Tuesday, 31 March 2015

3: Earliest memories


The first thing I ever remember...

I am around two, I think. And sitting happily and proudly with my twin sister at one end of the big silver cross twin pram, my mother had for years. (When it was done with my brother took the wheels off and devised a fiendish game where we sat inside, he put the hoods up and rolled us over. I swear my hatred of fairground rides started there.) Our little brother - aged about eight months?  - is strapped in at the other end. I think we are going to buy buttons at the haberdashery store near Southgate Station.

The pram is a cumbersome beast, and my mother is struggling to lift it off the kerb. Suddenly, the pram seems to fly through the air and get stuck in an upright position. My sister and I are flung on top of each other screaming loudly. My brother, though held in by the straps, is flailing towards us. I can feel my mother's panic as she tries but fails to free the pram. Hours seem to pass, and my sister and I are convinced of imminent doom.

Then... a kindly presence, a face I no longer remember, but a man appears, to help my mother release the pram from the kerb, and gently we are lowered to the ground, disaster averted. Having established everyone is fine, the man goes on his way, and we go to buy buttons. As if nothing had happened.


It is summer, and Wimbledon is on. A rare occurence when my mother will incorporate something she enjoys with her daily routine. My sister and I are toddling in and out of the lounge, half interested in the strange people whacking balls at each other on our tiny black and white TV, but more in the ants that are crawling through the air bricks in the patio. I am fascinated by what's behind the air bricks? Is there a secret cellar? (sadly there isn't, but even at three, I feel the need to make up stories about the things around me.)

I know from the pictures taken that day, that my mother sits down with us and reads to us and our brother, but I don't recall that. It's just the heat of the day, the summer dress with dots, which I love, the thwack of the ball. And the ants, popping in and out of the air brick, heading to where, to what?


I remember when a day turned black as night.

I know it was lunch time as we were waiting for our older siblings to come home from school. And yet, my mother had the light on, and outside it was dark, so very dark, I was terrified. Was it a storm? I didn't like thunder, but there was no lightning, just this inexplicable darkness.

Spookier still was a sudden gust of wind causing a massive clang as a lid blew off the dustbin, and my mother rushing to pick it up.

I think I may have hidden under the table as we always used to do in thunderstorms. I don't remember light returning, and yet, I suppose it did...

*22 September 1968 saw a total eclipse across the UK. I was about 3, I think it was the beginning of the school year, so I'm pretty sure I remember it!

Monday, 30 March 2015

2: 30 Selborne Road

The house I grew up in was an Edwardian terrace in a leafy London suburb. At the end of the road was a parade of shops, which were commonplace at the time, but looking back, I can see now they were already part of a vanishing world. When I was small there was a butchers (which I loved for the black and white stone tiles), a fishmongers which I hated, because I was frightened of the fishes' beady eyes, and a greengrocers. There was also a grocers' store called Cullens, where my mother would order the weekly shop which would be delivered to the house, which always seemed terribly exciting, and my favourite two shops: Sally's the newsagents where you could buy fruit salad and black jack chews for a halfpenny, and the bakery on the corner. The staff in there were really friendly and often gave us the buns which hadn't sold at the end of the day, which was a special treat. There was also an off licence, where my dad used to regularly send my older siblings to buy beer, until (much to his chagrin) they changed the law so that small children weren't actually allowed to buy alcohol.

Our house started off as a four bedroom semi, with a dining room, sitting room, breakfast room and small kitchen. When I was tiny, I slept in the front with bedroom with my twin, my three older sisters in the bigger front bedroom, and my brothers in the small back bedroom.  But when I was seven, deciding they needed more space, my parents converted the loft to a bedroom, which housed the boys from then on, while my twin and I shared a room with our middle sister and the two older girls got the tiny bedrooms. The extension was immensely drafty, and in windy weather it felt like you were on board a very creaky ship. The bedroom window looked out onto a flat roof, which my brothers took great delight in climbing out on. I was always far too wussy for that - but they were incredibly daring, and gave my mother palpitations by going as close to the edge as they dared.

Our garden was small, with a rough patch of lawn, which never grew, thanks to my brothers playing endless games of football and cricket. It also possessed to two beautiful silver birch trees, which at one time was home to a treehouse made by big brother, the construction of which caused my mother more palpitations as he fell out of it, though luckily to no lasting harm. I loved those trees, and was utterly heartbroken, when, just before my parents sold the house, one of them was so damaged in the storm of 1987, that it had to be cut down.

We backed on to a little recreation ground, called Conway Park, which was pretty much the perfect playground growing up. As was the norm in those halcyon days in the 70s when parents worried less about stranger danger, we were allowed to roam free there from morning to dusk, only being called in for meals. All the kids from our road played there, along with those on Conway Road which bordered the further side of the park. We played endless games of Block, Hide and Seek, Bulldog and Charlie, particularly in the summer months,when the evenings seemed to stretch out forever. There was also a pond where we fished for sticklebacks, newts and tadpoles, and where my little brother once nearly drowned (which is another story entirely).There were rivalries and gangs amongst us: another family from Conway Road were our main rivals - their eldest brother throwing my eldest brother's bike into the pond at one point, but on the whole we had a lot of fun there, and I think about those nights with great fondness.

Not every house in Selborne Road backed on to the park, which also gave access to a little cul de sac where the local school was. So every day, hordes of children would troop down through our side gate to get to school. Their mothers never took them (which I find extraordinary now), and I can remember in my preschool days watching them with envy, longing to be part of the elite school crowd. Then of course, inconsistently wishing I was back home with my mother as soon as I got to school.

I loved that house, and though it has long been sold, I dream of it often. It was a place of haven, security and love, the house I grew up in. And it will always be in my heart and memories for as long as I live.

Me and my sibs, the garden of 30 Selborne Road, c 1969

1: I am born....

I came into this world on 15 July 1965, half an hour after my twin sister. We were the fifth and sixth children in the family, and my mother had pneumonia and ended up spending six weeks in the London Hospital where we were born. My poor father was left to cope with a full time job, four children under six, with childcare provided by Norland nannies, and kind friends who pitched up to help with the laundry. We didn't have a car, and we lived many miles away from the hospital, so  I can only imagine how difficult that period must have been for them both.

Things weren't helped much by the manner in which I and my sister came into the world. In those days twins weren't whipped out at 36 weeks as they are often are now, so we were two weeks over our due date, and my mum had to be induced.

All went  swimmingly to begin with and my sister was duly born at 4.25pm (Just in time for Jackanory). It was only when I was having babies of my own, I completely twigged the stress of my much later arrival (4.55pm, in time for Blue Peter).

I had decided to head out shoulder first (according to my mother, who had trained as a midwife), the most complicated presentation in the book. So the attending doctor (who my mother had trained with) decided to turn me round to make me breach. Again, nowadays, my mum would have had an emergency caesarean, but back then the solution was to put her to sleep, while they got me out. Which is where it all went a bit pear shaped.

My dad had arrived at the hospital by now to discover he'd missed the first baby's arrival, and that my mum was allergic to something in the anaesthetic and at one point had stopped breathing. He told me much later, that it was the worst day of his life... gee, thanks. Though I do get the point. He must have had a moment when he thought he was going to be a widow with six small children. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, and my mother made a full recovery.

I don't know how long we stayed in hospital, but a very kind family friend, one of the few people we knew who had a car, made the trip from North to East London to bring us home, to the house where I was to live for the next 18 years: 30 Selborne Road, Southgate.


I turn fifty later this year. And I wanted to celebrate that by reflecting on places, people and things who have influenced my life thus far. I don't know if I'll manage to do fifty, and I doubt I'm going to have written them all by my birthday in July, but I thought I'd have a go anyway.

Hope you enjoy my thoughts, such as they are...