Wednesday, October 13, 2010

9 Childhood at Raynes Park

I once asked mother why she hadn’t left father in the early days. She told me that she had left after an incident when Jane was a baby and crying, as babies do, and father had picked Jane up and held her head under the running cold water tap in the kitchen to make her stop crying. Mother ran away, found a foster mother for Jane and, with a broken heart at leaving her precious baby, went away with a touring musical comedy show, that being the only way she could earn money. Of course father found out where Jane was, took her away and let mother know that if she did not return to him she would never see her baby again. Mother was frantic, not knowing who was caring for the baby, and returned to father who made more promises of better behaviour.

One night I came downstairs and found my mother lying on the kitchen floor, sobbing, with her head on a cushion in the gas oven. Would she have killed herself if I had not found her? Could she really have been so unhappy that she would have left her two little girls to an unknown fate? She must have been in the very depths of despair. I often hear criticism about the misuse of the Welfare State in England, but our lives would have been very different if Mother could have been assisted.

It is a pity that all these bad times are coming to the surface as I write my story, because I did have some happy times. Children could run pretty free in the thirties, although I was always a bit wary after the raincoat episode. There were some woods, and a playground with swings, near our house and Jane and I were playing there one day when this old man, well to me he looked old, offered us an acid drop from a paper bag. We politely took one each, but as soon as his back was turned we threw them away because, after the man with the puppy incident, my mother had drummed into me “Never take sweets from anyone, and never talk to strangers!” We played on the swings, did cartwheels, handstands and back bends, and when other children appeared we spoke to each other in gobbledygook, pretending we were from another country! We competed to see how far we could walk across the fast running little stream, before the water came up, over and into our Wellington Boots, even though I knew I would get into trouble for getting my boots wet. We looked in awe at deadly nightshade, because we had been told that it was poisonous and could kill. We experimented with stinging nettles and dock leaves, which were supposed to take the sting out but never did. I loved blue bells, wild violets, the lambs’ tails that hung from the trees in spring, the hazel nuts and the blackberries. Wandering through the woods and riding our bikes over the bumpy paths was so exciting. I loved my bicycle and I used to clean it until the wheels and spokes shone, and I also had to learn how to mend punctures. One day some rotten neighbour reported to mummy that she had seen me riding down the hill with my arms outstretched, not holding on to the handlebars. Of course I was scolded and warned about riding recklessly, but what did they expect? I came from a family of flipping trick cyclists, for goodness sake! But I did not say so because we were never, ever rude to our parents.

Mother was very ill with rheumatic fever and nearly died. Doctor Rose, who knew the family background, said we should move away from Raynes Park and all the dreadful things that had happened there, and try to have a fresh start. So when I was nine we moved to a nice little bungalow in Worcester Park, and to new schools.

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