The saving grace of this flat was its location - in retrospect a great place for a kid. It was only 10 minutes walk or so to my primary school, a bit less to Brunswick Park with its open area for ball-games and its swings (including several now banned as too dangerous} and a short bus journey to the Elephant and Castle, the Imperial War Museum and The Tower of London, where in those days kids could climb all over the cannons by the riverside, now fenced off of course - a bit like Stonehenge, which I must have visited once on the way to Cornwall for a summer holiday. It was also near to the super Camberwell Baths, where I spent many hours, always on my own or with schoolfriends. I never remember my father taking me anywhere, except ONCE to the cinema in Camberwell (remember Saturday morning cinema for kids?). Mother, on the other hand, often took me up to London to the places mentioned and also the wonderful Kensington Museums. We also went to the rehearsal for Queen’s Coronation in 1953, when I was only six.
From the age of six I spent many hours OUTSIDE the house wandering the streets of Camberwell, usually on roller-skates or on a home-made wooden scooter using old ball-bearings. (When I was 8 I at last got a two-wheeled bike, which HUGELY widened my roaming area!) At the end of the road there was a huge bombsite where we played for hours - not finding anything gruesome or useful - or fortunately any unexploded bombs. I do not remember my parents EVER expressing any worry about me spending hours outside the house and indeed wandering far and wide over the area - usually with one or two mates but often alone. The idea that a child under ten could be unsafe in the streets just didn't occur in those days.
However, my father had a heart attack when I was four years old I think it was. In those days, they kept heart attack victims in hospital for months, and as my mother had to work I spent three months with both my sets of grandparents. My father's lived in Kingston near Richmond Park and my mother's in Charlton, overlooking the Valley where Charlton Football Club played. My maternal grandparents often took me to the lovely Charlton Park and of course most memorably to Greenwich Park, one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the WORLD: beautiful because of its size, variety, flora and position overlooking the Thames and also thanks to the exquisite National Maritime Museum and other buildings and interesting above all thanks to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, so famous in the history of astronomy - and then there was the Cutty Sark nearby and the Greenwich pedestrian-tunnel under the Thames. When I once again stayed with them later - I must have been about 8 I guess - I even got as far as the Woolwich ferry on my own, on which you could go below deck to see the ferry's engines and pistons working to drive the boat.
After three months in Charlton I went to my father's parents' house in Kingston, where my uncle took me every Sunday for LONG walks on Richmond Common and of course in Richmond Park, another fabulous jewel of London. Has any other city two such wonderful parks as Richmond and Greenwich? I don't know of any.
I was also lucky to go to a really nice primary school in Camberwell: Brunswick Park. I always loved school. My year had a Mr Ward for several years, a kindly old gent who made us do endless spelling tests and recite our times tables. Then there was a Mr Dukes in my last year, who really helped us with our English. There were of course no mobiles or video games and only limited telly, so I read endlessly and voraciously: ALL the great children's classics, often more than once. I must have read "Treasure Island" at least ten times, and "Black Beauty" was another favourite. I wasn't much good at arithmetic, and so I am convinced it was thanks to my English that I passed the 11+ - something that so astonished my father when I told him the news as he was driving me home (in my last months at primary school we moved from Camberwell to West Norwood) that he almost had an accident .....
So, I grew up in rudimentary physical conditions at home, but it did not seem so at the time; one has no frame of reference at that age, so whatever discomforts there were seemed normal - actually, they WERE normal! But I feel lucky to have had the adventures and experiences I did have. Healthwise I was also lucky. I remember several kids at school had polio braces, as that was still around in the 50s, but the worst health thing I had was chicken-pox - and I will never forget the smell of calamine lotion, the main thing used to ease the horrible itching. Holidays? In the early 50s my father had a motorbike and sidecar in which we went down to Margate (I sat in the sidecar!) and elsewhere on daytrips, and by the mid-50s he had a simple car - which meant we started going to unforgettable Cornwall in the summer or to camp on a farm in Sussex.
The bottom line? All in all, I think I had a beautiful and lucky childhood, which is all my parents could have dreamed of after the dreadful war years they had just come through. My early years were full of adventure roaming the fascinating streets and sights of South London - and school was always fun - the last time I did country dancing in fact, something I missed at WHS! Our living conditions were rudimentary, but we had enough to eat and paraffin kept us warm in winter - so living in an old and bleak Nissen hut at WHS would have posed no problem; I reckon it was just one more huge adventure for many of the London boys who went to WHS. I loved living in Camberwell, but funnily enough I didn't miss it so much when I went to WHS, where I was simply overwhelmed by it all: the incredible setting, the sport, the lessons, the activities, new chums - unforgettable days .......