I’m not sure I’m doing justice to my father in these notes. He was good fun, made jokes, tap danced, juggled three oranges and sang bits of music hall songs. There was one song that I’ve never heard anywhere else. It concerned an impending coronation. This might have been Edward VII. He led a pretty scandalous life with lots of mistresses etc. By the time his mother, Queen Victoria’s long life came to an end he was quite old himself and was only on the throne a few years. His son George V took over and reigned for about 30 years. His coronation I think was in 1911 so that was probably what the song was about. “…..We’ll ask old Brown to tea/If he won’t come we’ll ask his son/We’ll all be merry drinking whisky, beer and sherry/All be merry on Coronation Day.” One of his favourites was called Billy Muggins. I can remember some bits of that: “I’m Billy Muggins/Commonly known as a juggins/Silly, Billy that’s what my friends call me/………………..I’m Muggins, the juggins/And Muggins I’ll always be.” An odd point here about Cockney rhyming slang. It’s always interested me that it started as two words but the rhyming word got dropped. For example, Tod Sloan was a famous jockey. To be on your own was to be on your Tod. Hair was Barnet Fair so people talked about Barnets when they meant haircuts or hairstyles. Sometimes the root word got modified. Dad didn’t use much Cockney slang but one he did use was Dancing Bears for stairs. When it was bedtime he’d say “Come on, up the dancers.”
It might have been good if I’d been a bit older and had read more Dickens whilst living in the places where many of his stories took place. The marshes in Great Expectations were probably close to where he made his home at Gadshill. Mr Micawber (or Dickens’s father, I’m not sure which) worked in the dockyards at Chatham. I’m fairly certain that Mr Pickwick and his friends were on the Lines at Chatham when he met a mob: “’It’s always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.’ ‘But suppose there are two mobs?’ suggested Mr Snodgrass. ‘Shout with the largest,’ replied Mr Pickwick.”
I did read my first Dickens whilst still fairly young. I can remember discovering that I could read for myself when I read a children’s column in a newspaper. I think that was the first time we were in Chatham and perhaps while Dad had a job and before he became unemployed for two years. Leslie’s teacher at Strood gave him a book that had three Dickens short stories: The Chimes, A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth and I duly read those.
Where were we? Arriving in North Finchley. Here we come to some odd coincidences. We didn’t have any choice about where we lived. The job required us to live above the offices where Dad worked. I’m fairly sure this was on or near a corner. The house was called Aberystwyth and I always had to spell it when arranging for groceries etc to be delivered. Just round the corner lived Dad’s younger brother Len. We didn’t see much of him but he was there. He was an inspector for a billposting company. Around 80 metres up the road was Dad’s sister Emmie living as Mrs Worth but actually not married to her partner, Frank Worth. He was a nice man and worked as a Customs Officer. She was the relative that I saw most of. I ran errands for her, mowed the lawn, played with her dog. A mile or so down the road in the opposite direction was Dad’s other sister Mabel (Mabs) who was married to Leslie Forndran. In a city the size of London what were the odds against us all turning up so close to each other?
For the first time we were able to have a wireless (old fashioned word for radio.) These sets had large dry batteries about the size of a house brick and glass containers containing lead plates and acid (like car batteries).
These were called accumulators and had to be taken to the newsagent’s across the way to be charged every few days. I think you got different ones in exchange when you took one in. The BBC’s funding didn’t come directly from the government but in order to run a wireless set you had to have a licence. The fees went to the BBC. I think the same system applies to TV. This had advantages because it meant the BBC’s funding was one step removed from the government of the day and this gave it a slight measure of independence although it was the government that set the amount of the licence fee. The system was very open to abuse and detector vans with aerials on the roof trawled the country looking for unlicensed sets. One day I was outside our house and a policeman asked me if we had a wireless. Of course I said that we didn’t because I was pretty sure that we didn’t have a licence. Whether they got one later I don’t recall. next