These two pieces set the scene for the entire work to follow, a kind of experiment in memoir writing with a spiritual core. Both deal with my childhood in London in the 1960s. The first was adapted from a Christian testimony dating from 2002, and published at the Blogster.com website on the 1st of February 2006, the second from an unfinished short story penned in the mid to late 1970s about a close friend from Bedford Park where I lived for some thirteen years between ca. 1957 and 1970. Once known as "Poverty Park" despite having been London's first Garden Suburb, Bedford Park now forms part of a conservation area within the London borough of Ealing, with a small part within that of Hounslow. It was initially published at Blogster as "Wicked Cahoots" on the 15th of February 2006. Definitive versions of both works were created with further minor variations in July 2007, and then again in December.
Born on the Goldhawk Road
I was born close to the undistinguished source of West London's Goldhawk Road and my first home was in Bulmer Place near Notting Hill Gate. My brother was born two and a half years later, by which time my parents had bought their own house in Bedford Park in what was then the London Borough of Acton, and suburban West London was marked by a homespun simplicity back then that we can only dream of today. By '63, with my brother and I safe in London’s Lycée Français Kensington du Sud, social change was in the air, though in truth it had been for some time, especially in Britain and the USA, at least since the rise of Rock and Roll, and youth culture, whose watershed years were '55 to '56, but for all that England in '63 was still apparently in black and white, and the first shaggy-haired beat groups fitted quite snugly into this innocent time of Norman Wisdom pictures, of the well-spoken presenters of the BBC Home Service, Light Service and World Service, of coppers, tanners and ten bob notes, tuck shops and tuppeny chews. I was an articulate child, cheerful and sociable in an idyllic world, although I went on to become a tearaway, both at school and at home, what you might call hyperactive today. Still, I managed to pass my common entrance exam, necessary for entrance into British public, which is to say private, schools, and so become Cadet RNR no. 173, at Welbourne Nautical College in the September of 1968, officially a serving officer in the Royal Navy aged only 12 years old. In early 1970, we left Chiswick for good and took up residence even deeper in suburbia, where I remain to this day...a suburban dreamer if ever there was one...
When he made
his first personal appearance
in the dirty alley
on someone else's rusty bike,
in a cloud of dust
it rendered us all
speechless and motionless.
But I was amazed
that despite his grey-faced surliness,
he was very affable with us...
the bully with a naive
and sentimental heart.
He was so happy
to hear that I liked his dad
or that my mum liked him
and he was welcome
to come to tea
with us at five twenty five...
Our "adventures" were spectacular:
chasing after other bikesters,
screaming at the top
of our lungs
into blocks of flats
and then running
as our echoed waves of terror
blended with incoherent threats...
"I'll call the Police, I'll..."
Chapter Two Snapshots from a Child's West London
"Snapshots", the second and last of two pieces based on my childhood in the West London of the 1960s, is not so much a story, as fragments taken from spidery writings with which I filled four and a half pages of a school style notebook in what is likely to have been the year of 1977. However, before being published at Blogster on the 10th of March 2006, it was comprehensively edited, before being given a new title, and subjected to alterations in punctuation. Certain sentences were composed by linking two or more sentences from the original piece together. Mild grammatical corrections also took place, mild because I didn't want to alter the original work to the degree of making major ones. So, the first draft was carefully doctored, while retaining the spirit in which it was penned in '77. Finally, the name of the protagonist was changed from "Kris" to "Carl". In July 2007, I prepared a first "definitive" version of the piece which involved my making a few additional very minor alterations. Further corrections were made in December.
With regard to the content of the story, I see it as essentially moral in keeping with my Christian faith. The "Carl" character is a likable scallywag, gaining with enviable ease the affection and trust of the older Wolf Cub boys as well as the Cub leaders, of Margaret Jacobs and Mrs O'Keefe, of Niña and many other school friends. And yet, he makes a conscious choice to abuse the trust of others, including a friend from Bedford Park; where they had previously been close, and were thankfully to become so again. He aggressively asserts the superiority of certain Pop groups, and takes part in street fights which result in injury and suffering. Pretentious as it may seem, I like to view him as a symbol for the changing times in mid-sixties Britain, as the old post-war Albion with its sweet shops and bomb shelters, short trousers and Ovaltineys yielded by degrees to a new, less innocent world with a Beat music soundtrack.
All the incidents depicted in the tale definitely took place, although certain mild inaccuracies that my '77 self may or may not have included have to be taken into account. As does a degree of romantic exaggeration stemming from that year. For instance, "hoodlum" is far too strong a word to use when referring to a few small boys causing mayhem in a quiet west London suburb, and while Bedford Park may have had an artistic influence, to suggest that my boyhood surroundings were half Bohemian and half hoodlum is ridiculous in the extreme. As is my description of “the martyr”, Mick Jagger, as having been “bathed in light with surly, ever-defiant lips, surrounded by his frenzied slaves”. But I think I was referring to an ancient broadcast of the Jagger-Richards song, “Lady Jane”, which I can recall having been performed by Jagger elegantly adorning the studio floor to the hysterical screams of his acolytes.
I remember my cherished Wolf Cub pack, how I loved those Wednesday evenings, the games, the pomp and seriousness of the camps, the different coloured scarves, sweaters and hair during the mass meetings, the solemnity of my enrolment, being helped up a tree by an older boy, Baloo, or Kim, or someone, to win my Athletics badge, winning my first star, my two year badge, and my swimming badge with its frog symbol, the kindness of the older boys.
One Saturday afternoon, after a football match during which I dirtied my boots by standing around as a sub in the mud, and my elbow by tripping over a loose shoelace, an older boy offered to take me home. We walked along streets, through subways crammed with rowdies, white or West Indian, in black gym shoes: "Shud up!" My friend would cheerfully yell, and they did.
"We go' a ge' yer 'oame, ain' we mite, ay?"
"Yes. Where exactly are you taking me?" I asked.
"The bus stop at Chiswick 'Oigh Stree' is the best plice, oi reck'n."
"Yes, but not on Chiswick High Street," I said, starting to sniff.
"You be oroight theah, me lil' mite."
I was not convinced. The uncertainty of my ever getting home caused me to start to bawl, and I was still hollering as we mounted the bus. I remember the sudden turning of heads. It must have been quite astonishing, for a peaceful busload of passengers to have their everyday lives suddenly intruded upon by a group of distressed looking wolf cubs, one of whom, the smallest was howling red-faced with anguish for some undetermined reason. After some moments, my friend, his brow furrowed with regret, as if he had done me some terrible wrong, said:
"I'm gonna drop you off where your dad put you on."
Within seconds, the clouds dispersed, and my damp cheeks beamed. Then, I spied a street I recognised from the bus window, and got up, grinning with all my might:
"This'll do," I said.
"Wai', Carl," cried my friend, "are you shoa vis is 'oroigh'?"
"Yup!" I said, walking off the bus. I was still grinning as I spied my friend's anxious face in the glinting window of the bus as it moved down the street.
One Wednesday evening, when Top of the Pops was being broadcast instead of on Thursday, I was rather reluctant to go to Cubs, and was more than usually uncooperative with my father as he tried to help me find my cap, which had disappeared.
Frustrated, he put on his coat and quietly opened the door. I stepped outside into the icy atmosphere wearing only a pair of underpants, and to my horror, he got into his black Citroën and drove off. I darted down Esmond Road crying and shouting. My tearful howling was heard by Margaret, the 19 year old daughter of Mrs Helena Jacobs, the philanthropic Jewish lady whom my mother used to help with the care and entertainment of Thalidomide children. Helena expended so much energy on feeling for others that when my mother tried to get in touch with her in the mid 70s, she seemed too exhausted to be enthusiastic and quite understandably for Mrs O'Keefe her cleaning lady and friend for the main part of her married life had recently been killed in a road accident. I remember that kind and beautiful Irish lady, her charm, happiness and sweetness, she was the salt of the earth. She threatened to "ca-rrown" (crown) me...when I went away to school...if I wrote her not...
Margaret picked me up and carried me back to my house. I immediately put on my uniform as soon as she had gone home, left a note for my Pa, and went myself to Cubs. When Pa arrived to pick me up, the whole ridiculous story was told to Akela, Baloo and Kim, much to my shame.
The year was 1963, the year of the Beatles, of singing yeah, yeah in the car, of twisting in the playground, of "I'm a Beatlemaniac, are you?"
That year, I was very prejudiced against an American boy Raymond, who later became my friend. I used to attack him for no reason at all, like a dog does, just to assert my superiority. One day, he gave me a rabbit punch in the stomach and I made such a fuss that my little girlfriend Niña wanted to escort me to the safety of our teacher, hugging me, and kissing me intermittently on my forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks. She forced me to see her:
"Carl didn't do a thing," said Niña, "and Raymond came up and gave him four rabbit punches in the stomach."
But Raymond was not penalized, for Mademoiselle knew what a little demon I was, no matter how hurt and innocent I looked, tearful, with my tail between my legs.
By the end of '63, I was frequently involving myself in arguments with people who tried to say that some secondary Beat combo or another was destined to swamp the Beatles. No, I disagreed. Only one new group truly roused my interest, though not immediately for I was disappointed by a rough and sullen performance of "Not Fade Away" on Top of the Pops, having heard so much about the Rolling Stones. Public opinion, however, swayed me, and discussing Pop music at the end of '64 with some of the new breed of English roses with their mini-skirts, kinky boots and Marianne Faithfull tresses or Twiggy crops, the Rolling Stones were my new favourites. I loved the martyr Mick, bathed in light with surly, ever-defiant lips, surrounded by his frenzied slaves.
Bedford Park was a semi-Bohemian, artistic quarter of London on the outskirts of a rough district of the western suburbs, Acton. Therefore, my boyhood surroundings were half Bohemian and half hoodlum. The hoodlum influence was stronger than the artistic, which could account for the frequent street feuds, stone and stick and dirt fights that took place, and the day I stole magazines out of my neighbours’ letterboxes, and mutilated them, before putting them back, and the day I informed my best friend's mother, from one end of the street to the other that he was a “_______ _______”. Those words caused a long and furious confrontation to take place on the doorstep of our house...frightful day, which I regret...even to this one...even to this one...
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