Half Term

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
Into caves

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?

metrolandIt’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.

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3 Responses to Half Term

  1. Andy Cade says:

    Thanks for reminiscences I can relate to. My first Half Term was in November 1959. My Mum travelled from home town Crewe driven by a family friend. Fog delayed their arrival by about 2 hours finding me waiting patiently, alone in the cloister outside the Tuck Shop (I was in J House), from where you couldn’t see the infirmary end of the cloister on account of the fog. We took the train from Bushey & Oxhey to London for lunch at The St Ermine’s Hotel, a haunt of MPs and foreign diplomats, which was for me, uncomfortably formal.
    Afterwards we visited London Zoo where the fog made it impossible to see any of the creatures in the outdoor cages. Retuning to J Ston by train I recall seeing the bonfires burning in gardens adjoining the railway and viewing the forthcoming J Ston Bonfire night fireworks with a blend of excitement and overwhelming apprehension as it would be another 6 weeks before going home for Christmas. Mum wasn’t able to stay for the fireworks, we said our goodbyes and she and her chauffeur melted into the freezing, misty darkness. 1,2 3 aaaah.

  2. Andy Cade says:

    Here’s what happened when I made my first trip home from J Ston. As a boy from Crewe I was inspired by the popular ditty forever associated with this famous railway town.

    Chorus can be sung to the tune of ‘Oh Mr Porter’

    I‘d spent just one term at
    the Masonic School for boys
    Down in dreary Bushey
    Far from my Mum and toys
    12 long weeks I’d had of it
    To cry and mope, alone
    I wasn’t sorry on the day
    It came to go back home.
    For Christmas. All excited
    We arrived at Watford junction
    me with Morse from Fleetwood
    At 10 years old, a veteran.
    The north bound train arrived
    A blast of steam and noise,
    ‘ this one’ the teacher cried
    On climbed two little boys
    Imagine our concern when
    Only 15 minutes later
    The 8.22 from Watford to Crewe
    Reached Tring and terminated.

    Oh Mr Porter what shall I do?
    They put me off the train at Tring
    When I wanted to go to Crewe
    Send me up to Rugby
    As quickly as you can
    Oh Mr Porter what a silly boy I am.

    The porter found the Station boss
    Who sat us in his office
    In front of a raging red hot fire
    He was friendly – though he looked fierce
    ‘What shall I do with you two lads?’
    he said as he phoned a man;
    Half an hour later we’re surrounded by papers
    in a north bound, goods train, Guard’s van.
    Sharing his doorsteps, biscuits and tea
    Collecting and dropping the mail
    But compared with the Inter City
    We progressed at the pace of a snail
    to Rugby, barely half way to Crewe
    where Mum waited, worried, ‘cause no-one there knew
    What had happened to Andy who was well overdue.
    The train she’d expected to greet him from
    Had quit Crewe with no sign of her little one.

    The railway police checked all the loos
    And searched the train and track, for clues
    of the missing 9 year-old’s whereabouts
    even in ‘R N Cade & Son’s’ warehouse*.

    Meanwhile 70 miles or so southerly
    Two lads sat on a platform at Rugby
    Advised, (so as to avoid more ruction),
    to ‘sit tight and wait for further instruction’.
    But what’s that announcement on the PA?
    The next train leaving from Rugby today
    Will soon be departing from platform 2
    North bound for Manchester, calling at Crewe.
    Well. One little chap took this as his cue
    ‘Ta ta’ Johnny Morse, happy Christmas to you’
    As down the platform Andy flew
    And leaped aboard the train bound for Crewe.

    Oh Mr Porter what shall I do? etc

    ‘Going home for Christmas?’
    asked the kindly looking man
    sat in the compartment
    Where 8 of us were crammed
    I told him my story.
    He asked me my phone number
    ‘Crewe 7482’ I said
    Impressed I could remember
    He dialled it from Crewe station
    ‘Mrs Cade?’ I heard him say
    Your lad is safe.
    I’ll put him in a taxi right away
    to Church Lane, Wistaston
    where followed cheerful scenes
    At home. At last. ‘I’m hungry ‘Mum.
    Have we got any baked beans?’

    But what caused Morse and Cadey
    To trigger this distress
    And board the slowmo slam-door,
    Instead of the express?
    Well here’s my explanation
    Of what prompted panic stations.
    When the teacher cried ‘Not this one’
    as the train had lumbered in
    To Watford -the ‘Not’ word,
    Was not heard above din
    of the 8.15 from Watford
    Which only went as far as Tring.

    Oh Mr Porter what shall I do?

    If you’re wondering what happened to Johnny Morse?
    He was home in time for tea, of course.

    *‘R N Cade & Son’ was Robert Norman & son Basil Cade’s wholesale fruit and vegetable business which operated from warehouse premises opposite the market and municipal buildings in Earle Street Crewe.

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