the First 7 years  1932 -1939

I have chosen the title “The First Seven Years” for several reasons. It takes us neatly into the first full decade of my life namely to 1940. From there on I will deal with each decade in turn, the forties, fifties, sixties and so on. Secondly it takes us up to the start of World War II. A third reason is that it gets rid of those pre-war memories which are pretty vague anyway.
Early memories
Most people have an “earliest memory” unfortunately I cannot really give any definite reply to the question “And what is your earliest memory?”. There are a few odd bits of information chasing around my brain but they are very disjointed and I find it impossible to put them into any sort of chronological order.
Here goes with some them....
Number Five

5 Kenton Gardens, Knton, Harrow, MiddxNumber five post-war

 5 Kenton Gardens, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex, was home.
The photo on the left was taken circa 1938, the one on the right taken in 2008 by Chris  Grant whose aunt lived at Number 9 (next door but one) and was killed by "our Doodlebug"

The house was affectionately known as “Number Five”. A semi detached three up, two down house on a small crescent of almost identical houses built by Nash The Builders.. The main distinguishing feature was that some had round bay windows, others had square ones. Ours was round. There was something special and slightly more “classy” about having a round bay. People who lived in “square-bayed” houses were somehow of slightly less distinction. Of course this type of class prejudice was “all in the mind” but nevertheless typified some of the thinking that still existed in the thirties. In the front of the house was a small garden, fully “crazy paved” with a green privet hedge, again a status symbol. The yellow variety went with the square bays!
Let me try and describe the inside of “Number Five”. On entering the front door there was a hallway with the hallstand on the right. This hallstand had a round mirror and contained my father’s various hats, a black Homburg and I believe a softer felt hat for weekends and holidays. In the centre of the hallstand was a small box with a lift up lid which both contained and smelt of, gloves. What does a glove smell of you ask?; It’s a mixture of leather and hands I suppose, what ever it was I can smell it right now as I write this. On either side of the glove box was a square opening into which you placed your umbrellas, walking sticks or whatever. At the bottom of the square openings were small tin trays to catch the drips from the umbrellas on rainy days. Either side of the central mirror were a series of hooks for our coats.
Facing you and again to the right was the staircase, straight up except for the last 3 or 4 stairs which neatly executed a left, right-angled turn on to the landing. Down the hall on the left was the front room door, next to that the back room door, facing you was the kitchen door and underneath the stairs, to the right was a cupboard in which was stored the Hoover and sundry other cleaning items. The front room was the one with the round bay window. Facing you as you entered was the fireplace complete with wooden surround (mahogany I think) with the inevitable mantelpiece and mirror. Such structures were part of the standard fixtures and fittings of these semis built by Mr Nash the builder. The room was, I suppose, about 14 by 12 not counting the bay.
The back room, originally the “Drawing Room” had no bay but instead it had French doors which led via a few concrete steps to the back garden. This room also had a fireplace but of lesser stature than the front room and without the built in mirror. It did however have a built in gas fire.
It also housed one of Father’s prized possessions his Marconi Radio. This contemporary technological wonder had no less than 10 short wave bands and cost 18½ guineas in 1936. This was a vast sum of money for those days. I came across an advertisement for just this radio in a bound edition of Punch magazine for 1936. I also have a picture of mother sitting in the back room listening to said radio
The kitchen was as I remember quite large for such a modest house. There was an Ideal boiler for heating the water, no central heating, of course. There was a Radiation gas cooker, a pantry under the stairs, come to think of it I’m not sure how that worked with the hallway understairs cupboard. Perhaps I’m wrong about the latter. The other noticeable feature of the kitchen was the dresser, complete with glass fronted cupboards at the top, a work surface made of deal, no Formica in the thirties, and cupboards underneath. Also there was a large kitchen table, again topped with deal which was scrupulously scrubbed every week, Notwithstanding this weekly scrubbing there was always an interesting sort of “grey gunge” that formed in the joints between the deal boards. I remember constantly annoying my mother and/or the maid by prying this gunge out with a knife or fork, most unhygienic!.
Upstairs were three bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate toilet. The large front bedroom, with the round bay, was my parent’s. I think at times I shared the large back bedroom with Barbara at least whilst we had a maid. I then remember moving into what had been the maid’s room, namely the small room. Subsequently I think I returned to the big backroom possibly after Barbara was married.
The Garden

Number 5 Back Garden
At the back of the house was this “enormous”, or so it seemed to me, back garden. The actual size was, I suppose, about 40 feet by 100 feet and it was bounded on each side by a wooden fence. In my young innocence this fence constituted life’s boundaries. The people who lived over the other side of the fence were in some way lesser beings, their gardens were things of mystery and in no way anything like ours.
And how was our garden? It was my father’s pride and joy. He tended it with a loving care that is seldom equaled today. The very bottom of the garden had a stream, called “The Brook” , partially hidden from view by a fence of dubious structure which I remember my father struggling to maintain. He was not the most practical of men! The remainder of the garden comprised the lawn, a thing of beauty and beloved by Pop. There were various flower beds and a vegetable patch at the bottom.
At one time there was a small, and rather too deep, fish pond, at the bottom right hand side of the garden. This provided a summertime supply of newts and tadpoles. The occasional imported goldfish seemed not to survive for too long. One theory was that the pond was too deep and that they drowned ! Somehow I rather doubt that.
Number 5's Pond
Father’s other great joy was his hedge in the front garden. this hedge was green privet and dense, so dense that a drunk mistook it for a bed one night and tried to sleep on it. Needless to say Pop was absolutely distraught at the havoc wreaked by said drunk and it took many weeks of careful snipping and grooming to restore the hedge to it’s undulating beauty. At the side of the house was "The Shed". A structure consisting of pre-fabricated wooden panels with a gabled roof complete with finials. These were precariously nailed on and they kept falling off despite father’s best efforts with hammer and, usually bent, nails. The shed contained garden tools, lawnmower, forks, spades, and many other interesting gadgets. One most important item was "The Watering Can". A magnificent piece of equipment made of galvanised steel with two handles, one for carrying upright when full and another on the side for tipping whilst watering. It had a beautiful solid brass or possibly copper rose on the end of it’s spout which produced a fine spray. If on the other hand you wanted to have a jet of water, for example when watering in cabbage plants and such like, the rose could be unscrewed. But ... the real joy of the watering can was that father used it to pee in. Thus he avoided going into the house and taking off shoes etc. Furthermore the resulting liquid was suitably diluted with water and used as a fertiliser!. No doubt full of potassium and other valuable chemicals. Talk about getting your own back!. Runner beans, cabbages, peas and lettuces were all subjected to regular doses of dilute VICPEE.

More #5 Back GardenFather’s other favourite piece of equipment was his edging tool. This multi purpose implement served as hoe, edger, chopper, weeder, tilth maker, seed drill maker and so on. For those of you not familiar with the configuration of an edging tool it has a crescent shaped blade set at the end of a wooden handle about 5 feet long, the handle is mounted in the same plane as the blade. It’s prime use is for creating really sharp edges to lawns at their intersection with flower beds. Needless to say we had really sharp edges to our lawn and flower beds, a trait which I have inherited. Yes I do have an edging tool and I use it exactly as my father did before me. Tradition......
Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd Ltd
Bluthner Pianos - Wigmore Street - London
Father’s working career was not particularly exciting. When I was born in 1932 he was already working for Whelpdale Maxwell and Codd Ltd who were the Sole UK agents and distributors of Blüthner pianos from Leipzig. They were also manufacturers of the Welmar piano and I believe the factory was in Perivale Middlesex. Father was dedicated to pianos and I believe he really loved his job.
During the course of his sales activities he met many then famous performers and became very familiar with several of them. On the odd occasion I would be taken up to the office, usually on a Saturday morning and I had my first encounter with a typewriter on one of these jaunts. Father worked for this same company for over 50 years, an almost unknown record in present times.
 Bluthner Ad
The Grimsby connection
My mother and I went, by train of that I am sure, to somewhere near Grimsby. We stayed with either her relatives or friends in quite a nice house somewhere in the country. There were other children in the family and I remember being taken around and “shown off”. Probably these were the long lost Cumming relatives namely the Elwoods.. I particularly remember the train ride, it was from King’s Cross and made in the early evening so that we arrived in darkness. There was either a bus or taxi ride at the other end. My father did not accompany us so this rather reinforces the idea that they were mum’s friends or relatives. father did not get on with her side of the family.
The following is purely speculation but is based on a story told to me recently by my sister Barbara. It seems that one of Father’s colleagues, Mr. Grayston, was very jealous of my father and would do anything to spite him. He suspected that father was having an affair with his secretary, Phyllis, and promptly went over to Kenton one day and told my mother. A despicable thing to do! This may have been the reason why Mum whisked me off to Grimsby to recover her equilibrium. Through a connection in Grimsby, namely Barbara Green, who I believe is my second cousin (her grandmother was grandma Cumming's sister) I've now learned that we probably stayed in Healing which was, at that time, part of Lord Portman's estate. The Elwood family was employed by his lordship as blacksmiths and wheelwrights. Barbara Green believes she remembers our visit but who knows ?
As far as I can remember I wasn’t what you would call a robust child and my early impressions are of being something of a “runt” and being made painfully aware of this fact by my peers, being referred to as “titch” - “skinny” - or even “mighty mouse”
Hospital and Operation
Willesden General Hospital - 1936Willesden General Hospital - 1936

By the age of six I had contracted mastoiditis, a painful ear infection which is nowadays cured with the aid of simple antibiotic drugs, but in those days was only curable by an operation. In 1938 such an operation was considered to be fairly risky but happily I was unaware of this fact. I only remember being in great pain and being very grateful when I was finally carted off to hospital, Willesden General I believe, for the nasty deed to be performed.
I have all kinds of memories of that six weeks stay in hospital. From the crying of my fellow sufferers to the abysmal food and the “California Syrup of Figs” a particularly noxious laxative administered by a buxom nurse with a vice like grip. A small girl and I used to hide under the table in the vain hope that we would escape the torture.
Perhaps my most vivid recollection is of having to learn to walk again. After 4 weeks of bed my leg muscles had lost all power and it was necessary to scoot around on one’s bum. Fortunately the effect was only temporary and I presumably made a startling recovery.
Birthdays & Christmas
Homecoming was something of a celebration. I had spent both Christmas and my 6th birthday in hospital and presents had accumulated from both celebrations. The strange thing is that I barely recall what all those presents were. I believe there was a train set, clockwork regrettably, but father didn’t think I was old enough to have an electric train set.
Bayko setMeccano setIt must have been on this occasion that I also received my Bayko set and the Meccano building set. Everything seemed to be in sets those days. father must have thought that I was going to be very practical or perhaps it was mother’s influence that produced all those wonderful building sets . Whoever was responsible I certainly took to them immediately and started to make all kinds of wonderful things. Derrick cranes and jib cranes with the Meccano; elaborate buildings with Bayko. The latter, long since extinct, was a complicated system of bases with masses of tiny holes into which one stuck steel rods of varying length. Providing the rods were properly spaced you slid “bricks” (both red and white I remember) down between said rods thus building walls. Floors were added, they were suitably perforated and also slid down over the rods. There were windows and doors and even bay windows (all green !). The final touch was the red roof a magnificent tribute to early plastic injection moulding, as was indeed the whole kit and caboodle. I suppose it was made from Bakelite the brainchild of the redoubtable Dr. Bakelin and the forerunner of today’s multitude of plastics.
Early School

Schoolboy NewtonAround 1937 I started school, it was private and called Kenton High School. A large part of the buildings comprised an old house behind which was a prefabricated building that contained another 2 or 3 classrooms. It was here that I discovered that I was left handed ! This came as quite a shock and was only really apparent when they tried to teach me to write. I consistently picked up the pencil with my left hand. At this time it was much frowned upon to be so unconventional and every effort was made to “cure “ me of the affliction. Eventually thanks to the intervention of Dr. Newton Andrews (my namesake and bringer into this world) the authorities were persuaded to leave well alone. In retrospect it would have been better to correct me as it has been a constant impediment to my manual dexterity. It was then believed and for that matter probably still is, that changing a lefty over would have some disastrous effect on his or her psyche or sanity. Perhaps this is the case, I only know that life would have been easier as a ‘righty’.
Whilst at Kenton High I had my first love affair. She was a beautiful creature with long black hair and blue eyes and wouldn’t leave me alone!. Most of the time I was horrified and shunned her advances with something approaching terror. Her name was Joan Turner and we were six years old.
About now the name Newton started to cause problems... no simple John, Stuart, Dennis, or even Peter for me, oh no! Newton, what a mouthful. Naturally it was abbreviated cruelly. “Tadpole” was a favourite; even though a newt and a tadpole are not related they are sufficiently close in the minds of schoolboys. From this came “Taddy”, and of course “Pole”. “Newt” was also a favourite, oh what agonies I suffered ! If they found out (they being my supposed friends) that I had another name like Huntley I was finished. The connections with “Huntley and Palmers” biscuits opened up a gold mine of possibilities, come to think of it “Winsor and Newton” did not go unremarked. why is it that parents give such little thought to these matters. Imagine calling your beloved little baby boy Egbert or little girl Ermintrude, the mind boggles.
The day war broke out

5 Kenton Gardens back garden about 1939 - that's me right at the bottom of the picture!!Me in #5 back garden
I think the most dramatic memory I have of this period is the “day war broke out”. It was Sunday, September the 3rd 1939, and a brilliant late summer day. The sun shone from the sky with a September glory. Even at the age of seven I had a very good idea what war meant and Pop and I had spent most of the morning in the garden pottering around. I had caught a butterfly or was it a caterpillar?, anyway whatever it was I let it go after Neville Chamberlain announced that we were at war with Germany. I had said to Pop “I’m sure it won’t happen”, He, being more pragmatic was not so sure. You see here the start of my eternal optimism, even at the tender age of seven I was hoping for the best!.
We sat in the front room listening to the Marconi radio complete with ten short wave bands! I believe our neighbours the Plants or the Delports were with us, maybe both. A few moments after the fatal announcement the air raid sirens went off. Of course being truly British and stupid, we all rushed into the street expecting to see enemy bombers overhead. It was only a test and there were many months of “Phoney War” before we came to know what that “moaning minnie” meant.
By this time we had the brown paper tape on the windows. This was intended to prevent the glass from splintering and being thrown all over the room in the event of a nearby bomb explosion. Many residents went to endless trouble to create marvelous patterns with what was essentially brown paper gummed tape. If you were really rich you had a man in to fix special tape or even cover the windows with a fabric mesh type material applied with some adhesive or other. Yet another system was the special paint, supposedly clear, applied to the inside of the glass. It had two effects; one it always looked like it was raining and the other was that it was totally in-effective
With the outbreak of war life became more defined in some way. Perhaps I became more aware of my surroundings and perhaps we were all more aware of each other. I suppose it also had something to do with being seven and legend has it that life goes in seven year cycles. Whatever the reasons for this apparent awareness on my part I have some very vivid recollections of the war years.
It has been well chronicled elsewhere that the first few months of the war were the so called “phoney war”. Apart from the issuing of gas masks to everyone and the building of tank traps on all major street corners there were few visible signs that we were at war.
The Dreaded Gas Mask!.
Gas Masks
Looking like an incompetent special effects man’s idea of a Martian, the gas mask was a weird device of black rubber with a longish metal snout with a perforated end to it. In the front was a clear plastic window through which one saw where you were going, at least that was the idea. I had an absolute horror of this unearthly device. At school we were supposed to have gas mask practices from time to time. Here I should explain that you took your gas mask with you everywhere you went. Originally they came in a brown cardboard box to which you attached a piece of string so that you could carry it over your shoulder. Of course the cardboard eventually failed and the string just pulled though. Then some enterprising entrepreneurs started making gas mask cases out of all kinds of fabrics, plastics and so on.Gas Mask shop
To return to my terrible dread, I don’t quite recall whether it was the fear of being stifled, in fact you could breathe perfectly well with the darn thing on, or whether it was just the terrible rubbery smell of it. You were required to put your chin into the bottom of the rubber face piece and then with one smooth movement put the adjustable strap round the back of your head thus totally enclosing your face from chin to forehead. To check that it fitted properly you placed a hand over the perforated end, the filter actually, and exhaled sharply, this produced a “farting” effect as the rubber vibrated against your cheek. What a palaver! I repeat I just dreaded it and avoided even thinking about putting it on whenever possible. Needless to say they were never required in actual use. In passing I should also mention the gas detectors that appeared in many public places and even in people’s front gardens. They consisted of a flat piece of wood about 18 inches to 2 feet square stuck on top of a post about five feet off the ground. The whole thing looked rather like a bird table. The top surface was painted with some gas sensitive paint that presumably changed colour if it was exposed to poison gas. I suppose we all spent a good deal of time checking to see if they had changed colour. I can’t help feeling that if you were around to see the change without your gas mask on you were probably dead anyway!
The other tangible sign that we were at war was the appearance of strange structures at various major intersections. At the corner of Kenton Road and Kenton Lane there was built a magnificent edifice of wood and sand bags with sort of gun emplacements built in. It was intended that this somewhat flimsy structure would at the very least impede the progress of the German army should they dare to invade us. In reality I doubt very much if this “Mickey Mouse” effort would impede anyone let alone a Nazi panzer division. Again it’s strange how there are smells attached to so many of these memories. I remember the damp smell of the sand bags in the winter and autumn and the hot creosote of the wood in the summer. They resembled the old western stockades as seen on the movies of the thirties and forties. The authorities seemingly decided that they were either ineffective or the Germans weren’t coming since by late 1940 or early 1941 they were all torn down. What did remain for most if not all of the war were the tank traps. These were pyramid like structures of reinforced concrete, again positioned strategically at junctions, railway bridges and so on. They also had lengths of steel rail bent into vee shapes which could be inserted into sockets in the road. These structures would probably have been more effective than their wooden counterparts but would still only have been of a nuisance value to the invading forces.
So much for the first few war memories, much more follow in the next chapter. Now let’s get back to more personal and pleasant thoughts. 

Sex rears its ugly head!!
Sex reared it’s ugly head even at this tender age. It mostly consisted of playing “Doctors & Nurses” or “Mothers & Fathers”. The actual sex bit was limited to some bum sniffing and poking about in the girls knickers or trying to persuade them to pee whilst we watched. My great friend at this time was Stewart Harley, his real name was John but for some reason I always knew him as Stewart. He and I had some early homosexual experiences, again mostly of the curiosity variety. In particular we were intrigued as to why our little willies became hard and stiff and for that matter hurt a bit when we engaged in playing rudes. Pamela Wilson and Pam Grainger were partners in some of these lewd interludes. none of us really had the slightest idea what it was all about only that it seemed naughty and therefore had to be conducted in secret in garden sheds, tents or wherever we could be reasonably sure of not being found out. Needless to say we were frequently caught and severely chastised by what were probably secretly amused parents.
Stewart and I were very aware that both our penes were of the same sort. (we had of course been circumcised but didn’t realise it!). This fact was a constant source of regret to us. We felt it would have lent a certain spice to our “rudes” if one had got a cock with the “extra bit” on the end. Our friend Dennis Cook (yes it was COOK not COCK!) had one, we knew this because we had glimpsed it on the odd occasion that he had taken a leak in our presence. However he was not prepared to join in our games so we had to be content with our “smooth tips”. The strange thing is that somehow it seemed that those boys with the other sort were inferior. We wrongly assumed that you were born with one type or the other and the best people had our sort. Yet another example of how incredibly class conscious we were even down to our pricks!.
This childish obsession with our private parts wasn’t really very harmful and is so common as to be unremarkable. I mention it here, dear reader, not to titillate but rather to reassure those of you who perhaps furtively enjoyed the same thoughts and actions and have felt guilty about it ever since. Don’t, it’s all quite normal. Neither Stewart nor I turned out to be homosexuals, actually he being slightly older was the first to discover that girls were more fun. From then on our mutual activities were strictly limited. I should say here that it was me who had to “wank” him more or less to order. He offered to do the same for me but I wasn’t ready for such activity. This comes much later, not I hasten to add at age seven!.
Early Neighbours
Across the street from Number Five was Number Four, a not uncommon arrangement. The significance was that here lived “Auntie Plant”. A dear lady who had older children, two daughters, but no boys. My mother and auntie (I have absolutely no idea what her first name was) were great friends and I was often sent over to number four for a few hours whilst mum was out or needed a rest. My abiding memories are of eating “dripping toast” and washing the artificial glass coals from her electric fire.
Oh what simple joys we had in those pre-TV days. The greatest treat was to be allowed to take all those lovely yellow and orange chunks of glass out of the electric fire basket, wash them in soapy water, dry them and then the final culmination to re-arrange them in the basket. This would be followed by the dripping toast. This was toast liberally spread with beef dripping and seasoned with salt. It was served hot direct from under the gas grill...mmmmmm delicious once more I’m smelling it and this time tasting it too.
Next door lived Auntie Sue-Sue and Uncle Vincent, the Delports. Their house was the other of the pair with ours. Number seven to be precise. My one very clear memory of Auntie Sue-Sue (her real name was Suzanne) was of her showing me how to make French salad dressing in her wooden salad bowl. This was made in the traditional French way with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper (fresh ground) and a pinch of mustard. You see I can even remember after all these years, perhaps this was the beginning of my interest in cooking. Uncle Vincent was something to do with publishing, with connections in the engineering industry. As you may have guessed they were both French. I think perhaps he was sent over from France to run the English office of his company. He gave me a book, the title of which eludes me, but it was something like “Feats of Engineering”. I know it was one of the best presents I had that Christmas as it was a real “grown up” book intended for adults not kids. Later, when I was at Harrow County School I used one of the stories, about a diver fixing a bridge, as a basis for a class lecture. It was a great success. Here you see my interest in public speaking... plus my literary beginnings?
It must have been around this time, 1938/9 that Monopoly hit the market. Pop bought a set and he and mum plus the Delports played virtually every night for what seemed to be months. I also learnt the game and used to play with my future brother in law Lou and sister Barbara.
Early holidays
Cliftonville Nr. Margate Kent

Summer holidays have a whole range of memories, especially those during the thirties. Unfortunately I cannot sort them out into which year each event occurred or for that matter exactly in which seaside resort each event occurred. There were two regular resorts that my parents frequented, Westcliff near Southend in Essex and Cliftonville near Margate on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. Exactly what determined which resort we visited I have no idea and certainly it is very hard for me to differentiate between them. Return visits to both resorts in the seventies did little to refresh my memory.
Cliftonville I remember for the Southend pier, that’s the one with the railway running it’s approximately one mile length. Of course Westcliff was memorable for being close to Margate which boasted Dreamland an amusement centre of endless excitement. So now we have established which resort was which perhaps I can recall some general incidents which may have taken place in either.
Getting there and arriving
We sometimes travelled for our holidays by a “private hire car”. This luxurious mode of transportation was either a piece of snobbery on the part of Pop or perhaps a hangover from his spoilt past. More likely it was because of mum’s delicate state of health. The car picked us up at Number 5 and all the luggage was loaded into the boot or onto a roof rack. There would be the four of us and even on at least one occasion I think the maid joined us. There is, somewhere in the family archives, a photograph of me sitting on a large stuffed dog being held in place by one of our maids. Mary was her name, they all seemed to be called Mary! So off we went amidst fond waving farewells from the neighbours in particular the Plants and the Delports.
On one trip we got stuck in an enormous traffic jam, yes, they even had them in those days, I recall a light aircraft buzzing overhead and taking photographs for the evening paper. We saw the picture next day and Pop was convinced he could pick out our car from the several hundred sweltering in the July sun.
We always took our holidays last week of July first of August, so did most people it seemed. This tied in with the end of school term and of course by this time both Barbara and I were at school.
Arrival at the seaside was just one of the big highlights. First there was the competition to see who could spot the sea first. There is a special light across the hills as you approach the coast that warns you of the impending appearance of the ocean, suddenly through a crack in the hills, must have been Kentish hills, a Westcliff holiday no doubt, there it is. The sun glints on the waves and you can almost smell the seaweed!
Now we drive through the town. On the pavements holidaymakers on the end of their first week or the last day of their second week are walking along, the children with buckets and spades. The “two weekers” can be identified by the rusty spades and rather battered buckets. The “end of first weekers” are not as tanned and their equipment is in better condition. I should explain that virtually everyone had two weeks holiday, the two weeks always started on a Saturday and finished similarly. The mid week special was, I believe, totally unknown. Outside the shops are the usual Kodak girls, just cardboard cut-outs actually. Bunting is everywhere, in the street gutters is real sand, blown up from the beach. The car drives along the front. Now we can really see the beach and the sea. It’s probably about 12 o’clock noon and holidaymakers are moving off the beach back to their hotels for lunch.
We finally arrive at our Hotel. One was called “The Leslie” and I think this is the one at Cliftonville. The luggage is unloaded we are welcomed by the owner and shown up to our rooms. Each room has a small wardrobe, a double or two single beds and a washbasin. There were no ensuite bathrooms in these small private hotels. Such luxuries, unknown to me, were reserved for the hoi polloi who stayed at the big hotels on the front.
The Leslie was just off the front although you could see the sea when you stood on the front steps also if you were lucky enough to have room on the right side of the Hotel you might be able to catch just a glimpse.
The First Day
There would a cold salad lunch at the hotel on a Saturday. This was to accommodate the “changeover” of clientele and since people arrived at all different times it was convenient to have a cold lunch. We went down to the dining room still in our travelling clothes standing out like sore thumbs amongst the “end of first weekers”. They would be in open necked shirts and shorts, sundresses, even the odd bathing costume here and there especially on the kids. After lunch up to the bedroom to unpack and get into something less formal. Exactly why we felt it necessary to dress up to travel I’m not sure but everyone did.
Whilst mum unpacked father and us two children would go down to the front to explore. In those days there was a “boardwalk” along the edge of the beach and this had a particular smell. Here I go again, on about the smells! This was extra special, a mixture of hot sand, wood, seaweed and salt, quite, quite delicious and heady. Along to the bucket and spade shop. After some deliberation and not a little argument, “No Newton you cannot have a metal spade this year, you’re still not old enough”. My father was eventually persuaded to let me have a metal one. “He’ll cut his toes off!” mum protested. Needless to say I still have five toes on each foot so presumably I never fulfilled her prophecies of doom.
Now armed with the holiday tools onto the beach itself to try them out. Today being the first day we only made a few tentative sand castles, nothing ambitious like a big hole. This exercise in mass excavation was reserved for Sunday. Bucket and spade duly christened an ice cream was in order or perhaps a Snofrute. This latter delight was a fruit flavoured water ice that came in a triangular cardboard wrapper and you pushed the ice up from the bottom. It cost the vast sum of 1d, that's less than ½p. Inevitably the cheap glue used to secure the card in triangular configuration failed and you were forced to devour the last couple of inches in one piece. Oh the ache of the teeth by that sudden insertion of frozen fruit juice.
The evening meal would be a roast. With all the trimmings this established the standard of food for the rest of the holiday and ensured that the guests were introduced to the chef’s capabilities right from the start. After the roast there would be a dessert of some sort, apple pie, steamed sponge with golden syrup (usually watered down slightly and euphemistically described as “golden sauce”) perhaps even peaches and ice cream. The final touch, cheese and biscuits. Coffee would be served in the lounge. English coffee that is, a pale fawn liquid smelling vaguely of coffee essence. But of course there would be brown sugar, such luxury!
In the earlier of these holidays it was at this point that I would be packed off to bed. Not without some considerable protest on my part. Each hotel had some sort of built in baby sitting arrangement enabling parents to have the evening to themselves. Just what they did after this enforced bed I cannot be sure but presumably it was all fairly innocent. Perhaps a walk along the front and a drink at one of the bigger hotels and a listen to the band or the organ. This was the age of the electric organ and many hotels had installed Hammond organs, each with a variously talented performer, in their lounge bars. I distinctly remember one Don Lorenzo but just where he was Lord only knows. Now I realise why I love those electronic machines so much, I was weaned on them!.
 All of us on Beach early thirties.
The “real” holiday begins here
Sunday dawns, shining and fresh, before breakfast, up to the local shop for newspapers. father always read the Sunday Express, mother I believe preferred the Dispatch. If I was especially lucky I would get a comic, Dandy , The Beano or perhaps Radio Fun. Breakfast over we would pack our bathing things and go down to the beach. First thing to do was hire a couple of deck chairs. This involved walking along the beach to the pile of chairs, selecting a couple and then finding a suitable piece of territory to stake a claim for the morning. Staking a claim comprised a number of factors; proximity to steps up to toilets, tea bar, ice creams etc. Where was and where would the sun be both now and later? At what state was the tide, coming in or going out? How far up the beach would it come if it was coming in? Alternatively how far out would it go if that was it’s direction? Most of these decisions had to be made only once; on the first day; after that you knew all about tides and the whereabouts of the various facilities.
Now we got ourselves arranged. father settled down with the paper, mum fussed around getting us into our bathing costumes or out of our other clothes assuming we had our costumes on underneath. Down to the water’s edge to try the temperature. The sea in England never gets what you would call really warm. Just less cold. By July it was usually fairly comfortable and since I have never been a great lover of water it was sufficient for me just to paddle and splash a bit, definitely no swimming!.
One major project of a seaside holiday was the digging of a “Big Hole”. Quite why this was a ritual I’m not sure but we did it every holiday and usually several times. Such holes were about 6 feet across and probably only 12 to 15 inches deep. They had “seats” cut into the perimeter and once finished you could sit in them and enjoy an ice cream or lemonade. Such a simple pleasure and yet so satisfying. On some occasions Pop would design a boat or car in the sand. First he would draw the outline , preferably the beach would be damp after the tide went out, this ensured that the outlines of the proposed vehicle would be well defined. Once the shape had been established sand was dug away and piled up where necessary until some sort of representation of the vehicle emerged. My sister or I or both would then sit in or on the work of art and have our pictures taken.
Dreamland - Margate
To the west of Cliftonville was Margate. In Margate there’s a very special place called Dreamland. “Fun dedicated and frightening” is the way in which one tourist guide describes Dreamland Amusement Park. It was first opened in 1920 and remained as Dreamland until 1980 when it was renamed “Bembon Brothers Amusement Park”, a sad piece of egotism on the part of said brothers if I may say so! The entrance to this escapist world was right on Marine Parade and through an archway with the name outlined in coloured electric light bulbs. You went down a sort of tunnel to the park itself. What delights awaited the child or for that matter the adult. Dreamland wasn’t like a normal fairground, for one thing it was permanent, for all I know it’s still there today. All the rides are firmly embedded in concrete and therefore capable of even more terrifying complexity than those seen on the village green. The Caterpillar... a wildly rotating machine with a cover that opened and shut with such a velocity that it made a draught sufficient to blow the girls skirts over their heads. A favourite spot of the young men needless to say.
Then there was the miniature railway. Running from it’s own miniature terminus to a rather depressing siding at the other end of the park. The real steam trains or perhaps train would be more accurate took about 5 minutes to travel the scant quarter mile from end to end and then back again. A ride on this railway afforded one an interesting view of the backs of the various side shows, restaurants, loading bays, rubbish dumps and so on, there was also a tunnel, which contained a permanent damp cloud of steam and smoke. Again the smell of it...delightful. As indeed were all the smells of Dreamland, toffee apples, ice cream, orangeade and sausages on sticks, I don’t think the hot dog had yet crossed the Atlantic.
Dreamland was truly a place of dreams, apart from the rides there were the various games of chance. I distinctly remember the horse racing game. You bought a ticket or a number of tickets each of which had the name of a horse printed on it. When all the tickets had been sold, I suppose there were about 50 of them, the big rotating sign board was spun round. On this board were all the horse names illuminated in turn as the sign spun. The obvious outcome was that when the sign eventually stopped the horse’s name that was illuminated was the winner. The prizes were really quite lavish, especially considering that this was in the thirties or early forties. I think you paid about a shilling per ticket, old shillings that is, 5p, and you could win prizes valued up to about £2. Then there were the usual roll the pennies, shooting galleries, darts galleries, coconut shies and so on and so on. There were also dodgems, racing cars, a big dipper and several other so called amusements.
Go fly a kite
 Atalanta Kite
One last memory I have of holidays on the south coast is of the then famous Atalanta Kite. In the thirties kite flying was a popular hobby and the strange thing is that it has again become a widely followed sport. There was a make of kite called “Atalanta” and it seemed as if we bought one every holiday. I’m not sure if this was for my benefit or whether Pop was also hooked on them. Whatever the reason I recall that the kite consisted of a series of small wooden sticks joined at the middle, the shape was either hexagonal or octagonal. There was a tail which comprised bows of the same material as the kite tied to a piece of string about six feet long. The material was a kind of glazed tissue paper and I particularly remember a bright red one. The outfit also came with a ball of twine but you always needed more. Assembling the Atalanta taxed Pop’s mechanical powers to the absolute limit, however we usually succeeded. Getting it to fly was another challenge but there was plenty of wind on the cliff tops. Once the kite was flying we would send “messages” up the string. These were bits of cigarette packet with a hole torn in the middle and then threaded onto the string. The wind force would slowly push the card up to the kite that was now flying about 100’ up. This particular excitement over, the string would be tied to Pop’s deck chair and I would lay on the grass and watch the kite for what seemed hours. I’m not sure what the fascination of kites is exactly. Must be something to do with being free as air or a kind of escapism perhaps.
The holiday continued in much the same routine for the inevitable two weeks. Of course the second week went by much faster than the first. I have my own theory about this phenomenon. Since most holidays start on a Saturday and most weeks are considered to start on a Monday it follows that although you start your holiday on Saturday you do not consider that the second week starts until the next but one Monday. At this point you have already spent 9 days of your 14 and only have 5 left. Of course the second week goes faster!
The End of the Thirties
We now come to the end of the thirties. 1939 ended uneventfully as far as I can remember. We were at war although as I’ve already said there were few tangible signs of it. Christmas 1939 brought me a normal crop of presents, again I’m hard pressed to remember what they were. I think the “Big Present” was a slide projector with a series of Walt Disney Cartoons. I know that whatever it was that I actually received that Christmas, this particular present it brought me many hours of pleasure.
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