The pictures above gives the general atmosphere of Laindon High Road as I knew it, in the late 1930s.
There was a cinema in Laindon – the ‘Radion’. I have a vague memory of going to the Radion once, I don’t know how that came about. And an equally vague memory of simple bench seats – later photographs from the 1950s show proper cinema seating, so maybe I might have imagined bench seating! I remember once at Dunton reading a roadside poster for the film programme, when another boy came up and asked me if it was a cowboy film. I must have registered some wonderment at his question, since the poster was there for all to read, but the boy said he couldn’t read – he was probably a gipsy in the area.
There were never any mobile traders serving the Dunton Estate, perhaps this was because most plot-holders were weekenders only, and it was not the practice in those days for shopkeepers to work at the weekends. And the condition of the Avenues would have made it difficult for a van to do a round. Although all the bungalows had name plaques on their gates, I cannot ever remember a postman calling, we posted letters and cards from Hendersons sub post office, and I suppose all mail for us was delivered to our London addresses. Once, a passing individual, I don’t know who he was, did deliver a book I ordered from Odhams Press. Quite an exciting event!
Another outing was to the Colony, just past the railway arch (we always shouted under the arch to hear the echo). Auntie Flo called the old men there there ‘poor old souls, she meant it in a kindly way. The men tended the orchards and vegetable gardens, and sold the produce to us locals. So we went there to buy the fruit and vegetables at give away prices. We laughed how the Victoria plums were tipped on to the scale, the scale pan crashed down, fruit was never taken off. You got twice as much as you wanted or paid for! So much fruit, such enormous marrows!
At the end of these long summer days, when we were tired out, we were washed, or at least our washing supervised, and prepared for bed. Hot water was heated on the Primus, and out on the back grass we took it in turns to be scrubbed clean. We did not have baths, the washing method was ‘up as far and down as far’. Then into winceyette ‘pyjams’ (pyjamas). Mine were always the regulation boys’ striped; the girls’ were prettier with little flower patterns. Cleaning our teeth was a communal ritual, made into a fun event. We would stand in a line out on the grass, tooth brushes and cups of water at the ready, then Aunt Minnie would face us like a drill sergeant and chant “up down round and round and spit!” I remember those warm evenings, as the sun was going down, out on the back lawn, and the up down round and round spit routine.
But for real excitement, an excursion to Southend was the thing. At least once during the summer holidays we were taken to Southend-on-Sea. From Laindon Station we caught the steam train – it was only half an hour or so, but for us kids it was such an exciting journey. We always looked out of the right hand side of the train, because then we saw the houseboats at Benfleet, and we could start to smell the sea. When we arrived, we could hardly contain ourselves! I remember we left the exit of the station, walked down a slope and turned into the High Street towards the sea. The next pleasure was the ritual buying of the Rossi ice cream en route to the beach; we marvelled how deft the assistants were at sculpting the ice cream in the cornets, a flick of the wrist and it was there, a mound of lovely ice cream. Sometimes we would also stop to get new tin buckets and spades and rubber sand shoes. However little money our mums had, we never seemed to want for anything; I suppose having the school holidays at the bungalow must have been quite cheap. The High Street ran down to the promenade, and from this junction the whole seaside came into view – the sea, the beach, the pier. For us children what excitement! And what crowds – the beach looked like an ant heap. We didn’t mind or even think about it, what mattered was that we were there, at Southend on Sea. Sometimes the pavements were so hot; we couldn’t bear to walk without our little rubber beach shoes. I can’t remember my Dad coming on these seaside trips, maybe he stayed in London because of his work and came down at the weekends. On his one-week annual holiday (that’s all people had in the thirties) he preferred to work on the bungalow rather than go to the seaside. So, we played on the beach, and paddled in the sea. Mum would feed us with sandy luncheon meat sandwiches, made on the beach, and fruit. Even when the tide was out there was not much sand, just a black oozy mud. We were truly mud larks. Sometimes we would make the trip to Southend coincide with the annual Carnival, which was an extra treat. We found a place to sit on the grassy bank in the trees overlooking the promenade, and it was all very exciting to watch the parade of decorated floats go by, with the bands and the marchers.
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