Harringey Literary Live, Homework, Most fearful moment.
For Thursday 08/02/2018.
I’ve always thought that my early life was without any highs or lows, so when our homework was to describe a moment of courage, shame or fear. I found it hard to recall anything.
I started thinking about my earliest memories but nothing jumped out, only small fears came to mind, these really did last only a moment, such as when Fred, my stepfather, held me over the edge of Chertsey Bridge, I was probably 4 or 5 years old. How could that be expanded—as a certain person was always urging me to do?
Nothing stood out, I tried to bring to mind my first day at school or the first time I was caned for being late and things such as that.
Even the time, during our dinner break, earlier in the war, when we heard the Vicker’s factory being bombed, just a few miles away in Weybridge, I was not afraid— not knowing, of course, that more than eighty workers had been killed.
I saw that the other children, going through the same things just carried on as normal and I did not want to make a fuss and just put my worries to the back of my mind.
Then, as sometimes happens, a memory started to come back, at first it was none of the homework emotional triggers that were set out for us.
As I write this, I am astonished how I am able to put myself back in our home 75 years ago.
I was eleven years old; my mother has kept me home from school, as I had been sick during the night.
I am sitting in Mrs. Salmon’s old green armchair—so called because Mrs. Salmon always sat in this chair when she called round to look after us, when we came home from school.
It is Monday morning, my mum is doing the washing in the large wood fired copper in the corner of the scullery, the smell of the Sunlight soap and the crackle of the wood flaring under the copper seems to be overwhelming my senses, even my mum is looking bigger as she is pushing the bleached copper stick into the clothes and boiling water.
After all these years being lost to me, these memories came back in the finest detail, as if they had just occurred.
I now assume, that as I was quite unwell my senses were sharper, smells, sound and hearing were much more intense, even the worn out pattern of the ‘lino’, that was on top of the extra large Morrison shelter was dazzling.
The really surprising thing is, that I can even smell the Sunlight soap and clothes being washed.
The moment of fear that had blocked all these memories from my mind for all these years now came into sharp focus.
I am upstairs in the lavatory, and staring down at the bright red wee in the pan. I straightaway think of the Saturday morning film where a man is bleeding from his eyes and ears after being bitten by a spider, there are a lot of spiders in our house.
“Mum, I’ve been bitten by a poisonous spider” I shout, running down the stairs, with my trousers flapping around my ankles.
I tell her of the blood in the lav’, she is laughing as she climbs the stairs just to humour me, then I hear her shout and in a moment she is in the kitchen looking at me, giving me a glass of water and feeling my forehead.
Now, I am really frightened, I have never seen my mum look so worried, even after being bombed out.
She is carrying me down the road to the doctors, the washing pegs she had in the big pocket of her pinny are poking into my stomach.
I am having pains in my belly, just like the time when I had eaten too many green apples the week before, now I really was afraid.
We stop at Mr. Izzi’s shop, and Pippernell, his wife, is looking after me, but without her usual smile, while mum goes down to Mr.Foster’s, he has the only car in our road, to take me to the doctors, at the same time, ‘Pippy’ is making me an ice cream.
I don’t feel so bad now, having a free ice cream is like magic medicine, my fear has gone and so has the bellyache.
While we wait in Mrs. Izzi’s kitchen, I see lots of tomatos, they are everywhere. Dominic sometimes gave us something from his allotment, usually tomatos, that’s all he seems grow.
Mum is back with Mr. Foster, his car is making a very loud noise, and we climb in, it smells very bad, as it has not been used for a long time.
Doctor Ward is out on his calls, but Mrs. Ward lets us in to the his surgery, she is a nurse and as she listens to our story, she gives me some horrible green medicine and we wait for the doctor to return, all the while I am again getting more and more fearful.
As soon as Doctor Ward looks at me, he says “I will have to take you to the hospital young man”. Mum and I sit in the back of his Rover car, I have a bowl on my knees in case I am sick again.
St Peter’s Hospital is full of wounded soldiers, the man next to me is very ill, nurses are with him all the time, his breathing is very bad, every little noise in the ward sounds extra loud and my bed seems to be rolling.
The next morning his bed is empty and the nurses are cleaning it for the next person.
I am thinking this is where they put people when they are dying, I am very afraid again.
The wounded soldiers are now making funny jokes, although some of them have bandages all over them; they make a fuss of me, as I am the only child in the ward, soon the fear fades away again and I am back to normal.
While I was in hospital some of the soldiers told me how they were wounded, others never mentioned the war.
It made me realise, even at eleven, that war wasn’t as exciting as I thought it was.
I was in hospital for about three months and then went to St Dominic’s Open Air School in Hambledon, Surrey; this was a convalescence home for boys.
I have never found out what was wrong with me, I stayed in this home for about six months to recover, before going home.