The Science Museum, Cassiobury Park, The Serpentine Lido, Richmond Park; the names still have a powerful effect on me 50 years later. Guessed the connection yet? Look at the title dear boy! Come on!
At the Masonic Schools half-term was a midpoint weekend in every trimestre when our parents – more properly the singular form as none of us had fathers – could visit and take us out for the weekend. Saturday morning school finished an hour early – by itself an exquisite relief from routine – and mothers arrived from 12.00.
The excitement! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
As everybody else’s mother arrived to a storm of emotion (“Hello Mum” that kind of thing) a dash of anxiety heightened the mix in case yours had screwed up and thoughtlessly got run over or some such.
Then we leave the gates (inscription “Abandon hope all ye who enter here!”) and head for the freedom of London’s dives and fleshpots parks and museums, for which see list above.
Saturday was bliss and we did not have to return until 8.00pm except in the Autumn Term when half-term coincided with Bonfire Night and our visitors were allowed to return with us for a giant firework display around a bonfire that the Head Groundsman walked inside to ignite. It was on such a day that I was taken for my first Wimpy. How could food taste that good? The genius of the toasted bun became the highlight of half-terms thereafter.
My daughters struggle to believe that I never went to a proper restaurant until I was 18 when “Horace” Harmsworth, my Greek master, took the three of us (the entire A level group) to a hotel in Abingdon and I had duck with orange sauce. Prior to that such sophistication was undreamt of. If there was anything better than Wimpy I was unaware of it.
Possibly because she ran out of places to visit or because it cost less or for both reasons, at some point my mother started staying with an Auntie Barbara in Rayner’s Lane which in the 60’s was still gloriously John Betjeman: Metroland in all its magnificent whimsy, as evoked by his magnificent homage to suburbia “Harrow-on-the-hill”
When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley
And electric trains are lighted after tea
The poplars near the stadium are trembly
With their tap and tap and whispering to me,
Like the sound of little breakers
Spreading out along the surf-line
When the estuary’s filling
With the sea
Then Harrow-on-the-Hill’s a rocky island
And Harrow churchyard full of sailor’s graves
And the constant click and kissing of the trolley buses hissing
Is the level of the Wealdstone turned to waves
And the rumble of the railway
Is the thunder of the rollers
As they gather for the plunging
There’s a storm cloud to the westward over Kenton,
There’s a line of harbour lights at Perivale,
Is it rounding rough Pentire in a flood of sunset fire
The little fleet of trawlers under sail?
Can those boats be only roof tops
As they stream along the skyline
In a race for port and Padstow
With the gale?
It’s awful now, of course but in the 1960s Rayner’s Lane still captured that vision sketched out so skilfully by the ad men of the Metropolitan Railway and romanticised by Sir John. Those relatively few who had cars washed them on a Sunday. Front gardens were neatly clipped and the word hard standing had not entered the language.
And so half-terms morphed from tramping around museums to mooning around at Auntie Barbara’s mock Tudor bungalow, watching television and having boiled eggs for tea; all of which suited me just fine.
Sunday was more of the same but shorter as it was back to school for supper at 6.15 and the comforts of home once again a distant prospect.
Sic transit gloria mundi.