Recollections of youth (2)

When I was aged eight, in 1960, we moved to a new home, less than a mile from our old one. It was a newly-built maisonette ( a flat with an additional upper floor) and owned by the local authority, so my parents would be renting it. I could still attend the same school, and many of my family lived within walking distance. My memories of where we lived before this are less clear, though I know that we shared a house with my aunt and uncle. This also meant that I lived with my slightly older female cousin, someone I always regarded as the sister I never had. I am sure that they lived upstairs, and we lived on the ground floor. I could check the details of course, but these posts are about my memories, and what I have retained, not those of others who may or may not have much better recall. I have no mental picture of my bedroom there, or any other room for that matter; and few actual memories of events in a place where I lived for some years.

Our move to the new flat is a very different matter. I can remember a great deal about that place. I lived there until just after my fifteenth birthday, and little of what happened there has escaped me. Perhaps this was because we were the first tenants there, or it might be that it seemed very smart to me, and somewhere desirable to live. We had a shed as well, called a bike shed, though at the time we had no bikes. It was used for storage, and I did eventually get a bike to put in it. The key for this small lock-up was very large. It reminded me of the keys that I had seen in old films. I can still see that key clearly, fifty-four years later. Although the block was low-level, with only a ground and first floor, we also had a rubbish chute. I thought this was incredibly modern, and I enjoyed the novelty of putting small bags of rubbish into it, and closing the large metal door. There was a small ‘whoosh’ sound, as it fell into the large bin below.

We also had a small balcony, though we didn’t sit out on it. Mum got some plant containers to put on the railing, and I remember geraniums being planted. It still had one coal fire, in the living room, but it had a gas igniter, which made lighting it very easy. There was a coal-cupboard inside the hallway, and the coal was delivered into it through a hatch on the outside. I can vividly remember the smell, when the cupboard was opened. Coal has such a distinctive smell. The bathroom was heated by an electric fire, mounted on the wall above the door. It glowed very red when lit, and took a long time to warm up the room. The toilet was separate, something I have always considered to be a very sensible arrangement.
My parents decided to go with the latest fashions for furniture and decoration. I don’t remember the wallpaper, but the furnishings were all ‘G-Plan.’ This was the real deal in 1960. Expensive, cutting edge style, and like nothing we had ever had before. We even had ‘room dividers’, large display shelving units used to give a two-room feel to the one living room. They were so well-made, I was still using one in 1977, when I first married. There was also a swivel and recline chair, with large ‘wings’, and wheeled feet. It felt very ‘executive’ to sit in, and was always considered to be Dad’s chair. Like the room dividers, it eventually found its way into other places we lived in, and made it to my first marital home too.

Remembering feelings rather than things is very different. This new home provided me with a larger bedroom. I was allowed to choose how it was decorated. I chose one wall in a wallpaper that was a photo of bamboo. It gave the room a ‘jungle’ feel, and seemed very exotic to my young eyes. This new bedroom was to become my personal sanctuary. It was somewhere to escape from my parents’ disintegrating relationship, by immersing myself into a world of books and imagination. Part of me has always remained in that room, studying, and thinking. I had my own record player, an old Dansette Autochanger. Playing my favourite records, over and over, until I could recite all the lyrics, and anticipate every change in the beat. At that time, they were records of songs from the decades before I was born, giving me a love for the crooners, jazz musicians, and even the big ballad singers of the day. Kay Starr, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Mario Lanza, Crosby and Sinatra; they were all in there, together with the newly-arrived Blues singers, records made many years before, just gaining popularity in the UK. Within a few short years, these would be replaced by the pop records of my youth, but I never lost my love for the other music.

I was given an ancient typewriter by my Mum, which she had sourced from her office job. It was very large, and most impressive. It had red and black ribbons, and could type a stencil too. The carriage was enormous, and the sound of the keys was like a machine-gun. I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard, and to type at a reasonable pace, so as not to jam up the keys into a metallic tangle. I typed ideas mostly, as school work had to be handwritten then. I also had a double bed, as I was given my parents’ very old one, when they got a modern divan. It had a dent in the middle, like an old swayback horse, and I loved to snuggle into that dent. In my small wardrobe, I kept my most treasured possessions. I had a bayonet from the war, and a Gurkha knife, called a Kukhri. Both of these were mementos from my Dad’s time in the Army. I also had his Warrant Officer leather wristband, and an album of small black and white photos he had taken during his years in India. My toy soldiers, wooden fort, and plastic castle, all had pride of place, even after I stopped playing with them. The large reference books; maps and atlases, flags of the world, dictionaries and bible stories, together with my collected comics and old newspapers, were tended carefully, and always treasured. I still have some of those books.

My memories of the hours spent alone in this room are mostly good ones. I never feared loneliness, and when I felt the need, I could always go outside, and see if other kids my age were out doing something. But I liked my room. I knew every inch of it, from the candlewick bedspread that I habitually plucked at, to the stuffed head of a tiger, shot by my Dad in India, that roared down at me from the top of the wardrobe, seemingly emerging from the bamboo on the wallpaper. And even as I sit typing this, I can still feel that dent in my bed.

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10 thoughts on “Recollections of youth (2)

  1. “I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard, and to type at a reasonable pace, so as not to jam up the keys into a metallic tangle.” This brings back memories of my first typewriter, a used cast iron Underwood that weighed a ton. Now and then, I jammed up the keys, so I know exactly what you mean by a “metallic tangle.” To this day, my fingers peck heavily on whatever keyboard I’m using, and I simply cannot tolerate a keyboard that is small (like a laptop) or pressure sensitive.

    “I also had a double bed… It had a dent in the middle, like an old swayback horse, and I loved to snuggle into that dent.” I found the use of “an old swayback horse” not only an amusing choice of simile but also visually spot on. Following up this image with the word “snuggle” put my imagination to bed, so to speak.

    I don’t have much memory of my bedrooms, as I never spent much time in them. I spent most of my time in the living room watching TV, or out in the woods and fields carving bicycle paths with an ax and scythe. I do remember that during my young teenage years I would buy model airplane kits. I always preferred World War I planes, especially bi-wings and tri-wings. One summer, I took several of them outside and melted or warped the plastic here and there to create airplane collisions for display on my shelves.

    I rarely think about my childhood because I’m so focused on the future. In fact, I’ve always looked forward in life rather than over my shoulder. Nevertheless, it is very pleasant to read about your childhood memories, Pete, and I look forward to reading more.

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    1. David, I am very pleased that you liked the memories here, and the use of the simile. I gave that some thought, as I only knew the term from watching cowboy films, so it is not very ‘English.’
      I had no patience with my model aeroplane kits. I used to glue them together with no regard to wheels being able to turn, or propellers being able to move. I had them on strings from the bedroom ceiling, and I would attach cotton wool, painted red and black, to simulate the effect that they had been hit, and were on their way down, on fire.
      As always, your thoughtful comment is much appreciated. Pete.

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  2. Pete,

    You once again are not only able to bring your room alive, but are able to re-kindle my own memories, which are surprisingly similar – minus the tiger. Thank you for taking the time to record a picture of your youth.

    Phil

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  3. Extraordinarily precise powers of recollection; classic journalism, now under-rated and dying out. One of my treasured possessions is my father’s kukri. He died when I was 1. The kukri and his sword became totems for me. He had served in Burma in ’45 with the Durham Light Infantry. I used to enjoy his tales of army adventures, all diluted for my consumption; later I realized how barbaric, and fatally unhygienic, the jungle warfare had been. The officers were being killed off at such a rate that he was made an acting major at the age of 21. After he died, my resourceful mother used the kukri to hack at invasive garden weeds.

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    1. Thanks Pippa. My Dad’s older brother was in the army with him. When Dad when to India, Harry was bored, and in 1942, volunteered for Burma. He was captured by the Japanese, and spent years as a POW. That experience left him with many demons in his head.
      Sad that your father should die when you were so young. Julie’s Mum died when Julie was 3, and she has few tangible memories of her.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. Your father shot a tiger? Oh no! I am impressed by your memories, I don’t think I could describe my room in such detail at that age. All I remember until I was about 14 is that all my bedrooms were painted ‘Dawn Pink’.
    xx

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    1. He was in the army in India from late 1940, until 1946. He shot almost every animal that moved, including an elephant! They used to sit on the elephants in little carriers to shoot most things, which was ironic, as they then shot a wild elephant. But for tigers, I believe that they used to tie a goat to a tree, then shoot the tiger when it came to eat it.
      He never shot any Germans or Japanese though.
      I remember my bedroom partly because I chose the (questionable) decor, though mainly because I spent so much time in it.
      More memories to follow later.
      Regards as always, Pete. x

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    1. No it went years ago now. It was well loved for a long time, and became very tatty, with the hair falling out. Given the fact that tigers are so endangered now, I am not so proud of my Dad contributing to their extinction. But it was a very different age back then.
      Glad you enjoyed the post Gretchen.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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