(Written in July 2009 for my father, Aelwyn, to celebrate his 90th birthday)
The Sincerest Form
Most teenagers have an exaggerated idea of their potential. And when I was a teenager, my ambition knew no bounds. All very pleasant, I thought, to have a wonderful wife, to live in a nice house backing onto woods in Chorleywood with two kids and a dog, to commute into London every day on the Met line. But surely, there must be more to life?
Maybe. But when it turned out that the first house we saw that Debbie and I both really liked was in Chorleywood, I didn’t fight the impulse to buy it. And I find myself going into the City in the same actual rolling stock – built in 1961, it says.
Well, I didn’t set out to copy you quite so literally. But maybe, underneath it all, I wanted our children to have just as happy a childhood as Rob and I did.
48 Brookdene Avenue
I remember riding my large white tricycle up and down the pavement.
I remember the coal-man, even dirtier than the dustman. And the Corona lorry, raspberryade please. And the baker’s van with the vent in the roof, la-la-la-la-la.
I remember walking to Oaklands Avenue Infants’ School with Susan Knussen, and the shoots and tree roots pushing through the tarmac opposite Clive’s house.
I remember going for tea with the Finches, the Smiths, the Stevenses and the Morrisons. Not the Taylors please.
I remember Saturday afternoons “helping” Dad in the garden, hearing the roar from Vicarage Road in the distance when Watford scored.
I remember the steep driveway, and Mum recounting being followed up it by another car in a “pea-souper”.
I remember sunny afternoons in the Wendy house, listening to 45s on the red Dansette, or Alan Freeman’s Pick of the Pops on Sunday afternoon.
I remember coming home from Sunday school to find that Dad had made us up an amazing “den” at the side of the house. And coming back from a stay in Wallasey to find swings at the top of the garden.
I remember the Saturday morning when Dad was up early to field Robin and Ricky, so Mum could have a lie-in. It was my day for the gold-top. A nice bowl of Shreddies, with sugar and cream, on the red fold-out formica table-top. I picked up my spoon to start. And the table folded: crockery, cream and Shreddies everywhere. Tears welled in my eyes. “Don’t worry”, said Dad. He wiped me down, cleared up the mess from the floor, and made me up a new bowl, as good as before. Everything was all right again.
England v South Africa, 1965
“England were 240 for four wickets and heading for a match-winning lead against South Africa at Lord’s when Ken Barrington, on 91, played perhaps the most fateful stroke in the 1965 Test series. He pushed the ball to mid-wicket and scampered down the pitch. Colin Bland ran towards the square-leg umpire. In one thrilling movement he scooped up the ball, swung round his body and threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end. The run-out of Barrington, which was followed by Bland’s performing a similar feat against JM Parks, was the turning point in the 1965 Test matches.”
And I was there, at Lord’s, with my Dad. The sun shone, and there wasn’t a happier boy in the ground. I couldn’t believe I was seeing these famous sportsmen for real. My only disappointment was not seeing Ken Barrington complete his century. He had been stuck on 91 for ages, and even today, when I go to collect Cracker from his stay with Janet at 91 Hilliard Road in Northwood, I remember the number as a “Ken Barrington”.
Dad did the first stretch of the journey, and then Mum would take over for the middle section along the A5 – that terrifying three-lane highway, in the days before they were abolished for being too dangerous. Feeling lucky? Try the middle lane. Brownhills, the Dun Cow. Then to Whitchurch, and the car sickness inducing road over the hills.
At last to Pantclyd. The smell of wet moss, the fragrant hedge. The stone lion’s mouth spouting water in the garden. The big stone-flagged house, full of cooking smells and mystery. Or later to Henfaes, to find Taid dozing in front of the cricket, or reading Y Dydd. Rob and Rik up early to find our “keep quiet” bribe in a ceramic jar. Usually a Milky Way.
Daily trips to Fairbourne. George III, twenty more runs in pub cricket. The tank traps, the Springfield Hotel (“looking a bit Dusty”). The railway – Sian, Sylvia, Rachel. Rob and Rik leaning out, trying to grab bunches of grass. The café opposite the beach – Lola by the Kinks on the jukebox, pinball machines. Dad going for lunch: cherryade, Kunzle cakes, gritty sandwiches. Mum, Dad and Rob on wooden surfboards. Peeling backs, Rob brown, Rik red. Watching the sunshine in Barmouth. But then Barmouth in the rain, with seagull cries echoing around the cliffs. Endlessly throwing a football into the waves, to “save” it as it when it reached me. Beach cricket, can’t be out first ball.
Over to The Rock, Aline’s house, huge and rambling, with clutter everywhere. Mum reeling from a huge sherry, Rik not sure about ginger beer. The apparently endless garden, with its secret corners and hidden lawns.
To see the sunrise on Cadair, (dominating the scene). I worried the night before about how we’d get there in the dark. I’d forgotten about headlights. Drinking flasks of soup and coffee, huddled against stone walls. Rain, wind, and at last, daylight and the peak. Down by the Fox’s path through slate scree. Home for breakfast. What an adventure!
There was wanting “points”.
There were Robin and Ricky calling their requests up the chimney to Santa.
There was the King William’s College Quiz, and no help from the internet.
There were Christmas carols at Crusaders.
There was the family dinner on Christmas Eve, tingling with anticipation.
There were presents under the tree.
There was trying to get to sleep, knowing that otherwise Santa might not come, but hearing furtive movements downstairs.
There was the Snow Queen and Christmas Carol.
There was waking up early (but a little later each year).
There was a walk after opening the presents, and the sun always shone.
There were sprouts.
There was Morecambe and Wise
There was Glyn, Sheila, David, Susan, June, Sarah, lan and Jane – and Mac with the pink shirt and purple bow tie.
Swimming Pool at Tall Trees
It would start with the first hot day in May, when Rob and Rik would clamour for the use of the swimming pool. A pump and hosepipe siphon would be set to work to drain away the green sludge. In we would go, in the blazing heat, with buckets, mops, cloths and dustpans to scoop out the last of the sludge, and marvel at the myriad wriggling creatures. Then we would scrub the sides to a gleaming sky blue, and Dad would patch any holes.
Finally we would fill the pool with icy water, and as soon as it was full, the sun would disappear behind big black clouds until July.
But how good it was to come home from school on a hot day, get straight into my trunks, and charge straight through the living room and into the pool. How good were those endless summer days spent floating on the lilo, drifting off with the tones of John Arlott’s voice in the background. How glad Taid was to see Rob’s female friends come round for a swim.
But eventually the shadow of those Tall Trees would creep up the lawn, we would go for one last swim, and shivering and leaving wet footprints on the red stair carpet, we would rush up for a bath.
Watford FC Memories
Our first away match at Spurs in the First Division, 6th November 1982. We walked to White Hart Lane while Mum had a nap in my flat. Great that Watford were even playing there: then we nicked a late goal and made it 1-0 for a famous victory. Then home for a fish and chip supper.
Watford v Aston Villa 26th February 1983 in the rain – we were tied at 1-1, and Watford battered the Villa defence continuously, but it just wouldn’t go in. The opposition taunted us with “boring, boring, Watford”, and the rain carried on pelting down. Finally, in injury time, Watford’s persistence paid off: Wilf Rostron scored, and the place went berserk.
Watford v FC Kaiserslautern, 28th September 1983. Watford were 3-1 down from the first leg, and had a mountain to climb. But we needn’t have worried, in those charmed Graham Taylor days. Watford came out and played like a hurricane: we stormed into a two goal lead in the first ten minutes – already enough to go through on our away goal. But we added a third in the second half, just to make sure.
And of course, walking through the underpass back to the car park after another happy afternoon at Vicarage Road: turning on the car radio, and joining in with the “Sports Report” theme…Perumty Dumty Dum de Dum, de Diddle de Dee de Dum…
Holidays with Nana and Grandad
I remember Nana clinging on tight to Rachel as Grandad went gliding.
I remember watching Michael Owen scoring against Argentina in the turret flat in Glengorm.
I remember walking with Dad on the paths around Sainte Cecile.
I remember Alice singing “Prettiest Little Jeep You Ever Saw” on the last night in Perugia.
I remember the house in Spain with Rachel running ahead of me to find the lights, and Alice teetering on the edge of the pool with her armbands, but never falling in.