Random Memories of a Laindon Lad

Part 1

Berry Athletic Club was initiated by a Mr. Nunn who lived in Virginia at the corner of Berry Lane and Prescott Ave. We lived opposite, one of two bungalows in Raglan Rd. The BAC occupied a small hall located in the road that ran roughly south between the Winston Club and Churchill Johnson. Was it Martindale Ave? Another Berry Lane lad, Kenny Cannon, about a year older than I, introduced me to the BAC. Boxing was the main sport at the time. Mr. Nunn put me into the ring with Kenny Cannon. Ken immediately caught me with an almighty blow to the midriff. J spent the rest of the round on my bicycle, praying for the bell to ring. That was the beginning and the end of my boxing career.

At Langdon Hills School we were given weekly doses of cod liver oil and malt. Like it or not! The teachers administered the spoonful of thick treacle like substance. In retrospect I cannot believe wooden or plastic throwaway spoons were in use then. Was the same spoon used for all thirty of us? Memory is unclear.

I vaguely remember the lamplighter in the High Road, his ladder propped against the lamppost arms. Apparently the High Road was lit by gas at that time. Did he make his perpetual rounds, lighting in the morning and snuffing in the evening? I do not know. Or perhaps he was simply replacing a burnt out mantle.

In our final year at Langdon Hills School I was apparently guilty of some heinous crime the details of which are long forgotten. The penalty was to suffer three whacks on the back of bare legs with a stout wooden ruler administered by Mr. Taylor, our teacher. The penalty was to take place in front of the entire class. No doubt to deter similar infractions. On the third whack I made the mistake of anticipating and bent my legs hoping to soften the blow. That was a mistake. Mr. Taylor (Daddy Taylor to us lads) considered this unsporting and decreed a fourth whack. Whether it was the pain or the humiliation, probably both, I made my way back to my seat with tears in my eyes. Kathleen Clegg sat in front of me. As I passed by she whispered, “Boys don’t cry.” To this day I do not know if it was offered as encouragement or derision.

At Langdon Hills School the school day began and ended with a prayer led by the teacher. Today of course it would be unthinkable to insert religion into the school system, I don’t think it did us any lasting harm.

There was always some unofficial pecking order at school amongst we lads. I assume the same was true for the girls. The alpha male, Peter Sefton at Langdon Hills, was a good scholar, good sportsman, with what today we would call charisma and leadership qualities. After the alpha male, in descending order, the pack sorted itself out more or less voluntarily into an unofficial pecking order.

Cometh time for the eleven plus exam the teachers decided who had a chance of success and who would sit the exam. Nothing democratic about it Peter Sefton and David Read were chosen and both passed to attend Grays Palmers. I cannot remember if any girls were successful. We lesser mortals had to wait for our chance at the thirteen plus to Chelmsford Tech. Several of us lads and a roughly equal number of girls made this latter grade.
Bluebells were astonishingly abundant in the Crown woods during the early spring. There were no prohibitions on picking them at that time. I remember proudly carrying home a big armful of bluebells as a present to my mother. Imagine my chagrin to be told, “Don’t bring those things in the house. They bring bad luck.” Who would have thought?

I joined the cub scouts who met in a church hall just below Bebington’s office at the junction of Berry Lane and the High Road Just up from Langdon Hills School I was tempted by Peter Sefton who appeared at school one day in cub scout uniform with myriad badges, stars, and patches affixed. He had been a keen member and had earned many awards. He looked almost like a five star general! I soon learnt that all I was entitled to wear was a green jersey with a wolf head insignia indicating that I was a tenderfoot. That did not sound very glamorous! I soon left those ambitions behind. Besides I did not like calling the woman who led our pack Arkela. Subsequently I discovered that this was the name of the alpha female wolf who raised Mowgli in Kipling’s “Jungle Book.”

How convenient that St Anne’s Lace and hawthorn buds became available at the same time. With a trusty penknife one could cut a six-inch piece of the hollow stem of St Anne’s Lace. This made an admirable peashooter. The small soon-to-open hawthorn buds made excellent little round bullets. Now, all a young lad needed was a fun target Girls!! Later girls were to become viewed very differently but at that age they were simply first class targets.

One of the terrors of a young lad was the “School Board Man.” If one were absent from school for more than a day the “School Board Man” would come, cycling slowly almost ponderously, to the residence of the absentee to enquire about the reason for the absence and to determine its veracity.

Odd how some things remain indelibly fixed in the mind. The first poem we were ever forced to memorize at Langdon Hills School. The Watchmaker’s Shop

               “A street in our town      
has a queer little shop
with tumbledown walls
and a thatch on the top;
and all the wee windows
with crookedy panes
are shining and winking
with watches and chains
All sorts and all sizes
in silver and gold,
and brass ones and tin ones
and new ones and old;
and clocks for the kitchen
and clocks for the hall
high ones and low ones
and wag at the wall.
The watchmaker sits
on a long legged seat
and bids you the time
of the day when you meet;
and round and about him
there’s tickety-tock
from the tiniest watch
to the grandfather clock
I wonder he doesn’t
get tired of the chime
and all the clocks ticking
and telling the time;
but there he goes winding
lest he should stop
this queer little man
in the watchmaker’s shop.”

Amazing! And I cannot remember what I was doing last week.

Similarly the first book we read as a class under Daddy Taylor. “Moonfleet “A story of smuggling on the south coast I re-read it a few years ago and was surprised at how adult it seemed for a class often and eleven year olds. Still a good read even at this age and interesting how odd bits ring a bell of remembrance from so many years ago.

Thursday was the day my mother sent me to the corner shop for groceries. I was given a piece of paper detailing in pencil the goods she needed. This was handed over to Mr. or Mrs. Townsend behind the counter. Each item would be placed on the counter from shelves behind or perhaps would have to be fetched from the back room. Then a price would be pencilled in against the item. In pounds, shillings, pence and farthings. Items not available or not in stock would be crossed out No matter that you had a ration book or coupons entitling you to the item. If they were out of stock they were out of stock. No matter how many ration books you had. Then came the addition. No calculator or adding machine. Adding in the head and pencilling in at the bottom. Four farthings to the penny. Twelve pennies to the shilling. Twenty shillings to the pound. Then do it over to make sure it was correct Then to carry the goods home often through the rain and the seemingly interminable mud. Happy days!

Most had a so-called front room. The largest (relatively speaking) and most comfortable room in the house. Inexplicably, in retrospect it was hardly ever used. Odd that in such small and modest bungalows that this should be so, but it was. It was used at Christmas when it was gaily decorated and festooned with garlands and crepe paper. It would be used once or twice a year whenever family visited from out of town. It might be used when grandma died and she lay in her coffin in the front room while friends came to pay their last respects. Otherwise the front room was kept unused and inviolate like some temple or holy of holies not to be entered. What a strange cultural practice. Surely it is not still the case.

At one time, aged fourteen or fifteen, I worked for Mr. Sayer who owned the grocery store next to the post office just north of the police station. I delivered groceries on a bicycle which had a large built on carrier in front In front on Sayer’s store on the fence which bordered his property, adjacent to the pedestrian path on the High Road, was a large notice board on which bills were posted advertising what was playing that week at the Radion. In return for this advertising space, Mr Sayer was given four free admissions to the Radion every week. He apparently had no interest in them and generously always made them available to me. This was a very considerable fringe benefit It enabled me to date girls and take them to the Radion which otherwise I could never have afforded

Sitting on the north end of Donaldson’s field on a fine summer Sunday evening one could see the day coaches returning from Southend. Where were they from? Where was home? There were so many of them. I wonder how much it cost? Not that I could afford it anyway. I knew they stopped at the Fortune, or most of them did, and there was much jollity and laughter. Idly, I wondered if, after all that beer, what happened if people needed to visit the bog. As lads that is what we called the toilet I wonder if it is still called the bog. Rather fitting really. At least in Laindon!

A packet of Rizla papers for roll your own cigarettes we could usually afford Crushed last years brown oak leaves provided tobacco. Alternatively, cutting off the top of an acorn and removing the insides with a trusty penknife and inserting a hollow straw made a makeshift pipe. Somehow the oak leaves would never co-operate and operate as tobacco. It was all rather frustrating.

My cousin Tony lived at the foot of Prescott Ave. and we would often end up playing together. On one occasion, cowboys and Indians being the game, Tony became particularly inventive and smeared blackberry juice all over his face as war paint. Over fifty years later, when I saw him a few years ago, he brought up the incident Apparently he got a very big scolding from his mother. Blackberry juice all over his shirt, which would not come out. The perils of being a red Indian.

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  • Alan. Your articles are always very entertaining and beautifully written, full of interesting stories. I enjoyed reading that and look forward to Part 2. Best wishes.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (13/06/2013)

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