The Hornby Train Set

Today I walked to Kingston to meet Geoff Austin (see 22nd. June post) at the Canbury Arms.  Jackie had used Google Earth last night to find the route for me.  She is very good at taking the walk through locations, and I was amazed at the pin-sharp pictures showing me the roads I needed to walk down, and picking out the landmarks like Wickes at the corner of London and Gordon Roads.  Taking the Martin Way route, I crossed Bushy Road into Sidney Road, turning left at the end and on to Raynes Park Station; went under the bridge and along to Coombe Lane from which it is more or less straight through to Kingston; arriving at the pub with an hour to spare.

Almost opposite Raynes Park Station still lies, now undergoing refurbishment, the establishment where Bob Mitchell treated the young Jackie and me to fish and chips after cricket matches and drinks in the Raynes Park Tavern.  Bob was a free spirit who enlivened matches more by his antics than by his cricketing skills.  He was instrumental in my one and only loss of temper on a sportsfield.  I once won the club single wicket competition.  This is a knock out event where members play short individual matches against each other with their colleagues doing the fielding.  In one of the earlier rounds I was up against Charlie Moulder (see 13th. July).  Bob decided to even things up a bit.  When I had scored just one run, as umpire, he gave me out caught by the wicket keeper.  My bat had been nowhere near the ball.  I’d like to say that I was a little upset.  Unfortunately that would be dishonest.  I was in a blinding rage, especially as Bob laughed when I walked past him.  Normally I opted to bowl up the hill at Cottenham Park, because that would slow me down and give me more control.  This time, I knew I would have to bowl as fast as, or even faster than, I could.  So I chose to come down the hill.  Still fuming, I scared the life out of a really very nice man, tearing down with my hair, at that time halfway down my back, streaming in the wind.  The first ball knocked out two of Charlie’s stumps.  Bob was quite unashamed in acknowledging what he had done.  Jackie, on the other hand, was very ashamed of me.  Mr. Cool had got too hot under the collar and behaved disgracefully.  Now I’ve grown up a bit, I too, am ashamed of that performance.  Bob was an incorrigible ladies’ man.  When, in his nineties, a couple of years ago, he arrived at the club’s 60th. Anniversary Dinner with a very attractive young woman in attendance, the story was that she was his carer.  But we all knew better.  We knew that our Bob had not lost his touch.

Wimbledon College Playing Fields 8.12Along Coombe Lane this morning I passed Wimbledon College Playing Fields.  We always walked there from the school in Edge Hill to play rugby and cricket.  It was here that Tom McGuinness, mentioned on 10th. July, scored what I believe to be his only try.  Tom’s eyesight was so bad that he could never see what was going on.  One afternoon he found the rugby ball in his hands.  ‘What shall I do?’, he asked me.  ‘Run for the line’, I replied.  ‘Where is it?’ enquired Tom.  ‘That way’, I indicated.  Tom sped for the line, fell over, and touched down.  No-one saw him.  The fact that we were playing in dense fog had levelled this particular playing field.

I could tell a schoolboy cricketing story or two, but perhaps the one above is enough for Judith’s tolerance in any one post.

The grandeur of the houses along Coombe Lane West, and those on the private roads off it, contrasted with the more humble dwellings and shops in Norbiton, where now live a number of people from Korea.  Among those catering for the incomers, there are still traditional shops near Norbiton Station, including a butcher’s with a novel way of announcing its presence.  The trails of pigeon droppings crossing the road on either side of the railway bridge caught my eye.  I decided they had been made by rows of birds perched on the top of the bridge, rather than one unfortunate with the runs.  I thought it best not to look up.

Passing Warren Road, one of the private ones mentioned above, I reflected on ‘Shern’ children’s home which was once there.  (On 25th. August I post a correction to this.  ‘Shern’ was in fact in New Malden.  It was the baby nursery in this location.)  On the far side of Norbiton are council estates which housed many of the families who were clients of Kingston Children’s Department, as it was in the ’60s, before the Seebohm Report led to the creation of Social Services Departments.  Whilst it would not be appropriate for me to publicise any of their stories, I have fond and clear memories of those who were my responsibility in my first employment as an Assistant Child Care Officer.  With time out for training, I was there six years.  During my first summer every one of the boys resident at ‘Shern’ was on my caseload.  They thought it strange that on each visit I would only see one of them.  Eventually they grasped that this was my way of emphasising the importance of each individual.  This, of course, meant that I made rather more calls to this establishment than was the norm.

Whilst waiting for Geoff I spoke to Louisa on the telephone.  Yesterday she had published on Facebook a photograph of Jessica and Imogen playing with a Hornby Train Set the girls had found in their garage.  This antique toy, in full working order, was still in its original box.  Winding it up and setting it going was giving hours of pleasure.  Suddenly the parents of little boys were asking if they could come and play with my granddaughters.  Louisa had asked me if the train set had been mine.  Well, I suppose I am antique enough.  I knew it was not mine, and that it had been a find of Grannie Jess’s.  Yesterday I hadn’t been sure whether this had been in a car boot sale or on a skip.  Overnight I had recollected that this treasure had been salvaged from a skip outside a house that was being cleared.

Geoff and I had an enjoyable time over lunch reminiscing about our days in Westminster; a couple of games I had played for his cricket club; and rugby at the Old Whitgiftians.  He told me about his period in 2011 as Deputy Mayor of Kingston, during which he officiated at 202 events.  I was shown a selection of some of the more interesting photographs in which he and his wife, Sheila, generally had smiles on their faces.  As a Councillor, this long time resident of Kingston was required to research much of the town’s history.  He was able to tell me that the residential development on the opposite corner of Elm and Canbury Park Roads to the pub lay on the site of the former Hawker factory.  This was where all the First World War Sopwith Camel airplanes had been built.  By the outbreak of the Second World War the old factory could not cope with the now larger planes that were required, so the enterprise was moved further down the road.  But no-one told the Germans, which is why the area suffered heavy bombing.  The propeller from a Sopwith Camel is mounted in the grounds belonging to the residences.  Anyone wishing to seek more information on this should visit

Miraculously the Canbury Arms survived.  It was therefore able to provide us with lunch of sweetcorn and tarragon soup followed by beef and mushroom pie, chips, and salad.  We each made the same excellent choice, and drank a local brew called ‘Naked Ladies’.  Neither of us could manage a sweet.

The K5 bus which took me back to Morden is a ‘Hail & Ride’ facility running once an hour.  This means that, on certain sections of the route, you just hail it like a taxi, or, if on board, ring the bell and it stops for you.  It is one of Geoff’s achievements as a Councillor that this threatened service has been retained.

Cottenham Park

On another cloudy morning I set off for Cottenham Park in what estate agents now call West Wimbledon. 

In Maycross Avenue I met another elderly lady. I didn’t attempt to engage Dolly in conversation. 

Further along I spotted another effort at accommodating both pansies and the motor car.

Arriving at Raynes Park, I walked up Amity Grove, past number 76, where Jackie and I had shared our first home together, and the Copleston’s house at 112. 

The play area in Cottenham Park now occupies the site where I lost my fourteenth summer.

(Please bear with what follows, Judith).

I was playing cricket with some friends and no-one wanted to be wicket keeper.  As a bowler I was no wicket keeper.  However I nobly volunteered.  I stood far too upright and far too close to the stumps.  A wide ball came down the leg side (the side near the batsman’s legs, where it is difficult even for a more agile player to see the ball).  I lost sight of it.  Smack!  A full-bodied strike straight off the bat sent the ball into my left eye.  For the next three weeks the ball was not the only thing I lost sight of.  Home in bed I was suddenly beset with excruciating toothache in that eye.  In the days when GPs actually made home visits in the evening, our lovely Dr. Gallaghan, who worked himself so hard that he died of a heart attack in his forties, came out to see me.  ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ he asked, having placed one hand over my right eye.  ‘How am I expected to know?’ I replied, ‘my eye is all swollen and closed.’  ‘It isn’t’, was his response.  I still feel the cold sweat I immediately broke into on that warm summer evening.

Then it was straight to the Royal Eye Hospital in Surbiton where I spent the best part of the summer of ’56.  Doris Day was top of the hit parade with ‘Qu’est sera sera?’.  I wasn’t allowed to read, and so had to make do with the radio and the salacious comments of the man in the next bed involving me and the nurses.  I didn’t know what he meant, but I did learn the song off by heart.   As a child, I should have been in the children’s ward, but the beds weren’t big enough for me.  For a few days, when the men’s ward became overcrowded, I was decanted to where I belonged.  A box for my feet was placed at the foot of the bed.  My feet were still attached to my legs.

When I came out of hospital, Gurney, the boy who had hit the ball, said: ‘You haven’t missed anything’.  I could have killed him.  The affected eye was always weaker, and, some fifteen years ago, I finally had an operation, for a cataract.  Now it’s fine.  I was first given specs at the age of eighteen.  The optician told me that by the time I was sixty I wouldn’t need them any more.  Rather rashly not taking into consideration that he was himself about that age, I said: ‘When I’m sixty I won’t care’.  I felt rather embarrassed.  And, of course, when I got to be sixty I did care.

The year after this I proudly became the opening bowler for Garrick House Cricket Club, which was soon to merge with Trinity (Battersea, now Oxley) Cricket club who used to play there.

With my sandals squelching across the sodden outfield I reflected that there can’t have been much play there this year.

On the North side of the park lies Melbury Gardens, where I watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, on a miniscule television set. (See post of 27th. May.)

The modern sports pavilion, boasting showers and a bar, now lies on the site of the small hut which passed for a changing room.  After the game, we would wash in a bowl of cold water, always allowing the oposition first go; then it was off to the Raynes Park Tavern for a jovial evening.  It was into this hostelry’s small private bar that, at fifteen, I sneaked for my first half pint of beer.  I didn’t like it much, but persevered, for the sake of male cameraderie.  In those days Jackie helped the late Eileen Oxley; wife of Stanley, one of the three founders, in whose honour the club was renamed after his death; prepare the teas and do the scoring.

On the South side of the recreation ground lies Cambridge Gardens, which, on one memorable afternoon when I had first opened the batting for my club, I had peppered with boundaries.  The despairing bowler said to Charlie Moulder, who was umpiring, ‘he bats like a number eleven (the last man in, who wasn’t usually much good with the bat)’.  ‘He is a number eleven’, said Charlie.  ‘And I keep feeding him’, bemoaned the bowler.

In my late teens, night after night, I played cricket with Mick Copleston.  As we batted until we were out, continuing our innings the next evening, Mick would bat for weeks.  Except when it was raining and we played billiards in his front room.  He beat me at that too.

Today, walking back down Durham road, I passed the Ashby family home.  They moved to London from Peterborough some time in the 1950s when we attended Wimbledon College.  Chris and I were delegated by the masters at the school to look after the Ashby boys.  After travelling under the Raynes Park Station railway arch I overheard a couple having an argument.  ‘I ain’t fucking walking’, wailed the man.  As a 163 bus, which would have taken me home to Links Avenue, passed me on Grand Drive, I rather thought he had a point.  Continuing on alongside a playing field off this road I saw some boys settling themselves to play cricket.  I fell in with one of their mothers who was walking her dog.  Together we negotiated the soggy footpath.

This afternoon we were again treated to summer refreshment in the shape of a very windy, very heavy, rainstorm.  Jackie drove us to Hampshire in the early evening and we dined at Eastern Nights before going on to The Firs.