Monday, October 3, 2016

To the woods

I am not sure why, but if I think of the countryside these days I don't visualise rolling fields and all that, but of woods.
Perhaps I was because woods figured quite a bit as a young evacuee from the east end of London living in Surrey.
There were woods on the way when we made our weekly visit to the school allotment to grow vegetables to be brought back for school dinners. In the autumn we went into the woods to gather up sackfulls of leaves to be dug into the ground in the pre-winter digging.
The same woods skirted the edge of the park where we went to play and roam.  In the summer time there was an old tramp living in a kind of shelter in the woods, cooking over an open fire.  We used to spend time talking to him and he spoke of his travels to places we had never heard of like Birmingham and Manchester.  He was cooking a hedgehog one day wrapped in a layer of clay and offered us a taste insisting that it tasted just like rabbit.  I was not game to try it, but my mate did and said that he like it. One day we asked if he was a swagman as we used to sing "Waltzing Matilda
There were also woods up on the South Downs where we went to gather rose hips on a school expedition.  I assume the school was paid for our endeavours, we weren't but it was an afternoon out and some of the older boys and girls disappeared into the woods whilst the younger ones carried on working.
There was a different kind of wood above the river Wey at St. Catherine's mount. It was actually a small bamboo plantation at the back of a big house.  It was quite a climb up from the river level but it was worth it to be in this jungle where we could cut down canes with our penknives (all boys owned penknives then) to be used as arrows in the incessant war with boys from the neighbouring school.

All highly dangerous stuff which is frowned on today and yet there were not that many accidents. The only one I can clearly recall was when we were on the allotment and throwing garden forks like javelins and I managed to spear a boy through the foot with a misaimed fork.  He was carted off to hospital, not by ambulance but on the teacher's bike.  And don't recall any repercussions on me, perhaps it was all part of life, after all there was a war on and worse things were happening.
If you think about it, in many school sports which are encouraged today like boxing and rugby there is more chance of injury than of being speared through the foot by a garden fork

Monday, September 5, 2016

September,Hop-picking,blackberries and scrumping

First week of September, a little cooler and mostly damper, a whiff of wood smoke in the air, blackberries in the hedgerows apples on the trees.  All this makes an old eastender remember  the  days gone by when September was hopping time. Our family made regular visits to the Kent hopfields from the East End of London between the wars.
  Up early when it was only just beginning to get light to be in the fields to start work at seven oclock. The bines were nearly always wet either from the rain or early morning dew, so the pickers were showered when pulling the first few bines.  Even the kids went early to the fields  despite the damp and the cold.  English autumns are rarely warm until the day is nearly over so it was a question of being wrapped up and wellies every day.

For those who dont know it,  hops used to part of the making of beer.  Hops then were picked by hand before the invention of machinery for doing it.  There was not a sufficient population in the Kent countryside to gather in the harvest so workers were recruited mostly from the East End of London who regarded it as a kind of working holiday in the country.

It was certainly a big change from the council flats and small terraced houses of the east end.  All that fresh air!  Living in a wooden hut for two weeks sleeping on mattress covers filled with straw. 
It was mostly fun for the kids even though most were given a target of hops to be picked or buckets of water to be collected for the washing and cooking before they could go and play.  And play we did.  Whilst at home we were not all that restricted, it was still different though to roam the fields, paddling in ditches, finding stuff to eat in the hedges and so on. 
Food was different too.  Lunch was cheese sandwiches almost every day and the evening meal was cooked on a camp fire.  Quite a lot of stews because they were easy but there was always roast dinners on Sunday followed by spotted dick or jam pudding, all cooked on the fire.
Evenings for the kids was spent sitting around the camp fire, roasting potatoes or apples scrumped form an adjacent orchard.  All good clean fun.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Banana prawn

There is an Australian expression of calling someone stupid as being a prawn, or even worse a raw prawn.


I was made to feel a complete prawn shortly after arriving in Australia.
I was living in a small flat in south Brisbane before Jean and the family came to Australia and my neighbour was a young French man who worked for eight months of the year in the mines at mount isa and spent the other months in Brisbane spending his savings.

Just after Christmas we decided to go together to Surfers Paradise to see the new year in.

We went to one of the posh hotels for dinner as he offered to pay.

The starters were the usual thing but included "banana prawn salad"
My only previous experience of this type of starter was "prawn salad"  . Prawns served in a bowl with a bit of salad and covered in dressing.
I quite like sea food but served cold with pepper and lemon and I couldn't imagine what a banana prawn starter would be like.  Prawns with bananas?  Queensland was the "banana republic" after all so I thought they would have some strange combination that I wouldn't like.
Anyway there wasn't anything else that I fancied so I asked the waitress if I could have the prawns without the bananas.

Naturally she almost fell about laughing at the stupid prawn before explaining that Banana Prawns were a local prawn that were called that, she assumed, because they were sweet and were shaped like bananas.  Well I had already had a couple of glasses of wine so I did not take offence.  I didn't even point out that most prawns were shaped a bit like a banana.

Friday, June 24, 2016

If I were English I would be ashamed today.

In 2016 I wrote this and I am going to say it again

If I were English I would be ashamed to be English today. If I were British I would be ashamed of being British today.

Being of mixed European heritage, despite having been born in the East End of London I have never "felt" English as such.  A Londoner certainly but not English.

The EU referendum result confirmed my lack of affinity for the nationalist, xenophobia which appears to be inherent in many who claim to be "English".

As for the open-hearted working people who used to inhabit these islands when I was a kid, where are they? "Give you the shirt of his back" they used to say.  Not any more it would seem. All too eager to believe a £350 million a week lie, no matter how many times it was proved a lie.

Where did they all go. Was it succumbing to Maggie's siren song of owning your own home, if you could buy it off the local council at a huge discount. Are they all too young to remember the days when there was protection from exploitation by belonging to a trade union?  Is everyone so aspirational  to be a millionaire that the devil can take the rest.

It is so difficult not to feel sad that over seventeen million people in this country were taken in when they were told to ignore the experts and were willing to listen to millionaire politicians with messages of nationalism paraded as patriotism and selfishness disguised as a desire for independence.

What is worse of course is that the referendum campaign legitimised overt racism barely hidden by the mantra "we are being over run by immigrants" and "we don’t have the room" ignoring the fact that there is more green space used as golf courses in places like Surrey than there is farmland, let along affordable housing.

And perhaps the saddest part is that this trumpeted independence is almost certainly going to be a mirage for most of the ordinary people of this country. The same old tories are going to be in charge for the transition period and at the end of that it will be too late.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The quiet coach

Have you been in the "quiet" of a long distance train recently and wondered what "quiet" is supposed to mean?
There are signs up indicating that mobile phones should not be used, as it is only a symbol, no words, no one seems to take any notice. There are invariably three or more mobile phone conversations going on.  

Apart from that there are the meetings.  Four suited individuals sitting around one of the tabled seats holding a business conference and on one occasion complete with power point presentation. in the quiet coach!

Then there are the small groups of ladies having a coffee morning, or the family groups discussing an upcoming gathering complete with a run down on who should be invited and who not.

There really appears to be no good reason for continueing with the fiction of a quiet coach unless either travellers are going to respect it or the train staff are going to

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lost London

London is probably one of the most written about cities in the world, but for many parts of old London there is no record of how some streets looked in the past.  Even in the centre of the city and the more famous areas there are no records of what they used to look like.  If this is true of the well known  parts of London, how much more so is it the case with the more remote or what had been the less salubrious parts.  Working class east end is recorded as images of the people and "typical" slums, but the streets themselves are rarely shown or named.

A short list of the streets I am interested in will give an example.

For West Street Soho (or Seven Dials)  before the building of the St. Martins and Ambassador theatres there is no response for images in a search engine.  So what was it like before? Were the buildings at the end of the street demolished to make way for these theatres or were they converted?.  What used to be the West Street Chapel; is still there but were all the buildings like that or was it a mish mash of different heights and sizes?  We should be able to tell that but we cannot because there appears to be no description of the road visually or textually.

The Old Street end of City Road, Finsbury does not appear to have been caught on camera before the war time bombing disposed of it.

The tenement buildings in Manston Street, Bethnal Green did not succumb to the bombs but went by way of the demolishers to make make way for new buildings, but no one recorded them before they came down.

Small back streets all over from east to west, north to south have disapeared with no record of them apart from on old survey maps to show that they were there, or perhaps as a coloured mark on Booth's Poverty Map.

Too late now.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not a stunt rider

No this  is not a stunt rider.  This manoeuvre was part of the normal motorcycle training for National Service Military Policemen in the 1950s.

The first week of training was spent in a field at Aldershot learning to control the bike before we were allowed out on the road.  First day just going round and round the field trying not to fall off for those who had never ridden a bike before. But of course the first thing was to learn how to kickstart the damn thing without the kickback breaking your leg.
 During the week we progressed in our control  of the bike by standing on the seat and the rear pannier, sitting side-saddle and sitting on the petrol tank with our legs over the handlebars. This was before we were even allowed to move out of first gear! Needless to say, the bikes had to be cleaned at the end of every day before the evening meal.

By the end  of the week we were regarded as being competent enough to be allowed out on the road.
This was not always the case, because in reality we had not learned any roadcraft nor properly when it was appropriate to change gear. Of course it all came together with practice, riding every day for quite long periods in different traffic conditions.

One of the highlights of about the third week was a day spent doing cross country riding  at a scrambling track.  This was quite competitive and it was the first time that we were encouraged to go as fast as we could. 

Once having completed the motorcycle section of our course we then went on to the much less exciting business of learning to drive a 15cwt truck.  How boring by comparison. 


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stop the world I want to get off.

Lots of older people are just grumpy old men or grumpy old women.  Some though are just bemused by the changes which have taken place in just a short space of fifty years.  Are we still living in the same world as we were then, it is so different that some of us suspect we have been hijacked by aliens.
 Is science fiction fact?  Are the teenagers of today people in the same way as we were when we were young or are they from a different planet? Or even a different solar system?  They don't have pointed ears but there is multi coloured spiky hair, strange patterns on their skins, all kinds of of hardware dangling from their ears or noses,short haired girls and long haired boys with skinny legs with toes that point towards each other instead of straight forward.

There is rampant puberty from the age of ten but young people are "kids" until they are 21 or more.  
But then suddenly parliament is full of 30 something's running the country, most of whom have never had a proper job. 

Technological change is normal over such a time span and because this has happened gradually most people accept the changes and adapt.  But there are still changes forced onto the population which many older people do not want.  Who decided that "music" was compulsory in shopping centres, even in the toilets?  And why does 90 per cent of the photos on FB contain a tongue? Who changed fast bowlers on the cricket pitch to quick? Why is text speak everywhere and not just in texts? Who is able to keep up with all those abbeviations? 

There are all these improvements but still no cure for the common cold.  No cures for cancers either that work for ever sufferer.  More money spent on subsidies for grouse shooting than on flood defences. A National Health Service which is National only in name.  Charities which spend more  of the money collected in paying CEOs and administration than on the job they were created for..

Anthony Newley surely could not have realised how much his song would resonate in the future.

Friday, January 1, 2016

What National Service taught us.

There used to be a phrase about National Service and what it taught young men. "I learned to drive and I learned to scive>"

Neither of these subjects were covered by the Army Education Corps.

I did my National service in the army and the AEC sergeants  came along to give talks on various subjects, most of which I can't remember. A lot of these sergeants were not much older than us, much like some secondary school teachers today.

On one occasion there was a session where we each had to give a talk lasting three minutes on any subject we liked except sex, religion or politics.

Well there was the usual set pieces from some of the lads, my job, my home town, my football club and so on. There were one or two quite well educated chaps who were able talk quite easily about films, art,  music and so on, but most were a bit mumbly and bashful.

 Well I was quite prepared for this so when it was my turn I walked up to the front and said  " We have been told that we can't talk about sex, politics or religion, I don't know about anything else, and I don't even know much about sex come to that "  and went and sat down.

The education sergeant who was normally quite easy going, went ballistic.

"Back up here. Three minutes so start talking and keep talking till I tell you to stop."

I will admit that I had thought about  this and said that my topic was "Forbidden subjects. "  The Sergeant said "Your three minutes hasnt started yet but watch your step.

I kept going, and don't remember the whole spiel but I managed to include the words, religion, sex and politics about a couple of dozen times each. But only in the context of when and where it was not allowed to be talked about, like you couldn't talk about sex in church and there wouldn't be much point in talking about religion whilst having sex and so on.

I managed my three minutes without trouble as once I was in my stride of mixing and matching I started getting shouted suggestions from the other lads.  It was hilarious and not what the sergeant had in mind.

 I am not sure if they had any more of those talk sessions after that.