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"More Memories" by Betty

This is the third of three essays by my mother, Betty Heywood

The other two are:

Before he left Imperial College Jason had been to an interview to decide what his wartime role was to be.  Qualified scientists were required to remain in reserve in case there should be chemical warfare, so he was able to find a job. He was employed by ICI as a research chemist in the dyestuffs division at Blackley ( pronounced Blakely ) a few miles north of Manchester. His salary was £280 per annum, and he had a chemistry degree and a PhD. That is some indication of the change in the value of money in our lifetime. Of course everything was of the same order, and you could buy a modest house for less than £1000.

    So off we went to Manchester with really no worldly goods and very little money. We first found a bed-sit in Crumpsall an unlovely suburb in north Manchester, not far from ICI.  It was a room in a Victorian house, grim and colourless, just one largish room with a cooker in a passage outside it.  It was not unlike the room Jason had occupied in Earl’s Court, but the surroundings were a good deal worse.  In due course someone at ICI suggested to us that we might prefer to live on the south side of Manchester. Easier said than done to explore a new locality with limited public transport, and at a time when road signs had been removed, and railway stations were unnamed. Someone from the personnel department suggested areas so posh that they were quite beyond our means, such as Alderley Edge, now a location for the really affluent, like Manchester United footballers.  I can’t recall how we found the Cheadle Hulme house. It was to let, as were most houses at that time. Beatrice Avenue had been built by a Mr. Saxon, who named the road after his wife, and then I suppose the war halted his sales. I do recall there being a reluctance to admit that it was Number 13.

    I have found Beatrice Avenue on Google maps. A spur came off a busier road, and there was a close of houses on an elliptical layout. The main road had a few shops, enough for daily shopping:  a butcher, a small Co-op, a wool shop , a post office, and Mc Guire’s. Mc Guire was a green grocer and fishmonger combined, the reason for this strange mixture being that the vegetable and fish markets in Manchester were at the same location. It was a scruffy shop, and I don’t recall there being any fish, but at rare intervals we got a hare, which was a great treat, and an unrationed one.  No13 was on a bend, so there was a small front garden, but the plot widened as it went back, and even at that point it appealed to us to make a vegetable plot.  Better still there was some open ground behind with allotments, and in due course we had one.  The house was a standard semi with three bedrooms, one a small one over the entrance.  One curious feature was a back to back fireplace, arranged so that the open fire in the back room was backed by a range in the kitchen.  You needed to adjust some dampers to draw the heat back to the range and it was not wonderfully successful. Provided the fire was burning strongly, the oven could slow cook quite well.  Trouble was we didn’t have a lot to slow cook, as the meat ration was something like 6d (old money) and a sausage, if the butcher was feeling generous. The hot plates certainly couldn’t boil, but I used to cook prunes there, leaving them for a few days, and the oven made good rice pudding. The down side of this arrangement was that the range collected soot, which had to be cleared out weekly.  There was an old gas cooker, and a cupboard, a fairly usual item of kitchen equipment at that time, called something like Easiwork, which had some storage space, and a flap which came down to provide a rather inadequate work surface. The TV series Foyle’s War has kitchens just like that, and clothes like those we wore at that period, though they don’t appear to have skirts made of the legs of men’s trousers. This was quite a good idea, as trousers had wide bottoms and fitted a slim waist quite well.  We got a few items of furniture. It was never a question of what you would like or choose, but what you could find that would serve.  Looking back, I think we never got over this start, so that when we could have upgraded our household belongings, we’d become quite used to what we had, and we never had the wish to change it all. Over the years we have acquired items from parents, grandparents and others, which we like for the memories they hold.

    Cheadle Hulme was not an easy location from Jason’s point of view. The daily journey into Manchester and out to Blackley was never straightforward.  At one time he tried train, but usually it was bus. I recall him walking back a stop in the wrong direction in order to be able to get on the bus, and at one period he walked a mile or so towards Manchester, to Cheadle, where there were more bus routes.  And this was six days a week, as Saturday was a working half day for everybody. In his spare time he was in the Home Guard and helped defend the ICI factory with a cricket stump. The one firearm was in the keeping of their Captain Mainwaring, who woke one night from a nightmare and fired his gun in the Nissan hut where they were sleeping so that the bullets bounced off the walls, putting them all at some risk. It sounds like Dad’s Army! Annual holidays were a fortnight at most. Coastal areas were out, as far as holidays were concerned, but we did visit Jason’s Grandmother and Ivy in the Lake District. They had been lent a cottage, rented by Fred Bath as a holiday home, when a bomb had destroyed the septic tank at Warbank.  Jason’s Grandpa had died suddenly while out shopping in Penrith, leaving Ivy and her mother to cope in a strange place. We went by train, and Ivy, who probably was allowed a petrol ration because of her elderly dependants, collected us from a station Our visit is memorable. To feed two meat eaters, Ivy had bought a supply of sausages, which appeared at every meal, till they were no longer wholesome. How to explain this politely to Ivy who didn’t eat them or Grandma whose taste seemed defective? Apart from that it rained continuously, and the house was situated at the foot of  Helvellyn, so that its outlook was gloomy. We’ve never taken a reasonable view of that area.

        In the early years of our time in Manchester there was an air raid on the city. We were about ten miles south east of the city, and in no immediate danger, but the noise was considerable, and before long there were fires everywhere, lighting the night sky. At intervals we could hear something clattering on the roof, and in the morning we picked up shrapnel in the garden, from anti-aircraft guns. It was a few days before Christmas and the fires had destroyed a supply of turkeys destined for Christmas dinners.

        I got a job teaching, first at a private school at Alderley Edge, but that involved a train journey, and I changed to a local school, about which I remember very little.  Then in December 1943 Sonia was born.  This was before the Health Service, so you paid for antenatal care, which consisted of visits to the GP, whose attention to the patient was minimal – no ultrasound or other investigations – and a bill for his services followed. He was also involved with a nursing home, where his patients gave birth under his supervision.  I think it could almost have been a Victorian set-up, but if you were young and fit and there were no complications, it worked well enough. It is strange to reflect on the advice handed out at that time.  The expert on sex, Marie Stopes, with a series of books on the subject, was in due course divorced on the grounds of an unconsummated marriage! The great guru on the subject of child care was a New Zealand bachelor, Truby King, who is remembered for the severity of the regime he advocated.  Most women who paid some attention to his ideas, soon   abandoned any hope of such strict standards, and certainly when they had two children common sense took over from theory.  He insisted that small infants must be kept to a rigid timetable, never picked up because they were crying, and must from day one be made to sleep in another room.  In daytime, and in any weather they were to be put out of doors.  It was usual to swathe the baby tightly in a shawl, and put the pram –a large one by modern standards – in the garden even in freezing weather.  This soon spoilt the shawl, knitted devotedly by a grandmother.  Woollen baby clothes were soon ruined by constant washing, and by the dribbling and general wetness of babies.  And Truby King didn’t approve of waterproof pants, so that babies under his regime would inevitably be wet or worse.  He was of course a keen advocate of potty training, which was to start long before a baby could sit up. I do think the wish to get children out of nappies was much more pressing when there were no disposable nappies and no washing machines, so that there was a lot of unpleasant washing to be done by hand. There were no sensible garments in synthetic fabrics. Nylon appeared about this time, the first nylon stockings being handed out by American GIs, but it was not till some years later that synthetic fabrics acquired a satisfactory texture for clothes. I remember making garments like mini nightdresses from something like Viyella, day ones and night ones, which may have differed by a bit of embroidery, and which didn’t stand the continual washing at all well. The nappies were made of towelling, and under them were other thin liners made of muslin. When these were dried in the garden, the prevailing wind brought a lot of  grime with it, and they came in grey and smelling of soot. No tumbler drier of course, and as a result I remember the thin nappies catching fire when drying by the open fire.  Truby King went on to recommend a diet for older babies, which was very insistent on the evils of sugar, and the benefits of wholesome items. In theory this may have been correct, but small babies don’t like spinach, which was recommended as a first food, and it was always spat out quite vigorously, or if eaten, there were nasty results at the other end. Fortunately children survive the theories of experts, and are good at indicating what they will and won’t eat.

    When Sonia was a small baby Jason took up bee-keeping. I still remember the day they were delivered, and put down in the garden to await his return from work. I don’t remember them giving trouble in the garden, but I suppose they did, as in due course he arrived at an arrangement with the owners of a swimming pool in nearby Bramhall to keep them there.  Strange place to keep bees, and there were problems when some of them got nasty and stung people.   In his early beekeeping days he was helped by an established beekeeper, living in Cheadle Hulme. It won’t surprise you to learn that beekeepers tend to be a bit unusual in their ways. Miss Manley was like that. She lived on her own, but she had a sizeable garden with her beehives and also goats. Jason didn’t enjoy the company of the goats, who were free to roam, and liable to butt him when he was handling the bees, but like many beekeepers she was helpful. At a junk shop near ICI Jason managed to buy a honey extractor, which the vendors couldn’t identify, concluding that it might be a chip fryer. He improvised using rubber Kilner jar rings as a belt for the turning mechanism, which was manual. We had it for years, and we were at Mashbury in the 1970s  before it was replaced by an electric one.

    Still no car, nor any possibility of one. For local journeys, such as going to Bramhall to the swimming pool, we had bikes. Sonia would accompany Jason in a seat on the back.  This sounds perilous for a small child, but the roads were much less congested. The problem arose when Sonia started having opinions about the route they should take, and insisted vigorously and noisily, making it difficult to continue to the accompaniment of her loud protests. I think she must have been two years old, when this happened and I imagine I was at home with Peter. It was an episode repeated at intervals The bike riding continued after we got to Romford, and for longer distances, each of us with a child seat on the back.

    The war in Europe ended in June when Sonia was eighteen months old. Peter was born in the December. Shortages and rationing continued as before, but there was an end to blackout and to the possibility of air raids. Restrictions on employment were eased and Jason began to consider whether he wanted to leave ICI and to consider a change. I suppose we were drawn back to the London area, though he also looked at other places. I think he also saw pharmaceuticals as more interesting than dyestuffs. In due course he accepted a job with May&Baker in the research department at Dagenham. At just that time the owner of No13 decided he wanted to sell the house, and offered it to us at less than market value as we were sitting tenants. I think the price was £700 –no, I haven’t left off a couple of noughts- with the hope that it would sell for £800 or £900. It seemed a good opportunity to make some money towards our next house purchase. So Jason went off to start his job with May&Baker, and I stayed put with Sonia and Peter aged three and one. We thought that was a temporary measure, just until the house purchase and sale went through. It wasn’t easy.  Jason got lodgings in Emerson Park, in a strange household where the wife was buying the house unbeknown to the husband. His fellow lodgers were police, who recounted tales of their dubious practices. After the usual delays by solicitors, it became apparent that the purchase of No13 was not going to be straight forward The fires which that we had seen on the occasion of the Manchester blitz had destroyed the premises of Mr Saxon’s solicitor and the deeds of No13 were lost.  That was the start of interminable negotiations to solve the problem, which nobody seemed to regard as a priority. Jason came back to see us on alternative weekends, while I tried to maintain an appearance of normality, fearing that the sale would be off, if the owner realised that we were not intending to remain there. There was no phone. The unrelieved company of two small children is quite difficult, but I recall doing household chores at night, and child minding by day. This involved quite a lot of going for walks with Sonia and Peter together in the big pram, one at each end with their feet in the central well. As you may imagine there was a certain amount of aggro at times between them, which they – well Sonia I suppose – called “buffing” This went on if they were left outside a shop, and would attract the sympathy of passers usually misdirected at the guilty party. On these walks Sonia would enjoy breaking into a new loaf and removing quite a lot of the crusty outside. Bread was not rationed at that time, but our diet was frugal and from this period comes Sonia’s ability to eat most things, including brains. Jason and I ate quite a lot of tinned pilchards during the war.

         After months of inactivity by solicitors, I decided to try a different approach. Properties in the north were subject to a “chief rent”, based on the value attached to the development of the site, and No13 had a chief rent. Somehow I found the name of the holder of the chief rent, and wrote asking if she had deeds of the house and would permit our solicitors to have a copy. And it worked, but it had taken nearly a year to get there in the course of which Jason had bought a house in Romford, coming to the decision on his own. I think of this when I look at one of those programmes on TV, where hard to please purchasers can’t consider a house, if it doesn’t meet their every requirement. I’d never been to Romford, and I don’t think I knew what to expect. There’s blind faith for you! I think the price was £1200/£1300

     So we moved. It was mid-winter, and we must have gone by train arriving ahead of our movers, but I don’t recall how this was managed, though I think that the neighbours, a couple of teachers called Jenkins were helpful. The house 55, Manor Road was in an area of Victorian semis, with roads named Albert, Princes and so on. It was in easy walking distance of the town centre. The ground floor had two main rooms, and an extension at the back – part of the original build – with a further room and yet another, kitchen and scullery, beyond. It was a usual Victorian lay-out, but we ate in the kitchen and had the middle room as a play room. The back extension went even further, as beyond the scullery was a passage with a loo on one side and a coal hole on the other. It still had the original Venetian blinds, made of wooden slats painted white, which I took down and cleaned at rare intervals. There was a marble fireplace in the front room, the sort of feature that enthusiasts for Victoriana admire.  I think it was a good purchase on Jason’s part. One advantage for him was that the daily  journey to work no longer involved buses and trains.  He went by bike.The route into Romford on foot passed a selection of small shops in Victoria Road, the source of many useful purchases over the years: junk furniture, including Peter’s homework chair for 25shillings in old money,(£1.25) the chair I am sitting on, with attractive bent wood arms and the large old chest of drawers, still with us, for £10. Another shop sold DIY oddments such as Formica and useful pieces of wood. I did a lot of shopping in that area. A greengrocer called Stevens delivered on Fridays. The butcher Copsey was excellent.There was some conjecture as to whether his magnificent trailing fuchsias in hanging baskets which decorated the shop, were recipients of blood. They were slaughterers, and Jason’s father renamed him Corpsey. At the bottom of the road was a grocer, called Morris.  He was Jewish and a believer in pile it high and sell it cheap. He also delivered, and came up with very good offers at a time when things were still scarce. At one time we had the luxury of chips fried in olive oil, which he was selling cheaply in gallon tins. When Janet was small, he had outside on the pavement a large figure advertising a lemon drink, about which she had mixed feelings, as it moved and spoke. Equally fascinating to her was the laughing policeman in an arcade in the town. Further on in South Street was a larger range of shops, including Sainsbury’s, an old fashioned Sainsbury’s with patterned tiles on the walls and assistants behind the counter to serve you. Further on was the market, which filled the market place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On Wednesday there was a cattle market, discontinued after a few years, but the rest of the market was very busy with a wide range of things: vegetables, fruit, fish and also clothes, fabrics and much more. In the covered market was a haberdashery remarkably well stocked. They could be relied on to produce buttons to match even difficult colours, and they could unfailingly find what I wanted.  The fish stall was Fancourt’s, and it was by observing them that I got the knack of skinning skate. They sold skinned skate, and “DIY” skate at a lower price, the latter requiring skill to get the skin off, so I got quite good at it.  The gadget required for this is a chunk of wood with protruding nails, with which to hold down the skate, while you tug the skin off with a pair of gas pliers. At Mashbury Max produced a good example of this gadget.  Peter has observed that it must be a rare example of manual work by Max! It served me well for years, and some of the skate in Looe was very slippery, slimy even, straight from the sea, and hard to skin, being armed with sharp hook-like prickles. Just as well that now that I have less strength in my hands, skate is sold skinned, but I still have the gadget.  On one side of the market place was Stone’s a department store, which was later bought by Debenhams but it was some years before the town centre was brought up to date. At that time higher up the road was an old-fashioned gents’ outfitters Jarvis, and at the back of his shop he also sold beekeeping equipment, as he was a beekeeper. Beyond came what Sonia called “the flowery garden,” allotments, through which a path lead through to Western Road and on over the railway by footbridge, and so back into Victoria Road. Before we left Romford the flowery garden had become a multi-storey carpark.

    Writing this, I clearly found quite a lot to like about Romford. I don’t think our friends and relations in posher suburbs took that view of Essex. My brothers were in Rickmansworth and Northwood, Roland in Camberley, Tim in Wokingham, Olga in Wimbledon, and I am sure they would not have wanted to be located east of London. There has always been this prejudice between east and west. The term Essex man is not meant to be complimentary, nor the expression “estuary English”.  A higher percentage of people in the Essex suburbs were working locally in factories, predominately at that time at Fords at Dagenham, but also May&Baker and others. A strong smell of the Ind Coope brewery hung over the streets of Romford. It was not laid out for the pleasure of the residents, but was a working place, and people living there found that acceptable.  Even when we moved to the country beyond Chelmsford there was the same contrast.  That was real countryside, and quite unlike the Surrey stockbroker belt.  

    Sonia was four when we went to Romford and in due course she started school at Salisbury Road School.  Peter at that time took an interest in civil engineering works of his own. This lead to an embarrassing episode, when a council official came to investigate my complaints about the condition of the paths, and Peter was busy outside with his little truck and a cold chisel working on them. He used to play outside in the company of Jimmy Ellis from no53.  One day their play got out of hand and Jimmy threw some lime, which got into Peter’s eyes. Having tried briefly to clean it, I realised that it needed urgent attention.  Still no phone and no car, so I ran to Hall’s builders’ merchants’ office along the road and asked them to get me a taxi. I still recall with gratitude how well they dealt with this at Oldchurch Hospital. It was a grim building, formerly a workhouse, and not welcoming in appearance, but they took Peter for treatment without waiting to ask me who I was, leaving any questions till later. He was admitted to the Women’s eye ward, and was there for some days. He still has the scar but, because he was so young, the recovery was good.  There were some curious after affects: he was terrified of the bath, having presumably been forced in against his will. We had to bath with him to reassure him. The other thing was that without Sonia’s company, and encouraged by the eye ward patients, he had become talkative.  Sonia didn’t see this as an improvement, and said that “he had been a quiet little boy and look at him now.”

    Janet was born in January 1950. Since the birth of Sonia and Peter there had been a big change – the NHS. We elected to have a home delivery, and this entailed visits from the midwife, who was to be present at the birth, though in fact it happened on her day off. There were visits at intervals to the GP, but the hospital had no part in it, no ultrasound or other investigations. There were no problems, and the need for resting in bed had gone in the intervening years, so we were soon back to normal. During this period when Peter had started school, we had a really bad fog, and I can still remember having problems fetching them from Salisbury Road School.  I had Janet in a push chair, and had to try to collect both of them, not necessarily released together. Visibility was only a yard or so. I think it was an unusual event, though fogs or smogs were not.

    The Jenkins left No57 and went to live in Ongar.  In their place came Mr Robinson, the pastor of the nearby Free Evangelical Church and his wife, and the start of many religious discussions over the garden fence.  Mr Robinson had come to the ministry by an unusual route: he had been a racing motorcyclist professionally till he saw the light or was called to better things.  He did still hanker after the thrill of the old life, and would go for the occasional whiz down the Southend Road and back, boasting of the speed. He really enjoyed arguing with me on religious matters, and we came to the view that he would try to provoke me in order to get material for his sermons. I remember him telling me how he was befriending the family of a man in prison, and how wrong it was that the children should suffer for the parents’ misdeeds. Was it? I asked. Doesn’t the Bible say that the sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children? And so on, but there was never any rancour on either side. During that time we had a disastrous attempt at raising ducks. They did not have access to enough water, and ended up in a bad state, so clogged with mud that they were likely to become self-plucking, as lumps of mud hung from their plumage.  So we decided that we had to despatch them, and well-meaning people offered advice and assured Jason that it was easy and quick. It isn’t. In the end he took the coward’s – no, the chemist’s –way out and chloroformed them. We would never again keep animals intended for slaughter  At that point up pops the reverend Robinson asking if he can present the corpses to the prisoner’s household.  I’m sure we discouraged him, but don’t recall the outcome

    It is curious the episodes, which we keep in our memories.  Peter remembers when he injured his foot riding in Jason’s bike seat, soon after Janet’s birth. Sonia reminded me of the glove and dog episode, which I also recall quite clearly, the stuff of nightmares for me. This took place at the junction of Manor Road and Brentwood Road, when we were returning from school. Sonia threw a glove over the wall of the corner garden, dark and unknown territory. I felt I had to retrieve the glove, and reluctantly went into the garden, where I was set upon by an Alsatian dog.  I survived,  but it only helped to reinforce my dislike of dogs, which I have never been able to conceal. It was always my habit to cross the road, when one came into view, to avoid doggie contacts. Sonia regards this as an understatement, and remembers making barking noises, as dogs approached, to increase my apprehension. We probably all recall the occasion when Sonia and Peter were looking at our collection of fireworks in her bedroom. It was an early Sunday morning and Jason and I were having tea in bed, when Jason heard the sound of a match being struck. He rushed to the far end of the house, just in time! One of them had pretended to strike a Bengal match – successfully - and I suppose the burning match was dropped in shock onto a rocket. By the time Jason got there the rocket was alight, and he was just able to throw it out of the window. It left a scorched track across the carpet.

    Beyond the fence at the end of the garden was the yard where Hall’s stored building materials and coal. I see from Google that a close of houses has been fitted in there, but it was a place, which interested Peter, who surreptitiously had little trips into forbidden territory. I decided not to notice, and let it continue, even when he let Janet accompany him. They came back quite grubby at times. I remember overhearing him instructing her how to behave, should they get caught: saying not to give her name, but just say Ee! It now seems a bit irresponsible to have turned a blind eye to all this. They were at most aged seven and three, and it was called “the adventure.” I  suppose over the years we have allowed other risky enterprises, such as Peter’s river trips, which in retrospect seem fraught with danger.

    During this period we acquired a car. It was bought from an acquaintance of Jason’s parents at Semley, a Captain Bapty and was a Hillman Minx. Minx it was not,   a very staid vehicle, box shaped and well past its best. It had no boot, just a luggage rack behind, as a result of which we once lost some eggs acquired in Dorset, when we were bumped from the rear. On another occasion we were stopped in London by a policeman, who was feeling homesick and assumed that we were from Cornwall, as we had a Cornish registration AAF. The traffic nowadays wouldn’t permit such nonsense. The car needed a garage and Jason built one in the gap between us and No53. It must have been a tight fit, and probably made the middle room darker, but it was brick built and took some time and was punishing to Jason’s hands. The car was replaced after a while by another rather unsatisfactory vehicle, and so on till we eventually afforded something better. A lot of things seem to have got worse in my lifetime, but cars are certainly a lot more reliable.

    In due course we decided to move, looking mainly for more garden and more privacy. First No55 had to be sold, and it had some pretty obvious faults: rising damp and woodworm among them. Then fate took a hand in the form of Mr Elleman, who lived in Junction Road and was trying to recoup a loss he had sustained through some dodgy dealings of his son, by down-sizing. He came to 55 and immediately recognised it as a house he had previously occupied. Without further inspection or enquiries as to its current condition, he decided there and then to buy it. The matter got a bit more complicated, when he overstated the price on his mortgage application in order to raise a higher mortgage. Our solicitor insisted that he had to hand over the price he had put on it, and that was done. It is an understatement to say he was relieved when Jason then gave him back the difference, so that he was back to the agreed price.  So we found 103 Harrow Drive. It had many faults, but I think the large plot mattered more to us than its shortcomings. But shortcomings there were, such as no loo upstairs, and a downstairs toilet, which adjoined the sitting room and was not at all sound insulated, so that there were embarrassing noises off. We did have a few improvements: dormer windows in two of the bedrooms, which would have been dark without them, and years later an upstairs loo and refurbishment of the bathroom To produce a larger room we had the loggia at the back built into the room. My comments about the house sound very critical, and you may well wonder why we bought it and lived in it for twenty years. In fact the garden was large for that area and surprisingly contained a well, which we thought would provide water for the garden, until it was found to be exceptionally hard and plant unfriendly. It had a double plot, a frontage of eighty feet, so it is not surprising to learn that it has recently been demolished to make two plots. It had been built for a somewhat eccentric owner, probably to his not very satisfactory design.  He left some strange relics of his occupancy, particularly in the large shed behind the garage, where used light bulbs were strung up like onions sold by French onion sellers. There were also frames on which fabric like velvet had been stretched. He had been in the drapery business. In the garden the paths were edged with stone ink bottles, sunk into the ground, dozens of them. We modified his garden lay-out, but it had some good apple trees, and some less good golden plum trees, the fruit of which was always bottled, and the family will remember that the plums found their way to Cornwall to be consumed without complaint by the assorted company at the Bryn. The move did not necessitate a change of school, though the new route involved crossing the railway at an unmanned pedestrian crossing. The railway was a small branch line linking Romford to Emerson Park, known locally as the Push and Pull. Trains were infrequent, but it was a hazard, particularly as children were liable to do dangerous things such as putting objects on the line to be squashed. Janet in the company of John Edwards from next door at one time put buns to be squashed, though where they found the buns is not revealed. At the time of the move she was only three, but Sonia aged nine and Peter aged seven took themselves to school, and ate school dinners, of which there were strange descriptions especially the mauve meat. In due course Janet joined them at Salisbury Road and suffered at times when teachers reproached her for not being Sonia. When Sonia had moved on to Romford County High School, also conveniently near the house, Janet went to school with Peter.  She rarely went willingly, complaining of feeling ill, and recovering when it was too late to go to school. So Peter got the job of urging her along, and was very unfairly accused by a teacher of treating her unkindly on the way. Not at all likely, as he looked after her well, and at one time their “adventure” developed into jaunts to Warley Woods by bus on a Sunday afternoon.

    During the Harrow Drive years we began going to Cornwall every year at Whitsun. Among academic ex- colleagues of Jason’s father was a Professor Odell. I met him long before this, when he was invited to dinner at their house in North Harrow. I was still at school or perhaps university. It was seemingly an important occasion, and the family silver had been got out of the bank to impress! Jason’s Barnes grandfather had provided all his children with sets of solid silver cutlery, considered unsuitable for daily use, and which was sold after her death at a low value That makes me wonder how well Grandpa really knew Professor Odell, as when we were seated at the table he took from his pocket a dolls’ mincer, which he clamped to the table and proceeded to mince any difficult items. Through this contact with the Odells, it was arranged that we could rent The Bryn, though by then the house was owned by his daughters.  Jason’s parents paid the rent as a Christmas present to us, and we went annually during the Whitsun school holidays. They also came with us, as did my mother and friends of the children, in particular Christopher House, Peter’s long term school friend. The house was in a lovely position in Trevone, just above the rocky section of the beach, where Rick Stein’s lobster hatchlings are released nowadays. They were enjoyable holidays. We seem to have had good weather and enjoyed the beach, even the bathing as the sea warmed up coming in over the warm sands. We walked the coast to Padstow or to Harlyn and Trevose Head. In front of the house you could scramble on the rocks, or try a bathe in Tinker Bunny’s pool, a not very successful attempt at a bathing pool in the rocks. These visits went on for a number of years, during which the Bryn was getting shabbier and less well looked after by the agents in Wadebridge  Button Menheniot & Mutton. On one occasion we arrived to find the mattress in one of the bedrooms rolled up on the bed. Inside it was a mouse nest. But it would have taken more than that to spoil our enjoyment of the place .

    We were in the Harrow Drive House for twenty years and for all of that time our neighbours at No99 ( no 101because of the double plot) were the Milligans, a mother and son household. Mrs Milligan was a widow in her seventies, probably nearing eighty and her son Gordon was forty plus. She was the sister of the owner of Stones the department store in the Market Place, which became Debenhams, and Gordon had an exalted position in the personnel department at the Coal Board. His spare time was devoted to his mother and to the Boys’ Brigade. For the Coal Board  he was involved in negotiations with hard core miners’ representatives, Joe Gormley for one, for which he seemed ill suited. Work also took him to Russia, from which he brought Vodka, a gift presumably, and as they were teetotallers by taste and by religious conviction, it was put on the larder floor, knocked over and broken, and pronounced by Mrs M to be very good for cleaning stone floors. As she aged, I used to help her by bringing shopping, particularly fish for her, but it was an absurd situation, where the real price would have seemed excessive to her, so that I collected less than I’d paid. I also went in to see her in the afternoon, which she appreciated. It was a long day for her, and Gordon left her a Thermos of tea for the afternoon. Then one day a rather sporty Alpha Romeo appeared on the drive outside their house. It was Gordon’s and seemed out of character. In due course he customised it by draping a net curtain on the passenger window, for the comfort of his mother! It was left hand drive, and when you met them on the road, you had at first the impression that it was being driven by a very elderly woman, so low in her seat as to be unable to see the traffic. After we had left Romford Mrs Milligan died and Gordon married his cousin, who had been the carer of her elderly parents, just as he had been. At the end of the garden, and accessible across an inadequate boundary was Mrs Barkham. In Mr Barkham’s day they had kept bees, but after his death the bees went, but Mrs Barkham continued her interest in the garden, and I got to know her much better. Looking back it seems odd that I really knew her and Mrs Milligan quite well, but have no idea of their first names. How things have changed! From her I acquired the habit of getting lunch organised before starting on a morning’s work in the garden, so that when you come in tired, you can take your ease – or a glass of sherry – while it cooks. I still do it, and it reminds me of her.

    During our years in Harrow Drive we started taking holidays in France. The first time we borrowed some basic tents and equipment, and put up with the lack of comfort. We later bought a Dormabile. I suppose that was about 1960 or a bit earlier and it served us well for several years, until the canvas of the top bunks rotted and split unexpectedly when we were settling down to sleep on a wet night. We’ve just found a picture of it in operation with the improvised canopy at the back. A tent was added to the set-up, one with sleeping and living areas, but it predated the days of lightweight materials, and was less attractive than modern versions. We had several good holidays with it, often to the coast of the Basque region, between Biarritz and St Jean de Luz, which was less crowded than the Mediterranean, but liable to produce storms and heavy seas. I was quite fearful of the strong waves, which hurled me up the beach. On one memorable occasion a storm overturned caravans, and we had to hang on to the tent frame to keep it from blowing away We always travelled by routes, which took us through interesting towns and pleasant countryside, and over the years we visited most of the Atlantic coast of France. We were also lucky to have seen the cave paintings at Lascaux not long after their discovery and before it was realised that having them open to the public was causing them to deteriorate. Further afield we went to Yugoslavia, very difficult in the post war period, short of nearly everything, so that it was a relief to get back to Italy. In the Naples region we camped at Pozzuoli, a campsite about which I had misgivings, as it seemed to have the signs of volcanic activity on the site: a boggy area which heaved and spluttered mud at intervals. We were assured that it was inactive, but it didn’t look it, and we now know that Pozzuoli is in danger of an eruption at any time! I mustn’t turn this into a travelogue, though it was fun at the time. In the Dormobile days I threatened to write our travels under the title “Hotfoot through France” as the front passenger had hot feet from the exhaust passing under the floor. After the Dormobile outlived its usefulness, we still camped with the tent, and always chose a car in which you could sleep. Add to that the need for a boot into which you could lift beehives, and you can imagine that car salesmen found this an odd way to select a vehicle. And some of them were poor choices!

    The twenty years in Harrow Drive were the childhood years of our children. And yesterday I went on to our move to Mashbury, which means that I had lost a few years between the weddings of our children and leaving that house in 1973. I have since had several attempts to fill this gap, but for some reason I find this difficult. I suppose it was a period of readjustment. It is time to take a break, as that is more than enough for now. Later on I will go on to Mashbury and Cornwall.

    Well I have problems with this, in that there is a gap, which I seem to be unwilling to fill. Jason encourages me to keep the continuity, so I will try again. Children leaving home calls for a change of life style, and it is certainly true that having rooms, which still seem to belong to people who have moved on is not an ideal set-up. This period was when Jason was frequently in Japan, and I was teaching three days a week at Hall Mead in Upminster. In his absences I had to cope with the bees, and I feel they did their best to make life difficult, so that on his return there would be boxes with swarms around the garden. And there was a list of instructions about the treatment for garden pests and diseases.

    This period was when the grandchildren were born. Sonia was in hospital for the removal of an ovarian cyst, despite which James made it successfully into this world. My memories of his first days is of the overgenerous filling of nappies accompanied by the inevitable noises off. I went to Cambridge to see Janet and Abigail at frequent intervals, and I also went, when her next child Toby was born prematurely. I helped by minding Abigail for them to visit the hospital. From the start it was not hopeful, and in fact I have never felt able to say much about it. I do recall being more upset than I could say, as Janet was naturally distraught. I remember talking to Jason on the phone, while they were out and telling him how distressing I found it. It still colours my memory of that period.

    Peter and Diane were first in Leamington Spa and then in Whitley Bay, so we saw less of them, though I went by train to Newcastle and visited them at Monkseaton. Then came a move to Bourne, where they had a house in a close of houses, while Peter worked in Peterborough. It was then that he decided to buy and update the house in Manthorpe. We were still at Harrow Drive when he went to Zambia to work at Kariba, which ended in the bankruptcy of Mitchell Construction and their sudden return to the UK. The Manthorpe house was not available, so they came to us. We had embarked on some not very successful modifications to the house, which exposed us to the winter’s chill, and them even more so, as they had been hot in Zambia. Before long they were off again to Algeria.

    In this period which I seem reluctant to recall is the death of my mother at the age of ninety one. Some years before she had fallen down stairs and broken her hip. From then on she was in bed, a state of affairs which would now be thought very unsatisfactory. John and Ethel had taken in first my mother and then Ethel’s parents. The two mothers became companions during several years at Rickmansworth, walking the dog on the nearby golf and amassing a sizeable collection of golf balls in the process. My mother being confined to bed involved a burden for the minders. At intervals I would go to spend a day there so that they could out. As John neared retirement, they began to look forward to a move to Church Stretton. It was arranged that Ethel would go to Church Stretton with her mother, John moved into lodgings while he awaited his retirement, and my mother was to be in the geriatric ward of a Watford hospital until the house at Church Stretton was ready. In fact there was a rapid deterioration in her condition, and she did not survive long after her move to hospital.  

    It seems to me in retrospect that we were ready for a change at this point, and we were encouraged to review our situation when Jason ceased to work at Dagenham. He was based at Brentwood and partly at Ongar, concerned with agrochemicals rather than pharmaceuticals. It seemed pointless to be based in Hornchurch while working in more pleasant locations, so we began thinking of a move to more rural Essex.


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