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As Time Goes By: High School Girl - Part 3

...But at the end of 1938 we moved from London to a semi-detached house with a garden in Queensbury, Edgware. For the first time we had a bathroom with a deep white bath; wonderful, after years of wash-downs in the zinc bath in front of the kitchen fire...

Eileen Perrin's richly detailed autobiography brings a vivid impression of life in London, and other parts of England, 70 years ago.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

In the August school holidays my godmother Auntie Lou would come up for the day from Westcliff–On-Sea. One time Mum and I were taken to the Shaftesbury theatre to see a comedy with Sidney Howard, who had made the amusing film ‘Up for the Cup’. Coming out into the sunshine of a West end afternoon, she took us round the corner into the Strand to have tea and cakes in one of Fullers teashops. I can still remember my lemon curd tart.

We didn’t have a wireless set for some years, but eventually Dad bought a Cossor and I remember having to take the accumulator round to a little shop that charged them up. After doing my homework we listened to Henry Hall and his Dance Band or Billy Cotton’s band. On Saturday evenings we looked forward to ‘In Town Tonight’ and every night heard the news at nine o’clock beginning with the chimes of Big Ben.

In the mid-1930s Mum, Dad and I spent summer holiday fortnights in the Isle of Wight, taking the train from Waterloo to Portsmouth, where we took the ferry across to Ryde pier. Dad would buy a 7/6d weekly rail season ticket and we toured the island, visiting Cowes, the town of the Royal sailing regatta, Osborne House - Queen Victoria’s seaside retreat, Brading old town, Shanklin Chine, the beaches at Sandown, steep-streeted Ventnor, Carisbrooke Castle, St.Catherine’s Point, and the Needles, where I collected coloured sands in a small glass bottle. One holiday we took a round-the-island cruise.

We stayed in Hill Street, Ryde with Mr.and Mrs. Bert Cotton, and I was introduced to their nephew Percy who was in the Royal Navy. He would take me for walks round to Uncle Bert’s allotment, or along the sea front. Percy and I behaved very circumspectly, Once we went for a bus ride to Fishbourne where the car ferries came in.

Fishbourne was near Woodstock where, years later, the ‘Flower Power’ Festival took place from 1968 to 1970 - the climax year - when half a million people turned up, and it was then banned until 2002. Music was provided by dozens of artists, including the Moody Blues, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.

Percy and I kept in touch: when his ship H.M.S.Emerald, a cruiser, went on a ‘secret’ tour of the Indian Ocean, we used a code in our letters so that I knew where he was.

In late 1937, in Highbury’s Upper Fourth form a large Polish girl called Blanka Kahan arrived on our scene mid-term. She had two long thick brown plaits almost long enough to sit on. She excelled in practically everything, especially French, with only games excepted. We did not talk to her, and she wasn’t very popular. Our top positions in class were overtaken, and although she could not beat me in English, that was small comfort when it was my native tongue. (After 70 years, I have just realised the significance.)

On the 29th of September 1938 our Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went over to meet Hitler and other European Heads of State , and the Munich Pact was signed to ensure Hitler stopped annexing lands adjoining Germany. Chamberlain came back waving the famous ‘piece of paper’ that was to ensure peace in our time.

Previously, we had all had to go to collect gas masks from distribution points: ours was in Upper Street Islington. In Auugust 1938 ‘black out’ was introduced. All windows , including shop windows had to be covered so that no lights could be seen. Black-out material for curtains was in great demand. No street lights came on after dark, and torch batteries became scarce. We had to carry our gas masks wherever we went.

Electricity for lighting had been installed in Stanley Road in the mid-30s, with the luxury of a switch to get light, instead of a match held to a gas mantle.

But at the end of 1938 we moved from London to a semi-detached house with a garden in Queensbury, Edgware. For the first time we had a bathroom with a deep white bath; wonderful, after years of wash-downs in the zinc bath in front of the kitchen fire.

We also had power electricity, so Mum bought an electric iron, and no longer had to heat up the heavy flat irons on the gas rings.

Every day I travelled by train from Burnt Oak to the Arsenal underground station, then walked up Highbury Hill to school.

Our house was round the corner from where my Aunt Jenny, Uncle George and cousins May, George and Arthur lived. George, when he came out of the Army, had been to visit us in Islington, on his motor bike. He had served on the north-west frontier of India for many years with the Royal Horse Artillery. I still have his photo, showing him on horseback, wearing khaki shirt, jodhpurs and a tepee.

He had many tales to tell, and would sing me the tune of the R.H.A. slow march – ‘Bonnie Dundee’, and hum the tune for the gallop used in the musical drive, which he had taken part in at the Royal Tournament. George rode the lead pair of six horses pulling a gun carriage. Seeing this in later years at Olympia it was most impressive, with four six-horse teams galloping round and crossing in a figure of eight.

George and I became great friends, and often used to go out together in Edgware and Harrow. He was ten years older than me, but although I was only sixteen and a half, he would talk about wanting to marry me, which was not taken seriously.

In early 1939 Percy Cotton came up to London and took me to see Ivor Novello’s musical show ‘The Dancing Years’, with the famous and romantic song ‘I’ll follow my secret heart my whole life through’, and afterwards took me to Leicester Square underground station to see me safely on the train back to Burnt Oak.

He then went to Waterloo on the Northern line to stay overnight at the Union Jack Club opposite the station.
We wrote to each other for some years until I married in 1945.

In July 1939 we had left school, and having matriculated in eight subjects, Louie and I sought jobs as our parents could not afford to let us stay on for higher education, although our headmistress said plainly that it would be a distinct advantage for us, and tried to entice me to apply to Christs Hospital in Hertfordshire, or to stay on into the Upper Sixth.

That summer I started work with Odhams Press in Covent Garden, in the Book Dept. as an invoice clerk. I did not want to join the Civil service, which Louie, Joan and Pat went into, while Elsie went into a local government office.

Two months later, in September 1939 war started. Hitler had marched into Poland.

In recent years I met my schoolfriend Louie once more, after more than forty years of desultory correspondence. We started talking as if we had never been apart.


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