Monday, 18 August 2008

Big War Movie Themes

The 1969 fim, "The Battle of Britain" was on TV the other day. It has to be one of my all-time favourites. Not the sort of film I can imagine being made today, even if it were possible since there aren't as many vintage aircraft available to do it unless it was all CGI. It reminded me of an illustration that used to feature on the cover of "Big War Movie Themes" a collection of classic movie scores performed by Geoff Love and his Orchestra. Evocative stuff and a great cover as well, although I don't know who the illustrator was.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Along The London Road and Home

After lunch I decide to have a quick walk along the river bank before starting the journey home. The weekend has gone really quickly and I wish I'd had a bit more time re-visiting some of the other places I remember when I lived in Chesham and Caversham. Nevertheless I've had a really enjoyable time of total self-indulgence over the last few days and I'm so glad I made the effort to do the trip. Apart from a few spots of rain on Friday in Hay-on-Wye the weather's been much better than expected which is a real bonus.

Last leg of the journey along the A4

So...back on the bike for the straight ride home. I decide against bombing down the M4 as I find motorway riding at speed on a bike pretty tedious and hard work bracing against the wind. Instead I join the A4 just outside Sonning and basically follow it all the way to my front door on The London Road (A4) in Bath.

I stop off briefly about half way in Marlborough for a break and a swift pint at The Green Dragon where they are playing Led Zeppelin II and I watch a group of ducks walk by on the pavement (!?).

The Green Dragon - Marlborough

I pass Silbury Hill near Avebury and the Cherhill White Horse before passing through Calne and Chippenham and finally arriving in Bath early evening.

The Chervill White Horse & Monument

It's strange to think that the road right outside my front door leads directly back to where I used to live in the 60's and 70's. I somehow feel more in touch with myself and my past than I did before I set off the previous Friday. It's also great to get out on the bike and cover a few miles. I can't wait until the next time.

Caversham Park Village - Phase One

After a short ride further along the Henley Road I turn left into Caversham Park Road and left again into Lowfield Road. It's an almost dream-like experience. A route I remember exactly whilst looking out of a car window as a small boy. It feels strange now all these years later and still yet so familiar. The part of the then modern estate was called Phase One and Phase Two was still under construction. Looking at Google Earth, it looks like several more 'phases' have been built since then.
I pass the turning down into Corfe Mews and continue along Lowfield Road a little further before turning right into Farnham Drive and the small shopping precinct that used to be the focus of Caversham Park Village. My first impression after sidestepping the skateboarders skating under the 'NO BALL GAMES - NO SKATEBOARDING' sign is that this place has not aged well. When we lived in CPV (Caversham Park Village), it was newly built and some of the shops were empty shells yet to become inhabited. Although it was a Sunday and some shops were shuttered up I could see that several were now empty again in a rather more dilapidated state.

'Martin's The Newsagent'

One of the main shops used to be called 'Martin's The Newsagent' and contained the local Post Office. The Post Office counter has gone but amazingly the shop inside has changed very little in all this time. I must have spent a fortune on sweets in here over the years. There used to be a 'Budgens' small supermarket but that has long gone.

Farnham Drive Shopping Centre

I have a quick look around the back of the shops as we used to play there and I'm quite shocked to see how run-down it all looks. The rotten fencing in the photo below was brand spanking new white paint when we were there. It all looks a bit sad now.

Urban decay - click on image for close-up

At least the adjacent woods are still intact and haven't been bulldozed to make way for more housing. A particular favourite tree for climbing facing the shopping precinct is still there and still used by today's kids by the look of the rope swings hanging from it.

I walk a few hundred metres down a path leading from the precinct towards where we used to live.

There in front of me is No.7 Corfe Mews. The huge chestnut tree that was 'half in' our back garden towers over the house and has grown enormously. The house looks in pretty good shape from the front anyway. The only thing that seems to have visibly changed is the PVC front door.That was my bedroom, top right. I remember having a catapault and acorn fight with some 'friends' who had laid siege to the house. They were sent packing I can tell you!

A quick excursion 'round the back reveals the garden in which my dad had spent quite a bit of time building a pond surrounded by crazy paving and a bench around the trunk of the tree . He'd also built a rockery with a waterfall and stream which ended up in the pond. The rockery made a great bit of terrain for all those airfix soldiers etc.My dad laying the crazy paving, closely watched by my brother Jon...

The garden as it is now - rockery still visible and showing the young trees from the older photos having grown somewhat.

Family photo with us perched on the rockery 1968-69

A Quick Trip to Sonning

After a bit of a wander around the area around the house, which is looking rather tired it has to be said, I decide to make one last port of call before heading home to Bath.

Sonning is a pretty little village a couple of miles from Caversham on the banks of the river Thames. It was always a little posh but now I would imagine you would have to be pretty rich to afford to live there. It was lunch time so I decide to have a pub lunch (well, it was Sunday after all). Right in front of me appeared the familiar sign of The French Horn right on the edge of Sonning Bridge. I parked the bike up and strolled into the main reception area to be greeted by a waiter wearing a green blazer. Suddenly I felt like I was in the wrong place as I looked at all of the elderly diners sat out in the garden. "Is sir dining with us today?" came the enquiry. I stood there in my motorcycle leathers, crash helmet under my arm and looked nervously around me. "I'm not sure actually" I replied realising my mistake. "If sir wants casual, there is another public house just over the other side of the bridge which serves lunch" he informed me as I thanked him and turned on my heels to escape as quickly as possible.

"Casual? Casual!?" I muttered under my breath as I got on the bike and nipped across to the safety of the other side where I had a delicious 'casual' lunch for probably one fifth of the price they would have charged at The French Horn.

I have memories of swimming here in the river (once unintentional - I had a rubber dinghy which decided to suddenly split open whilst I was rowing whilst my parents were off walking. I managed to drag it's remains to the bank without drowning fortunately!) Aside from that, I used to go to cub scouts for a while here.
Sonning Bridge and the spot where my dinghy burst.

As part of the Berkshire, Sonning 1st Scouts I managed to make the rank of 'Seconder' and amassed a fair collection of 'proficiency badges', including Art, Entertaining, Sport, Cycling etc. Good fun at the time but we must have looked like a bunch of little green elves running about in our cub uniforms doing 'bob-a-job' on Caversham Park Village estate.

The Ladybird book of Boy Scouting - essential reading at the time. The uniforms were practically identical too. Our scarves were green and yellow though. These Ladybird books were everywhere at the time. Another topic for another time maybe.
The Berkshire Scout Badge we all had sewn onto the sleeves of our uniforms.

I've spent far too much time trying to find photos of the old Scout hut just off Pound Lane and I have failed. I've no idea who the people above are but I would put money on this being taken in the old scout hut. Same colour walls I remember and everything. There is a new building there now and the scouts are still going strong by the look of it. Akela!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Micklands Primary School

At the top of Donkin Hill I turn right onto the Henley Road and head towards Caversham Park Village. I pass a shop on the corner of All Hallows Road that I also remember. It was all boarded up but I could see there was a window you could look into. I pulled up and took a look inside. Amazingly it looked like one of those disaster movies where the owners had just upped and left in a hurry leaving everything in it's place. There were rows of toiletries and various other bits and pieces of 'corner shop' stuff all over the place like a museum. I suppose one could attempt to date when the moved out by looking at the packaging designs of products on the shelves. Possibly as long ago as the eighties? The bottle of 'Matey' bubble bath on the bottom shelf could even be 70's.
My old junior school is just around the corner from here. Micklands Primary School. I guess I was only there for a few years before we moved to Cornwall but it seemed like a lifetime back then.
It was a Sunday so I felt ok about riding my bike right up to the main gates to have a look. It wasn't so fenced in back in my day but we live in different times where anything that might put children at risk has to be cordoned off.
The caretaker did come over to check me out but when I explained that I used to go to the school back in the late 60's he told me all sorts of bits of history about what had happened to the school in the past four decades, including a fire that destroyed the main hall, and the tearing down of the dangerous asbestos 'temporary' classrooms that were demolished 8 years ago. Apparently lots of old ex-pupils turned up to watch it being taken apart by men in chemical warfare suits because of the asbestos dust. I was taught in that building along with hundreds of other school children for years. Great.
The playing fields look identical and looking around I am reminded that I think I was very happy at this school. I have some good memories of playing in the woods adjacent to the playing fields. You can't get in or out of the school grounds at the back like you used to as they've built houses all around it. Also the cemetery next door has expanded massively and started to surround the grounds since I went to school here. Slightly Ominous!
Photos pinched from the Micklands School website

That's me in my new Micklands School uniform with my family at a wedding sometime about 1967 at a guess.

In the interests of trying to keep examples of illustration running through this blog, I remember reading a several books at this school. One was 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' which had a wonderfully atmospheric cover but I don't know who the illustrator was.
Others were J.R.R Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' and C.S. Lewis' 'Narnia Tales' which need no introduction but again it was my first introduction to not only these epic works but also the illustrations of Pauline Baynes. Practically all of her covers transport you into another world before you even open the book and start reading. Nearly all of my mental images conjured up by reading these books are based on her illustrations.
It's interesting that Tolkien and Lewis were very good friends and they both chose Pauline Baynes to illustrate their books. Or maybe it was the publisher that chose her. Good choice in any case.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Planes, Trains & Automobiles...On To Caversham...

So, after a bit of an exploration of the area around the old house, I rediscover many of the places I remember as a boy; The walk to school along Chestnut Avenue, much as I remember it. The part of my road where they were still building and I managed to fall off some scaffolding pipes and gash my leg on a huge piece of flint sticking out of the ground (still have quite a big scar). The area called The Spinney where we used to play 'Stig of The Dump'. All pretty much there and recognisable 40 odd years later.
Another fantastic illustration from Edward Ardizzone and an influence on getting me interested in children's book illustration I realize many years later.

I next head off to see if I can find the first school I ever attended at Ley Hill, a couple of miles away from where we lived. This really is pushing the boundaries of my memory as I think I was only there for a term or two before we moved to Caversham when I was about six or seven years old. I pass an old red brick pub on the way called 'The Hen & Chickens' which rings a bell and then I round a bend and there the school is on my right. It's obviously expanded since I last saw it (1967-68?) but still recognisable. The school must have been newly built when I attended as I remember some temporary classrooms and construction going on back then. The only distinct memories I have of this place was trying to sing along to "Morning Has Broken' and failing miserably as I didn't know the words and couldn't understand what the rest of the children were actually singing word-wise. I also remember making a model of an ancient hill fort by moulding the round hill out of papier-mâché over a balloon and then popping the balloon when it was dry. Fascinating.The only other memory I have is sitting outside the classroom there on the grass waiting for the school bus to take us back to Chesham. There was a boy happily pulling the legs off a daddy longlegs. Why does one remember such things?I leave Ley Hill and head off back to Chesham for a quick look around the town. I find the station which I believe is the furthest station from the centre of London on the London Underground. This is as far as you can get on the Underground. Trains stop here and then go back to London. End of line.
I think the signal box here made a big impression on me as a boy. I mean it's a 'proper' signal box isn't it? It reminds me of another childhood fascination...model railways.
I used to avidly collect the Triang Hornby catalogues. Again the cover illustrations were fantastically dramatic and atmospheric. I don't know who the artist was but I believe he used to place a mouse in each of his illustrations. The image below is too small to see it but I believe there is a mouse scampering over the tracks somewhere in the picture. Awesome illustration anyway.
Right, that was Chesham revisited. I never found the hospital where I was actually must have been demolished I guess, never mind!

So, on to Caversham near Reading then. It's closer to Chesham than I thought and I arrive early Saturday evening but it's been a long day so I basically find my B&B and put my feet up for a couple of hours. Later on I take a stroll along the banks of the Thames and walk over Caversham Bridge to a Pub called The Griffin for a couple of drinks and something to eat. It's been an interesting day and I'm looking forward to revisiting more places from my childhood tomorrow...

I'm up early on Sunday and I decide to pay a brief visit to a school just down the road from the B& B where I remember my mother working as a teacher. She took me there a couple of times when she was working and presumably didn't have anyone to look after me. It still looks like quite an imposing building even now.
On to Caversham, over the bridge and down Caversham high street, the shopping centre and the library instantly bring back memories and are virtually unchanged as far as I can remember. I don't have much in the way of a map so I basically follow my nose towards where I think Caversham Park Village is and the house we lived in for four years before moving to cornwall when I was 10.

Suddenly I find myself riding up Donkin Hill which has a sinificance for me in terms of childhood memories. I used to walk to a shop at the top of Donkin Hill practically every Saturday morning to spend my pocket money. More often than not I would buy an Airfix kit of some kind and would spend the rest of the day making it up. I think I must have been 'Airfix mad' as a boy. I wasn't alone. All my friends also seemed obsessed with it. Strange now looking back. Plastic modelling must have been the major hobby of many a young boy in the sixties and seventies.
The shop is still there although it no longer sells toys and models and now seems to be a fishing tackle shop.
Any excuse for another example of Airfix box artwork.Ok, we've had trains and planes so what about automobiles? Well, another favourite of that time was Scalextric. I was given a big box of track and cars that my parents bought second hand for what must have been about my 8th birthday. The track was enormous and filled most of the ground floor of the house we lived in. Many happy an hour was spent hurtling plastic cars around the huge circuit. It used to terrify the cat, particularly when a car would leave the track on a bend and hit him like a guided missile.
The yellow Lamborghini was particularly fast at cornering...