Chapter 2: early years

1946 St. Augustine’s school

 

I must have been five and the war was over when my mother took me to St. Augustine’s Infant School on Kilburn Park Road. To this day I don’t know why we were late for school … But we were. Mum and I went into the assembly hall it was full of kids  all sitting cross legged on the floor with Nuns and old tired looking teachers looking on.

I remember even at that young age the smell of urine in the air.  Miss Pym was one of the teachers back then.  Miss Pym was (to my eyes) really old… With glasses and tight grey white curly hair……. I was to spend the next seven years in that school.

As I said some of the teachers were Nuns as it was a Church of England school. So it was” Sister” this and “Sister “that.

 One day I asked  one of the Sisters  in class  

“Sister Ethel!

Sister Ethel Church of England nun

Where do babies come from?“

I’m still waiting for her reply. .  I would guess that that question would of have set her back a bit in her bloomers!

The school was built behind the back gardens of the terraced  houses which were on Kilburn Park Road. There was a gap between the terraced houses, the width of maybe one or one and a half houses. This is where the playground was.  There was big wrought iron fence and gates right across the playground from one house to the other.

Then there was about ten or twelve stone steps going right the way across leading down to the tarmac  playground. The playground dropped away and there was a distinct slopping hill  and then it sloped all the way down  to the bottom. This is where the red bricked school was.  The school itself was settled into the ground  to the left of the playground.

In modern day Kilburn  Park Road,Kilburn Park Road London townhouses the houses that were once hiding the red bricked school have been demolished. Leaving the side of the school to be seen from the road way.

The playground  narrowed down to a narrow Path. There on the right was the boy’s urinals and W.C’s.  Next to the boys toilets would of have been the girls lavatories, but can’t  remember for sure.   To  the left  of the lavatories  stone steps lead up to the school entrance from the playground , which was at the end of the school.

From here on I remember very little about the layout of St. Augustine’s, but it was properly a typical layout for a school of the times.

Today  as I have just said ,the school is still standing, but the houses that hid the school from Kilburn Park Road are gone.

St. Augustine's Primary School Kilburn Park Road London

 St. Augustines School, minus the terraced houses that were once in front of it.

When I started at St. Augustine’s on  the first day I left my coat hanging up in the cloakroom. That day I learn my first lesson in life. I had made a big mistake I left my pennies in my coat pocket. I was later to find out that somebody else needed them more than I did.

So from that day forth whenever  I went anywhere and I had to take my coat off I always checked my pockets for valuables and removed them and  put them in my trousers pockets

The boys at the time wore short trousers  to just above the knee. and long grey socks to just below the knees.  I would wear  holes in the heels of my socks ,and mum would have to darn them.

Money was tight so instead of buying new socks the old ones had to be repaired. Socks then are not like socks of today,it did not take much to put holes in the heels.

Grey flannel trousers with long pant legs were not worn until boys of the time were about 12 years old.

 

  I don’t remember if I liked being at school or not but some of the games we  played in the small hilly playground were  pretty varied.

Here they are as good as I can remember.  There were sword fights  using our arms, Errol  Flynn  style.

Errol Flynn sword fighting

We would pick this up from some  the movies of the time.  There was talk of Errol Flynn having a 24 inch dick, but when we spoke about this we didn’t really have any idea  of what we talking about.

Then when it was election time . The boys would chant to the girls  in the playground

“ Labour or Conservative.”?

And if the girls didn’t give the right answer we would do the right thing and beat them up!   Why, because they were girls!   It was all in aid of good clean fun!

 I hadn’t been at school to long, when we had a rare winter with snow.   It was quite a lot of snow for England.   I think that it was 1947.   Anyhow my mother sat up all night to knit me a woolly hat.  pixie hat 1940's londonIt was made from second hand khaki army wool, which was re-claimed from one of my dads army sweaters.

The idea was right but as soon as I got to school I went to the lavatories and flushed it away down the toilet. “ Why” you ask well mum had knitted it with a point on it, which would of have been fine for a girl  or a pixie but I was a boy and boys don’t wear hats with points, I was not a pixie either!

When I got home and mum asked me where my hat was I told her that I had lost it… it was not until I was about 19 that I fest up and told her what really happened to it. But then she found it funny. I remember her saying.

“Why you little bugger you !  I sat up all night knitting that hat for you !”

  I must highlight something here .  We were not rich.   We were probably one level up from extremely poor.   It must be remembered that I was born in the war years where anything and everything  was hard to come by.   Things were rationed, food especially.

 

Even after the war was over things were still on ration till about 1953-4.  To my way of thinking even if there had not been a war, our family would  still be poor.

The area of London, Kilburn  was not affluent at all.  Back then, they were working class people just  getting by from day to day.   Most of the houses in that area of Kilburn were  ugly dirty looking  Victorian Terraced housing.

I don’t think anybody stopped to consider if they were well off or not, and the house that you live in was basically the same as everybody else’s.

Today, I understand that this area of London is now for people who have money.   It’s funny how things change.

 

I met my first best  friend, Reggie,  when I was still in the infant school at the age of 5.   I was running in the street outside St. Augustine’s Church and I fell on the freshly tarmacked and pebbled stoned road.  My left knee was opened up.   I bleed everywhere. To this day I still have the scar.   Reggie, who was my age, helped me back to the  school about a block , where we got it looked after.    We were very close friends for many years after that.

Mum and dad did not like me hanging out with Reggie.  I still don’t know why to this day.   Reggie and I went basically everywhere together.   If there was trouble, we were involved.

When we were about seven on one Friday after school,  we took Pamela Owen across the road from school into the church gardens, where we proceeded to pull down her knickers and then…. we ran away! (That was the first and only time that I did that ! )

The following week on the Monday we were too scared to go into the school , in case Pamela had told anybody.  So for that whole week we “ Hopped the wag from school “. So then the following Monday when we went to school, nothing was said. We couldn’t believe it.     

 It turned out that Reggie Williams had   lived across the road from us on Kilburn Park Road  that’s  when mum and I lived  at number 84. 

The William’s  lived down in the basement at number  81 or 83 .  Reggie  came from a large family.  There was six boys and one girl Ann Williams.Reggie was born in the middle somewhere.

Getting back to St. Augustine’s. Other games that  we played at school were  Cow boys and Indians. We used to shoot each other with pointed fingers shaped like guns. And we would run around like we were on a horse. slapping our sides.

I don’t recall anybody having any sort of ball to play with. But I guess one would turn up in the playground

Occasionally a fight would break out in the playground with the girls. And we would have to beat them up why  because they were on a  particular piece of real estate in the school yard and they were in our way. We never hurt the girls it was all in good clean fun. Well that’s what the boys thought anyway.. 

 One thing that I did like about school were the school teas after school.wartime tea rooms

We paid a shilling or so a week.  We went to the school cafeteria which was  in the basement of the school.   There we got a mug of tea from a big old beat up urn, and some sandwiches and a some cake, if we were lucky.

After tea  we would play games, in the summer time we would play in the playground. In the wintertime we played board games like  Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Dominoes, and cards.

This is what I really liked, after tea time we would put five  tables together side by side and put up a net and played table tennis.   I became very good at that.

wartime London table tennis

The lady who ran the teas was middle aged but liked to play table tennis.  She was really good at it.  You had to be really good to beat her.

 Later in life, I played tennis, squash and racquet ball.   Playing table tennis at such a young age was useful in other racket  sports,  as all the angles of the games are all the same.    

We stayed at school teas till about 6 o’clock when our mothers would come and pick us up.  My mum picked me up on her way home from work.

 In our lunch hours from school we would cruise, the front door steps and go into the Mansions in the Elgin road area  where all the rich people lived . we were  looking for cream  milk  yogurt, whatever we could score.  We also would go across Maida Vale up Carlton Hill and along to Abbey Road. ( Yes the same Abbey Road  that the Beatles would make internationally famous many years later. )

Abbey Road

There were  gardens with  apple and pear trees in the Abbey Road area.  This is where we went  “scrumping “.    One good spot for scrumping was about halfway up Carlton Hill, where there was a  flat roofed garage.   We would climb up on the garage roof and by doing this we were able to get at the plums from a plum tree that had it’s branches over hanging the garage roof.

(Side Bar)  Talking of plums,  when I started work , mum used to make my sandwiches.  Plum jam was the cheapest jam at the time, so I got jam sandwiches  every day for lunch.   After six months,  I said to mum,  “ How about a change of sandwich”.   She said,  “ What would you like ? “

I told her that I would like cheese, so for the next six months, I got cheese sandwiches every workday for lunch.   When I complained, mum switched to jam and that went on for 6 months.  (and so on)

Across the road from St. Augustine’s  school to the left and down about a block up a side alley was a small grocery store.  Well there we would get a pennies worth of broken biscuits.  They would put them in a bag for us school kids.

The store would put boxes outside  topped up with apples and plumbs and the like . We would walk by and steal a plumb or and apple and we would run like rabbits up the road, our hearts beating like crazy. Then we would eat our prize.

Across the road kitty corner  from St. Augustine’s School to the right  was the St. Augustine’s  church gardens.   Most lunch hours weather permitting we would run races around the church garden block . at the time the only shoes  that seemed to be available were Plimsolls.plimsolls

Similar shoes are in vogue today.  At that time they were made of black canvas   black rubber and they had black shoe laces.  Plimsolls were very similar to the picture above.

There were times when for a change of pace we would run the block in bare feet.  I feel sure that it must of have been hard on the feet and the young leg muscles.

The Plimsoles that we wore were only cheap for kids.  Today this style of shoe is very trendy and everybody can wear them.

In the autumn we would go over the church gardens to get the ‘ Conker’s “ from the horse chestnut trees.

We would take the Conker out of its green prickly shell and  somehow drill a hole in it.  I think we used a hammer and nail.   Thread a piece of string about 18 inches long  through the chestnut and tie a knot at one end.  Now you have a conker!

We would then take turns . One kid would hold up the conker  by the other end of the string and the other kid would take a smack at the other conker  by swinging his conker at the other one , by holding the end of his string. 

Once one Conker was broken the other kids conker was a winner. And he would name his conker a oncer. If it won again it would be a two’er, and so on.Some kids would cheat . by baking the conker in the oven at home to harden it.

 We also collected beer bottle caps we would take the cardboard out from inside the beer cap and put the cap on the front of our jersey and replace the cardboard back inside the beer cap with our jersey in between  and the cap would stay there .

We also collected and played cigarette cards.  wartime cigarette cardsThese 1947 cards were from cigarette packets.  There were cards printed in different series … like flowers, butterflies,  moths,  ships,  etc.

Two players would stand back about ten feet from a wall and the first player would put the card between two fingers  and flick it towards the wall. Then the second player would do the same.

The object of the game was to land a cigarette card on top of another one. Once you did that then you picked  up all the cigarette cards on the ground, and then you repeated the process.  The one who cleaned the clock of the other was the winner ‘cause he had no cards left.  Any number of kids could play this cigarette card game.

We also played a marble or miggies game.   You took turns in throwing the marble at your opponent’s  marble.    If you hit it the marble, it was yours. marbles or miggies uk wartime game

  Here’s some big kids taking time of from the war effort to play ” miggies “. With some locals looking on.                              

 

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