• Brian Simmons

“Wait till your father gets home.” - How many times have you heard this?

Wait till your father gets home.” was the classic phrase guaranteed to send my sister and I scurrying to our respective rooms where we kept our heads down until the implied threat had passed. To be honest though the threat never materialised in any major form. Yes we got told off right enough, and quite severely when the offence merited but any corporal punishment was, on the very rare occasions, more likely to be a clip around the back of the head but never a 'leather belt thrashing' of the sort implied by the threat of the homecoming father.

The milestones marking those early years are too numerous to fully recount although several are worth a mention.

One of the strongest memories for me was the arrival of television in our house. I’m not sure exactly which year it was but it was certainly early in the 1950’s.

I remember us sitting around this little Bush TV set with its over large wooden cabinet and tiny opalescent grey nine inch screen watching the Coronation in 1953. Perhaps it was the need to be part of that event that prompted my parents to take the TV plunge. I recall we had a few of the neighbours in to watch the ceremony too so that would have ticked some ’one-up’ boxes for Mum.

Other TV memories include the fact that early sets had to warm up. Having switched the thing on we’d sit staring at the screen until wonder of wonders the picture, or quite often the test card, would emerge, spreading from the centre of the screen in the same way that it would disappear into the little white dot as the set was turned off.

Early children’s programmes included puppets Andy Pandy, Muffin the Mule and of course Bill and Ben the Flowerpot men whilst adult audiences were introduced to the forerunners of the modern soaps in the shape of The Grove Family and The Appleyards. Take Your Pick with an over-the-top Michael Miles was the first TV quiz having transferred to the small screen from radio Luxemburg in 1955.

The early police dramas soon followed in the mid to late 50s with Pc George Dixon patrolling Dock Green. Then came “No Hiding Place” featuring Raymond Francis as Inspector Tom Lockhart and the old Wolesley police car sweeping out of (or was it into) New Scotland Yard.

And who can forget the ‘Interludes’?. Programming schedules in those days were less slick than today and back then TV advertising didn’t exist to fill any gaps. So to keep them amused audiences were treated to a variety of short and supposedly restful interlude films. These included the Potter’s Wheel, The Windmill, The kitten playing with the ball of wool and my personal favourite “London to Brighton in 4 minutes”. Hardly restful, that one!

Writing this I find myself wondering what on earth my grandparents or even my parents would have made of the enormous modern flat screen TVs; mega-watts of surround sound, recording systems and now even 3D television in our living rooms – whoops, I mean ‘home cinemas’. I reckon that the Brighton run in 3D would be quite something.

Going back to the Coronation, I was about nine then and I do recall it being a very significant event, not just for the country but also in our street and accompanied by a lot of community activity.

We had this huge street party in Bramley Way with red, white and blue bunting draped along the hedges whilst trestle tables and chairs were set up along the road with everyone contributing bowls of salad, sandwiches, cakes and miscellaneous party food. There were races for the kids and parents and I remember Mum and Dad running the ‘egg and spoon’ race and me doing the sack race.

There was also a fancy dress competition for the kids and also for the best-decorated bike, dolls pram or trolley.

Dad really went to town on this. On my bike he set up a loop of wire above the handlebars into which he fixed a hardboard plaque and another triangular one in the frame. These were painted pale blue and the wire and frame he wrapped with red, white and blue crepe paper while on the panels he stencilled God Save the Queen and E II R. Angela’s pram received a similar treatment but I can’t actually remember now how we fared in the competition.

How simple and delightfully naïve it all sounds now when we look around at the complex world in which we live today. I must say though how nice it is even in these cynical times, to see people turn out in droves for some national celebration or anniversary. I guess everyone loves a party.

Probably the next highlight in our family life was the arrival of a 1949 Ford Prefect also, I would guess, around 1953/4. It was one of those we now refer to as the “sit up and beg” Fords, with a 900cc side-valve engine, and a long, somewhat imprecise lever to operate the three gears compared to the 5 or 6 we have these days and a long black bonnet. Black because they almost all were. I can still remember the registration was KPF925. Surprising how these things stick.

It’s only now looking back that I realise quite how well off we were compared to some of the neighbours for whom the then luxuries of TV and a family car did not materialise for some years if ever.

Predictably the car dramatically changed family life for us. No more the walks around Ashtead Park on a Sunday afternoon or the railway journey to Littlehampton for an annual holiday in a rented shack on the beach, and no more walking to church. We were really on the up! The world was now our oyster and Sunday afternoon runs to Climping came within reach provided that ‘Lizzie’, as Dad had christened the car, would make it up Bury Hill without boiling over.

In addition to the required tool kit, spare wheel, jack and tartan travel rugs the boot also contained the little spirit stove. This we shielded from the wind in a Jacobs biscuit tin and Mum would use it to brew up the tea in the Climping car park (free in those days) or in lay-bys and field entrances en-route if the fancy for a cuppa should take us. Remarkable the joy we derived as a family from these little weekend or holiday expeditions and the wonderful bonding effect the experiences had for me at least.

And it wasn’t just the south coast that came more easily within reach. Family holidays now included trips down to the west country with nights camping out on Exmoor (well, sleeping in the car to be more precise) and perilous descents of the infamous hills at Porlock and Lynmouth where we wondered whether poor old Lizzie would make it back up again.

If you've enjoyed this little piece of nostalgia there is loads more to be found in my memoir along with some pretty hilarious and even hair-raising stories of my childhood and teenage escapades. The book which covers '44 to '64 also includes my transition to working life including almost blowing up the McMurdo factory in Ashtead where I worked as a lab technician. It also recounts a seriously steep learning curve when I took

myself off to sea as a steward with P&O and completed a five month round-the-world trip aged just eighteen. I then joined and left the Met Police and all before I was old enough to vote. It was such fun if a bit risky at times.

The book is on Amazon where you can also read a few pages.

Could make a little present for an older family member or for anyone - something to do during these COVID restricted long winter days.

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