A visit to Aunty Hilda’s, 1949

In 1949 I lived in the stark secure world of north London. Being five years old I didn’t realise that differences in living conditions could be enormous. My two brothers and I lived in a large ten room house in multiple occupation. Apart from our family’s four rooms the rest of the house was let out to other families or single occupants. It was a slum but to me it was home.

One summer morning Mum surprised me by saying that we were visiting her sister. I was told it was a bit of a journey and to make sure to go the lav, (lavatory) before we set off. We walked to the main road to catch a bus to Turnpike Lane in Tottenham. There we boarded a Green-Line country service bus to the wilds of Essex. This bus was an hourly service, whereas in London our buses were every ten minutes

We went to Chingford. I remember passing a statue of a rotund shop keeper with his right hand holding a huge plaster ice-cream cone. Mum told me were nearly there. We got off the bus and had a lengthy walk through pretty countryside. A little way up a hill was my aunt and uncle’s house.

Compared to where we lived, Mum’s sister had got it made. Married to a police sergeant they lived in a detached three bedroomed house, with their twelve-year-old daughter Shirley. I’d met her and her mum several times before, when they’d visited us in Islington. To my astonishment, which must have shown, we had to walk through a huge front garden, just to reach their front door. It had coloured strips of material hanging in front of the front door. Mum explained this was to keep the direct sunlight off of the door, to stop the paint blistering in the sun’s heat.

Aunty Hilda welcomed us inside. I was quite happy to accompany Shirley whilst Mum and Aunty Hilda chatted. Shirley took me through, what she called the hallway with its large wooden mirrored hat and umbrella stand. We passed the very substantial stairway leading upstairs, into something she called the “mud-room” before we reached the garden. The back garden had row upon row of lavender forming the curtilage of each flower-bed. Shirley encouraged me to run my hand through the blue lavender flower heads. The smell was astonishing. Later we lay very still and quiet on the lawn of the front garden, to catch grass-hoppers in our bare hands. The outside of the house had white pebble-dashed walls, with dark brown external windows and doors. It was a very lovely old house. Set in the ideal rural setting, with trees and bushes next to the road and grass verges. The visit really impressed me.

Mike

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