Laying in bed, I could smell the joint of beef cooking in the oven; potatoes boiling on the stove; it was Sunday, not my favourite day of the week, with school coming up the next day, but I did love my roast dinner. Mum was a great cook, spending most of the day preparing Sunday Lunch, while Dad and I went to the pub with Nan and Grandad, when Grandad was on shore leave that is; he was in the Merchant Navy and away quite a lot. At home, he always liked a drink or two in ‘The Club,’ a short distance walk from their house. ‘The Club,’ was a C.I.U working men’s club; It looked like a tired, warn industrial unit, perched on the side of an Edwardian house; a meeting place, where membership was a must. Drinks were cheap, conversation in abundance; a welcome break from the drudgery of life.
I could barely see in front of me, the air was thick with smoke; the smell of stale beer, cheese and onion crisps, Old Spice and cheap perfume punctuated the air as we walked in. Music was playing from the stage; voices chattering, laughter, children running around the tables. Holding Nan’s hand, we approached the table between the bar and the hall, separated by a plastic screen, facing a long wooden bar. People were sitting on stools, pint in hand, talking about football, politics and the state of 1970s Britain. As a child I hated being there, holding my nose, trying to avoid the smoke, being blown from every direction. Dad and Grandad stood at the bar, talking to people as they waited to be served, waving at others who walked past, shaking hands with this person or that. Hill park was a small place, everyone knew each another, even if they didn’t always get on. Like most small towns and villages, it had its fair share of drama!
Nan was talking to Aunty Pam; she wasn’t a real Aunty, but we always referred to her in that term. Pam had a large booming laugh, that echoed throughout the bar; the more she drank, the more she laughed, the funnier she was. I had a lot of Aunties and Uncles at ‘The Club,’ Aunty Jean, Uncle John, Aunty Vera, the list is endless. All of them would come over, kissing, wet saliva all over my cheeks, the smell of alcohol on their breath, rubbing my hair, throwing me up in the air, bouncing me on their knee. It was a brave new World for a young boy - faces everywhere, the clinking of glasses and those foul-smelling ashtrays in front of my face. It was a place so different from the security of home; smells, tastes and sounds all merged into one, in this mayhem of Sunday life.
I sat at the wobbly table, playing with beer mats, flicking them up in the air, bored waiting for my bottle of coke and crisps to arrive. Looking left occasionally, Nan made sure I was OK, as she continued talking to Pam and Uncle John. Dad and Grandad returned with a tray of drinks, poised to put them down. Nan lent over, taking a beer mat from my hand, folding it into quarters, placing it under the offending unsteady table leg, before the drinks were handed out. Finally, the table stopped moving, and the tray was emptied. I always had a fizzy drink and packet of salt and vinegar Rock ‘n’ Rollers, my favourite crisps of the time. Nan would have a packet of ‘Big D’ peanuts and probably a gin and tonic, although I can’t quite remember what her tipple was. Dad had a pint of Skol or cider and occasionally a cigar, the smell of which I loved; Grandad a very large whisky!
Wearing a lime green turtle-neck, short orange skirt and fur coat; Nan would dance the afternoon away; her perfect back combed hair standing tall, Windsor style, just like The Queen. Her manicured nails and high heel shoes gleaming, under the lights of the hall; laughing, joking; a social butterfly. This was my Nan, not sat at home knitting or reading a book, but part of the fabric of ‘The Club.’ A place full of fond memories, spent with people long since gone; happy times celebrating, family milestones, Weddings and coming home parties; ‘The Club,’ where their laughter lives on!
I sat there shivering, in grey tailored shorts and a wide collared shirt; fiddling with the bottom of my woolen tank top, neatly attired to compensate for the chill in the hall. Looking up towards Mrs Hat, squeezing my right eye tightly, I did my best to avoid the shouting above. I lent my head to one side, trying to cover my ear with my shoulder. Mrs Hat was mad, more angry than I had ever seen her before. Bending forwards, a shadow cast across my brow. I could feel her peppermint breath on my head; her big round face, obscured by her red felt hat. I could just make out her tiny little eyes, peering over her cheeks, as she moved closer and closer, nose to nose. She wore cats eye glasses, suspended on a golden chain, always tangled around her neck. They kept hitting me on the chin as she continued her screaming, bellowing ever louder. Finally I placed my hands above my head and pulled the top half of my body towards my chest; curled up I hid from her rage.
It was Wednesday and the Gospel Hall was filling up; children, all shapes and sizes, were once again attending an hour long session, of religious instruction and music. Mrs Hat was in charge; in all honesty, I can’t even remember if that was her name, or we called her that because of the ostentatious headpiece, she wore each week. She was stern, strict and without humour; a portly lady from an altogether different time. Sat in the pews, next to my friend from school, I was in a rather fidgety mood, not wanting to comply with the teachings of our Lord. I began kicking the bench in front, with my brown clarks sandals; a constant tap, as Mrs Hat began her sermon. I was in no mood for listening. Slouching, my head hit the backrest behind and I began to slide down the hard wooden seat; legs wide open, tapping my knees together, back and forth, making a clicking sound with my mouth.
Mid flow, Mrs Hat, looked up from her notes; removing her spectacles forcefully. Grasping them tightly in her left hand, she began banging them on the lecturn in front; the sound gradually getting louder, radiating throughout the hall. She glared across the auditorium, quickly picking up on my uninterested composure; eyes wide open she stared candidly in my direction. I looked around the room, to see if anyone had noticed our posturing. Gingerly I put both hands on the seat, either side of me and gradually lifted myself up, trying to look innocent and interested; all the while, Mrs Hat focused on my demeanour. As soon as I was upright, she popped her glasses back on her rather commodious nose and restarted her laborious rant. It wasn’t too long before my head began to nod in front of me; barely able to stay awake. I fell forwards, banging my head on the seat in front, knocking a bible, placed precariously on my knees, to the floor. Screeching loudly, I rubbed my throbbing temple, trying to ease the pain.
This time Mrs Hat was in a rage; once again she removed her eyeglasses, getting her thumb tied up in the chain around her nape. Even more enraged, she shook the adornment free, all the while looking at me full on in the face. After a deep breath, she lifted her arm in the air and pointed towards my position; I looked around quickly, hoping someone else was in her line of sight. Everyone else was looking downwards, not wanting to catch her eye. I just froze and realised the game was up; I was in trouble and waited silently, patiently as Mrs Hat began her descent from the pulpit.
She walked down the isle, towards the back of the room, where I was sat, all the time pointing, breathing hard, muttering to herself. As I waited patiently, I looked up towards the stark white ceiling above. Maybe God would intervene and whisk me away from this place, before her wrath and damnation; no such luck. God deserted me and I was left to the mercy of Mrs Hat; my career in the church was over before it started; my worst fears confirmed. There was no God, just her, her rage and displeasure and the unabated fury for the children she thwarted!
We lived in a close community, on a small social housing development, in the relatively affluent town of Fareham, in Hampshire. Me, my brother, Mother and Father resided at number 6 Nashe House, a bottom floor, two bedroom maisonette, in a development of 16 dwellings. Today was Silver Jubilee day, June 1977; it was windy and raining, typical English weather, and it was one of the coldest, wettest June's of the twentieth century. It was twenty-five years, since HM Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, and the Country was celebrating in typical British style.
Jubilee Day was exciting, it felt like Christmas; hearing crashing and banging outside, shouts and laughter, people milling about, talking and chattering, I ran to my bedroom window. The small lane in front of our block was a hive of activity; people outside preparing for the day's festivities. Different tables, all shapes and sizes; wallpaper, trestle, brown wooden, gate leg, modern 70s Formica, all being laid end to end, creating a slightly unsteady, unsightly looking workbench; odd, mismatched, all different heights. This was a stage for the events ahead; this was our homage to the Queen, our street party surrounded by neighbours and our chance to play a small part on this momentous day.
The tables were duly covered with a sea of table clothes, the Queen's face emblazoned on each setting. Union flags, red white and blue bunting, banners and lanterns began filling the space between each flat, in the small gardens and in the washing area in front of the building. A sea of colour on an otherwise drab, grey day. I sat looking out of the bedroom window, nose pressed against the glass, elbows on the window sill, hands supporting my chin, peering down looking at the mayhem outside. With butterflies in my stomach, I made my way downstairs to join the growing crowd.
The tables were decorated with balloons tied to the back of each chair. Children and adults sat side by side, on the table nearest their door. Local residents started bringing out plate after plate of food and drink – a buffet fit for a Queen; sausage rolls, biscuits, cakes, jelly and ice cream, Swiss rolls, all piled high in front of our eyes. As children, we were awestruck, open-mouthed, exuberant; we had never seen anything like this before. Party hats were handed to each of us, followed by a flag with a photo of the Queen, fluttering with gusto in the unseasonably high winds of the day. The wireless was playing in the background; patriotic music, old school party songs and the National Anthem. We began waving our flags, throwing streamers in the air, cheering and shouting; ‘God save the Queen, God save the Queen!’
With party games in full swing, our glasses were topped up with orange cordial. Face covered in chocolate and a plate of pink blancmange in front of my eyes, I leant back on the squeaking wooden chair, swinging my legs back and forth, satisfied at the day's accomplishments. I don’t recall seeing Mum or Dad, I was too busy playing with friends. I can remember the fun everyone had and the Silver Jubilee mug we were all given; something I haven’t seen for many years. Also, I remember how tired I felt, as evening turned to dusk, and the sun set over the school fields in front of our flat. Finally taken to bed and tucked in by Mother, others older than I, partied the night away. As my head hit the pillow, eyes slowly closed, I could still hear voices and singing outside. I felt happy to have been a part, of such a memorable day.
The Silver Jubilee was over forty years ago now; we have had a Golden, Diamond, and Sapphire one since. I can still remember this day so well, because it was special. It was the first street party I ever went to and wouldn’t be the last. It was the beginning of my life outside the security of home, during my first year of school. Above all it was a joyous time spent with friends, neighbours and family, a part of me so sadly lacking today. Laughing, enjoying the most carefree time in my life; so different, so long ago, the memories remain as vivid as ever, a precious part of childhood, at an altogether different time!
As a child, I gave each day of the week a colour; Wednesday was blue; a happy hue, vibrant and full of life. Blue reminded me of a summer sky; dreamy, bright, sparkling in the warm glow of the sun. This was my favourite day; sausage and chips for lunch. Slouching, slumped on my desk, arms folded, supporting my head, watching the clock tick slowly by; a momentary glance out of the window, told me it was nearly time to go; the caretaker opening the rusty gates at the end of the school drive, to herd the throng of children running quickly home. With one minute to go, I began to pack away my pencil case, haphazardly throwing it into the dark recess of my bag, hanging from the back of my chair. Finally the bell sounded, chairs noisily scraped backwards, as we all scrambled towards the door; unruly, disorderly; ignoring our teachers plea for quiet!
On the way to Nanny’s house, we took a slight detour, stopping at the local takeaway on Fareham Park Road. The smell of fish, battered sausages and chips, steak and kidney pie, pickled onions, pickled eggs, pea fritters, everything fried; wafting up the street. Salivating, licking my lips, I anticipated my lunch. A leisurely walk turned into a hurried sprint, as I tried to reach the head of the lunch time queue; skating, precariously around the glass door, briefly tripping on the front step, hands firmly gripping the frame, stopping my fall. I made it, I was first; standing proudly waiting to be served. Barely able to reach half way up the counter, I shouted my order, jumping up and down, waving furiously. The lady smiled back warmly, a wink from her right eye; she knew me, like everyone else who came in each day. She was large, with red rosy cheeks, booming voice, imposing laughter; jolly, jovial and jaunty; hands folded, tucked neatly under her chest.
It was a short walk to Nanny’s house; running in the door; hands stretched outwards a big hug my reward. Nanny was a remarkable, extraordinary woman with blue and purple hair, bright red lipstick, perfectly manicured nails. She always wore high heeled shoes, a string of pearls around her neck, sparking rings on her fingers, immaculately dressed.
The plates were warming in the oven, as our newspaper packages were handed out. Climbing up the stool towards the breakfast bar, I always sat in the corner, next to the green rotary phone, that hung on the wall. I could see the television from the corner of my left eye, in the sitting room beyond; perched neatly on the end of Nan and Grandads stone fireplace, quietly talking away to itself. Leaning slightly backwards I would try and watch ‘fingerbobs,’ ‘Charlton and the Wheelies,’ ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Button Moon,’ occasionally taking a bite, more often not, distracted, preoccupied!
Everyone was there on a Wednesday; my Uncle and Aunt who I went to school with, Mother and younger Brother; everyone chatting away, in the middle of their own conversations, discussing the latest local gossip, the price of groceries or which member of our rather large family was pregnant again. These were indeed happy times, spent in the comfort of my Nan’s house; innocent fun filled days, where a fish and chip lunch was enough to satisfy all my dreams and aspirations. Wednesdays were a special part of my life, because the memories are still there, burning strong. As I write these words down, I am immediately transported back to 1978, listening to the voices chattering around me, the smell of ‘proper chip shop chips,’ magical children’s television and Nanny’s face peering lovingly down towards me, chuckling to herself as I ate my meal.
My blue day was never quite the same again, faded into the past. As I moved ever onwards, far from my home town, Wednesdays have become a tradition once again, remembered fondly, whenever I eat fish and chips. Memories come flooding back, as I sit, thinking about those happy School days, spent with family at Nanny’s house. Memories are precious; I’m glad I lived the life I have; I wouldn’t wish for anything more, just time, to go back and relive them all!
The old railway line was full to bursting with blackberry bushes, laden with plump, ripe fruit. Negotiating ones way through the bramble and stinging nettles, was always a difficulty; arms stretched out, hands filling an old ice cream container full of produce, on the way to the village. Growing up on the outskirts of Titchfield was idyllic. This was my families home; small, traditional, oak beamed Tudor cottages, centuries old church and memories from a childhood, spent peacefully playing in open fields, as far as the eye could see. I always enjoyed the gentle stroll, past ones school, under the Victorian arched bridge, along the old railway line, long since gone; stopping at the local Public House opposite Titchfield Abbey. This is a journey I haven’t undertaken for many years; my life too busy, taking me to far away places, a life time away from the village, where I grew up.
My brother, Mother, Father and I would sit outside ‘The Fisherman’s Rest;’ Dad would have a pint of cider and my Mother, who never drank, a schweppes tonic water, with a slice of lemon. My brother and I were happy with a bottle of coke and a packet of Golden Wonder; In front of us, a panorama; a vista like no other. Here was situated, the glorious historic Abbey of the White Connons; a large country house visited by Charles I and frequented by Shakespeare; writing sonnets from the battlements, towering above the village below. Averting ones eyes to the left, Abbey Gardens came into view. As a family, we would frequently walk up to the estate, where we could pick our own fruit and vegetables, often eating more than we harvested; face covered in sweet sticky strawberry juice, fingers a deep shade of red, clothes stained, shoes muddy. This was our pitstop, just a short walk away, from the place I still call home, even to this day.
Today, our family no longer live in this characterful Hampshire Hamlet; an oasis surrounded by urban sprawl. As a child my Great Granny Light, lived in the centre, in a cottage many hundreds of years old. I remember fondly visiting her, sat on her knee. She had a hairy chin, that tickled my face, as she kissed my cheeks. Great Granny would always produce a pressed glass bottle from the kitchen. I swear it contained alcohol; a little nip of something, even for me, as a very young boy; I recall the taste distinctly and have never savoured it since. Great Granny’s lounge was small, dark, cosy and beamed, hunting scenes on the wall; tiny cottage glass windows, reflecting the dancing light of the fire; warm and inviting. This was Granny’s house, part of a local community, where everyone, knew each other; neighbours passing the time of day and children playing in the village square.
A short distance away lived my Great Aunty Peggy, in a tiny terraced house; Edwardian in style, outside toilet, perfectly manicured back garden, always clean and tidy. When Granny died, we would visit Peggy often, especially on Carnival days. Titchfield Carnival was colourful, vibrant, encompassing everyone who lived in the village. Taking place in October each year, we would stand outside our Aunties house; warm woolen mittens, scarf, bobble hat, waving a Union flag. Peggy would bring out home made cakes, orange juice and an extra layer of clothing in the winter chill. Fireworks and a bonfire would end the festivities, acrid smell in the air; finally retiring inside, falling asleep, curled up on the sofa, covered in a rug from the bed.
Titchfield has changed a lot by all accounts; not the village of my youth. Memories of this period grow vaguer, as time passes quickly by. I am grateful for my upbringing, surrounded by a large family and friends; I am thoughtful recalling events, when others have forgotten; I am hopeful I will return one day, to visit my old hunting ground, as I like generations before me, tread the cobbled streets of Titchfield once again
A trusted middle aged woman, who had dedicated her life to the children she taught; dressed in twin set and pearls, tight fitting light tweed jacket and accessorised with a brooch on her left lapel. Her sensible court shoes were patent leather, shiny and gleaming, just like her deep set eyes; hiding behind a pair of thick 1970s spectacles, that usually hung around her neck, on a golden chain. This was my first teacher; a lady I have fond memories of. She was patient, firmly spoken, clear and articulate; her air of authority, respected and rarely questioned. As a young boy attending my first class, Mrs Brooks was the best I could have hoped for; others were not so lucky. She was unassuming, approachable, a little dour but enthusiastic in her role; a position she relished, a job she loved. As a five year old boy, I felt secure in her presence; important during those first few years, away from home and the safety of a Mothers arms.
The caretaker pulled his wooden cart with T shaped handle, along the echoing corridors of the school; wheels squeaking, clanking as he went about his business. Breathing heavily, muttering to himself under his breath, he diligently delivered the warm quarter pint glass bottles, of Co-op milk, to each class. The classroom door would spring open, our eyes averted briefly, as he left the rattling crate of blue top, perched precariously in a corner. I hated this time of day; warm milk was just not palatable. My stomach churned at the thought of having to drink yet more of this white stuff; feeling queasy, gulping deeply, anticipating frantically! Milk would forever be the bane of my life, the smell of it, made worse from the heat of the day; sun pouring through the great expanse of glass encasing the school.
The bell signaled morning break; the silence of the room suddenly became loud and noisy, as chairs were scraped along the wooden parquet floor. Children began chattering to friends on the other side of the table, a play fight by the door, a handball thrown in haste; all the while, Mrs Brooks calming the fray. The milk monitors walked to the back of the class, taking each small bottle in turn, handing them out to each of us, without exception. In front of me was also a straw, used to pierce the foil top, spitting residue over my freshly laundered clothes, lingering on my turtleneck knitwear, proudly sported each morning. The liquid soaked through the wool, as I tried to brush it away; a familiar odour protracted, until I could leave at the end of the day!
I sat there looking at the bottle for a minute or two, thinking about how I could drink the contents fast enough and make the taste more appetising. Gently, not wanting to upset a single drop, I removed the top and straw, looking down at the milk inside; jiggling the bottle gently, left to right. Gripping the flagon tightly, I retched ever so slightly, as the rim of the bottle touched my lips. I closed my eyes systematically, pinched my nose securely, and quickly poured the opaque white liquid down my throat, spilling most of it in my wake. It wasn’t unusual for me to make a quick exit to the toilet at this point, roughly putting my head under the tap, drinking water as fast as I could, trying to take the taste away.
As I look back with affection, at those halcyon days; the lack of stress and worry, playing in the fields, so green and lush in this new and wondrous World. I am reminded that not everything was great back then; bad memories loitering longer. I have never drunk milk since that time and was glad when Mrs Thatcher ‘The Milk Snatcher’ took it away. A difficult part of childhood remembered with fondness, as I write this memory today.
The precarious placed metal fence swayed gently in the soft summer breeze; diamonds dancing in the intense afternoon sun. The distant cries of children playing hopscotch, indistinguishable from the faint Mexican ripple, of the metal enclosure that flowed for miles, as far as the eye could see; separating us from them. I was aloft, like Repunzel in her tower or a King in his castle; observing the green fields of the school, displayed in front of my eyes. As I looked back towards Mrs Rogers bungalow, there was no sign of the strange old lady, that lived inside. Scared of hurtling towards my certain death, I tried to alight my vantage point. Quickly I threw out my right arm, trying to grab hold of the tree, that helped me climb to the top of my World; higher than I had ever been before. I missed; Instead of a branch, I grasped the stem of an over ripe apple, scarcely in-situ; both of us awkwardly balancing with fear. I was perched dangerously, on the edge of the cage, wire gouging through my shorts, piercing the skin below. My badly bitten finger nails barely touched the shell of the fruit, which like me was sent tumbling, cascading towards the ground. A patch of beige corduroy was left, attached to the turrets above, A battle war torn flag, scarred, frayed and covered in blood; fluttering there briefly, before being blown away into the gardens beyond,
I hit the grass with an unceremonious thud; briefly stunned, shocked I took a deep sigh of relief. My repose was short lived, as prostration turned to pain, blood oozing from my leg. The wire railings had done their worst, leaving destruction in their wake. Tears began to well up in my eyes, as I gritted my teeth tightly, trying to ease the pain. As I sat there, looking up, towards the treacherous tree above, water cascading down my cheeks, crying turned to anxiety, worried about what Mother would say!
Suddenly Mrs Rogers returned, she caught my bloodshot eye, just as I caught hers. She must have been a thousand years old; always wore black, her white, grey, peppered hair, tied back in a bun, accentuating her pointy, grimacing, scowling features; weather beaten, characterful, a life long lived. I was in trouble now; I was a gonna! Mrs Rogers had always scared the living daylights out of me. When Mother and I used to stop and talk to her in the street, she would always brush her bony fingers, along my jaw, finally flicking her nails upwards, as she met my chin. I remember her Smiling, from the corner of her wrinkled lips; her stained, yellowing teeth snarling towards my face. Squinting, hiding, circumvent, I always avoided her stare as she endeavoured to kiss my brow. I tried to move my bleeding leg, attempting to run away, but to no avail; so tightly shut my windows on the World, laid back on the grass at the corner of the field; putting my fingers in my ears and drifting away to that place I often went, In times of stress. A beautiful setting that exists today, one I still visit from time to time; comfy, soft, squidgy, nurturing; a World of security and fun, existing only in my dreams! This was my safety zone, away from the schoolboy pressures, the drudgery of life in class and the disappointments of the day; a positive aspect of childhood that I keep as a reminder of things to come.
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.