Episode 09: Not North of Watford

Arriving from the North,Watford, in the midst of a heat wave, felt as strangely different as the South of France might do to others. I couldn’t sleep in the hotel, and the next day we were sunburnt in the garden of our large semi-detached house inKingsfield Road. It was greener, more lush than the North, and there was an exciting bustle all around us. Red and green double deckers and Green Line coaches wound their way round Bushey Arches, dinky Bakerloo trains stopped at nearby Bushey and Oxhey station and on the main West Coast line which passed the bottom of our garden Coronations, Jubilees, Royal Scots, Britannias and the ubiquitous Black Fives thundered past blowing their mournful whistles. Of course there were diesels too (the line hadn’t been electrified then), but we weren’t interested in them!

I had decided to resume my studies, so I enrolled at the localCollegeofFurther Education. How different from my old school! Not since kindergarten had I shared classes with girls. What an exciting, but also uncomfortable, experience. I felt I owed it to myself to ask them all out. But the few I managed, falteringly, to invite turned me down. The teachers were not at all like those atShrewsbury. They were ‘radical’, and if any of them were religious, they kept it quiet. My English teacher (Mr Fisher was his name) asked me one day why I believed in God. Within a day I had stopped doing so and felt uncomfortably exposed.

At this stage Jeremy, my next brother (who has ended up across the frontier inHove), was away atOundleSchool. Every morning my two younger brothers, Danny and Julian, would take the 306 bus with my father to Haberdashers’ Aske’s school near Elstree. This direct-grant grammar school was where he ended his teaching career, and where they did their O and A levels. My father never felt at home in the progressive atmosphere of this largely non-boarding school, but my brothers flourished there.

We were poor, at least in relative terms. When we went on holiday to theLake District, my father stayed at home to earn extra money at a petrol station. Buying clothes was an ordeal because we knew our parents couldn’t afford anything. To avoid the cost of college meals I would walk home for lunch. We didn’t have a car, so we travelled everywhere by public transport or bicycle. I progressed to a moped which I found in the Exchange and Mart and collected from a man in Chiswick. As I crossed the Chiswick flyover on my maiden journey I realised I had no idea how to stop this infernal machine so I resorted to using my feet! Six months on I progressed to a Lambretta and sold the moped to a male nurse at the hospital where my father was to die in July 2000.

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