In the very dry weather there were deep cracks in the rough earth of the Avenues – one day we accidentally dropped a sixpence, and it went down a crack. What a catastrophe! The more we poked about the deeper it went down. I don’t know if we finally retrieved the sixpenny piece. A lot of sweets were probably lost on that day.
It was interesting for we kids to be taken to Robinson’s farm to get milk. The farm had a large duck-pond on which we skimmed flat pebbles, and we could venture into the yard where we would peer with awe into the pen of a fearsome bull named ‘Colonel’. It was the biggest animal we had ever seen. But what I remember most was the little whitewashed outhouse where we were served the milk, in jugs, not bottles, and we kids often had a glass to drink there and then. I was fascinated by the milk cooler, seeing the milk coming out of the gleaming stainless steel radiator, and all the cooling water cascading down over the corrugations. That smell of fresh milk and cream – it was almost over powering!
School was completely forgotten. We didn’t do any serious reading, comics and annuals and film magazines were passed around, which we read lying on a blanket in the little ridge tent or swinging in the hammock. Summer days! We played in my Dad’s derelict old Morgan three-wheeler car; in our imagination it was an aeroplane, and it was a speed boat, sometimes even a car. The bungalow veranda was our ship’s bridge, with an upturned bicycle for the steering wheel. Man overboard would be one of us ‘swimming’ on the grass. At one time we started our own garden patch (nothing much grew) and we had a couple of goldfish in an old sink (the water leaked out and the fish died). We made carts with scrounged pram wheels, but they soon fell to pieces on the rough ground. Once we thought we could make perfume by soaking rose petals in water, that must have been the girls’ idea; we ended up with an evil smelling mess. Another useless thing we did was to make a ‘cake’ from a lump of clay, and ice it with cement slurry – there was always cement and plaster around the bungalow.
Opposite our bungalow was a half finished one, for several summers just the brick walls existed. We called this ‘Spain’, because it was like the pictures we saw of shelled houses in the Spanish Civil War. We clambered over ‘Spain’ with our guns (sticks) and looked into the distance for any approaching Nationalists or Republicans. I was never sure whose side we were on, but we would fight to the death.
There were a couple of areas we children were not allowed to go. We were told not to venture ‘down the dip’ this was the continuation downhill of Hillcrest Avenue, running along the top of the four avenues. There was talk of gypsies living there, and were to be avoided. Of course this only intrigued us more – I think we were brave enough to go down ‘the dip’ once – we didn’t see anything at all! And there was a house near the railway arch, we were told they were not ‘nice people’. Again we didn’t see anything suspicious – but I suppose our parents had their reasons.
At least once a week we went with our parents into Laindon, for shopping. We would walk over the hill into the town. I can well remember those walks into Laindon. As a youngster it seemed a very long way, in fact it was about a mile and a half. From the bungalow we would go up Third Avenue hill, since that was slightly less steep than our own Fourth Avenue, and along Hillcrest to the Union Jack stores. Then head north along Margaret Avenue, taking an interest in the bungalows and gardens. Then a dogleg wiggle into the undeveloped Forest Glade; this section at least had a concrete path alongside the fields. This led into Berry Lane with its permanent bungalows, and ran downhill to alongside the railway line into Laindon Station. There was then a steep flight of wooden steps to climb with a gate at the top giving on the High Road opposite the Station Approach. Laindon had an interesting small country town High Road. There were no large shops, either side of the High Road were small individual shops selling every thing necessary for the indigenous population and the influx of us weekenders. Our parents bought food of course, and packets of garden seeds, and children’s socks and sandals, little tins of Gibbs Dentifrice toothpaste, calamine lotion for insect bites and whitening for our best canvas plimsolls. I cannot remember any fashionable clothes or shoe shops, Laindon catered for country folk; if you wanted anything that special you waited till you returned to London, or went on the bus to Brentwood.
We kids headed for the one shop that sold comics and childrens’ things, spending our pocket money on fishing nets, tennis balls, scrap books with blue sugar paper covers, exercise books, pencils, wooden rulers. When you are young such simple purchases mean so much. The girls sometimes spent their pocket money on the posher Basildon Bond writing pads – I don’t know who they wrote to.
And comics of course. I was always on the look out for the American boys papers with their heroic stories of First World War flying adventures. On the long walk back from Laindon to the bungalow we children would chat about what we write in our new books. The girls would list their film stars, I would list aeroplane names and Tarzan films. We also could buy tracing pads, and pass many happy hours tracing comic illustrations
If the timing allowed we might catch the bus back to Dunton, otherwise the long walk again. On weekdays there were only three buses a day, on Saturdays there were seven. Never-the-less, a shopping trip into Laindon was a high spot of the week.
8 of 16