Thursday, 8 April 2010

Chidhood memories - sights

This is the second in a five-part occasional series focused on my memories of childhood – more specifically what each of my senses recalls from more than 60 years ago when I was around five years old. I’ve excluded the highly personal (for example, my tailor father sitting cross-legged on his work bench before his knees gave out) and concentrated on sights that might strike a chord with readers.

1. Racing tipster Prince Monolulu was a colourful sight in the West End of London when I was a boy. His eccentric clothes complete with ostrich headdress and his street cry “I gotta horse” made him a local celebrity. But he was also known nationwide through movie newsreels of major race meetings. At his peak he was said to be the most famous black man in Britain.

2. Though living in a working class area, children wore dark blue or light favours (badges) on Boat Race Day supporting respectively either Oxford or Cambridge University.

3. Transfers. These days they are marketed as removable tattoos. You would place the transfer on the back of your hand, lick it, and careful peel it back to reveal a bright picture of, say, Beano character Dennis the Menace.

4. My ‘Babar the Elephant’ book was too spooky for comfort with its brooding atmosphere featuring its elephant hero and handwriting-style script.

6. A coal fire was a source of fascination for a child as flames licked round the nutty slack. But in all other regards it was a nuisance, which was destined to be swiftly replaced by gas and electric fires. A fireguard was necessary not just to keep children at bay but also to prevent exploding fragments of coal shooting across the room.
Fires were difficult to get started and required a gas poker’s help. And they were messy and dangerous to clean afterward because sometimes the ashes were still alight.

7. Wallpaper designs of the day provided a child the opportunity to see faces in the patterns.

8. Waking to an eerie light – not a Close Encounter but the discovery that it had snowed heavily overnight and the snow was reflecting back light from a street, whose ugliness was to be disguised for a short while by the white blanket.

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