One day, a large, wooden box was delivered to our sixth floor flat at Northwood Hall, Hornsey Lane. It was a television set. On June 2nd, 1953, I had a day off school, and my father wasn’t at work, so we watched the coronation of Elizabeth the Second. I sat six inches away from the tiny, flickering black and white figures: men dressed as pages; an ornately-decorated coach. It was an intensely boring experience, made bearable by servings of ice-cream and Cadbury’s orange sandwich biscuits, brought by my Dad. The spectacle, however, has remained in my mind every since. A glittering fairlytale.
Now, when I came home from school, instead of looking out of the window at the magnificent views of North London, stretching out towards Crystal Palace, and beyond, I had Muffin the Mule. Andy Pandy, and Bill and Ben: the Flowerpot Men, and Sylvia Peters for company, instead of the telephone operator. But television didn’t capture my imagination at all,
By now, I had ‘The Young Elizabethan’ magazines to read. I loved them. Kaye Webb and her illustrator husband, the sublime Ronald Searle, had put together a melange of poems, short stories, quizzes, for youngsters of my age to read. We were introduced to the glorious character of Molesworth in the stories written by Geoffrey Willans. I entered a short story competition run by Bourneville/Cadbury’s and won ( my father framed the congratulatory letter). I soon became immersed in the ‘ethos’ of the magazine; and even wore a ‘Y.E.’ badge.
But our time in London was coming to an end. Highgate, Archway and Crouch End were my father’s ‘manor’, where all his relatives lived and came from. My grandmother had studied at Hornsey Art school, my great-grandfather ( a registrar for British Rail) had lived in a house called ‘Fairfield’ in Fairfield Road, Crouch End, and my great-aunt Emily still lived in a large Victorian house, in the Archway Road, filled from top to bottom with cats. She had been a governess to the Woolworth family in Long Island, New Jersey in her youth; and had travelled across ‘the pond’ on a White Star Line ocean liner. She married an American, had a son, but eventually returned to London. She was a cheerful and eccentric old lady, sprouting, long grey-black hairs on her chin, and passionate about her animals.
Soon, we going to replace our very urban flat ( built in 1935 by Richard Costain and company, and designed by the architect George Edward Bright) for a cottage in the Essex countryside, at a village called Ramsden Bellhouse, on the London Road, between Wickford and Billericay.
The change would bring a rural paradise in to my life – and more books!