WHEN WE WERE SMALL, we were taught to be polite to adults. For little boys, that meant saluting grown-ups who were known to us, especially teachers.
Some people we were afraid of - the policeman, the headmaster, the janitor, some old spinsters, and in my case the black-faced coalman who would shout after me that Nancy Stirling was my girl friend.
When we were a bit older, there was someone else who scared us (she scared some adults too) - Miss Rumbles!
Many parents encouraged their children to join the Junior Section of the local library, and that’s where Miss Rumbles was all-powerful. Small, tight-lipped, with little eyes that pierced you through her glasses, she was probably a very nice lady outside the library, but we children felt that we were definitely not wanted there. The library was always spotlessly clean with highly polished floors, and I got the impression that our presence was making it untidy.
I can’t remember at what age we joined, but certainly by the time we were in our early teens Rita and I were avid readers.
What was I reading? I suppose mainly detective books in the beginning - Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, G.K. Chesterton, but later I discovered Phillips Oppenheim and Marie Corelli (both British despite their names), Maurice Walsh, P.G. Wodehouse and others.
For light reading, my greatest discovery was the work of Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon. This clever partnership created a series of humorous books including A Bullet in the Ballet, No Bed for Bacon, Don’t Mr Disraeli, and Six Curtains for Stroganova. This last one I read again a few weeks ago, and still find it terrific.
I find it strange that I can’t recall many books that we read as Home Readers at secondary school. Charles Dickens of course, and there was Walter Scott’s Quentin Durward which I found boring.
Among the poetry we studied, my favourites always had something of the supernatural about them - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Wife of Usher’s Well, Thomas the Rhymer, The Lady of Shalott and Keat’s La Belle Dame sans Merci.
I started off this week’s blog by saying that, when we were small, we were afraid of certain people.
There was something that really scared children however, and that was the “fever van.” If they were outside playing when it appeared, the children would quickly vanish to their own homes and stay indoors till it had gone. Around 1932/3 scarlet fever and diphtheria were common diseases, and as both were very infectious any one who took them had to go to hospital.
At that time I seemed to succumb to all the illnesses that were on the go, and sure enough scarlet fever claimed me. I was 7 years old when I was taken away in the dreaded “fever van”, and the awful thing was that I really thought I would never get home again. I would be there for the rest of my life!
Visitors weren’t allowed inside, but on visiting days they gathered on the path outside the ward and waved to us children who were looking out the windows. I think I stayed there for 6 weeks, and it was very strange indeed being home again.
I don’t know if I was responsible for passing on the germ or not, but not long afterwards both Rita and one of our aunts took the disease. Rita who had her 5th birthday in hospital made very little progress, and eventually our worried parents insisted that she be discharged. As soon as she was home, her recovery began and she was soon well again.
My wife Jean tells me that in the Glasgow hospital where her sister had scarlet fever, parents used to dread approaching the ward windows, for, if the curtains at a particular window were closed, it meant that the child there had died. How awful!
RED LETTER DAYS No1
There’s no doubt at all that my first life-changing day was when I left to join the RAF.
Some weeks earlier I had received notification of my National Service call-up, and shortly afterwards my father had discovered that a Glasgow boy who had relatives in our town had his call-up papers also, and that we would both be travelling on the same train to the same destination - RAF Padgate.
And so one night I said goodbye to my mother and sister, and my father accompanied me to Central Station in Glasgow where I met my travelling companion James Wood. The fact that there were two of us setting out on this adventure made the night journey quite pleasant, and I don’t think I had any fears or worries about what the future might hold.
At Padgate there seemed to be hundreds of young men being fitted out with uniforms, finding their billets and being shouted at by angry NCOs. We settled in to a rather chaotic fortnight of some square-bashing, inspections and lectures, and I was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it all.
Our serious training began at RAF Bridgenorth, and at the end of six weeks I passed out as Aircraftsman Second Class Jaap.
My red letter day of course was that day on which I left home. Up till then (as anyone of my age brought up in our kind of society will understand) my parents had made all my decisions for me, but from then onwards, despite being a member of a regimented organisation, I felt I was free for the very first time.
THIS WEEK’ S QUOTATION
But if we are truly happy inside, then age brings with it a maturity, a depth, and a power that only magnifies our radiance (David Deida)