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 carefullydoctored,whileretaining 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 likeable 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 can be a monster. Could it be said then that he chimes quite perfectly with the changing times in mid-sixties England...with the old post-war Albion, with its sweet shops and bomb shelters, short trousers and Ovaltineys, yielding by degrees to a new, less innocent world with a Beat music soundtrack? Or would that be gross pretentiousness? Alltheincidentsdepicted 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 well - perhaps - as a certain degree of romantic exaggeration stemming from that year.
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 Irishlady,hercharm, 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 recounted to Baloo, Akela and Kim, without omission of the discovery of the note which simply read: “Gone to Cubs.”
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 what may have been the end of '63, I can recall at least one discussion concerning who among rival Beat combos was destined to swamp the Beatles. For my part, 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. However, discussing Pop music at a later date with some youthful English roses who if they had favoured such totemic Swinging Sixties phenomena as mini-skirts and kinky boots, Marianne Faithfull tresses, or spartan Twiggy crops would have been typical, the Rolling Stones were my new favourites, as I proudly declared in their presence. And that was especially true of the martyr Mick, he of the surly, ever-defiant lips.