my early years

Thursday, 13 August 2015


I was a pupil at Kingsbury County School in north London for the majority of my secondary education.  I am a little imprecise regarding my age and associated events, but I would say I was just 15 years old at the time when a group of us used to cycle, after school, to a coffee bar in Queensbury. Whilst there, we would congregate on the pavement and smoke cigarettes.  I have no idea how these were obtained, but someone always seemed to have a supply.  Probably 'borrowed' from parents.

Anyway, one day I was standing around chatting about whatever we used to chat about, when I was approached by two girls. One was called Freda and the other Ivy (not names that are common these days).  I knew them both, but was somewhat lost for words when Freda said "We both want to be your girlfriend, but as this isn't possible, we have decided that Ivy should be the one". This is close to verbatim.  I have no memory of my response, but from that moment on, Ivy became my first proper teenage girlfriend.

This was quite a long lasting relationship. Probably around 6 to 9 months. Despite the duration, it was never very advanced in a physical sense. I was certainly not as forward or knowledgeable as some of my friends. From time to time we went to 'the pictures' where we would hold hands or an arm would go round her back, but that was it. However, we did eventually progress a little further. Queensbury was on the London underground system and near the station was a narrow footway that ran between the bottom of a row of houses and the railway line.  After we had been out, we would walk down this path and in one of the recesses, would kiss and talk and kiss and talk. We would do this until I heard the approach of the last tube train, at which point I would unromantically say a rapid goodbye and run as fast as I could for the station platform. I think I am right in saying that I never once caught the train. A two mile walk then ensued.

Some months later, we went to a party. This was nothing like a fifteens party of today. The host had a pianola which had tunes on a roller with perforations which was inserted and driven by a large
foot-pedal. We would gather round and sing!  To this day I remember many of the words of 'Til Captain John McPherson cursed the day he went to sea'.  There was certainly no alcohol, and we all sat round a large table and played various games.  At all times the man of the house was in the room.

Eventually, Ivy and I left to walk to her home, but on the way it poured with rain, and for reasons beyond my recall, we returned to the party.  We were soaking wet, so went upstairs to dry off, only to be immediately followed by mine host who said he wasn't going to have 'any of that sort of thing' in his house, so downstairs we trudged and joined the others.  We all stayed the night, gradually falling asleep wherever we happened to be sitting/lying.

One of my friends was Fred Perry, a name not easily forgotten.  He and his girlfriend slept on a settee. We all woke around the same time, and as they sat up, she said 'Oh Fred, you didn't did you?'.
We all laughed knowingly. We carried on talking, and Fred announced that he was going to join the navy.  In those days, you could sign on at sixteen for seven years service, with a further five years on reserve. It may be the same today.  When I heard this, I thought it was a great idea, and on returning home announced to my parents that I wanted to join the navy.  Now, at this point, my father should have simply said that it was out of the question, and that would have been the end of my aspirations. Dad was the very strong head of the family, and if he said 'jump' etc., etc.  But he didn't. I guess they both felt I should move from the influence of my current classmates.

So I went to Cranleigh Public School.  Approaching sixteen years of age, from a mixed school environment, I was to board at a monastic establishment in Surrey.  Why didn't I keep my big mouth shut?!  Possibly more about Cranleigh at another time.

At the end of my first term, I came home for the holidays. Before long, I was down the Queensbury footway, with Ivy in my arms.  We kissed,  Suddenly, there were two tongues in my mouth.  Wow! This was something new.  My reaction was automatic.  My right hand, which had been behind her back, moved swiftly to cover her left breast (also something new).  Unfortunately, it was just as swiftly removed.

And that was it.  I went back to school, and she, presumably, went back to her new boyfriend.  But at last, in one respect, I was making progress.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


My first blog was about me as a ten year old in Porthcawl, and this picks up on that short story.

We arrived in Porthcawl, and mum and dad found us a rented house in (I think) South Shore Street. Gerald and I started at different schools. Not sure why. I do know that Gerald got into one or two scrapes, one of which involved a visit from the police, but I don't know why. My other memory of Gerald was when he was dressed in a miniature airman's uniform, stood in a model airplane, and pushed forward, ceremoniously at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. I guess that was 1941. In general, Gerald and I did not do a great deal together.

As already mentioned, I went to Station Road School. It had two playgrounds, one for boys and one for girls. There was a small opening between the two. At age eleven we took our exam - school certificate I think - and in due course I passed with a place at Cowbridge Grammar School. We left Porthcawl before I could take up my place.

There was a girl at Station Road School called Vera, who was undoubtedly the prettiest girl there. How these things happen, I do not know, but by common consent, we quickly became established as boyfriend and girlfriend. This involved me spending a great deal of my spare time, waiting outside her house (which was just down the road from the school) for her to appear. We went to the Saturday morning pictures, and whenever the sun shone, a few of us would head for one of the many nearby fields, and play 'Truth or Dare'. These were exciting times, and usually involved having to say who you loved, or having to kiss your chosen one for a particular period of time. Such innocent times, but always remembered.

As I have said, we had to leave before I went to Grammar school, so it would have been in 1942 that I had to say goodbye to my friends, particularly Malcolm Hopkins, and of course, Vera.

We now move forward to around 1944/5. My grandparents had a flat in Monarch Court, Hampstead Garden Suburb. We used to visit them from time to time, and one day I learned that their Maid/cleaner, was shortly going to visit her family who lived in a small town in the Rhondda Valley. For some reason I was aked if would like to go with her. And so it was that I took the trip. It was a typical mining town, and the maid - let's call her Mary - stayed with her family in a small terraced house that fronted the pavement. I remember a hill with a cobbled street down to the colliery. Being unused to the noise, I recall being woken at an unearthly hour by the sound of the miners' boots as they set off for their shift.
There was not enough room for me to sleep in the same house as Mary, so I stayed with a lad across the road. The only memory I have of him, was of one night we were in our shared bed, when he announced that he could break wind without creating a smell. And so saying, he set about proving it.

By making enquiries, I found that I could take a bus into Porthcawl, so with memories of Vera and Malcolm, I set forth. I wandered about aimlessly for a while, and then, by chance saw Vera with another girl, pushing a pram. The pram has no relevance to this tale. I didn't speak to her, but knocked on Malcolm's door. We were reunited, and made arrangements for me to stay with him in the next school holidays. My parents agreed to this, and before too long, I was on the train heading for Wales.

My memory of this time is a bit of a blur, as is most of my past life. I know I linked up with Vera and spent a fair bit of time with her. I also spent time time with Malcolm and his friends. One day we were in the house of a girlfriend of on of the lads. We each had a girl on our laps (mine wasn't Vera!), when suddenly the mother who's house it was, returned unexpectedly. The thing that stands out is the sound of a girls blouser button, pinging across the floor, as a hand was hastily withdrawn. These lads were well ahead of me in social communications. Anyway, after an enjoyable visit, I returned home to our rented property on the Hendon Way.

I had been back a few weeks, and on returnig home from school, was met by my mother who rather seriously informed me that my father would like a word. I went into the room to find him sitting at the piano, which was unusual as dad was not exactly musical. He was one-fingering the keys, and then he stopped and asked me if I had ever had anything to do with a girl. I had a fair idea what he meant, and I also knew that the answer was 'no'. He then handed me a postcard, and the narrative told me, among other things, what a wonderful time she had had with me that night. Of course, it was signed 'Vera'. My embarrassment was completed by the picture on the front. This comprised a shy looking hen, looking up to an imposing cockerel and saying 'Oh Henry, I think I'm going to have an egg' My father very solemnly told me that a short time of pleasure, can bring a long time of hardsip, or words to that effect. No more was said, but I was convinced that the postcard had been sent as a joke by Malcolm. Or was it?

We now fast forward to 1971. Meg, Simon, Sara and I are on holiday caravanning in the Brecon Beacons, (not too far from Porthcawl!). I say how nice it would be to go down memory lane after 25 years or so, and therefore, we give it a go. They all leave me to go walkabout. I go to my old school and look through the railings, and then I call in at the little sweet shop/general store, and have a chat with the lady in charge. I relate my story of having been to the school some thirty years ago, and about having had this 10 year old girlfriend. When I said her name, she exclaimed that until recenly, she had worked in her shop. She told me how pretty she was, and how lovely and brown from the sun. She also told me where she lved! Wow!

A little later, I parked the car in the high street, and Meg and the kids went to buy fish and chips. I had noted an infomation centre, and quickly nipped in and found the whereabouts of the required address. Having had our lunch, I drove round to the flats, and then explained to Meg the reason for the back street drive. She said that I had better go and see if she was in, so off I went. Climbing some stairs, there was a woman cleaning her front door. I asked if she knew of an attractive girl called Vera. She knew, and gave me the number. I must say that this little strory is much more in the anticipation, than it is in the execution. I reached the front door, the top half of which was frosted glass. With a definite increase in heartbeat rate, I rang the bell. A shape approached, and the door opened. There stood an undoubtedly pretty woman wearing a pinny. She looked at me enquiringly. 'Is it Vera' I said, She answered with a questioning frown, 'Yes' . 'Hutchinson that was' I asked. 'Oh goodness, I know who you are. You're Reg aren't you?' She was flustered, her hands went to her hair, and the pinny was quickly removed. As I have said, the main part of this tale is the build up to the meeting. I was invited in, and met her daughter and friend, and then her six foot two son. We talked about old times. Malcolm had divorced, and was living out of town. It was as simple as that. Meanwhile, Simon was getting agitated in the car, concerned for my safety, should the husband return. But I came to no harm

And that is the end of my story about Vera. I forgot to ask her if she sent that postcard.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A 10 year old in Porthcawl, South Wales

In 1941 my father was in the RAF. I was always a little proud of the fact that he did not wait to be called up. He volunteered.

At this time he was a Flight Sergeant: a wireless operator, air gunner. However, this was not combat status. He trained others to fight for King and Country.

And so it was, in the year identified, that Dad was posted to a camp near Porthcawl called (if my memory serves me well) Stormy Down. We, namely my Mother, my Brother and I, left our temporary abode in Dunstable (about which more on another occasion), and moved to South Street, Porthcawl. I was quickly registered at Station Road School, which was the fourth of nine schools I was to attend until I left education at the age of sixteen. Although it was my fourth seat of learning, it was there that I met my first love (about which more on another occasion).

Anyway, the point of this tale is to relate what happened to me one sunny afternoon on my way to school. It was not too far from my temporary home in South Street, so it was my custom to return there for lunch.

On this particular day, I was walking alone down Station Road, and was about 200 yards from the School gates, when I heard my name called from behind me. I turned, and there were two lads of my age, one that I knew (let’s call him David), and the other was unknown to me. I stopped for them to catch up with me, and David said something along the lines of ‘My friend says that he thinks he can beat you in a fight, and I said I didn’t think he could’. From that day, to the present time, I have not understood why this simple statement should signal the start of hostilities. But it did. For no other reason, the two of us started fighting in the middle of the pavement. I use the word ‘fighting’ rather loosely. Arms and little ten year old fists were flying all over the place. However, unsophisticated though the encounter was, it soon became apparent that my opponent was much better at it than I was. There were certainly two occasions when I requested a short break to recover from blows to the head. I sat on a low wall for this purpose, and once sufficiently recovered, launched myself forward for what seemed to be the sole purpose of enduring further pain.

Suddenly, everything changed. Being close to capitulation, and the lifelong shame that this would bring, I found that my fist had landed quite a wallop on his nose. Wow! There was blood everywhere, and it is possible that the Station Road pavement still bears the stain. I was elated at this change in fortunes, but before I could think of pressing home my advantage, a lady pushing a pram passed by, and stopped to tell us that we were disgraceful and said that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Anyway, why aren’t you in school she asked.

School! In our efforts to establish physical superiority, we had overlooked our educational needs. It was now past two o’clock, and we should have been seated at our desks.

Not only was this lad a better fighter than me, he was also a faster runner. So, with the evidence of my questionable victory still running from his nose, he raced into the school and went straight to the wash basin area. As I ran past, his head was under a running tap. ‘Sorry’ I called out as I headed for my classroom. Sorry? I have never understood why I said that. It probably says a great deal about the person I grew up to be. Who knows?

I opened the classroom door, and there it was. The only unoccupied desk in the room. With head down I moved as quickly as possible to fill the empty space. I had almost reached it, when the teacher, a Mr Thomas, called my name. ‘da Costa’ he said, ‘come out here’. He had a strong Welsh accent, and a rather deep voice. I can hear it to this day. I sheepishly moved to the front of the class to receive whatever punishment he thought fit. ‘Did I see you fighting in the street just now’ he asked. I nodded. This was not good. Being late was bad enough, but brawling in public was not the best image for the school. I held my breath. ‘Well now’ he said ‘if this
happens again’. I waited. ‘Keep your left hand up in front of your face, push your right hand forward, and keep moving round. Don’t just stand there waiting to be hit’.

What a teacher!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Down on the farm in Dunstable

About a moth after the start of the London Blitz, the whole family moved out of the London area to a farm on the outskirts of Dunstable. My grandparents went, together with 5 uncles and an aunt, plus attendant families. Dad was in the RAF, so mum had the job of overseeing my brother Gerald and myself. In addition to renting the farm, we also rented a house nearby. I was nearly 10 years old at the time.

There was another farm adjacent to ours, where the Fenn family lived. I often walked to the local school with Jack Fenn. We would cut across the field opposite, through one or two lanes, and there we were. It was a very small school, and I recall the pupils (including me) happily misbehaving, thereby encouraging the teacher to cane our hand, as he was very gentle about it.

I have just three other school related memories. One concerned the action of one of the kids with whom I was walking home from school. He felt a bit thirsty, and squatted down in the road, leaned forward, putting his lips to a rain puddle, and drank it. I had never seen that done before, and doubt I will again. The other memory concerns a Dr Barnado's home near the school. There were some girls staying there, and we would sometimes see them walking nearby. One of them caught my eye, and I decided that she was my girlfriend. I think I saw her twice in all, but the memory has lingered on.

One day, the field across which we walked to school was a hive of activity. The corn was being harvested, with the machine going round the perimeter of the field, in ever decreasing squuares. Around the edge, were many locals with shotguns, and when eventually the rabbits had no choice but to make a break for it, they were destined for the cook pot.

The farm itself was a chicken farm, with the hens in the now frowned upon batteries. A guy called Nobby was emloyed to manage the place, and the eggs were collected and sold as a commercial undertaking. I recall a water pump outside, with inside lighting being provided by gas mantles.

There was quite a difference between my friends from London, and the farm lads I was now getting to know. One particular incident provided a notable example. I was chatting to a boy, possibly a year or so older than me, and his friend, a year or so younger than me. We were walking along a lane, when the older boy asked me 'Have you ever had a f**k'. As I had no idea what he meant, I said that I had not. 'I have', he said, 'and so has he; haven't you' he asked, nodding his head at the the young lad with him. The young one nodded enthusiastically. After some more conversation about the birds and the bees, I went home, where I promptly asked my mother to clarify the subject. Mum wasn't very good at dealing with such crises, so she did the only sensible thing. She wrote to my father (in the RAF remember) and asked him to come home and deal with the problem! As this hardly came under the heading of compassionate leave, Dad sent me a long letter, setting out the basic facts, accompanied by numerous drawings of matchstick men in the margins.

And so my sex education began.

My earliest memories

I was born on 10 April 1931, in the front main bedroom of my paternal grandparents’ house at 76 Brent Street , London NW4. I was in the vicinity a few years ago, and decided to knock on the front door. Unfortunately, the property was devoid of people and furniture. Even the garden gate was locked, so I couldn’t visit the area where the wartime Anderson shelter used to be.

Unlike most people, I have hardly any memory of my very early years. I was about 9 years old before reasonably continuous memory set in.

At the age of 9, we lived in a block of flats on the North Circular Road, not far from the Finchley Road, and not far from 76 Brent Street. My bother Gerald and I went to Bell Lane School, which was halfway between our flat and No.76. As my brother was, and still is, 16 months younger than me, I was given the responsibility of seeing him across the North Circular at the appropriate set of traffic lights. At that time the North Circular was far less busy than it is today. Nevertheless, it was a main road, and my father instructed me accordingly.

One day, my young uncle Derek, who was only two years older than me, and also went to our school, told me that his cat had had kittens. I abandoned my little brother, and went to No.76 to inspect the newcomers. I then hurried home. Just before the entry to the flats, I met my mother coming out, and she was also hurrying. I didn’t know why she was leaving at lunchtime, but I was soon to find out. You see, she didn’t like to hear her children crying! I have a vague memory of yelling before my father’s hand (or maybe slipper) reached by behind. He gave me a few hard slaps, pointing out that I must never again leave Gerald to cross that road on his own. And I didn’t.

I have one other memory relating to my place of birth. Derek, the young uncle, and I used to play hide and seek in his house. On one particular occasion, I found a hiding place in a small room at the back of my grandparents’ bedroom. This room had another door which led to another small bedroom in which the maid slept. Just to complete the geography, her bedroom was accessed through Derek’s bedroom, which was where I first saw the light of day. Where I was hiding was full of mattresses and bed heads, so I hid behind these and waited in the hope that I would not be discovered.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of my grandparents coming into their bedroom. I had completely forgotten that it was their habit to have an afternoon nap in bed, and heaven help the individual that disturbed their rest. So I had only the second door as a means of escape, but I was in no hurry, as I wanted to stay hidden. And then, unbelievably, I heard someone coming into the maid’s bedroom. Now I was completely trapped. I decide to see if I could determine who was in the room, as I could see that there was a keyhole in the door. I put my 9 year old eye to it, and there was the maid! I would guess that she was a teenager, but it wasn’t her face that seared itself into my memory. Oh no. For, before that very same 9 year old eye, she began to undress. And there she stood, before the full length mirror, totally naked. Even at that early age, I remember feeling a stirring. And then she started to comb her hair; but not on her head! I suppose it was a bit of a waste on a 9 year old, but at least it become one of my earliest memories. Any further developments were cut short as Derek burst into her room from his side, pulled open the door with the all seeing keyhole, and I was dragged out of my hiding place.

Back in the flat, life was as normal as it could be in 1940. The air raid siren became a nightly occurrence, and we used to go down into the caretaker’s flat, with others, because it was situated in a more protected area than our own. There were many incendiary bombs that landed in the surrounding grounds, and I only remember one large bomb landing nearby, which caused the picture on the wall to rock.

It was in 1941 that we moved from London to a farm near Dunstable, which will form the start of my next tale.