado in a pink dress, she disappeared into racks of ladies’ dresses, this we thought was funny.

But then……… she spotted the escalators.

For some-one who had never, ever seen an escalator before, she managed to

become an expert at running up the down side and down the upside and not only that, but reversing when-ever I was anywhere near her.

Only by one of us standing at the top and the other standing at the bottom of the escalator, were we eventually able to capture her.

Keeping a firm hand on her, we thought a dinner followed by a nice pudding would keep her occupied for a little while, and then we would return home as quickly as possible.

We sat down in the restaurant, it was full of group’s of ladies, they seemed to belong to some sort of women’s club out for the day, the tables were joined together to make several long tables.

We ordered our meal and Karen was fascinated with all the pretty hats, at last she had quieted down, and her meal was soon eaten.

While Ann and I were deciding on our pudding, there was a disturbance a couple of seats along the row, the ladies’ were looking under the table.

It was like a tsunami.

Each lady jerked back as our little angel was passing under the legs—and sometimes through them. Then to surface at the end of the table with a wave, in much the same manner as our twenty-minute ordeal on the escalator.

I tried to walk casually along the table following the wave but she had learned a trick or two on the escalators and she would go into reverse.

I saw Ann looking at the menu, I could see the large open card she was holding, shaking, I could be mistaken but I think she was either laughing hysterically or was just plain hysterical.

A rather superior looking waiter managed to grab our little treasure and bring her to me.

A round of applause went through the dining room; I think the ladies’ thought it was amusing to see a mere male trying to cope with a little girl of five and then losing the battle.

On the plus side, we were escorted from the room and didn’t have to pay the bill.

 

P.s Karen Price Weguelin is a regular in this group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story page fourteen.

The story page fourteen.

I am not sure of the date of this story, I have tried to find out on the internet but have not found any mention of this air-raid. I will visit Chertsey museum next month to see if there is any information there. It is only what I remember of that night.

So far, apart from rationing, everything is calm, you would not think we were at war.

That changed one night when a bomb fell in Pyrcroft Road, just across from us.

Four houses were totally destroyed and three people were killed. The front of several houses on our side of the road had the front walls removed as if they were sliced off with a knife.

Our house was about 200 yards away, from the bombed houses, all our windows were broken and the front door blown up the stairs.

When ever the air-raid siren sounded, Mum, Fred and the young ones would sleep under the kitchen table.

On this night I slept under the dresser, as the baby kept crying.

No matter how I try, I can’t recall the actual explosion, it must have been deafening.

What I do remember is jumping up and cutting my head on the dresser.

I see my Mum, she pulls off the old army overcoat that I liked to cover myself with, it was covered with broken glass and plaster from the ceiling, she pulls me under the table with the rest of the family.

The room was so thick with dust you could hardly see the light, although it was switched on.

Our new evacuees, Mrs. O’Keefe and her son Dennis, manage to get down from upstairs, over the front door which was almost at the top, followed by Iris and Chrissy, they were all unhurt.

A few minutes later we are all in the scullery, Mrs. O’Keefe is making a cup of tea, she has seen it all before, they were bombed out in Stepney.

It is very light outside and we all go round to Mrs. Salmons, her house is further away and undamaged.

People are running around to see if they can help, there is a loud bang and sheets of flames from the bombed houses, the firemen have arrived and making everyone move away.

Ambulances arrive, I see lady on a stretcher, she looks soaking wet, then I see it is blood.

The houses are now blazing and even the firemen have to move back.

We are all together but we don’t know what to do.

My poor Mum she cried and cried, it is all too much for her.

The story page eleven, 1940.

The story page eleven, 1940.

Here I am aged eight moaning about the necessities of life.

***********

Who ever heard of a vegetable like a swede, being cooked and then flavoured with banana?

at school, that’s what we had for pudding. Banana fritters without any banana.

What’s the world coming to?

The war really is getting serious. Sweets are vanishing from the shops.

My mate Teddy Wade, from Cowley Avenue, gave me some nice sweets yesterday, they were in a little round tin, they are called ‘Zubes’.

He said he bought them from the chemists in Guildford Street, near the Station.

“They have lots of this sort of thing, they’re called cough sweets, so as well as tasting nice they are good for you.”

Teddy is the sort of boy who knows a thing or two, he then carried on.

“If you know where to look, you can get anything. In old Mrs. Froud’s shop, you know, next to the ‘The Bell’ pub, she’s got sweets in the back room. They are a bit old and sticky and will soon be all gone, so if you want some, go now.”

I left it too late, Mrs. Froud’s shop had been cleaned out, all that was left was little square tins of ‘Nippits’. These are tiny bits of liquorice, meant for people who smoke, to clean their breath. Not meant for kids at all, but they were better than nothing, and lasted along time.

Whenever there was a mention of somewhere with a sweets delivery, kids from all over the town would fill the shop.

It was becoming a serious problem, even ‘Woolworths’ were selling fake bananas that were really just large dried bean skins, and sticks of thin wood flavoured with aniseed or liquorice—I think they were roots of something or other. Theses had to be sucked to get any flavour from them, then they became stringy.

Today at dinner time, Miss Slaughter, our head mistress, told us what to do if the siren went off while we were eating our dinner.

“It’s never good to rush your dinner, but what we must do now, instead of putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, keep them in your hand, ready for the next forkful. Then we will all be finished more quickly.”

I looked at Tony Rees, he pointed at his empty plate.

Like me, he had finished his dinner as soon as he had sat down, our knife and fork never left our hands once we got started.

Miss Slaughter—well named as far as I was concerned, she was very handy with the stick—then stood on the platform holding a bag of Horlicks tablets (little squares of compressed Horlicks in paper wrappers).

“All line up here in alphabetical order, there is one tablet for each of you.”

I am never very lucky with this sort of thing, and sure enough, me and my mate, Laury Zubiana, —who was of course at the end of the queue— went without.

 

Such is life.

 

The story page ten, January 1940.

The story page ten, January 1940.

Mum’s worried about Mrs Edwards, her husband is in the Navy and at sea somewhere. Some of our ships have been sunk by U-boats including the Royal Oak, a very big battleship.

The war is very real now, we have our ration cards but even so, some thing’s are hard to get.

It’s been very cold, but now the snow has almost gone, no more sledging down Ruxbury Hill.

Our gate is perfect for a sledge, all you have to do is knock it all loose with a hammer, and make it into a sledge, then when the snows gone, you just put it all back together.

This year was so cold some people chopped the gates up for fire wood. The council will always put a new one in, it’s a waste of time though, nobody ever goes through their gates, we all cut across the front garden as all the fences are broken, just a gate standing all on it’s own!

As usual Mrs. Salmon is having a cup of tea in our kitchen. Now that rationing is on I keep looking to see if she gets any smaller, but no, she still just about fits our old green chair,

when she tries to get out of it, mum has to help her. I wonder how she manages to get off the lavatory.  I try not to think about it, but the thought keeps coming back.

Talking of lavatories, there is something wrong with ours, you have to pull the chain twice to make it flush, sometimes it never works at all.

Don says, make out you are not going to pull the chain, then do it suddenly, to catch it out, it always works for him, he’s very good at things like that.

Last week we saw a convoy of little tanks, Don said they were Bren-gun carriers, they had about six soldiers in each one, we were all cheering as they clattered by.

In the Picture Palace in Guildford Street, they show the Pathe Gazette news-reel in between the little film and the big one. It’s all about the war, when there are pictures of the enemy tanks going through the towns with the German soldiers on top, every one hisses as loudly as they can, and then we all cheer when we see a Spitfire or Hurricane flying high in the sky. Sometimes the news is better than the films that are shown.

Today is my birthday, we are both in the Saturday Morning Picture Club for children.

I have to go up on the stage for a present, Don tells me to have the football, but I choose a mouth organ, he doesn’t half moan.

Will Hay is my favourite, he always plays a silly Station Master on the railway and everything goes wrong.

The other film was Laurel and Hardy, we are still laughing on the way home, just talking about it.

Don is playing my mouth organ; I wish I had chosen the football now, at least we could both be playing something. My brother is so bossy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story page nine, 1940

The story page nine, 1940.

Most of my stories are perfectly true, but you probably realise I sometimes add a joke to lighten the mood of those grim days.

In this one I’ve added an old Jewish joke that I heard on the TV.

**********

In the early days of the war, pets such as cats and dogs were abandoned, our rations being so meagre, it was hard to feed them.

It was common to see a poor dog roaming the streets looking for food and a friendly face.

One of these poor creatures, a little Jack Russell, adopted our home, he just sat on our doorstep until my Mum let him in.

He had a little tag on his collar with the name ‘DICK’ on it.

Although we were a big family, my Mum tried to keep up her standards, this meant absolutely no swearing, and to have something called ‘DICK’ roaming the house was just too much for her to bear.

In fact, any word that even sounded like a rude one would have a more proper alternative.

This gave rise to a lot of ‘nicer’ words, which, together with Mum’s malapropisms—she often mixed up her words—could be confusing, even to the rest of the family, leave alone some one from outside.

Following this rule, Dick’s name was changed to the similar sounding name ‘Eric’.

He was in a poor condition and continually scratching himself.

We looked to see if he had fleas or something, but all that could be seen was a bare patch on his belly.

Going to a vet was out of the question as it was a bus ride away, but luckily Doctor Ward was quite willing to give advice if needed.

We put Eric in a shopping basket with an old jersey over him, and joined the queue outside Doctor Ward’s surgery.

Once inside the waiting room you took a seat and as each person was seen you would move along till you reached the Doctors surgery—it was not unlike musical chairs, except there was no music.

Doctor Ward smiled as he saw my Mum, he had been our doctor for ages and had delivered most of our family, my mother was also the unofficial midwife in our area.

Now the Doctor was well aware of her aversion to rude words, and her malapropisms, I think he sometimes found it quite challenging to have a conversation with her.

“Hello doctor, could you look at my little Jack Russell, it has a nasty itch.”

So far all true, now the joke!!

I saw him look at her intently, trying to work out what on earth she was talking about, then the penny dropped,

Smiling, he said.

“Ah, your little Jack Russell, yes of course.”

He took a jar of ointment from his cabinet and said.

“Rub this on twice a day to the itchy area, and don’t ride a bike for a fortnight.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

My day in Boots the chemists.

I belong to an art group, mainly middle class ladies from Muswell Hill. We were looking in an old American art book, and we saw some tips on using ordinary household things instead of paying for the very expensive artist products.

Such as a cheap hairspray to seal a charcoal drawing instead of a fixative, also white nail varnish to repair damage to a canvas, and something called ‘Kentucky Gel’ for making acrylic paint stay wet and usable for longer.

The fist two items could be bought anywhere, but we had never heard of ‘Kentucky Gel’.

I decide to ask Cass Art’s, the well-known art shop, if they stocked it, the young lady said she had never heard of it either.

Later, I bought the hairspray and the nail varnish in ‘Boots’ and while I was in the queue to pay, I saw a tube of something called K-Y Jelly, the name seemed to shout out at me, then I I saw that the first and last letters were K and Y, not only that, but Jelly could be American for Gel.

Bingo I might have found the British version of Kentucky Gel.

Placing it in my basket I thought I would ask at the counter.

I couldn’t help noticing that the two ladies behind me, seemed very interested in what was in my basket. I am very bald­, and it must have been the hairspray that was making them giggle.

The assistant was very young, and when I asked.

“Is this the same as the Kentucky Gel that is used for thinning acrylic paints?”

She looked at me for what seemed an inordinately long time, before she said.

“I will have to ask a senior assistant.”

What with the hairspray now this, I was beginning to feel uneasy.

The senior assistant, a frosty looking woman, holding the tube up, said.

“Sir, this is a moisturiser,  I think the product you want, would be found in an artists shop rather than a chemist.

I quickly paid and fled, with the feeling of many pairs of eyes following me.

At home, I tried it on an old canvas and amazingly it was a brilliant success, I was able to use the paint for over an hour without drying.

I have written to the makers suggesting that they should sell it in art shops; but I have yet to receive a reply.

The lady at Boots, was right about it being a moisturizer, I now use as an after-shave.

 

I can’t wait to tell the posh ladies at my art group of my find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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