In need of a spell, I started musing on the how, the why and the wherefore, of how I managed to get myself involved with things naval, and decided I was in need of a break, started on this load of codswallop!
I’ve always been a reader, I can’t say I ever studied anything because I didn’t; I just liked reading. I still recall my first reader and the magic of those words ‘The cat sat on the mat’! Obviously to learn the sound ‘a’ as in cat, I can’t remember anything else about that book just the one line ‘The cat sat on the mat’!
Words and reading has never lost it’s fascination for me and I never tire of reading. Many times I can hear my father upbraiding me with the words “get your head out of that book, boy!”
Yet when I come to think about it, he is the only one besides me, that I can recall as a reader. I can’t ever remember seeing my mother, or brother, (although I suppose he did because he had to whilst at school) read a book or newspaper. My sister is more than 9 years my junior and she became a reader, a student then a teacher. But my dad always had his head stuck in the newspapers, well up until nap time; before going off to bed; he always enjoyed a nap before retiring for the night.
My brother Sonny (Stanley Ernest Alfred to give the poor bloke his full moniker) wasn’t a reader; in fact we were as alike as chalk and cheese.
Sonny was 2 years older than me, some 2 or 3 inches taller (we were not metric then) and with a mass of black hair. I was blonde until about 8 when my hair turned brown. Here’s a pic taken of me after my first hair, cut aged around 2 years I suppose.
There was a photogaph taken of Sonny and me at Ramsgate (Same Ramsgate from where Georgiana Darcy and Mr Wickham planned to elope ). We were sitting on this giant size stuffed dog, me all dimpled blue eyed and blond,and Sonny holding on to me making sure I didn’t fall, with his jet black hair. We could never be taken or mistaken for brothers.
I got to thinking about Sonny the other day, his birthdate is coming up next Monday the 28th March; he’d have celebrated his 83rd. He died a month and a couple of weeks short of his 77th back in 2011. He succumbed to prostate cancer. Like me he was diagnosed with it at age 70; unlike me he never met Dr. Fogarty, another of my dieties, along with Dr. Adams and Dr. Sandroussi.
Pretty much like the christian religion in a way; they have the father son & holy ghost and I have my three Doctors.
Anyway, back to what I started, I gave Sonny a pretty hard time when we were children, I suppose, on reflection. Unlike me he didn’t have a temper; kind of placid type really, consequently I became the ‘dominant male’ not a bully, I never had time for bully’s I might get around to telling about one in particular when I finish this little lot!
However, I wasn’t averse to a bit of a fight, and oft times Sonny was the only available target, so I’d get stuck into him, he never actually fought back, he’d try to fend me off but I had a nasty streak in me and I’d really go for him.
I recall one time I’d thrown/shoved him down the stairs, and I had him by the ears bashing his head on the floor, and it took the combined efforts of my mother and father to pull me off him before I did serious damage. I was a nasty piece of work where Sonny was concerned!
And yet he never held it against me.
Shortly after the war; 1946 or 47, two of our neighbours died, Mrs Freaks at No 57 followed a few months later by Mrs Harris at no. 59. My mother did the honours and laid out both these ladies. She liked doing that for some odd reason.
Back then there was no trotting the bodies off to a funeral parlor; the funeral’s were conducted from the home. The corpse was laid out in a closed coffin usually for a week, before the funeral. Of course we children had to be very quiet, why I’m damned if I know. I suppose they didn’t want us to wake the dead.
The funeral would leave from the house, and we’d all go watch the procession. The undertaker’s in their top hats looking very bored, (or was it solemn?) walking in front of the hearse, and we boys would all doff our caps.
It wasn’t long after Mrs. Harris died that Mr Harris sprang to life, he bought himself a motor-bike, an “AJS” if memory serves me; pretty much the same as the one illustrated with a seperate pillion riders seat.
Mr. Harris had a son, but he was older than the rest of the ‘kids’ in the street, and I don’t remember anything about him , except he was in the RAF. I do know that he had a bicycle; in fact the Harris’s had two, father and son models.
So, Mr H senior, having the cleanout after the death of his wife, and wanting room for his motor-bike, asked my mother if she’d like them for her boys, and my mother being my mother said she’d buy them off him, he’d have given them to her as she’d laid his late wife out, but she insisted on paying for them so they settled on a couple of quid for the pair.
Sonny, being the bigger of the two, copped the 28″ London Bobby style bike (pic attached ), they were a monstrous, ungainly, ugly machine (look at pic again – believe me now?) and I got the normal 26″; which I rode pretty well everyday, right up until we left for Australia.
The day before we left I gave it to a young boy who’d moved in with his aunt who lived just down the road from us, another Brian, Brian Heyward he was about 10 or 11 and a war orphan, his parents having been killed in an air-raid.
He was a boy scout; always nice and clean, not like the scruffy urchin I’d been at that age and he didn’t have much, none of us did when I think about it; but this poor kid had less.
Back to the bikes; Sonny wasn’t very confident on his hulking great bike. We’d never had or ridden bikes before, and Sonny didn’t take to riding easily or with enthusiasm.
In case anybody is wondering why the line; simple; I started this lot of drivel on the 21st March, around the time of our autumnal equinox, fully intending to finish and to ‘publish’ on the 28th March, the anniversery of Sonny’s birth, and here we are in the second week of April and I’ve just come back to have another lash at whatever it was I was going on about! Confused? Not my reader/s
Just outside our front gate was a lamppost, not the great ugly thin things that pass as lampposts these days, but one of the old fashioned posts, with the scrolls and stuff at the bottom, and a bar sticking out near the top for the bloke to rest his ladder, when he came to change the light bulb/globe (for the Australians).
The bar also came in handy to swing from, as the attached picture will attest. (picture © Miss Magnolia Thunderpussy. -attempted to get her permission to reproduce but unable to contact her). No that’s not me in the pic, although it could pass for me, scruffy urchin. Which brings me to the next and final bit of cussedness on my part. 👿
I happened to be doing my Tarzan bit from the bar, and saw Sonny wobbling towards me on his bike; had he been going any slower, he’d have been going backwards for sure. It was a grotesque machine and he did his best.
Anyway when he got pretty close to me swinging, I decided to drop off in front of him, which I did, and grabbed the handle bars sending him a cropper. His head hit the base of the lamppost, and he finished up in the gutter, with a broken arm, a sore head, and a wrecked bike, the front wheel was a write off!
I finished up with a couple of thick ears courtesy my mother.
Sonny was pretty happy with his broken arm; all the girls signed the plaster cast and wrote stuff, some of the boys did too, but I couldn’t see the sense in it so I never bothered; I had my thick ears to worry about, and you couldn’t sign those!
Strangely Sonny never held a grudge towards me. I won’t bore you any more with the “cussedness” section of this post, I’ll get on with the flip side! 😈
….. & Kindness!
Sonny must have started work in 1948, probably as soon as he turned 15 same as I did a couple of years later. For reasons unknown, (he’d never been interested much in school, although he did in his final year manage to climb out of the bottom”C” class into th “B”) he had an interest in ships and shipping, so it was only natural that my mother got him a job with an Anglo/Dutch shipping company in Leadenhall Street, at £2.0.0 a week, shipping companies were lousy payers.
1948 was the year that Don Bradman and ‘The Invicibles’came to town. For the benefit of my American chums/buddies Don Bradman is more widely known around the world than Babe Ruth, in some countries his name is spoken with reverence. Arguably the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen or is likely to see.
His batting average at retirement was 99·96. In baseball that is the equivelant to batting .999, roughly speaking, although there’s really no way to compare the two games. (I’m a baseball fan!).
Anyhow, Sonny took me along on the 19th July to Lords, in those days the home of world cricket, today the home is somewhere in India I believe; to see the Australian Eleven take on Middlesex, with the hope of seeing Bradman bat.
We’d listened to stories about this player throughout the war years when “The Ashes” were in abeyance, and even though he was now getting on in years, we expected great things; at least a double century before lunch.
We had pretty good seats, I’ve no idea how much my brother paid for them, we were slap bang looking at the middle of the wicket, directly opposite ‘Old Father Time’; I think that they moved him from his old spot when the ground was renovated.
It was going to be our day, the Aussies were going to bat and we’d get to see ‘the Don’ for sure. The start wasn’t too good for the Aussies and it wasn’t long before the Don came to the crease amid great applause. Being English, we didn’t cheer, or make too much noise at a cricket match, we clapped politely.
Settling down now, we were chatting excitedly about what to expect with Bradman at the crease when a sudden hush made us look back to the pitch, and there he was; walking off! Out for 6 runs; and we didn’t even get to see that!
However, there was some great batting to come notably from Keith Miller, who actually managed to land a six on the ‘Tavern’ roof, with the newsreel cameramen ducking for cover. We never got to see the Australians play in England again; a little over two years later we were on our way there.
A few months later he bought a couple of tickets for the London Palladium for the Danny Kaye show. Danny Kaye after the war seemed to make the Pallidium his summer home, I remember little of the show except for a couple of moments. Danny Kaye’s support was Ted Ray, Englands answer to Jack Benny; he played the violin, and cracked jokes.
There’s only one part of Danny Kaye’s performance that I can recall, “Candy Kisses“; he moved to centre stage, the lights dimmed, and he started singing this silly song with pink & white candy stripe lights swirling around him. It was very effective really, and the audience went wild. Probably saw and heard more of and in the song than I did!
Anyway my brother took me to the Palladium for my first and last time. The only other time I can remember going to a variety theatre was on the 8th September 1943, and I can assure you that date is correct.
It was at the East Ham Palace in High St, East Ham, and there are two things I remember, two men one very tall the other very small dressed as London ‘Bobby’s” singing this song; it might even have been these two fellows!
the other thing was the Master of Ceremonies coming on stage and announcing that the Italians had surrendered, which as you can imagine was greated with great cheering and hip hip hooraying!
This picture was taken on board the MV Cheshire the immigrant ship taking us to Australia in 1951. This ship, of 10,000 tons, built in 1927 was originally designed to carry some 250/260 passengers. As a migrant ship they squeezed more than 660 of us aboard.
Ten days after arriving in Melbourne my brother gave me a book for my birthday. It was the first ‘real book’ I’d ever been given; properly bound, hard back, dust cover, the lot! It was a book that changed my thinkig and I suppose my life. It brought out my love of history, and things Royal Navy.
The book was entitled “Yankee RN”; and is the true story of his wartime experience, written by Commander Alex H Cherry, RNVR. a Wall Street banker, who risked everything, his citizenship, a hefty fine, $200K I believe it was, for breaking the US Neutrality Act and going off to fight the Nazis in WWII, and 65 years on I can recall this book vividly.
There appears to be one copy of this book available on eBay for anybody wants to go buy and read it for themselves,
Don’t say I don’t try and help! 😎
Now for those or anybody that’s stayed the distance and is wondering where all this drivel is going let me explain.
As you probably noticed, when growing up I did everything possible to make my brothers life hell, and he repaid me with acts of kindness. Try as I might, I cannot recall ever have reciprocating. I never gave him a gift, a card or a kind word, nothing. When I started work in London in 1950, the company I worked for supplied me with ‘luncheon vouchers’, ( a tax gimmick) I didn’t always use them and they’d mount up.
I took my chums, and Sonny’s chums to lunch when I had saved vouchers, but I never took Sonny, not once, ever.
I think I must have been a really nasty piece of work! There are those who’d say I haven’t changed much!
Thought you might like to see a picture of the “Cheshire”, designed for 250 carried 660, no airconditioning, no fresh water, just lots of passengers and loads of fun!
This ship served as an armed merchant cruiser during WWII, was torpedoed twice and refused to sink so though over loaded with people we felt safe and secure.