At Long Last - the blog continues
So despite my best intentions it’s now almost six months since I proudly burst upon the world with my website and this associated blog and then NOTHING.
I am embarrassed to admit this fact but I guess that along with the rest of the country if not the world I’m going to lay the blame on the current scapegoat for all laxity in business and social communication – poor old COVID.
How have you guys been? It’s certainly something of a roller-coaster ride isn’t it as we swing between restrictive lockdown rules to a “Yippee! Lets get going again” scenario and now it seems, progressively returning to a more restrictive regime.
Well as promised in my initial blog intro here is the first extract from my memoir writing activity.
I was born in ’44 so I guess I just miss out on the ‘baby-boomer’ identity that is supposed to refer to the years ’46-’64. However, they were very much my years and anyone else around the same vintage will, like me, hold many cherished memories of that time.
I don’t intend to share the whole of my book contents, just some extracts and this is the opening few pages of the first book – Stepping Out from Ashtead. – Ashtead in Surrey being the village where I spent those early years.
STEPPING OUT FROM ASHTEAD
This book is dedicated to Frank and Eileen Simmons my beloved and now sadly departed parents without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank you both.
The voice said “Good Morning Sir” and I almost fell off the window sill.
Clinging desperately to the bedroom window frame with one hand and clutching the business end of a very old lavatory brush in the other I looked down. The policeman stood below shining a torch up at me. It was about four in the morning with just a hint of dawn light in the sky.
“Well what have we here then?” he said, and even at this point I could see the hint of a smirk around the corners of his mouth so he clearly realised he hadn’t chanced on villainous Burglar Bill in action.
“I can explain everything,” I blathered, desperately thinking how I might talk my way out of yet another scrape of my own making as he said “Well young man I suggest you come down and try.”
What I certainly didn’t tell him was that it was all down to raging teenage hormones and I was just returning from a night of passion but in my lust-fuelled haste had forgotten my key.
I came up with some tosh about never having been out in the middle of the night and being such a lovely moonlit night had decided to go for a bike ride but managed to lock myself out.
Amazingly he bought it but still insisted we knock my parents up just to confirm I actually lived there.
The truth is much more interesting but this little escapade was actually some fifteen years after the point when my story begins.
So, you may well ask; why the lavatory brush and what the devil had I been up to? You’ll have to catch future blogs or even better go find the book on Amazon – paperback or Kindle.
Intro to my father
The 15th July 1944 was a good night for Bomber Command by any standards. D-day was a month past and the bombing offensive against Germany’s industrial base was in full swing.
Of the 748 bombers and their shepherding fighters committed that night all but five returned. Tragic indeed for those lost and their families, but in military terms, a successful night.
In the Orkney Islands to the far north of the UK, Lance Bombardier Frank Simmons looked out over the glass smooth waters of Scapa Flow. As early light crept into the sky and Sunday the 16th dawned at the end of an uneventful night on the anti-aircraft battery he longed to be home.
The war was only supposed to last months and it was now more than four years since he’d been called up to ‘do his duty’ for King and country. They’d seemed long years too. Although being older than many conscripts and perhaps therefore spared the front line, he almost wished he could have seen some real action, if for no other reason than to make the time pass more quickly. He knew he was lucky though and whilst there had been a few hairy moments and many laughs he hoped that this time they were right and, as was now being said, the war would soon be over.
Frank smiled as he recalled some of the events. Like the night their game of cards in the hut had been interrupted by the abrupt shouted challenge of the sentry on guard. “Halt! Who goes there? And a moment or two later the shout “Halt or I fire!” followed by the staccato burst of gun fire. They’d all tipped out and mounted a search of course but without success or at least until morning light when someone found the dead donkey. That had taken some getting over and it had cost a lot of cigarettes to persuade the farmer not to make his well-justified complaint official.
There was also the day when one of the lads who was seeing the farmer’s daughter had invited her to eat at the camp and she’d gone home and told her old man the soldiers on the battery were feasting on chicken. That had started a proper rumpus with the farmer coming up to the camp and accusing the boys of stealing his birds.
They’d told him it was a load of rubbish and what sort of farmer’s daughter was she if she couldn’t tell chicken from rabbit. It was his chicken of course but without proof and just a hint of doubt he’d no choice but to let the matter drop.
Around the same time that Frank was mulling over his war and several hundred miles further south, it had been a far from quiet night for a 30 year old Irish nurse.
Ellen Simmons had been in labour since the previous evening and around half past seven, much to her relief she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I had arrived but it was to be two or three days before word reached my father and several weeks more before we would meet each other.
I was duly brought home from hospital to the Victorian semi my parents were renting in Ashtead, a small village near Epsom in Surrey. Gladstone Road was a T shaped cul-de-sac but only the upright of the T was fully surfaced so where you turned right and downhill to their house at the far end, the road was just rough stone and full of pot-holes and as Mum told me later “ the very devil for pushing a pram”. I think I even have some vague memory of being bounced around in my little push-chair on that surface.
Dad’s sister, my Auntie Dorrie, lived in the same street with my uncle, Frank Williams an upholsterer; my cousin Joan, and Nana. They were at No.1, first on the left as you came into the road and up a steep flight of five or six stone steps.
There was a tiny sloping front garden where, quite artistically, Frank had created a little pond out of an old china sink and built a small rockery planted with snowdrops and violets.
A side passage led to a ‘front’ door that opened to the foot of a steep, dark staircase with doors to left and right. On the right was the parlour where we only ever went at Christmas or, as I discovered later, when someone died and friends arrived to pay their last respects and then afterwards to eat their post-funereal sandwiches.
The left-hand door opened into the dining room, which was also the main living room and contained a small three-piece suite in reddish-brown leatherette. The sofa and chairs were pulled up close in front of an arched cast-iron open fireplace and a wear-worn oak dining table and four chairs were pushed back against the far wall
Brown was clearly the colour of the period. For all the time I knew their house, the upper half of the walls was covered with a sort of buff paper with what I think were bamboo leaves whilst below a dado rail a sort of textured paper had been painted a dark reddish brown gloss.
A door led off this back room into a very basic kitchen with a large china sink and one cold water tap. Hot water when needed was heated in a huge black kettle that sat on an equally black gas cooker. Beyond the kitchen was a scullery area and dark coal cellar. There was no inside toilet so a trip to the loo necessitated a short walk across the back yard passing the old mangle and galvanised tin bath hanging against the wall to arrive at an original ‘thunderbox’ toilet.
A wad of neatly torn newspaper threaded onto a loop of string was suspended from a nail on the back of the door.
Further up the garden there was a vegetable patch on the left with a row of bean sticks that never came down from one year to the next. Then came a bed for onions, and the potato patch and at the far end a tiny area where despite its limitations Uncle Frank grew the most wonderful dahlias.
On the other side of the path a very ramshackle shed provided Frank’s upholstery workshop and I can remember as a very small boy sitting in there watching him work.
He used to give me a handful of brass-capped furniture studs to hold and pass to him one at a time as he worked his way around the edges of a newly upholstered chair or other item. Without me to hand them to him he simply shoved a handful of them in his mouth and cleverly managed to produce them one at a time the right way round so he could use them straight away.
I can only assume that the proximity of these relatives meant my mother had plenty of support in her early days of motherhood and although I lack conscious memory of those early months I’m told I was a happy and contented baby.
So dear readers, there you have it at last the first extracts as promised. I will post again shortly with the juicy tale behind the situation that had me almost arrested while trying to break into my own bedroom.