A Knight’s Tale (45: Far Less Traffic)

There were three weeks between my interview at Kingston and starting the job at Tolworth Tower. One question I had been asked was “How do you feel about driving?”. Not mentioning that I had never even sat in a driving seat, I replied that I felt it was just a way of getting from one place to another.

Jackie and I each had passed first time and each had made an error we thought would fail us, had another attempt, and got it right.  Jackie’s was a hill start.  Mine was reversing round a corner.  I still remember feeling the rear nearside wheel touching the kerb.  I stopped, came forward, straightened up, and then made a perfect turn.  I must have been advised that that was the thing to do.

Just in case anyone is thinking that I am feeling smug about having passed my test first time, especially after only three weeks at the wheel, please let me disillusion you.  Just days after I began life as an Assistant Child Care Officer in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames  (I had passed my test on the day I started the job), I used the Borough mini to drive myself from Tolworth Tower in Chessington to the Guildhall in Kingston.  I had no idea where to park or what the various coloured lines outside the building meant.  It was as far back as December 1966, so I was actually able to take the car there.  ‘I won’t be long; I’ll leave it here’, I said to myself as I left the borrowed vehicle right outside the cast iron gates.  I entered the building and secured the loan cheque for which I had come that was the purchase price of my Hillman Imp.  So far, so good.  I left the building.  The unmolested little mini was still there.  Intact.  Getting away from the awkward position in which I had left the car required at least a three point turn.  Easy peasy.  I’d done it in my test.  Reversing perfectly, turning the steering wheel appropriately, I gently approached the gate to stop and make the next turn.  Then I made my fatal mistake.  Coming to a standstill requires the use of a brake.  So I applied it.  I thought.  Actually I hit the accelerator.  And the mini hit the gate.  And stayed on it.  Stuck.  The railings having given the bonnet a suitably serrated outline.

That took a certain amount of living down.

It was soon after this that I managed to run out of petrol on Piccadilly Circus alongside the statue of Eros. I carried off a spare can in search of a refill. When I returned my car was still there. More than 50 years ago there were no yellow lines, no clamping of cars; and far less traffic.


On another wet morning I set off to visit Amerland Road in Wandsworth.  I chose the route up to Wimbledon Common, along Parkside, and down West Hill.  Apparently it is the jet stream which normally strikes north of Scotland that is responsible for our stormy summer.  Having learned this I reflected that it is hardly surprising that there is a deal of depression in those countries even nearer the pole.

In Mostyn Road a mother was guiding her small daughter on a scooter across the road.  Hearing an approaching taxi, she led the child back to the safety of the pavement.  The cab came to a halt to allow them to cross.  A painting job in Fairlawn Road in Wimbledon, begun yesterday, was nearing completion.  Whether the weather eventually put a stop to this I am not sure.

Rounding Tibbet’s Corner, Parkside had been part of a three lap twenty mile road race I had run in the late eighties.  This involved three plods up Copse Hill.  I had fallen in with another runner and we continued in tandem for most of the race.  On the third climb up the hill my companion started to flag and doubted that he would be able to finish.  I went on ahead, completed the run, backtracked, and encouraged him to reach the end.  One of the many traffic signs warning of congestion during the forthcoming Olympics is on Parkside.  And I thought we had succeeded in our bid because of improved transport facilites.  Arriving at Tibbet’s corner I was uncertain which of the major roads off the roundabout was West Hill, and asked the way at a portable burger bar.  The two men serving and their two customers had conflicting ideas as to which one it was, and even whether I needed to use the underpass.  I gambled on one and soon found myself trotting down Putney Hill, which I knew to be wrong.  Realising I should probably be taking a right turn which should take me through to West Hill, I asked a woman with a dog who confirmed this.  Walking down the correct hill I thought of Phyllis Holman Richards who had set up her Adoption Society in that street after discovering a young woman giving birth in a phone box.  I never knew Phyllis, for my time as a consultant to her Society came after her death.  However, others fondly remembered her.  Since the establishment, with its short term mother and baby home, was almost opposite Amerland Road, I wondered whether the delivery had taken place in the predecessor of the kiosk in the header picture.

Yesterday’s post describes my grief at the loss of Vivien.  Eventually this subsided somewhat, and my brother Chris and his great friend Mike Ozga took me in hand and out with them to various venues.  We rode around in a little mini.  I don’t remember whose it was.  As we were all six feet two or three we caused great amusement when we unfolded ourselves from this tiny, yet surprisingly roomy, vehicle.  One evening they drove me ‘creeping like snail unwillingly to’ Helen’s twenty first birthday party.  Never, at the best of times, a party animal, I stood in the Amerland Road flat not knowing where to put myself.  There were a couple of girls in a corner and I thought I might put myself there.  One of them said to her companion: ‘You’re in luck, he’s coming over.’  Unfortunately I only had eyes for the disinterested party.  Jackie.

Although she was, in spirit, rather like Shakespeare’s schoolboy, she was definitely female.  Claiming to be eighteen, Jackie, I learned later, was awaiting that birthday before taking up her post as a housemother in Shirley Oaks.  This was one of the old style self-contained residential villages that existed in those days for children in local authority care.  Visiting her there, I got to know the young people and their stories.  How did they get there?  Who was responsible?  What could be done to prevent it?  These were the questions which exercised me and gave me my direction.  I soon left my insurance desk and began working as an Assistant Child Care Officer in Tolworth Tower in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames.  That was December, 1966.

Since today’s perambulation had been quite a trek, I returned to Links Avenue by 93 bus from Putney Hill. Having been a bit uncertain of the way to Putney Hill from Amerland Road, I asked a young woman how to get there.  She knew neither the hill nor the bus route.  However, standing in the pouring rain, she insisted on connecting to the internet on her mobile device and consulting it.  Asking me for my postcode she finally came up with a route.  I was to take the 270 bus from stop D in Armoury Way.  This would decant me at Tooting Broadway tube station whence I could travel by underground to Morden.  If you are bored with this detail, imagine how I felt.  Well, she had been so kind I could hardly set off in the opposite direction.  I therefore followed her advice until out of sight, then took a diversion which led me to a postwoman.  She soon put me right, but said it was quite a long way.  When I told her where I had come from, she laughed.

Tonight we had salad, courtesy of the man at Hillier’s Garden Centre mentioned two days ago; boiled eggs; tinned corned beef and tuna from the larder.  I finished the Roc des Chevaliers, and Jackie, being out of Hoegaarden, had a Peroni.