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Highlights In The Shadows: 14 - West Cowes

…We rented a large old house once used by Queen Victoria to house and entertain her guests. Leaning up against the walls of the musty basement were huge rotting portraits of long-forgotten minor royal personages and dignitaries, along with crumbling velvet drapes still attached to massive wooden curtain rods. In the stairwell the flush toilet's cistern was located about seven feet off the floor. To escape the roar of cascading water we would pull the chain and quickly escape from the tell-tale noise…

Owen Clement and his family live for a time on the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria's favourite holiday island.

To read the earlier chapters of Owen’s story click on Highlights In The Shadows in the menu on this page.

After my father spent three unproductive months looking for work in London, we moved to West Cowes in the Isle of Wight, where he found employment operating a lathe at Samuel White shipyards; a task well below his capabilities.

Dad's boyhood friend Eric Hoogstraten, his wife Mavis with their children Peter and June were living in West Cowes at the time. I remembered our families visiting each other earlier when Eric worked in the railway workshops in Tatanager in Bengal in the early thirties before he and his family left India. I have a couple of photographs taken of us four children before we started kindergarten. I remember being very annoyed that Peter was given the privilege of holding the shotgun while I was only given the camera case to hold. This was to prove auspicious, as I have always been much handier with a camera than I ever was with a gun.

Gloria and I were sent to the local government primary school where Spanky Vine became my only friend after protecting me from a couple of school bullies. Spanky's mother owned a cake shop. He often shared his mother’s day-old goodies with me.

I think of the Isle of Wight as being a place of firsts for me. It was the first time I went to a public school. I did my first paying job by carrying a glass car battery a couple of blocks, quite an achievement for a nine-year-old; I was paid a full crown for my efforts. It was the first time I went on a train on my own. And it was the first time Gloria and I were left on our own for almost a whole day after our parent’s had a serious quarrel. Seeing our distress when they returned our parents never gave us cause to feel the same way again.

We rented a large old house once used by Queen Victoria to house and entertain her guests. Leaning up against the walls of the musty basement were huge rotting portraits of long-forgotten minor royal personages and dignitaries, along with crumbling velvet drapes still attached to massive wooden curtain rods. In the stairwell the flush toilet's cistern was located about seven feet off the floor. To escape the roar of cascading water we would pull the chain and quickly escape from the tell-tale noise.

During our stay, Cunard's SS Queen Mary docked in Southampton. The wash caused by the displacement in the shallow Solent as she sailed out again created a flood in the streets of West Cowes. I found a silver crucifix amongst the flotsam. We had it in our family for many years.

By September the war in Europe looked imminent. Dad wrote to his boss and mentor Mr. Robinson in Kharagpur. He advised Dad to return immediately, as his services would be urgently needed at the workshops. Dad's work prospects in England had not come anywhere near his expectations. Mr. Robinson also believed that our family would be much safer in India. We were to seriously question this decision later.

We sailed on the SS Strathnaver for Bombay in India in October that year.


© Clement 2006

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