Opposite our window on the other side of the road was a hoarding. I watched each week while the poster advertising the acts appearing at the London Palladium was changed. I would have loved to have gone but never did. London had recently changed from trams to electric trolley buses with two wires and a pair of poles sticking up from the roof of the vehicle making contact with the wires. These were quieter and much higher tech than trams so I found them interesting. They ran down the road outside our house. Another thought. We shopped at the top of the road at a place called Tally Ho Corner.
One day Dad took me to see the Lord Mayorís Show. As a Londoner he knew the route and after weíd seen it once we raced through side streets in order to catch it again. A brass band marched past playing. A trombonist spotted Dad in the crowd, recognised him and dipped his instrument in salute. He seemed to know people everywhere. More about that later.
Iím sure we visited Grandma Lander (Grandpa Lander had died) and we also visited his brother Syd who lived in the Fairbridge Road the street in which Dad had once lived. Syd had two boys Ken and Eric who were similar in age to Les and myself. His wife was called Brads. I think that was partly because her real name was Louie and that was also the name of Artís wife. A train line ran outside the back of their house and some very old engines with tall funnels went past as I was looking out of the window. Like most boys of the time I was interested in trains.
Our first house in Chatham was opposite Chatham Station, the terminus of the London and Chatham Railway. It was said of that railway that its trains had two speeds Ė Slow and Stop. A park I played in at Strood was near a main line and I watched express trains going past. Chester-le-Street had a tall (or so it seemed to me at the time) railway viaduct at the end of the main street.
Something else from Chester-le-Street. Like many other parts of England it had a strange ritual going back God knows how many years. Every Shrove Tuesday what was called a football match took place along the main street. It was disorganised and rowdy. I watched it once from the window of Dadís upstairs office. Shops down below boarded their windows. I donít know what the rules were Ė if any Ė but it seemed to consist of two large crowds of men pushing each other. There was probably a football in there somewhere.
I donít know how long we were at Finchley, probably about a year. It was good weather when we moved, there was an apple tree in the back garden and I used to climb up and sit on a branch so that must have been summer. We moved from there at the end of March. We were there for autumn because there was a park that Les and I went to. It had squirrels. At that time these were probably English red squirrels before they were pushed out by the more aggressive American grey squirrels. The park had tall horse chestnut trees which dropped large spiky fruit. You opened these to obtain seeds similar to ordinary chestnuts but not edible. You bored holes through the middle of them and tied a string through the holes to turn them into conkers. One boy held his conker whilst another hit it with his. The longer a conker would last without breaking up made it a winner. That reminds me of a North Country game at Easter. Shortly before Easter you hard boiled eggs and put some onion skin in the water. This stained them brown and may also have made the shells tougher. I donít know. At Easter you played a game called jarping. You cradled an egg in your hand with just the base exposed. Somebody else brought their egg down on top. One or the other egg broke, I donít think they ever twice broke. As before the egg that lasted longest was the winner. The advantage of this game over conkers was that you could eat the eggs later. I saw an American film once which had a sequence at a country fair. Here people also had an egg-smashing game although I think the eggs were uncooked and the result messy.
Dad took me one evening to Whitechapel in the East End of London. It was the hottest day for years. I saw a newspaper poster with 98 degrees on it (about 36- 37C which was very hot for England.) After dark he held my hand and walked me down Spitalfields. This was a narrow winding lane between tall houses in the Chinese quarter. It was so narrow that if an adult stretched out his arms he could just about touch the houses on each side. The lane had a sinister reputation for opium dens, knife fights, murders etc. It was said that if the police went down there they went in twos. I donít recall seeing any evil-looking Chinamen, they were probably all indoors smoking opium, but I was glad when we reached the other end. By now Spitalfields must be long gone either through slum clearance programs or through the demolition work of the German Air Force Ė possibly both.
It was in London that I first had a chance to study a telephone. I used to go downstairs into the offices when everybody else had gone. The phone was a tall, black candlestick type with a mouthpiece at the top and a separate receiver which you lifted off its cradle and put to your ear (saying weíll hang up is a legacy from those days.) But phones had advanced to the point where they had a circular dialling mechanism at the base. There were numbers and letters under each hole. Local exchanges had names so you dialled the first three letters followed by the numbers. I think Scotland Yard was Whitehall 12-12. By leaving the receiver on its hook I found I could practise dialling numbers for Scotland Yard, Grandma Lander etc. next