Uncle Phil’s Corner – Born in the late 1949’s remembering the 1950’s

At the end of my last piece on my 1950’s memories, I put that I was nervous and was on tablets. I was also very shy especially with adults, even when relations visited I would make my excuses and generally I would go and sit on the stairs. Sundays were a special day for us, dad would make the breakfast, our favourite was jam fritters, we always had a roast dinner and sat at the table, we would have the radio on and listen to The Huggett’s starring Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison with Petula Clark as their daughter.

Also at lunch time (dinner) was Archie Andrews with his speak piece Peter Brough and Max Bygraves in Educating Archie. In the evening we would have sandwiches and cake and listen to Journey into space on the radio which scared me and I usually ended up behind the settee. At that time we didn’t have transport whereas most of my dad’s family, apart from aunty Nina, did, and they would visit us on a Sunday for tea. On those occasions we sat at the table. Mum used to take us to visit Aunt Nina, dad’s eldest sister, Uncle Jack, John who was our oldest cousin and Freddie who was a year older than me, we travelled by Tube, Burnt Oak to Kings Cross, and walked up Caledonian Road. I remember it to be a very dirty road at that time, all the buildings were dark if not black. They lived in Killick Street, off Caledonian Road. Killick Street houses were demolished to make way for the parking of newspaper vans and the family were moved to a maisonette in Nash Court, Copenhagen Street. They very rarely visited us as Uncle Jack wouldn’t travel on the underground. He was permanently off sick with emphysema, due to cleaning out large boiler vats. Aunt Nina got up early every morning to clean several offices along the Euston road. A little anecdote when I take on a jigsaw puzzle, I don’t look at the box picture, this comes from my uncle Jack an avid jigsaw puzzler who always said looking at the box picture was cheating. My wife doesn’t agree.

On occasions especially around Christmas time Mum and Aunt Nina would take us along with cousins John and Freddie to Gamage’s at High Holborn, a special day out. I haven’t seen my cousins or heard from them for a very long time.

Getting back to my nervous problems, dad was a military man and if he hadn’t married mum he would have probably stayed in the army after the war. We never had to clean or brush our shoes. He did it, spit and polish! He had my brother Dave join the cubs, and me the sea scouts, later Sea Cadets. The Sea Scouts met in a wooden hut in Lawrence Street, Mill Hill, a couple of miles from where we lived. We were split up into different groups and had weekends away from home, and we camped on Moat Mount, where we competed against other sea scouts and scout groups, we nearly always came last. My big memory of the Sea Scouts was a two-week camping trip to Scotland, I hated every minute! I was probably the youngest member of the group. We travelled by train, I remember getting to Kings Cross on a Friday evening before realising we were due to catch the train (Royal Scot) at Euston. We made it to Euston in time but had to make the best of sitting on the floor in the passageways. All the compartments were full and it was a long journey and I don’t think I slept.

I remember when we got to Scotland the groups boots had scratched the paintwork of the carriage! From Glasgow we had road transport to a village named Balmaha on the shore of Loch Lomond, from there we boarded a paddle steamer called Maid of the Loch, which took us to our camping site, an Island called Inchcailloch.

I was homesick from day one. It was early September and it didn’t stop raining and to make things worse our bell tents leaked. We pitched up in the forest while the leaders of the group had a big tent on the shore line. The forest was overrun with pigmy shrews and after the first night I was in a terrible state and the leaders for a time let me sleep in the big tent on the shore. The latrine was a hole dug in the ground surrounded by tenting. We washed in the loch. The older boys put round that there’s black magic on the island and there was a sort of cemetery in the middle of the island which we discovered and there had been evidence of burning or fires, I think it was to scare us younger boys. We had boats to row up and down the loch called whalers. I could row but most of the time I was at the front of the boat to lookout for any debris in our way. One nice clear day we set out to climb Ben Lomond, one of the Monroe’s– a mountain more than 3000 feet – half way up the clouds descended and we couldn’t see much and being disorientated we slowly made our way down.

There were lots of rowing trips, some of the islands had very small castles on them, more like lookout towers, and there was lots of swimming. The very good swimmers had races to another island a bit further away. I don’t think there was much Health and Safety. I was feeling a lot better coming to the end of the second week and we would be on our way home soon. A couple of days before we were due to leave one of the boys went down with suspected Scarlet fever and was taken to a hospital in Glasgow. We were told that we might be quarantined if it was scarlet fever, luckily it wasn’t and we were allowed to travel home. I promised myself after that experience never to visit Scotland again, but I married a Scottish girl. The one good thing that came out of the trip was that I didn’t take my nerve pills with me, and I didn’t ever take them again.