A Knight’s Tale (27: Eventually Chris Twigged)

Sometime around 1950 when Chris and I were still at primary school, if you were prepared to walk home, in the days of small High Street shops before the advance of supermarkets such as Tesco, you could spend your bus fare on a bag of broken biscuits from the old style family grocer in The Broadway,


or, in season, a pomegranate from a fruit and veg stall in Russell Road. You ate the pomegranate seeds with a pin carried for the purpose. If you wanted an ice cream from De Marco’s alongside the stall that meant walking home two days in a row and managing not to spend the first day’s fare on the first day. 

In this picture of Russell Road from July 2012, Hawes Estate agent who collected rent from my mother throughout my childhood, is on the site of De Marco’s ice cream parlour and MoneyGram was once a shop selling holy pictures and other religious mementos.  A sign of changing priorities, no doubt. Especially in Wimbledon, now land of Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero. Wimbledon, where, in my childhood, you could smell coffee roasted and being ground in a shop along the broadway. Wimbledon, where Whittard of Chelsea now offers taste guaranteed luxury tea and coffee in Centre Court shopping mall.

Wimbledon Theatre, on our left of the picture, after several refurbishments, now styled New Wimbledon Theatre, is where, still in primary school I saw my first Shakespeare Play, details of which I cannot remember.

One day Chris and I, whilst walking home, decided to investigate Spencer Hill.

Some way up the hill, in someone’s garden, stood a tree with an inviting hollow area at the top of the trunk.  I climbed up to the gap to have a look.  Chris followed.  As I entered the bowl shape in the bole I heard a rather angry buzzing sound.  In an instant I was covered in bees.  I’d like to say I was out of there like a shot.  Unfortunately Chris was bringing up the rear and seemed to have some difficulty in understanding either ‘bees’ or ‘get down’ or all of it.  He didn’t seem to grasp that he was in my way.  I yelled incessantly until Chris twigged and leapt from the bottom branch.  I was then out of Spencer Hill and onto a bus like the shot.  Having, of course, spent my fare I had no money.  I recall the concern of the bus conductor for this snivelling wreck with his head in a swarm of bees occupying the first seat on his vehicle, and the kindness of the woman opposite who paid my fare.  Chris must have made his own way home, but I was no caring elder brother at that point.

To this day I remember sitting on a stool with Mum picking bee stings and the dead creatures out of my head.  I can still see them crawling dazedly inside my fair-isle jumper.  If ever I lose my hair and there are pitted marks in the scalp I bet they’ll be from those bees.