I was what you might call a “real boy.” Always getting into scrapes. We lived in Motspur Park, Surrey - me, my mum and my sister, next door to mum’s sister, Aunt Dolly. One day out playing bows and arrows in the street, I got a bamboo arrow right in the middle of my forehead. It didn’t hurt. Well, not that much. I enjoyed the look on people’s faces as I passed them with me arrow sticking out of me head like a horn. Aunt Dolly took it out. I wouldn’t let anyone else near it. Aunt Dolly was the “mouth” in the street. Anything wrong and off you went to Aunt Dolly to sort it out. Accidents, quarrels, girlfriends. You name it she sorted it. She even laid out the dead. When we were older she’d put on Christmas dances in her front room, so she could vet all the girls. “Not this one”, she’d say, or “This one’ll do.” What Aunt Dolly said went. Once I caught my leg on a rusty bit of barbed wire. What a mess it was, not to mention the smell! Of course it was dear Aunt Dolly who sewed it up with a needle and thread from her sewing basket.
I went to school and worked in the same little square all my life – apart from the year I was evacuated, that is. There was this corridor in our street where the Germans liked to drop their last load on the way home. It was 1944 so I think they must have been upping the ante. One day I was out when a Stuker bomb went off. There was hot shrapnel and shells everywhere, and to this day the lampposts are pitted with bullet holes. I wasn’t scared though. Not me! Still mum thought me and my sister’d be safer in the country, so she packed us off to Derbyshire to live with Mr and Mrs Whiteman. What a contrast that was! Every morning at 4.00am you’d hear the miners going down the village high street: stamp, stamp, stamp. I’d get out of bed and watch them from the window. They wore boots called Blakeys with metal studs in the soles and heels to stop them wearing out, which they liked to flick on the pavement to make them spark. Most of the young men were miners. When they left school it was either work in Woollies or down the mines, but mostly it was down the mines. That was all the choice there was. During the war nobody was supposed to have a bonfire, but never try telling a miner what to do! The year I was up there they all pitched in and made a massive bonfire in a field. It was my first real bonfire night!
Sometimes my mum used to send me off to stay with my Uncle Amos in Gloucestershire in the summer holidays. Maybe she needed a bit of peace and quiet from her noisy boy! In any case I used to have a smashing time with my cousins and all. We’d play cricket on the banks of the River Severn near a big house, and whenever the ball went over the wall, which of course it did all the time, it was me who had to go and get it back. I was the littlest and the fastest, and cousin Jack who was 6ft 3 was the tallest, so I stood on his shoulders. Over I’d go, scrub about in the bushes for the ball, then run round to the front entrance and back to the others – fast as I could in case I was seen, which of course I usually was. Though nobody ever actually caught me. My blonde mop was known throughout the village. “Ah, there’s Gladys’ boy with the blonde hair.” they’d say.
But the biggest adventure of all happened on the train on my way to visit Uncle Amos. I’d had too much Tizer as usual, and just couldn’t hold on to it. So off I went, haring through the carriage to the toilet. I also liked gawping at the ground moving through the hole which flapped open in the bottom when you flushed. Over and over I’d do it. When I’d finally finished and tried to unlock the door it just wouldn’t budge. I tugged at the lock, banged on the door, shouted, bashed the window, but try as I might I couldn’t get anyone to hear me. The noise those steam trains made was terrific. Chuh ch ch ch. Chuh ch ch ch. I was well and truly stuck. It wasn’t until we got to Gloucester that they heard me. I cupped my hands and hollered - loud as I could: “HELP!” Then they came alright, the train guard and the station guard – even the engine driver, but try as they might they couldn’t budge that door. “It’s the Fire Brigade for you my lad” the train guard shouted at me through the door.
And so it was that I had my moment of fame. In the end they had to break the door down with an axe. It was so exciting. “Weren’t you scared?” my Uncle Amos asked me as we left the station. “Of course not!” I said. Me scared? Never! I was a “real boy.”