Chapter five, January 1940.

Still nothing happening.

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. Mum has to say which butcher she will use to buy our meat, and which grocer to have our groceries from. It’s very slow to do the shopping now, there is always a queue at each shop. Some people don’t understand the rationing system, and there is sometimes a row going on at the counter, which makes it even slower.

Our evacuee’s, Mrs O’Keefe and her son Denis, are living upstairs in the front bedroom. We put all our ration’s together so that we can at least have a nice Sunday dinner. The rations are very small, but if we share them, we seem to have enough. Mrs O’Keefe wonders how a person living alone can manage, they only have one egg a week, 2 ounces of butter and everything else is so small. Lots of people are keeping chicken’s and rabbits in their back gardens. ‘Dig For Victory’ posters are everywhere, no more flower beds, potatoes and carrots instead.

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

 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, you have to make out that you are not going to pull the chain. Then you 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, Bernard 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. 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 pick 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.

Football is my favourite game. At Stepgate’s, we have two playing fields, one next to our large allotment, where the boy’s have gardening lessons. Another much larger playing field, on the other side of the road. This field was known as Tulk’s Field, after the man who gave it to the school.

The field was big enough for a football and a cricket pitch. It also has a large air-raid shelter in it, this is opposite to the school entrance. The shelter is not really big enough for all the children, fortunately we only ever used it for air-raid practice.

The games we play in the platground, are mainly: marbles, milk-tops, fag-cards and collecting anything from foreign stamps to cigarette cards.

  The card-board milk-tops and fag cards, are flicked at other cards that are stacked against the wall, if you knock one down, you gain that card, marbles are played in a similar way.

  The playground also becomes a market, where a child could swap one marble for three milk-tops, or some other treasured item. This is all done in a fair way— we all know the value of each item.

   Of course, some kids are better than others at playing these games, and have pockets full of their winnings, but now and again, rather than keep them, they will shout ‘scrambles’ and throw all their cards or what-ever, they had, in the air and we all ‘scramble’ for them. This is the natural fairness of children.  This sharing of their good luck or skill at winning the games, allows the games to continue, and we can all still hope to win something.

Unfortunately, we have had to learn the ways of the world, and soon become acquisitive, it is now more natural to hold on to your good luck than to share it. Those children, even at that early age, knew that it’s better all round if everyone has a little bit of good fortune, so that they can continue to play the games.

Look now at our unequal society, where some people go hungry, while others just over-indulge. What a difference it would make, If we shouted ‘Scrambles’ now and again.

  What goes around, comes around. 

Chapter Six, January 1940.

Sweet thing’s are made of this.

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 syrup? Well today, 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 are called ‘Zubes’ and were in a little round tin. 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’, she’s got sweets in the back room. She must have had them for months, they are all stuck together, but they will soon be all gone, so if you want some, you had better 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. They even had sticks of 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 very 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 this is 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.

For the last few weeks it has been very cold. Me and Don, have been ‘wooding’ up St Anne’s hill, a large woodland park, about a quarter of a mile away, up past the Golden Grove Pub. Most of the fallen branches that are nearest to the town, have already been cleared by other kids. So now, we, and his friend Kenny Edwards, have had to go further up, into Blue Bell Dell.

We are so lucky, lumber jacks have been busy felling trees for the war effort. Lucky? Yes we are, but I am very sad to see theses huge Sweet Chestnut trees chopped down. A whole hill with loads of trees gone in a matter of weeks. The old Nun’s Wishing Well that was pretty much hidden in the dense undergrowth, and only a few of us knew where it was, is now there for all to see.

The lumber-jack’s mainly used enormous axes to fell the trees, this gave us lovely large chips of wood, just right for the fire-place, and easy to fit in the pram. Don looks at our old pram full of these quite heavy chips and then at the buckled wheels. He decides we carry as much as we can, hoping a pram that is only half full, will survive the bumpy track down the hill.

We returned day after day, together with the rest of our mates and cleared the hill of all this wonderful firewood. We gave some to our neighbour, old Mrs. Phillips, ‘Pedlar’ her son was one of the first to join up, leaving her all on her own.

Unfortunately, the Sweet Chestnut wood chips are still very green and are not very good for burning, but at least they were free, and once they dried out a bit they were fine.

The blackout is now in full force, fire wardens would soon shout if they see so much as a glimmer of light from your windows. They would say an enemy plane can see someone smoking a fag from 2,000 ft. We believed everything they told us.

The Local Defence Volunteers were always good for a laugh, which was very unfair as they were so keen to protect us and they took it all so seriously. I think even they thought it was funny though, with their home made white arm bands with LDV hand written on them, and having to practice drill with broomsticks or something similar, they had no rifles. They were men too young or too old for the services and all shapes and sizes.

With only one fire to heat the whole house, we would all crowd round it, with the result we had scorched legs or worse still, chilblains. The wireless was always switched on for the nine o’clock news. With Alvar Liddel, the news reader, often with some bad news, like when one of our ship’s was sunk with many sailors dying. This was followed by ‘Into Battle’, a newsplay about the war in which we seemed to always be winning. We all loved it.

Mum was very upset when we heard that Italy may be joining forces with Germany. We have a lot of Italian friends and neighbours, and we thought they would be sent away to prison camps. I think our Italian neighbours were very unhappy about the war, and we thought it would be very unfair for them to be blamed.

So far the war had been happening somewhere else, and lots of evacuee’s decided to go back to London.

Chapter Seven, My New Walk. February 1940.

Chapter Seven, My New Walk. February 1940.

I was around eight years old when I first saw myself in a full size mirror.

We had looking glasses, as they were called, but these were tiny, like a shaving mirror, only a little part of your reflection could be seen.

  It came as a bit of a shock when I crossed the road at Bell Corner, I saw this rather odd figure reflected in the large glass door of Stott’s, a ladies’ outfitter’s. 

  As if the image wasn’t bad enough, it was further distorted by the gummed paper that was stuck on in a criss-cross pattern—every glass window had this paper stuck on to stop the glass shattering in the event of a bomb blast.

   I stood in front of the door, dumbfounded, I of course recognised my face, but the rest of the body was completely alien to me.

   I moved up and down and from side to side so that I could see the parts of the body that were otherwise hidden by the gummed paper.

   I was fascinated at what was revealed, I had no idea that this is what other folk saw as I walked around Chertsey, I had a totally different image.

   In my minds eye. I was this young Tarzan figure with just a loin cloth, loping through the undergrowth of Pyrcroft road, swinging from hanging vine to hanging vine, at one with nature and all the animals, even giving a Tarzan call now and again.

  Now, instead, I was looking at this lanky, knock -kneed kid with grubby, short grey flannel trousers, that did nothing to enhance the total lack of any muscle on my legs.

  While I taking all this in, with ever increasing dismay, I noticed out of the corner my eye, a pair of super sized ladies’ bloomers twitching in the main window.

   Without moving my head, I managed to swivel my eyes to see what was causing these giant bloomers taking on a life of their own.

  The reason for all this subterfuge was that my mum had told never to look in Miss Stott’s window as there were things on display that were not my eyes.

  Actually, Dave Mawford and I had spent many a wet Sunday afternoon—it always rained on Sunday— trying to fathom out what on earth all the stuff that filled Miss Stott’s window could possibly be used for.

  The Stott’s shop was owned by two sisters, the only one I ever saw was young Miss Stott— she well over eighty.

  Suddenly the bloomers parted and in what seemed a completely unwarranted facial expression—as if she had just chewed a wasp—as my mum would say—I think the gist of what she was saying, was for me to move away from her door-way.

  These few moments were to change my life, no more young Tarzan, instead I set my mind on self improvement, first of all my round shoulders and the nodding walk would have go, plus the knock knees, of course.

 This was surprising easy to to do, I practiced my new walk at night so that I would not look stupid. After a while it became second nature, this became my natural gait, shoulders square, arms swinging, head held high and the most difficult bit, 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.

  Or so I thought.

  I was returning from such a walk and was passing Pippernells Izzi’s ice cream parlour in Pyrcroft road, when I spotted Mrs. Mant. She was at her gate talking to a neighbour, they were both wearing identical pinafores and turbans, probably bought from Miss Stott’s—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 the jerky movements of the cigarettes that they were busy putting the world to rights. 

  I thought here was an opportunity 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 that I had not yet perfected the knee thing, and this possibly caused me to walk in a rather odd way.

  Grown-ups 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 down the road, that poor Mrs. Waglin, as if she doesn’t have enough to put up with”.

  Mrs. Mant replied “Yes it’s such a shame, isn’t it, they say there is one in every family”.

  They kept stock still as I passed, fags now just hanging motionless, only their eyes followed me as I passed.

   Then there was a burst of laughter as they watched me stride up the road.

But I had the last laugh, my new walk made me keep my shoulders back and the stoop has gone. There is a slight problem though, I am now quite bandy.

Chapter Eight, Iris, More Memories.


Things Partly Remembered.

Chapter eight.

I am often told that I am good at recalling my childhood. I have no control of this. My memory is triggered by the slightest thing. Sometimes the memory is of the complete scene, with detail that really was not important enough to store in my memory. For instance, why would a boy of seven need to have remembered the price of soap! And why would an old man, not be able to remember a password? It’s a mystery! Sometimes, a smell or a few notes of a popular song of that time, more than eighty years ago, is enough to bring a memory to mind. The human brain is such an amazing thing. We are told that we only use about 25% of it. What other memories are hidden just under the surface, waiting for a trigger?

This brings me to my sister, Iris. I realised that when we were talking about the time just before and during the war. There were things that were sharp in her mind and scant in mine. I began by asking if she had any recall of the events that I have just a glimpse of. Surprisingly, most of the time she was able to fill in the lost detail.

The first thing I needed to know, was were on earth did we all sleep? I worked out that there were sometimes fourteen people living together and It was only a three bedroomed house! She winced and said.  “Because of all the evacuee’s coming to Chertsey, the first few days of the war starting were terrible, people were being placed where ever the council could put them. We had four of them, making eleven people sleeping in our house at one time. But just before the war, there were only seven of us; Fred was in and out of hospital and young David would be in a sanatorium for several more years. The three girls slept n the same bedroom and you three boys were in another, and mum was in the third room. When-ever Fred was sent home for a few weeks, he had to sleep alone in the kitchen”.

When the war started, I remembered Mrs O’Keefe and her son Dennis, and that they lived in the front room at first. Then she said something that I did have the slightest memory of. “We had two more evacuees’, brother’s from London, they only stayed for a couple of hours, there was nowhere for them to sleep. and then they went home. Things were so chaotic, people were coming and going all day”. My faint memory of that day, was that one of the boy’s name was George Turner, the same my uncle. And of mum being very concerned about them going back to London, as they were only in their teens. She went round to the council to tell them what these boys were going to do, but they couldn’t stop them.

I asked her about a young Irish woman and her little girl that stayed with us. “Yes, she wasn’t an evacuee, but was homeless and mother took her in, she and her daughter slept in mum’s room. She was only here for a couple of weeks and seemed to move from house to house. The poor woman was so desperate, most of the spare rooms were taken by all the evacuees. I think she ended up in the Lodging House, near Mr Garrett’s”.

I then asked her about our Grand-father, George Conrad. I have only the very slightest memory of him, but more of his bike, it had a very big basket on the front, like a ladies’ bike. Iris took a deep breath. “Well, I don’t think he was all there, he came over on his bike, dressed up like Sherlock Holmes, he had knee breeches on and ‘Deer Stalker’ hat. He could have been successful with his model making, he had several patents, and made beautiful model yachts. He and Dad had no love for each other, because of his other family in Shepperton. Even his brother, Walter, couldn’t stand him. They both inherited enough money to live on private means, but George simply frittered it all a way. Walter was quite successful, and used his inheritance to start up a firm making assembly tracks for factories’ s. He went to Australia, where he carried on with his firm”.

September 10th 01:00 Holding my breath.

September 10th 01:00. Holding my breath.

  The last few weeks have taken my breath away! 

Now we can all relax, or can we, perhaps I should continue to hold my breath, but it’s a bit like drowning.

They say, that when someone is going down for the third time, his life flashes past him.

 This could be true, it’s now past one o’clock, and here I am, back in 1942.

I hate school, I’d rather be up St Annes Hill. 

Eastworth Road, is so blooming long, kids are running past me, jumping up to glimpse the clock over the Convent fence.

I know it’s already too late, I’ve just heard the bell! but, I too, give a little jump to see the time, yes the big hand is still not quite there.

 On my side of the road, a lovely horse is standing next to the hedge, I give him a couple of strokes, plenty of time yet.

I think he belongs to the house opposite the Convent, where a poor boy has something called St Vitus Dance, he can’t stop fidgeting.

I had better slow down a bit, and pick some of the lovely, fresh Hawthorn leaves in the hedge of the Handicrafts School. 

There is something I have never been able to fathom, we call the leaves ‘bread and cheese’, and we eat them as if they are sweets!!

Actually, they are nice to eat, a sort of comfort food, before I meet Miss Slaughter.

There she will be, standing at the gate, swishing her skinny cane, another two on each hand I expect.

She does this for our own good, she says, but I think she rather likes to see a few tardy children running down Freeprae Road—or in my case strolling.

I meet Johnny Jones, he lives right next the school, in the Fairground, he hates school too.

They say, Corporal punishment is a way of making a child do as they are told, like doing things at the right time, getting to school early, and such like.

 It never did me any good, here I am, 77 years later, and it’s nearly two o’clock, I should be asleep by now.

August 26th

  August 26

  It is surprising, that the memory, which is so good at of reminding us of something best forgotten, can also hide something that should be a delight to remember.

  I have such a memory.

My friend, Roger Field, just mentioned the cardboard milk-tops, from Stanford’s Farm, that we used to play with at school.

   Suddenly, as if by some prime-evil process, a series of memories, came in to my mind.

  The memory, that Roger triggered, was ‘Balaclava’s.

 All the ‘crazes’ that swept the playground, like marbles or cheap model gliders, arrived as if by magic, one child would show off his new play-thing, and we all wanted one, almost like a seasonal thing—I suspect now, that all the local shops would stock up these things on a regular basis, just waiting for the flood of kids.

  The ‘Balaclava’.

 Every winter someone would start wearing one of these, but for some reason we were never so lucky. 

  Then, Norman Jefferies, a boy who lived at the town end of Abbey Road, came to school wearing the most magnificent ‘Balaclava’, he looked like a Norman Knight, every body wanted one.

  I asked my mum, if I could have one, she said, Deirdre, my sister, would knit one, but I wanted it now, not after the winters gone. 

Mrs. Salmon, who was sitting in the old green armchair at the time, came up with a quick fix, she said.

   “Alan, why don’t you just pull your jersey over your head and just look through the neck”?

Although, I had my misgivings about about this, I did as she suggested.

   Today, the memory of that afternoon, that has been hidden for the last seventy odd years, came agonisingly back in the greatest detail.

The sight of my mother and Mrs. Salmon, going into convulsions of laughter, as I posed in my new ‘Balaclava’, was a good thing to forget for all these years.

  I knew, in my heart, it was not the style I wanted to take school, but I don’t think they should have laughed for quite so long.

August 23rd 15:30 Re-cycling.

August 23rd15:30…Re-cycling.

  Many years ago, re-cycling, would have been called ‘Make Do and Mend’.

Also, there was no such word as ‘Fly-Tipping’; there was nothing that a normal house-hold would want to throw away, we kept it, just in case it would come in useful one day.

  A tradesman, such as a carpenter or decorator, would take away all his surplus material, either back to his workshop, or to the local council-run dump, for a small charge.

  Now, dumps are very choosy about what they will take, they turn away tradesmen, who have to take the stuff to an expensive depot, miles away.

  A gap in the market appeared, a man and a van would roam the streets, and offer to take all your rubbish away for just a few pounds; problem solved, or rather moved, to a place like St Annes Hill, nice and quiet! 

   Fly-Tipping had arrived!

The five-pence charge on plastic bags is a huge success, that small charge has made us think twice about using one.

   Perhaps it would have been better to place that charge earlier in the manufacturing process.

  Ok, a cucumber will rot a few days earlier without a plastic rapper, but then it will be added to the kitchen compost bin instead of the house-hold rubbish, complete with its plastic overcoat.

  We all know it is hard to change our ways, but we have very little time before it all becomes unmanageable

  It’s all very well for me, a retired man with plenty of time on my hands, to do all these things.

  But, I know there are lots of busy people, who do find the time to sort their recycling, I am full of praise for them.  

  An easy way to start—which just needs a change to your shopping habits—is to encourage the return of the milk-man, he won’t come on his own, unless enough of us do it.

  Two plastic ‘bottles’ a day, produces over 700 of them a year per house-hold! I know they are recyclable, but only into more plastic, whereas, a glass bottle is collected by the milk-man and re-used again and again.

It also gives some-one the opportunity to start their own business.

  What’s not to like?

  By the way, we are lucky enough to have a milkman, he calls four times a week.