Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Introduction to the Journals - 1992

"The past is a foreign country" - in that country everything is different.

Certainly , when I look back 60 years later, at that immature, idealistic & introspective youth who kept these diaries, I am regarding a foreigner.

He is also in a foreign scene, where nearly all the unmarried girls were virgins; it is a simpler, less complex world. Trams rattle through the gas-lit city streets; very few people have a car, therefore the rural roads are quiet and pleasant. Few houses have a telephone. There is no TV. Some large areas of the land have no mains electricity.

Milk is delivered from a churn in a horse-drawn cart, direct to the householders jug. Yes, it is a less hygienic world with few medical facilities or sophisticated treatments. The average life span is shorter. The poor mainly accept their condition with resignation. The children are less worldly and have little self-confidence; they remain children much longer. The teenager is a thought for the future.

The unemployment rate is high and benefits are meagre or none, yet there is more dignity and respect. Those gallant veterans of World War One are still young men. With their frayed medal ribbons, they are often seen tramping the roads, hopelessly.

The first notebooks begin from an address in Ellis Avenue, Leicester. This area was clinging to the last fringes of respectability before the slums. We had lived for many years at Wolfhampcote, in Warwickshire, first at dear Aunt Sue's house, "The Old Vicarage" and then at Wolfhampcote Hall. From there, when Dad lost all his money in corn futures and was declared bankrupt, we moved steadily downward, first to Gwendolen Road, Leicester, and finally to Ellis Avenue.

Number 9 was a 6-roomed, furnished house with outside flush lavatory, bath in the scullery. There was a small back yard reached by an entry and a couple of square yards of front garden with a gate. This separation of the street from the front doorstep was a symbol of the fragile respectability.

The house was gas-lit - there would be a plop! as one applied a match to the mantel. The furnishings included an old piano but no wireless set. The back room was the kitchen/living room, with a coal-fired range. In these districts, the front room was seldom used except for weddings, funerals, and courting couples. These front rooms usually had a damp, musty and unloved smell. They were heated, when in use, by an unattractive gas fire.

Each Saturday the landlady's nephew rode up on his bicycle to collect the rent; 25/-. I see him now, Mr Turvey; a grey man in a grey suit, propping up his bike by the kerb, taking off his cycle clips, always polite and diffident.

Ellis Avenue is a short cul-de-sac of terraced houses off the Loughborough Road, just beyond the Melton turn. Nowadays the District has a predominant Asian population. Then, of course, it was all white, and mostly Midlands born. In those days, the trams clanked and rattled past the open end of the Avenue. The other end was closed by the gloomy buildings of a Council School, Ellis Avenue Secondary. However, in the evenings it became a night school, and fees for a term were very modest. In my second year I passed the R.S.A. Advanced English, Second Class. A first class certificate would have been better, but the effort of studying and learning was worthwhile.

This then, is the scene in which the first diary jottings were made...

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