Friday, 31 October 2008


He had come too far. He realized that as the car spluttered to a halt and the petrol gauge registered on empty.
Cursing, he banged both his hands down on the steering wheel in frustration.
He’d passed a petrol station some thirty miles back along the road, but it had been closed. Hoping to find another garage, he’d driven on through the night. Now this!
He glanced towards the dashboard. Looking firstly at the petrol gauge, and then at the clock glowing with an eerie green light. 1.30am.
Opening the car door he put the handbrake on and then stepped out into a dark country lane, unlit, apart from the headlights of his car.
He’d be damned if he were going to sit here all night waiting for a friendly, passing motorist. He knew he’d have to walk to find some signs of life and obtain assistance.
Reaching into the car, he switched off the lights and fumbled about in the glove compartment for the torch, which he slipped into his jacket pocket. Locking the car he started to walk into the cold October night, which quickly enveloped him like a thick, dark, blanket.
He walked on for what seemed like miles listening to the rhythmic tread of his feet on the rough surface of the road, interspersed with the occasional rustling sounds from the undergrowth. Somewhere in the dark distance came the lonely hooting of a night owl.
James smiled to himself. All he needed now was a storm, and an eerie country house with its lugubrious housekeeper, and he could be right in the middle of a 1930’s black and white horror movie.
James reached a bend in the road, and to his delight, as he rounded it he saw nearby house lights. “Let’s hope they haven’t all gone to bed,” he thought. What he wouldn’t give for a hot drink and a comfortable chair. If he ever fancied “doing” the London Marathon, he’d certainly gone right off the idea now.
As he reached the house, which was indeed a large country residence, he saw that although the curtains were drawn across the windows, there appeared to be someone moving about in the room. Walking up to the front door he lifted the large knocker and let it fall back heavily.
He waited, straining his ears for sounds of life. He wasn’t disappointed; someone was unlocking the heavy wooden entrance door.
It opened slowly, inch by inch. James gasped in horror as his eyes fell upon the apparition waiting there. A white-faced spectre stood before him. Long grey hair tumbling in a tangled mess about its shoulders. From a gaping wound in its throat dripped scarlet blood.
James screamed silently and fell to the floor in a faint.
When he came to he was half sitting, half lying on a settee. Around him were a group of people. Well not exactly people. There were two witches, a monster with a plastic bolt through his neck, two mummies bound in bandages, a skeleton and the spectre from the front door, who was pressing a glass of water to James’ lips.
“Sorry we gave you such a fright mate, we thought you were a belated party guest”.
As he passed out yet again, James’ eyes fell on a poster above the fireplace. It was decorated with spiders and bats, and read “HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2008”

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Ruth, her back pressed against the wall and her arms spread-eagled on the wallpaper behind her, slowly and fearfully crept up the stairs. This should have been a tranquil and restful weekend, but it had turned out to be just the opposite.
She’d spotted the weekend cottage as she drove through the village a couple of months ago, and decided then and there that it would be the ideal place to chill out for a couple of days, when her current freelance job came to an end. She duly popped into the local estate agent and, leaving a small deposit, secured the accommodation. And now, here she was. In the afternoon sunlight the exterior of Clematis Cottage (for that was its name) certainly had a rural charm of its own and, once inside, Ruth hugged herself as she felt the comfy feeling of the lounge envelop her. On the red quarry stone floor lay a large, sumptuous rug, and Ruth, kicking off her city shoes, felt her feet sink into the pile. She wriggled her toes sensuously as she gazed around the room. Mounted on the wall above the fireplace, was a bronze shield, crossed with two long swords and, in the alcove next to the fireplace was a goodly-stocked bookcase. The window overlooking the garden had before it a magnificent recessed windowsill, which held a couple of pewter pots, a jug containing freshly picked wild flowers, and a bowl of delicious-looking red apples. This is the life, thought Ruth, as she flopped into the inviting arms of the big soft armchair.
Later that evening, after consuming a tasty supper of crusty bread, French cheese and half a bottle of red wine, Ruth decided to spend her last couple of hours before bedtime skimming through the books on the shelves. She thought she might choose one to take down to the lakeside on an exploratory walk next day. Her eyes rested on a book bound in rich brown leather, bearing the title ‘The History of Clematis Cottage’. She sat in the big armchair, engrossed in what she was reading, not able to tear her eyes from its pages or put the volume down.
The cottage was very old and had been in the Armitage family for generations. Ruth glanced at the shield above the fireplace and back at the book. The same coat of arms! The tome was mostly a reference book. It listed builders and architects, family trees and military records of the Armitage family. Ruth was fascinated and wished that the volume would tell her more about the private lives of the various owners. She closed the cover and reached up to replace the book on the shelf. As she did so, she saw two yellowed newspaper clippings that had obviously slipped from between the pages of the history book.
The first one bore the headline NANNY MURDERS CHILD IN HER CARE. It went on to tell how the nanny to the Armitage son and heir, who was being sent away to boarding school, was unable to bear being parted from her charge. She had gone into his room that night, tucked the blankets around his chin, in her usual manner, then placed a pillow over the child’s face and held it there until he was dead. Filled with remorse, she left a letter of confession and made her way, clutching the boy’s blue dressing gown, to the lake in the grounds, where she drowned herself. Reading the old news clipping was chilling enough, but it was the second cutting that ruined Ruth’s evening!
The other extract was from an article in the local weekly rag. It stated that although Clematis cottage looked like a dream home, it was in fact more like a nightmare home! Several people had reported strange occurrences and none of the local people would set foot in the cottage, let alone live there. There had been sightings of the nanny, and sounds of childish laughter. It was also reported that the child’s mother, unable to face life without her only child, and wracked with grief, had also killed herself.
Ruth’s trembling fingers dropped the pieces of paper on the floor. She suddenly felt very cold and frightened. ‘Pull yourself together’ she thought. ‘It’s only romantic nonsense’. She turned towards the stairs.
It was then that Ruth looked through the window into the night. She felt sure she’d seen a murky shape cross in front of the window. In a state of great panic and fear, she rushed towards the stairs trying to put as much distance as she could, between her and the thing in the garden. She mounted the first two stairs and looked back to check that she was still alone. Turning towards the bottom of the stairs she felt an icy trickle of fear run down her spine. There, draped over the end of the banister rail was a child’s blue dressing gown.
Not knowing which way to go, she edged, slowly and fearfully, up the stairs.
On reaching the bedroom she flung herself fully-clothed onto the bed and pulling up the quilt, closed her eyes tightly. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she heard nothing. She only felt. The quilt was being tucked oh! So gently, around her chin. Her heart stopped beating as she felt the pillow being slowly withdrawn from beneath her head.

Saturday, 25 October 2008



Left-hand small, dainty and feminine, slightly trembling
Thin golden band slowly placed on wedding finger
Strong masculine hand gently lifting smooth white fingers to bridegroom’s lips
There, to softly place a kiss


These hands now a little older fingers not as slender
Nails neatly cut, shaped and painted palest pink
Hands that had raised seven children plus two foster babes
Nursed cherished parents, and crumpled tear-sodden hankies at their deaths
Now deftly guiding yards of gingham through sewing machine
Four little girls aged three to eight eagerly awaiting summer dresses
Seven children experienced those cooling fingers gently stroking fevered brows
Felt the bruising pressure of damp hankie rubbing at grime on faces
Hands that scrubbed floors, lit fires, soothed chilblains and changed nappies
Produced melt-in-the-mouth pastries, birthday cakes and Sunday dinners
As well as Christmas decorations, doll’s clothes little treats and most wonderful stories
They carried, held and lifted heavy bags of shopping
They washed and scrubbed at dirty clothes
Lifted scorching flat irons popping with testing spittle
Hands that had a few more lines but still had many miles to go


The hands, now resting quietly on sheets that are tidily turned down are once again pale and slender
Fingernails now longer, shapelier, and painted coral pink.
But the years have taken their toll

Knuckles enlarged, lopsided, twisting fingers into obscene shapes
Still proudly feminine and bearing the wedding band placed there over half a century ago
Placed there by the strong, masculine, hand that still holds the aged hand of my mother.

The last time I saw those hands they were finally resting.
Arthritic fingers, nails still coral pink, gently holding a crucifix.
But no doubt, somewhere already, they were busily making, doing, or mending something.

And another in a lighter mood about a cat called 'Harris'

GOING TO PARIS (With apologies to Christopher Robin and Alice!)

I’m changing houses
I’m going to Paris
Me and my home and a cat named Harris

I’ve taking my books and my clothes and CDs
Harris is even taking his fleas
To Paris

I’m learning French
‘cos I’m going to Paris
Rolling my ‘R’s and so is Harris

I only hope I get used to the ‘bogs’
But I know that I’ll never be eating boiled frogs
In Paris

I’ve learned to eat garlic
I’d better in Paris
Can’t say the same for poor old Harris

He’s tried it in chicken, and liver, and fish
And hopes it’s not every cat’s favourite dish
In Paris

I’m changing houses
I’m going to Paris
Me and my home and a cat named Harris

Friday, 24 October 2008


Another bit of fiction for you

Can I make you a cup of tea? No? Well I’ll just ‘ave one while I wait. Waitin’, that’s all I seem to do now. Waitin’ for this, waitin’ for that.

Yesterday I waited all day for the man to read the meter. Bring back the good old days, that’s what I always say. Things used to be so easy then. The gas went out when your shilling ran out, and you just put another bob in the meter. Then they gave us electricity. Goodness knows why! I used to do a lovely roast on the range. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned fire range you know. It’d boil your kettle and ‘eat the iron. Saved on the gas too. Anyway, when we got the electric, I ‘ad to keep an oxo tin in the scullery for the meter money. Always ‘ad a few bob and a foreign coin in it. What was the foreign coin for? Well dear, at the end of the week when money was a bit short, a coin in the meter meant another bob in your purse. The meter man would always give it back when he emptied the meter, all ready for next time!

Did you know that I’ve lived through two wars? In the first one we fought the Kaiser, and then the next time round we wiped the floor with Adolph. I ‘ope I don’t live to see another war. Silly innit? All that fighting… I lost me Dad in the first war. A lovely man ‘e was. Blonde curly hair and the bluest eyes. Just like mine they were. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still feel his rough army trousers scratching my legs when I sat on his knee. The second war took my Alf away from me. Left me with little Frank to bring up all alone. Now ‘e’s moved away and I’m alone again. The grandchildren don’t come by either. They promised they would but they don’t. My Grandad used to tell me that promises were like piecrusts – made to be broken. I used to laugh at ‘im, but it’s true…Oh yes, it’s true you know.

All the friends I ‘ad when I first moved in - do you know it must be fifty years ago now? They’ve all gone one way or another. It’s a funny old life. One day there’s all your neighbours and family popping in and out, in and out – didn’t wait to be asked in those days you know, we always left the door on the latch, every one was welcome. Popping in and out… in and out. What was I saying? Oh yes, now they’re all gone.
Alf and I rented this ‘ouse when we was first married, soon after that Frankie came along. A beautiful baby, but ‘e gave me gypp being born. Then our Maureen was born. She was so special. Alf called her ‘is princess. We didn’t ‘ave ‘er very long. First God took her back, and then he took Alf as well. I never wanted another man.

You didn’t in those days. You married your man and ‘ad as many babies as God saw fit to send you, and that was that. Now they don’t even bother to get married and they take pills to stop babies. I ask you! Pills to stop babies. Pills are for stopping ‘eadaches!

The ‘ealth visitor came to see me this morning. She wanted to know ‘ow I was managing. I’m fine, I told ‘er. So long as I’ve got my wireless. Never did take to that television. Frank got me one in the fifties but I couldn’t be doing with it. I used to stand with the aerial in my ‘and, trying to keep the picture still. I said to Frank, I said. Take it back and give it to the girls, I prefer my wireless. I loved listening to Billy Cotton and ITMA. Of course they’ve gone too. What was I saying? My memory isn’t what it used to be either! Oh yes, the ‘ealth visitor. Well, I told ‘er, a bit of a fire, me wireless and me knitting and I’m well away

Do you like this cardigan? I knitted it last winter. See, it matches me ‘at. Knitted that too. The ‘ealth visitor said she could get me a phone wired in for emergencies. What do I want a phone for? Frank and Joan ‘ad one. Frightened me out of me wits when it rang, and then people whisper so quiet that you can’t ‘ear what they’re saying!

I think Frank and Joan would like me to ‘ave the phone so that they can talk to me. Just like them. They don’t ‘ave any trouble lifting up the phone, but travellin’ a few miles by car, oh dear no. That’s too much trouble. Anyway, I’m used to it by now. Still, I would like to see my little princesses now and again. Mind you, they’re not so little nowadays. Look at this photo… I can’t be doing with all this fashion business. ‘ardly any clothes up top, and skirts up to their waist. I told them last time they came. I said, “You’ve never gone out like that. You’ll catch pneumonia, mark my words”… but of course they didn’t. I often wonder what Alf would say if ‘e was still ‘ere. In my day you didn’t even show your knees. Now they think nothing of showing their drawers. I remember the first time Alf saw my smalls. It was the night we got married. I turned the gaslight out, but I couldn’t turn the moonlight off, could I? I was so shy in those days. Still, two babies and a war soon sorted that out.

Now I’m sitting ‘ere just waitin’. What am I waitin’ for? I suppose most of all; I’m waitin’ to join my Alf. I’ve got so much to tell ‘im, ‘e’ll never believe it all. I’ve not ‘ad a bad life. Some ‘as ‘ad it a lot worse than me.

There’s just one more thing I’d like though. I’d like to go out in style. You know… one of them glass carriages with ‘orses pulling it along. Long black feathery plumes on their ‘ead, and their knees ‘igh in the air, and me lying there like a queen with all the neighbours taking off their ‘ats as I go by.
Oh! There’s the doorbell. You’ll ‘ave to excuse me now. You never know, it might be my little princesses.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Now for something completely different! Nothing true about this one, it's purely a figment of my imagination.

His night with the lads had been great. He’d had a skin full, and didn’t fancy a curry with the rest. He stabbed the front door of number 29 with his key in an effort to locate the keyhole; he had to admit he did feel peckish. He walked unsteadily to the toilet, and swaying back and forth, disposed of the last drops of lager. Suddenly, he thought of chips. Large golden chips, smothered in salt with great dollops of brown sauce.
In a drunkard half-hearted voice he called his wife. “Make some chips woman”. There was no reply, and by the time he reached the kitchen, he’d forgotten he’d called her. Hanging on to the edge of the cooker for support, he lit the gas under the chip pan.
“Bloody fat is hard, she ought to bloody well be in here doing this”.
Still muttering and complaining, he slumped down at the kitchen table, rested his head in his hands, and waited for the lard to melt. Ten minutes later he was fast asleep, all thoughts of chips removed from his inebriated mind.
A blue smoky haze enveloped the pan. Suddenly it ignited in a strangely silent way that belied the ferocity of the blaze that followed. Roy slept on. Unaware of what awaited him.
At number 31, all was dark and still. Jock and Margaret were asleep, as was Dodger their dog.
Jock was dreaming he wore a deerstalker hat and was tracking down the Hound of the Baskervilles. The hound was howling as he awoke, Jock was surprised to find it was still howling and barking as he sat up in bed. It was Dodger who was barking non-stop in the back garden, and Jock knew that he must go down and quieten him before some one complained.
He switched on the kitchen light and padded barefoot across the cold linoleum, noticing that they’d forgotten to put the bread away. He picked up the loaf in passing and dropped it into the earthenware crock as he passed by. The back door was soon unlocked and Dodger pushed his way past Jock’s legs without waiting for the door to be fully opened.
“What’s up Dodge”? He crumpled up the dog’s ear in a rough affectionate way, and decided he’d better take a look, just in case.
Jock didn’t expect the scene before him. Roy and Pauline’s kitchen was glowing with orange flames. Smoke rolled and curled through the top of the window, which was slightly open. The curtains were beginning to burn.
For a moment Jock froze. Attempting to put priorities in order, he decided that he must ring 999, call Margaret, and attempt to raise the next-door neighbours in that order. He ran into the hall calling to Margaret as he went. “Margaret, get up! Next door’s on fire!” He dialled 999 and gave the details of the fire to the operator. Slamming down the receiver, he raced up the stairs to waken his wife. Only then, did he realise that Dodger, thinking all this was a grand game, was running beside him rubber bone in mouth, and tail revolving like helicopter blades.
“Roy and Pauline’s house is on fire Marge, and I’m going to knock them up. I’ve called the Brigade”.
Only stopping to make sure Margaret was awake and Dodger was shut up, he raced down stairs and out into the street.
He was amazed to find that everything in Daniel Street looked so normal. Houses were all in darkness, and a couple were walking arm in arm on the other side of the road, occasionally stopping to kiss. In the distance he heard the sound of cats fighting.
Jock raced up the path leading to Roy’s front door. He put his finger on the bell push, holding it there. It didn’t surprise him that it wasn’t working. He balled up his powerful fists and hammered them in a rapid and heavy tattoo on the door. The window on the first floor flew open and Pauline’s face peered balefully round the curtains. “If that’s you Roy, you can bloody well sleep in the front garden! What time do you call this?”
“ It’s me, Jock from next door. There’s a fire at the back of your house Pauline, in the kitchen. You better get out quickly while you can. Check if the landing and hall are clear enough to make it to the front door. If not, go back to the bedroom, close the door, and come to the window. Don’t worry; we’ll get you out. The fire engines are on the way”.
Pauline disappeared, and a few minutes later reappeared at the front door.
Putting his arm around her, Jock led her back down the path and into Daniel Street.
In a very short time the area had come alive. Windows that were so dark and non-seeing ten minutes ago were now winking and blinking in the light. Crowds were gathering, and the courting couple had returned to stand hand in hand on the other side of the street.
The fire engine turned into Daniel Street with sirens screaming and lights flashing, and halted outside number 29.
Jock couldn’t believe the expertise with which the brigade moved.
Margaret, arms around Pauline, was trying to comfort and reassure her.
“Silly bugger,” said Pauline, in a strangely endearing tone, “he’s probably lying drunk in a gutter somewhere. He’ll be home soon. I know he’ll be home soon”. She was still repeating this when a fireman came through to the front of the house. Leaning heavily on him, coughing and gasping for breath, was a sooty, unsteady, and shamefaced Roy, still somewhat bemused about why a fireman should be in his kitchen, spraying water all over his chip supper.

Sunday, 19 October 2008



I first attended school sometime before my sixth birthday. It disappoints me that I cannot recall that first momentous day. It’s quite a milestone in one’s life, on a par with falling in love, or receiving your first pay packet; yet it eludes me completely.
My earliest school memories are of a small warm classroom bathed in electric light. The air filled with the sweet smell of almonds that came from the glue we were using to stick scraps of paper together. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hall and singing at the top of my voice about a green dragon is another early infant recollection. Do you know I still remember that song!
Throughout my entire school life, I never managed to acquire a taste for school milk. After the first mouthful my throat would become slimy and, try as I might, I just couldn’t stomach a second mouthful. The milk was delivered in individual bottles that held a gill of milk, and was, for some reason that I never questioned, consumed in the cloakroom. Each bottle would be sealed with a waxed cardboard disc snapped into the bottleneck. In the centre of the lid was a small circular cut out that could easily be pushed in by a small finger or a straw. Unfortunately, childish fervour during this procedure often resulted in the drinker, and his or her near companions, being showered with milk.
Constant house moving on the part of my parents meant that I went to many, many, different schools. I once totalled up those that I could remember, and reckon that between the ages of six and fourteen I attended at least ten schools. Probably worth an entry in the Guinness book of Records!
In spite of the number of schools I graced with my presence, the only subject that seemed to suffer and give me nightmares was Maths. I could never keep up. Just as I was getting the hang of long division, I would find myself in a new school and a new class who were halfway through learning fractions, and I didn’t stand a chance of understanding what was going on. It didn’t matter, because soon I would be thrown into the depths of decimals or algebra with another teacher, probably on the other side of London. Although I have managed to master the rudiments of arithmetic, it still fills me with dread, and anyone who chooses a career in this subject is an enigma to me.
Many of my teachers’ faces and names are still engraved in my memory. Miss Wright who taught us PE. That poor lady never knew that sitting on the floor, knees bent, arms raised, the entire class could see right up the leg of her shorts, and sometimes her knickers!
Miss Jewell, a neat little lady who seemed always to wear a navy, crepe dress sprinkled with tiny white flowers, and a sparkling white lace collar at her throat. She wore her faded, red hair that was tinged with grey gathered into a tight little bun in the nape of her neck. My mind’s eye can clearly see her standing there before the blackboard, a picture in navy and white: a duster in one hand and a stick of chalk delicately held between the finger and thumb of the other. Her slender delicate fingers were always coated in white chalk dust. Her periwinkle blue eyes shone behind horn-rimmed spectacles containing thick lenses. Sadly, I later heard that she had become blind.
On the other side of the road was the school Tuck Shop where we could buy four sweets for one old penny. A farthing (there were four to a penny) would give us many choices including, a strawberry chew, a liquorice blackjack, sweet cigarettes or a gob stopper. Sherbet dips and lemonade powder were also great favourites and, when the lemonade powder craze was upon us, the school would be full of pupils sporting bright yellow tongues and forefingers. During the war years when sweets were rationed, the tuck shop sold their own homemade crisps. They tasted like wafer thin slices of potatoes baked in the oven until they were as hard as iron, which is probably what they were! They tasted pretty awful, but were better than nothing.
Lastly, as a sign of the times, I give you the following. I passed by our old Tuck shop many years later, when I was a mother myself. The shop was still there, but someone had climbed up and altered the ‘T’ of Tuck into an ‘F’. My poor old headmaster would have turned in his grave.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


I thought I'd have a little change from the tales of my youth and fast forward a bit. Although written as fiction, this really did happen to me and mine. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty!


Our home in Islington was a large Victorian house divided into three flats. The ground floor flat housed a husband and wife that we hardly ever met, and a young married couple called Dave and Gemma lived in the flat above us.
The ground floor flat became vacant and so we asked the agents if we could take it over. It was a much larger flat than the one that we rented, and meant we could have a real kitchen at last.
As we weren’t moving house, only moving to the next floor, we decided that, with a little help from family, could move our furniture piecemeal down the stairs ourselves.
This surely would be an easy job. We would move each item straight down into the relevant room, thereby positioning everything roughly where we wanted it. The really heavy stuff such as wardrobes, sideboard etc. my husband James, my Dad and brother Peter could manhandle between them, with me yelling out the appropriate encouragement such as: “Mind what you’re doing!” and “be careful you don’t scratch my table-top!” and, occasionally “I really don’t think that’s a good idea!”
James and I had started moving the smaller things on Friday evening and it was now Saturday morning and time to get heaving with the larger items.
Everything went well for a while, and then it was time for the piano to be shifted. Originally professional piano movers had transported it from my mother-in-law’s house to ours. We had been amazed at the alacrity and ease with which they sped up two flights of stairs; the piano balanced on one man’s back while two others steadied things. Oh how very stupid we were to mistake professional artistry and experience for something that appeared to be the proverbial piece of cake!
We had already stripped the top, front, and lid from the piano to make it easier for them to handle, and all went well from the lounge to the bottom of the first flight of stairs. It was when the men were negotiating the 180-degree bend between the two flights of stairs that the house demolition started.
Somehow, the piano slipped, and one corner began deftly to push out, one by one, the banister rails that blocked its way. Suddenly it stopped. Completely jammed. With much yelling and grabbing, the three men tried to pull the piano out from amongst the banister rails, only to firmly drive the opposite corner of the piano into and through the plaster on the stairway wall.
It was at this point that Dave, Gemma, and their small son descended from the top floor flat. Their path was of course blocked very firmly by three grunting, puffing men, one slightly hysterical me and an upright piano that was wedged, it seemed forever, across the stairs between the wall and the banisters!
Dave, with a look of chagrin said: “We really do need to get down to the front door. Actually, we’re on our way to a wedding”.
It was only then that I realized that Dave was dressed in a smart, navy suit, complete with a floral buttonhole, and that Gemma was wearing a resplendent hat trimmed with an equally resplendent floral arrangement! Oh my God! They really were dressed for, and on their way to, a wedding. Gemma and her little boy retreated a few steps up towards her kitchen door, and Dave, realizing that he really didn’t have any other option, if he was to make the wedding at all, said: “Come on, I’ll give you a hand”
The men in unison, and now numbering four, managed to get the piano back in a straight line pointing down the stairs, but there still was no way they could make it turn the bend, try as they might. By this time, Dave’s beautiful, smart, navy-blue, wedding suit was covered in white plaster dust. His face was sweaty and his hair disheveled. The rest of us were beginning to feel rather embarrassed when James’ face suddenly lit up, as in idea struck him. Had I known the outcome of his idea, I’d have probably struck him too! “Let’s turn the piano upside down,” he said, “so that the wide keyboard area is over the top of the handrail. Then the narrower base will easily make the bend in the landing”
This was hailed by the others as a brilliant, “why didn’t we think of it earlier” idea. With more grunts and shouts of “one, two, three, over”, they turned the instrument, which had been our pride and joy, upside down … and all the keys fell out! With a discordant, clattering sound, they tumbled down the stairwell and into the quarry tiled entrance hall below.
Alas! This was to be the swan song of our beloved pianoforte because, although the keys could have been put back, there was also extensive damage to the hammers.
Dave and Gemma finally made their way, brushed and re-groomed, to their wedding celebrations, and our beautiful piano, that had been handed down from the last generation, was dragged unceremoniously into the back garden. There, sadly, it was hammered, hacked, and chopped into pieces small enough to dispose of. If any of you have ever attended a piano-smashing event at a local garden fete, you will know just how difficult and very, very noisy this act is!

Thursday, 16 October 2008



During the late forties and early fifties, going to the cinema was a popular way for young people to spend their leisure time. Other common past-times included motor speedway racing and sitting in coffee bars. At least, that was the case in our part of London. Harringay Arena was situated in our area, and it housed not only speedway racing and dog racing, but also the Horse of the Year Show. Opposite the arena was a coffee bar that, apart from being our favourite coffee house, was often visited by the speedway stars in their off-duty moments.
One of the big names of the day was Split Waterman. Such was his fame that he constantly had a stream of girls who ran after him, screaming, or queues of lads just wanting to touch his motorbike and collect his autograph.
As all my family are only too aware, I’m an inveterate organiser and list maker, and it was always so. When I became engaged, I immediately set to, armed with notebooks and pencils.
One day, we were sitting in the coffee bar discussing our ‘lists’ over numerous cups of coffee, when we looked up to see a small group of young lads peering through the plate glass window. They were pointing and staring in at us, their noses pressed against the glass. We smiled, not so much at them, but at the humour of the situation. That was the signal they were waiting for, and they opened the café door and trooped in.
The leader of the gang stood purposefully in front of Arthur and said: ‘Please give us yer autograph, Split.’ Then pleadingly ‘Go on, pleeease’.
Arthur laughed and answered that he wasn’t who they thought he was, but they were not convinced.
‘We know it’s you, Split. Go on, please, give us yer autograph, go on.’
The boy kept thrusting his book at Arthur. The café proprietor behind the counter was highly amused but said nothing to help the situation, and it was obvious that we weren’t going to get away with a refusal. In the end, Arthur said: ‘OK, you win, give me your book.’
Somewhere today in North London there is an elderly man who owns a treasured autograph from Arthur signed: ‘Best wishes, Split Waterman’!

Split Waterman 3rd from L


Soon after our engagement, we were roaming around the West End of London, one of our favourite haunts, window-shopping. We often saw beautiful furnishings and household equipment that we would dream of owning one day, when our ship came in. On one such trip, we happened upon Maples. I don’t even know if they are still in existence, but then, they were the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of furniture makers, and were ‘By Royal Appointment’. Featuring in one of their large window displays was the most beautiful bedroom suite we’d ever seen. Very clean cut and modern and made from figured walnut. It was very expensive, and we coveted it! Of course, it was out of the question. We could have easily bought a bedroom and dining room suite for the same amount of money (with a couple of fireside chairs thrown in as well). That bedroom suite became our fantasy and we kept re-visiting it in our minds and imagining how it would look in our new home, the fantasy wouldn’t go away, and we finally succumbed to it.
It cost us £117, which was a great deal of money in those days. However, it lasted until just before we moved to Kent thirty-five years later. Even then, it hadn’t worn out. We had just got tired of it, and it had become very old fashioned.
We decided to buy the suite on hire-purchase. We wouldn’t need it for at least a year and it would be a means of enforced saving. As we weren’t terrifically good at saving, this seemed a good idea, so we went ahead and bought a dining room suite as well. This came from a furniture chain store and it cost us £48. As we settled up these hire-purchase debts, we bought more furniture.

Monday, 6 October 2008


Just about a year before we got married, on June 25th 1950 to be precise, North Korea invaded South Korea. By the next day, President Truman had ordered air and naval forces to go to the aid of South Korea and, by the end of July, our troops were being sent out there.
When Arthur had been demobbed from the army he was put on the ‘Z Reserve’ list. This meant, in effect, that he hadn’t entirely severed his links with His Majesty’s Armed Forces. The Ministry of War could, if they so desired, in times of emergencies and for several years hence, call upon him to go to war and fight. Not a nice thought to have hanging over us as we planned to get married.
Then, out of the blue, Arthur was taken quite ill, the doctor was sent for, and quinsies was diagnosed. This ailment takes the form of abscesses that form in the throat area near the tonsils. Nowadays, it’s a matter of pumping in antibiotics and waiting for it to go away, but nearly sixty years ago the story was a little different.
Arthur ran a very high temperature and, was in great pain. The doctor had said that, if the abscesses became too large, he would have to operate on Arthur’s throat and do some lancing.
Because of the state of his health and, no doubt, the medication he was taking, Arthur started to worry about the prospects of his being sent to Korea to fight in a not very civilised war. We were both very concerned about this as I knew full well that, if need be, the army could indeed recall Arthur to service.
Each evening I would travel directly from work, to sit with him in the dark silence of his bedroom at his parent’s house in Mildmay Park. Arthur complained about the light, so the bedroom curtains were perpetually closed and electric lights were never switched on till he recovered.
I don’t think that most of the time he was even aware that I was there, and certainly never made any comments about my presence each evening. We hardly ever spoke except for his worried mutterings about the war. I would sit and hold his hand or stroke his forehead for about four hours, then catch a late trolley bus back to Harringay. After I alighted from the bus, I still had a fifteen-minute walk alone in the dark to Oakfield Road where I lived.
This was the most awful period of our courtship and lasted for a couple of weeks. Arthur never knew at the time just how ill he was, and was amazed when I told him about my horrendous evenings with him. Incidentally, the army never did call up the ‘Z Reserve’ men and, in fact, the war was still raging long after we got married in July 1951.

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Dad was in hospital for weeks and weeks and, so that Mum could spend the days with him, Doug and I went to Miss Silver's Private School at the other end of New Park Avenue. How Mum got us in there I'll never know, for she certainly couldn't have paid any fees. I don't know why we weren't attending the local council school at this time, as we certainly did at a later date. Perhaps Dad's story became local knowledge and made us 'famous', who knows? I loved attending Miss Silver's school because it was so very different from any school I'd known (and I'd known a few!).

All the pupils sat around a Morrison indoor shelter which served as a large communal desk where we studied our lessons. The Morrison shelter (named after Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary during the war) was issued to people who couldn't use an Anderson shelter in their garden for one reason or another. It comprised of a tough, metal cage, the top and base being heavy, sheet metal, with strong, steel, chain-link fencing around all four sides. The whole thing was about the size of a large dining table. In the event of an air raid, you were supposed to make yourselves secure and comfortable in the cage and, should the house collapse, it was strong enough to prevent you being crushed until, hopefully, you were dug out of the debris still alive.

Miss Silver taught us how to make rose hip jelly and marrow jam, and how to clean down the Morrison table top with methylated spirits after school. The smell of meths still transports me back to Miss Silver's little room in Palmer's Green. She also told us stories and taught us about wildlife. I suppose we learned the three R's, but I don't recall them.

The school-house backed on to the park and, as the school was just an ordinary, domestic dwelling-place, it hadn't a playground. Accordingly, we spent every playtime in the park, which was wonderful.

Daddy eventually came home from hospital. This must have been a terrible time for him and Mummy, but it never seemed to overshadow our happy childhood. They were remarkable parents.
Daddy was encased in a plaster jacket from his neck to his groin for six months, and I don't know how he stood it. The hairs on his body grew into and through the plaster, and he kept a long knitting needle which he used to plunge down inside the plaster in an effort to scratch his many itches. Of course, he couldn't bend over or sit in an ordinary chair, so he ate all his meals propped up on the edge of Billie's high-chair. How he managed other necessities of everyday living I never knew. I was too young and innocent to even wonder!
With Dad back home again, things were reasonably normal, and Douglas and I were transferred to the local council school. Naturally, the task of taking my brother back and forth to school fell to me. Mum had Daddy and Billy to care for, and I was going to school anyway.
I never minded taking him to school: he was quite a sweet little boy. But bringing him home was a nightmare! Every single day he would come through the school gates saying he urgently needed to go to the toilet, and most days he wouldn't make it to the house in time. It would have been bad enough if he'd wet his trousers but, oh no, it was much worse than that!
There I'd be, chatting merrily to my band of friends, talking about home-work, Children's Hour, and who we were going to the park with after tea, and then I'd turn round to look at my brother. He'd be hobbling along, legs spread wide apart, with an obvious heavy mass swinging about in his trousers! If I was very lucky it would stay there until we got home, but it didn't always.
Some fifty years later I happened to ask Doug why this had happened so often; I learned that poor Dougie was frightened to use the school loo, because the big boys would fling open the toilet door and taunt him. What a shame he never told me. Life can be so cruel when you are timid and only five years old.
Dad finally had the plaster removed and he told me that it was excruciatingly painful, as his whole body was defoliated in one fell swoop! Unfortunately, carrying the great weight of the plaster body cast around for all those months, left him with the legacy of ulcerated legs. They never ever went away for more that a few weeks every five or six years, and although he was only thirty two when the accident happened, he still had his ulcers when he died aged seventy nine. He worked so hard, and such long hours to keep us all fed and clothed and happy, which we always were, and yet all those years he was in continuous pain. I am only so sad that I never really told him how proud I was of him.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


As a break from my story, I thought I'd give a little insight into another family happening that was very frightening, and gives testament to what a wonderful brave and strong man our Dad was. I hope you find it interesting, it is all absolutely true!

It was Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary. Billy was still a baby and Mummy was preparing a surprise anniversary dinner for Daddy when he got home from work. There was a chicken roasting in the oven, together with all the trimmings, and I had been sent to the local Express Dairy to buy some huge, chocolate cream buns, which were Daddy’s absolute favourites. All was ready and waiting for his knock on the front door. I was so excited, as I had been allowed to stay up and share the meal. Billy, of course, had been put to bed hours before, and Douglas, being five years younger than me, had also gone to bed.
There was a loud knock on the front door and I started to leap up and down with excitement. I don’t remember clearly what happened next, except that a policeman came into our house.
My Dad had been involved in an accident, He was very seriously hurt and not expected to survive the night. I can’t recall the complete order of things, but Mum went to the hospital of course, and I think Dougie and I must have gone back to Granny and Grandad Leach’s house for the night. I don’t recall where Billie went. I can still smell the leather of the taxi interior that took Granny Leach, Doug and me to Granny and Grandad’s house in Stockwell and Mummy to the German Hospital in Dalston where my Father, we were told, was dying. Granny Leach, always a harbinger of gloom and doom, asked my mother if ‘she had anything black for the funeral’. Looking back, it’s a wonder that Mummy didn’t hit her!
Apparently, Dad had been asked to work a little later than usual. He’d agreed to do this but only on condition that the firm’s lorry driver gave him a lift home, as it was his anniversary and Mum was waiting. He didn’t know it then, but the odds were stacked against him the moment he agreed to work late, because the passenger door of the lorry didn’t close properly. On the way home, the lorry took a corner a little too fast. The door flew open and my Father fell out, under the wheels of the lorry.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were travelling along a road that was in the process of being tarred and re-gravelled. As my father fell beneath the lorry (it was an eight wheeler) he remembered the technique that he had seen my ‘Uncle Sampson’ perform on stage, during part of his act where he lay down on the stage and allowed a lorry to be driven over his body. Daddy later told me that he ‘rolled with the wheels’ (whatever that meant) just as he had watched Sampson do, and it appeared to have saved Daddy’s life. His injuries were horrific. He suffered a fractured skull and a broken pelvis, his spine was broken in three places and his stomach split open, causing his intestines to spill out and become pitted with tar and gravel. It was not surprising that the doctors had told my mother he would not live through that night. But they didn’t know my dad! He was as stubborn as an ox all his life, and there was no way he was going to leave his ‘Lollipops’ and children at thirty-two years of age.

They said he wouldn't live, but he did. They said he'd never walk again, but he did. Such was the stuff my Dad was made of. He bribed an orderly to turn a 'blind eye' while he endeavoured to get out of bed, stand on his feet, and walk. He was encased in a plaster jacket from his neck down to his thighs and, having pulled himself on to his legs, he took two steps and then passed out. The orderly probably passed out too, but Dad has taken his first step on a long, long journey back to recovery.

To be cont..... (If you want me to)

Thursday, 2 October 2008


Shortly after Arthur proposed to me, Dad had a decorating job to do at a big restaurant in Wood Green. He needed another pair of hands and asked Arthur if he would like to work with him. The money would be more, he said, than he was earning in the office at The Solicitor’s Law Stationery Society. Arthur wasn’t very happy in his present job and welcomed the change of employment and a possible new career. Also, since we were secretly saving up for an engagement ring, we thought this a good idea.
Arthur said he would have to give notice, but Dad wouldn’t have this. He had to start work the following Monday, and Arthur would have to join him then. It was now or never. Arthur left his job at the end of the week, though they didn’t take very kindly to having to waive his notice.
There was a dead line on the job and, as Arthur had never done any building and decorating work before, Dad had to teach him as he went along. Daddy was used to long hours of hard work, but Arthur had always had a nine-to-five job that entailed having clean fingernails, and wearing a suit and white shirt. Now he came home tired and dirty, his hands cut and bleeding.
We decided that it would please Dad if Arthur officially asked him, as they say, for my hand in marriage. This he did while they were both working late one night. Daddy was delighted, and so was Mummy. We gave Arthur’s parents the news, and I made a concentrated effort to call them Mum and Dad. Arthur had always called my parents Sid and Nan, which he continued to do. Incidentally, although my mother was christened Jeanette, she was known to everyone as Nanette or Nan.
Meanwhile, Dad and Arthur were working harder and harder. In the end, Arthur worked day and night. Dad said that, if they could do a couple of thirty-six hour shifts, they could finish the job in time, and Dad would give Arthur a share of the profits. Arthur said OK, and worked right round the clock for a full thirty-six hour shift. He went home, had a normal night’s sleep, and then worked another thirty-six hours, non-stop. Suddenly he developed a bad leg and became very ill. The doctor diagnosed cellulitis and lymphangitis. Poor Arthur was bedridden and his leg swelled up to an enormous size. Mum Chapman wasn’t very pleased at what had happened to her son, and I was very worried. The bitter pill to swallow was that Dad didn’t get paid for the job and so neither did Arthur! Neither of us can remember, almost sixty years later, why this was, but it wasn’t that unusual in Dad’s working life just after the war. All that hard work and a bad leg, to say nothing of losing his job at the Law Society. When Arthur eventually recovered, he decided that a builder’s life was not for him, and went job-hunting.
By the end of October we had enough money saved for my engagement ring and went shopping. Bravington’s of King’s Cross was the place to buy wedding and engagement rings, so that’s where we went. I chose a five stone, diamond ring. It cost £15! It was nestling on a bed of black velvet and sitting in a brown leather box. We decided to become officially engaged on St. Valentine’s Day, since that was the anniversary of our first date. However, Arthur kept saying ‘Why don’t you wear your ring now?’ and when my birthday came round I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer. We did have an official Valentine’s Day engagement party with lots of guests, presents, and booze, where a good time was had by all. Then we settled down to the serious business of saving and planning for our forthcoming marriage.

to be contd...