Auntie Gwen

As I set off in the drizzle to take a walk down the memory lane that is Wimbledon Broadway I thought that my insistence on wearing my summer sandals in this washout of a June was sheer stubbornnes.  (On re-reading this I realise it’s not June, it’s July.  But then you’d never know the difference).  Nevertheless I soon got very warm in my protective clothing and was sweating as I had done in the old YMCA in my thirties when I first took up weight training.  Along the Broadway I was to pass the modern replacement building.

The owner of the tortoise ( see Brendan, 26th. June) discovered in Maycross Avenue was still being sought.  Outside the Bowls and Croquet Club in Mostyn Road the clash of mallet on ball alerted me to the fact that a game of croquet was in progress.

We had played croquet on the lawn at Lindum House where, under Jessica’s tuition, I had learned what a vicious game this gentle-seeming English tradition can be.  This green wasn’t surrounded by the shrubbery into which she had delighted in sending her opponent’s ball.

On the pavement in Hartfield Road an African woman was standing calmly filing her nails.

Throughout my youth, Sir Cyril Black was Conservative MP for Wimbledon (in the days before it was subsumed into the London Borough of Merton.  The bus station is now situated in the street which bears his name, as is Morrisons supermarket which did not exist then, and once was a purely Northern chain.  The sign looked as if a bus had run into it.

Walking along the Broadway I could still hear the glide of the trams (see post of 17th. May) which were the last of the early ones to run in London.  I could smell the coffee roasting in the specialist shop, long since gone.  I passed Russel Road, with Wimbledon Theatre on one corner, where I had attended St. Mary’s primary school (see The Bees, 29th. May).

Hawes Estate agent, I think, is on the site of De Marco’s ice cream parlour and MoneyGram was once a shop selling holy pictures and other mementos.  A sign of changing priorities, no doubt.  Eventually I reached my goal, 9 Latimer Road, the upper floors of which, my godmother, Auntie Gwen shared with her friend Mary Jeffries for many years.

Apart from my parents, it is Auntie Gwen I have to thank for surviving my infancy.  One evening when she was babysitting Chris and me, I am told, we decided to play in an upright roll of lino.  Somehow or other I managed to get my head stuck in the top of it.  There was I, hanging by my chin, my body dangling in the tied up tube.  There was Chris, screaming his head off (he must have feared I was about to be decapitated).  Enter Gwen to the rescue.  She heaved the roll onto the floor and extracted the gasping child.  Apparently I had actually stopped breathing and gone all blue.

When we were very small she would cycle every Saturday to our home in Raynes Park bearing goodies.  I remember eagerly awaiting sets of transfers which could be applied to paper or skin.  They were very flimsy and had to be oh so carefully soaked off in water.  An example was a set of butterflies.

As we became old enough to travel alone we would visit her every Sunday morning for breakfast after Mass (see Miss Downs, 25th. May).  Maybe that’s where I get my penchant for fry-ups from.  After a full English we dunked so many digestive biscuits into our coffee that you could stand a spoon up in it.  When Gwen could no longer do the entertaining I visited her for a weekly chat well into my adulthood.  She kept every present I ever gave her.

Next door to the house in the right of the picture stands Wimbledon Public Baths which is now a leisure centre.  It was there in 1952 that I taught myself to swim.  I needed to do this in order to pass the scholarship.  This was a name applied to the eleven plus exam which would take us to grammar school.  I had no idea what it was, but I wondered how I would be able to pass it if I couldn’t swim.  With that daft conception in my head it is a wonder I did pass it.  Without getting wet.

On my route back, up Morden Road, I passed the industrial estate.  This took me back to my fifteenth summer, when, at the beginning of the school holidays I had tramped the burning streets between there and Raynes Park in search of a holiday job.  I landed one in a printing works where my task was to produce glossy brochures.  It was there that a beautiful girl told me that I looked like Tony Curtis.  Not sure whether that was a compliment or not, the gauche teenager I then was had no inkling of the opportunity I’d obviously missed out on.  Ah, well.  I’ve made up for it since.

Leaving the main road I went along Dorset Road and through Kendor Gardens.  As I entered this park, a man clearing up the grass said: ‘You ain’t from the Council are ya.’  ‘Not likely’, said I, ‘Not when I’m bursting for a pee and the Gents is like that.’

In the circumstances I considered that the word weed was rather unfortunate.  Sadly, most of these amenities are similarly boarded up.  Further into the park, as a little terrier cocked his leg, I reflected ‘It’s allright for them’.

The scent of privet on the footpath leading to the Civic Centre was stronger than the smell of urine.

This afternoon I completed the clueing of an Independent cryptic crossword and sent it off.  It will appear on 12th. July.

Becky sent me a picture of the repast she was to have this evening which would be Cow & Gate’s Grandpa’s Sunday Lunch, no doubt accompanied by flat Diet Coke.  We had roast duck (the first time I’ve done it) accompanied, in my case, by  the rest of last night’s rioja, in Jackie’s, the rest of her bottle of Hoegaarden (I do believe I’ve got the spelling right this time).

18 thoughts on “Auntie Gwen

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