Since I left the UK quite a few years ago and took up residence in the USA, Malta, and now Cyprus, I have only been back a couple of times for a brief holiday spell and two days for my wonderful mother’s funeral. It is surprising how one loses touch with the past and memories begin to fade. It was, therefore, a nice surprise to receive an amusing little note from my ex-brother-in-law, Chris, sharing some of his youthful memories of our hometown, Southend on Sea, UK as we started 2017. I have posted his note at the end of this blog.
In the 50’s and 60’s we had no electronic games, cell phones, or computers. It was up to us to make our own entertainment – which sometimes got us into trouble. Chris’s recollections brought back very happy memories of boyhood escapades and a life of getting by while the country got back on its feet.
As I enter my 71st year on this crazy planet, I decided to share a couple of memories with you that show that despite the lean times, we knew how to enjoy ourselves.
I decided to accompany a schoolfriend one weekend on a bike ride to West Malling in Kent, to see if we could spot an American military aircraft at the base. We got there, but on the way back I almost collapsed with fatigue. My friend had a Claude Butler racing bike, and I had an around the town Rayleigh with straight handlebars. Tired, I stopped at the bottom of a well-known hill, Bread and Cheese, just outside my town, and fell asleep on the grass verge. It wasn’t long before the police literally picked me up.
My father was called and asked to report to Benfleet Police Station. His son was sleeping in a cell.
My father duly arrived on his motorcycle combination to pick me up. He wasn’t at all happy, nor saw the funny side of things when asked to sign the lost property book for me. I sat in the sidecar killing myself with laughter all the way home.
The Disappearing Doughnut
I have no idea why it was always my father that I most annoyed. It happened mainly when I was trying to help him with one job or another.
By the time I was 14 he was in a partnership wth another carpenter and one contract they had was to remodel a builders merchant showroom in Ilford. I don’t know which one, my father or his partner, Bill Asher, suggested I could help and I would be paid a couple of pounds a day for fetching and carrying. School holidays were a bore so I agreed. Working on the job was an electrician and his mate. I quickly made friends with the mate. He had a huge beaten up 50’s powder blue American convertible which I had a ride in every morning when he went to buy doughnuts for the morning tea break.
On one particular morning, a six-foot length of ply sheet had been placed across two saw stools. Given a rip saw, all I had to do was cut the sheet in two, length-wise. To do this, I would saw so far along a penciled line and shift the sheet forward along with the rear stool that kept the sheet balanced – and so on to half way. Then it was easy, Bill said, to turn around and start again at the other end.
Unfortunately, my mate came along, and we started chatting. It did not take long for me to forget about moving the saw stool. The result, one saw stool with only two legs and a sheet of ply cut and split, lying on the floor – and ruined.
Bill threw a fit and my father threw me out with five shillings to go get the doughnuts for the two of us and the electrician and his mate -plus two for Bill. Outside, my new mate and I had a laugh and collected the cakes, apple doughnuts, from the bakers. Fate had it in for me that day, I swear. The car skidded to a halt to avoid a dog on the way back, and one doughnut rolled out of the bag, apple oozing over the seat from crushed pastry.
“You eat it, Ray,” said my friend. “Bill can just have one. I’ll tell them they only had five.”
If looks could kill. Imagine my father’s face as he heard this and watched accusingly as I swallowed the last piece of the missing doughnut and a lump of apple dribbled from the corner of my mouth.
My 21st – The Tiller Girls Midnight Kick Routine
Most people have a normal 21st party. Others go out to dinner. Me? I invited the cast from my theater summer season to a party after the show at eleven pm. I was working at the Cliffs Pavilion in Westcliff at the time, along the seafront from Southend. I had graduated to the stage and was the sound engineer. This was the era of the Tiller Girls, a dancing troupe that opened and closed the shows with their high kick routines. Billy Dainty, comedian, was the star, and he and most of the support acts, along with the girls came along and crowded into my parents - previously grandparents - narrow Victorian terraced house in St Anns Road – an older part of the town.
All got off to a bang as drink was consumed. My father, at one point, looked down the stairs at me, shook his head while mumbling, and then went back to bed. Then someone had a great idea that maybe the neighbors should be included in the festivities. Not all our neighbors saw the celebration in the same light as us.
A few minutes after we tumbled outside, not one but two police cars arrived. The Tiller Girls, quick to respond, tore off dresses, joined arms, and started their kick routine in the middle of the road – and in front of the very appreciative policemen who stayed in their cars. I am certain this is the only time the Tillers gave a midnight performance in public wearing nothing but knickers and bra. It was a great party, and I am sure my father was peeking out of the upstairs window.
The Disintegrating Trousers
I was seven when Princess Elizabeth became Queen and remember the day so well. How, you say, can a seven-year old be so sure?
My mother had spent some time making a little hat for my sister and draped a Union Jack around her shoulders. For me, she made a soldier’s tunic – a red jacket and blue trousers, and a two-pointed soldier hat as well. I do remember that our picture was taken and somewhere, all these years later, my sister still has a copy.
The day was bright to start with, and like all the other streets in the towns and cities, mums were preparing for a street party the like of which no-one had seen since the end of the war. Amazing as it seems today, despite the shortage of food in general, the women produced sandwiches, cakes, jellies and ice cream along with lemonade. For those who had a TV in those days, they opened their doors so the coronation could be seen by all. I don’t recall seeing it, until I was a few years older, on film.
The party was a noisy one with a street full of screaming kids, and all went well until the heavens opened up. At first, I thought it was great fun and laughed with all the other kids – until I realised they were laughing at me. My uniform was made out of crepe paper and the rain had disintegrated my trousers, leaving me running around with tunic top and a pair of wet white pants.
It was a day to remember.
There are many more memories and most remembered with a smile. I might write a collection. I am sure readers from the baby boom era will have a few of their own.
Where you lived, did you have similar memories like those below?
Just been thinking back to some memories from Southend and the past that I reckon you will remember ................
Howard's Dairies milk delivered by horse and cart (Co-op bread delivered by hand cart with big wheels)
Bluebird Café at Victoria Circus where the bus drivers went for a cuppa
Talza Arcade at Victoria Circus (Place to buy winkle pickers shoes for the smart boys)
Garons shops all around Vic Circus .....and their cinema with gas lamps ! (one shilling to get in)
Larkins Peanut sellers walking the beach
The Shrimp man coming round (in his van and ringing a bell)
Kursaal Fairground Wall of Death (the motorcycle routine)
Chalkwell Park fete
Coffee bars in the 60's, Shades, Black Cat, Shrubbery, Station Road Club Westcliff, Capri, Jacobean and the weird and a bit dodgy Harold Dogg
Police on " Noddy " bikes (water cooled Vellicates)
Cars with starting handles that gave a real kickback if you weren't careful
And when I lived in London ..........
Telegram boys on small motorbikes
Gas street lamps ( I don't think I imagine these, but it does sound a bit ancient ! )
So much more to remember, but I bet you can remember these!
Off to the football now , Happy New Year