This photograph was taken in my grandparents’ garden in Durham in April 1947. Chris and I had just learned of our sister Jacqueline’s birth in Wimbledon. I didn’t think the pram in the background was for Jacqueline, because it belonged to my grandmother.
Our attire needs a little explanation. Chris’s footwear was a requirement imposed by his having broken his leg some weeks earlier. Hopefully it is our night wear that we are sporting. I hasten to add that our normal clothing was being preserved against accident by Grandma who was preparing for the journey for us to take possession of the new infant. Grandma Hunter had told us that Grandpa was very particular about always wearing clean underwear in case he had an accident. It seemed to me that if you had an accident it didn’t much matter what was the original state of your underpants. Maybe she had a different mishap in mind. Chris looks a little less sure than I do. He and I were enswathed in our grandmother’s pink silk petticoats.
It was on that stay that the incident of the caterpillars occurred, so maybe Grandma was as eager as we were for us to travel down south to meet the new arrival. My brother and I enjoyed trotting out with jam jars into which to entrap all kinds of poor creatures. We weren’t knowingly cruel, for we always included a lettuce leaf or other greenery for food, and pierced holes in the lids. On this occasion it had been caterpillars that had received the treatment. When we dropped the jar in one of the corridors of the house, Grandma wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the sight of a carpet of crawling grubs fleeing grasping little fingers.
Probably the very next day we were back home in Stanton Road, SW20; I was sitting proudly in the garden with our baby sister in my arms; and the above photograph was snapped. Chris doesn’t look any more certain about things.
In this age of global warming it is worth remembering that the months of the May and June after this were hot enough to send me inside coated with tar from the melted roads in which I was playing. I expect my poor mother could never clean them. We happily amused ourselves in the street, devoid of cars in those days.
The Royal Meteorological Society report of January 1948 describes the weather of Summer 1947 as ‘a memorable one in meteorological annals. The severity of the late winter, the rain and floods of March, and the drought and warmth of late summer and autumn were all outstanding over a very long period and their occurrence in a single year unique in meteorological history. The year also included the two longest periods of easterly wind for at least 66 years, one giving severe winter conditions and the other the warmth and sunshine of August’ (https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.1477-8696.1948.tb00856.x)
We are only a small island, yet the accents are so diverse that people from one end of the country may react to those at another as if they are speaking a foreign language. I discovered this on my return from Durham when many Londoners could not understand what I was saying. I have no doubt that this affected my start in school which is to follow.