2 May 2020

There are places I'll remember....

In My Life.....

Snelling's Haulage Yard, Copthorne, Spring 1959

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall 
Some are dead, and some are living 
In my life, I've loved them all

Edgington, 1951 - what wheels!

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new

A Ladies' Man, 1951

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I'll love you more

Tiddles, 30 Farlington Avenue, Autumn 1954

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I'll love you more

Bros, Farlington Ave, Portsmouth, 1954

In my life I'll love you more

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

One of the things I had on my list to do, before we were told to lock ourselves up and throw away the key, was to go through the archives of photos and letters etc that hold sensory signposts into the 'good' 'old' days.  So now I have time to review some of the pictures in my mother's albums which take me back to another world and recall places and people I love.....

It was a world of black and white, evidently.  I took none of these pictures, and cannot verify their veracity.....  I once claimed to my mother-in-law that mine was the first generation to grow up with a comprehensive photographic record.  This didn't go down well with Dorothy, but because I held on to the concept of cheap cameras etc I still thought I was right.

Now I look back at the pictures of my grandparents and their parents, and of Dorothy and Bernard, I realise my arrogance.

But, more concerning, perhaps, is to contemplate what my children's generation are going to think when it comes to fifty+ years from now.  They will have to interrogate millions of selfies and Facebook posts and billions of pixels to piece together a taste of their youth.

So....  Every silver nitrate lining has a cloud?


My first few steps were taken in a flat in the High Street of Old Portsmouth.  I remember looking out from the flat roof, where mum hung out the washing, seeing warships steaming in and out of the harbour.  Among these were three Russian Destroyers.  Subsequently mum took me and my big brother down for a look around - I remember a sailor chatting mum up and her laughter.  Possibly at the same time that Commander Buster Crab was losing his head in the murky waters beneath the hull.

We lived on the second or third floor, so mum had to park my deluxe perambulator in the stairwell and clamber up the wooden hill with me on her hip.  That summer we went to see her mum, at Edgington, her house at Cripps Corner, on the B2089 near Robertsbridge in East Sussex.  We must have gone there a few times before Grannie died in 1954, and I remember the house and garden well, with particularly vivid images of her two spaniels, her Bakelite telephone on the hall table where she also kept a set of Halma pawns which we played with in the evenings.

Just up the lane, opposite an orchard, lived her friend, Carew, whose house had a wheeled pump for water outside the backdoor. In the field at the back she kept a donkey, a Gypsy Caravan, and an old railway carriage in which resided Aunt Pil, of whom I remember her green eyeshade....

Edgington, 1951

From Portsmouth High Street  we moved up to 30 Farlington Avenue, Drayton, where we had a house, a garage and a garden.

30 Farlington Avenue, 1954

Mum must have taken this picture of Simon getting some kind of telling off.  A few minutes later, I guess, dad took this picture, Simon still chastened....

30 Farlington Avenue, 1954

I remember the place with much affection.  Not really the inside of the house, but the green corrugated iron roof of the coal store, and the recreation ground out the back (which is still there).  I went to my first school across that ground, and in spring and summer we would walk up it to Portsdown Hill and Fort Purbrook and Farlington Redoubt. I remember the poppies and the cornflowers, and Small Blue butterflies.  I loved the grass and the air, and a sense of freedom that faded as we returned home.

I remember starting school, first with Miss Williams, and then Solent Road infants, where as a result of a minor misdemeanour (itself the result of the coercion by a Nelson Munt type) a teacher made me sit inside the classroom and chalk out the numbers from 1 to 100 on a small board while the rest of the school ran round and round screaming in delight.  I remember the dining room, where a  foot once tripped me and sent me crashing to the floor with my peas and mash, the floor and skirting dusty with splinters. I remember walking Shirley, from the year above, to her home, mother concerned by my lateness.

I remember shopping with mum, at the butchers on Havant Road, with her ration book, and sawdust on the floor.  I remember the Rectory at the top of the hill, where I went to a birthday party and saw conjuring tricks.  Many years later I was to work with  Liz, in Rome, and even later to buy paintings from her brother, John Booth, who was Art Master at Eton....

One evening, at bath time, there was a strange chortling noise outside in the street.  Mum became excited and we were allowed to look  through the bathroom window. Dad had brought home Aggie - his first car: a splendid Armstrong Siddeley, running boards, green leather seats, walnut dashboard, and a tendency for the radiator to boil when going up hill.  It was probably a 1932 HP Saloon model, but I'm afraid her big end went long ago.....

Dad hooked the car up to a camping trailer and we rumbled down to Dorset for a summer holiday, on a site near Corfe Castle.  It wasn't unlike the kind of rough camp that wagon trains made in the movies, which could explain my life-long love of westerns.... Dad as John Wayne; me as Chill Wills perhaps?

Camping at Corfe, 1955
By the way, note the snake belt - very fashionable!

The bathroom was rudimentary.... But the experience was a stirling introduction to a simple life outdoors, and the Isle of Purbeck is still one of my favourite places....

Bathtime at Corfe, 1955

Dad had been to Worth Matravers as part of his RAF service - Radar it was.  So he took us back.  Without the camping gear, we stayed in Gulliver's Cottage, hard by the duck pond (and a short walk to the Square and Compass - and a long walk back)....

Worth Matravers, with Jamie Gough, 1957

The village was to be our holiday destination for several years and is deeply etched on my heart. We made friends there, and as a teenager I went back with Roy and Joe, and then, much later, with Amanda and our own girls.

After Gulliver's, we rented Sunnyside, at the head of the path down to Winspit. Here Tim joined us later in the fifties....

Sunnyside, Worth Matravers, 1959
Wot larks!

We would spend days at Studland, where the Commandoes were still practising with their landing craft while we were playing, swimming - and shivering....

Studland Bay, with the Reid children, 1955

Studland Bay, 1959

And at Kimmeridge, fishing for crabs with limpets for bait.... I should have capitalised on the smell of rotting rock, but wasn't into oil at the time....

Kimmeridge, 1958

As an Easter treat, in 1958, we went to Gloucestershire, and stayed in Woodbine Cottage, in the hamlet of Edge. 

Woodbine Cottage, Edge, 1958

I loved this place too, surrounded by green countryside, lanes with high banks, and hedged fields.  It sticks in my mind, especially perhaps, because the chimney caught fire, and dad tried to starve it with a board as scorching embers fell back before the heavy suited firemen arrived.  

From there we visited the Severn Wildfowl Trust, now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, at Slimbridge, which Peter Scott had founded in 1946, at his home.

Nene (Hawaiian) Geese, Slimbridge, 1958

I have returned many times  to Slimbridge; I  think I owe my interest in birds to Peter Scott....

In the meantime, we had moved from Portsmouth to Northchurch, in Hertfordshire, where dad grew up.  His father was headmaster of the Village School and choirmaster and organist at the Parish Church.  We lived in Crowstone, a house with gardens back and front, and Mrs Ayers next door with chickens.  The house belonged, somehow, to my grandmother, and was a great place for kids.

Crowstone, Northchurch, 1958
Note long trouser and no chain guard

Simon and I used to ride our bikes down the lane opposite to the Grand Union Canal at Dudswell.  The Phillips family with 24 children, lived at a the farm there, and for some reason we had an antipathy to this tribe.  Perhaps they called at us as we rode by, perhaps they didn't have 24 bikes....?  Anyway, one time we decided to raid their yard, and rode in, daring them to react.  Simon, and I believe another friend, made good their getaway, but in my haste I trapped my right trouser cuff in the chain of my bike and became immobilised and terrified in the gateway.  I nearly wet myself as members of the extended Phillips family approached.  I remained petrified as they tended gently to me, helping me to release the oiled trouser from the cog, and encouraging me peacefully on my way.

Ten or more years later I stacked shelves in Sainsbury's in Berkhamsted, where Donald, one of the sons, was a butcher.  We got on famously.....

One other place that sits firmly in my memory is 10, St Ann's Road, Holland Park, London,  where mum's sister, Eve, lived with her husband Wilfred, and eventually several of my cousins.  

10, St Ann's Road, Holland Park, 1958

It's gentrified now, and the row of houses are smart and clean, but I have an abiding memory of the basement which used to flood after heavy rains.  I remember the dirty brown waters gurgling around the floor as we lifted rugs and furniture to avoid the worst.

Apart from that, it was the home of Tansy, my aunt's little dog, with whom we would play in the back garden while the grown-ups talked.

Another place that is engraved on my memory  is Copthorne, in Sussex.  Dad's parents, our Grannie and Grandad, had retired there, to Dunster, a red brick house with a detached garage for Grandad's maroon Standard 8 with a wind up windscreen.

Road testing a Dennis, Snelling's Haulage, Copthorne, 1959
(Or was it a Commer?)

Grannie was a Snelling, and almost everyone around was a relative. We took the train there (to Three Bridges or Horsham); later we steamed there in Aggie, stopping occasionally for me to be sick, while dad sang Green and Yellow Ones....

The Snelling family, Uncles Arthur and Harold, ran a haulage firm, supplying provisions to local farmers, who included several great aunts and uncles, and picking up milk in great sloshing churns.  Simon and I ran shotgun with the drivers on occasions, and in the meantime made dens out of sacks of pig and calf breeder nuts (sampling the produce when peckish).  It was heaven for boys in boiler suits and we would speed about in our imaginations in the lorries that didn't go....

At the end of the fifties, I suppose I began to feel different.  I had my own snake belt, Elvis was in all our minds, and, in 1960, Uncle Robert, mum's older brother, got married to Adrienne.  Somehow things were changing, and somehow they would never be the same again.....

At the beginning of mum's albums, she placed a cutting, probably with her first born in mind.

Hope springs eternal.....

By 1960 we had moved to Number 2 Boxwell Road, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. I believe this move was also funded by Grannie Gibbs, but can't be sure.  Dad was a teacher, and mum was a housewife, so otherwise how could we afford a large house in a desirable town?

By curious coincidence, this was the house where dad had gone to school in ages past.  Mr and Mrs Popple had held their academy in the schoolroom at the back, which now became our playroom.  

But so, while Harold Macmillan struggled with the fallout of the 1957 'flu' epidemic (in which some 30,000 Britons died - when the population was 51,495,702) and as we struggled back from the Court cinema at night holding hands because we simply could not see each other in the smog, we grew and grew, and life unfolded.

Here are my brothers and me, in the garden of 2 Boxwell Road (with the Carter's house behind us) in Autumn 1960, looking back, looking inward, and looking forward.  I believe we may have been photographed by a Chemistry teacher, who later ended his own life with poison, but at this time held a Rolleiflex twin lens camera and caused my big bro to laugh....

2 Boxwell Road, Berkhamsted, Herts, Autumn 1960
(Note the snake belt)

Where had the fifties gone?  How can time slip so fluidly through our fingers?  The black and white, the innocence of childhood, the period of selfless and selfish love, was ebbing away, and fast. Tim, my 'little' bro, remembers this photo shoot and remembers envying my snake belt.  

But time will, eventually, heal all.....

Off I go...  Next stop, oblivion!

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall 
Some are dead, and some are living 
In my life, I've loved them all

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

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