------ In The Beginning -----
Whoa! I'm getting well ahead of myself.
--- In the high and far off times, Oh, Best beloved a child was born. ---
This child was unwanted by everyone except the mother who bore him. She was unwed. By definition the boy was illegitimate. He was a bastard, an unwanted whelp. By bearing him Sybil Kathleen Malins, knowingly, branded herself for life.
The mistress of a married man, Keith Savory Kimber, Sybil truly believed that the child would bring on his divorce and cement her relationship with the philandering London stockbroker, my father.
My mother was shocked that Keith's first response to her pregnancy was to urge her to abort: with his assistance of course. She was condemned, a disgraced woman, shunned by decent people. To add abortion to her pain was more than she could bear. She refused. The proverbial shit then really hit the fan with my birth on August 27, 1936 in Streatham Hill, London SW1.
So, let's begin, before my birth, with my mother's kin, the Malins family. Here, things become somewhat clouded because my mother spent much of her life; hiding, sanitizing and rearranging many of the events in her existence that preceded and followed my birth. Angry to the soul, she scrubbed away diligently in order to wash herself clean of the shame and disgrace. Still, the stigma she bore as the black sheep of the family; the brand of "social outcast" was burned into her being and she, like so many, bore it for life.
------------ Before The Beginning ------------
Born in 1869, my grandfather Frank Valentine Malins was a career soldier. The Monarchs he served were Victoria, then Edward VII and shortly thereafter George V. His regiment was the Prince of Wales Own 10th Hussars. Frank, 2472 Sergeant Malins F 10th Hussars, was proud of the regiment to a fault. He was a 19th century man, autocratic beyond belief. A domineering chauvinist, he saw nothing wrong in anything he chose to do. Moreover, he was very comfortable in this role. Being in the cavalry, he was a fine horseman and was a Squadron Sergeant-Major by the turn of the century. Starting at Private, he rose from the ranks eventually earning a commission as Lieutenant and finishing his lifelong career as Captain and Adjutant. For his many years of service he received the Meritorious Service medal
In the latter part of the 19th century, the 10th Hussars were stationed in the Curragh to the West of Dublin in Ireland. It was here that Frank met Annie Sheehan, a Protestant Irish girl, my grandmother. My mother told me that during their courtship, Frank was waylaid and beaten by a member of Sinn Fein. The truth of this is questionable since Annie gave birth to her son Arthur in Newbridge County Kildare Ireland in 1896 and the Sinn Fein wasn't formed until 1905. Still Frank was, at least, attacked by an Irishman who took exception to the hated Brits messing with Irish women. The concussion he received did not deter him. Frank and Annie were wed before Art's birth. Annie bore Frank 5 children: Arthur (1896); Hugh (1897); Walter (1898); Sybil (1901); and Reg (1903). My mother reported that Edward Hugh, the second son died as a child from spasm of the glottis. My grandparents never spoke of him.
My grandmother received an even more grievous emotional blow from which she never really recovered when her first born son, Arthur Francis Valentine Malins was killed in action near Ypres Belgium on July 23, 1917. He was 21. Arthur, anxious to follow in his father's footsteps, had tried to enlist in the 10th Hussars at the outset of the Great War. He was given a 4F status meaning he was physically unfit. Still, he was able, later in the war, to enlist in the Royal Field Artillery. This was most likely due to the huge loss of life on the Western Front especially on the Somme in 1916. The British Army had a desperate need for manpower and Art wanted to do his bit.
Arhur was the lead driver on a six horse team that dragged an ammunition limber and an 18 pound field gun up to the front and then worked at keeping the gun supplied with ammunition. Arthur rode on the left hand lead horse of the team. On or about the 23rd of July 1917, a German shell exploded on the road killing the horse under him. Shrapnel entered his skull under his tin hat. He and the horse which was cut from the harness were left virtually where they fell. His body was discovered later by Australian troops. He was still alive. He passed away at an aid station while writing a last letter to his mother. Annie kept an oil painting of his grave on her living room wall to the day she died. She also kept close to her his last letter.
Walter Charles Herbert (Wally) made it into the 10th Hussars apparently to avenge his brother. He remained in after 1918 and was later stationed in India. He married his wife, Mabel Annie Florence Attfield in 1922. I always knew my aunt as Pat. Never once did I hear her called Mabel, Annie, or Florence. Pat and Wally had two children, Arthur and Val, both more than a decade older than me. The three of us constituted the entire next generation of the Malins family. Wally retired from the 10th after full service and worked for a newspaper in London. He was recalled to the 10th in 1939 and became part of the British Expeditionary Force that was sent to France. He was Captain and Quartermaster for the regiment. He barely escaped with his life when he was evacuated from St Nazaire France at the same time as Dunkirk. He never saw military service again
Sybil Kathleen (Syb) was an attractive intelligent talented woman. She had an incredible singing voice and was an exceptional pianist. She had been on the stage in London as a professional. She was at one time the soloist at the Queens Hall. Why she chose to be a mistress to Keith Kimber, I'll never know. She once told me that her father, Frank had accepted the arrangement because he was corrupted by Kimber's wealth and position and the promise of divorce and marriage. In many ways she loathed her father and in the long run men in general. She was most certainly used and abused by males. She may have been the family's disgrace but to me she was Mummy.
Reginald Leslie (Reg) apparently had health issues from birth. Uncle Reg always seemed frail to me. He was my mother's favourite and the most gentle man. He fell in love with one of his nurses, Betty. They married in 1930. They lived at 49 Hillside Avenue Streatham Hill London for the rest of their lives. They were childless.
---- To Arms! and then What? ----
Frank was so wrapped up in the tradition and pride of the British military that when he went to the cinema to see, "The Charge Of The Light Brigade" starring Errol Flynn he came home crying. He was a believer. The movie was a gross misrepresentation of history. The actual Charge was a catastrophic blunder enshrined within six months by the Tennyson poem that extolled the virtue of "Noble Patriotic Death" Frank clung to a rallying call heard in the movie "Onward the Tenth!" In truth the 10th Hussars were not part of the Light Brigade. The truth was irrelevant. Frank was a believer. He was not alone. There have followed countless fools who believe in the old lie called in to question by Wilfred Owen in his powerful anti-war poem "Dulce et decorum EST . It's indeed ironic that this poem was written during the conflict that took Annie Malins' beloved son Arthur's life and Owen's as well.
An old cliche states every soldier needs his war. Frank Valentine's war was the 2nd Boer War 1899-1902. Although dates are a little fuzzy It seems my mother was conceived just before he left for South Africa and Reg upon his return. The family made me aware that he was mentioned in despatches on several occasions and barely missed receiving the Victoria Cross. It went instead to another man who the troops in Frank's Squadron thought did not deserve it. I searched the despatches from the Second Boer War. What strange documents these despatches are; subjective praise for almost anything that was forwarded upward through the Officer Corps to be enshrined finally by the General Staff. Some random examples give you a feel for what these documents contain.
Captain Viscount Crichton, Royal Horse Guards, ADC, has a good head on his shoulders, and thoroughly knows his work.
Captain H Q de Pledge, ADC, 19th Hussars, is brought to notice by Lord Dundonald, as hardworking, energetic, and reliable.
Durham Light Infantry (1st Battalion)-Private L St. Clair (promoted Corporal); Lieutenant Rasbotham being killed, took command of patrol, and by his coolness and good command, drove off attack, killing one Boer and wounding two.
It is clear that the officers, mostly aristocrats and otherwise titled individuals, received most of the credit and were able to use despatches as career springboards. But the juxtaposition of praising someone for tidying the mess hall and in the next breath giving credit to a soldier who lost his life in combat makes strange reading today. Patronization flowed downward through the British Military. Obedience, conformity and supplication flowed upward. Honour was attached to rank not ability. Integrity was seen as synonymous with how well you toed the line. It appears that, in general, group dynamics in organizations hasn't changed much if at all over the last century. They were networking in the Boer War without Facebook and Twitter. Posturing and posing was as popular then as it is now.
Little can be found regarding the Malins family after Frank's return from South Africa until 1912. My mother said they lived for a time in Stratford On Avon either before or after the strange happenings in early 1912. In March the entire Malins family: Frank, Annie and children, Arthur, Walter, Sybil, and Reg boarded the steamship Tunisian and sailed for Canada. The Titanic sank in April. In May, the Malins family boarded the Tunisian again and returned to Great Britain.
It seems as his military career was coming to an end, Frank got swept up into one of the great political controversies in Britain at the time. After the 2nd Boer War, public attention was paid to the plight of ex-servicemen whose transition into civilian life was anything but easy. Many found themselves destitute. To address this issue, The Naval and Military Emigration League was founded in November 1909. It was the only British emigration society which dealt exclusively with former military personnel. Ex-servicemen were encouraged and assisted to emigrate particularly to Canada and Australia. My mother, who was 11 at the time, said they all hated the short-lived Canadian experience. There is irony here. It relates to Frank's worship of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It seems that there was indeed something he shared with the survivors of the Charge. Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in 1890. The Last of the Light Brigade which tells of elderly survivors of the Charge visiting an aged Tennyson to chide him for not writing a sequel to show the terrible treatment of ex-servicemen of the Crimea. Kipling may have invented the visit to draw attention to the poverty in which the real survivors were living. Frank and family were indeed facing the same kind of challenge.
The Great War, I believe, saw Frank in some capacity with his regiment. At the time of Art's death Frank and Annie were living at 128A, Merton Rd., South Wimbledon and records show that Frank was Captain F. V. Malins and not retired. From this point forward a great fog shrouds the Malins in the 1920s and early I930s. Out of this fog come little anecdotal glimpses of the family. Much of the fog was generated by my mother as she tried to convince me; and later my stepfather of my legitimacy. Sybil simply carved 10 years off her true age and moved her birth up to 1911. Poor Annie would have been shocked to know she bore a child at 42. Reg, in this scenario, goes from being 2 years younger than Sybil to being 8 years older. My stepfather, Jim Allan never knew my mother's true age as her marriage certificate showed her birth date as 1911. The story that she concocted had Keith as her husband being mustard gassed in the Great War. He conveniently died, leaving me without a father and her a war widow. This is what she wanted me to believe. Still, there was no way she could fly this with the family. They knew better.
--- Glimpses Through The Fog ----
Who was Sybil? As she aged, I wonder if even she knew. This bright, skilled and tough-minded woman was filled with a terrible anger to her dying day. She passed a lot of it on to me and I carry it with me like she did. She felt mistreated and she was: by Kimber, her parents, especially Frank, and the rest of the family to a lesser extent; by James Edward Allan, her husband and my stepfather; by me: and most of all by herself. She craved acceptance and it's sad to note she never really got it.
As a young girl, she was afforded the education that would prepare her for the righteous role of wife and mother. The skills she developed were those of Victorian and Edwardian times aimed at making a "good match!" Her mastery of the piano and her marvellous voice were never intended to be used to earn a living. In Frank Valentine's eyes the theatre in any form was the home of "loose women." The idea of her having a career was unimaginable. She was high-spirited and passionate and I believe she rebelled. She probably was a "party girl!" She smoked and drank and came home on the milk train where her angry self-righteous father met her at the station.
She despised her father who looked down on her because she was a woman and an improper one at that. How improper is only speculation. The truth went to the grave with her. She also felt that Frank began to harbour incestuous feelings towards her which would be seen clearly as her fault because it was she who brought them on. The man was never responsible.
She told me she started working as a bank clerk and that led to her meeting Kimber, the stockbroker who pursued her. Still, she was on the professional stage. She was offered a contract which Frank Valentine refused to sign to go on the English Music Hall circuit before she was of age. She may have gone anyway. Still, by 1933 she was the soloist at the prestigious Queen's Hall in London and that is documented. Hell, she was a good-looking talented broad and fun. Jack Hipwell took her riding on his Brough Superior motorcycle. Mac, the bank manager wanted to marry her. Then, she met Kimber who, in her mind, colluded with her father and off she went into the land of kept women. Still, if the truth be told, she and Keith were probably very much in love.
This was the stuff that Hollywood movies of the time were made of: the peccadilloes of cafe society. However, this was certainly not the place for a military brat with no "real" social standing or status. Frank could provide no dowry and now his daughter was tainted flesh.
Over the years, a tantalizing rumour emerged and circulated among the Malins family, friends, and acquaintances. It suggested that Keith only acted as a "beard". Instead, Sybil was rumoured to have had a fling with The Prince of Wales, who was the darling of cafe society and loved women and loved to party. She certainly knew the man soon to be Edward VIII. She certainly admired him to the point of infatuation. She named me David after him and made no bones about it. No, I do not claim royal blood. He abdicated for Mrs. Wallis Simpson not Sybil Kathleen Malins. So, I was really a little bastard without any social status.
What of my father, Keith Savory Kimber? Well, he was my father. I did come from his loins. He signed my birth certificate. He was identified on it as Keith Savory Kimber, stockbroker. The same document condemns my mother as she is identified as Sybil Kathleen Malins, spinster. The term spinster resonates: spinster with a child, a moral outrage!
In truth, Keith had served in the Great War as a Sapper. He was born in 1896 and died in 1961. Mummy was not a war widow. Keith was a married man. He'd wed a lady named Peace in 1924. They had children. My mother knew the family before she became involved with Keith. After my birth, Mrs. Kimber told Sybil not to be silly thinking that she would allow Keith to divorce her. She informed Mummy that she was not the only woman Keith had squirrelled away in London. She also added that she would never divorce him and suffer the disgrace and change in her status. The Malins family rallied. No wealthy Jew was going to dishonour Sybil and get away with it. Anti-semitism , believe it or not, did flourish outside the Third Reich.
--- The Beginning ---
My first conscious moments came at Pullman Court in Streatham where my kept mother lived with an Irish maid, Hennessey. The modernist building was designed by famous architect Frederick Gibberd. It was decidedly upscale, stylish and new. It still stands performing the same function today. While at Pullman Court, a very first memory was implanted in my brain. I remember trying to help Hennessey. Instead, I broke a bottle of milk and was scolded thoroughly. Beginning at that moment, something was created within me that drives me to observe record and remember everything that goes on. I was, from the beginning, as the British say a "nosey parker". I still am. My mother admonished me about it. "You always ask the wrong questions and you persist to the point of being annoying. Stop it!" she ordered. I didn't listen. It's really about survival. I knew from the beginning that I wasn't supposed to be there. I knew I didn't belong. Like Kipling's "Elephant's Child" I have always been punished for my "satiable curtiosity" and like the elephant, I never forget! Add to this phenomenon; living through the London Blitz as a child and you have a person with ALTMS... Annoying Long Term Memory Syndrome. It's incurable!
While at Pullman Court, I think I spent time with my father once. The memory is fleeting and very uncomfortable: a dapper well-dressed man who smelled funny. To this day, I have no time for dapper well-dressed men.
What was the relationship between Sybil Malins and Keith Kimber? It's quite possible they loved one another or at least Sybil was convinced she loved Keith. The pregnancy was hugely complicating. Keith, "The Spider of Threadneedle Street", so-called because he prospered by "selling short" on the London Stock Exchange provided support for both my mother and myself from the beginning. Dimly the man shows up for some time in my early life and then fades completely. He is most often associated with things and money. My Pram (Baby Carriage) was one of the expensive kind. I had a fancy peddle car and lead soldiers. I wonder if these were indeed gifts from the man, the father I never knew.
Soon, after my birth, the expected social train wreck took place out of sight and earshot of a very young child. Things happened complete with a lot of tense adult conversation among the Malins'. Later, I was to discover that it had to do with paternity and how a single woman with an illegitimate child could maintain herself and said infant. However it came about, Keith acknowledged my birth. As previously mentioned, my long British Birth Certificate shows my parents to be: Keith Savory Kimber, stockbroker and Sybil Kathleen Malins, spinster. This document that acknowledged my birth in turn socially condemned the woman who bore me. She kept it close to her. I was not to see it until shortly before her death. She was so sensitized by her secret that when I became a teacher in 1956, she forced Jim Allan to legally adopt me. He then became my legal guardian and appeared on all necessary documentation. This, she felt, covered her tracks. Her secret was safe.
Mrs. Kimber, you'll recall, met with my mother and assured her that she would never divorce Keith and that my mother was only one among several women he kept. Solicitors came into play and the Kimbers, agreed to terms for the continuing provision of maintenance and support for my mother and I. Shortly thereafter, we moved from Pullman Court. My mother and I then took up residence with my grandparents Frank and Annie Malins in half of a new semi-detached house at Hook Rise on the recently constructed Kingston Bypass. The address was 48 Hook Rise, Tolworth Surbiton Surrey. I assume that the support from Kimber and Frank's military pension paid the bills. For the longest time it never occurred to me that Frank and Annie had trouble making ends meet on their own. They never owned property and never owned a car. In the ongoing struggle for financial stability, it is understandable that Frank might have seen Keith as a means to an end, when he took up with Sybil, and frankly he ended up being just that.
At the time of my birth bastards were shunned especially by men. A little bastard like me was flawed in every way. My grandfather told me frequently that I was only good for one thing, smelling drains. He assured me over and over again that I was cut out to be nothing more than a drain smeller and he meant it. I was the family embarrassment as was my mother. Of course, I did not understand why he was so harsh and mean. I resented Grandpa. I did not like him at all. What psychological imprint this situation may have left on me I don't know. However, I do know that I was never close emotionally or physically to any male during my childhood and beyond. This did not change until the birth of my two sons nearly thirty years later.
--- Location Relocation Adjustment Readjustment ---
After a seaside holiday in 1938 at Bognor Regis with the Attfields, my Aunt Pat's family. The four of us returned to 48 Hook Rise. The house, quite upscale for the time, faced a secondary road and then the King George (Kingston) Bypass, part of a new major motorway running South to Portsmouth and North to Central London. Beyond the Bypass were fields and parklands interrupted by the Southern Railway embankment. which paralleled the motorway. There were two families in the semi-detached brick structure, the Popels and the Malins'. They did not get along. Each half of the house was the mirror of the other. There was no central heating. Instead 2 chimneys located on a common central wall exhausted the smoke and gas from two coal fireplaces in each dwelling. Entering our front door you came into a hallway that ran the length of the building. To your right was a staircase and landing that led to the second floor where the bedrooms were located. The first room on the left was the sitting room with windows facing the street. My mother and I claimed it and her art noveau furniture from Pullman Court furnished it. The dining room was to the rear with French Doors that led to the back garden. Here was my grandparents domain. Under the staircase to the rear on the left facing the dining room was the kitchen with a gas stove to cook with. Annie was known, for some reason, as "Granny Fiddler" The kitchen along with its pantry was hers! Upstairs, the front bedroom was reserved for my grand parents. My mother and I slept in the rear bedroom across from the bathroom/lavatory which was above the kitchen. Across from Frank and Annie's bedroom, was a curious little room over the front entrance. It had a strange bay style window. At the far end of both units in the semi-detached house were single car garages with doors. For the nine years I lived there no car was seen in either garage other than my pedal car in the Malin's end. My grandmother seemed to do all the work. She looked after everyone and my mother looked after me. Frank simply ruled.
To be fair, he wasn't well. In the mid-thirties he'd had colorectal cancer. A colostomy forced him to wear a bag for a time. Later he was one of the first patients to have his bowel reconnected successfully. This took place before my birth. To me though, he was just a very nasty old man who dominated my world. One day, when I was going on four, I remember playing with my lead soldiers in the front garden. I used an old screwdriver to scratch a trench in the ground for them to hide in as I lined up the enemy in a similar trench. He discovered me "messing up the garden". He was furious! He was apoplectic! To punish me he stomped my soldiers until they were all broken and ruined. I was terrified of him but I lost it. I threw the screwdriver at him as hard as I could. I meant to do harm. The blade struck him in the head above the eye and it drew blood. I was horrified. Granny Fiddler came to the rescue, seeing first to her wounded husband. Then, she took me for punishment. It took the form of a solemn scolding as I sat on her knee. Strangely, she had a twinkle in her eye. Secretly, I began to realize she might be perversely glad I'd done the deed. She was well aware of Frank's tyranny and often would yell for all the world to hear about what a miserable violent beast he was, even going as far as the front gate to do it. Family rows were frequent occurrences. When Annie was at peace with Frank, she usually took the opportunity to go at it with Mrs Popel the lady who lived with her family in the other half of the house. These were the people we would ultimately share a small dank air raid shelter with throughout the Blitz and beyond.
Next to my mother, Granny Fid was my closest friend and ally. I helped her chop mint and beat the rugs. Monday was always wash day and was done in large vessels of boiling water in the kitchen. I would do my best to help wring out the wash. We used a hand turned mangle (British for wringer) clamped to a tub. I carried the clothes pegs out to the clothes line in the back garden. There was no pulley at either end. It did not move. The wash was pegged to the line and then the line was propped up with poles where it sagged. The wash was an all day labour. Granny Fid never had a washer of any kind and a dryer was beyond her comprehension. Although my mother actually possessed an electric iron, Gran refused to touch it. Instead, she heated a metal stand in the oven and placed the iron on that heated surface to get hot. Steam was provided by a wet cloth on top of the item to be ironed.
Routine gave meaning and rhythm to Annie's life. Daily and weekly routines were firmly entrenched at 48 Hook. Not even the war and the subsequent horrendous Blitz could alter that. It was remarkably so in most British homes whether working or middle class. Tea time was tea time no matter whether the house was standing or not.
When I said, I was hungry, my grandmother would always reply, "I'm angry! WIll you come fight?" Before the war, before rationing. She provided me with snacks. Through her, I learned to love watercress sandwiches, Marmite on bread, and most of all bread and dripping. Essentially, this was meat fat she kept in a bowl. She would spread it thickly on bread and then salt it. It was such a "healthy" treat and I loved it.
Sunday, even during the Blitz , the family regularly gathered at 48 Hook Rise home of the patriarch. Frank presided over the gathering and ruled the dinner table. Meal times were different in England. The main meal was served at our lunch time. Tea time was after 4pm. Sunday was a special evening meal. Before the war it usually featured meat and potatoes. Granny Fid slaved in the kitchen. She was helped at serving time by the other women, my mother and aunts. There was a distinct pecking order among these hand maidens. Wally's wife Pat was first. She was legit and had children. Reg's wife Betty came second. She too was legit but she was barren. Mummy dragged up the rear. Say no more. To Frank this rank ordering was legitimate and right. From his position at the head of the table, Frank carved and saw to the distribution of the food. The lion's share was his. Males first. Women second. Then came legitimate children, male before female, last and least was me. Nobody ate a bite before his lordship gave the word. During the meal children were seen and not heard. If you wanted more you had to wait until it was offered. More never came before your plate was clear. You had to consume what was put in front of you before more would ever be offered. These rules did not apply to Frank and the adults.
At these gatherings, I ran head on into my nemesis, cabbage, boiled cabbage, lots of boiled cabbage. Granny Fid made many things I loved. But, to me, her boiled cabbage was beyond belief. She boiled it forever with little salt. It came out a tasteless gelatinous mess filled with coarse fibres. On a plate it looked like it had been regurgitated from God knows where. "Eat your vegetables!" rang in my ears. I tried to mix it with potato. There was never enough potato. I masked it with gravy. There was never enough gravy. Meat I loved. There was never enough meat. Finally I was faced with nothing but cabbage. I was ordered to eat it. It made me wretch! This made Frank furious and gave him cause to publicly humiliate me. He was sadistic. Every Sunday, he took pleasure in seeing that my plate was heaped with this horrible stuff. My grandmother usually found a little more meat and potatoes with gravy for me after the ordeal was over. She did this surreptitiously to avoid bringing Frank's wrath down upon her as well.
--- An Expanding World ---
As I grew, I became more aware of my surroundings, my neighbourhood, my town, and Greater London.
Prior to the war, I was always accompanied by my mother wherever I went. Down the street going North towards Central London was the Kingston Roundabout on the bypass. It marked the intersection with a road, known to me as the Epsom Road, that going right took you to the local pub, "The Toby Jug" and the Tolworth Railway Station of the Southern Railway's Chessington line. The trains were all electric and the tracks were on a raised embankment that paralleled Hook Rise for a way. At the southern end of the line was Chessington Zoo, a marvellous place for a little boy, bastard or not. North bound the train took us to Wimbledon, then Clapham Junction and finally to London's Waterloo station from there we took the Tube as the London Underground was known. We always used public transportation even before the war. When not on a train, I was on a bus. It was how we travelled the roads. Along with the buses there were trolley buses and trams. Buses were all double deckers. The driver sat in a cab out of reach and contact with the passengers while the conductor sold tickets and clipped them and called out the stops as they came up. Entrances were wide open and at the back. There was no door. From the start, it was always my desire to be able to get on and off the bus before it stopped or after it started. It was a"rite of passage" even though it was dangerous and forbidden.
The road mentioned previously led eventually to where else but, Epsom. Epsom Downs is the home of the British Derby. Whenever we went to Epsom, our bus stop was at Tattenham Corner on the race course. The town, itself, was unfortunately the location of the infamous hospital where I had my tonsils removed an early age. They lied to me telling me that I was going to watch Mickey Mouse when it was really the operating theatre. The anaesthetic was ether which made me vomit violently during recovery. I hate hospitals to this day. I'm not too fond of Mickey Mouse either. I always thought Donald Duck was a more attractive character. I love ducks.
Back to the Kingston Roundabout. If you went around and went left instead of right you came into Tolworth proper. The bus caught on Ewell Road near the Roundabout would take you to Surbiton and then on to Kingston on Thames.
The Roundabout was an important junction in my young life. It led to everything beyond. Here was the Cinema, the movie theatre, quite a grand structure. The family often went there to watch what we called the "flicks". Even nightly bombing failed to completely stop this ritual. In that building, I met Tarzan and Roy Rogers; laughed my self sick over George Formby; and went home profoundly upset after seeing Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews in the Ox-Bow Incident. The hanging of an innocent man caused by the actions of a self-opinionated arrogant bigot struck home. the resemblance of the character, Major Tetley, to my grandfather was unfortunate. It was in this Cinema that he cried watching proudly as Errol Flynn happily led the Light Brigade to total annihilation.
Walking down the street to the Roundabout, we first came to my favourite place, Garlick's Shop. Though it sold a variety of goods, to me it was the Sweet Shop, meaning it sold sweets! I never knew this was candy until I arrived in Canada. My favourite was Rowntree's Clear Gums. They were scooped out of a huge bottle and deposited in a small bag. You chewed and sucked and they lasted forever. At Garlicks, I learned about money. Sometimes my gums cost, tuppence ha'penny or thruppence or when I was rich, sixpence. There were: pennies and farthings; tuppence; thruppenny bits; sixpence( a tanner); a bob (shilling) and occasionally a half crown. These were the days of pounds, shillings and pence in Britain and I remember all that Sterling currency still. At St Ann's, my first primary school, I learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide it. I still can.
Not only was my geographic world expanding before the war, so was my social and cultural world. I learned about being English. It was a solitary process as I had only one acquaintance my own age before beginning school. My cousins, Valerie and Arthur were more than a decade older. In Canadian parlance, they were teenagers, Art was an apprentice in an aircraft factory and Valerie was ready to marry. My one peer acquaintance was Michael Gay. His mother had a hare lip (cleft palate). She was a friend of my mothers. Other than Michael, who I wasn't that fond of, I was surrounded by adults. My non-human friend was a stuffed duck. I loved him and I mourned him for the longest time when one day, filthy and worn, he disappeared. Left with no one to talk to, I talked to myself. I always have and I still do.
I quickly learned to have an ear for dialect and how it related to class. I may have been a bastard but I was never a lower class one. The Malins family were middle class. Frank and his son Wally had made the Officers' Mess. Servitude was buried deeply in the British soul. The appropriate response by those who served was gratitude to those above them. People with cockney accents for example provided service to people like us. The butcher was one. The local Bobby (policeman) was too. Such people came to the house at Christmas to get their Christmas box. It was an expected gift or handout given to those less fortunate by the Malins' and others for faithful service throughout the year, a tip so to speak.
I observed. I understood. I was supposed to know and accept my position in life, first as a child and then as a drain smeller. I was supposed to look up to those who looked down on me and be grateful whenever their benevolence, no matter how small, was bestowed on me. Here is where I am slow. I still haven't got it. I never will.
At Christmas, we had Father Christmas not Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve you hung a pillowcase on the bed and in the morning it was magically full. I believed in Good King Wenceslas and sang "Land of Hope and Glory". England was always in the right. For the longest time, listening to the adults around me, I believed that Germans were godless monsters known colloquially as "Gerry".
Before, during and after the war, my grandfather, Frank was both a racist and an anti-semite and he was not alone. Being a sickly child and a nervous asthmatic with an over-protective mother, who sought the best medical care she could find, I became the patient of Dr. Cline, a Jew. Come to think of it, I was a Jew too. He was a kind, gentle and thoughtful man who brought me out of severe respiratory distress on several occasions. My grandfather hated him and only begrudgingly let him cross the threshold. Things went from bad to worse when a new doctor appeared just as competent as Dr. Cline. Dr. Merchant was East Indian, a coloured man. In her father's eyes, Mummy always screwed up big time. Allowing a man of colour to provide medical care for her child and herself was one of those times.
Another facet of my expanding world came through books. There was only one obstacle. I couldn't read and I wanted to. So, as strange as it might seem, I taught myself with help from my mother and grandmother. For some reason, I could see words and remember them. I jumped in with both feet and a world that transcended reality opened before me. "First star to the right and straight on 'til morning!" J.M. Barrie took me to Neverland with Peter Pan and Wendy. No, I did not consider myself one of the lost boys. But I quickly understood the enjoyment and safety of fantasy worlds where all things are possible.
I would have gladly spent my life in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Baby Roo, and Tigger too. Rabbit bothered me a bit because he was the only live animal and his brain always seemed in the way. In my mind I was Christopher Robin. The only thing better would have been to live in the Hundred Acre Wood under the name of Sanders. Then, I would have been the most sagacious Chad Valley bear in history. Milne may have eventually embittered his son but he enchanted me.