Where were we? Just about to move from Strood. Dad’s job, probably as a clerk, was in the Poor Law Department which worked from the workhouse in Chatham. For hundreds of years there’d been problems dealing with the poor, sick, widowed, orphaned members of communities. Churches, charities worked away at this. I think it was in the 19th century when the national government passed laws to regularise things and say who and who could not get aid, how it was to be distributed etc. The principal officials administering those laws were called Relieving Officers. Dad swotted hard to study the Poor Laws and to become a Relieving Officer. He duly took the exam and passed. At some time we moved closer to his job in Chatham.
The first house we moved to was in Salisbury Road but I don’t think we stayed there very long before we moved not far away to a house in New Road. In Pickwick Papers there’s mention of The Lines. This was, possibly still is, an open space that stretched from Chatham to the neighbouring town of Gillingham. Although they were separate, four towns were joined and I think they’re now called Medway. Chatham, Rochester, Strood and Gillingham. I went at least once to a professional football match at Gillingham. Dad’s band was playing at half time. As they were leaving the pitch a player booted a football into them. I also remember walking to Gillingham across the Lines where some kind of open-air public meeting was taking place. I talked a little earlier about the development of sound amplification. That was where I first saw enormous speaker cones at an outdoor event. Dad used to take me on a Sunday to see the Royal Marines church parade, complete with band and then we’d belt up the hill to see the Royal Engineers with ditto. Once I went with Dad into Chatham barracks where he’d been stationed in 1918. He must have told the sentry that he’d been in the officer’s quarters because the man sprang to attention.
I went to a different Chatham school to the one I attended when we lived there previously. This one, I think it was called St Paul’s, didn’t have a playground. We played in the street with a teacher stationed at each end with a whistle. When a vehicle approached the teacher blew his whistle and we had to get onto the footpath (Australian for pavement) until the whistle blew again to confirm that the danger had passed. I never did it myself but lorries (English for trucks) used to travel slowly enough for boys to run after them and hang on to the tailboard. This was dangerous and some boys were killed or injured but I don’t remember it happening to anybody I knew. One night we formed a long queue to go to a picture show of some kind. We waited for ages and then were sent home because some boy near the front had been killed crossing the road.
I don’t know how long we lived there, it may not have been very long and Dad then got a job as an Assistant Relieving Officer at Finchley in North London. We saved money on the move (fairly typical of our life) by travelling on the moving truck. The men set up a couch at the back and we sat there. Mum was very self conscious especially as she had a sty on her eyelid. She’d arranged for the men to drop us round the corner so the new neighbours wouldn’t see how we’d travelled.
Unfortunately the men lost the way so we crawled in thick traffic through central London, and up Park Lane. We boys loved it but Mum hated being on display to so many people.
Before I talk about life at Finchley some more late thoughts. First right back to County Durham. When I was small Dad used to tell me amusing bedtime stories about a character called Fat Geordie. I think there was probably another character but I don’t recall his name. And I can’t remember what the stories were about although I think Fat Geordie was in the trenches. Children love repetition so I’d ask for some stories again. Dad had difficulty complying and they rarely came out as well. I realise now that he probably made them up as he went along and couldn’t remember what he’d said a few days before. next