A Knight’s Tale (24: Enter Gwen To The Rescue)

Please understand that not all my primary school teachers were sadistic beasts.

Miss Downs was adamant that we should read three books a week.  Consequently, dutifully, if not religiously, Mum took us on a regular weekly trip to Wimbledon Public Library, where these treasure troves were to be found.  Thus my teacher and my mother nurtured a lifetime love of books.

Every Sunday morning my brother Chris and I would attend Mass in the Church of the Sacred Heart on Edge Hill and go on for breakfast at

Auntie Gwen’s on the first floor of 9 Latimer Road. 

Apart from my parents, it is Auntie Gwen I have to thank for surviving my infancy.  One evening when she was babysitting Chris and me, I am told, we decided to play in an upright roll of lino.  Somehow or other I managed to get my head stuck in the top of it.  There was I, hanging by my chin, my body dangling in the tied up tube.  There was Chris, screaming his head off (he must have feared I was about to be decapitated).  Enter Gwen to the rescue.  She heaved the roll onto the floor and extracted the gasping child.  Apparently I had actually stopped breathing and turned blue.

When we were very small she would cycle every Saturday to our home in Raynes Park bearing goodies.  I remember eagerly awaiting sets of transfers which could be applied to paper or skin.  They were very flimsy and had to be oh so carefully soaked off in water.  An example was a set of butterflies.

As we became old enough to travel alone we would visit her every Sunday morning for the above mentioned meal. Maybe that’s where I get my penchant for fry-ups from.  After a full English we dunked so many digestive biscuits into our coffee that you could stand a spoon up in it.  When Gwen could no longer do the entertaining I visited her for a weekly chat well into my adulthood. 

She kept every present I ever gave her.

Gwen never lost her marbles, but I did base my illustration for a magazine article depicting an elderly person confronted with a confusing array of medication on the first photograph above.

This aunt was my godmother, not the proprietor of a greasy spoon, as working men’s cafés are fondly termed.  Dad, at that time, was not a practising Catholic, and Mum was not one at all, but on marriage in a Catholic church, had been required to vow that any children would be brought up in that faith. Gwen had been the first member of the Protestant Knights to convert to Roman Catholicism. She was followed by my paternal grandfather, and then my father at the age of eight. 

In our case ‘attend Mass’ was a loose description.  When we discovered that it was only if you missed the crucial parts of the ceremony each Sabbath that you were condemned to Hell, we started stretching it a bit.  We would sneak in just before the Gospel and slide out just after Communion.  What we didn’t know was that Miss Downs was part of the congregation.  It was therefore something of a shock when we were summoned to her room at school to be asked to explain our behaviour and to be given a verbal what for.  This seemed pretty bad luck to us, and a bit out of order. The long arm of the school was everywhere, but hers wasn’t one that beat us. 

The Church of The Sacred Heart, Edge Hill, is the one I attended throughout my childhood.