Ronald Basil Girdler

1925 - 2017

Helene Girdler

1927 - 2020

My Childhood (continued)

We didn't have regular pocket money, but we knew Dad would give us a penny for sweets after we had been through the usual ritual. We would ask him "can we have a penny?", and he would put his thumb and forefinger in his top waistcoat pocket where his small change was kept and reply "What do you want it for?" and when we said "for some sweets" he would withdraw a precious penny for us. He always wore a waistcoat, winter and summer, because as well as his small change he carried a pocket watch, with the watch chain across the front to a button-hole. Although we asked him for pennies. when we needed new shoes or the like we asked Mum, who would intercede with him for us. It was Dad who always treated our cuts and grazes with plasters or bandages which would invariably stick to the wound, and if it was a knee wound I had to sit on the edge of the bath with my feet inside the bath so that he could soak the bandage off with copious amounts of water, and then when I least expected it he would rip off the soiled dressing. It was a very effective if somewhat painful method. One of Dad's favourite expressions was "Tomorrow is another day" which he would quote when we wanted to stay up after our bed-time in order to finish our game. If we asked him whether he had seen our shoe/ball/pencil or whatever, he used to say that he had seen the cat walking down the road with something in its mouth!

Friday night was always bath night, or as the ads used to say "Friday night is Amami night", Amami being a hair shampoo. Either Het, Kit or Barbara used to bath us and put us to bed and Kit always told us a story. I remember on one occasion at the end of an "escape" story, Kit said "She got out eventually", and Shirley got out of bed, thinking that Kit had said "Get out of bed Shirley"!

When I was about 10, the school dentist made an appointment for me to attend Guy's Hospital Dental Department to investigate the possibility of having my teeth straightened, as they were very crooked and overcrowded. On arrival I was put in the dentist's chair, surrounded by the dentist and several dental students. The dentist examined my teeth and announced to the students that I would probably lose all my teeth very soon unless something was done about them. I was given another appointment to attend for treatment, and as the day approached I became more and more apprehensive. Finally Mum took me to keep the appointment but as we were walking across London Bridge, my courage failed and I begged Mum not to make me go. She was unable to resist my pleas and we returned home. The Guy's dentist was proven wrong, however, for although, some fifty years later, my teeth are still crooked and overcrowded, 1 have managed to keep them all. But I have had many a nightmare over the years in which I have had to cope with a mouthful of loose teeth.

Also during this period we used to see quite a lot of Dad's brother Uncle Ike and his family who used to live in the Mile End Road opposite the People's Palace. Their youngest daughter Beattie was about the same age as myself and we enjoyed one another's company. Shirley and I often stayed with them overnight and Beattie used to stay with us. They had in their bedroom a huge conch shell, which we would hold to our ears and hear the sea roaring. Her mother Auntie Ginny made lovely cinnamon cakes.

During what seems in retrospect to have been the long hot summers, Mum, Dad and the younger members of the family used to spend a week on holiday in either Bournemouth, Westcliff or Cliftonville. We would travel by train, an adventure in itself, and the weather must have been very kind to us because the snapshots, taken with a Kodak Brownie Box camera show us wearing swimming costumes and sun-hats, squinting into the sun.

Het and Kit get Married

In September 1937 Het married Jack Rosen (later Rogers) -the boy next door-but-one- and a very big wedding was held in the West End, following the ceremony in the Synagogue. The meal consisted of many courses of traditional Jewish fare, and the dancing, to a full dance band, went on till the early hours of the morning. Kit, Barbara, Shirley and I were bridesmaids and we wore pale turquoise taffeta dresses with lace skirts and a taffeta scalloped-edged overskirt.

On Christmas day 1938 Kit married Joe Pinkus and another big wedding was held at which Barbara wore green velvet and Shirley and I wore red velvet dresses with hooped skirts. At the reception, held in the West End, the hall became very hot during the dancing and we three kids-Shirley, Beattie and myself, went for a walk round the block to cool off, (after dark on Christmas Day!), and nobody knew we had gone. All the dresses for both weddings, including the brides' and Mum's, were made by Het. Het and Jack lived in Ilford where Jack had a hairdressing salon, and I went there from time to time and "helped" Jack by passing him the hair pins and perming papers. Kit and Joe lived in Edgware, and soon after they moved in I went there to "help" Kit to hang the curtains. Joe ran a cigarette-machine business. At this time cigarettes were 11½ d (almost 5p) a packet and as the machines took only I shilling and did not give change, a ½ d had to be inserted inside the cellophane outer wrapping of every packet, and we used to help Joe occasionally in this mammoth task.

Secondary School

In 1938 I sat the Scholarship exam which was the equivalent of today's 11-plus, and when the results were read out in assembly I waited impatiently to hear my name. Finally when had given up hope my name was called - the very last on the list of course, because my name began with a Z. We were allowed to go home there and then to break the news. In the beginning of the new school year in September 1938 I started the term at Laura Place High School for Girls in Clapton. Mum took me to buy the school uniform which consisted of a brown serge gym slip and cream blouse, a brown velour hat in the winter and a Panama hat in the summer, (Oh how I hated those hats!) brown flat heeled lace-up shoes for outdoors and brown ankle-strap shoes for indoors. I also had a leather music-case to carry my books in, and this was my pride and joy. The day mum bought it I put it in my bedroom propped against the wall so I could see it from my bed, and I lay there before going to sleep gazing at it and inhaling the beautiful smell of leather whilst the familiar sounds of the rattling of cups and saucers, the subdued voices and the song "Any umberellas" (sic) sung by Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon on the radio came drifting up from downstairs.

The school had a tuck shop, and at morning break I used to buy a very sticky bun or Bath bun to eat with my free bottle of milk. On the way home from school we called it at a sweet shop where I bought a pennyworth of treacle toffee which the shop assistant broke up into mouth-sized pieces with a pair of toffee tongs. It was strictly against school rules to be seen eating in the street in school uniform, so it had to be done very surreptitiously with the hand to the mouth.

The few years before the war were the good years. Work was plentiful and money, whilst not plentiful, at least was not short, We acquired a radiogram and lots of records, including "One Fine Day" from Madame Butterfly and a series called "Life With the Stars" which consisted of excerpts from many of the best known films of the time. I remember Gary Cooper "The Lives of the Bengal Lancers" -"He couldn't hit a ball at Eton!" We also had a piano which John taught himself to play. He would spend hours practising Czerny's Studies for the piano and some pieces by Chopin. Every Saturday morning we used to have "Film Fun", a comic containing strip cartoons with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd and others, and we'd always have a fight to have "first go" with it. I think Dad used to win most times! I also used to have "Girl's Crystal", "Schoolgirl's Weekly" and a magazine of schoolgirl stories with Bessie Bunter the fat girl of the Fourth (form) presumably designed on Billy Bunter who appeared in the boys' comic at the time, and a monthly paper-back of the same kind. John had read in one of his magazines that if you squeezed an egg firmly in your hand exerting equal pressure over its surface, the egg would not break, He demonstrated this one day, holding his hand aloft against the breakfast room wall. It broke and the contents slowly trickled down the wallpaper.

Next Page Previous Page