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As Time Goes By: Off The Grays Inn Road

...A teacher in the Secretarial dept. brought in grape vine cuttings. I took two. One thrived and the vine is still growing outside our dining room window....

Eileen Perrin vividly recalls life in the early and mid-1970s when she was working at the Kingsway College of Further Education.

To read earlier episodes of Eileen's life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

The Kingsway College for Further Education was in Sidmouth Street, off the Grays Inn Road, five minutes walk from Kings Cross underground station.

For seventeen years I enjoyed working there and met some interesting people both on the staff and among the students. One teacher in the department of Secretarial and Business Studies was Paul Berry who taught typing to the day-release girls. He played records on a gramophone, choosing music with a regular beat to it so that they could hopefully type at that speed and in rhythm.

One of his favourites we often heard as we passed his classroom door, was the famous Marilyn Monroe song ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend'.

Maisie, the West Indian Head of the Pharmacy department gave me lanolin for the dry skin on my feet. A teacher in the Secretarial dept. brought in grape vine cuttings. I took two. One thrived and the vine is still growing outside our dining room window.

Dorothy Stratton, one of the Maths teachers had a son in the acting profession who had to change his name to Jonathan Stratt when he joined Equity as there was already someone of the same name. I have seen him on television several times and the part he was often given was a policeman or a cab driver. Apparently he also drives a London cab to supplement his earnings when ‘resting’.

A Greek student Savvas Deliyannis brought me back a bottle of ouzo (a type of aniseed- flavoured liqueur), made nowhere else but in Greece and it is their national drink. A Chinese boy with the unlikely name of Moon Man gave me a pincushion made from a circle of tiny satin-clad figures holding hands around a centre pad.

Another young man John Beamond always seemed to be at the office counter asking my help. He was an asthmatic and always allowed to sit his exams in a separate quiet room. He had no mother and always seemed a bit lost. At the end of one summer term he took me out for a drink in a pub in Queens Square, where I was introduced to having ice in my glass of sherry.

In 1973 came the news that Allied troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam.

In the U.K. we were reading about the miners’ strikes at various pits, led by Arthur Scargill. As a result, and due to dwindling fuel reserves, the Prime Minister Edward Heath brought in the 3-day working week from January 1st 1974 which went on to March 7th. Those workers carrying on regardless had to use other forms of lighting when it got dark early. This did not affect me as my hours were part-time from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.

Television in 1974 brought us the delight of ‘Rising Damp’ with Leonard Rossiter, Richard Beckinsale and Frances de la Tour.

Following a request in 1973 by Reed International where Les worked, for employees to learn another language in order to deal with overseas printing firms in the group, Les enrolled for a course in the Dutch language. He had a one-to-one lady teacher and got on so well that by the summer of 1974 he had passed his preliminary exam in Dutch with the Institute of Linguists.

In the Spring of 1975 we decided to take a trip to see the bulb fields of Holland. Leaving the car at Kit’s bungalow in Rochford, we took a flight from Southend Airport to Schiepol. We were met by the tour guide named Frank (or as he pronounced it ‘Fronk’ to rhyme with ‘honk’. The coach and all the other coaches there had their fronts decorated with garlands of Spring flowers. Frank was a student of Leiden University. We were amazed at the vast acres of hyacinth and tulips in bloom. We visited the Flower Auction Market at Aarlsmeer where they did a Dutch auction, which meant that the auctioneer starts with a high asking price and works down. It is also known as a clock auction, and is watched on computer screens all over Europe and America, and buyers push a button when they want to make a bid.

On a canal, we saw barges full of the severed heads of blooms which is done previously to the harvesting of the bulbs. We visited the famous Keukenhof Gardens, said to be the most beautiful place on earth, where the choicest of all flowers are grown.

One day coming back from a trip out we passed a fish stall beside the road and Frank got out and went over to buy a herring. Then followed the trick designed to amuse the coach party watching him from the windows. Frank tipped back his head and holding the herring up by its tail, proceed to swallow it whole. As he explained later, in his delightful way of expressing himself, the ‘most impartant port’ was to take the fish down with one big swallow.

On television in 1975 we were avid viewers of ‘Fawlty Towers’ with John Cleese and Andrew Sachs (Manuel), and ‘The Good Life’ with Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal.

In the summer of 1975 six and a half million elm trees were decimated by Dutch Elm disease. They have now almost completely disappeared from the English countryside.

Val and his wife Anne Marie had not long been back from Newfoundland and were living with us while Val was seeking a post in the medical world. Anne Marie found temporary work at the hospital in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, travelling up on the Tube each day from Sudbury Hill to East Acton. The following Christmas Les and I were invited to the Carol service at the prison.

And so I was re-acquainted with the place which I had visited as part of the Kings Cross Counselling course, when I had been shown around the cell blocks, kitchens, and high security wings, where ‘lifers’ were allowed to come and go from their cells within the confines of the block. We were allowed to peep into their cells, seeing the shelves of books, and neat narrow beds.

We noticed one man walking around with a budgerigar on his shoulder.

Our daughter Cathy was sharing a flat in South Ealing with friends and working in Ealing Libraries, having left Library School with an A.L.A.

In Ealing Central Library she met Geoffrey Parr, the Chief Librarian, and in 1975 they were married in Harrow Registry Office and she became Catherine Parr.

They honeymooned in the New Forest area and came back to live in the house they had bought in North Harrow, not too far away from where we were living in Pinner.


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