Charter house 2

At the end of the last post I came top of Shell, which was not very difficult. The normal route out of Shell was into the 4th form where my contemporaries had been and which would have left me a year behind them. However I was placed in the bottom Remove class, back to where I would have been if I had done reasonably in the Common Entrance. I had no problems coping with the work in Remove D.

In Saunderites the next school year started off in much the same way as the previous two though with some small improvements. I was moved to a large dormitory in which we each had a small private cubicle which gave me some privacy and in which I pinned up photos of Bridget Bardot. I was no longer a fag at the beck and call of every monitor; I was the personal fag to just one. I’ve forgotten his name but he was pleasant and not too demanding.

Earlier in the last century the American meaning of fag or faggot as a gay boy or man tended to be derogatory or insulting. It is possible that it came from the public school meaning because there were examples in some schools of senior boys having an imposed sexual relationship with fags. This never happened to me (Jonet suggests that I wasn’t pretty enough! Her cousin Christy obviously was, since he had such relationships both as a fag and a prefect and then went on to have 2 marriages and numerous affairs).

Typical duties of a monitor’s personal fag were running a bath for him after a sports match, cleaning shoes and CCF kit (Combined Cadet Course, for details see later) or taking a letter to the post box.

Sport was organised on a competitive basis between the various houses and was run by the monitors. In each of the 3 sports, hockey, cricket and football each house had a 1st team, a 2nd team and an over 16 team of the less able boys, the 1st Tics. At the junior level there was an under 16 team and the 2nd Tics, (Tic is general public school slang for a nasty little boy). Needless to say I played in the 2nd Tics for all 3 sports.

Sport was IMPORTANT

For me hockey was OK; I’d played at West House, and Cricket was quite pleasant on a warm Summer’s day. Dave Rattle and I used to get to field on the boundary and slip quietly into the woods at the edge of the pitch to chat or read a book until the captain noticed our absence. I was never captain.

I hated football. I was particularly inept and we played in the winter on cold, often rainy days on muddy pitches with leather balls that had been discarded by the better teams and were usually heavy and waterlogged. I don’t think I ever headed a ball – it would probably have knocked me out. I prayed that we were the blues because the sports shirts was slightly thicker that the flimsy white ones. During my time no Saunderites Tics team won a league.

There was also an inter-house Athletics competition in the summer. Age related standards were set for a wide variety of track and field events; there were 2 levels:

Adequate, 1 point and Excellent, 2 points. We all had to try to get as many points as possible across a wide range of events. In my first 2 summers I only managed a few adequate level points.

There were good facilities for other sports which we played for pleasure rather than, for me, the drudgery of league team games. There was an indoor swimming pool at the bottom of the hill to Godalming and I used to go swimming regularly. I also learnt to play Eton Fives, a strange game where a small ball is hit by hand round a 3 sided court. We usually wore gloves. It is impossible to briefly describe in this blog; look it up on the internet for more information.

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These activities along with pottery were good because they took me out of the house and so away from the bullying, which carried on through my second year. The pottery had excellent facilities with a gas fired kiln making reduction possible – the process that produced Chinese Celadon ware, which turns iron glazes from dark reddish brown to green. We mainly used stoneware clay which was fired to cone 8, about 1260 degrees C. Our teach was Michael Woods – an inspirational teacher and good artist, sculpture and potter. Some more pots above.

We had to go outside and across a yard to get to the toilets. Ours had doors, though only up to the waist; I gathered that at some schools there were no doors and so, presumably, no naughty behaviour.

Any rule breaking that the monitors discovered was punished. Your name was written in the punishment book and you had to do an hour’s work which could be anything such as: clearing leaves or snow from a sports pitch, polishing the house cups, sorting books in the house library, helping in the kitchen etc. 8 bookings resulted in a beating by the head monitor. This was far from the sadistic beatings that used to happen many years before and there were not many per term. In one term in my 2nd year I got up to 7 bookings and, with a couple of weeks to go, kept out of trouble. However…….

The bastards decided that I deserved a beating anyway. The whole process was a ritual; everyone knew that it was going to happen and I was told in advance when to go to the dining room. On the advice of my friends who had been through the process themselves, I wore my thickest trousers with some padding underneath. I walked up to the end of the room where the monitors were waiting, bent over a chair and got “6 of the best”. It hurt, but not as badly as I had expected. Outside the room I was consoled by various boys and business carried on as before.

At the beginning of the last post I referred to lockers in which we could all store personal food. The school food was disgusting and I immediately wrote home asking for an emergency food parcel, particularly cheese, edible jam, lots of chutney and ginger cake.

Breakfast was cereal, or lumpy porridge followed by white bread which had usually been damped and warmed up to “refresh” it. We had a slimy pale yellow butter substitute and tasteless jam. It was probably the best of the 3 meals.

Lunch and dinner, preceded by a Latin grace, were a main course and pudding. Typical main courses were beef sausages, reheated fatty meat gristle stew, limp tasteless fish, fatty mince with gristle etc. Potatoes were usually mash – a runny mix of mash and water with lumps of potato in it. Vegetables were always overcooked. Sometimes we had sloshy tinned Bulgarian tomatoes, usually with the disgusting sausages and mash – sadly a frequent meal; I’m sure fresh tomatoes from Bulgaria are delicious; did they specially process them for British public schools to make them almost inedible?

Puddings were substantial, probably on the basis that we needed the calories. They included rice pudding and steamed puddings of various sorts with lumpy custard. Charterhouse was a fruit free zone. The jam from home made breakfast edible and the chutney improved everything apart from the puddings (it would probably improved some but I never tried.) However we did all get our free third of a pint of milk per day, funded by the government.

The link below is to a website that sums up the school food of that time:

https://delishably.com/world-cuisine/The-Worst-of-British-Cooking

I referred to the Combined Cadet Force earlier. It was compulsory, although you could opt for Scouts as an alternative; I didn’t because I’d never been a scout. I went with the flow and joined the CCF in my first term. We were issued with the kit: khaki uniform, gaiters, a cap, a belt and black boots with toe cap that had to be polished to perfection. We spent hours melting hot boot polish onto the toecaps and creating a perfect shiny surface. The brass belt buckles also had to be gleaming.

The CCF took strict adherence to the rules to another level. You had to turn up on time perfectly turned out. 30 seconds late and you were in the punishment book. We issued with guns, almost certainly Lee Enfields, calibre .303 dating from the time of WW1.

As an aside I have just typed “CCF 1950s Guns” into Google and according to them the 9th most relevant site out of 44,000 is “A history of the North Korean Army”

The CCF session started with an inspection. God help any cadet who was not turned out to perfection. Then we drilled and then we drilled some more and then we continued drilling. We were instructed how to stand, turn, march, wheel, stop and salute. Then we were instructed how to do it all again with our rifles. Then we learnt to stand easy and stand at ease- subtlety different. We learnt how to present arms and how to shoulder arms. After several weeks of learning all this we spent the rest of our years in the CCF doing it.

In the summer we occasionally played at being soldiers in the grounds. The only thing that I remember is that we spent a lot of time taking the bearings of various Bushy Topped Trees, and we had to crawl towards them from time to time.

We could play music in the common room, though not during Banco, and I gradually collected a few 7 inch discs. Particular early favourites were Diana by Paul Anka, I need your love tonight by Elvis, Red River Rock by Johnny and the Hurricanes and various Duane Eddy numbers. I never liked Cliff Richard. (He sang to the centre court at Wimbledon when rain stopped play in 1996 and we have never been to Wimbledon since!).

On that note it’s time to finish this post

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Charterhouse 1

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The header image is taken from the school website. Saunderites is the in the centre left of the photo with the housemaster’s small personal garden in front.

Life is a series of gradual developments punctuated by a few massive changes such as marriage or a new job. Life changed dramatically for me in January 1958.

For a few weeks we had been shopping for all the items of clothing prescribed by the school. These included 2 collarless shirts, 4 collars and collar studs. Grandpa taught me how to fix the collar to my shirt with the studs. Everything was packed into a big trunk, which we had also bought, and I added my personal items, particularly my pocket chess set and some packs of cards and my much loved bicycle was fixed on the roof rack. I was looking forward to Charterhouse with the prospect of new friends and all that a top public school offered.

On the day that term started we drove down via Oxford (driving straight through the town with only a little traffic – how times have changed!). We pulled up in front of the door of Saunderites, the house that I was to be in and unloaded the trunk. (The au in Saunderites is pronounced as the au in aunt, not as the au in John of Gaunt.) We said goodbye, mother drove off and my life changed.

It was obvious as soon as I went in that the atmosphere was not like West House. I was in a big, cold, 19th Century gothic stone building and everything seemed much more formal. I was suddenly a very small fish in a lake and it felt very different. I also quickly found out that the day to day running of the house was carried out by the monitors (prefects). Obviously the housemaster welcomed the 3 of us who started that day, but after that the monitors were very much in charge.

I had moved to a new school of about 600 pupils but apart from lessons and a very few extracurricular activities my life was in Saunderites, a house of about 60 boys. Things started badly even before I had unpacked. The 3 of us new boys were asked if we had brought any playing cards; I said yes and they were confiscated. Cards were banned, presumably to prevent gambling, which was obviously not allowed. This ruled out games with friends and patience to pass the time when I was on my own and I was really upset.

The house had a strict hierarchical structure – something I was not used to. As a first year boy I was at the very bottom – a general fag. Second year boys were personal fags to monitors and in the third year you were out of the fagging system but with few privileges. VIth formers had a personal study, and much more freedom such as not being bound by the lights out rules at night. Monitors, always in the upper VIth, were like Gods in the house, running virtually everything with personal fags at their beck and call.

I couldn’t start as a fag straight away since I had no idea about anything to do with the house or school. I was given a factsheet of information to learn and allocated a father who was a second year boy to be my tutor for 2 weeks to ensure that I did so. There was to be an exam to test my knowledge at the end of the time and I instinctively knew before being told that if I failed my tutor and I would be in big trouble. I passed and my year of fagging started.

There were a lot of rules to learn: details about all the houses, all the hashrooms (hash was slang for a lesson or class), all the teachers with their nicknames, times of activities, where and when we could go to certain places or do certain things, how to dress etc. The rules had to be adhered to strictly as did doing homework or attending chapel. And NO excuses were accepted – life was black and white – if you were found breaking a rule you were punished – see next post.

I was allocated a locker in the hall outside the dining room where I could keep a small quantity of my own food. (I quickly realised that this was essential). Most of my letters home included requests for food (see next post). I had another locker in the open area where all the first and second years each had a desk which could be used at any time for work, writing home, playing chess, etc and I had a key for each of my lockers. I slept in a small room with 3 other boys. There was no privacy in the house.

The daily and weekly house routine was prescribed and strict. We were woken at about 7:15 by a LOUD clanging bell. We got dressed and went down for breakfast at about 7:45 where there was roll call and you had to answer sum when your name was called. There was then a 15 minute chapel service before morning lessons began at 9:00. Lunch was at 1:00 and the afternoon was a period for games and more lessons; the timing varied from day to day and summer to winter. Dinner was at 6:30 and Banco, the slang for the equivalent of homework, done at our desks, lasted from 7:00 to 8:45. We then went to bed. Wednesday was a half holiday with no afternoon lessons, but we had lessons on Saturday morning. An hour long chapel service was compulsory on Sunday at 5 PM.

There was also a strict dress code: white shirt with separate collar, house tie (Saunderites was old gold stripes on black), dark grey trousers not narrower than 16 inches at the bottom and a brown Tweed jacket. We were allowed 1 shirt, 2 collars, 2 pairs of socks, 2 underpants and one pair of pyjamas per week. Every item of clothing had my name on it for identification on return from the laundry. I can’t remember whether we were allowed one or two baths a week; however we always showered after sport, which was at least once a week.

At any time during the day a monitor who wanted something done would shout FAAAAAAAAG at the top of his voice. You RAN because the last one to arrive got the job. This could be anything – a menial job in the house, taking a letter to the postbox, getting something from Crack (the tuck shop) or very often taking a message to another house about an inter-house sports match.

I realised very quickly that I was not going to enjoy life within Saunderites because I started to be bullied. This was never physical; it was mocking, taunting and generally putting me down. The principal ringleader and other perpetrators were mainly in the same year, having started one term before me.

Looking back it seems obvious that I would be a target for bullying. I was small, young and unsophisticated for my age. I was bad at sport and had a midlands twang to my accent compared to the posh home counties accents of nearly all the other boys. I came from a single parent family and our car was a Morris Minor compared to the Rovers, Jaguars and Rileys of most of the other boys. I had no idea what to do so I just put up with it. The monitors must have known and the Housemaster may well have known but they all no doubt thought: “it was just part of the system” or “it never did me/Robinson any harm” or “it will make a man of him”.

All this happened 62 years ago and I suspect that current Carthusians wouldn’t recognise a lot of what I’ve written but I also suspect much would be familiar to a boy attending in 1895, 62years earlier and I haven’t even mentioned the beatings and toilets yet!

As far as hash (lessons) was concerned it was more of the same that I’d experienced at West House: learning facts and dates, translating, lots of grammar, French spelling tests etc. The lessons that I enjoyed the best were maths and the sciences. There were 5 years: starting with the 4th form, then Remove, Vth form, Lower VIth and Upper VIth. In addition there was one form below the 4th form called Shell. I was put in Shell – obviously I had only just scraped through my common entrance.

Most of the boys in Shell were not very bright and looking back I wonder how they managed to get into the school. I suspect that it might have been through contacts or some other influence. Anyway the result was that 2 of us, Petrides and I, did very well and came 2nd and top respectively by a long way at the end of the first and second terms.

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The single most important thing that I did was to start Pottery. I can’t remember why but it was probably at the suggestion of the housemaster who realised that I was no good at sport and so an art related activity would be good for me. It was an excellent move that shaped my adult career 10 years later. There was a superb new art and pottery block built by a charitable business donation that also allowed the sciences to expand onto the floor of their block that had previously housed the arts. I loved pottery and the photo above is of 3 pots, including a very impractible mug, made at some time while at school.

Mother kept all my letters home (of course – she kept everything). The first few mainly asked for things that I needed, such as a bible and geometry set, or saying how much money I’d had to spend at the school stationers. The other theme was asking for edible food or thanking her for what she had sent. There are a few references to what I was doing. One was about a long cycle ride on CCF Field day (see next post) which I couldn’t go on as “New Hop”. The end of one letter was:

“Please cold you send more cake sometime, it is very good. Much love Richard“ PS I have been eating too many toffees and a filling has come out”

I went home for the Easter holidays with my good results and saying nothing about the bullying. I was dreading returning for the CQ (Cricket Quarter – terms were quarters). I returned and nothing changed except it was warmer and we played cricket rather than hockey. There was an Exeat half way through the CQ when we all went home for the weekend. I spent the whole term looking forward to a month in Rhosneigr.

My reports were accurate about how well I had done in the classroom, which was no great accolade considering the standard of the rest of the class. However the comments in both reports from the Housemaster were banal:

Settled in well. Made a good impression in the house. Making good progress. Has it in him to do well.

Outwardly those might seem appropriate but I suspect the same or similar comments were sent out with every new boy’s report.

The image below is from Google Earth. The classrooms in my time are the buildings around, to the right and above the cloister. The long building above was, and still may be, the science block.

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The Leasowes 3 and Boarding at School

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We have reached a time when I took virtually no photographs apart from during Rhosneigr holidays. The last one for a while is another view of the Leasowes taken from the main lawn. The bay window on the right is our big living room.

As time went on I cycled further afield to meet more friends and we often went swimming at Kings Heath or Moseley Road baths. We also visited Pam’s family from time to time. On one occasion I was cycling along the pavement as fast as I could go and didn’t see the car reversing down a drive in time. My head went through the side window and I was carried back to Pam’s house covered in blood from a nasty gash under my chin, Fortunately it was only a flesh wound and I was stitched up by a local doctor. Scar no 2.

For most of the time that I lived in Birmingham we would go to watch the Moseley rugby club home games, Grandpa was president at that time and very involved with the club, so we would go with Granny and sit in the stand opposite the clubhouse. Grandpa also got an allocation of tickets to England matches at Twickenham and I was lucky enough to go a few times. It was much more low key than now with smaller stands and I remember people trying to locate friends in the car park by hoisting flags and silly things on poles.

The weather was also different during my childhood in Brum. We had winters – proper WINTERS, with lots of snow and icy cold weather. However even in our part of the city the snow turned grey soon after it fell since everyone was burning coal on their fires to heat their houses. Snow meant sledging; at home I used to make a run down the slope to the woods. But the best sledging was when Pam’s family went to the Lickey Hills and we joined them.

Grey snow was not a big problem but smog was something else. The word was coined at the beginning of the 20th century by combining parts of smoke and fog. It was usually yellow and revolting to breathe. I remember one time when I couldn’t see the end of my outstretched arm.

In 1956 I started boarding at school during the week. The idea was to gradually get me used to living away from home prior to starting at public school. It also meant that mother could work full time at CG without having to think about me during the week. I really enjoyed it; I had good friends and more time to play card games or chess or battleships.

A year or so later I became a termly boarder. This had both good and bad aspects. On the negative side we had to go to church on Sunday mornings. The service was before breakfast and involved a lot of incense which made me feel sick. I dreaded Sunday mornings.

On the positive side, in the evenings at weekends we often had a film show. The films were the comedy classics from around the 1920s – Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy plus my favourite, Harold Lloyd. With all the extra time at the weekends I read a lot. At that time a lot of WW2 memoires being published as paperbacks such as The Dambusters, The Wooden Horse and Naked Island. The school had a small library which included many and we all read them avidly – my top favourite genre at the time.

Now that I was getting older mother and I occasionally used to go into town with granny and grandpa for a meal out during the holidays. Despite Grandpa being very conservative one favourite was the second Chinese restaurant in Birmingham, the Kam Ling. It was excellent and gave me a taste for Chinese cuisine which I’ve never lost.

Around late ’56 or early ’57 I learnt that I had a sister, Helen, born in August 1956 and I started visiting my father and his family. They lived in a beautiful old farmhouse in Newtown Linford, a few miles from Cropston where he used to live with my mother. Peggy was charming and I was treated as if I were a regular member of the family. I remember thinking how tiny Helen was. My father was a season ticket holder at Leicester City and he took me to any matches that coincided with my visits.

At school my sister was a secret. As boys at that time we never talked about anything personal whether it was good or bad. While boarding I made another good friend, John Gibbins, whom I told about Helen. He confided in me that he had a sister who had died, something no-one else in the school knew.

In summer 1957 I passed the common entrance exam and was accepted by Charterhouse. It was, and still is, one of the best Public Schools in the country. (A “Public School” in the UK is actully private and then expensive, now very expensive.) I have no idea why my parents chose it, but Grandpa disapproved because it was a soccer school, not a rugby one. The school and my parents decided that it would be better for me to start in January, so I stayed at West House for one more term. My last report is below. Singing is still a lie.

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Rural Leicestershire had been a wonderful place to grow up as a young child and mother’s decision to Birmingham for the next stage of my childhood was undoubtably the correct one. Even when we moved to the Leasowes we were very near to my grandparents and not far from Pam and her family. I never felt the lack of a father and had a happy and fairly innocent childhood with lots of contact with family and friends. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at West House, particularly the last year or so when I was large fish in a small friendly pond.

Having passed the common entrance I was academically ready for the move, but had my life at home and school prepared me for public school?

 

 

 

 

Rhosneigr

Rhosneigr

Various earlier posts have mentioned Rhosneigr and Sea View, the house jointly owned by the Perry and Hill families. By 1952 they had started to have a 4 week annual holiday there and in that year we also went to Rhosneigr for the same 4 weeks. There was no room for us in Sea View so we stayed in a guest house about half a mile away called Bryn Maelog. It was owned and run by Miss Prys helped by Mair. Miss Prys looked exactly like the standard image of a Welsh Witch whereas Mair was younger, short, dark haired and very attractive. It was a combination made in heaven. The header photo, courtesy of Google earth shows the village and local coastline.

The runway at the top is RAF Valley and a feature of every holiday was Vampire, Meteor and later Hunter jets practising taking off and landing. The image was taken at high tide. At low tide the rocks just offshore  by the village can be reached by foot and the areas of lighter turquoise are exposed as sand. The bay to the south east is Broad Beach where we used to go bathing in rough weather. Most of the sailing was in the bay between the village and the long island to the West which is Starvation.

After a couple of years a holiday routine evolved. I started to get exited by the prospect weeks before we were due to go. Our annual holiday really was the highlightof my year, particularly from about 10 to my mid teens. A week or so before we were due to leave I collected and began to pack everything I would need: a small garden spade (much better that the holiday ones), swimming gear, books, games to play in evenings, my camera and, when I was older, I had to pack my own clothes. The day before leaving I attached the roof rack to our car, always a Morris Minor, and fixed my bicycle to the roof rack. We set off very early to try and avoid the heavy traffic on the A5 which was a slow, narrow winding road through the Welsh mountains.

Sea View copyMy routines and activities changed as I grew older, but some things never changed:

on most days we went to Sea View to join the Perry and Hill families, photo above.

we went cowry hunting on the rocks and beaches.

mother organised coastal walks, particularly on cold windy days

on most evenings we played games with other families at Bryn Maelog, two favourite games were Pitt and Contraband

we went swimming frequently, on one holiday I swam every day and didn’t have a single bath for a whole month. The rough seas after a storm were a particular favourite, photo below of a stormy sea by the rocks.

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When I was young my favourite activity was making waterworks on the beach as the tide was going out. I used to dam the streams of water that flowed back to the sea from rock pools, often creating a series of pools.

Most cowry hunting was done with other adults and some of the children from Sea View. We also used to go crabbing and sail boats on the bigger rock pools that emerged as the tide went further out. In 1956 Sea View organised a house Olympics which involved running and a lot of jumping around the garden, which had steps down to the beach.

Rhosneigr fish

We once went fishing in Llyn Maelog with moderate success. Most of the fish were Roach which taste like mud; I was lucky, catching a Perch  which tasted excellent. The photo above shows from left to right: Peter Hill, my Cousins Anne, Jen amd Mike Perry and finally Alan Hill.

Donald; Pam’s husband, and Harry Hill only stayed for the first 2 weeks, but they came up for the other weekends. They were very keen and good sailors. There were 3 dinghies that we regularly sailed: a slow clinker built boat with a gaff rig, a GP 14 and an Enterprise. The was also a beautiful 1920s clinker built racing dinghy, photo below. When we were young we used to go sailing as crew but as we grew older were allowed to go out without adults; Anne learnt to sail well and would sometimes take us out. I loved sailing and gradually became reasonably competent.

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Most of the time we stayed in and around Rhoneigr but there were also trips out to favourite places nearby including:

South Stack lighthouse

Malltraeth to collect cockles at low tide

Aberfrau to slide down the dunes on trays

Llanddwyn island

We went the village cinema if there was film on worth watching. It was primitive and a long film required 2 reel changes and once they showed the reels in the wrong order. I only remember one film – West Side Story; I was put next to Jen and told to take a stack of tissues, which were needed.

Being stuck out in the Irish Sea the weather was often windy but usually dry. The rain went over us a poured down on the Welsh mountains. The storms threw up all sorts of stuff on the beaches and when we were older and there was a lot of driftwood we used to organise a massive bonfires and BBQs in the dunes lasting late into the night. By we at this time I mean all the Perry and Hill children and any friends that they had staying plus me. As time went on we became largely independent of parents who did their own things.

Most of the storms passed over us and rained on the Welsh mountains. However on every holiday there were few days of heavy driving rain – indoor days. As well as playing games we sometimes did jig saw puzzles, usually at Brym Maelog. When I was on my own I often used to play patience, now generally called solitaire. Mother and taught me a nmber of versions which I used to play at home and school. My favourite was Miss Milligan a difficult 2 pack patience.

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We also went out to gather wild mushrooms and blackberries from the local lanes. Initially this involved adults but when Anne and then I could drive we sometimes went on our own. On a good trip there would be enough for the Sea View and Bryn Maelog, about 30 people. The photo above is mushroom peeling in the Sea View garden

As regulars at Bryn Maelog we got to know Gwen Prys and Mair very well and for the last few holidays mother and I would join them in the kitchen in the evenings and put the world to rights over cups of tea and coffee. They were of course totally bilingual, but Welsh was their first language, as it was and still is, for the vast majority of the population in North Wales. The photo below shows Gwen Prys next to mother with her nephew, Daio, behind her. Mair is sitting next to her and for some reason I’m wearing a silly embarasssing hat. It must have been just before we left since the car has my bike on the roof under a tarpaulin.

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Gwen Prys was a Welsh Nationalist and knew that Wales had been and still was being put down by the English government based in London. She was right and the same disregard for areas far away from the south east of England still applies. Yorkshire and the north of England, along with Scotland know that. After our last holiday in 1958 mother went on a number of holidays with Gwen Prys, including a trip round Ireland.

In 1960….

There were horrified gasps from everyone in the dining room except mother who was unflappable and used to the various things I got up to. I had just walked in, 20 minutes late for lunch, soaked from head to foot with a bleeding leg and blood elsewhere on my clothes from a few minor gashes.

 “Have a good wash, put on some plasters, get some dry clothes and then come down; Mair has saved your meal for you”. Which is exactly what I did.

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 It had started a week or so before when a group of us spotted some barrels washed up on the shore. The decision to use them to make a raft was unanimous, so we collected them in a couple of journeys and started construction on the beach outside Sea View, photo above. We then finished construction in the garden.  I can’t remember where we got the wooden planks and rope from, but I think that some items came from the back of the garage at Sea View and some from items washed up on the beach.

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We were often watched by the younger cousins who were not involved with the building, the photo above. When she was ready, we carried her down to the harbour and named her Kon Tiki, of course. At that time there could have been no other name. We the took turns sailing her in the harbour, photo below with me on board.

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I think that it was my idea to take her to the stream that ran into the bay close to RAF Valley. I seem to remember that a parent with a car helped get her to the stream a short distance from the sea. I was on board for the first (and as it happens also the last) trip downstream. All went well until the stream met the small waves of an incoming tide. The raft disintegrated and I ended up in a couple of feet of water surrounded by barrels, pieces of wood the sail and ropes.

The Leasowes 2

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When I was about 10 or 11 Wattie’s father took me along on a family camping trip to North Wales for a few days. It was a real adventure – the first time that I spent ay length of time away from family and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The second photo I have of Wattie was taken there, photo above. The young boy is his younger brother; their mother had died some years earlier. We camped in the Nant Ffrancon pass with LLyn Ogwen out of the photo on the right and the mountain is Tryfan.

From Autumn term 1954 to Summer term 1955 I was absent from school for 56 days – nearly an entire term in total. I had a number of ailments including colds, coughs and sore throats. The one I remember best was a series of styes – horrible painful boils which erupted on my eyelashes. Eventually I was diagnosed with tonsillitis and I had my tonsils removed sometime in the spring of 1955. I just remember feeling lonely with a very sore throat in a ward with boys of about my age.

Once discharged, I was given a real treat which was a week’s holiday in the south of France to recover somewhere warmer. Very exciting – my first time abroad and first plane flight; I remember watching everyone else eat a delicious dinner of duck while I was being sick due to turbulence! (There are huge lengths of time when I remember very little detail, yet I remember something as trivial as that. Memory is a strange thing and often not reliable, though that particular memory is accurate.) Back to the holiday – we went for a week with 2 friends of the family and rented an apartment in Cap d’Ail, just south of Monaco.

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I loved every moment – breakfast on the terrace in the sun, photo above, trips out to exciting restaurants, wonderful reading – The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell – and a local pebble beach. On some days we went there for a picnic lunch and I built cairns to keep the food and drink cool.

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Our trips out, all by the local train, were to Nice, Menton and my favourite, Monaco where I was intrigued by the expensive yachts. The biggest belonged to Sir Bernard Docker, a rich publicity seeking businessman with expensive Daimlers and an opulent and flashy lifestyle. He was constantly in the sort of papers which now feature the Kardashians and winners of  TV reality shows. Photos above and below are of the harbour, and even a yacht with a seaplane onboard. It was the first time that I had seen such wealth on show.

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At about this time mother started to work part time a CG. At last after 20 years she was using her pharmaceutical degree to earn some much needed money and it was also good for CG who needed to have a qualified pharmacist on the premises. She was often home before me but I had a key to let myself in if necessary.

I continued to see my father for meals and soon met his new wife, Peggy, whom I thought was very nice. I just accepted this new aspect of my life without questioning any of what had happened in the past.

Ar around this time:

The curtains on the window above our porch parted and 2 disapproving faces looked out as the lorry came slowly up our drive. It was old, clapped out, dirty and carrying a load of junk. The driver resembled a slightly younger version of the Steptoe father. He walked over to Mother and me; we shook hands and all looked at the pile of rusty metal in front of our garage, mostly old water pipes from a long forgotten greenhouse. After some haggling a price was agreed; he loaded all the scrap onto his lorry which sagged some more and then drove away. A week or so later I was the proud owner of a Penny Black.

 It all started with Corona bottles more than a year before the big final collection. I was keen to have some more pocket money and mother noticed that there were a lot of discarded empty Corona bottles around the garden. There was a deposit of tuppence on each bottle, worth about 10p at today’s value. The occupants of all the other flats agreed that I could collect any from their parts of the garden. Whenever I had collected a a bag full I took them to a local store to get back the deposit .I collected dozens around the house and then moved into the neglected area behind the house which still belonged to the previous owner. In addition to a few more bottles I found scrap metal and started collecting that as well. Eventually I came across the collapsed remains of the old greenhouse and somehow managed to drag the pipes up to our drive.

Middle Earth

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After moving in I started to explore the whole garden and the plot of overgrown land at the bottom and then I  found a way out into a world beyond there. I came out at the top of a slope; to the right there were playing fields but to the left the grassy slope went down to a wood.

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That wood became my world of adventure, and over the next few years I would go there to play – sometimes with friends – whittling sticks with penknives, and climbing trees. There was a stream running through the woods and taking a net and jam jars to find anything alive, I brought any tiny creatures back to the house to look at under my small microscope.

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What I didn’t know at the time was that these were the woods on which Tolkein based the Shire in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. His house was up the road, further out of town, at number 264. He lived to the South east of the area, while we lived to the north. The woods are now known as Moseley Bog – a much visited nature reserve now with boardwalks over the boggy areas which, of course, were not there in my day.

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The Google Earth image above shows Moseley bog as a large wooded area below a number of new houses. In 1967 the entire plot of the Leasowes, marked blue, was sold for development The house had not been very well built and a lot of expensive maintenance was needed so all the tenants accepted a very generous offer to sell.

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I went to the woods as part of a trip to Birmingham to photograph my old stamping ground and then went to Sarehole Mill, which is well worth the visit. From the staff and information there I learnt that from the eighteenth century until 1850 Moseley Bog had been a pond supplying the Mill. After the earth dam was breached it was left to go back to nature.

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I was playing there as a child about 105 years after it was a pond and my photos in this post were taken about another 60 years later. However it seemed to me to look much the same, apart from the boardwalks.

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The Leasowes 1

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The day arrived. After school I bought my bus ticket to College Road and watched as we passed the end of Billesley Lane. 2 stops later I got off and walked down Wake Green Road, past the Grammar School, and turned into the curving drive up to our front door. I had a new home.

The header photo is the Front of the Leasowes with mother’s first Morris Minor parked outside; the registration was OOF 968.The ground floor windows to the right of the door are the cloakroom, toilet, pantry and, last, breakfast / my room.

It was an eccentric flat, not least because it was on 4 levels and the grand living room contrasted with cramped servants quarters. The grounds were also odd. The plan below is from an old map and by the time we moved in the Lodge was a separate house with a small garden, the red area, and a new house had been built on the tennis court, the green area. The previous owner of the house retained area at the bottom of the plot, which was wild and totally overgrown, coloured blue on the plan. He was obviously a wheeler dealer because there were dumps of all sorts of things, mostly army surplus.

Leasowes plan

We always had breakfast in the maid’s sitting room, just off the kitchen. For the rest of the day it was my room where I kept and played with my toys. There was also a small desk where I could do my homework. The huge living room off the hall was a combined dining and sitting room where we would eat dinner and sit in the evenings, often playing cards, usually Bezique. Both rooms had fires in the winter and I was responsible for the logs for the living room fire. My bedroom was tiny, my mother’s and the spare room were both reasonably sized.

I was 9 or 10 when we moved. My love of reading continued and of course I played with the Trix railway frequently. The other toy that I really like was Minibrix, a precursor of Lego. You could construct houses and other buildings with small rubber bricks, either to their designs or creates new ones. I also started constructing Airfix planes. These were plastic kits, which were glued together and then painted. We still have the display cabinet in which I kept the finished models. I also did a small amount of marquetry; the image at th3 ens od this post is my one complete work from a kit. Jig Saws were a combined activity with Mother.

At around this time I started stamp collecting, an interest that continued through most of secondary school. I was given some stamps but most came from a postal bag which came roughly monthly. We traded stamps at school and I occasionally bought some from a shop in town. Soon I began to specialise in the Commonwealth, particularly Australia.

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These were all solitary activities. There were no children of my age in the locality so, as an only child, I became very self-sufficient. Of course friends from school would sometimes come round, particularly Wattie, photo above taken when he visited Rhosneigr. Our top favourite activities were climbing trees and war games; the nearest tree was a Horse Chestnut opposite our front door. Needless to say we didn’t respect any of the boundaries and the wild area at the bottom of the lawn was counted as our territory where there was another massive Horse Chestnut tree.

The war games involved small vehicles and guns which fired matches. Finally when various of these lead toys got broken I decided to melt them down and do some casting into sand. I got a really good fire going on some land at the back of the house, selected one of Mother’s saucepans, put in the scrap lead which melted nicely. My casting was not very impressive and Mother was distinctly unimpressed with the state of her saucepan.

Around this time I was given a Tri-Tactics, a 2 person board war game with pieces that moved around like chessmen. It became a great favourite and I played it whenever I could find an opponent.  I wrote this post just after Christmas just after returning from playing 3 different games with Abi, Caoimhe and Maebh, and last Sunday we had a 3 man games evening..

Shortly after moving Mother asked me to sit down next to her in the sitting room and said that she had something to tell me. It was the information that my father was living near to Leicester and that he would like to meet me. Since being told that he had gone to South Africa I had never thought about him; as far was I was concerned he didn’t exist. However I accepted this new information and arrangements for the first meeting were made.

We met on neutral ground at the Leofric Hotel in Coventry for a meal. I enjoyed the food but can’t remember the conversation. I think it was mainly about my life and I certainly didn’t learn very much about my father and his current life.

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West House School

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West House Preparatory School was a middle class, traditional and conservative school. Its objective was to get its pupils into a Public School (a fee paying boarding school) at the age of 13 or into King Edwards School, an excellent secondary day school in Birmingham. The image above is taken from their website and shows the original Georgian house and part of the extension.

The main subjects were Latin, English, History, Geography, Maths, Scripture and later French. There was also a carpentry shop and a small amount of time was spent on Art and Singing, more of which later. School was a surname only zone; obviously I got to know and use the first names of friends, but other boys were just referred to by their surname. The school uniform was a red blazer and cap with dark trousers, short for the first few years.

My mother kept all my reports (of course – she kept everything). Here is one from December 1953, my 2nd year.

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I was very surprised when I saw this report – 1st in Latin, which was so boring, and in Scripture which was mainly remembering facts from the Old Testament. Perhaps I was more conscientious than the rest of the class. Singing is a lie.

Like almost all schools we had a “House” system – Spartans, Trojans and Persians. This was a disappointment on Bonfire Night when the school put on an excellent firework display with boys cheering whenever a firework with their colour went up. There are many more Red (Trojans) and Green (Persians) fireworks than blue, my house colour.

On the positive side it was friendly school with no bullying and I made a number of friends who lived in South West Birmingham. We were able to cycle round to each other’s houses at weekends and during the holidays. The extra curricular facilities were good for that era with a large play area, sports fields, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

On the negative side the lessons were dull and uninspiring, apart from Maths. We learn facts, largely without context. English was dominated by grammar and spelling; the teacher was Miss Cotterill, who had taught my uncle John about 16 years earlier. History was kings, dates and facts. Languages were mainly translating and learning lists of words; I spent a lot of time translating Cotta’s valiant conflicts with the Belgians, but I learnt nothing about the Roman Empire.

The headmaster was D T Cary Field, who had taken part in the battle of Jutland in WW1. He taught maths and had created a system that allowed each pupil to progress at their own rate. His book explained a topic, gave worked examples and then set questions. On completing them you took your answers to him. If they were correct you moved on, if they were wrong he gave more guidance and you did more work till you has mastered that topic so you could move on. This method was interspersed with quickfire class quizzes on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

For the first few years we all used dip pens which were a improvement on the quills used in the 19th century. Just dipping tinto the ink well was a challenge – too little ink would result in running after a few lett dip again ers. Too much ink created blobs all over the paper. The standard nib was small and spiky resulting in scratchy writing. I soon discovered the Relief nib which was much better, image below.

Relief Nib

A good pen was necessary for the standard punishment – lines. These were administered in quantities of 25 for a very minor infringement to 100 or more for more serious or continuing misbehaviour. Typical examples would be:

I must do my homework on time

I must not talk in class

I must not play darts during games

At break times we played outside if we could, usually tag which involved chases all around the grounds. We also made paper darts of various shapes and sizes which we flew both indoors and outside. Our handkerchiefs were turned into parachutes by tying lengths of string to each corner and attaching the 4 ends to a small heavy object. Every winter there were enthusiastic snowball fights on a few days.

However I particularly liked the first half of the Autumn term. Firstly we played conkers and I was lucky because we had a massive horse chestnut tree outside the front door of the Leasowes. I used to soak them in vinegar, drill the hole through the middle and then dry them very slowly in the bottom oven of the range in our kitchen. Along with other experienced players we would marmalise the bright shiny soft conkers of the less experienced kids (I had been one once). They soon learnt!

Then there was the firework season. We all bought bangers, tuppenny ones rather than penny bangers if we had enough pocket money. We would then light them while holding them and throw them way before they went off. We were not totally irresponsible – we didn’t throw them at each other. Jumping jacks were another favourite; you lit them and threw them on the ground, preferably among a group of other boys. They then went off with a series of small explosions which made them jump around. When we went to Valencia in the late 1990s at the time of their Fallas Festival people were doing exactly the same thing.

The school regarded sport as important. I was a largely a disappointment, being a poor football player and at not much better at hockey. For sports lessons we had a system that 2 good players were chosen as captains of the 2 teams and they then took in turns to pick players. I was chosen towards the end, a player or 2 before the grossly overweight or virtually blind with pebble glasses.

I did slightly better at cricket due to a fluky top score in one match. On the basis of that I was picked for the Under X1 team, photo below; I am at the bottom right. We lost most of our matches and I never made the 1st team.

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I was much better at swimming in my last few years; it was the only sport that I really enjoyed.

The music teacher lined us up in 3 rows, another teacher played a tune on the piano and we were asked to start singing. The music teacher walked along the front row listening carefully as he passed each boy. He was happy with what he heard. He began walking along the middle row and stopped by me with a pained expression on his face; he spoke: “Off you go”.

 The alternative to the music and singing lessons was to join a small group of equally tone deaf boys in a classroom and do whatever we liked, provided we behaved ourselves and made no noise.

 Result!

 My chosen activity was to build a balsa wood model Hurricane from a kit; These kits were very popular at the time. The pieces had to be pressed out of lengths of the wood and glued together very carefully to make a skeleton of the plane. Thin strong paper was glued to the outside and this was “doped” to shrink it tight. A strong elastic band was fixed at the back of the fuselage and to the propeller at the front.

To power the plane the propeller was turned until the band couldn’t be tightened any more and the propeller was then released to spin as the elastic band unwound. I never managed to get it to take off but if the propeller was released as the plane was launched into the air it flew 20 or 30 yards.

Better than singing any day.

A new Life in Birmingham 2

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Life at Billesley Lane was good. School was not too demanding and I could cycle round to see school friends; even at the age of 9 or 10 I was given a lot of independence. My greatest friend was John Watson, always known as Wattie. He was highly intelligent and very eccentric, once climbing up a drainpipe onto a single storey roof during my birthday party. He devised a method of making tiny toy boats out of corks by cutting them in half and shaping one end as the bow. The keel and rudder was half a razor blade (yes – I was allowed to play with my grandfather’s old razor blades) and the mast was a match stick with a paper sail. We also made a few larger ones from balsa wood and raced each other’s boats on the pond, the header photo.

Grandpa taught me to play chess, though it was a long time before I could ever win a game. In the evenings all 4 of us sometimes played Canasta or a variation called Bolivia.

I was a keen reader and Granny used to take me to Birmingham library on a regular basis to change books. Favourites were the Just William series, Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven (strangely not the famous 5) and Biggles, an ace fighter pilot, who is probably now banned for his gung-ho racism. Biggles flew north, south, east and west (yes they were actual titles) and almost everywhere else. 100 plus titles and the wonderful 1930s covers can be seen at: http://www.biggles.info. Just don’t read the books! However the series that I liked the most was Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome; these I owned and re-read many times.

I loved Christmas. It was a big family affair with aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins of cousins (the Hill family) and various family friends. The gathering was at Puffy Granny’s. She was Donald’s (Pam’s husband) mother. The name originated when my cousin Anne wanted to differentiate between her 2 grandmothers and prefixed each one with the name of their cat; Granny was Bimble Granny.

Puffy Granny lived in a large house about half a mile away. The house had a billiard room and we sat around the table. Christmas lunch was vey traditional and after the meal we played games, usually Monopoly (a tip if you ever play – get ownership of the pink properties at the top of the left hand side, Bow St. Marlborough St. and Vine St. in the original UK version). The party went on till well past my bedtime and I was put to bed there. When Grandpa drove us home I was wrapped in blankets and carried out to the car, half asleep. The image below is a card that Grannny bought for me to colour in for my Mother from Zipper. This looks as if it was done when I was younger.

Birmingham had 2 theatres: the Hippodrome and the Rep, officially the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Every Christmas the Hippodrome put on a pantomime and the Rep put on a Christmas play. We went to the Rep every year. They were well known stories, often fairy tales written down by authors such as the Grimms or Hans Christian Anderson. I sat enthralled in the stalls inhaling the smell of grease paint and loving every moment, even when I was rather scared. As I grew older I used to fall in love with the young female lead! The one I remember best is The Tinderbox with the 3 dogs – each one bigger than the last and very scary.

My top Christmas present was a Trix model railway set. This made future presents very easy for the family – I always wanted more track, engines, rolling stock and extras. A successful birthday present was a bow, some arrows and a small target which my friends and I used this on the lawn. Another popular game in the summer with friends and cousins was French Cricket. (If you don’t know the rules, look it up on Wikipedia), I still have the scar by my eye from being hit by a bat when fielding too close.

It was probably around this time that I was given my first I-SPY BOOK, images from that time below, but sadly not mine. Over the next few years I tried to spot items and fill in the books, but I was never very keen and didn’t get any awards.

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By 1954 Pam’s family had grown to 4. Jennifer, my closest cousin, was born in November 1944, Michael was born in 1947 and Sheila in 1953. Jen sometimes came to stay in our house. On one of these occasions, which we knew about in advance, we planned a midnight feast. Over the previous few weeks I took and hid extra biscuits at tea time. On the night I stayed awake and took them into her room where we ate them in her bed amidst loud giggles. Needless to say, mother arrived on the scene very quickly!

1954 saw the beginning of big changes in my life in Birmingham. Sometime around the beginning of the year mother found a new home for us. It was flat in a large mid Victorian house about a mile from Billesley Lane. The address was:

Flat 1, The Leasowes, 170 Wake Green Road, Moseley, Birmingham 13.

She had made a brilliant and inspired choice. The house had been divided into 4 flats. There were 3 sensible ones,1 on the ground floor and 2 on the first floor. We had the left overs: half the wine cellar, the front hall, cloakroom and a huge living room, the kitchen, maids sitting room and servants bedrooms and bathroom plus an attic room. We also had the front garden, part of the big lawn and half the back yard.

The property had been neglected and a number of tree branches had blown down. So before we moved in I used to cycle round and saw them into logs that were stored in the cellar.

On November 16th 1954 my parents were formally and finally divorced, image of the decree below. Of course I knew nothing about this at the time. My world did not include a father and I didn’t need one; I had a father figure – Grandpa. I’m sure that he played a major role in the negotiating the settlement and together with my mother they drove a hard bargain, knowing that my father wanted to re-marry as soon as he could. The financial settlement was:

Monthy maintenance to my mother of £67, 6 shillings and 4 pence

Monthly maintenance for me up to the age of 16 of £8, 6 shillings and 8 pence.

This is a total of about £23,600 per annum in today’s money – a reasonable sum.

In addition he had to pay £150 annually to cover my school fees, equivalent to £3900 in today’s money. The current fees for Charterhouse, the public school I went to are 39,000 p.a.

The financial arrangements were changed later. I know that his maintenance went down to £20 per month, possibly when mother started to work. However he did pay all my education costs including university.

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A new Life in Birmingham 1

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In the summer of 1952 we moved to Birmingham to live with my grandparents until my mother found a house. I started at West House School, a Prep School in Edgbaston, which my uncle John had attended 16 years earlier. By this time my grandparents had moved about half a mile from 40 School Road to 40 Billesley Lane, photo above. It was a 5 bedroom, stockbroker tudor house with a good sized garden, which included a pond. (Hoorah: water to play with outside the French windows!) The pond had newts and when it had to be drained I was given the job of capturing them in a bucket and later putting them back. In September mother took me to Polyfoto, full set of images below.

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That part of Moseley was a very genteel and thoroughly middle class suburb with big houses, large gardens and quiet roads; our house was just over half a mile to the centre of Moseley village which had a good range of shops including an old fashioned toyshop – my favourite of course. Moseley is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is one of many villages that were swallowed up by the rapid expansion of Birmingham during the 19th century. It has an attractive old church where Pam was married. Photos below of my grandmother taken at around this time and my grandfather on a Broads holiday.

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There was a daily routine in the house. We all breakfasted together and then my mother drove me to school and Grandpa drove to work at CG; he was 65 but showed no inclination to give up any responsibilities, let alone retire. I returned home by bus, usually in time for afternoon tea – small sandwiches and a slice if cake; sometimes one or more of Granny’s friends joined us. On his way home my grandfather called in at the “Fighting Cocks” for a couple of halves of mild, 2 images of the pub below. Dinner was at 7:15 – not 7:10, not 7:20. If the meal arrived late (a very rare occurrence) grandpa drummed his fingers on the table. I went to bed straight after the meal, which wasn’t a good idea since I often had scary black and white rectangular dreams – presumably because I hadn’t digested my food.

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As an aside, during a holiday in France Jonet and I went to a small village restaurant for Sunday lunch. It was almost full, with just a table for 2 for us. There was large French family there with Grandpa sitting at the head of the table. The service was painfully slow (the owner told us that he had laid off one member of staff because recent trade had been low and another person had rung in sick). As we all waited….. and waited, Grandpa did exactly the same thing – drumming his fingers on the table. When the food eventually arrived it was excellent and delivered by Jonet who went to help out.

Granny looked after the house with help from a part time cleaner and a part time cook, though she was good traditional cook herself. She regularly made the best roast potatoes ever and the recipe for Lemon Pudding that Jonet still uses was hers and could date back to even earlier.

She never had a job but she did voluntary work as a Hospital Librarian, photo below of her certificate. She was also a “Lady who Lunched” and I sometimes accompanied her during school holidays. The lunches were at the houses of her friends and occasionally in Birmingham with The Baroness – a splendid large lady with an equally large hat and a foreign accent. I never found out about where she came from, but she was probably displaced during the upheavals of the 1930s and the war.

Grandpa looked after the garden and particularly the vegetable patch; he was an excellent gardener. The crops I remember most vividly are his runner beans and raspberries, which are 2 of the most important crops in our garden 65 years on. He had a gardener, Mr Pacey – an albino – who did the lawn and flower beds.

My mother also didn’t have a job at this time and she also worked as a volunteer librarian in the hospital and Winson Green Prison.

When we first arrived there were 5 cats in the house, my grandparents 4 and Zipper. The oldest was Smokey a female Persian who died soon after we arrived. The second was a black female whose name was the N word – a very common name for cats and dogs at that time; I wasn’t aware of the racial aspect of the word and just accepted that was her name. Then came Buttons – a nondescript timid female who had litters of beautiful kittens including Zipper and Ike who was named after the American president Eisenhower. Ike was a big friendly male who was not that bright – just gorgeous. Surprisingly all the cats got on very well. My Grandfather liked cats. Cats liked my Grandfather. 2 photos below from my first film taken with a Box Brownie, a prized present:  my mother with Zipper and me in the Garden taken by Granny.

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There were 2 significant events in 1953. My uncle John married Pat Savage. He was training as a doctor at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford after graduating from Magdalen College. She was nurse in the hospital.

And…..

June 2 1953

 “You have been in there quite long enough; its time to come back and watch the procession”.

 It was my mother and I was in the garage because it was pouring with rain outside. The date was my 9th birthday. “ I don’t want to; it’s boring; I want to ride my new bicycle”. (even if it was just round the garage!)

 “ You’ve had quite enough of that and you are coming with me”. No options, it was not negotiable – no one negotiated with my mother. I was frogmarched back to the sitting room to watch a small screen of blurry moving pictures in varying shades of grey. (It is a myth that televisions in the 1950s were black and white; true they were monochrome, but it was light grey to dark grey). I re-joined a small group of friends of my grandparents, all of whom were all born in the 19th century; most of the men were called Howard; some of the women were called Doris.

 The middle class world in 1953 was divided into those who had a television or bought one to watch the coronation and those who went round to friends or relatives if they wanted to watch it. We had the television, and the whole of the country wanted to watch the coronation except me; I had a new bicycle.

 When I first learnt that the queen had chosen my birthday for her coronation I was excited, but not nearly as much as I was by my present. That morning I had been told to have a look in the garage, and there it was – a new blue Raleigh with gears and proper pump up tyres. At last I didn’t have to ride a bike with solid tyres that was far too small for me.

Breakfast, lunch and especially the coronation were all 2nd best that day, and with good reason. Over the next 6 or 7 years, that bicycle was my lifeline to the world of south Birmingham.