A Knight’s Tale (27: Eventually Chris Twigged)

Sometime around 1950 when Chris and I were still at primary school, if you were prepared to walk home, in the days of small High Street shops before the advance of supermarkets such as Tesco, you could spend your bus fare on a bag of broken biscuits from the old style family grocer in The Broadway,


or, in season, a pomegranate from a fruit and veg stall in Russell Road. You ate the pomegranate seeds with a pin carried for the purpose. If you wanted an ice cream from De Marco’s alongside the stall that meant walking home two days in a row and managing not to spend the first day’s fare on the first day. 

In this picture of Russell Road from July 2012, Hawes Estate agent who collected rent from my mother throughout my childhood, is on the site of De Marco’s ice cream parlour and MoneyGram was once a shop selling holy pictures and other religious mementos.  A sign of changing priorities, no doubt. Especially in Wimbledon, now land of Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero. Wimbledon, where, in my childhood, you could smell coffee roasted and being ground in a shop along the broadway. Wimbledon, where Whittard of Chelsea now offers taste guaranteed luxury tea and coffee in Centre Court shopping mall.

Wimbledon Theatre, on our left of the picture, after several refurbishments, now styled New Wimbledon Theatre, is where, still in primary school I saw my first Shakespeare Play, details of which I cannot remember.

One day Chris and I, whilst walking home, decided to investigate Spencer Hill.

Some way up the hill, in someone’s garden, stood a tree with an inviting hollow area at the top of the trunk.  I climbed up to the gap to have a look.  Chris followed.  As I entered the bowl shape in the bole I heard a rather angry buzzing sound.  In an instant I was covered in bees.  I’d like to say I was out of there like a shot.  Unfortunately Chris was bringing up the rear and seemed to have some difficulty in understanding either ‘bees’ or ‘get down’ or all of it.  He didn’t seem to grasp that he was in my way.  I yelled incessantly until Chris twigged and leapt from the bottom branch.  I was then out of Spencer Hill and onto a bus like the shot.  Having, of course, spent my fare I had no money.  I recall the concern of the bus conductor for this snivelling wreck with his head in a swarm of bees occupying the first seat on his vehicle, and the kindness of the woman opposite who paid my fare.  Chris must have made his own way home, but I was no caring elder brother at that point.

To this day I remember sitting on a stool with Mum picking bee stings and the dead creatures out of my head.  I can still see them crawling dazedly inside my fair-isle jumper.  If ever I lose my hair and there are pitted marks in the scalp I bet they’ll be from those bees.


  1. Oh my gosh, the bee stings! I’m glad that you are OK, Derrick! The building architecture is so different from anything here, I like it.

  2. This sounds very unpleasant. I am allergic to the bacteria bees produce so if I get stung, I get blood poisoning. If I got a whole lot of beestings, I don’t think it would go well for me.

  3. That would be a traumatic experience that would last a lifetime. I am glad that you have the memories of the kind strangers and your caring mother to soften it for you.

  4. I can imagine you sitting on a bus with bees buzzing in your head and on your sweater. Wow! You must have been hurting for days! The woman who paid your fare was very kind.

    That pomegranate looks so good.

  5. My goodness!!! Raising boys who explore neighborhood trees is no easy task. Your poor Mum. In later years, I learned that my sons also walked home and saved their bus fares to buy their favorite treats. It hurt to know that, at the time, I could not afford to give them pocket money.

  6. Forgive me for laughing at your childhood trauma, Derrick. Your brother blocking your way was a bit like my big brother misunderstanding “No” and “Go.” But it involved a snowmobile, not bees.

  7. Fascinating reminiscences. I have several friends who grew up in Wimbledon during the 40s and 50s. They’ll enjoy being reminded of the streets and places you mention,Derrick.

  8. What a great remembrance you are creating, Derrick. Not only are you leaving your family and friends the memories of your childhood and ancestry, but you are leaving them the story of your current life – AND your current personality shows so well in these tales. Just wonderful stuff.

    I had to look up “twigged” of course, not being British. Always excited to learn a bit of lingo.

    The thought of your poor childhood soul, pained and miserable on that bus, breaks my heart. So glad a kind woman was there to help you out.

  9. I wonder what memories your brother would have had of that day?

    Please tell us why you had a special pin to eat the pomegranates, and where did you keep it in between purchases of that seedy fruit?

    1. He remembered it well, Yvonne, but I don’t think we spoke about how he got home – he was only 6 or 7. Just a pin out of Mum’s sewing box. Probably stuck in a lapel. We were quite versatile with them – one, hand held, made an old gramophone work. Thanks very much.

  10. This is an unforgettable and riveting account of life around Wimbledon. I can relate to the hard scrabble childhood existence and the meticulous savings for a delicacy. The lure of the hollow and what followed your misadventure must be an indelible landmark of your childhood.

  11. Yikes! 🙁 Ouch! 🙁 That’s scary! Not a good day for you that day! 🙁 I’m so glad you were not allergic to the stings.

    Your food memories you shared are lovely! I can relate. We ate those same things as kids. The pomegranates were shared from a neighbor who grew them. Our families couldn’t afford buying snacks often, but we shared fruit and veggies from fruit trees/bushes and gardens. 🙂 When we got older, us kids would save up some coins and then go spend them on something special to eat from the corner market. That market was owned by a family from Korea and we liked supporting their store/business. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  12. I remember the Hawes estate agent shop being a cafe, while I lived near Wimbledon, it was a cut above a ‘greasy spoon’ as it did have tablecloths, when I told Derrick this he then remembered walking through the tables to buy his ice cream with his saved pennies.

  13. hi derrick
    oh wow – imagining you on the bus (with a kind lady paying your fare) and then having the bee stings tended to by your mom is a powerful memory

    it is a sign of the times with religious sales stuff to the money gram –
    and i am surprised at how long starbucks has remained among us. i thought back in the late 1990s it would be a trend but they have a presence for sure – and i am
    not a huge fan either because most of what they are offer are sugar drinks (down with 75 grams of sugar or more) and yet this is what most people want – of course there are still black coffee drinkers but frappes and whatnot are the real lure there

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