Friday, October 15, 2010

12. We move to Cheam

I do wonder about the after life. If there is only oblivion then it will not matter because I will be oblivious to the fact! On the other hand, if it is all angels, fluffy clouds, loving and shining lights I will get awfully bored after the first couple of hundred years. Perhaps that is the reason people choose to be reincarnated, they are simply bored with everything being so nice.

I could never kill anything just for pleasure and I had never held a rifle until one day, in recent years, a friend who was shooting an air rifle at the starlings in his garden challenged me. Never dreaming that I could hit anything, I aimed and fired at a bird; it shivered and lay down dead. I was really upset. When I find a huge rain spider, a river crab or cricket in the house I will trap it under a basin and then take it outside.

There were two daughters in the house where we were staying in Brighton, Christine and Renee, who were about our age. Jane and Renee spent their time on Brighton Pier, which was almost deserted at that time of year, and they would go round all the slot machines, pulling the handles and, sometimes, finding a few pennies. That was when Jane started smoking because she and Renee would get five Woodbines for two pence and smoke them under the pier, but I was more interested in sweets than smoke. At the end of the pier serious fishermen with fancy rods, floats and stuff would sit all day long waiting hopefully for a bite, so I decided to try my hand at fishing too. I had a piece of string with a bent pin on the end and one of the fishermen, with his splendid fishing rod, gave me a little piece of bait, he was probably amused by me. Well, I sat patiently and suddenly there was a tugging on my string so I hauled it up and there, wriggling on the end, was a little dab! I could not bear to unhook it so the fishermen did if for me, and I was really proud that I had caught a fish and they had not. I took it home and mother cooked it for me. With the skin, bones and fins removed there was probably about a teaspoonful of flesh to eat. Poor little fish!

I have no idea how father managed it, but we left the Markham’s house and moved to a nice rented semi detached house, 174 Churchill Road, North Cheam, Surrey, and I attended North Cheam School. On and off during the years, father had been a commercial traveller, selling everything from printed stationery to Ratex, a highly lethal rat poison which he stored in our garage, so he was away “on the road” a great deal. He also sold zithers to people in country districts. These instruments were like harps, imported from Germany, but solid and played on a table. He would sell on deposit and then call every week for the two shillings or so instalment. When I was twelve he decided that I should go up to London, to the warehouse, to collect two of those harps which were, incidentally, very heavy. The journey entailed getting on a bus at the top of the hill, travelling to the underground station and, after making enquiries there, boarding a train to the City. Once there, I wondered around with a piece of paper in my hand on which was written the address of the warehouse. In those days policemen patrolled the streets on foot, and we had been taught that if ever we were lost or in trouble we had to ask a policeman for help. Well, I was lost sure enough, so I found a policeman who showed some surprise at a twelve year old walking round the City of London looking for a warehouse that stocked zithers! The end of the story was that I arrived back home, very tired and with arms aching from carrying the two instruments. When mother found out where I had been she hit the roof and another row started, but I was very pleased with myself for completing the task.

Maureen was still only a baby when we moved to Cheam, she was very premature and sickly and mother was so busy looking after her, cleaning the house and trying to make ends meet that she seemed to have little time for me, so I suppose I suffered the middle child syndrome. But in spite of being unhappy, and exhausted, Mother would spend hours brushing my hair round her left index finger to make ringlets.

On Saturday mornings I would push the empty baby pram up the hill to the little row of shops to do the weeks shopping. The grocer would serve me over the counter with the items on my list -  there were no trolleys to push around and fill up with junk food, sweets, biscuits and cool drinks, those things were for birthday parties and special occasions only. “Half a pound of bacon, short back, lean No.5, half a pound of margarine and half a pound of butter, please", I would read out, very importantly.  Bacon was cut fresh on the slicing machine, No.5 being the thickness required, 'short back lean' being the cut.  The butter was cut off a huge slab and, somehow, the grocer always managed to cut off the exact amount in one piece. On Saturday nights, just before closing time, the greengrocer would let me have a bag of 'specs' for two pence -  fruit that was marked and would not keep until the shop opened again on Monday. What a bag! There would be grapefruits for breakfast, bananas to cut up and cover with custard for dinner, very slightly bruised apples and sometimes a pomegranate which we would cut in half and, using a big pin, pick out the sweet red seeds.  In Woolworths biscuits were sold loose from big tins and we could buy the broken ones left at the bottom of the tins for two pence a pound.

At the end of the row of shops were the cinema and the pub.  There was great excitement when Jesse Matthews, and her husband Sonny Hale, made personal appearances to promote one of Jesse's movies in which she sang a song to the unseen man in the flat above hers, "I hear him overhead, on the ceiling, near my bed". Jane and I entered a talent competition at the cinema, there used to be entertainments during the intervals.  I sang "Little Curley Hair in a highchair, what's your orders for today?  Little Curley Hair in a highchair, I'll do anything you say. etc. etc."  I did not win and I seem to remember I was reluctant to leave the stage.  Jane sang a song about "sunshine" which I may remember later.  She did not win either!  I should have known then that my theatrical career was doomed to failure.

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