There is an old saying……….

My mother was very fond of sayings, she would manage to find one to suit every situation, sometimes a completely inappropriate one. I often heard her swap them with her friends, it was almost like a competition to see who could undermine the others pearl of wisdom, or maybe just to reinforce it. One of her favourites was ‘Charity begins at home’. This would be challenged by ‘The kindness of strangers’.

 As a family many years ago, we benefitted from both. Our near neighbours, who were in the same parlous state as we were still managed to find something for us. And people from far away who we never knew also chipped in.

 When Mrs Salmon was sitting comfortably in her favourite chair, whole conversations would sometimes consist of one ‘saying’ after another, it could go on for ages.

This reminded me of a time in 1953. I have been home for a month, from serving my time in Egypt. My lovely tan had faded and with it, any chance of attracting a girl-friend. Here I was, sitting in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, looking a bit dejected, Mrs Salmon looks over.

“Alan, you should be out there ‘Sowing your wild oats’.

Mum joined in and said.

“Yes, Alan, ‘The early bird always gets the worm”.

Mrs Salmon, “Shy man never gets fair lady”.

Mum, “As long as you look before you leap”.

Mrs S. “He who hesitates is lost”.

It went like this for ages, there was hardly a word of normal conversation.

Luckily Mr Norman, our ‘Tally man’ had ducked under the kitchen window to avoid being seen, and suddenly appeared at the back door hoping for some money, under his arm was his latest catalogue.

Mr Salmon said. “There’s the answer, Alan, why don’t you see if Mr Norman can get you one of those lovely Blazer’s that we see all the time, you know with the silver buttons”.

My mother, bless her, said.

“The trouble with you Alan, is that you are quite a funny shape, look at that sports jacket you are wearing, you’re flat chested, round shouldered and your arms are too long, and why on earth did you buy a cabbage green jacket, it evens smells like cabbages”.

Mr. Norman, said. “Yes, you do have very long arms, you would make a good goal-keeper’.

Then turning to my mother said, as if I wasn’t in the room. “We can do a made-to-measure blazer, for just a few more shillings a week. You don’t happen to have a tape measure do you?”.

I looked in the drawer where everything was put, just in case we ever needed it. But no tape measure, just an old carpenter’s folding ruler. But undeterred, Mrs. Salmon grabbed it and a ball of string. “We can do the measurements with this”.

And without further ado, she wrapped the string around my chest, then laid it on the ruler, and started to read out my measurement’s.

Chest 35 inches, waist 27, hips 35, the sleeves were more trouble, so she just added an inch to be on the safe side.

My opinion never seemed to be of any interest to anyone, it seemed to me that.

 ‘Children should be seen and not heard’—although I was nearly 22! 

Three weeks later, Mr Norman arrived with my new blazer. Navy blue Barathea Whipcord, the latest fashion. Astonishingly it fitted perfectly.

My mother, for a moment was lost for words, but then said.

“Alan, clothes really do maketh the man”.

Mrs Salmon added.

“Handsome is as handsome does”

Mr Norman, catching the moment said.

“A bird in the hand is better than a bird in the bush”. This got a rather frosty look from Mrs Salmon. Even I found that one a bit odd.

At that moment, my brother came in and said.

“How did you get such a good fit without a proper tape measure?

My mother just gave one of her special smiles as if one of her five horse each way accumulators had come up and said.

“How long is a piece of string?”.

Its just a lot of bells.

Time is the essence, they say, or time is money.

There was a time, when it wasn’t though, when time was something to be enjoyed.

 A story my sister, Iris told me, was of a time before I was born. When things were a bit slower, a bit more relaxed. My father was a clock repairer in his spare time. She said our dresser in the kitchen would have two or three repaired clocks on the shelf having the final adjustments made. So, there would be several clocks all telling a different time. 

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, on the same dresser, was our own old alarm clock, this poor old thing would lose twenty minutes a day—my mother would put it right at nine o’clock every evening on the first bong of Big Ben before the news started on the wireless.

Apparently, no matter how much she complained about the clock, my father would not touch it—like many men, he probably didn’t like to be nagged and so just dug his heels in. 

Or may-be it was one of those silly little joke’s a man would like to play on his wife—we have all done it!

They say a plumber’s tap is always dripping, and here we have a clock repairers wife having to rely on St Peters Church bell ringing out every quarter.

Fortunately, Chertsey, being an old curfew town, it is very well endowed with bells, they are ringing all the time. There are several Churches within hearing distance, they would ring at least on the hour. The school and the convent bells rang regularly, several times a day. A clock was really not needed.

The bell is a gentle reminder to do something, like the time to start school or work. Now they are largely replaced with buzzer’s that are irritatingly insistent and urgent. 

Those people with their bell’s still got things done, but in their own time.

Now the buzzer controls our time—even Big Ben is silent.

Monks Wood.

My early memories of St Anne’s Hill; were about foraging, be it wooding, Blackberrying or Chest-nutting.

I did this from the age of about four, always with my brother’s or sister’s. We knew just about every corner of ‘The Hill’, we would spend the whole day up there.

The quickest way to get there was up Chilsey Green Road, jump over the ditch into the big field then a few hundred yards and we were in Monks Wood.  Monk’s Grave, in St Anne’s Hill, has been mentioned a few times recently, with people asking where to find it, and some others have suggested where it was. Most of these locations were very close together; and are also where I remember the grave to be. My niece, Karen, placed the grave precisely. 

I followed, Karen’s, instructions in my mind, and found, I was back in the woods all those years ago. The peaty smell of the leaf-mould, the little clear water spring, we used to drink from, flowing along the path along the edge of the trees. Then out of the woods into the top field, down past the hollow tree. Next to this was the big Mulberry tree, over laden with luscious red fruits—we were told they were deadly, so we left them well alone. The same went for the blackberries that smothered an old well. A horse had fallen into it and the well had been covered over. The blackberries looked so nice, but we wouldn’t eat them either. 

The woods in the second field, were much closer to Thorpe Road, and curved around the hillside, for about 400 hundred yards till reaching the huge Chestnut trees, that swept down onto the road. In the field, was a stone water trough with a working hand pump, more fresh water.

It might be asked why all this information is still fresh in my mind. I suppose it was fixed all those years ago, just so that I knew my surroundings, and where to have a drink on a long day up the woods.

Like most stories, one leads to another. In one of these fields, some boys found the rear wheel of a British fighter plane. The plane which I think was a Spitfire or a Tempest, must have clipped the tall oak trees that lined St Anne’s Road. before eventually crashing near the top the hill next to The Old Coach Road.

Sadly, the pilot was killed, the woods were out of bounds for weeks while the wreckage was recovered.

When we were allowed back, all that could be seen was a large white painted cross on an Oak tree. The cross was still visible just a few years ago but now I think the tree has gone. I wonder if there is any record of the pilots name, perhaps Chertsey Museum would know.

Bread and Oxo.

Bread and OXO for dinner.

Stepgate’s School, 1941. The school is very overcrowded, extra classrooms have been added since the evacuees came from London.

There had been a lull in the early part of the war and many evacuees had returned to London, but as soon as the bombers came over in great numbers later in 1940, they came back to Chertsey. Some, though, didn’t return, rumours went around saying that they may have been caught up in the Blitz.

I liked the boys from London, they knew so many jokes—some of them were very rude! One boy who was billeted in Pound Road next to Mr Redrup, was called Chown or Chowney. I never knew his first name. He was like a comedian that was on the wireless, he knew some very naughty jokes.

The old Hawker Hart fighter plane that was in the playing fields has been taken away to make room for the new classrooms, and as it was made mostly of aluminium it had to go, sadly.

Mum told us of a family in Barker road, who hardly had anything to eat some days and the children would be seen scavenging in dust bins. It seems that the father spent all his wages before he got home. She said we should think ourselves lucky that it never would happen to us.

We would hear a lot of stories like this, I wonder sometimes if they are made up. But I did know a family that drank their tea from jam jars, they had no cups! Perhaps they kept breaking them and couldn’t afford to buy new ones.

The same family would sometimes have an OXO in hot water and some bread for their Sunday dinner, luckily they had their school dinners during the week, but I wondered how they fed themselves in the holidays.

Mum told us of another family who were so poor that the girls did not have proper knickers, just a safety pin to hold their vest together. I saw something like this for myself when I was working on a farm to help the war effort. The work was mostly weeding, a gang of about twenty kids in a huge field of carrots, it was back-breaking. We were rewarded with a star if we finished a row before any-one else. At the end of the week each star was worth a penny, it soon mounted up if you were quick.

Up till then, I had never really thought about my clothes, I had what most of the other kids had. This was when I first saw Monika, a girl from the Addlestone school, it made me realise that some girls were also poorly dressed. She was a bit older than me but very thin, and to be honest a bit dirty. Her dress was too small for her and was simply held together underneath with a safety pin. This is what caused some nasty teasing by the older boys.

It was quite a few weeks later that my mate Tony, told me that her name wasn’t Monica Nodraws, but that was what the boys were shouting, because of her lack of knickers.

It was OK for me and my mates not to be wearing pants, but a girl, that was too bad. The poor girl’s family were just too hard-up to afford them, I suppose.

Spiv’s and hoarders.

Spivs and hoarders.

Now that we are in the second year of the war, rationing and shortages of just about everything has become normal. But there are still some people who always seem to have what-ever they needed. Stories are doing the rounds of some one who has been caught selling meat, butter or anything that should only have been ‘on the ration’.

For the first time ever large families like ours, were better off than smaller ones, at least as far as the rationing was concerned. Imagine a person living alone trying to manage on one egg or two ounces of butter a week, or even two or three people for that matter.

Sometimes we had as many as ten people on ‘the ration’ in our house, so we could have a reasonable joint of meat or a nice piece of Cheddar and such as that every week. I have said before that I can’t ever remember being hungry, for one thing we were given very good school dinners and even a small bottle of milk in the morning break. Another thing that kept us fed was that the dinner ladies came from Barker Road—Mrs. Frost and Mrs. White, they would give us seconds and even some treacle pudding from the back of the canteen when we were in the playground.

My mother started her working life as a kitchen maid, and learned to be a very good cook. Sunday dinner in our house was nothing short of a banquet. Although there was no proper table cloth, we did have all covered dishes for the vegetables. The joint —usually mutton—would be on a large oval serving dish with the roast potato’s arranged around it. Our pudding would most often be apple pie and custard, although pine apple rings or chunks and evaporated milk were my favourite.

Another thing that was quite common was ‘ration swapping’, for instance if someone didn’t drink tea they could swap their tea ration for cheese or something like that, some even sold their points, especially clothing coupons.

Most people were very honest, but if you had a bit of money there was always someone who could get you what you wanted, these were called ‘Spivs’. We all knew who they were but most people could not afford their prices so we were kept—probably unwillingly—on the right side of the law.

I was unknowingly a ‘runner’ for some of this law breaking, my sister’s husband Gordon—the bookie—was in the RAF and when he came home on leave, I was given a suitcase full of blankets. I had to take them up to a house in Staines Lane, I never got paid so I was probably not breaking the law. But I don’t know what I would have said if I was stopped by the Police, mind you I was only nine.

Besides the ‘Spivs’ there was another group of people who were not very popular, the hoarders, somehow or other these people managed to get their hands on something that was in short supply, instead of sharing their good luck they kept it dark. It would be quite obvious that they had more than they needed, but they would keep it for themselves rather than let anyone else have any.

A bit like Billionaires do today.

No one is perfect.

As I was going through my stories last night, I realised that some people will form the opinion that I was a rather odd little boy. I suppose that could be true. No one is perfect.

Mind you, there are people who would love to have a 20 inch waist and 33 inch inside leg—but probably not at the age of nine. Another of my physical features that could be less desirable for the ladies. Was that my hips and chest were not that much bigger than my waist—not so much an hour glass figure but more that of a test tube.

But in my own mind I was pretty good; slim and wiry like a greyhound, with only enough muscle needed to function as a super fit athlete. Some one like Jesse Owen, the American Olympic Champion who upset Hitler by winning so many medals.

I have just had my haircut at Mr. Norris’ the barber. My mother has given me sixpence and she said I must bring any change back, I normally buy an ice-cream, but lately I think she is a bit hard up.

As I crossed the road at Bell Corner, I saw this rather odd-looking person in the glass door of Stotts, the ladies outfitters. It took me a moment to realise it was my own reflection—it was the first time I had seen myself in a full-size mirror. We have looking glasses at home, as they are called, but these are just the remains of a large looking glass that was broken in the bombing.

As I got closer the reflection was further distorted by the anti- blast paper that was stuck on the glass door window in a criss-cross pattern.

I stood in front of the door, to see what my haircut looked like. I move up and down and from side to side so that I could see the parts of my body that are otherwise hidden by the gummed paper. I am shocked at what I see, I had no idea that this is what I look like. 

In my mind’s eye. I was this young Tarzan figure with just a loin cloth, loping through the undergrowth of Pyrcroft road. Effortlessly swinging from hanging vine to hanging vine. At one with nature and all the animals, sometimes even giving an occasional Tarzan call. 

Now, instead, I was looking at this lanky, knock-kneed kid with grubby short grey flannel trousers. I was so skinny that my jersey was just hanging off my shoulders. My trousers were also a size too big and were well below my knees doing nothing to enhance the total lack of any muscle on his legs. My mother always thought we should grow into clothes rather than grow out of them—they wore out before this ever happened though.

Out of the corner my eye I see what looks like a pair of super-sized ladies bloomers twitching in the main shop—whoever thought of using an enormous pair of ladies knickers as the curtains for the changing room was a total genius.

Suddenly the bloomers parted and in what seemed a completely unwarranted expression—as if she had just chewed a wasp—as my mum would say. I couldn’t quite read her lips, but I don’t think it was very nice.

  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 and of course the knock knees had to go. This was surprisingly easy to do apart from trying to push my knees apart to stop them touching.

 I would now proudly stride down the town with a feeling that I had changed my image.

  Or so I thought.

  I was passing Pippernells Izzi’s ice cream shop in Pyrcroft road, when 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. 

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 is my chance to show off my new walk, I straightened up with arms swinging. The trouble was that I had not yet perfected the ‘knee thing’, and this caused me to walk in a rather odd way.

 Since the bomb, I still had my very acute hearing, and as I neared the two ladies, I heard one say.

“Oh dear oh dear, look, what’s coming down the road, that poor Mrs. Waglin as if she doesn’t have enough to put up with already”.

  Mrs. Mant replied, “Yes it’s such a shame, they say there is always one in every family”.

  They kept stock still as I marched past, their fags now just hanging motionless, only their eyes following me up the road, then they started giggling.

I don’t think that is very nice of them, but my new walk has made me keep my shoulders back and the stoop has gone, and I am feeling good about myself again

   The only thing is, that I am now quite bandy!

Country Cockneys 1

The winter of 1940/41 was one of the coldest ever recorded, the snow had melted and frozen again, making the roads and paths like skate rinks. Apart from feeling cold, we kids had a wonderful time. Pound pond was usually frozen every year except for near the wall next to Abbey Road, which had very thin ice on it. My friend Billy Pretty slid too far and went right under. I saw him as he was running home crying, he must have been so cold, and I have always felt guilty about not helping him but there was nothing I could do. He was very unlucky, the next day the pond was frozen solid

Stanford fields were brilliant for sliding, the water was only ever a couple of inches deep with some grass above to give you a grip, it froze solid every year. The fish pond behind The Golden Grove’ even froze, the first time ever, it was used by proper skaters so we kept out of the way.

Coal was hard to get, so out came the old pram and up to the Gas-works we would go to get some coke, we could fill the pram right up to the top as it was so light. Getting wood from St Annes was hard to do as the road was also frozen, but lovely for sledging.

The children who lived in Lyne who were bussed into school couldn’t get through because the roads were frozen. We thought they were country bumpkins because they had an accent like someone from Wiltshire or some such place. On the other-hand they thought we sounded like Londoners and called us Cockneys. Today most people sound the same but then, even children from ‘the top of the town’ sounded quite different from us. They could have been from another country, so it is not surprising, that a bomb falling in Pyrcroft Road, was at the time, not known about just a couple of miles away.

For instance, in 2019, at the Black Cherry Fair, my Friend Alex told me about the day he was bombed out in Fordwater Road at about the same time as I was. He never knew of my bomb and I had never heard of his. Both our homes had the windows and front doors blown in, but his bungalow had the roof lifted up. On the opposite side of Alex’s road, in Mr Turners field. The bomb had landed in a haystack, which burst into flame, shooting burning straw into the air and setting the tails and manes of his horses alight.

Mr Turner, for some reason that I can’t quite understand, slept in the pig-sty, I suppose he thought it was safer there. So he was able to save his panic-stricken horses, it must have a horrific scene.  Later on in the war, Alex actually saw the ‘Doodle Bug’ coming down that fell on the house in Addlestone Moor, he was on the Fordwater Road bridge, just a few hundred yards away.

I think everyone is getting used to all the noise and the air-raid sirens, they just get on with what they are doing. The bombing of London keeps stopping and starting, I think it depends a lot on the weather. Dover on the other hand is shelled from across the English Channel. The Germans have an enormous gun called ‘Big Bertha’, it can fire a really big shell even further than Dover. The people living in Dover would see a flash and then would be able to take cover as it took a minute or so to come down, it doesn’t seem a lot of time to dodge a one ton shell.

The news is not very good, so many ships are being sunk by U boats. Bernard says we are not told of half the story. If we were told where the damage was being done, the Germans would know and use it for propaganda. He also says the Germans tell lies to their people about how the British are so frightened by all the bombing. But it seems to be the opposite, on the news reels the people who are bombed out are so cheerful, he said its called ‘The Blitz Spirit’. I think  I would be terrified.

We had a young woman come and stay with us for a couple of days, she had a little girl about five years old with her. She was very tearful and said she had been thrown out from where she had been billeted. We soon found out why, she was very strange and the poor little girl was neglected. Mum went down to the council to see what could be done, they asked mum to hold her for a day or two until they could sort something out. But when mum came home they had moved to a house in Lasswade Road. We never saw her again so I suppose she was taken into a care home.

My first holiday away from home.

Following a previous visit to my sister Iris a few years ago. She gave me some more stories of our family.

In 1936, to help things out with the cost of everything, Mum takes in a lodger, Fred Barker, he came down from Yorkshire and worked for the council as a painter. His money really helped and at last things were looking up, that is, until the ‘Poor-aid’ ladies found out about Fred, and stopped the little payments they had been making.

Iris looks over her glasses.

‘I never really liked Fred, he was very familiar with Mum’.

In this of course Iris was quite right, they had become partners.

For my part as a child, he is great, he is very handsome, he has thick, curly hair, with grey bits in it and very blue eyes.

He must have been some man to have taken on a broken family of six young kids. I never called him Dad—it was always Fred, or his nick-name, ‘Yorkie’.

He was a brilliant cook, and knew lots of tricks and jokes, he sometimes made me laugh till I ached.

I can remember the excitement in December 1937, when my Mum gave birth to a son.

David Peter Weguelin—despite being Fred’s baby, his legal surname had to be the mothers name Weguelin, he was a true Weguelin as far as I was concerned.

Iris carried on with her story.

“Although I never really got on with Fred, he was no substitute for our dad. But he was a very funny man, and made Mum happy. He was married but the marriage failed, and his wife refused a divorce. At last we were on our feet again, Everything seemed to be going well Fred was a great cook and could play the mouth organ and ‘clappers’, he kept all of us amused, even through the first years of the war right up till early 1940”.

“Then Events saw our family in dire straits once again. Mum was in hospital with complications while expecting her ninth baby.”.

This was something I remembered very well, I was just eight years old, my brother Don, was nearly ten. We were farmed out to Mrs. Wade.

Being ‘farmed out’ in this case was the most perfect way to put it.

Mrs. Wade’s home in Cowley Avenue was more like a farm than a council house. They had chickens, rabbits and ducks, and even a couple of pigs.

Our house, just round the corner in Pyrcroft Road, was not what you would call ‘pristine.’  Today it would be said to be ‘lived in.’

So we felt very much at home in Mrs Wade’s, we were in heaven, everything was so casual.

Mrs. Wade was really nice, although at first she frightened me.

She wore a dusty black beret tightly over her head, tufts of black hair escaping from beneath it.

For the two weeks that we were there, having a wash was not a priority, once a week seemed good enough. This suited me just fine—but not my ‘neat and tidy’ brother.

This bathing routine may sound less than perfect.  Most council houses had no hot water. Having a bath meant taking steaming hot buckets from the copper to the bathroom upstairs—most homes had a tin bath in the scullery, girls first then the boys, I was always last. Sometimes a ‘flannel wash’ or ‘strip wash’ was the only choice.

There were so many of us in Cowley Avenue, that having a bath could take hours! Yet, despite these chaotic conditions, or more likely because of them, they were a very close and happy family.

Mrs Wade was always singing, she was also a brilliant cook. They had so much more fresh food than most of the neighbours, including rabbit, chicken and new laid eggs, and pork from the pigs.

The pigs were taken to a butcher and the meat was put into the local ‘Pig Club’. This was then used to help with the rationing.

Anyone who collected waste food and gave it to the club could have a few rashers of bacon or some pork once a week.

This odd family—who most of the neighbours looked down on—were always quite happy to pass on any surplus eggs to these same ‘sniffy’ people.

The strangest thing of all though, in all this jumble, was that the children all had pyjamas. Things that I had only read about in stories about posh children.

—All the books at our school were about posh children.

That fortnight was as good as any holiday that I have ever had.

Fred and David.

1940, A year to forget.

Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat. 

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat. 

If you haven’t got a penny a ha-penny will do. 

If you haven’t got a ha-penny god bless you.

I don’t think there will be a goose in our house this year, not that there ever was, we would be lucky to have anything.

This Christmas is going to be a bit strange, Deirdre is now living in Scotland with her new husband, Gordon. He is in the Airforce. That means Deirdre’s wage will be missed.

Not only that, but Fred can’t do much work because of a chest problem. 

It was during the months that we were evacuated to my Gran’s house, that Fred was taken ill. He thought it was the dust from the bombing. After an X-Ray, Fred was told he had TB and was in and out of hospital. We were checked as well.

 A few days later, Doctor Dudley Ward, came around see us. He was quite short and round, dressed in pin striped trousers and a black jacket. He looked very posh.

 “Sit down, Ethel, I need to tell you something, now don’t worry, it’s just something that we have to do”.

 “Is it about Fred”? 

 “No, it’s not about Fred, he is in a safe place”.

He asked Don to go for Mrs Salmon and for me to put the kettle on.

 As we waited for Mrs. Salmon to arrive, he kept sniffing as if he was trying to smell what was cooking—there was nothing in the oven, our house always had a smell as if something was cooking. 

 I couldn’t take my eyes off him, I have never seen anyone so posh. I followed his eyes as he looked around the room—after the bomb damage repairs, even I could see it already looked a bit of a jumble.

 I saw him rest his hand on the table—actually it was the Morrison shelter—his fingers were pink with shiny nails, he quickly removed it when he felt the sticky surface. The table was covered with ‘lino’, usually this was a floor covering, but we had it as a long-lasting table cloth, it can get a bit tacky after a while.

Mum was looking more and more worried, but he still didn’t say anything, he just kept looking around, waiting for Mrs. Salmon.

 He glanced up to the hissing, broken gas mantle—we had electric light but mum preferred the gas lighting.

 Then the fly encrusted fly paper hanging next to it, caught his eye. Flies were able to land and take off at will—all the sticky bits were already fully occupied.

The kettle had hardly boiled, when the enormous Mrs. Salmon heaved through the front door.

“Now then, what’s all the fuss about, is it about the baby”?

 Doctor Ward wanted Mrs. Salmon to be with my Mum before he told her what had to be done, he straightened up and said.

“No, the baby is very well, it’s little David, we need to talk about, he is under weight, and we need to build him up. This means he must go to a home for a while, where he will have the best treatment to make him strong again”.

Everything stopped for a moment, then Mrs Salmon said.

 “Thank God for that, I thought it was something serious, there you are Effie, there’s nothing to worry about, he will be home before you know it”.

 The Doctor went the kitchen sink to wash his hands, then seemed to change his mind.

 He didn’t drink his tea either, and left, he seemed to be in a hurry.

 Mum looked relieved, then Mrs. Salmon read the tea leaves in mum’s cup and said.

 “Look Effie, now that’s what I call a good luck sign, everything is going to be alright”.

Once again Mrs. Salmon’s tea leaves were wrong, David was away for years. The hospital that he stayed in, was for children with TB, but he did make a full recovery, so she was half right”.

David was only three years old, he didn’t look ill, but the Xray showed he had the same disease as Fred, but our Xrays were clear.

This left Iris as the only real wage earner, Mum couldn’t work because of our new baby, so we were in trouble again. Luckily Iris was earning a good wage, she worked in the Vickers Super Marine factory in London Street making ‘drop-tanks’ for Spitfires.

As well as earning good money, she really enjoyed the job, she had only worked as a scullery maid in Weybridge since leaving school.  But now she worked with a couple of her friends Florry Pendry from Church walk and Betty Smith from Frithwald. She would come home with some very funny jokes that the workmen would tell her. I think she was the only one enjoying the war.

Christmas came and it was really nice , we had a full Christmas stocking—mainly nuts and sweets and a real tangerine. Bernard’s friend, Tommy Hiscocks from Addlestone gave me and Don a pair of roller skates to share, but we never did share them, we each just whizzed around on one skate, we were quite good at it too. 

Back home in Chertsey.


 We have now been back home in Pyrcroft Road for a few days, our house smells of paint, I have never seen it so clean and tidy. The council workmen had done a very good job. Even the blackout curtains and the strips of paper on the window panes have been replaced. It’s a bit bare though, with no pictures on the wall, even the big one of  ‘The Charge Of The Light brigade’ has gone—there is a family story that one of our ancestors was there on that day, but I think it is just one of those myths that families have. Another one of these stories that I am suspicious of, was that he also finished the ‘Unfinished Symphony!!

  The big looking glass has gone, broken into smithereens, now just a little jagged piece propped up on the window sill. The dresser has nothing much on it apart from the alarm clock and that looks a bit sorry for itself.

It is early for me to be up and dressed, Iris and Bernard have already left for work, Mum, and my brother Don are still fast asleep under the shelter. Sadly the bomb caused Mum to have a breakdown, and she is still very unwell.

       Our evacuee, Mrs. O’Keefe, had lived in Stepney, London, and for their own protection she and Dennis, her son, were sent to the safety of Surrey! 

They stayed in our house while all the repairs were being carried out—Londoner’s; they are so tough! She is very short and stocky. My brother Bernard, says all Londoner’s are like that because of all the smoky air, I think it’s because she causes most of the smoke herself, she lights one fag after another. 

        And talking of smoke, it’s Monday, most people’s washday. I can smell all the coppers in our road being lit, wood smoke hangs in the still air outside and now drifts into our kitchen, soon our copper will be lit and our smoke will slowly drift into someone else’s kitchen. It will be just like London!  

        Mrs O’Keefe comes in with a big pile of washing—she never stops talking.

‘Let’s put some music on, I like some music while I work’.

She laughs, thinking she has made a little joke—‘Music while you work’, is a popular programme on the wireless—I suppose it is quite funny.

    The wireless is an ‘Ultra’ it’s very clear, I can hear every little sound, probably because it has no cover, Dad was going to put it into a nice cabinet, but now it just sits on its base. I love watching the valves glowing, it’s like magic, I wonder how anyone thought of such a thing— there were no books then, to tell you how to make one, and you can’t see radio waves or what-ever they call them. 

     I hear the old alarm clock, it is starting to whirr, as if it is gathering itself ready to ring the bell. But there is no bell to ring, the poor old clock has never been the same since the bomb, then it just gives up. I sometimes think that the wireless and the old clock are living things!

‘Alan, there goes the Lagonda hooter, it’s eight o’clock already, just look at your mum’s old clock, no bell, no glass and it’s always fast, no one ever knows what the time is’.

     The Lagonda factory is in Staines, about four miles away, the hooter should be like the all clear, a continuous note, but it sounds more like the air raid warning, rising and falling.

      My brother Don said we should call Mrs O’Keefe, Mrs ‘O’, I think it’s a bit rude, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so that’s what I do now.

                   ‘Well, Mrs ‘O’, it’s a wonder it works at all, after being blown out of the window with the rest of the stuff on the dresser’.

                    ‘Anyway, It’s easy to tell the time, all you have to remember, is that mum puts the clock ten minutes fast at nine every night, because that’s how much it loses every day. Do you want me to tell you how to work it out?

She looks over her thick glasses’ with a tired look, I think she knows what’s coming.

                                     ‘No, I don’t, and to tell you the truth I haven’t got the time to,  I must get this washing done otherwise it will never dry’. 

‘When I get the copper going we’ll have some toast, shall we? There’s no butter though, only dripping’.

I start to explain how to work it out, but I think I have lost her.

                         ‘Jesus wept’ she says ‘It’s no wonder every-one’s late in this house, if they have to do that all the time’.

                      I begin to tell her that it’s not a problem for them as they always leave twenty minutes early just in case.

 There are times when you start to say something and then wish you hadn’t, but you can’t stop yourself. This was one such a time!

     Mrs. ’O’ sighs, she leans forward resting her hands on to the table, she’s now looking very weary, I think she is losing the will to live! 

   ‘Ducky, if you carry on this, I will be as mad as the rest of you, wouldn’t it be better if they bought a new clock, they can’t be that expensive’.

‘Do you know, Alan, I really think I would be safer back in London than in this crazy house’.

The Lagonda hooter fades away, its quiet at last, just the sound of the crackling wood in the copper and the bubbling washing, I like the smell of ‘Sunlight’ soap, washday is one of my favourite days. 

       ‘Thank god that bloody hooters stopped, now I can listen to the wireless, it’s got such a lovely tone, it’s a shame your dad couldn’t finish the cabinet. Perhaps one day, Bernard might be able to finish it, when he’s got time’.

      ‘Bugger, now the bloody things fading, just when I was listening to that Anne Shelton. Now that is something you can do for me Alan, just take the accumulator down to Mr. Hyde, it only costs tuppence to charge it up again, the poor man, he’s got such a bad habit, jerks his head all over the place, maybe it’s all that electric stuff he deals with’.

The alarm clock is not the only thing that is not working very well, since the bomb I’ve got a twitch, a sort of a wink.

Yesterday, I heard Mrs Salmon, and Mum talking about a boy at school who had something called St Vitus Dance, he can’t keep still, they said. Then I heard them talking about me and my ‘habit’—until then, I never knew what a habit was let alone that I had one.

Mrs Salmon said. ‘He will soon grow out of it, it’s just the shock of the bomb’.

Mrs Salmon isn’t always right though; she was the one who said Mum would be alright. 

               Since I heard all this, I have been looking in the mirror every few minutes, all I could see was a funny sort of wink in one eye.

 Now I need to have a another look in the looking glass to see if it is getting worse, but that means passing Mrs ’O’. 

           As I walk towards her, I watch her eyes to see if she notices anything, she just smiles as I push past, but in the looking glass I can see the twitch, it’s getting worse!

                       ‘Alan! Just be careful in the scullery, the copper’s hot, it’ll scorch your trousers, then you’ll smell just like that dirty old army coat you’re so fond of’.

                       ‘Don says, army buttons must never be polished, shiny buttons make’s a target for snipers’. 

‘I wonder what regiment he was in, and why it smells all burnt and where do you think the soldier is now’?

             Mrs. ‘O’ looked over her shoulder at me for what seemed a very long time, her hands still in the sink, but then she turned away without saying anything, just shaking her head.

 ‘Just look at you, come away from that looking glass, pulling all those faces, one day you will end up like that poor Mr. Hyde’.

 ‘If you want something to do, work out what the time is…………you’re the only bugger that can’.

 She laughs so much at her joke, that her fag fell into the copper.

          ‘Oh, Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! Now look what you have made me do’.

           I think  that if you took all the swear words out of her conversation, she would have very little to say. I walk back into the kitchen, Mrs. ‘O’ has said nothing about my winky eye. I think she is too upset about losing her fag!

          ‘Here’s your toast, it’s a bit burnt because of all your chatter’.

 I creep back under the dresser, pulling my old army great-coat up round my neck, and eat my toast. You can’t beat toast and dripping on a chilly morning.

I am lying still, and just listening, I can hear so much now, Mrs Wades chickens cackling and the pigs grunting, I could never have heard them before the bomb. I would have thought a bomb landing so close would make you as deaf as a post, but it’s the opposite.

     We children have a new playground, the bomb site, where just a few weeks ago families just like ours lived. Now we are building camps with the bricks, without a thought of what had happened, kids always find a way to play, no matter what. 

          My winky eye only comes back when I am stressed—this has caused all sorts of misunderstandings!!  My hearing is back as before. Mum gets better and we all soon get back to normal—or as normal as you can be in a war.

We never thought the war would come so close to us, as it did that night.

Amazingly the dramatic events of these last few weeks did not really affect me, although I had been a witness to what a single bomb falling on a sleeping village could do, I was still an optimist.

This was obviously something I had inherited from my Mother, despite all the trauma she has had to endure in her forty odd years, she would always say.

‘Never mind, something will always turn up’.

It didn’t always though.