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Endless Summers and Trolleybuses - Personal Memories
My formative years took place during the 1950's in Paddington, West London. I was born about ten minutes walk from the cinema where P.C. Dixon was shot down in cold blood by the nervous, callous criminal, Tom Riley in 'The Blue Lamp'. This film captures exactly what I remember my neighbourhood to be, even about ten years later, for little had changed during that time. I sometimes went to that cinema to watch films, but not often. Rats would occasionally scurry across the floor because the cinema was next to the Grand Union canal!
In the sweetshop around the corner from where I lived I could get chews for a farthing each, and later when farthings were recalled you got two for a halfpenny. Imps were another of my favourites. They were tiny black squares of pure fire - wonderful! I also loved pink chewy shrimps and Jubblies but for some unknown reason the frozen Jubblies made me come out in a rash - alas no more frozen Jubblies for me!
The summers were so hot that the tar melted in the school playground and chairlegs sank down inches. One year in the May Day festival I was chosen as the sweep, something I had forgotten about until just now and something I hope remains forgotten for another 40 years!
The summer holidays seemed endless and we played 'runouts' nearly every day, much to the annoyance of the man whose garden wall resembled the walls of a fort. Many's the time we were chased out of there!
Anyone who lived in London in the 1950's will remember the name of Rillington Place with a shudder! Not that far from there was a wafer packing factory (the sort that ice creams get wedged into) which my pals and I often visited because we could get handfulls of broken wafers handed to us by kind-hearted staff -I expect they felt sorry for us 'urchins'!
My earliest memories of 'grown up' songs was a number by Paul Anka entitled 'Diana'. Unfortunately everytime I started to sing it, the word Diana came out as dinosaur, must have been my fascination with large reptilian carnivores at the time. Of course listening to Uncle Mac was a must, smashing songs about Billygoat Gruff and the rickety rackety bridge, Sparky and his magic piano - songs with weird words such as Gillygillyossenfeffer....etc, Valderee, valderah and Poppa Piccolino.
At the cinema my father took me to see my first 'grown up' films. 'The Man From Laramie' and 'Davey Crocket' - I had my own racoon skin Davey Crocket hat, you know the round furry thing with a tail hanging down the back. But best of all was Saturday morning pictures, Wow! I used to go to the ABC chain of cinemas so I was an ABC Minor, complete with badge (long since disappeared). Anyone waiting outside could easily tell what we had all been watching inside. Just imagine the front swing doors bursting open and hundreds of small boys with their dufflecoats attached only to their heads, the rest billowing behind, screaming the music to Batman! Do you remember how at the end of each Saturday matinee, Batman and Robin would be trapped, for example, in a small room, the walls bristling with spikes and gradually moving slowly inwards to within 3 inches of the dynamic duo? Do you then remember the next week, the same episode started with the walls still a yard away and the pair manage to escape? We were cheated - there's no way they could have escaped the week before! We were all waiting to see them skewered and squashed!! Then there was the lady outside who sold toffee apples for threepence each. One toffee apple could last a whole morning. They were coated with the hardest substance known to man and if the Americans had known about it, it would have given them a huge advantage in their space-race with the Russians!
Before we were the proud owners of a television set of our own, we went across the road to my parent's friends house where they had a set. Their front room was always crowded with everyone jostling for a seat near the centre of the screen. This was because they had invested in a huge slab of glass (or was it some form of plastic?) strapped onto the front of the screen in order to magnify the images. Anyone unlucky enough to be seated off to one side got a very distorted view of life!! I loved to watch Westerns and in particular anything about the US Cavalry or the American Civil War. The opening notes of the 'General Assembly' bugle call summoned me to the TV like a moth to a flame -" Yo Rinnie!". Likewise "Boots and Saddles" from the series of the same name and the mysterious Confederate Colonel Mosbey in 'The Grey Ghost'. Those TV programmes remain ingrained in my being to this day. In fact the US Cavalry destroyed my scouting career! 'Boots and Saddles' was on TV on scouting night. Given the choice of running around in short trousers playing with ones woggle or taking part in a cavalry charge, bugles ringing and guideons flying, I'm afraid I had to hang up my woggle!
Other enormously enjoyable events were the trips to the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens to catch 'tiddlers'. Jamjars on string and a long bamboo pole tipped with a fish net (no, not stockings - I discovered that sort of thing later!) Mind you, the fishing poles could be a bit awkward on a crowded bus which sometimes led to the witty bus conductor saying "You ain't getting on MY bus with them bl--dy things!" or something very similar.
We lived very close to the 'Ubique Coach Company' and every Sunday my parents (who knew one of the coach drivers) would take me to the seaside. Sometimes Southend, Margate, Seasalter or Brighton and sometimes a 'Mystery Tour' - usually to one of the aforementioned places!
Holidays on a houseboat on the Norfolk Broads, a Hi-De-Hi type holiday camp at Caister........Looking back I guess I was a lucky little boy.
Paddington Green was a magic place. It was the end of the line for the 662 Trolleybuses, patiently queueing up around the triangle. Opposite was Paddington Green Children's Hospital - every year, just before Christmas, my mother took all my old toys there to give to the little patients who couldn't be home for the holiday. Around the corner and over the busy Edgeware Road was Church Street market, memorable then for the pie and eel shop on the left hand side. Manys the time I had pie, mash and liquer there, sitting on the huge pew-like seats at the marble slabbed table with salt pots as big as tea kettles! I haven't had pie,mash and liquer for about 40 years now, but I can still remember the taste!
In town, bomb sites were everywhere (as were prefabs) and were wonderful playgrounds full of surprises. Like the time I discovered a hidden box full of brand new, unopened packets of Gillette razor blades. Obviously 'liberated' from the back of a lorry. They were useful to a young lad for using as swops for German medals, British Army badges or whatever else was on offer at the daily playground 'swopmeets'. Talking of the British Army - there was a small army surplus shop in Ladbrooke Grove, a veritable 'Aladdin's Cave' filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of mysterious, menacing goodies. Bayonets in frogs; gas masks; haversacks, pouches, canvas-covered water canteens and other sundry items of kit; piles of steel helmets and the odd 'walkie-talkie' set - none of which I could afford to buy!
Still on a military theme, I well remember on many occasions, being thrilled to see the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. They would come snorting, clattering, clanking and jangling across the busy Prince of Wales crossroads on the Harrow Road, coming from their Kensington barracks. It did seem a bit old-fashioned to see long columns of horses pulling cannons, trotting along the road, whilst all the modern-day Trolleybuses and cars patiently waited for them to pass!
Living literally a stones throw from the busy Harrow Road in Paddington meant a lively boyhood. Every year after the Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, the team coaches would come back along the Harrow Road. The winning team would throw handfulls of pennies out of the coach windows to the crowds that lined the route - and guess who was there waiting with his empty tin?
Speaking of football reminds me of the dreadfull plane crash which devastated 'Busby's Babes'. I remember the event but as still quite a young chap was not fully aware of the horrendous loss of life of this tragedy, likewise the rail disaster at Lewisham.
One other nasty event that sticks in my mind that I remember much more clearly happened on the way to school one morning. About halfway to school I glanced across the road at a bus stop because of a 'commotion'. There at the stop was a 662 trolleybus on it's way to Wembley with an unfortunate cyclist half under the front panelling. I think that that one event made me much more aware of road safety than any visit to ROSPA House with the school ever did.
Mentioning trolleybuses, which I love dearly, you know how you can hear an underground train coming long before it gets to the station because of the peculiar 'twittering' noise you hear from the tracks? Well the same happened with trolleybuses. In the quiet of the evening, waiting for a trolleybus, you could hear the overhead wires 'singing' long before the bus itself arrived! Just thought you might like to know that!
Hands up who remembers smog! I loved smog - weird boy wasn't I? It meant you could be late for school without being reprimanded. I could walk to school faster than the bus could go AND I got to save the sixpence bus fare which was allocated to me each day. With this money I could buy goodies like Wagon Wheels, pear drops or monster packets of Sherbert with free toys inside - wowee!
As I started to get bigger I persuaded my mother to buy me a pair of shoes that I wanted instead of being given shoes that my parents thought I should wear. After much pleading I eventually got the shoes of my desire. I had seen these beauties in the shop window for weeks and now they were MINE! They were the coolest, sexiest, meanest shoes that ever were - alligator skin winklepickers with a side buckle!! My father wasn't much impressed and they hurt like hell to wear until my feet became suitably distorted. - Strange that nowadays my left foot has straightened itself out but my right big toe still bends inwards at 30 degrees, an indelible reminder of my mispent youth!
How I wish I could do it all again!!
I also lived near the corner of a very busy Harrow Road, as it was in those days. The cinema mentioned above was called The Colosseum, or Bug House to the locals for obvious reasons.
Apart from the 662 trollybus there was also the 664. I also often walked home from school and popped into a bread shop where I could buy a roll for a farthing.
Around the corner from me was a much more pleasant cinema called The Prince of Wales, which was also the name of the pub that was opposite to where we lived.
Really loved reading this, brought back loadsa memories and raised more than a chuckle or two We used to use the 662 trolleybus to get from Stonebridge, where we lived, down to Paddington Green to get to my gran's who lived in Broadley Street off the Edgware Road near where the Metropolitan Music Hall used to be. My father knew Stan who owned the Ubique Coach Company back in the 50s/60s.
I have just found and read Ray Flight's memories of childhood in Paddington. I came across it after doing some searches about area because I am writing some of my memories. I was born in 1944 at home in Westbourne Terrace north of the Harrow Road and lived there until 1957 when the great demolition started. I have already told my wife about the Coliseum, Saturday morning pictures at the ABC, rats in the cinema and the football fans throwing 'their old mouldies' out of the coaches on the road to Wembley or back. I've regaled her with stories about clambering about in the bombsites around about, etc. I'm not sure how much she believed me! But having just read to her Ray's very funny piece she now believes it all. My uncle was a bobby at Paddington Green police station and lived in the section house before he married my mum's sister. His legs running down the stairs in the 'Blue Lamp' featured as extras in the film. My dad used to take me to see the variety shows at the Edgware Road Met very often. And, like Ray, we used to visit Church Street market and eat pie, mash and liquor. We also got apple fritters from a stall there.
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