A Knight’s Tale (31: Mugging & More)

One day when still in primary school I managed to get lost on Wimbledon Common with my friend Tom McGuinness.  We were forbidden to do this trip on our own. Because we couldn’t find our way home, I did not return until 9 p.m., by which time my parents had involved the police in a search.  Had we had a dog then my dinner would have been in it.  I was sent straight to bed without a meal, but fortunately Mum relented and brought me a delicious tray of home-cooked food.  Somehow that beats breakfast in bed.

It was among these trees that I was subjected to my first mugging.  I was a rather large ten year old and had beaten a fifteen year old in a school playground fight not long before.  I had admonished this lad for bullying a friend of mine.  He had therefore challenged me to a fight at lunchtime.  With considerable trepidation I had, at the appointed time, been led into the centre of a ring of what seemed to be the whole school.  I can still hear the cries of “Fight, fight”, and feel the pushes of the excited audience whenever I stepped back a bit.  Like all bullies, he was a coward, and collapsed as soon as I fought back.  I was, however, no match for the three teenagers in the Wimbledon Common wood who sat on me and searched my pockets.  This time I had ventured out on my own. Fortunately I had no money.

I never had another playground contest, although I was prevailed upon to join the boxing club at Wimbledon College.  Not actually being interested I used the fact that my parents couldn’t afford the subscription as an excuse to decline.  Unfortunately I was then told I would not have to pay.  I knocked someone out in training and that was the end of that.  Some time afterwards, a boy called Rickards, much smaller, but very handy with his fists, who kept a list of those he could beat up, decided it was my turn for the treatment.  I offered no resistance, and was duly beaten up.  I still remember the acute shame, but no way was I ever going to hit another boy.  Mohammad Ali was much more successful when standing with his arms hanging down; perhaps he had more nimble footwork.

Some thirty odd years after the attack on the common I was walking from my counselling room in Harrow Road, W9, along Portnall Road, when I noticed a left trainer with a leg in it very close to my own left leg.  The next thing I knew was that someone was sitting on my back-pack which was on my shoulders.  I also carried a bag of books.  Although I remained standing I began to feel myself losing consciousness.  I was aware that an arm was around my throat and I imagine pressure was being applied to the relevant point in my neck.  It was not unpleasurable, rather like the moment of succumbing to gas and air at the dentist’s.  Nevertheless I realised I’d better shift the arm, which I managed to do, just as I felt another pair of hands  ferreting in the back pocket of my trousers.  By then I was down on one knee, still clutching my bag of books.  Remaining rather dazed, I rose, and turned to face my assailants, who decided to run off into the warren that was the Mozart Estate.  In those days I would have stood a fair chance of catching them had I not been too dazed to run.  Instead I walked after them, which was not much use.  I passed a middle-aged man leaning against a skip.  When I asked if he had seen two hooded young men he looked at me with hazy eyes, and said: ‘Want some hash, man?’.  ‘What am I doing here?’, I thought.  It was not until afterwards that I realised that the winder of my Longines wristwatch had gouged a hole in the back of my hand.  Perhaps that was what they were after.  Fortunately it has a very strong bracelet.  All they managed to take was a train ticket for my return journey to Newark.  Unless one of them was keen on a one-way journey to the Midlands, I imagine they were rather disappointed.  For about a month thereafter I retraced that route hoping to come across my attackers again.  Eventually I realised how stupid that was and put it behind me.  I still have the watch.

Stinging Choice

We began a dull, humid, day with a shopping trip to Lidl, followed by a forest drive.

By the time the choppy waves of the open sea splashing over the quayside reached the sheltered harbour at Mudeford they were but ripples upon the dirty grey sandy shore.

Silhouetted pines with gnarly roots separate the two expanses of water.

Canoes are stacked and boats moored on the more sheltered side.

A few visitors with young children lingered on the green, now the older offspring have returned to school.

A patient dog sat waiting quietly for its walk.

A yarn decoration with a seaside theme adorns the oldest red pillar box in the Bournemouth area, which dates from 1856, the first on our mainland, following a trial in Jersey, had been introduced in Carlisle in 1853. The penny post had only begun in 1840.

‘Anthony Trollope, now more famed as a novelist, was, in the 1850s working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Part of his duties involved him travelling to Europe where it is probable that he saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium.

He proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain and a trial on the Channel Islands was approved. Four cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. None of the first boxes used on Jersey survive. It is possible that one still in use on Guernsey together with another in our collection, originally sited in Guernsey, date from the 1853 extension to the trial.’ (postal museum.org)

At Avon Canada geese flocked on the river and on the fields, beside which I enjoyed an engaging conversation with a friendly young woman called Ali, who was conducting her own handwritten survey and confirmed my identification of the birds.

In London Lane a field is occupied by a pair of goats I have photographed before. One today was doing its utmost to reach stinging nettles outside the electrified fence. In the process it had chewed to the bare wire, which will be clear from the first picture when enlarged by accessing the gallery with a click. I suppose one sting is like any other to a goat.

Just outside Burley, a group of ponies were enjoying the slightly cooler weather with its lack of flies. One had gathered gorse and bracken headgear.

This evening we dined on pork steaks and chipolata sausages on a bed of leaks; boiled new potatoes; crunchy carrots and cauliflower; tender runner beans and spinach, with which Jackie drank more of the Pinot Grigio and I drank more of the Dao.

Spice Cottage

Early this afternoon I posted https://derrickjknight.com/2021/09/08/a-knights-tale-30-the-heyday-of-local-cinema/

Afterwards Jackie drove us to Becky and Ian’s home in Southbourne where we enjoyed catch-up conversation until it was time to move on to Spice Cottage in Westbourne where the four of us dined on really excellent food with friendly, efficient service. My choice was spicy Naga Tandoori King Prawn; flavoursome egg fried rice; and a perfect plain paratha which I shared with Jackie. We shared onion bhajis, and saag paneer. Jackie and Becky both drank Pinot Grigio Blush, while Ian and I drank Kingfisher. The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but we brought our own and they provided glasses. It was clear that most other diners have been regulars for some time. One gentleman keeps his own drinks in the restaurant fridge.

A Knight’s Tale (30: The Heyday Of Local Cinema)

On August 5th 2012, in my house in Sigoules, my friend Don and I spoke of cinema.  I had been a regular cinema-goer during my teens in the pre-television era.  What we found we both had in common was weekly visits as small children to Saturday Morning Pictures, not far away from each other in South London.  I went with Chris to the Odeon, Wimbledon, and Don attended the Granada, North Cheam. 

An early entertainer was Tony Hancock who, in ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, had us glued to the radio.  He allegedly lived in Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.  My friend, who lived in Cheam for twenty years, could find no matching location.  The only reference to East Cheam he knew was a corrugated iron hut housing a religious establishment including East Cheam in its title.  Hancock followed his radio series with one on television.  The most famous episode is ‘The Blood Donor’, in which he bemoans having to part with ‘very nearly an armful’.  As Don is a few years older than me, our trips to the cinema were not quite contemporary, but near enough.

I still remember the words of :  ‘Here we are again, Happy as can be, All good pals, And jolly good company’, in which the MC led crowds of excited children at the start of the proceedings.  This would be accompanied by an organ which rose from the orchestra pit.  There followed a programme of cartoons, comedies, and Westerns.  Cartoons would be Disney or Looney Tunes.  Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton were the funny men.

(Photo: sensesofcinema.com)

I remember Buster Keaton being sped along on the front of a steam train.  Don’s recollection is of Harold Lloyd being suspended from the hands of Big Ben.  These men performed all their own stunts without the benefit of modern technology.  Big Ben must have been a made-up model.  The Westerns offered a different thrill.  I particularly remember Kit Carson.  We would be treated to twenty minutes of a serialised film starring the cowboy hero which would leave us all on tenterhooks until the following week.  He would be left surrounded by Indians on the warpath, or tied up by villains.  We had to wait seven long days to see how he would extricate himself.  Other such stars were Roy Rogers and Trigger; the singing Gene Autrey; and The Lone Ranger and Tonto.  Magical stuff for children who had no screen at home.  We all vociferously joined in.

Later, Don and I, still unaware of each other, would visit the newsreel cinemas at the London Terminal Stations.  We would watch Pathe news covering the previous week.  These eventually became cartoon cinemas and those offering subtitled foreign films.  My venue was Waterloo station in my early commuting years. 

Don’s story of a recent visit to the theatre in Bungay where the audience consisted of eight people reminded me of Charlie Chaplin.  Just after the film ‘Chaplin’ came out it reached Lincolnshire.  This was a biopic, starring Robert Downey Jr., brilliantly playing the acrobatic comic.  Jessica and I drove out to the small town of Sleaford to see the performance.  It was showing at the Odeon.  Not one that has been split into several cinemas with multiple screens.  One of the huge, possibly earlier music hall, establishments, which were either adapted or built in the brief heyday of the local cinema.  There was a staff of two.  A very tall gentleman, who must have been in his eighties, ushered us to the ticket desk in the vast foyer, which was serviced by an equally elderly woman we presumed to be his wife.  We bought our tickets and entered the auditorium.  Our usher was waiting inside where he tore our tickets in half, gravely presenting us with our respective sections, whilst retaining the others.  Before the show began we established that we were an audience of twelve.  There was plenty of room and it was very cold.  At the interval a beam lit up the ice cream girl.  As you’ve probably guessed, this was our ticket seller.  The ice creams were a bit hard, and, for a while, beyond the capabilities of the wooden spoons.  Perhaps the vendor had mentioned the temperature to her colleague, for he came round and asked us if we would like the heating on.  Naturally we all would.  He disappeared, and returned with a two-bar electric fire which he placed in the centre of one of the side aisles.  It was an excellent film and and a most entertaining experience.  Probably a retirement project.

Another relic of the heyday of the cinema is the Granada, Tooting, in South West London. In that brief period of a few decades it showed films in a splendid setting with three or four thousand seats, and ornate boxes in tiers high above the stalls.  A Grade I listed Art Deco style building, it is now what has been termed ‘the finest bingo hall in the land’, home to Gala Bingo Club. Many years ago I attended there my only bingo session with my Auntie Stella.  I fell asleep during the proceedings.

Back in the early 1950s, I discovered ‘Push Bar To Open’, which was the sign accompanying the emergency cinema exits. One afternoon, as I left, the door would not close properly. This phenomenon was always worth investigating in order to gain free access.

Another less savoury aspect of this form of entertainment was that if you were on your own you risked a man with a raincoat across his knees moving into the seat beside you. A hand would then caress your thigh. You would then get up smartly and occupy a seat as far away as possible.

A Dazzled Spider

With our dry heat now reaching 30C we carried out watering this afternoon before retreating indoors where I posted: https://derrickjknight.com/2021/09/07/a-knights-tale-29-early-interviews/ ,

read more of Dickens’s Our Mutual friend and scanned the next five of Charles Keeping’s Inimitable illustrations.

‘The objectionable Sloppy’

‘She folded her hand round Lizzie’s neck, and rocked herself on Lizzie’s breast’

‘Riderhood looked amazedly from his visitor to his daughter’

‘Limehouse Hole’

‘Betty Higden gravely shook her head’

Early this evening as we sat drinking water and Diet Coke on the decking the unrelenting sun beat down so hard that all was silent.

A wood pigeon confused its claws with fleur-de-lys.

Sunlight dazzled a spider which dropped its dangling prey;

after which Jackie photographed it on its trapeze.

This evening we dined on pork shoulder steaks; tasty gravy; fried onions and mushrooms; crisp Yorkshire puddings; boiled new potatoes; firm carrots and cauliflower, with which neither of us imbibed.

A Knight’s Tale (29: Early Interviews)

In the summer of 1952, I spent a considerable amount of time in the public swimming baths at Latimer Road in Wimbledon. It was there 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.

Speaking recently with my sister Elizabeth, we realised that a visit by our great aunts Mabel and Evelyn to our home in Raynes Park, followed by individual invitations to tea, was probably a series of interviews resulting in Dad’s inheritance of Mabel’s house in Wimbledon.

In 1953 I was to experience another life-changing interview. Having passed the eleven plus examination I was entitled to attend a grammar school. Admission to the Catholic Wimbledon College, pictured above during my time there, required getting through another test. This was an interview with Fr Wetz, one of the three Jesuit priests from the school whose obituaries I was later to read in The Times. The only exchange I actually remember is the sporting one. I, who had never played any formally organised game in my short life, was asked which sports I liked best. Knowing the school’s bent, I replied “rugby”. “Oh”, was the response. “Where have you played that?”. “With my brother and sister”. I lied lamely. I must have been marked up for quick thinking.

On 22nd January 1965, the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was to appoint Anthony Crosland Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her biography published in 1982, Susan Crosland wrote that her husband had told her “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales, and Northern Ireland”. I will be ever grateful that I finished my period of education long  enough before he succeeded. My schooling ended earlier in 1960, when the result of the trial of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ meant that it would be possible for the Crosland quotation to be printed in full. I have no doubt that copies would have been widely circulated by those boys attending later that year.

The book, by D.H. Lawrence, was published by Penguin Books who were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. The verdict, delivered on 2 November 1960, was “not guilty” and resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it was the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”.

Someone nicked my copy, so I took this image from the many on the internet.

Refurbishing Garage Door Planting

This morning I posted https://derrickjknight.com/2021/09/06/a-knights-tale-28-three-monarchs-in-quick-succession/

While we continue to experience the dry scorching heat of an Indian summer, our containers need watering at least once a day. Occasionally diverting for a little dead heading I carried out this task this afternoon while Jackie

completed and photographed the progress of her refurbishment of the front garden garage door planting.

Later, while we sat on the decking with Diet Coke for Jackie and fizzy water for me, I photographed the little fuchsia Mandarin Cream; a bushy hibiscus; pretty petunias in hanging baskets and on the decking itself with lobelias, impatiens, variegated ivy, and jasmine whose flowers are over; views of the Dragon Bed and the gazebo; a stand of begonia pots; and shadows cast on a New Zealand flax.

I then stepped into the Rose Garden and photographed hydrangea Lanarth White: two different stages of Aloha, the red of which fades to pink over time; Gloriana, now too high for me to reach with secateurs; deep pink Special Anniversary; and the ever golden Absolutely Fabulous.

This evening we dined on succulent roast chicken; tasty gravy; boiled new potatoes. crunchy carrots and cauliflower; and fried mushrooms, with which Jackie drank more of the Pinot Grigio, and I drank more of the Dao.

A Knight’s Tale (28: Three Monarchs In Quick Succession)

In our classroom on the morning of 6th February 1952 we witnessed the dragon’s tears.  Miss Bryant was an extremely fearsome headmistress.  Hitherto the only tears associated with her were those of pupils who were in for it.  As I have previously indicated, being sent to Miss Bryant was to be avoided at all costs.  This time, Miss Bryant came to us.  That in itself was an event, as she toured the school with the dreadful news.  This calm, contained, diminutive, yet terrifying woman burst into our classroom in tears to announce: ‘The king is dead!’. 

I can assure you there is no more effective way to imprint an image for life on a child’s memory.  It is a sobering thought that most people alive today have known no other UK monarch than Queen Elizabeth II; and that when she ascended the throne in 1953, most of her subjects did not have a television.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown lived next door.  In sixteen years I don’t remember ever having seen either of them.  I think there was a disability involved.  Mr. Brown made Elizabeth a doll called Minnehaha.  It was the Browns’ television, I believe, which was responsible for my teenage fantasies.  No, not those fantasies.  In the twilight moments between being awake and asleep, I would hear the three discordant notes which Mum said were coming from their television.  I believe it was a closing down signal.  This led me to thinking how wonderful it would be if you could have a picture frame on your wall and a gadget that could tune in to and display in this any of the films currently being shown on any of the four cinemas Wimbledon then boasted.  We didn’t have a television and the only one I had ever seen was a small wooden cabinet bearing a postage stamp sized screen.  This was for the occasion of the coronation on 2nd June 1953 when those of us at school who didn’t have a television were billeted with those who did.  Being a tall lad I was seated at the back from whence I peered at a tiny black and white haze.  

(Photo from BBC News)

This digitally remastered image, in its wide format, sharper focus, and without parallel lines travelling up or down it, would not have been possible on the little square screen of that early TV; but I do remember a hazy something like the Queen’s head.

Little did I imagine, in that teenage dream world, what my grandchildren can now hold in the palms of their hands.

In July 2013 Hawes & Curtis in Jermyn Street, hoping to attract prospective customers to take advantage of their large reductions, featured King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson. In his brief tenure this playboy king had provoked a constitutional crisis in 1936 by his determination to marry his twice divorced lover.  In that bygone age this was acceptable neither to the Church nor the State – although 50 years on, their image was thought by this West End outfitters to be likely to draw buyers for goods past their sell-by date.  Edward, as king, was not allowed to marry his Wallis, and therefore chose to abdicate, on December 11th, and thrust his younger brother onto centre stage.  A reluctant and shy monarch, King George VI, despite a dreadful stutter, with his wife Elizabeth, saw us nobly through the war years and died at the age of 56, making way for our current long-serving queen.  Colin Firth was awarded a well earned Oscar for his spellbinding performance in the 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’ which follows King George’s struggles to find his voice.  

Queen Elizabeth II was, at 25, even younger than had been her father when she found herself at the helm.

Greener Graveyard Grass

This morning we visited Shelly and Ron with a birthday present for our brother in law. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation over coffee and biscuits, then returned home for lunch, after which we took a forest drive.

Hightown Lane begins alongside a stream at ground level. Here, as in all the other lane verges

the wild plants are fading and turning to seed.

A pair of field horses, eyes protected by masks, stood nose to tail offering each other twitching tails as further insect deterrents.

Gradually the sinuous trail winds uphill,

cleaving its way through ever steeper dappled banks bearing mossy trees with exposed talon-roots.

Residents of the properties at the top of the slopes, like many others, have laid log barriers to prevent visitors parking on their

woodland.

While one grey pony stretched over Cross Lanes Chapel graveyard wall seeking greener grass at Mockbeggar, another ambled over the crossroads. Perhaps other such equines have tilted the railings over the years.

It was the turn of donkeys with foals to hold up traffic at Ibsley.

In vain a pair of hopeful hounds sped after a hare never to be overtaken on Blissford Hill.

This evening Jackie finished last night’s Red Chilli takeaway and I enjoyed a thin pepperoni pizza with fresh salad. My wife drank more of the Pinot Grigio and I drank Torre de Ferro Reserva Dao 2017.

The One-armed Wheelbarrow

On an overcast, more sultry, morning we cleared clippings and I dead headed.

With no change in the weather this afternoon, Jackie set about chopping up the cut foliage from the plants in the front garden corner

while I transported it to the compost bins and added the more woody sections to the ever increasing heap on the Back Drive.

The hydrangea will stay.

Later, Jackie tidied the area and took

hydrangea cuttings which will be covered with plastic bags and placed in the greenhouse

My post “Five Years On”, from October 14th, 2019 shows, not only the said drive as it was when we first arrived, but also some of the fires that dispensed with the vast amount of brushwood that we cleared from the jungle that was our garden.

It is now apparent that we will need some more bonfires that will call into service the one-armed wheelbarrow in the same way as one was employed before.

Later this afternoon I posted https://derrickjknight.com/2021/09/04/a-knights-tale-27-eventually-chris-twigged/

This afternoon Elizabeth came with baskets of dirty washing to avail herself of our washing machine because hers has died. This took some hours and she shared our takeaway meal from Red Chilli. She and I finished the Comté Tolosan Rouge while Jackie started on another bottle of the Pinot Grigio Bluch.