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 forté 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.