My Life – Page 11


The London County Council. The Office (i). At Stretford I had a large room which I had shared with the general office girl, large windows with views of the sky, two splendid large desks, one with an excellent up-to-date typewriter. My office in the London County Council was a cramped dark room I shared with five other people, with sets of two desks facing each other. The windows looked into a dark and dismal courtyard, the furniture should have been  better used as firewood, being battered and repaired, some desks were propped up with telephone books where their castors had come off. The shared typewriter was an ancient pre-war model. And the room was thick with smoke, the windows being permanently closed, and I discovered I was the only person who did not smoke.  Once you were given a desk and chair at the LCC, that desk and chair was yours for life.  The previous member of staff who I was to replace as he was being transferred to another section of the legal department had been told to move before I came.  However, because of a slip-up with booking the removal men, he was still sitting in the space in which my desk was to be placed. He only had to move his desk to a room a few doors up the same corridor and colleagues had offered to move it with him, but he was adamant. The removal people removed desks, it was not his job. The removal men who had brought my desk were not authorised to move his desk so went off. So my desk and chair sat in the corridor and he sat in the space they should have occupied. He sat there refusing to do any of the work which was no longer his job and read the newspaper. I sat at the typewriter desk unable to concentrate on reading or anything else, thinking I had come to a madhouse.  He could have spent some time showing me the ropes and explaining his job, but he did not. In the end it took three days for the necessary paperwork to be filled in and the removal men to come to remove his desk and put mine in its place.   Not a good start.

The office (ii).  The work turned out to be extremely interesting, but to begin with I did not have a clue what I was doing. Apparently I had to advise the council and members of the public on legal matters relating to the council’s parks, squares, gardens and other open spaces, its green belt lands and its museums and art galleries. All were regulated by statute, statutes which were mostly peculiar to the London County Council and then the GLC. So I spent a great deal of time looking through past files – an antiquated filing system did not help, and one of the first things I did was start building up a proper filing system for my own particular work. My predecessor had built up a small library of all the local acts of parliament which I needed to consult, but most had been heavily amended by Parliament over the years and no amendments had been made to bring them up to date. So into my charge came problems relating to, for instance, Hampstead Heath and a mass of local parks and gardens throughout London. The Green Belt lands were also massive and constantly needed to be protected from erosion from road and other works.  Then there were the museums and art galleries, Kenwod House with its art treasures, Marble Hill House, Horniman Museum, Rangers House, at that time virtually empty, waiting for a collection,   No two problems were the same and I was  fascinated by the queries relating to them which constantly arose. Many of the other people in my section had rather, what seemed to me, dull repetitive jobs, in comparison.  My predecessor had, for instance, been moved to a job which required him to be solely responsible for checking whether the words describing the painting of yellow lines on new and old roads was correct, i.e. that they described exactly where they stopped and where they started, two feet from here, six inches from there. Such work seemed to me to be shatteringly dull. But he had apparently blotted his copybook by living by the rules and so had been shunted to this mind-numbing job. He did not seem to bother him one bit as to him one job was just like any other.

Living by the rules. He had been a stickler for the rules. The length of time you were allowed for lunch was precise and precise he insisted on being. If it was 12 – 1, from 12 to 1 it was.  The rules laid down that you were allowed five minutes before lunch to wash your hands. So at precisely five minutes to 12, his pen would drop from his hand, no matter what he was doing, and he would spend that time washing his hands, he would sit at his desk and not leave the office until it was exactly 12. The same happened before he left the office.  Five minutes before, he would go to wash his hands, no matter if what he was dealing with was urgent or not or whether it was in the middle of a meeting.  At that precise time he would leave whatever he was doing. Each morning you had to sign in. At precisely 9 o’clock the signing books were removed by the lick-spittle clerk who worked in the main office attached to the Chief Solicitor. And the creep would be waiting by the door so that he could snatch the book up and remove it, so that anyone coming in one second late had to sign in the ‘late’ book.  Three strikes in the late book and you were hauled before the Deputy Solicitor and roundly told off. So my precise colleague, if he arrived early to work, would linger out in the corridor or outside the building, until exactly one minute to 9 o’clock and would then sign in. That way he would arrive at his desk at exactly 9 o’clock. Such incredible pettiness pervaded the place. But I have a feeling that his case was probably unique.

The honey trap. We had one female member of staff in our office. It was her responsibility to do the filing and see that everyone’s out-tray was emptied at regular intervals and that the post was placed in their in-trays. I don’t know what else she did, if anything; I suspect that was her sole purpose. Anyway, she was a quite mannish looking, large woman, mid-twenties, with a strong Cockney accent, strewn with double-negatives. My personal nickname for her was ‘no-not-nufink’.  She was married to a very handsome young man, probably her junior, they made a strange couple, Beauty and the Beast only the other way round.  Every Monday morning was her morning, because, during the tea-break at about 11 she would have the ears of the whole room with her husband’s latest adventures.  You see, he was a policeman, a very handsome policeman and it was his job on Friday nights and at weekends to visit various public lavatories known to be attended by gays, and entrap them with his good looks. And she would go into every detail describing what he had done to entrap them and, to her, the terribly funny and pathetic excuses his victims gave when he arrested them.   No detail was too intimate for her to relate. And the tales were usually received by roars of laughter by my colleagues. Of course her husband began to be recognised on his own patch and his numbers of   arrests began to reduce, so he was loaned to other branches of the police force to carry out his foul work.  I often wonder whether the gross pair are still alive and if they have any shame for what he did. I suspect that there are many retired police officers, living today, with the same dirty past. What I found difficult to understand at the time and still find it so, is the fact that no one regarded what he was doing as reprehensible or sordid or just downright wrong or had any compassion for his victims. To a man they all thought it was hilarious and ‘serve the buggers right’.  I was sickened.   I hate to think how many lives he ruined, and what dire distress he must have caused to so many people. But to my shame I kept silent and for my own protection had to join in the laughter. They are probably both living on his comfortable police pension, and I think they are probably the most evil couple I have met in my life.

Other office inmates.  Sid sat opposite me, he smoked a pipe and I spent most of the day enveloped in smoke as he lit his pipe again and again throughout the day. Tours abroad were just becoming available to people. Sid and his wife took cheap tours which were called ‘mystery tours’ i.e. that you did not know where in Europe you were going to be sent and what sort of hotel you would land up in. Needless to say most sounded and were awful, terrible flights, many of them near disasters, the number of times they were told to take of their shoes and spectacles and put their heads down because of some fault with the aircraft and then there were the dreadful hotels and foul food but they were able to travel around the see the sights and laze on the beaches.  The holidays were cheap and he could afford to do a number of them, which is what he and his wife did.  What they got out of them goodness knows other than being able to tell people they had been to this or that country. Very strange !  Poor Sid had not had a good war. After basic training he had been put on a ship and sent off to Greece, where he had disembarked and been immediately taken prisoner by the Germans and so spent the whole of his war years which included his 21st birthday as a POW.  He had worked on building roads and bridges all over Europe and can remember that he was hungry most of the time.  He had nothing but scorn for the POW officers who of course did not have to work but could expend their time making plans for escaping.   His opinion of Churchill, whom he blamed for his captivity, was crap. Woe betide anyone who mentioned Churchill in a complimentary way, Sid who always exuded calm, lit up like a firework.

Then there was Miss Moody, the then secretary of the Chief Solicitor. Built like a bus, short cropped straight hair. Hated almost everyone in the department and had a tongue that could cut you to pieces in a moment.  One of  the people she loathed most was Sid who had no idea why she disliked him so much as he was polite and civil to everyone.  Every time she passed him she would let out a kind of hiss, like a snake would probably make before it bit you. All very strange.  Miss Moody had one weakness. If you landed in hospital, she wrote very kind letters to you, she who was incapable of speaking a civil word to you at the office.  In return for her kindness whilst in hospital, particularly if you had had an operation she would call you aside, and ask to see your scars.  I never believed this tale from colleagues, but blow me, when I had my appendix removed, I got these charming letters from Miss M, and shortly after my return was indeed taken aside and asked if I would show her my operation scar. I was taken aback and refused.  I then got the hiss in the corridor from then on. Wretched Miss Moody, loathing virtually everyone in the office and being loathed in turn by everyone what sort of private life did she have. Of course she had a small coterie of lickspittle colleagues who brought her tasty bits of office gossip and in return were relayed gossip from other informants. No wonder I thought the office was part madhouse.  But all paled when I got to Kenneth.

Kenneth (i).  Kenneth was a manic-depressive schizophrenic with whom I was to eventually share a room for many years. The first time I became aware of him and his condition was shortly after I came to the LCC. One morning he just got up from his desk and starting rushing about the room,  in a complete manic state looking for his glasses which were perched on his head, where he had pushed them up whenever he was not reading. He screamed and yelled and rushed about the room asking people if they had seen his glasses, everyone told them  he was still wearing them, but he would not be consoled and in the end had to be taken out into the corridor, pinned to the wall by a couple of staff and the nursing staff called for. He calmed down, I presume after they had injected him with something, but you could see that at those moments he was almost completely mad.  He had had a brilliant academic record at a Grammar school and had won a scholarship to either Oxford or Cambridge, I forget which, and within two months of being at University he had been diagnosed with this terrifying condition.

Kenneth (ii).  When the Legal Department, moved from County Hall to offices in Vauxhall, I was made Kenneth’s keeper and we shared a room. Why I was chosen to be his keeper I have no idea.  He did no work, and no one gave him any work to do, though some new staff members tried and then gave up. He was perfectly content to do nothing, but wandered around the offices looking in on people and having a gossip, always carrying a file or two of papers to make it look like he was on his way to a meeting.  The fact that he did no work was tolerated because the Council and the Department had to have a certain number of registered disabled persons on its staff and Kenneth helped keep up the numbers. He was obsessed with prostitutes and money.  And every penny he had was spent on his special ladies, of which he had a number. Money just bled from him and he was usually without a penny to his name within a week of being paid his handsome monthly salary. He would then spend considerable time going from colleague to colleague borrowing a few pounds from one and paying back money he owed to others. The result was that we were often visited by colleagues asking for money due to them, the legal department was quite large so he was always finding new suckers. Kenneth made no records of his debtors and though I was rather embarrassed by our visitors, he was not. One day he discovered that he had a large number of National Savings Certificates in the form of stamps stuck in a Savings Book which his parents had given him many years ago and had been forgotten. It must have been a considerable sum because he went on a mad spending spree,  had shoes specially made for him, ordered a number of suits from Saville Row, bought suitcases full of clothing and presents of fancy lingerie for his ladies, repaid all his debts and was broke within weeks. Shortly after that he was found in his single bed-sit  by the police who had been called out by anxious neighbours because of the noise coming from his room. They broke down the door to find that he had smashed up all the furniture, cut all his clothes to shreds and was embarking on slashing up his mattress.  His parents signed the necessary forms and he was sectioned and sent off to an asylum, where he remained for several months.  He returned happy as Larry and the whole cycle of ladies, debts, etc., began all over again. I got on with my work and tried to ignore him as much as possible. After about the third time he was sent off to an asylum his father rang me and asked me to let him know when Kenneth was heading for one of his breakdowns as it was costing the family a small fortune to pay off his debts.  Apparently the last time it had happened they had been faced with considerable debts for goods which he had bought from very expensive London shops.  I duly rang Kenneth’s father every now and then when things were beginning to get out of hand and Kenneth would be whisked off before he did too much damage.

Alan Hummerston.  My immediate boss, our immediate boss, was Alan Hummerston. He was a gentle, kindly man and an excellent and dedicated lawyer who just loved practicing law.  He had to tolerate the fact  that one of his members of staff was of no earthly use to him.  Alan did the Times crossword every morning on the train coming to work and was very cross if he had not completed it before his train got into London and was, I think I can say, a good, decent  man. Knowing how much he loved his work and how good he was at it, it came as rather a shock when he announced that he had decided to take early retirement. He had risen from the ranks, had studied at home for his solicitor’s finals and had not been through the University system, a colossal feat of will power. He was deputy head of our particular division and his goal was to be head of the division one day. One day there was such a vacancy and he applied and was turned down and a younger University solicitor was appointed instead who hadn’t a clue about the work of the department. Bitterly disappointed Alan decided to leave. The new head of department was put in charge of getting together donations for a going away gift for Alan and it was the custom for the person leaving to throw a retirement party, which was quite costly, and be presented with a cheque. Anyway, guess who our new head of department chose to give the task of collecting donations, yes, Kenneth, lively Kenneth who seemed to be the life and soul of the department always seen wandering around with his papers under his arm. I warned our new boss that no good would come of it, but did not dare at that point that Kenneth would be likely to spend the money.  So Kenneth set off with a will to collect money in a large brown envelope not only from the department but from every other department that regularly came to us for legal advice, Alan was very well regarded by many members of staff throughout the GLC. I recall he once returned from one of his collecting jaunts with the envelope bulging with notes.    The inevitable happened, as fast as Kenneth got the money, he spent it. I was not aware of how much was collected but it must have been a considerable sum running into hundreds of pounds, nor was I aware, though I suspected, and voiced my fears again that the new clothes Kenneth was sporting were not paid for from his salary.  But our new boss was having none of it and I was roundly told off for daring to imply that Kenneth was stealing. Came the day of reckoning, when the money was to be handed over and a fat cheque made out for presentation to Alan at the next day’s retirement party. No sign of Kenneth. He had been found wrecking his flat yet again and had been carried off to the asylum. Sid and I were hurriedly sent off to the asylum to collect the money from Kenneth, everyone assuming that it was in his bank account or in a large brown envelope in which it was seen he had collected the money. Sid and I knew that it was going to be a wasted journey, but we duly arrived at the asylum, I think it was at Banstead, a vast Victorian pile with long corridors.  We were eventually shown into a sitting room whose sole occupant was Kenneth; the doctors had explained beforehand that we would get no sense out of Kenneth as he was drugged to the eyeballs. He did not recognise us and completely ignored our presence, he was in space somewhere, said not a word but hummed to himself and after a short while we left.  I think it was the chief solicitor who wrote out a cheque from his own pocket, but of course it could have borne no relation to the actual sum that Kenneth had collected. Come the retirement party and virtually hundreds of people arrived from every department in the council, you could hardly move in the room and of course the cheque was presented with the usual speeches and poor Alan must have wondered why the value of the cheque was probably smaller than the cost to himself of the party. I don’t know if anyone explained, I hope they did. Within a few months of retirement he was struck with full blown Alzheimer’s and was seen to be led by his wife holding her hand through a local shopping mall looking like a lost soul.

Kenneth (iii).  Kenneth returned, again very happy as though nothing had happened and when questioned could not remember anything about the missing money and clearly couldn’t give a hang . His parents decided to retire to the south and at the same time Kenneth, during his latest sessions in the asylum, had fallen in love with and duly married a lady who was as mad or possibly madder than he was. Overjoyed that he may settle down at last, his parents, who lived in Harrow, decided that Kenneth and his bride could have the use of their house and left for their new life in Swanage. The marriage lasted three weeks. Throughout the day at the office there was a great deal of screaming at one another over the telephone. A couple of times she came up to the office and was clearly quite mad.  She was finally admitted back to the asylum.  Kenneth returned to a single bedsit room in central London.  When the next attack was about to come to a head, I duly phoned his father in Swanage. I was just about to set off to Cape Town for a holiday and thought I had better warn his father before I left. The police duly arrived that night and he managed to persuade them that there was nothing wrong with him. He also managed to find out from his father that I had put the finger on him, so he stormed into the office and vowed to our office colleagues that he would kill me and throw me over the balcony of our room, eight floors up, the minute I came into the office.  Sid rang me and said ‘For goodness sake do not come into the office’.  I said I had no intention of doing so as I was about to get a flight to South Africa in a few hours’ time, I explained what had happened and told Sid that he would be back in the asylum within the week. As predicted within the week Kenneth had suffered another relapse, this time wreaking havoc in the office. Whilst on holiday, I wrote to the office and insisted that by the time I came back Kenneth was to be removed from our office and planted on another minder. He was. The lady he was put in charge of was attacked one day by him, he probably thought she was one of his ladies. Kenneth was carted off yet again and sedated, but too soon returned to the office and placed with someone else.  I am relieved to say I saw little of him again.  At about this time the government had decided to close many asylums, and he was supposed to be supported in the community, only he wasn’t and each time he had one of his severe attacks he was given heavy sedation and returned to the office in a zombie like  state, he was given pills to take, but of course did not. One day I heard he had died. I never did find out what had happened, he must have been in his early 50s, someone said he had overdosed on his drugs which he had been entrusted to administer himself as part of the support in the community. I can’t say I ever warmed to him, he was selfish, lazy and money mad, and his taste for prostitutes was unfortunate. During his time with me he occasionally visited his father in Swanage in a care home  his mother having died, and one day returned having discovered what his father was worth and hereafter spent a great deal of time speculating how he would spend his inherited money when his father died; top of the list was that he would give lavish presents to his ladies.  Fortunately he died before his father and all the money went to his sister, who presumably had had nothing to do with Kenneth after she had married and left home, as he hardly ever mentioned her and indeed I did not even know he had a sister, though I had been informed in minute details of all the rather disreputable ladies in his life.

1964. My sister gets married.

In October 1964, my sister Anne got married at the church opposite 1 Vicarage Close where my parents now lived. Sadly, the marriage was a disaster. They were totally unprepared for married life and neither knew how to cook or look after each other or do the most basic housework like ironing or vacuuming. Both had been totally reliant on their parents to do everything for them. They were both young and sadly for them quite unfit for married life. He was drunk and sick on his wedding night and their relations did not improve from that point on. He was a bread man, i.e. delivered bread in a van to a large number of shops. Neither had any conception of what married live entailed and sadly my poor sister’s marriage was doomed from the start.


My father.  In 1964 my father was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. He had visited his useless doctor, many times and was fobbed off with painkillers. Father got to the point where he could hardly able to walk never mind keep working. His doctor happened to see him coming up his drive, the surgery was held in his house and at last some alarm bells rang.  The doctor had tests carried out  and told my mother in confidence the awful news. The information was kept from my father, but I think he knew something serious had been found and I am now sure he knew what it was. Unable to work and therefore taking prolonged and continued absent on sick leave, Customs and Excise, finally, on 17 March 1965, informed him that due to his continuing absence on sick leave, they had found it necessary to direct his early retirement on grounds of ill health this was followed by a letter on the 31 March thanking him for his services and conveying their hopes for a’ long and happy retirement’.  As they must have received a full medical report before retiring him, I hope the sentiments were not ironic. My father had less than four years to live.

I go to live with my parents.  My mother’s first thought when she got the dreadful news was that they should come up to London to live, preferably with me as she needed support, and financial help. Brian, sadly had to be told of the news of their departure, but he decided to buy a small house in Salford and settled down in it with a friend. So, after many advertisements in the London press, and me visiting some fearful flats in London, I at last managed to find a suitable place, and my parents  exchanged their four-bedroomed council house in Salford for a two bedroomed flat in London and in April 1965 026my parents and I moved into 63, Marlow House, Hallfield Estate, off the Bishop’s Bridge Road, right in the centre of Bayswater, within easy reach of Kensington Gardens and Paddington Station and most importantly, what was to become my mother’s favourite haunt, Whiteley’s Department Store.  In May 1965 my father was informed by Customs and Excise that his annual pension would be the handsome sum of £399. 7s.5p; it could not even pay the rent. I was only too happy to leave my cramped and lonely life in my attic flat in Willesden Green, though I had had some happy times there; but coming back to my freezing flat in the middle of winter had begun to pall.


63 Marlow House.  The flat in our block was on the 7th floor and was served by two lifts, it had central heating, was quite large and I managed to furnish it very well. The immediate neighbours in those years were all welcoming and helpful. Most of the people in the Estate, which consisted of many blocks connected with large lawns, had been there for many years. Indeed some told my parents that in the old days, many of them had had to be vetted before they were allowed to have a flat on the estate. The flats had been designed by the architect Denys Lazdun   (1914-2001) for Westminster City Council. Lazdun was also the architect of the monstrous National Theatre building. Fortunately the flats looked quite elegant and each block had been spaced out so that no one block’s windows overlooked another. I installed a new kitchen, carpeted the place and ordered some new furniture and disposed of the old worn pieces we had. It was all very warm and comfortable and we were together as a family again though what had brought us together was tragic. My parents loved our new home and its situation.  And I felt I had come home again at last and I hope I made my father’s life more comfortable and left him without financial worries during his last years.


My parents newly arrived in their new home in London. Taken during a visit to Kenwood

The Edmonds family come to England.  At about the same time as we all moved into Marlow House, our great family friends the Edmonds family consisting of the sisters, Rita, Beryl, Ivy and Dorothy with their brothers Duncan and George who was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease decided to come to live in England. Their eldest brother Malcolm, had already moved from India to Wellingborough in Northamptonshire and so to Wellingborough the Edmonds came to settle. They bought a large former hotel which enabled them all to have their own rooms and the family connection was renewed with many visits to and fro. Beryl was a consummate cook and the curries served in Wellingborough were always memorable. Beryl looked after the house while the others took on jobs as teachers and secretaries. Their brother Duncan had been imprisoned by the Japanese during the war and had been treated with unimaginable cruelty. It was his money which enabled them to buy their home and kept them in some comfort.

Duncan Edmonds, my parents, Ivy Edmonds, Beryl Edmonds and Rita Edmonds at their niece Lynn’s wedding  

Travels. Meanwhile, William and I had began our travels over the UK. We visited country houses, cathedrals, art galleries, museums, castles, abbeys, country churches, ancient monuments, and of course walked over our magnificent countryside.


                 Picnic in the Lake District

William in the Scottish highlands


One of the many ruined abbeys we visited


William at Stonehenge, when you were free to walks among the stones

Visitors and the Old Lawrencians.  Being in London meant that we attracted a host of visitors to the flat. Everyone my mother knew, and she kept up a large correspondence with many relatives and friends all over the world,  sooner or later came to London and hence to us.  Each year there was an annual reunion in London of people who had been to school at Lovedale.  My parents had often come up to London to attend these gatherings. The members of the committee who ran these reunions needed a place centrally where they could meet, and, of course my parents played host now they were situated in the centre of London. My mother was in her element, and she prepared positive feasts of Indian delicacies. There was always full attendance at these meetings; well, who could resist my mother’s cooking? Annual visitors were my aunt Joan, her husband Derek and their two children, Lindsey and Beverley who usually came up so that Joan could attend the Lovedale reunions. I had attended one of the early reunions against my better judgement and never attended another. The food was delicious but I really did not want to be reminded of Lovedale in any shape or form.  My mother, who knew so many of the people at these reunions, all of whom seem to have very fond memories of her at school, was delighted to meet up with her friends again and the reunions became one of the most important highlights of her year.



Lovedale reunion. With me conspicuous by my absence.1966 
Left: Top, Edwin and Herbert Holdaway, centre, my parents with Edwin’s second wife Edna and Mary Simpson. Front. Violet Barks, my father’s sister

Right My parents with Charles Holdaway, my father’s brother, his wife Elsie and their children, at the back, my father’s brother Herbert, Mary Simpson next to my father and to the right in front, Edna with Edwin.


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