This really is one of mine - it shows the meeting between a new dog, the Elkhound to the right and our corgis. The Elkhound was the breed bitch Kari and she turned out to be very nervous. She is being greeted by our Pembroke male Cobi with the breed bitch and much loved Slly in the background. The state of the yard tells me we probably should not have been breeding dogs....
Now this chap really is Buster, or Champion Gelert of Vealsholm as he was. A very fine and prize winning Elkhound of good family he was sppoiled by having his teeth marked by distempa, a canine form of influenza. He was such a charmer that at age nine I showed him in the ring. He was my main buddy from 1946/7 to 1953. Our kennel club name was Tashbrook.
86 Frobisher Road was one of a terrace of what were often called villas, built hall-to-hall, effectively in pairs and in groups of six or eight. At intervals there would be either a shared passageway between groups or a first floor passage with a flying freehold above.
Ours was a left hand half so that our front door and that of 84 were adjacent. Ours was also the last but two to the eastern end of a block and was separated from its last pair by a the first floor passage referred to above. It served our garden and number 88. Number 90 was the end of terrace and so semi-detached - ooh, posh. It was our house that had the extra space on the upper floor made available by the overhang of the passage.
Our house was entered by a three-foot half glazed door that still had both its coloured and etched glass. The hall ran alongside the front parlour (bay window), before splitting to produce the stairs (right), and a further passage alongside the rear dining room (french doors to rear). Then came the living room as we called it (also bay windowed) and beyond that the small kitchen. This was an odd shape producing a larder left and cooker area right and then a sink area left and, reached from outside, a downstairs loo. Until the early 50s the only water heating was a back boiler to the 'living room' fire – all rooms had open fires in the 40s.
Upstairs was a large front bedroom (bay window plus window over the passage), a small box room beside it and over the front hall, a middle double and rear double-ish but which had two windows – one to side over the downstairs bay and one to the rear. It was my favourite room and my bedroom for my teenage years. The separate bathroom and toilet were on the landing at the head of the stairs. The front rooms were three steps up in the typical manner as the front rooms had higher ceilings than the rear. Thus it was entirely typical and unremarkable. And exactly similar to the one my London-loving daughter Sarah and her family live in right now in the 21st century. Mind you that has central heating, posh tiles and carpets, a loft extension and stuff everywhere!
86, as we have always called it, was also, apparently in a right state when we moved in having done a fair bit of moving of its on when another V1 (remember, 2,500 fell on London) took out three houses opposite. Two things form my earliest proper memories at the age of about thee and four respectively. First, the team of builders excavating our rear walls to underpin them and turn the rear side garden into a concrete desert. And second the arrival of the '47 winter. The builders – led I have never forgotten by a huge chap called Ginger – were my heroes, especially since they spoiled me rotten. The snow was less popular until I was allowed to sledge it.
These houses had small front gardens just as they all do and rear gardens about 25-30 feet deep. Ours had a poplar tree at the end, dead centre. Enough room however for bantams to provide us with eggs and some kennels to augment our income with the breeding and sale of first Pembrokeshire corgies and later of Norwegian Elkhounds. With the addition of a grumpy cat called Pip - he always had the pip you see – and serried ranks of guinea pigs, hamsters, fish. Add mother's regrettable penchant for budgerigars and it was a busy, occasionally smelly and often noisy place.
The house had open fires in all rooms. The bedrooms were switched to small electric fires at some point and that finally meant getting ready for bed IN OUR ROOMS rather than by the fire. Which had ben OK but mum and dad had a lot of friends and therefore visitors. I later realised that we were popular not only due to my parents liking for a pint and a sherry but because, as a copper, dad had to be on call. So we had a telephone! I cannot tell you how important that made me feel for a few years. I am also aware that nothing was free and the frequent visitors were expected to cough up into the tin by the phone. And mum could be withering if the sound of the coinfall did not match her expectations. One or two later ex-friends now with their own phones never quite forgave the exchanges.
As I said there was no water heating as such. The back boiler would supply some in winter but for the most part bathing required pots and pans and, for a while, a tin tub in front of the fire. This process was restricted in frequency not so much by our cleanliness, which was marginal at best but by convenience. But, come Friday night it was “bath-time boys, dirty or not”.
Winter mornings it was cold - it seemed always to be cold - and the curtains had to be carefully prised from the frozen windows each. Carefully, since they were past their best and would easily shred. We wore a great deal of clothing to beat the cold, mostly wool and much darning was being done at all times. Washing was by hand and not so frequent. I was eight or nine before I was let loose on the hand mangle. Drying clothes was interesting – remember that 1947 winter! Folding had to be left until they had thawed out. And it was a killer in every way.
Money was tight. Avereage earnings in 1950 were around £5 a week. Dad was slightly better off as a copper and by the 50s based at Scotland Yard as a detective sergeant in the fingerprint branch. But until he got rank cash was limited. My mother, apart from the animals, augmented income with the repairing of beads and pearls, a skill learned from her Aunt Eve who lived in Cardiff with another aunt. Beads and pearls were worn in abundance into the 50s. Cheap ones were strung on cotton and needed to be knotted to prevent their cascading off when broken. This painstaking work was paid for by the stitch! Pearls and better beads were strung on tougher material and were always fully knotted. I watched in amazement at the work, which also entailed a grading board to get graded pearls back into order.
Mum also undertook the fitting and provision of Spenser of Banbury's corsets to the larger ladies of the neighbourhood. Women wore the most extraordinary corsets, full and half bodice jobs. Hugging a relative could be a surprising event - more grappling with a suit of armour than a human being. This actvity lasted long enough for me to become aware that I could see more than I should have done during the fittings by crouching down outside my parents' bedroom and peering through the keyhole at the fitting activity beyond. Shame on me. I was not caught but eventually mother decided more privacy was needed and took to locking the door, leaving the key unhelpfully in situ.
Until 1953 a variety of rationings remained in place while Britain dragged itself out of total bankruptcy from the war. So choice was limited. Especially for us as clearly dad's occupation rather restricted black market opportunities. Not entirely however I am sure since my mother was nothing if not a chancer. But rationing irked us all - as my father was fond of saying, all of his life actually, we might have done better to have lost judging by 1950s events in Germany.
I honestly remember little of the years up to my going to school in 1948. Cold, smog – lots of smog, the lighting of fires, the fetching of coal, the clearing of dog mess, the finding and gathering of Bantam's eggs – they are very small! Walking with dad on a Sunday, watching him play tennis, watching him play cricket, being bowled at down the side passage so that by six I was a moderate batsman (batboy?). Bouts of asthma, visits by my favourite uncle from Wales with armsful of comics, present parcels at birthday and Christmas in brown manilla and string from legions of relations... the items are many but there is absolutely no granularity. Not even what was in those parcels despite the amount of time I spent furtively finding them and feeling the bumps for clues. A couple of details though. In 1948/9 I had mumps – and a Hornby Double-0 electric train set. I remember it well as my father was immensely proud of getting hold of it and I was in a truckle bed in the dining room. On Boxing morning the family doctor, Lesley Posner came to visit (they did back then!) and he and dad got down on the floor to play with MY train set. And maybe that year too a splendid clockwork speed boat in red and cream arrived from my aunt Dorothy who worked in Canada. She was exotic enough for that reason but her presents were always top drawer and, by UK 40s standards, top price.
More clarity of memory arrives along with my little brother in 1948. First of course it was a bit of a surprise when mum was unexpectedly carted off to hospital. I have no recollection of considering her to have gained weight nor what my father may have told me but I do remember a few days later getting into neighbour and hire car provider Monty Bank's big black Humber Pullman and being driven to a hospital. There we collected someone I vaguely recognised as my mother and a bundle that I did not recognise. It seemed slight noisy and somewhat smelly by the time we got home. I do recall that on arrival my mother's parents were present (both! that was rare) and to me seemed utterly hysterical. Glasses appeared. No bubbly back then but sherry no doubt. British probably. Decades were to pass before I came to know that mum was an only child and I was the premier grandchild for either of them.
My nagging belief that actually something terrible had happened was not helped by the sudden arrival of our family doctor, Leslie Posner. Much loved perhaps but even I knew that he only attended if someone was really ill - I'd been bedridden with mumps the last time. The sudden disappearance of him and my mother with the mystery object to her bedroom only served as total proof of disaster. It is reported that I began crying and quite spoiled the event. I was later told I did so for several hours. Well I was not yet five for heavens sake!
Interestingly I am aware of my grandparents being there and of much happy celebration - which puzzled me - and a succession of other neighbours calling in. Yet I cannot recall my older brothers being present for what I now know was a happy homecoming. Mike, the eldest would have been 15-ish and Nick about 13 at the time. But they are not in any of my recollections. Maybe they were out flying another newly minted model aeroplane. Maybe I had already learned how to ignore them.
Things looked up later of course when it turned out the mystery object could be played with and made most satisfying responses to stimuli, although mum was not always as pleased with the process as I. He - I had got that far now - was also responsible for a marked upturn in treats, sweets, ices and general acts of kindness which seemed inexplicable if based on my behaviour.
Brother Roger arrived at the end of April 1948, soon after I had had the first indications that I might be going to school later that year. He would have been therefore five months old when I was first walked up the road to North Harringay Infants school. Where of course I cried for hours.
I recall nothing detailed of my days in infants school. Doubtless we drew, sang, played, fought, cried, grazed bits. I do recall that we were shouted at by a woman in black bombazine who was the health visitor and who tore our hair out with the nit comb. We were taught to stop, look, and listen, wash after all toileting, learn unfathomable calculations and turn childish scrawl into something recognisable. And tie our shoe laces - well some learned. And cry a bit more. The corridors smelt of floor polish and the classrooms of chalk. The playground was initially a place of sheer terror but later much fun. Being unable to tie my own shoe laces proved a severe disability, although not compared to the kids in calipers to cure their rickets. And the ones who disappeared with polio, some never to return.
Classes were huge by modern standards I now know – 35-40. The playground was a seething mass of ill-tempered or hysterical children. It was not helped by having two pairs of 'temporrary' classrooms placed in it to soak up some of the baby boomers now making their appearance. I did not quite qualify but my brother did. Activity in the playground was not helped by my having the misfortune of being notably taller and thinner than most but wetter than all. I cried some more. Sometime it seemed the only thing I was good at. But it was more fun that pain. I think.
But my brother was at home all this time having what my small mind said was a preferential situation. As soon as he was old enough we developed an interesting trick of fighting while straddling the gap between our single beds. I dumped him on the deck as often as possible. The result of course was that he grew up a tougher character than I – serves me right then! He never did learn to cry properly though.
He came to North Harringay infants in September 1953 when I was in my last year in primary. In fact, as he started I was taking what was for me and a few others in that cohort the 10-plus; the rest were the required 11-plus. Not all were put in for it 'early' but I was also the first boy at that school to be allowed to wear 'longs' because of my height so I reckon that had a lot to do with it. Leslie Patterson the head was a decent cove I later came to realise so it was all with good intent. But it may have just been a bit early in reality.
1953 was a big year for many reasons, not least the Coronation. For me the biggest thing was reading – it was in the summer of 1952 that I finally cracked it and rapidly graduated from Janet and John to Stevenson, Ballantyne, Scott and Conan Doyle et al. This guaranteed a new reason to be shouted at by my dad - “You've always got your head in a book boy”. What he meant was: I need a ball boy at tennis; I want to practise my bowling; its time we walked the dog. You get the picture. Big too was the Conquest of Everest. I spent many years convinced it was by a pair of Brits and felt rather conned when one turned out to be a Kiwi and the other a local Nepalese expert and a paid conscript at that! As a result it was Tensing who became my hero. A fact which I hid many years later when Sir Edmund Hilary came to a boys club federation do and I was a young reporter who had to meet him. Nice chap so I felt quite bad about my prejudice, though I now think he would have been highly amused had I the guts to tell him. Useful lesson maybe. The other one was dad referring to Tensing as a "w*g" - happily he never quite descended to the N word. My response had future benefits but my ear was sore for a week.
Next big memory is smog. 1952 is rated the worst ever but it was as 1953 faded out the coiling monster took its toll - Mum got double pneumonia. Horribly ill over Christmas, by January 5, her birthday, she was in the Royal Northern hospital, Holloway failing to respond, I now know, to penicillin. The even newer wonder drug streptomycin was tried. Now with pleurisy and thrombotic problems she finally responded. On a day in March Monty Banks' trusty Humber once again fetched mum from a hospital but this time transferred her to the Grovelands Convalescent Home at Southgate. Meantime my father, blaming the dogs as well as the smog gave all the dogs away and cleared the yards. Mum never quite forgave him and I certainly did not. They went to good homes – my beloved elkhound Buster to a farm in Wales. And lovely Sally, the breed corgi, went to Miss Cross, a tall, spare and forbidding teacher who lived up the road and had always coveted the dog. My desire to pet her new pet gave her the chance to extract some revenge for the many times she had been the victim of knock down ginger on her front door. Sally and the witch of the east sped past - angry, but I do not recall crying. Must have been growing up.
Lets take a moment to talk about smog. I grew up with it and I chuckle patiently when people talk about a thick fog today. Call that a fog? This is a fog, as Crocodile Dundee might have said. For this was a tangible thing that coiled and writhed in the air. A thick, swirling yellow, acrid miasma that reduced visibility – when your eyes were not streaming – to less than three yards. That is what is meant by a hand in front of your face. Because while you knew it was there and could make out the shape, at full arm stretch it was beginning to disappear. We all carried lights but in reality they made little difference. Walking round the corner to get fags for my parents involved hugging the wall. I counted every gateway and doorway on the way out and I counted them back. No one would step off the pavement if they could help it – trolley buses were electric and silent death. Given that a side effect of smog is to blanket all sounds anyway... well you can guess. The only good thing was that nothing moved fast enough to actually kill you – but being given a hefty shove by a 19 ton trolley bus is still not funny. At night it was impossible to see anything and the smog was a yellow grey. Daytime it was little better but the smog was a sort of yellow-white-grey if that is possible.
Of course everyone smoked which hardly helped. Everyone had coal fires. All electricity (trolley buses?) was generated with coal. Lots Road, Battersea and the rest of the power stations were lethal. Every factory belched smoke. That laundry I mentioned early? Coal. The gas in the kitchen? Made from coal back then. And every car and lorry belched blue fumes in vast quantities. It was like Beijing on a bad day.
In 1958 the clean air act came in and we all had to burn smokeless fuels. It cost a new fireplace in every room or you abandoned your fires. A lot of fine chimney pieces and mantles s vanished in those years. The trolley bus went and Lots Road closed soon after. People had died in their millions and my mum was very nearly one of them. But central heating was appearing here and there....
I took the 10-plus and we were visiting mum at Grovelands that winter. At least seeing her proved she was alive. A good neighbour fed Roger and I each day since dad was at work.
In the evenings we watched TV. Yep – we had a goggle box or idiots lantern. Mind you it was an interesting item. Built by my grandfather. It was his mark 1 effort; mark 2 graced his flat across Green Lanes where he occasionally lived with my grandmother. Percy his name and an engineer. In fact for all his many faults he was an interesting man. He opened the first motor garage in Newhaven, Sussex where he and his wife and their kids were born. When his habits and events wiped that out he upped sticks to make a living in Canada, claiming he would send for my gran and the girls soon. But his tendency to enjoy the company of women made nan anxious. Not soon enough, so gran, being made a sterner stuff than he was, took off for Toronto on her own with the girls to find him and bring him to heel. My mother treasured the voyage and the time they spent in Toronto. But in die course and by a circuitous route they all ended up back in London and he worked through the war for the Ministry of Defence in the inspectorate of fighting vehicles.
But he was I remember an inquisitive and clever man. He had tried 16mm, 9.5 mm and finally 8 mm movie cameras and projectors. He built radios and showed me how to build a cats' whisker radio. But in the late 40s the new-fangled TV came along and, inspired he said by our proximity to the home of the infant BBC – Ally Pally – he built three televisions. The first had a nine inch screen – that's about 20cms modern money. The second was 12 and the third a whopping 14 inches. Of course the old cathode ray tubes were about three feet long!. And grandpa was not concerned with aesthetics – so they were unclad. That is they were made of aluminium frames with exposed valves and circuitry! The vision chassis ran on 30,000 volts as I recall but at low enough amperage that Percy could reach in with a tuning rod and the flash was another burn up his arm. He jumped but never learned – or gave up; one of the two. Clever as I said among his papers when he died were drawings of a rotary engine based on the Wankel principle that he had been involved with at the Ministry. What came of it I know not. He bequeathed me several things, some through my genes. But among them was a cylinder from a Rolls Royce Merlin engine which I still have – and my first lecture on nuclear physics, conducted over a glass of whisky in the front room of our house one Christmas morning just before he died. I just about got it too.
Anyway one of these TVs was destined for our parlour the day of the Coronation but mother refused to allow the neighbours in to see it the naked wizardry so she went to DER and hired an ECKO set for the front room. We kids watched the event on grandpa's device, protected from its fearsome innards by a fire-guard!
It hung around for a year or two and I helped my father fit it into a redundant cocktail cabinet we scrounged. At least it was safer. About 1955 after Percy died a neighbour gutted it of re-usable valves and stuff and the carcass went into the back of a car and ended in Hornsey Council tip.
The time has come to venture outdoors. NEXT PAGE
This is a Humber Pullman exactly similar to one that was used by Monty Banks, who lived in the next street. It was the local hire car and did all sorts of runs. And yes, Monty did have the proper gear if it was needed.
1947 and we have just moved into 86 and the winter has begun. This is our then dog, Rip. He was a blitz damaged collie who barked at the moon and chased cars. He became dangerous and was put down. THIS is what we called the sideway of our house. It leads to eh passage that connects with the street outside, shared with number 88.
And this is 1943 and I am new on the block. My mum and I are at the back of Poynders Road, Streatham and the conservatory that was to blow in a year later onto my hiding place is behind her. And yes, we had dogs even then - this is Dinah, a magnificent red setter who did not survive the bombing; she became I am told totally catatonic and and would not eat.