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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Early Childhood Memories

What are my earliest memories? That's a difficult one. I remember once going to stay at Mill Farm, where my maternal grandparents lived. It's unfortunately no longer there, having been demolished and replaced by a business park. I was staying there with Jonathan Kendall, one of my cousins. We can't have been very old. There was a channel that ran along the concrete path outside the back door of the house which caught the water when it rained. This particular morning my grandfather and uncle Michael who still lived there had gone out to work on the farm and were about to come in for their lunch at midday. It had been raining heavily and Jonathan and I had nothing better to do. When grandad and uncle had gone into the house to have their lunch they had to take their Wellington boots off before going inside and put them in the glassed lobby. Little me and Jonathan saw the Wellingtons sitting there and decided it would be really amusing to take each one and scoop the water up in the boots from the channel where it was running fast. We then put the water-filled boots back in the lobby, so when uncle and grand-parent came back out to return to work they put there feet into their Wellingtons. As a result they were not pleased at getting very wet feet! Amusing for a very short time as both grandmother and father gave us a good hiding which we never forgot! I can't think this incident was repeated but it sticks in my memory!

My mother had been a nurse before she married my father in the late '40's. She had worked at Bedford Hospital. She had kept in contact with the hospital  after she got married.  I was taken to quite  few events at the hospital, usually held in Rye Close, which I believe is, or was, the private ward. Thinking back I don't remember any of my other brothers going with us.  Generally they had an annual Christmas party for the children of staff, past and present. My mother kept in contact with one lady, Sister Watson. I have no recollection of her Christian name, as she was always referred to as either Sister Watson or 'Watty.' All this would explain why I know South Wing Hospital so intimately as an adult. I have done several shifts as a carer and support worker in that hospital usually on Weller Wing and elsewhere, working with both mental patients and those with varying degrees of learning disability. I imagine I get my abilities for this work from my mother. 

One particular Christmas we went to the Christmas party in Rye Close and in the front entrance there was a quite amazing decoration which included a model of the Moot Hall which is in Elstow, the village just outside Bedford which is associated with John Bunyan (author to, amongst other books, "The Pilgrim's Progress.") This model, about the size I suppose of a doll's house, had windows in it which had been cut out and then the inside had lights which shone through the windows. Well little John saw this model and immediately decided that he wanted it! I presume I kept on and on about this model Moot Hall, to such an extent that I was given it! I imagine it would have been given it because I kept going on about it and it was far easier to give in than refuse!

Watty quite often came to tea at the farm. As far as I can remember she lived in a flat in Kempston, which is a town bordering on Bedford. I think the flat over-looked Kempston Park and you went up some steps to the front door. Anyway, on one occasion when she came to tea we must have gone into the garden at Malting Farm (which was quite large and had a magnificent double-trunked sycamore tree in the centre of the lawn which has since been cut down due to the fact that it became unsafe, sadly. Due no doubt to decay or something.) In the garden, somewhere near the lawn, were a couple of plinths for urns. The urns presumably had been broken or something or moved elsewhere. I think one had survived and had plants in. Anyway, one of these plinthss was reasonably low and on this particular afternoon Watty decided she needed to have a rest and sat on one of the plinths. Young John,  had quite a way with words and descriptions had to point out that this elderly lady looked as if she was sitting on the toilet, much to the amusement (or not, I should think!) of all and sundry!  Children, as I know with having my own, have a way of coming out with things which their parents wished that they didn't. No doubt this was one such time. Another was when my mother went to a shop along the main road going into the centre of Bedford. This was to a  shop which sold all manner of sewing and knitting items called I seem to remember Elsa Currah. My mother did a lot of knitting and sewing so perhaps she had gone in the shop to buy knitting wool or a dress-pattern.  I doubt very much if it's still there. Anyway, the lady who either ran it or was an assistant in there had a rather unfortunate facial feature, quite a heavy moustache. Some older ladies do unfortunately have facial hair and do nothing to either hide it with make-up or even attempt to remove it. This young boy saw this and had to come out and say, in quite a loud voice which I'm sure she must have heard, something  like ' Look! That lady's got a moustache!'  as well as any other customers, who would have been in the shop at the time and my mother took me by the arm quite firmly and dragged me out of the shop, no doubt in a lot of embarrassment.

I've never been able to point to one particular event which got me interested in theatre. Being a farming family we didn't have any connection with theatre in any way. I remember being taken to pantomimes at various stages of my childhood. We went to pantomimes in the West End and if my memory serves to one at the County Theatre in Bedford, in Midland Road, which had been the venue of Bedford repertory theatre company up until it's demise in the late 1950's or early '60's. It later became a Mecca bingo hall and is now run by an evangelical church called the Mount Zion Church.  I think this was a pantomime of  'Alice In Wonderland' and was amazingly on ice. I think I saw another pantomime based on the 'Alice' books somewhere in London which had Frankie Howard in and he seemed to play more than one character, including the Mad Hatter. Don't ask me where the theatre was. We also went to a circus, probably Bertrum Mills or Chipperfield's which was put on somewhere like Olympia. Where the Horse of the Year show would have been staged. I remember we must have gone with my grandmother Ferriman. She had a love of hats, and made of raffia, with wide brims and quite striking. These were worn on all outings including church on Sunday. On this occasion when we'd gone to London we had to use the Underground and we were standing waiting for a train to come into the station. Whenever this happens, there is nearly always quite  draught as the train comes out of the tunnel and draws up to the platform. The wind caused my grandmother's hat to be blown off and it landed on the train tracks and was run over and completely destroyed by the wheels of the train! No doubt my grandmother was upset by the incident but I have no further recollection of the incident.

Watty took me to London one Christmas. I don't think my brothers came with us. We went to see 'Peter Pan' which was staged every year for decades at the Scala Theatre. I think this was in Covent Garden somewhere but is sadly no more. I was frightened apparently by the scene with the pirates and Captain Hook in and where some very loud cannons were fired and there was supposed to be lots of smoke and as I say loud explosions. I loved the fact that Peter Pan actually flew across the stage but had no idea at the time how this was achieved. I also remember that in the interval we had tea brought to us and served in the auditorium on a tray which was quite a  treat. I doubt that you'd be allowed to do this today, considering all the 'Health and Safety' regulations we have to contend with now.
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