The following story is not so much a story, as fragments taken from spidery writings with which I filled four and a half pages of a school style notebook in what is likely to have been the year of 1977 and artfully glued together. Almost thirty years later in March 2006 I adapted them verbatim for the sake of this story, although what you are about to read was drastically edited with regard to the original writings, given a new title, and subject to alterations in punctuation before it took form as "Snapshots from a Child's West London" at the Blogster website.
Certain sentences were composed by linking two or more sentences from the original piece together. Mild grammatical corrections also took place, mild because I didn't want to alter the original work to the degree of making major ones. Thence, the first draft was cunningly doctored in March '06, while retaining the spirit in which it was penned in '77. Finally, the name of the protagonist was changed from "Kris" to "Carl".
In July 2007, I prepared the definitive version of the piece which involved my making very minor alterations to that fashioned the previous spring.
Much of the action, such as it is, takes place either in that district of west London due south of Acton and north of Chiswick known as Bedford Park, or London's French Lycee in South Kensington, at which I was a pupil between about 1959 and 1968.
I remember the 20th Chiswick Wolf Cub pack, how I loved those Wednesday evenings, the games, the pomp and seriousness of the camps, the different coloured scarves, sweaters and hair during the mass meetings, the solemnity of my enrolment, being helped up a tree by an older boy, Baloo, or Kim, or someone, to win my Athletics badge, winning my first star, my two year badge, and my swimming badge with its frog symbol, the kindness of the older boys.
One Saturday afternoon, after a football match during which I dirtied my boots by standing around as a sub in the mud, and my elbow by tripping over a loose shoelace, an older boy offered to take me home. We walked along streets, through subways crammed with rowdies, white or West Indian, in black gym shoes. "Shud up!" my friend would cheerfully yell, and they did.
"We go' a ge' yer 'oame, ain' we mite, ay?"
"Yes. Where exactly are you taking me?" I asked.
"The bus stop at Chiswick 'Oigh Stree' is the best plice, oi reck'n."
"Yes, but not on Chiswick High Street," I said, starting to sniff.
"You be oroight theah, me lil' mite."
I was not convinced. The uncertainty of my ever getting home caused me to start to bawl,
and I was still hollering as we mounted the bus. I remember the sudden turning of heads. It must have been quite astonishing, for a peaceful busload of passengers to have their everyday lives suddenly intruded upon by a group of distressed looking wolf cubs, one of whom, the smallest was howling red-faced with anguish for some undetermined reason. After some moments, my friend, his brow furrowed with regret, as if he had done me some terrible wrong, said:
"I'm gonna drop you off where your dad put you on."
Within seconds, the clouds dispersed, and my damp cheeks beamed. Then, I spied a street I recognised from the bus window, and got up, grinning with all my might:
"This'll do," I said.
"Wai', Carl," cried my friend, "are you shoa vis is 'oroigh'?"
"Yup!" I said, walking off the bus. I was still grinning as I spied my friend's anxious face in the glinting window of the bus as it moved down the street.
One Wednesday evening, when Top of the Pops was being broadcast instead of on Thursday, I was rather reluctant to go to Cubs, and was more than unusually uncooperative with my father as he tried to help me find my cap, which had disappeared.
Frustrated, he put on his coat and quietly opened the door. I stepped outside into the icy atmosphere wearing only a pair of underpants, and to my horror, he got into his black citroen and drove off. I darted down Esmond Road crying and shouting. My tearful howling was heard by Margaret, the 19 year old daughter of Mrs Jankel, the philanthropic Jewish lady whom my mother used to help with the care and entertainment of Thalidomide children. Helen Jankel expended so much energy on feeling for others that when my mother tried to get in touch with her in the mid 70s, she seemed too exhausted to be enthusiastic and quite understandably for Mrs O'Brien her cleaning lady and friend for the main part of her married life had recently been killed in a road accident. I remember that kind and beautiful Irish lady, her charm, happiness and sweetness, she was the salt of the earth. She threatened to "ca-rrown" (crown) me...when I went away to school...if I wrote her not...
Margaret picked me up and carried me back to my house. I immediately put on my uniform as soon as Margaret had gone home, left a note for my Pa, and went myself to Cubs. When Pa arrived to pick me up, the whole ridiculous story was told to Akela, Baloo and Kim, much to my shame.
The year was 1963, the year of the Beatles, of singing yeah, yeah in the car, of twisting in the playground, of "I'm a Beatlemaniac, are you?"
That year, I was very prejudiced against an American boy Robert Graham who later became my friend. I used to attack him for no reason at all, like a dog does, just to assert my superiority. One day, he gave me a rabbit punch in the stomach and I made such a fuss that my little girlfriend Nevine wanted to escort me to the safety of our teacher Mademoiselle Brachet, hugging me, and kissing me intermittently on my forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks. She forced me to see her:
"Carl didn't do a thing," said Nevine, "and Robert came up an gave him four rabbit punches in the stomach".
Robert Graham, pronounced in French like Gramme the unit of weight, and that's how I used to refer to this new boy, was not penalised, for Mademoiselle Brachet knew what a little demon I was, no matter how hurt and innocent I looked, tearful, with my tail between my legs.
By the end of '63, I was frequently involving myself in arguments with people who tried to say that some secondary Beat combo or another was destined to swamp the Beatles. No, I disagreed. Only one new group truly roused my interest, though not immediately for I was disappointed by a rough and sullen performance of "Not Fade Away" on Top of the Pops, having heard so much about the Rolling Stones. Public opinion, however, swayed me, and discussing Pop music at the end of '64 with some of the new breed of English roses with their mini-skirts, kinky boots and Marianne Faithfull tresses or Twiggy crops, the Rolling Stones were my new favourites. I loved the martyr Mick, bathed in light with surly, ever-defiant lips, surrounded by his frenzied slaves.
Bedford Park was a semi-Bohemian, artistic quarter of London on the outskirts of a rough district of the western suburbs, Acton. Therefore, my boyhood surroundings were half Boheme and half hoodlum. The hoodlum influence was stronger than the artistic, which could account for the frequent street feuds, stone and stick and dirt fights that took place, and the day I stole magazines out of my neighbours' letterboxes, and mutilated them, before putting them back, and the day I informed my best friend's mother, from one end of the street to the other that "Robert was a _______ _______". Those words caused a long and furious confrontation to take place between Robert's mother and mine on the doorstep of our house...frightful day, which I regret even to this one...
It is vital to me that the preceding "story" have a moral element, and as I see it it unquestionably does. The "Carl" character is a likable and sweetly susceptible child, gaining with enviable ease the affection and trust of the older Wolf Cub boys, of the Cub leaders, Akela, Baloo and Kim, of Margaret Jankel and Mrs O'Brien, of Nevine and many other school friends. And yet, he makes a conscious choice to abuse the trust of others, including Robert Graham, and his best friend in Bedford Park, also called Robert, thereby creating a feud between his family and Robert's, where they had previously been close friends, and were thankfully to become so again. He aggressively asserts the superiority of certain Pop groups, and takes part in street fights which result in injury and suffering. If it is not too pretentious of me, I'd like if I might to somehow see him as a symbol for the changing times in mid-sixties Britain, as the old post-war Albion with its sweet shops and bomb shelters, short trousers and ovalteenies yielded by degrees to a new, less innocent world with a Beat music soundtrack.
All the incidents depicted in the above tale indisputably took place, notwithstanding certain mild innacuracies that my '77 self may or may not have included. However, a certain amount of exaggeration crept into my writing in the the very last section. For example, "hoodlum" is far too strong a word to use when referring to a few small boys causing mayhem in a quiet west London suburb. At least I think it is...