Shirley Oaks

Cherry blossom on car 3.13Snow swirled and settled in the garden throughout the day.  Flurries flew about intermittently in Romsey this morning, but all that settled there was cherry blossom.  This was when I walked around the town whilst Jackie attempted to track down fish for the visit of Sam and Holly and Malachi and Orlaith on Wednesday.

Romsey Abbey 3.13I wandered around the Abbey and its vicinity, including the War Memorial Park and the bank of the river Test.  It was blustery and cold.  Bouquets and carved initials 3.13Having just passed through a gateway onto the narrow riverside bearing a notice warning of deep water and asking for the gate to be kept closed, I came across two bouquets fastened to a tree bearing carved initials.  I wondered what the story was.  Certainly the river flowed very swiftly. Further along, a host of daffodils bravely rivalled the clumps of snowdrops now clearly more in their element.Daffodils on Test 3.13

At least around this area of Romsey there is a collection of plaques embedded at intervals in the pavement and on walls and copings, each bearing a different few lines of poetry.  Betty Tucker poem 3.13Mark Harding poem 3.13Since those by the river have been placed in spots relevant to their text, I imagine that is so of all of them.

Our other reason for choosing Romsey as today’s shopping centre was the toyshop.  Before leaving the town we spent ages trying to decide on Malachi’s birthday present.  Hopefully we got it right in the end.

We then had to find the fish, for there had been none available in Romsey.  Perhaps I should have tried my luck in the river.  Aiming for Totton, to continue the search there, we missed the turn-off, which turned out to be fortunate, for we stumbled across a Morrison’s superstore where we found the smoked haddock we were seeking.

Derrick 1966Photo number 4 of ‘Derrick through the ages’, in which I seem to be attempting to simmer, was taken by Jackie in 1966 at Shirley Oaks.  These were the old children’s village style homes for young people in Local Authority care. Near Croydon, this was a laid out estate of forty two large houses, called cottages, each accommodating twelve children.  At that time the project also included a swimming pool, an infirmary, a laundry, a general store, a junior school, and even an unused mortuary.  The individual houses were staffed by ‘housemothers’, many of whom offered ‘families’ of children long term consistent care.  Jackie was one of these carers, in ‘Laurel cottage’, and my introduction to the world of Social Work that was to provide me with a new direction ( see 18th July 2012).  Long since out of fashion as a method of child care, these buildings were sold off to form an exclusive, expensive enclave.  The seclusion that had been considered too institutional, isolating and ghetto-like for troubled children, had become an attraction for those wealthy enough to buy their homes.  Shirley Oaks children were given no experience of life outside the institution until they were thrust into secondary school.  They didn’t go to the public baths and pay their entrance fee.  They knew no launderettes.  A daily truck provided an eneuretic service for the wet sheets which were left outside the back door.  Their shop issued the housemothers with weekly order forms on which they ticked what they needed and collected it once a week.  No money was handed over.  No ‘outsiders’ attended their school.  When a group of boys from outside began to visit a girl in Jackie’s care, a bunch of Oaks boys attacked them with such violence that there was blood on her doorstep.  I was inspired to attempt to do my bit in changing all this.  Perhaps I made a difference to some young lives.

Those children’s housemother made a very tasty chicken jalfrezi this evening which she ate with Hoegaarden and I with Cepa Lebrel reserva rioja 2008.


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.