I’m pleased that Frank Parker wanted to join me on the blog-go-round. He’s written a guest post for me that I’ve split into two, which is set in the days when children used to travel on public transport unaccompanied. I’ll share the first part here today, and the second part on Wednesday.
Travel Troubles, by Frank Parker.
Monday 15th September 1952: the day Mum waved me off from the platform at Hereford railway station bound for Paddington, the London terminal serving the West of England and Wales. Some time during the previous week we had delivered a case containing a change of clothing, toiletries and writing paper and envelopes for those all-important letters home, to the station master of the small village station on the Golden Valley branch line to be sent “Passenger Luggage in Advance” to my new school in Surrey.
There would be a half dozen identical journeys over the next 2 years so I suppose my recollection of the route is an amalgam of more than one. The station names are certainly familiar and have a nostalgic ring to them: Ashperton, Withington, Colwall, Ledbury, Malvern Link, Great Malvern, Malvern Wells, Worcester Foregate Street, Worcester Shrub Hill, Moreton-in-the Marsh and so on, through Didcot and Oxford to the metropolis. Moreton-in-the Marsh especially always reminded me of a radio show from a few years earlier called Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh.
Awaiting me at Paddington was Aunty Jessie, a former work colleague of Mum’s from her pre-war days. My memories of the journey from Paddington to Stoke Newington are vague and confused. I’m sure one or more trams were involved – or maybe the whole trip was accomplished on a bus? I recall a terraced house with a basement and meals in a small dining room at the back of the house.
The following day Aunty Jessie accompanied me to Waterloo Station where I and around 150 other boys aged between 10 and 18 were scheduled to catch the 2:15pm Southern Region train for Oxshott. Three months later she met me at Waterloo and delivered me to Paddington for the return journey in time for Christmas.
In between these two events I turned 11. I also learned that I was not so clever as my successes in a rural primary school might have suggested. I learned some modest skills on the soccer field and discovered that I did not much like being regarded as the country bumpkin. Of the thirty or so boys in my age group, one came from Wales, one from Scotland, another from Newcastle. Most of the rest had homes in or near London. Many of them had begun their attendance at the school 2 or 3 years previously or had been together at a sister school in the London Borough of Wanstead. So only a handful of us were new boys. One thing we all shared in common was the absence from our lives of at least one parent.
Returning to school after Christmas, a journey that I knew was inevitable but the end of which I no longer faced with optimism, I descended from the train at Paddington and looked for Aunty Jessie in the crowd thronging the platform. I was gripped by panic. To add to my misery at having to return to school it now seemed that I was alone in London. I had no idea how to find my way to Aunty Jessie’s Stoke Newington home.
The train’s guard had, as on the previous occasion, been charged with ensuring that I was handed over to Mum’s friend. Now that she was nowhere to be seen he handed me over to the Station Master – or one of his staff whose role included the disposal of lost children. I was taken to a small room with a gas fire and left to sit on a hard chair.
An announcement must have been broadcast over the station tannoy and eventually a rather flustered and embarrassed Aunty Jessie came to claim her friend’s distressed son. All I can remember of the next 18 hours is that, hard as I tried, I could not stop shedding tears.
In due course I learned that Aunty Jessie had written to Mum to opt out of the responsibility. Mum then had to make an alternative arrangement. Fortunately, Jessie was not her only London contact. She had an uncle and grown up cousins living in Hammersmith. And a Green Line coach bound for Guildford stopped on Hammersmith Broadway.
The man I referred to as “Uncle Basil” – actually Mum’s cousin – was a bachelor who lived with his father, my mother’s Uncle Henry, and his brother. Their small flat did not have space for me to sleep, but there were two married sisters each of whom lived in a flat in an adjacent block within the Guinness Buildings complex. I could sleep and have my meals in the one occupied by Aunty Rose and her grown up son. Uncle Basil would meet me at Paddington and accompany me back to Hammersmith. Either he or she would see me on to the coach the following morning.
I can’t recall exactly how many times this arrangement continued. In due course I would be deemed old enough to make the whole journey on my own and a route was discovered which involved changing trains at Reading and Guildford, arriving at Oxshott on the north bound platform. Before that there was to be one more panic-inducing mishap. This time no-one else was to blame.
I HOPE THAT YOU CAN COME BACK ON WEDNESDAY TO READ THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF FRANK PARKER’S ‘TRAVEL TROUBLES’.