Tag Archives: 1935

Fast hill


A highly-decorated biscuit tin lived on our front room windowsill at 36 Ashfield Avenue. It was filled with family snapshots. One of them was this postcard, showing our road as it was when we moved there in 1935. Just visible is the horse-drawn milk cart on the daily morning round. The houses at the top on the right had bay windows with curved glass: I was just ten years old and bitterly disappointed to find that we weren’t moving into one of these. They were very modern and would have been a good bragging topic at the new school when the other braggers weren’t nearby. But we did find that we had an already-installed telephone – unbelievable in the 1930s; an actual telephone. And that was very good material for bragging.

Drama hit us late one afternoon. The hill was hardly steep, but you usually entered it at a fair crack from the main road and the gradient quickly speeded you up. My father was cycling home from work and looking forward to his bath and his slippers and settling down to the ‘News Chronicle’ with a cup of tea. He swung into our road and went freewheeling down the hill. As usual, he began braking as he passed that gas lamp on the left.

But this time his brakes didn’t work.

He was going too fast to jump off; he couldn’t even relax and depend on an uphill stretch at the bottom to slow him down; across the bottom was a five-barred gate barring the way to the grazing fields beyond. He was probably now going faster than he had ever been before. Then he saw at the very bottom of the hill, on the left, a big pile of builders’ sand. It was half on the pavement, half in the road. He aimed for it.

As he hit, the bike buried itself and he went into a tight somersault over the handlebars and on to the heap. It saved him.

My memory is of hearing a rattling of keys at the front door and opening it and seeing a very sandy father looking at me through sand-encircled eyes.

‘No brakes!’ he said.

Public Library Harbour

IT WAS 1935 and I was ten. The Bushey Public Library was opened a little later, I think, but when it did come I found it great after coming out of school – Ashfield School for Boys – at 4pm to walk into Bushey Public Library. It was like bringing a storm-tossed boat into harbour. As you went in, all you heard was silence.

Not a forbidding silence. A soothing one, with a quietly-spoken, smiling, helpful young woman busying herself behind the counter. I’ve forgotten her name. You could ask her questions about where to find a book – or even the sort of book – you needed; she would lead you there. Two or three members would be sitting at the big tables at the far end, working, some writing notes, others turning the pages of books.

When I went in I knew exactly which shelves to head for. There were the entire series of Cody M Ferris’s ‘The X-Bar-X Boys’ and all of WE Johns’s ‘Biggles’ books; on each side and above and below them were books of the same kind. Further along there came ‘Three Men in a Boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, PG Wodehouse with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and The Empress of Blandings waiting to reduce me to giggles.

At home in the evenings when there was nothing interesting on the radio, I would read ‘Three Men in a Boat’ to Mum and Dad, I in an upright dining chair facing the fire and they in their armchairs on either side, exploding with laughter.

I discovered the Library as soon as we arrived at our new Ashfield Avenue house (a short road, ending at Somers Way at that time). It was my teacher, my guide to the ways of the world, to the workings of the human body. This last function came into play as soon as I cottoned-on to the fact that there was an enormous row of books called ‘The Encyclopaedia Brittanica’ and that it could enlarge upon so much of what I had heard about but didn’t understand.

They had answers to the many pressing questions that the pubescent boy asks. Sitting there, reading the answers and studying the illustrations I would become aware of a burning red face and, walking out of the place, hoping it would cool down by the time I went in at the back door of No 36.

The Library was my best, my honest, friend. I just wish I could remember that librarian’s name. Miss. . . ?