As my fourteenth birthday hove into view and we entered the summer of 1939 it became clear that we could soon be at war with Germany. Bushey Heath was just fifteen miles north-west of central London. My parents felt I should be out of the way of the expected bombing raids, so they sent me, not to friends but to friends of a friend, Mr and Mrs Ovey. Mr Ovey was Pastor of the Barnstaple Mission, just by their house in Rackfield, which eventually I attended every Sunday morning and evening.
One of my first thoughts about the move concerned the delightful possibility that girls might be there. In the train I stood at the corridor window as we halted at the Barnstaple platform. There was a young girl standing among the crowd, her auburn hair loose round her shoulders. But she was beside an elderly woman and obviously waiting for someone else. No luck. I clambered down to the platform with my suitcase and gas mask, looking about me for someone to wave at me. Then I saw the same auburn-haired girl, and the woman was coming towards me, smiling, holding out both hands to me. She introduced herself and her daughter.
This thirteen-year-old became the first of four girlfriends. She took me by storm. My best friend was still my friend, but now he seemed a different being. Beside this soft-eyed and stunning creature he was rubbish. She sat opposite me at the tea table late that afternoon, with her mother and father. Once, I fancied that her bright eyes were on me and I was so distracted that I stirred my tea with my knife and was doubly appalled when they all laughed.
Glorious, mysterious, aromatic Girl wasn’t the only pleasure in this new life in Barnstaple. There was school, The Boys’ Senior School in Derby Road. Illogically I associate it with Mars Bars (fourpence) and Milky Ways (twopence-halfpenny); I bought them at the sweet shop on the left along Boutport Street on my way to or from school. As for the school building, I remember it as being full of big windows and having a general feeling of modernity. Drawing and writing, the only two subjects I was any good at, were given an importance not recognised in the Bushey school, and I revelled in the ease with which I could please Mr Fern, the Art master, with my paintings and drawings and the English master by exercise-book-length essays. But the greatest event of all came and went almost without my noticing it: the stammer that had been the bane of school life. It had begun some nine years before. The worst time was in the four years at Ashfield School, Bushey, from June 1935, when words would get stuck in my throat and leave me gagging stupidly while reading aloud to the class. Now, crowning all the delights of this wonderful North Devon school, the stammer mysteriously left me. It has never returned.
If any reader is interested, more of my boyhood life can be found on my personal website.
A memory shared byon Dec 14th, 2010.
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