My early childhood was spent in the east end of London, that area frequented until the second half of the 20th century by immigrant populations. At the time of my birth, the beginning of the 'thirties, the immigrants were predominantly Jews who had settled in the area of Stepney and Whitechapel. Chinese immigrants had based themselves further east, in the Limehouse and Wapping areas. The reason for this conglomoration of immigrants lay in its proximity to London's Dockland, a thriving port until the mid 'fifties when it slowly faded and became almost totally obscure following the "container revolution" of the late 'sixties. It was, perhaps, appropriate that I was very involved in that "revolution".
We moved, as did most Jewish families, north-westward from the East End, shortly before the second world war. The further north and west a family moved defined its status and affluence. We managed to get as far as Stoke Newington and could only cast envious glances at family members who had made it to Stamford Hill, whilst Golders Green, Edgware and Hertfordshire were as distant to our ambition as was Timbuctou.
Within two years of our removal, and just before my tenth birthday, war was declared and I was evacuated to Northampton. There I remained for more than two years before returning to London. Then, having gained a place at a secondary school, I departed on my second period of evacuation. This time to Fakenham in Norfolk. This lasted one term only; then I had to return to London for hospital treatment of a tubercular gland in my throat. Another year passed. Two more changes of school. Then the advent of the V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets persuaded my mother to evacuate herself, my younger sister, and me to friends in Llanelli, South Wales.
Yet another change of school - Llanelli Boys' Grammar School, where my previous exposure to soccer and my inability to refrain from passing a ball forward (well, it always seemed to make more sense to head for the goal as quickly as possible) hardly endeared me to my rugby-playing schoolmates. But, more than compensating for that, my exposure to the warmth of my Welsh friends, to a political awakening, to a religious (Christian) awareness, and to a developing desire for sexual experimentation, gave me an intense delight which has remained with me for more than 50 years. The mere sound of a Welsh lilting accent fills me with joy.
And so, ultimately, it was back to London, for the end of the war in Europe, armed with a certificate as evidence that I had achieved London University matriculation via the Central Welsh Board's School Certificate. One further accomplishment, which was to stand me in excellent stead in later years, was that I had chosen to study shorthand, typewriting and book-keeping instead of general science and art. This was based on an early and persistent obsession with the idea of a journalistic career. My secretarial studies are referred to at greater length in the Literary Activities section of this website.
The immediate post-war years were momentous ones for me. The intellectual, spiritual, political and sexual awakening that had started in Wales reached fruition in London. Embarking first on a course of pre-university study leading to a BA degree in English and history at the Grocers School in Hackney Downs, I spent more time in extra-mural studies of economics and politics. It seemed sensible to combine the two, so I transferred to the Quintin School (part of Regents Street Polytechnic) where my studies embraced Economics, Economic History, British Constitution, Geography and French. My French, always good, benefited enormously from a visit to Paris in 1946 - an exchange with a French student. Synchronously my father was serving at a transit camp in northern France and was able to get a temporary transfer to Paris while I was there.
On my return from France I was confronted with a choice between two equally undesirable options. A rather poorer examination result than I had expected meant that I would have to re-sit at least one subject before I could be admitted to university. The alternative was to fulfill my military service obligation before going to university and re-sit the examination while a national serviceman. I chose the latter option with very gratifying results.
On yet one more occasion - to be repeated several times in the future - my secretarial studies produced unexpected rewards. Before I had completed my basic army training the word went out through the ranks of the recruits: "The Commanding Officer needs someone who can type, while his confidential clerk is on leave." Despite the warning given to all recruits: "Never volunteer". I offered my services. The C.O. was amazed to discover that he now had a (albeit temporary) clerk who possessed not only typing but shorthand skills. I was too valuable a prize to let slip. I was cajoled into remaining on their establishment rather than apply for a posting to the Education Corps, with the promise of an early promotion, which materialised as merely one stripe. (Too late for me to take an Education Corps posting with its minimum three-stripe grade.)
But, before too long I not only had my stripe, but had made myself so indispensable to the C.O. that when I threatened to apply for a posting because I could not manage both the onerous duties required by my position (sic) and the extra-mural studies to complete my intermediate degree, the solution was found in truly pragmatic army fashion. I was instructed by the C.O.'s adjutant to prepare a letter for the C.O.'s signature, excusing myself from all duties, guards, parades, picquets, and anything else I chose to insert therein.
For eighteen months I enjoyed the "Life of Riley", using my travel warrants (issued for the ostensible purpose of attending evening classes in Guildford) to visit the cinema twice a week, and organising a weekend bus service to London on behalf of my colleagues which was cheaper than the train and gave them a few hours more in London before returning to camp. The fact that it also earned me a nice piece of "pin money" and ensured my own free-of-charge weekend travel was not something I broadcast. And, in common with my buddies, there was someone special to go home to on the weekends.
|Secretarial skills stood me in good stead||Buddies Wilkinson and Pashley||Weekend R and R - and R. The third R was Rita|