YESTERDAY I started to do this by stream of consciousness but it seems mine has dried up. Well, put it this way, I felt the need for a map. So now we shall do it the easier way - by year. Also, to keep it simple I shall not deal with Janet until our marriage. However there will be a sidebar of her early years.
I shall start before I was born to paint a picture of the families. The Woods first:
For a start my father was married twice and had two sons by his first wife (Joan) and two by my mother (Gina).
He was Charles Clarence Norman Woods, born in Chandos Avenue, Tottenham in 1910, last child of Charles Payne Woods and Jean (?). He had three sisters – eldest was Kathleen (Kit), then Iris, then Dorothy and finally tail end Charlie.
His father was the senior clerk at Tottenham and District Gas Light and Coke Company. It sounds mundane but management was flat back then and he would have been close to assistant general manager in today's terms. The company was very patrician and very much part of society. It had a choir and Charles Payne Woods, an accomplished pianist and organist, was musical director. Every year they held a huge event at Alexandra Palace and my grandfather got to play the grand organ there!
But come the war and he went off as an ordinary rifleman and suffered so terribly that on his return, in about 1920 he died under a tube train at Baker Street Station. A kindly coroner called it an open verdict since no one saw him jump or fall. That saved the family bacon. But incredibly within three years his wife was dead too – of septicaemia after having a foot amputated for cancer!
By then, thankfully perhaps, Iris and Kit were married; Iris to Ashley Slaughter (yes, really!) who built a fair chunk of London Wall and Kit to Clifford Stamford, an ironmongers manager. Father went to live with them briefly but...
His father had been a Grand Master of the Tottenham Lodge of the Freemasons. And that gave dad a free scholarship to the Royal Masonic Boarding School, Bushey Herts. First at the preparatory school; then at the main school where he stayed (literally – every holiday!) until he was 18 and got his matriculation (equiv or five A stars). But while uni beckoned there was no money and he went o teach at a school in Bromley callee Quernmore. He did not last long and my guess is they did not approve of his disciplinary methods... nuff said!
In 1920+ a better calling was the Metropolitan Police. He joined. Then he married and fathered two sons, Michael Anthony and Nicholas Dudley. He was out a lot coppering and his wife had an affair with a chap called Cecil. No, really. Divorce followed in about 1935. Bizarrely he won custody and the boys ended up being cared for by Auntie Iris in Enfield.
Father then met Lilian Elizabeth Georgina Bollen. In 1940 they married and both had busy lives in the war – he added fire watch to his 'reserved occupation' of police duties and mother drove an ambulance as a ATS. Both were hazardous but Mum fell for me late in 1942 and I arrived on time in August 1943.
Now to mum: She was born to Percival and Lilah Bollen in 1917 in Newhaven, Sussex. And their address was Bollen Terrace... really but I know not how or why and the country archivist is equally puzzled. Percy was a Newhaven family; his wife the daughter of an Irish lawyer in London. There is a bad match between their marriage and my mother's birth... say no more.
Percy was a clever scoundrel in reality. His skills were in engineering – he opened the first garage in Newhaven (the Drove) early in the 1900s.
His wife Lilah came from a big family – in no order, Doris, Laura, Hilda, Ruth, Eve, Maude – and maybe more. All will feature later. As the years progressed Percy's business did not and sometime in the 20s he decided to travel to Canada to seek a better fortune, leaving his wife and child and the sisters behind. They did not stay long but soon all headed for Toronto to confront the miscreant.
In fact it was to be good for at least two of them – Hilda met Walter, a Winnipeg farmer and they married. Ruth found her way to the US and Hollywood where she married Jimmie Sangster, a film writer and producer of horror movies..
Soon enough Lil persuaded Percy to do the decent thing and he, my mother and possibly her aunt Eve returned to the UK. Percy landed well – getting a job with the burgeoning Ministry of Fighting Vehicles and was to play a role in the development of the Meteor, the tank engine version of the famous Merlin aero engine. Lil took over a Marylebone Road fag booth and that is where my father met Georgina!
I may add to this as time goes by.
My arrival was on August 11 in the fourth year of the war. The blitz was over but the VI 'doodlebugs' were reigning down on London, soon to be followed by the bigger if fewer V2.
Naturally I have few memories from so early but I do harbour one – the sight of our lovely red setter, Dinah peering down at me in a cot. Maybe maybe not.
My christening was moderately grand affair it seems – the picture shows many of the people who populate my world.
These is significant years for the entire family. 1945 was year the VI hit the houses at the end of our garden. It was I am told mid afternoon. Everyone heard the thrum-thrum of the missile; then the silence and the certain knowledge that it was falling nearby.
In fact some 30 yards from where I lay, in a cot securely under the hefty dining room table (reinforced as a shelter) but within feet of the French doors and the surrounding conservatory. The entire edifice ended up enshrouding my cocoon. I was dragged out by shocked family – I am told my mother was alone but the boys appeared soon enough from nearby school.
Of course reports are that I was fine. They are of course erroneous due to the fact that for several minutes I had been breathing the dust and fumes generated by the destruction of the ancient conservatory.
Thus it is that I primarily blame Herr Adolf Hitler for my current breathing difficulties.
And we were homeless. The Thornton Road house (Streatham) was unliveable. I am not sure of the immediate events but we ended up in Cardiff, with my Great Aunt Dorrie, Uncle Viv and cousins Malcolm and Stuart.
Memories are very scant until,we reach 86 Furbisher Road in 1945/6. We got this opportunity in late 45/46 thanks to the existing part tenant. She I now know was Louis Bagott (no really) and about 123... She occupied the front bedroom and the box room of 86. She was related to mum's mum Lilah and tipped us off. We moved in. Dad of course was a copper and a preferred tenant since his rent was paid by the Mt Police.
But 86 was not what it was. In fact it was not quite where it had been. For the houses opposite (facing Willoughby Road and Ducketts Common – see map) were no more thank to a stick of HE in late 44. This had moved the back peg of 86 backwards about a inch. Underpinning started in 1946... late... just in time for the wort winter on record...
That I kind of remember – snow over boots, riding foreman Ginger's shoulders round the house (he flirted with mum!) and generally enjoying it all enormously.
The boys were home – Mike and Nick took up places at Stationers' Company's Grammar School and occasionality had rather nasty fights in the scullery, separated by a tireless Mum. They built model aeroplanes and taught me how; we flew them together. It was great fun.
Louis Bagott, as expected pegged it in 1946 and we had the whole house. Identical in every way to Seward Road except I note one brick wider. And the first floor 'flew' over the passageway giving us an extra 2-3 feet of width on the rooms.
Louis's demise was a great boon since it meant Mike and Nick could have their own room. I took up sole residence of the 'middle bedroom. (where the vast Chinese vases on the wardrobe filled me with terror). I was rated a bit sickly due to what our doddering GP (the police force MO!) Stowers diagnosed wrongly as bronchitis. NO NHS then of course.
I have skipped a couple of years since they progressed without significant event that I am aware of. They did feature bantams in the yard (eggs) and breeding corgis (a la HRH Elizabeth) and MONEY!
But in 1947/8 two events occurred, coincided and probably had a greater effect on me than I realised. In The September of 47, aged five years and one month I started school at North Harringay Infants and Juniors schoo, Frobisher Road, Harringay.
It was indeed at the top of the road, just 50 houses distant from ours. It was a walk I already new since the last house on the left (before both the school and Harringay Passage (more anon) was the orange and malt lady's home. She of the black bombazine face and dress. We collected our weekly ration of concentrated orange juice (Vit C) and cod liver oil and malt (Vits E, D and assorted other good stuff) once a week. Thus it was that the nightmares of rickets, scurvy and other ancient diseases were kept at bay for us, the better off.
So I started school with the usual terrors and complaints. But by Christmas I was enjoying it all, oblivious to the bump that heralded a major change in 1948....
On April 30 of that year Roger Stephen entered our (my) world. Suddenly being sent off to school every day was a punishment which I felt I did not deserve. No one can properly handle these impacts. For a while no one did but, once again, resilience kicks in and by year's end I was settled again.
A very early me
Grandpa Percy, Grandma Lil, mum, dad and me.