Archive for the ‘Family’ Category
There was a time when owning a motor car was like being part of an unofficial club. Drivers would look out for each other, stopping to help when the new and unreliable form of transport broke down or just to give directions in the days when directional signs were far less frequent. As the numbers of motorists grew the camaraderie faded and it become an everyone for themselves attitude. Motorcyclist tended to retain the club attitude and three-wheel drivers even acknowledged each other with a raised hand as they passed.
Helping motorcyclists and three wheeler drivers was an ingrained habit for my father. When ever we passed someone stopped at the side of the road he would stop to see if he could offer any help. Carrying a significant supply of tools and spare parts was the norm and many a time he managed to get some poor motorcyclist going again, or at least give them a lift to the next town so they could summon help. His good Samaritan act was not without its consequences however; travelling to his brothers wedding we passed a lone motorcyclist stopped at the side of the road who obviously had a problem as his chain lay in several bits on the road.
Dad proceeded to unpack his tool kit to locate the chain splitter and some spare chain links of the right size. After about an hour he had managed to get the chain repaired and refitted to the bike much to the surprise of the driver who was far from mechanically minded. My mother was furious at this act of kindness, not just because we arrived late but because my father’s wedding suit was now rather creased and covered with strategically placed highlights of grease. His brothers and sisters thought the whole episode was hilarious and typical of my father’s attitude to life.
I love fireworks, its a love created by my father who, in the 1950s and 60s used to bring home display sized monsters to let off in our small back garden. His relaxed approach to these dangerous devices was extraordinary, those that were supposed to be pushed in the ground would be held in his hand only protected by his motorcycle gloves. When Catherine wheels would not spin he flicked them with a finger to get them going. This attitude rubbed off on me and I started to experiment with pyrotechnics by modifying fireworks and taking them apart to see how they worked. By great fortune I never suffered any injuries other than very minor burns, although I did see one friend get badly injured when a banger went off in his hand.
The penny and two penny bangers were very versatile items, I used to make mini rockets by fixing a cocktail stick to the fuse part of a banger and fill matchboxes with the black powder extracted from body of bangers. I did try to make a small cannon with a short length of thick brass pipe and a ball bearing but could never get the black powder to really explode as the firing hole was too big. I then tried using the red heads of Swan Vesta matches as these would ignite simply by being hit very hard. I soaked the matches in water to remove the red heads which were dried on a rubber sheet.
The substance was carefully put into the brass tube followed by the ball bearing. A short nail was placed in the firing hole and then struck by a hammer. To save the ball bearing I aimed the device into a metal watering can. When I hit the nail there was a loud bang and the ball bearing shot straight through the bottom of the watering can and buried itself deep in the woodwork of the garden shed. Shocked at the power of the cannon the device was quickly disassembled and never used again.
Living in a post war housing estate we were surrounded by countryside including the ancient woodland of Epping Forest. A regular Sunday afternoon activity was to take the bus from the end of the road to Loughton and then head off to the Great Monk Wood. We would probably walk six to eight miles through the forest, hiding among the trees, searching for mushrooms and looking out for the Lion that was rumoured to inhabit the depths of the forest.
In the autumn the floor of the forest would be covered with a deep blanket of leaves. Running through them, kicking them high in the air and rolling around in the crisp golden leaves was exhilarating. Unfortunately, the forest floor is also full of hollows that fill with water and stagnate as the covering of leaves slowly rots. After a windy day has brought down a fresh covering of autumn leaves these hollows become camouflaged.
On more than one occasion someone’s shoe would disappear into the black squidgy mud causing much hilarity to those of us who had been fortunate to miss the miasmatic trap. Being the most energetic and inquisitive of the family I fell victim several times, but once disappeared up to my waist in a particularly deep hollow. Although I was only seven or eight at the time, on the way home, I was made to stand on the open platform at the back of the old Route Master bus so the passengers did not have to suffer the putrid stench from my now wet and ruined trousers.
I was just over a year old at the time of the smog of 52, so it does not reside in my memory. However there were further smogs in the years before the clean air act of 1956 started to have an effect. I can remember being sent home from school early because of the very poor visibility, perhaps less than a few feet on occasions. The smell of sulphur hung in the air for days, even when the smog wasn’t too thick.
The freezing night temperatures would leave a glaze of ice over the roads and pavements providing wonderful opportunities for sliding long distances. With the smog obscuring all objects, sliding into the unknown had an added danger. Inevitably I hit a strip of tar that was devoid of ice and was sent head over heels down the hill hitting my head on the pavement. I may have even knocked myself out momentarily as all I remember is being helped home by my school friends and left at the back door with a very large bump growing from my forehead.
It was one of the many occasions I caused my mother grief, either by coming wet and covered in mud from playing in the river; tearing my clothes climbing trees; scrapping my shoes by using them as breaks on my cart or board and skate, or scrapping the skin from my knuckles racing toy cars across the playground. My mother put up with a lot, but was never anything by fair and brilliant when we were ill or injured.
For most of my childhood our family transport was a motorbike and sidecar. My father was a motorbike enthusiast and spent many hours tinkering with the engine, the garden shed contained a treasure trove of motorcycle bits, most kept just in case they may be needed, its a philosophy I continue to follow.
Being the younger of two brothers, I had to wait until my sibling chose not to travel with us to family gatherings or on days out before the privilege and thrill of being a pillion passenger came my way. Being allowed to sit behind my father while wearing a small white crash helmet and an oversized trench coat from the army surplus store was one of those moments when I felt grown-up.
Up until then I generally rode in the back of the sidecar, first behind my brother and then when he was old enough to be allowed on the back of the motorbike behind my mother. Riding in the back of the sidecar was never the most comfortable of places to be. The foot well was always full of tools and spare parts to keep the bike going however serious the breakdown. Inner-tubes, clutch and break cables, spark plugs, points, leads, light bulbs, even major engine parts were stored in several ex-ammunition boxes.
I am pleased to see the growth in cinema audiences has continued over the past few years. Saturday morning pictures at the Century Cinema were a regular feature of our weekends during the late 1950s and early 1960s. There was a regular cartoon spot, a serial such as Hop-along Cassidy, quizzes and a feature presentation.
On the way out the ushers would stand in the middle of the exit handing out packets of bubblegum. it you were very quick you could fight your way back through the crowd to collect a second packet. During my early teens a Friday or Saturday evening at the pictures also provided an opportunity to get close-up to a girl who, with luck, might respond to your advances. The film was purely incidental unless you had managed to get into an X rated film. The aim was to get a good snogg in the back row.
This always won a lot of respect from your hormone-fuelled male friends. Getting to fondle some of the softer parts of the female anatomy would put you at the top of the league. When they were much younger I had the pleasure of encouraging my grandchildren to go to the flicks to give me a valid reason to see the latest films of a more juvenile nature. Fortunately many of them make allowances for the older audience by including obtuse comical references to more adult matters. My only regret is way the multiplex cinemas only tend to screen mainstream films and ignore many of the high quality films, particularly from aboard.
I must have been about nine or ten when I first bought my mother a birthday present, using my own pocket money and without the help of someone else. I had latched onto her preference for 30 denier stockings, so trotted off to a dress shop on the Broadway with one aim in mind.
The lady shop assistant seemed very impressed at my knowledge of women’s hosiery and offered a selection of colours that left me rather confused. I chose a mid brown that looked similar to the ones that hung on the washing line in the back garden and headed off home with the gift-wrapped package.
Handing over the present to my mother and seeing the pleasure it gave I discovered how much satisfaction could be gained from the act of giving. There are occasions when I have to be restrained from over indulging my grand children, particularly at birthdays and Christmas.
My mother was a consummate pastry maker and pudding cook. A meal is not complete without a pudding, and memories of steamed syrup sponge, jam roly-poly and apple dumpling made with suet crust pastry remain as strong as ever.
My favourite is Sussex Pond Pudding, simple to make but totally delicious. A greased bowl is lined with suet pastry, filled with brown sugar and a whole lemon and topped with a pastry lid. As it cooks in the steamer the lemon bursts and spreads lemon juice all over the inside of the pastry case. When you cut into the pudding, the mixture of brown sugar and lemon juice runs our and the pastry is crisp on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. Wonderful. In fact I think its time for a little pudding love.
On my 16th birthday I started riding a BSA M20 motorcycle and sidecar. I barely had the weight to kick-start the 500cc single cylinder engine and barely had the strength to manoeuvre the vehicle at slow speed. However, in 1967 the roads were less crowded and the traffic less frenetic. I was also very keen to get out on the road.
I had been given the combo 2 years earlier by my father. He bought it for the sidecar having wrecked his own in an accident. I spent two years stripping down the engine, cleaning, polishing and fitting a large wooden packing case in place of the missing sidecar. I was the first schoolboy to proudly ride to school on a motorbike to the envy of everyone else.
It was short lived, I was first banned from the teacher’s car park and then banned from driving to school altogether. Too disrupting to the rest of the school, particularly when I tried to give a significant number of friends a lift home, all at the same time, and broke down in the school drive.
Booking a holiday today is like scanning through my school geography syllabus. Almost anywhere in the world can be found in a holiday brochure. Until recently, going abroad for you annual holiday was the norm, the UK was kept for second holidays or weekend breaks. We have travelled around the world both following the tourist trail and visiting more out of the way places.
However, my fondest memories is of family holidays camping by Sandy Bay near Exmouth. The whole of my father’s family would descend on the bay for a week in the sun, or rain, it never seemed to matter then. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins would congregate on the beach for games of cricket and build huge sand castles. We would gather around a brazier while the men drank bottles of beer and the women prepared the evening meal.
Before the sun rose in the morning I would join my uncles to forage for field mushrooms on the adjoining army firing range before the red flag went up. We never worried about the rain, even when a torrential down pour swept several tents down the grassy slope to the muddy patch by the hedgerow. It was the collective experience that was important. It was the bonds of family that kept us safe. These holidays were the golden days of my youth, treasured memories that live on in faded photographs and old glass slides.