I did face a few challenges. I started writing this and realised no way was I going to fit everything I want to say into five posts. So I'm splitting it into eight posts, each covering around five years. If that is simply too much to wade through, look away now. Another challenge is lack of any photos - all our family albums are currently sitting in my sister's garage, and my own non-digital photos are in a cottage in Berkshire. And so I've had to rely on the internet to find relevant pictures for this post. But - it's amazing what you can do with Google these days. Finally, there's the fact that my mother died in 1998, and is not around to fill in some of the detail. (Dad, if you are reading, perhaps you can correct me on any point).
So: the first five years.
I was born in Harold Wood Hospital, Essex; within the London borough of Havering, so I suppose I can legitimately call myself both a Londoner and an Essex Girl. My mother was a teacher in a primary school nearby, my father worked in banking in the City. Around the time of my birth, they moved to Hutton, near Brentwood, buying a Victorian house.
I found this image on Google Streeview! It looks very different from how it did in the 70s.
My mother, who had a passionate dislike of modern houses, always said that our house had "character". And she was right. At the back of the house was a conservatory, with a magnificent grape vine growing from its ceiling. These grapes hung down in succulent bunches in summer, attracting many wasps. I believe my parents tried to make wine from them, but never succeeded.
Our garden was large and wide, with a shady area down the end that I used to find vaguely exciting, large blue hydrangea bushes (to this day, I love blue hydrangeas) and a silver birch that was planted to commemorate my birth. And there was an outside loo in a brick outbuilding, which always had spiders in it.
What else do I remember? The hallway was painted deep purple, and when my baby sister was born, her nursery was painted deep orange. Years later, I would live in a house with a purple dining room and (pale) orange nursery - painted by us. There's a starting point for a Dulux ad (can I copyright it, please?).
But one day, everything changed. Here's a vivid memory; one day, in 1976, my father threw me up in the air in bed, and said: "We're going to Hong Kong today!"
I remember nothing about the aeroplane journey (which took around 22 hours in those days. Presumably it was hellish for my parents, with a six week old newborn and me, aged three). I often wonder what was it like for my mother, arriving in a far-off country with two small children in the days before the internet and emails.
|My mother in the 1970s, walking on The Peak|
Obviously as a child, I was unaware of any of this upheaval. I remember only little vignettes; visits to the beach with with buckets and spades, and an elaborate routine of cleaning the sand from our feet before returning to the house, involving buckets of water carried by my mother. Shopping in Central, and visits to the narrow "lanes" which sold tiny children's shoes and huge rolls of material for making clothes. Visits to Stanley market, with its mangy dogs and rattan baskets of rotting vegetables and stalls selling piles and piles of denim jeans.
I caught whooping cough, which seemed to me to last for ages, and perhaps it did. Every day I would ask my mother "Am I better now?" and she would say "Nearly." They must have been worried about my weight, because I remember always having to be weighed on the bathroom scales.
At some point I started preschool, at the house of a New Zealand woman called Mrs Pryor. It seems amazing now that she actually ran a preschool in her own ground floor apartment, but it seemed to work well. We played outside in a large communal garden, and ate Ritz crackers at breaktime. Mrs Pryor had an adopted Korean daughter called Sonya, who was my friend, and this seemed very intriguing. At this point I am sure my mother was talking about the idea of adopting a Vietnamese refugee baby. (She couldn't have any more children, having suffered from pre-eclampsia during my sister's birth). It didn't happen. I wonder what life would have been like had she done so?
|Google Streetview strikes again; this is the road where my preschool was.|
And finally, when I was five years old, I started "big school", at Glenealy Junior School in Hornsey Road. The next five years are naturally much clearer in my memory, and were to be some of the happiest of my life.