About A Boy

Our sister-in-law, Frances, is nearing the completion of her collecting and coordinating Chris’s colossal accumulation of detailed family history documentation dating back to the 17th century.

One gap she and our nephew Peter have identified is a contemporary childhood chronicle of my late brother. Who better, they decided, to create this than the sibling who shared his life from its very beginning?

Some shared milestones illustrate ‘Christopher Michael Knight 1.10.1943 – 17.10. 2014’

Without this photograph from 1945, depicting a street party celebrating Victory in Europe at the end of that sphere of World War Two, neither of us would have any memory of the event.  For anyone below the age of about 75 to imagine the jubilation of that heady, optimistic, summer is virtually impossible.  Chris and I are in the centre of the front row.  My chubby little brother, then not yet two, looks, as would any other toddler, as if he had no idea what was going on or why he was there.  

Our mother had made our outfits, dressed us up for the occasion, and had a studio photograph taken.

It was perhaps about this time that I mangled my brother’s finger, or maybe a thumb. In mid-war London, Mum just 21, with Dad away in the army, there were none of today’s domestic appliances, or other conveniences. Without a washing machine an old fashioned mangle, as depicted in ‘Then The Tableau Spoke’ helped squeeze excessive moisture before hanging clothes up in the kitchen to dry. Chris was probably trying to help as he placed his hand between the rollers while I turned the handle.

Holidays were non-existent, unless we were staying with our maternal grandparents, as in the picture above, in which Chris plays opposite Grandma’s feet. Uncle Bill once drove us to Brighton for the day.

Mum’s iron was one that was heated up on the stove; we had no telephone; no car; neither fridge nor freezer; and used ration books into the 1950s.

Chris might have been a touch disaster prone. I forget exactly when he scalded himself by reaching up for a boiling kettle or saucepan, but his family will know that it scarred him for life – as did picking his chicken pox scabs.

The next accident came early in 1947. I don’t remember how he did it, but he managed to break his leg in our garden at 29a Stanton Road. Photographic evidence and an explanation of our attire appears in ‘Pink Petticoats’. I rushed upstairs to tell our mother. “Don’t be silly. He can’t have”, she replied, and yanked him to his feet to find that he had. There was no National Health Service in those days. The treatment was paid for from public funds because Dad was still in the army.

Ten years later, Mum stands with Jacqueline on the exact spot from which she tried to heave Chris to his feet. The steps behind continued up to our kitchen where we spent much of our indoor time. The kitchen range was similar to the one illustrated in ‘Then The Tableau Spoke’, highlighted above. We lived beside the railway which we could see clearly from the kitchen window and collect train numbers and the names of Pulman carriages drawn by steam engines. Always eager to “get down”, or leave the table after a meal, the rule was that we had to wait for six trains to go by before we could do so.

As mentioned in the also highlighted ‘Pink Petticoats’, Chris and I spent several months with our maternal grandparents in Durham while Mum was struggling with Jacqueline’s gestation.

We all attended St Mary’s Primary School in Russell Road, Wimbledon. It is essentially my experiences that are related in ‘Maureen Potter And Plasticene‘, but, although my brother was far too well behaved to warrant any of the punishments described, he would undoubtedly have witnessed their administration.

In those days it was a mortal sin to miss mass on a Sunday. Mum was not a Catholic and Dad was not practising. We, however, were expected to do so because our mother had vowed on her wedding day that any offspring should be raised Catholic. We were therefore sent off alone to church every Sunday with a penny each for the collection plate, before continuing to Auntie Gwen’s for breakfast. We had, however, worked out that the crucial section was the stretch between the reading of the gospel and the distribution of communion. We would therefore arrive late and leave early so we had fulfilled the compulsory requirement and wouldn’t go to Hell. What we didn’t know was that my class teacher was also a member of the congregation and had spotted our little scam. She tackled me about this at school, which seemed a bit sneaky to us.

We travelled to school by trolley bus along Worple Road. Often we would spend our bus fare on such as a bag of broken biscuits from the old style grocers in Wimbledon Broadway, and walk home. It was on one such perambulation that we climbed into a wasp’s nest.

We made dens on waste land beside the railway path that ran beside Wimbledon and Raynes Park. There is more about this and about our childhood home in ‘Cricket In The Street’.

As we became old enough we travelled further afield, and would walk up to Cannon Hill Common attempting to catch newts.

Chris followed me to Wimbledon College where he excelled at maths and cricket. It was here that we learned some of our basic differences. I really struggled with new concepts such as algebra and geometry with which he was happy; my fortΓ© was English.

Neither of us had played cricket before, so I may have been considered to have led the way, having started a year ahead of him. It was he, however, who spent two years in the 1st eleven while I captained the 2nd in my final year. We were both allegedly fast bowlers. Chris, although less accurate, was a great deal faster. This he achieved by swinging his delivery arm over twice. He would, no doubt, question my accuracy statement, given that his favourite sporting story concerned his feat of bowling five victims in successive balls. When I once mentioned that this was in a school practice match, Peter quipped that he had thought it was a Test Match. In the only school game in which we played against each other, he also bowled me, which was more than somewhat chastening. While on the subject I would add that he played for a short time with me for Trinity Cricket Club where his bowling was less successful, but, some 50 years later, he remained very high on the list of six hitters. The club had an annual single wicket knockout competition. Both our names are on the cup, although Chris managed it first.

I indicated earlier that Chris kept himself out of trouble at primary school. He did the same at The College. Whereas I was quite a regular recipient of stinging strokes of the ferula pictured above, my brother spent his whole career there pain free, prompting me to call him a creep.

As I understand it, women are the multi-taskers. Chris, at 17, was able to play his guitar; listen to music, not necessarily Hank Marvin or Buddy Holly; and do his homework, apparently simultaneously.

I will leave the rest of his life story in Frances’s capable hands.

This afternoon I watched the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Scotland.

For dinner tonight Jackie produced her tasty sausages in red wine; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots; and firm Brussels sprouts, with which she drank Hoegaarden whilst I opened another bottle of the Malbec and drank some of it.


  1. So enjoyed this history and reading about the shenanigans. Not that long ago but it seems like a dispatch from another era. Despite the hard times—phew, what an understatement!—it also sounds as though it were a joyful time.

  2. Wonderful story. I too was raised Catholic in very similar circumstances but when the church forbade my mother to attend my first communion my father left the Catholic church and took the family with him. I did have my first communion and my mother did attend. Shortly after that we became members of the United Church. I really enjoyed hearing about you and your brother and the sibling rivalry that went on.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story, Derrick. I had a brother, as well as my younger son, who was disaster prone like your brother Chris. Your parents did well in surviving those post-war years.

  4. What a wonderful story – with such precious pictures.
    With so many interesting stories!

    – The photo of your ‘heady, optimistic’ street party look so happy and community spirited; how different from those that were planned for the summer of 2020, but then had to be scaled down to Covid-safe celebrations last May.

    How clever your mother is, to have made your beautifully tailored outfits. Women, and Chris, are multi taskers!!
    A fitting way to celebrate her talents, this Mother’s day.

  5. What a wonderful thing Frances is doing!
    Derrick, I am honored to get to know your brother through your love of him and your memories of him. πŸ™‚
    The photos are so wonderful! The two of you were such cute little fellows! πŸ™‚
    I enjoyed going to the blogposts you linked and reading and looking at the photos. I must admit I got teary-eyed. πŸ™‚
    Again, Happy Mother’s Day to Jackie, your Mum, and all of the mums in your family! πŸ™‚
    (((HUGS))) πŸ™‚

  6. Quite the rebel child! Derrick. Maybe clever is a better word. Or clever rebel? We often ducked out after communion. Usually when a roast was left in the oven. At least, that was the excuse πŸ˜‰ What wonderful photos, too <:

  7. I am truly impressed and a bit envious of your and your family’s efforts to preserve the family history, going back to seventeenth century. Wonderful, colorful, and very warm memories of your brother, Derrick,

  8. I enjoyed reading about the memories of your times growing up with your brother Chris. So, he was the accident-prone one and you were the naughty one?

    1. I suppose that is a succinct summary, Liz. πŸ™‚ I prefer to think of myself as a risk-taker on occasion. However, I could probably chronicle the times the risks didn’t pay off. Thanks very much.

        1. The ill disciplined attacks in front of the class by angry teachers were far worse than the more painful regulated administration by a master who had no link with the offence

          1. Unfortunately, I witnessed that when I was in the fifth grade. The teacher had it in for this one boy, and all he had to do was look at her cross-eyed, and she’d haul him up to the front of the room, bend him over a desk and wail on him with a yardstick. Just awful.

  9. Family history’s are wonderful pieces of nostalgia to have Derrick, and I smiled with you throughout your lovely article today…

  10. It’s such a gift to have these photos and memories, Derrick. We had few photos as there was no camera in the household, so I when I get stuck today, I rely a lot of the memories of my siblings

    1. Thanks very much, Cynthia. You may know that I have given each of my children multiple albums of their childhood pictures. My mother has been the family historian although, at almost 99, her recollections are now less reliable.

  11. A little younger than you but I remember ration books well.My older brother and I tried to cheat and told the shopkeeper that we had permission to use the book to buy sweets. She gave them to us, no coupons required.

    Thank goodness for the National Health service. Just like Chris I also scalded my leg. The old. black range fireplace with shelves housed the kettle just boiled, my brother reaching for a pencil knocked the kettle over onto my leg.I’m still scarred but more noticible when sun tanned.

    1. We all have similar memories that resonate. I have been pleased to resurrect them. If I remember rightly sweets were the last to have rationing relaxed. The war years (and later Fluoride) must have saved our teeth. Did you ever play shops with the obsolete ration books?

      1. I don’t think I did play shops with them.
        I remember having baby teeth removed. After leaving school at fifteen I worked for a dentist, unlike today, I trained on the job.

        Monday Morning was children’s anaesthetic day and the waiting room was packed for the whole of the morning.

        I think that experience saved my permanent teeth!

        I once nearly set fire to the place when I went home for the weekend after earlier putting all the white towelling bibs into a massive boiler. I forgot I’d put them on to boil!

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed your stay here and am sure that Chris’s family will as well. So nice of you to fill in–and to have written so many pieces as well.

    1. When asked for this, I was grateful that there was so much already on the blog, Jill. That celebratory photo is one of my best favourites. Thank you very much.

  13. I enjoyed this bit of family history, Derrick! I am sorry you lost Chris back in 2014. It is wonderful that Frances is nearing completion of his work. May he rest in love.

    1. Thank you so much, Lavinia. He was taken ill on his way to visit our new home, but we had a chance to visit a few times in his last months. Other bloggers have contributed details to the history.

  14. What a delightful short history. It struck many parallels with my own times but we lived so far away from town – 25 miles – that there are bits that are very foreign.

  15. Family history and old photos have become much more important to me over the years, and I greatly enjoyed reading and seeing some of yours! You brought back the memory of the wringer washing machine with the rollers we had in my maternal grandmother’s basement in Washington DC where I was born. Sometime in the 50s, my mom got her thumb caught in the rollers, and her thumbnail was always a bit deformed after that. It was later that I decided to help by adding extra laundry detergent to the agitating tub resulting in the basement being filled with soap suds and bubbles. I hadn’t thought of that in years.

    1. It is great to bring back those similar memories to others. Chris was young enough for his flattened finger to expand quite quickly. Thanks very much, JoAnna

  16. That was a fascinating trip to the century past holding in its bosom your childhood and teenage days. The vivid descriptions aided by those photographs have brought those moments to us like cinematic vignettes. I felt so sorry for Chris who appears to have been a magnet for mishaps. But at the same time, he was smart enough to walk through the primary school unscathed. I’ve never heard of any other fast bowler swinging his arm twice before the delivery and I am sure he’d have spooked many a batsman! The story of making of young catholics is hilarious too. Thanks for this edition of the time machine.

    1. It was good to do, Uma. I was surprised that so much was already on the blog. The ball arrived later than you thought, yet was consequently faster than you imagined. Thank you very much, too.

  17. Memories need to be recorded and photographs annotated. In this digital world much is being lost that will be useful in the future – all my ‘stiffy disks’ are now useless repositories of who knows what anymore! We too had a mangle – I had fingers pinched in it more than once, letting out a loud yell each time. At our farm we used sad irons heated up on the coal stove and had a (not very effective) paraffin fridge. Your memories have unleashed a barrage of mine!

  18. A wonderfully nostalgic piece, Derrick! Love the photos of your childhood and stories of the past. I am sure the memoir will be a family treasure!

  19. While read your post some old memories came up to my mind. My family lived beside the railroad and for me it was three sounds necessary to fall asleep. They were locomotive whistles, clock ticking on the wall and radio. If some of these sounds disappeared I could not sleep. πŸ™‚

  20. Very interesting biography of your brother. I found the group photo at the start of your post fascinating: the way children dressed in 1945. It took me a while to work out what was on some of the heads.

  21. I just loved this post. But it made me sad too. Will our children have such vivid emories of their lives, or will the memories be more ‘beige’?

  22. PS My mom and I went through England (Liverpool to London) when we went from Canada to Belgium in 1949 to see her remaining family there. I was 12, and can recall seeing the obvious signs of what your country had gone though in that recent war, and I also remember the very rubbery chicken we were served on the train, and the greasy croquettes in our overnight lodgingds in London.

  23. A wonderful post full of rabbit holes, which I am still exploring. It occurred to me that your brother’s later avoidance of pain administered at school may have come about after so many salutary lessons as a youngster.

Leave a Reply