April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     A series of essays on growing up in the 1950s - 1960s


Previous "Growing Up" articles:

December 2021

      In 1950, I left home. I was four years old. I packed my teddy bear, a couple of handkerchiefs, and one of my favourite Mabel Lucie Attwell books into a small, battered old suitcase an ageing relative had given to me as a gift, I opened the front door and walked up the long drive to the wooden gates (shortly to be replaced by wrought iron gates my father made himself), opened one of the gates and stood at the threshhold of a new life. Something had upset me - My Mum was just a couple of yards away, weeding the front garden - it was, I recall, a beautiful summer's day, just perfect for starting a new life away from the misery of my life in Brockworth. I intended to walk down the road, get on the bus to the city, make my way to the railway station and board a train for somewhere, I didn't know where, I hadn't yet made up my mind. If you think my parents were irresponsible, watching me open the garden gate and stand on the pavement next to the massive telegraph pole anchored with inch-thick steel rope to the concrete pavement, you're entirely wrong. This was 1950. No one in our street had a car. Deliveries of everything other than the royal mail parcels were made by horse and cart, and it certainly wasn't dustbin day, when the men would lift our dustbins easily onto their shoulders, then slide open the curved lids of the containers, and dump the contents inside. The street was entirely deserted. Mum let me get a couple of yards away from the gates, which I had carefully shut, before gently taking my hand with a smile and leading me back inside the garden, saying 'Let's get some of your cars and play in the earth, shall we?'
       I was four years old, and in all probability, I had wanted to do something that was not allowed, and, temporarily furious, I had packed Teddy and my few belongings and declared my intention of leaving home. The adventure was extremely short-lived, because I was easily persuaded to come back inside and play. Dad would have been at work, my sister Jean, four years older than me, would have been at school, and Mum was a stay at home Mum. I was always easily persuaded to play with toy cars, or to colour a picture, or to read a book, or to listen to the radio. I never left home again, much as I would have enjoyed travelling on a train. When we went on holiday, we usually caught the bus to Gloucester, then walked to the coach station and caught a Black and White coach to Victoria Station in London, and finally a second coach to Ramsgate, where we holidayed for the first fifteen years of my life, staying in a boarding house a few yards from the beach. Black and White Coaches were the most familiar to me, a welcome change from the green and cream Bristol Omnibus Company double deckers we caught into the city. The coaches were much more comfortable. We stopped at Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire, where we had a slap-up meal including one of those little slices of yellow fruitcake with the enormous glacĂ© cherries and the currants wrapped in sellophane, which I adored. The boarding house was run by Uncle Bert, not a real Uncle but someone my Dad knew from his childhood, and who, with his wife, occasionally visited us in Brockworth to spend a few days. We occupied one big bedroom with a double bed and two single beds, and we went out after breakfast, not returning until it was time for our evening meal.
       When I was a little older, certainly older than four, and approaching teenage years, I was allowe3d to leave the house and walk down to the sea front to watch the sea coming in or going out. The long days of those two week holidays in the summer school break were spent on the beach, where we would dig sandcastles and romp in the sea, eat ice creams and visit the entertainment halls where I would put pennies in slots, occasionally winning a small prize, or play bingo, where there were more opportunities for winning prizes; there was always plenty to do in Ramsgate, and where we felt like a long walk, we would walk the cliffs to the next resort, Broadstairs, which was more sedate and less "developed" than Ramsgate. On the day we went home after our two weeks, Dad and I would walk down for a last look at the sea before catching the coach back to Victoria and thence back to Gloucester for the final leg of our journey home to 72 Boverton Drive, Brockworth. The thing I remember most about our home in Gloucester was the fact that the front door wouldn't open. It wasn't until we were on the point of moving out that Dad finally fixed it. I remember the interior layout, of course. Two identical rooms, a front room and a dining room, and a small kitchen, which contained one of those tall units with a pull-down front and cupboards below and above. Next to that, a kitchen table on which all of our food was prepared. On the opposite wall was the sink and draining board, and on the back wall, a pantry, in which the fresh food like meat and butter was stored. There was a hole in the back wall of the pantry which was filled with some kind of mesh that allowed the food to keep cold - no refrigerator, no washing machine. We didn't have a refrigerator until 1963, when we moved to the three-bedroomed flat above the shop in Stevenage - that was the same year we first got a television.
       There was an old gas cooker with an eye-level grill in the kitchen. Compared with today's fitted kitchens and appliances, it was primitive, but we ate well, and we were never bothered with upset stomachs because our food wasn't chilled in a refrigerator. I don't recall the butter ever being runny or unusable. My favourite food from a very early age was sausages, which we bought from Mr Jacomelli the butcher in the little parade of shops at the end of Boverton Drive. On one side of the road there was the general store run by Mr Ellis, above whose shop Jean was born in 1941. Between then and 1946, when I was born, the family must have moved into 72 Boverton Drive. I was proud to know that of all the houses in the Drive, ours and next doors - they were semi-detached three bedroomed villas, our two gardens were far and away the biggest. Next door was a family of six, I forget their name, but they moved out in 1948, making way for Harold and Iris Hughes and their four children, Adrian and his sister, and the ginger-haired twins Nigel and Norman, who were two years older than me. They were Methodists. I don't say that detrimentally, of course, but simply to illustrate the point that the parents seemed to be much stricter than mine. What's more, they didn't use their front room. What? They kept it for best. Best what? They rarely had visitors, and when they did they were entertained in the dining room. We played together, Nigel, Norman and I, despite our age difference. They taught me to climb trees, taking me higher than I had ever been before, and making sure I didn't fall. Eventually, of course, they took their 11+, which they both failed. Harry, their father, was so incensed that they had failed, he paid for them to attend a private school in Gloucester near to the Cathedral; Kings' School took day students as well as boarders, and they went there as day students until it was time to begin their A level studies, at which point they transferred to my school, Crypat Grammar School for Boys, where they were celebrated for being twins, and I was the only person in the school who could tell them apart, which earned me many bonus points, I can tell you!
       I was telling you about the shops - opposite Mr Ellis's general store, where we bought our sweets, ice creams, pop (Tizer, mainly) and toothpaste (those little round tins of solid toothpaste that you softened with your toothbrush and cold water), and various other items, there was the row of three shops that ended with Jacomelli's the butcher. I believe one of the other two shops was a ladies' hairdressers, but I can't swear to it; I have no idea what the third shop was. We had our newspaper delivered from Mr Lees's post office down on the main road, which was Ermin Street, and ran from Cheltenham to Gloucester. I have no idea if this was the original Ermin Street built by the Romans, but it was certainly a very straight road. If you followed it the other way, as though you were headed to Cheltenham, you came to a large roundabout, and if you went straight on, to the East, you climbed up into the start of the Cotswolds. Turn right and you went to Cranham Woods, and the top of Cheeseroll Hill. Turn left and you went to Charlton Kings, the racecourse, and finally Cheltenham. When I was four and a half years old, I started school. I always thought that my first school, which had one class, one classroom and about twenty pupils, was in Shurdington, and there are plenty of references on the web about the little school at Shurdington. But it's in the wrong direction. My most vivid memory is of clinging to one of the poles in a double decker, hanging on for dear life as it climbed a very steep hill after turning right and passing Cranham Woods. Either way, I attended this one form school for just a few months, because in the summer of 1951, Brockworth New County Primary School was opened, Jean was in the top year, and was a prefect, whilst I was in the bottom year.
       I loved my time at this brand new school, and remember at least two of my favourite teachers, Miss Paige and Mr Rossiter, both of whom brought out the best in me, so much so that at age ten, I was considered good enough to sit the 11+ exam. I remember Brenda Offer, who lived in Boverton Drive, and who became my regular country dance partner. She was probably the first girl I was in love with. I remember Joan Mclaren and her older brother Gilmour McLaren. I remember Thomas Tullis, who shut my thumb in the French doors, an excruciatingly painful injury for which I still bear the scar. I remember Mr Gillow, the headmaster, who punished me for leading a revolution against the horrific lumpy custard they served us with our school dinners, and I remember his son Robert Gillow, also in my class and several months older than me, who sat the 11+ at the same time as me, and failed, much to the disgust of his father. At school break times we played games like "What's The Time Mr Wolf?", and rounders and so on - I wasn't particularly good at games, being bookish, and when we went to the playing fields for a kickabout, I invariably made an excuse to go home early so that I could sit up in bed and read my books and comics. During my time at Brockworth New County Primary School, I learnt to read and write well, and had a huge vocabulary. I read classics and adventure stories by people like Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, R M Ballantyne, whilst at the same time discovering the joys of John Dickson Carr, John Creasey, Leslie Charteris, Dennis Wheatley, Edgar Rice Burroughs and so on. I remember our class being given a project, to write a nonfiction book about something we were passionate about.I chose Ocean-going liners and duly wrote off to companies like Cunard and P&O, asking for their brochures, which I used to write my book. I loved the idea of ocean-going liners, but never got round to sailing on one. Whilst on holiday in Ramsgate, we went, every year, on a motor boat trip out into the channel, retracing the journey undertaken by this actual boat, when the flotilla of boats and ships went to rescue the survivors of Dynkirk. The captain of the boat had actually sailed his boat to Dunkirk and had brought back twenty or so survivors before turning round and going back for more. It was something both thrilling and exhilarating to think I was following in the footsteps of my wartime heroes.

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.


  In this issue:

  The Front Page

  Children's Books

  Fiction books

  Fantasy & Science Fiction

  Nonfiction Books

  The Silent Three

  The Four Marys

  Living with Skipper


  Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes

  Pen and Sword Books

  Sundays with Tarzan

  The Back Page

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