Sunday, 12 February 2017

Shepherd Street Shenanigans

Shepherd Street seemed a lively place where almost anything could happen and this was mostly because a large number of the roughest boys at St Botolph’s School gave it as their address. It would never have been the first choice for a game of Knock On Doors & Run Away in case one of those boys happened to observe the activity and take it up at school the following day. We knew relatively few of the people who lived there first and foremost because they were placed just a bit too far away from us for ease of brief chats over garden fences or at front doors. Apart from that it was a lengthy street of 136 houses interrupted by just a couple of shops. One was the cobbler whose name I’ve forgotten but he was there for years, mending boots and shoes the old-fashioned way and selling shoe polish and laces. A deeply religious man with views that differed vastly from the basics of my own Roman Catholic upbringing and which my mother viewed with suspicion saying he was in all likelihood Chapel and making that sound unwholesome. She said I was to just bid him good morning politely and leave the to-be-mended-shoes on the counter and not indulge in too much conversation with him. But of course, once armed with those instructions I encouragingly asked him questions such as why he thought Jesus had never come to England, and Kent in particular. He then developed a booming voice and told me that of course Jesus had come to England, though maybe not to Kent….but had not his uncle had been Joseph of Arimathea who traded with Cornwall? and was not Jesus a curious and strong lad who would most certainly have accompanied him? I chose not to share this interesting information with Father O`Connor or either of my parents but I did tell a couple of my Crayford cousins, Margaret and Ann Linyard who were decidedly disinterested. The only other shop I remember in Shepherd Street was a general store run by Vic and Marguerite (known as Peggy) Troke. Peggy was very fashion conscious and liked to wear only silk blouses and during the war she was reputed to obligingly purchase everyone else’s clothes coupons. Following the death of my father, my mother worked for her as a cleaner and on the surface at least they became quite friendly. However even at the time it was obvious how fragile that friendship really was. Peggy Troke was no better than she ought to have been, apparently, and definitely had a high opinion of herself. It was a wonder how that poor Vic managed to put up with her. You should just see the way she carried on with the travellers at times, especially that one in stationery. Why it was so necessary to take him up to the flat to talk about cards and envelopes my mother just couldn’t fathom. It was quite beyond her. Despite this antipathy, however, she managed to carry out the cleaning on a weekly basis for several years. My classmate Kathleen Draper lived at number 64 and next door were a number of Philpotts, among them Little Brian who had Down Syndrome though at the time we were told he was a Mongol. He was a delightfully friendly boy, welcomed into most group games and closely supervised at all times by Kathleen who defended him to the death should he be criticised. Brian’s love for her was great and he referred to her as his Kath. At number 69 were The Jenkins, one of whom was called Rita and a close friend of Doreen Lacey who I thought lived at number 67 but have recently been told came from York Road. Perhaps the Laceys at 67 were a different branch of the family. In any event I recall Doreen and Rita, as a twosome, very well. They appeared to be Joined At The Hip as my Old Nan would say or Stuck Together Like Glue. I was more than a little envious of them. For one thing they both wore beautifully embroidered felt Dutch Bonnets, something of a fashion at the time whilst I seemed always destined to wear my mother’s rapidly knitted and hideous woollen Pixie Bonnets that no self respecting Pixie would have tolerated for a second. For another thing, they both at one stage were members of the same Brownie Pack as myself but earned far more badges far more easily than I seemed to be able to. Their Semaphore was, according to Brown Owl, quite superbly executed! To be honest I wasn’t much good at being a Brownie and I was a most reluctant one which I put down to the fact that my mother had insisted on creating her own version of the uniform in quite the wrong shade of brown. It was a feat she did not accomplish well. Doreen and Rita took to pointing this out as they walked behind me on the way home which did not exactly lay the groundwork for a solid friendship. Today it would be described as a cut and dried case of Bullying and treated seriously. But back then victims of such harassment were simply advised to pull themselves together and fight fire with fire. It did not cease until I bit Doreen on the arm one day, quite hard. She was not at all happy and I remember a complaint being made to both Brown and Tawny Owls a few days later who jointly appeared to become faint with shock at the thought of biting in the ranks. This event luckily co-incided with my father deciding I wasn’t really cut out for Brownies. On a more positive note a number of boy-heavy Dyke families proliferated in the area, not just Shepherd Street but in the surrounding streets as well and I remember at least two, Peter and John, in my class at school. Decades later when taking a holiday photograph of the Prince Albert pub at number 62, I met a female Dyke, a cousin or grand-daughter who was curious as to why anyone in their right mind would want to take photographs of back street beer houses and obviously still lived in the immediate district. The Prince Albert was first opened in 1855 and was always popular. During the post war years it did a thriving trade, especially on Friday and Saturday nights of course. As a teenager, Pearl Banfield, who lived at the top of York Road, had a close relationship with the place even though she, and other members of her family were definitely not drinkers. It largely concerned her boyfriend. Not wanting he who visited every Saturday evening, to realise that their house did not have an inside lavatory, she was in the habit of sending him round to the Prince Albert whenever he expressed a need to use the Bathroom Facilities. I could not but wonder if he then decided that the house had no lavatory at all. Pearl said that was preferable to him being exposed to the true situation. Well perhaps she had a point. The family that still stand out as memorable Shepherd Street residents were the Reads, Elsie and Les and their many children. Of their offspring I only clearly remember Jill and Jack who were probably the oldest two but there were certainly many more. My mother, predictably perhaps spoke of them quite disparagingly saying they didn’t wash their necks nor change their clothes from one week’s end to another and describing Mrs Read as that-Elsie-Smith-that-was or: that Elsie-Read, her-that’s-always-carrying. I envied the Read children for their freedom to roam the streets long after dark and their early experimentation with cigarettes which they made themselves from gutter abandoned dog ends re-rolled with Rizla papers. At one end of Shepherd Street there was a Baptist Chapel where any child of any denomination was invited to attend Sunday School from three until four on Sunday afternoons. It was a popular activity with many of us because glasses of orange juice and ginger biscuits were handed out as well as transfers for the backs of our hands or arms depicting such uplifting scenes as Daniel entering the Lions’ Den. From time to time coach outings were also organised to picnic spots like Cobham Woods or the village of Eynesford. Even we supposedly Roman Catholic children seized the generosity of these Baptists with enthusiasm and later thought, if indeed we thought about it at all, that we had been the fortunate recipients of an astonishingly open minded spiritual education.

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