My mother had a gold bangle. Les and I were sent to a jewellers to sell it. He needed a letter so we had to go home for one. She signed it Mrs Johnson. He paid us 10/-.
I don't know why we moved to the adjoining town of Strood, possibly for lower rent. A Mrs Humphreys owned two side-by-side shoe shops. She lived over and behind one of them and we lived over and behind the other. At some time we had to swap with her. Cheaper though it may have been it was still 8 shillings a week and Dad's dole money was 10 shillings a week. How she fed the five of us on two bob a week I don't know. She used to make out little shopping lists on scraps of paper working out what she could afford to buy.
There was a branch of a grocery chain opposite us and I used to cross the High Street to shop there. Butter wasn't prepackaged. There was a big mound of it on the counter. The shop assistants scooped chunkds off with wooden paddles, beat it into shape and weighed it, adding or removing butter if necessary. This needed some skill but they were very good at it. They sold cracked effs at a reduced price and, of course, we bought those. I was sent across to buy some, perhaps two, but they didn't have any. I must have looked dismayed, probably wondering what I would tell my mother. He told me to wait and came back shortly with some very newly-cracked eggs. Big sides of bacon were jammed onto spikes on a machine and then slices were taken off. I found out at another shop that the bits that fell from the slicing machine were sold cheaply. Mum was doubtful because the price seemed to be too good to be true. Eventually she decided to risk a halfpenny or a penny and sent me to get half a pound. These shavings were often from the more expensive sides of bacon and this proved a useful addition to our diet.
You know that I've always been an ultra cautious pedestrian because I'd been knocked down twice. Strood was the first time. I was crossing to the shop. I was being careful and waited between two parked cars for a small van (what we'd call a panel van) to pass. As it reached me it swung out and the body came round and hit me on the side of the head. I wasn't hurt and completed my mission. I didn't say anything at home but a shop assistant who had seen it happen came in with my cap which had fallen off.
This was an interesting place to live for a boy. Steam rollers were built not far away and they used to trundle down the street on a test drive. Better still, Short Brothers had a factory beside the River Medway where they built flying boats. I liked to watch them land and take off. This was high tech stuff and they flew over our house quite often. I was in the backyard once with my vision limited by the walls when a plane with a simply enormous body flew over with small planes buzzing round it. I watched for that plane all the time but it never came back. It was quite a lot of years before I realised that what I had seen was the German Graf Zeppelin which accidentally on purpose took a wrong turning. It was actually on a photographic spy mission over the Chatham dockyards. This might have been when Dad was on his trip to Australia because I feel sure he would have known about it and commented. We didn't have a radio and we didn't see newspapers. I don't know why I didn't see newspaper posters. Perhaps I was at home for a day or two. Around that time I remember learning about the crash of a British airship in France from a newspaper poster.
We used to go into the grounds of Rochester Castle which was just the other side of the river. In the 1950s I spent a night in Chatham on business. I set off from the hotel to walk to Strood but it was further than I had remembered and by the time I got to Rochester it was getting dark. I went into the castle grounds, looked around and asked an elderly gardener where the German tank was.
He was positive there was no such thing. I said there used to be a World War 1 German tank. He was sure I was wrong. I looked around some more and then went back to him and pointed out the slab of concrete on which it used to stand. "Oh that! That was melted down for scrap during the war."
We used to go for walks up past the house where Charles Dickens lived at Gadshill. I didn't know until a few years ago that he had a summerhouse on the other side of the road where he did his writing and that he had a tunnel built under the road. One time we were walking in the woods near there when we met a tramp. I don't think Dad was with us, it might have been while he was off to Australia. From the appearance of Mum Les and myself and baby Dave in his big pram he must have thought we were similarly on the Toby because he told us where there was a good place to sleep.
Les went to school in Strood but won a scholarship from there to a minor public shcool in Rochester. They had a cricket ground beside the river and that's where I saw my first professional cricketers. The county side, Kent played against somebody or other, perhpas the schoo Old boys. The Kent team included at least two famous cricketers of the day, Frank Woolley, a left-handed batsman who went down on one knee and hit a marvellous six, and Tich Freeman a slow bowler. I'm fairly sure he bolwed with his cap on as most slow bowlers did in those days. After the match some boys gathered round the pavilion. I asked what they were doing and Les said they were collecting autographs. That was the first time I'd heard the word.
Dad at one time was involved with the Salvation Army. I don't think religion had anything to do with it but it was an opportunity to work with their band. He also conducted the Rochester City Band but I don't know which came first.
After a long time on the dole Dad managed to get a job as the drummer in a ship's dance band on a trip to Australai. He also had to be a steward and I remember him practicing balancing plates on his arm. I think he also got a ocuple of drumsticks and practiced that. The round trip was three months and with visions of shipwrecks etc, and missing him, it was a terrible time for me. For the family, of course, it was great because Mum got a cheque for five pounds from the shipping line every month. Sadly I pined so much that Dad made an excuse not to go again. Looking back i'm inclined to think that was probably the ideal job for him. He would also have got pay, plus tips and he would have been in his element on the band stand.
during the tip he taught one of the other musicians how to read music. Dad sat behind him and would call out the notes. Years later we saw the man playing with a leading dance band. Also en route to Australia were a man and wife tap dancing team. Dad tapped out their rhythm for them. Apparently they wanted him to stay with them for their rour of Austrlaia but he turned it down.
We got letters home from various ports. The ship called at Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane before setting off back. He liked Brisbane best. He said that Sydney was like Chicago. (I think this was the time of the notorious razor gangs.) They used to hahve silk stockings filled with sand. Sailors on the way back to the ship after a night out were clubbed and robbed. It was either just before or just after the opening of the Harbour Bridge. For years we had an ahstray with the bridge on it which he brought home.
When his ship sailed without him we went up beyond Gadshill where we could see it sailing down the Thames from London. next