My brother John asked me to write something about our father’s life,
and read it at his funeral.
Some of the incidents described are based on the memoirs I asked him to write,
and some are memories of my own.
My father was born in 1893, the second of six children; his older brother was Arthur, and after him came Charlie, Ernie, Ethel and Elsie. At first they lived in Kennington, but later moved to Mitcham, where most of his early memories were centred. I used to love hearing over and over again the stories he told about his childhood: like the time he was sent to buy an egg for a penny farthing, and having carried it carefully home and rested it gently on the sloping window sill while he knocked at the door, was bewildered to find that it had rolled off and smashed… Or the time he was sent to purchase “a pennorth of pot ‘erbs”, not having the remotest idea what they were… Or the time his mother sent him to buy a quill, and he decided the ostrich feathers were much prettier, so he bought the nicest one there, and then had to take it back to the shop, waiting outside for half an hour until the shop was empty, to pluck up the courage to go in… Or the time his father sent him out, at the age of seven, to buy a mattress…
I remember him saying that from the age of nine he always had to wear a trilby hat, which must have had a profound effect on him, because he frequently used to say to me:
“Oh, just put a hat on, Rosemary, and take this out to the dustbin.”
Likewise I remember the monumental impression one of his aunts once made on him one day by saying:
“Well, Harold, don’t you think your mother would like to see you now?”, when she felt he had stayed long enough – thereby developing his sensitivity to what he later called “Terminal facilities”… And I was fascinated by the picture of how his mother, on getting wind of the fact that her husband was considering the idea of the whole family emigrating to Australia, got all the children to hide under the kitchen table with its long chenille tablecloth, so that they could hear what he had to say about it when he came home from work.
One of the first things he remembered about the move to Mitcham was the nearby wasteland with its gravel pit filled with water, and convincing his brother Arthur that as wood floated, if he walked on a loose plank pushed out into the pond, he would float, too. He didn’t, and Arthur’s soaking needed some explaining on their return home. He later assured me that another apocryphal story I’d held onto, about tying door knockers together on opposite sides of the street, couldn’t possibly have been about him; but it certainly remained vivid in my mind. Another, more reliable picture, was of him walking to and from school every day, in his trilby hat of course, morning, midday and afternoon, and being struck by the fact that the workmen he passed every time always seemed to be having something to eat or drink; and thinking what an easy life it must be, to be a workman…
The full copy of this tribute can be accessed from the link below: