Older and bigger

The boys started at the St. Ignatius College together in the September of 1954. John had managed to get through his 11-plus exam and after an interview with the headmaster was accepted and given a place straight away.

Paul, on the other hand, had to go a very long way around to achieve the same result simply because he had the misfortune to have chicken pox on the date fixed for him to sit his 11-plus exam, coupled with the fact that Joe and myself knew very little at that time of the possible consequences of failing this exam and because of our ignorance had given him very little help with his school work and had not given him the encouragement that we would have done had we been wiser.

As soon as the results were made known people began to commiserate with us and we went to his head teacher who told us that it was a great pity that he had failed this important exam as the consequences were that he would now be denied a Grammar school education and that in its turn meant that he would be unprepared to take the General Certificate of Education at sixteen years of age.

With this knowledge we started to enquire about the prospects of taking this exam again at the age of thirteen. It was established gradually and after much diligent enquiry that if he did well in his work for the next two years, he would be eligible to try again.

He was attending a secondary modern school now and had settled down well and was beginning to show a marked aptitude for science. There was a master there who was dedicated to teaching science and Paul and himself got on wonderfully well together. Funnily enough, now that this teacher was showing an interest in Paul, all his other subjects began to improve rapidly and in his second year at the school he came top of his class.

This master was quite willing to spend time explaining to Paul why such and such a thing would happen, or why things worked as they did or reacted in a certain way when different chemicals were brought together and he soon found out that Paul was capable of figuring things out for himself as well. He showed Paul how to do many of the experiments which he did in the small laboratory that Joe and he had built in the garden.

He spent many happy hours out there and every penny of his pocket money for several years was spent on different chemicals and chemistry equipment. He used to go to a special shop for these ingredients and Joe had to sign an undertaking for the chemist, that we knew the possible danger of the chemicals with which he was being supplied and took responsibility for him having them.

He was very conscientious and we knew that he would not allow anyone he could not trust completely into his small lab.

He learned to make hydrogen and spent lots of summer Saturday afternoons filling polythene bags with it and after securing the neck of the bag would tie on a label directing the finder to kindly return the label stating where it was found. I don’t think he ever had the luck to have one returned but the possibilities were great fun and perfectly harmless.

He built a centrifuge from an old gramophone motor and was able to carry some experiments a stage further. He made chemical gardens in large glass jars which were quite fascinating and of course there were sundry explosions. One day he made a mixture which exploded in his face and eyes and we were sure that he had blinded himself. We went into action with boracic crystal solution while we decided on the best thing to do.

We felt the very best place to take him would be Moorfields Eye Hospital. Joe kept up the bathing whilst I got my coat and hat on and we went off to the station armed with cotton wool and lotion and a kidney basin. I bathed his eyes all the way there in the train and I’m sure the other people travelling wondered what on earth we were doing but I didn’t care. We went into the casualty department and they took up where I left off and bathed his eyes continually for about an hour with boracic crystal solution, the same as we had used, and when the doctor examined his eyes before they were bandaged he said we had hit on the perfect thing to do in such an emergency.

He had one eye heavily bandaged for about a week and then he was quite OK but he was very cautious afterwards and always wore goggles for this type of experiment.

We had one very good laugh from his experiments; John was in a scout play and they wanted to open the show with a bang. So, knowing Paul’s love of explosions, gave him the task of somehow making a bang which could be set off at the appropriate moment for the three nights the show was to run. Paul knew the answer; he wrapped up a few grains of explosive in a small parcel of tinfoil which had to be hit with a hammer at the right moment. We had several demonstrations at home and the explosion was a great success every time.

On the night of the show, we were in the audience and John had given instructions to a very small scout that when all was ready, all he had to do was to go out front and hit the small tin foil parcel hard with his hammer and the bang which resulted would start the show.

He completely omitted to tell the scout that it was an explosive and that Paul had made a slightly larger parcel than before to ensure a good result on this, the great night. The little scout was very happy to be in the position of opening the show and in his excitement hit the parcel with much more force than was really necessary and the resultant terrific BANG shocked him so much that he had to be carried off stage. Everyone but us thought it was part of the show and screamed with laughter. Luckily the boy quickly recovered and he was able to take his part in the production.

John was in the scouts for some years, going up from the cub pack at eleven years and he spent lots of happy evenings with them. He loved camping and they often held weekend camps at Debden which is only a few miles away. There is a big camping site there for scouts and cubs and other youth groups. When he first started to go to these camps he saved up his pocket money, which he earned by working for a greengrocer on a Saturday, and bought himself a very big rucksack.

He was a thin little boy and when all the essentials for the weekend camp were put into this full size rucksack it was only half full, for he did not require very much for a one night stay. He thought it was infra dig to go with a half empty rucksack and would roam round the house, looking for extra things to take until the bag was packed to bulging point. It was comical to see him go off when he considered the pack full enough, for it was much too heavy for him but he would have been deeply offended at any offer of help. He had to keep his head and shoulders strained forward for if he had stood up straight he would have been pulled over backwards with the weight.

When the boys got to the college in September, they were put into different classes and they quickly settled down. Both got their full share of the Jesuit tollys and their hands were often sore from punishment. They started to play rugger as soon as they joined the school and John was forever in the wars after the matches. He seemed to hurt a different part of himself every week and would either be limping badly or have a stiff back or head, but he loved it. Paul wasn’t so happy with sports but settled down to his studies fairly well.


St Ignatius Rugger team

I shall never forget the first occasion on which I actually saw the college. I had gone to purchase some articles of uniform and I had always imagined the college to be a spacious building, surrounded by lawns and playing fields. I had often been told that it was situated next to a large church, with twin towers, in the main road, but when I arrived at the towers, all I could see was a decrepit old building next to them and the approach to this old building being through a pair of iron gates leading to what appeared to be an alleyway. Scarcely believing that this could indeed be the college in spite of the inscription I had seen on the gates, I made my way along until I met a tall boy who turned out to be one of the prefects, and he showed me the way to the “school shop”. It was closed when I arrived and I stood waiting for it to open for a few minutes when there began the greatest clatter above my head and the staircase by which I was standing began to shake in the most alarming manner, as dozens of boys came running, jumping and clattering down and I was pretty sure that the whole place would fall about my ears, but to my earnest belief the staircase is still standing and hundreds of boys are still clattering down.

There were no playing fields near the school; they were a fourpenny bus ride away, and the small yard was enclosed on three sides by the school and on the fourth by a block of tenement flats. I was badly shocked.

The boys seemed to get on well with the masters but had all sorts of nicknames for them privately, and we scarcely knew their correct name and it was very disconcerting to say the least, when confronted with a teacher one had only recognised as “Slash” or “Killer” and found that it was simply the only name one had ever heard them called. I am all for teachers wearing a small lapel badge with their correct names inscribed on open days, for children’s descriptions rarely fit the victim.

We all spent very many happy evenings at the college, for besides the open days when parents were invited to meet the masters there were the school play and the operetta which were produced each year in order to swell the school building fund.

The play chosen each year was usually a serious one and the speaking parts were often long and were a great credit to the boys for the diction was superb and for an amateur dramatic society were splendidly produced. The boys played all the parts, even the women’s roles and the costumes were so grand it was difficult to believe they were boys until the odd very hairy leg would accidentally show beneath a very feminine costume and a great shout of applause would fill the hall.

The operetta, on the other hand, was always a comedy and the boys entered into the spirit of the thing and the songs were sung in a rousing manner, as if they really enjoyed them and I’m very sure that they did. There was usually a chorus made up of the little boys from the first year; they were quite small and made very pretty little girls with long fair plaits and colourful skirts, their voices were still highly pitched at that age and the singing was as girlish as their looks and the audience was always thoroughly amused. These occasions were looked forward to by boys and parents alike and the seats were always sold out long before opening night. It always swelled the building fund but never quite enough for the headmaster Jesuit to relax from collecting.

Another occasion each year when we had an opportunity to meet other parents was the annual prizegiving and this was usually held in the Municipal Hall at Tottenham. It was beautifully decorated for the occasion by masses of flowers on stage where the dignitaries were invited to sit for the distribution of prizes. There would be several boys from each year receiving prizes for one kind of work or another.


St Ignatius Prizegiving

The headmaster always gave a speech and he never attempted to pull his punches, if he was in any way dissatisfied with the year’s work, but he was always full of praise for those who had done well in their exams and had gained entrances to universities or other honours. The Mayor of Tottenham was asked to say a few words and it was left to the visiting Bishop to round off the speeches. I always enjoyed this particular occasion for the school orchestra, which was a very fine one, always played some wonderful music and the boys would all join together in singing the school song. It was a wonderful experience to hear them.

All the first year boys had an opportunity to take part in the prizegiving although none of them were to receive a prize. They were all lined up on the stage as the curtain rose and each little boy had the brilliantly coloured school scarf round his neck and hanging straight down in front; some of them were so small that the scarf hung well below their knees. I think it gave all the first year boys’ parents a thrill to see their son on the stage, an obvious member of the wonderful St. Ig’s. singing their part songs with gusto.

The gala item of the year was The Garden Party, so called in spite of the fact that it is always held in the school playground every Whit-Monday. It was a great way to spend a bank holiday. There were side shows and raffles and always plenty to eat and drink and the masters would wander round and meet everyone in the most informal manner.

This college always had this odd informal atmosphere about it and not too much stress was put on tidiness. It seemed to be a good way to run a school, for boys hate having to spend time on sprucing themselves up which could be spent in doing far better things in their opinion. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the boys had a real respect for their teachers in all things that mattered.

The main theme of the school was the preparation for and the passing of the exams at O level and later at A level as the first step to an important position in industry or to gain a university place. Our boys worked their way steadily through year by year and it didn’t seem long until they were invited to the leavers’ dinner in their final years.


As the children grew up, the boys began to talk of what they intended to do with their lives and whether or not it was worth staying on in the sixth form, or whether to pack up school and get a job at sixteen. There would be great family discussions at mealtimes as to the possible chances of sandwich courses or university education when they had taken their O levels. Joe was always on the side of further education, but I was a bit hesitant about it all for I wasn’t sure of the cost of a university place and I knew that we were already spending most of our income on clothes and food. The boys had tremendous appetites and the food that disappeared in our house in the course of a week was really terrific. The boys would have a very big dinner and sweet and then would be looking round for bread and jam to fill the cracks. Paul especially would eat slice after slice and still not be really full and I could see that we were going to use more and more money for food.

Then there were clothes to be considered, keeping them reasonably tidy and well shod, shoes were a small nightmare, they were forever wearing out. Joe took on the job of snobbing for the whole family, and at one time it looked as though it would have to be a full time occupation. We had punishments for deliberate scuffing of shoes or misuse of clothes, but we could not be too severe for we knew that it was a part of childhood to play rough sometimes and to slide and kick a football when the opportunity arose.

The boys both earned themselves a bit of pocket money, for they went turn about to help Mary, Joe’s sister, on a Saturday. They were quite young, but she thought they were wonderful and I must admit they responded well to her praise and she soon had them going messages all over London. They would go to the bank and pay in her takings, carrying the hard earned money in a small satchel over their shoulder.

They looked forward to their turn mostly because of the magnificent wage of ten shillings and their fare, but more because of the fact that the Saturdays they did not go to her they had to help with the chores at home. There were vegetables to carry home, silver to be cleaned, mats to be beaten and shoes to be cleaned for wearing on Sunday.

This arrangement suited me very well too, for when they were both at home together on a Saturday we did not seem to get as much done as when there was only one. This was because there was always the odd fight, either the boys would think the girls were getting off light because they were girls, or the girls would think the boys’ chores were not being done properly, or that they were skipping it in some way. It usually ended up in a bout of fisticuffs and they had to be put on the lawn to finish the fight; they had never been allowed to fight in the house and had been put outside the back door from very early childhood battles to the real rough and tumbles they had now. The row had to be either made up or forgotten before they were allowed back in again and I must say that this plan worked exceedingly well on most occasions.

We went on like this with the boys going up to Mary’s for some time and then she had the chance of opening her own clinic in South Molton Street in Mayfair. It was a terrific gamble for her to take but she had plenty of pluck and a wonderful skill in her hands; she felt that if she could get the venture properly started, there were people crying out for treatments she intended to provide in her beauty clinic.

I had a job one half day a week in a dress shop cleaning the counters, etc. and hoped that it would lead to a few more half days’ work. I also helped someone in Wanstead with her chores two mornings a week; it meant a few more shillings in the kitty.

As soon as Mary found out that I now had a few spare hours, she came up with the suggestion that if I could give her two afternoons a week, she could earn a fat fee twice a week by assisting at operations in a Wimpole Street clinic and nursing home that specialised in beauty operations such as face lifting and alteration of unsightly noses and the removal of bags from underneath the eyes. This was a way of helping us both, for the plan was that I man the telephone at her own clinic and make appointments for any callers and explain treatments to anyone who came personally. There were also a few cosmetics to sell and some ear rings to show.

It was the booking of appointments that was most important for her, though, for it meant that if she had enough bookings she would have enough money to consolidate the chance of opening the clinic at all in Mayfair and gradually her name would become known and the business would grow. She was very generous to me and I was very glad of this opportunity of getting to know something of up to date methods of office procedure and to learn to answer the telephone correctly.

The first day that I was left on my own I was very nervous, and when both telephones started ringing at once I just didn’t know what to do; I looked wildly from one instrument to the other, willing them with all my heart to stop ringing. Needless to say, neither of them gave up and I lifted one receiver very gingerly and heard a faint voice at the other end but, what with the mad beating of my heart and the sweat pouring off my brow with anxiety, coupled with the persistent ringing of the other phone, I could not hear a word and the caller must have thought there was a gibbering idiot on my end, and she wasn’t far wrong at that.

When all was quiet again, I seriously considered running out and leaving a note to say that I was not able to cope. However, when I had answered a few more calls, I began to listen to what the caller had to say and to form an intelligent reply, but it was surprising how many calls I had to answer before I could relax in any way whilst using the telephone.

After a few weeks I got the hang of things in the salon and was able to deal adequately with callers on the phone or in person. The main thing about answering the telephone there was to try and inspire confidence and to get over to them the fact that the ear piercing was really painless and without bloodshed in order to get them to make a firm appointment. There were several treatments given and most of them were electrical, the one for the removal of superfluous hair from the face being most in demand.

Her speciality was ear piercing, and she had perfected a method which was really painless, in fact the patient often took off her hat and coat and lay down on the treatment couch and the deed was done, often without them being aware of anything more than the prick of the hypodermic needle. Mary had great skill in removing warts and moles and afterwards put in the tiniest of stitches which were usually regarded by the patient as very interesting. Most of the women were delighted to be rid of these imperfections and were the first to acclaim her skill.

As the business increased she required more and more help, and as both girls were staying to school dinners, I felt that it was a good thing and began to go almost every day. It was my job to get the sterilisers boiling, remove all the old needles from yesterday and put in the new ones ready for the day’s cases; get the couches ready with clean sheets and pillow cases and put out clean towels; everything had to be spotlessly clean. She had a wonderful Irish woman who came in every day to do the floors and shelves and the other work was light and I really enjoyed it all. I learned to cope with the reception work and to get the patients ready on the couch for treatment. I have always liked people and got on well with everyone who came in and even learned how to do the more simple treatments, but I always preferred the less skilled jobs.

I had been with Mary quite a while, and I know that she felt that I now fully earned my pay, but there was always something lacking according to her, and she felt that I would be just tops, if I would only take a course designed to give me confidence. I felt that it was a stupid idea and said so, but Mary, being Mary, decided to dig her heels in a bit more and put over a very persuasive line of argument. She told me that she would look around for the right course for me and then all I would have to do would be to go. She happened to hit on a modelling course of all things, for there is no one on the earth less like a model than me, and paid out no less than twenty five guineas for the fee. I did not want to go one little bit but when faced with the fact that she had already paid the fee, I reluctantly agreed to go.

It was held in a very large house in Grosvenor Gardens in Westminster and I was to attend every morning from nine to twelve o’clock. I bought some slacks for the gym period which was held the very first thing every morning and though I say it myself, I looked quite young in them but I certainly didn’t show up so well in the exercises we were required to do for it was a long time since I had done any knees bend and stretch and I proved to be an old stiffy.

After the gym, meant to supple us up, we had coffee, together with a running commentary on our table manners, the way we sat down, the way we put our legs beneath the table and the way we held our cups and rose from the table when it had been drunk; all this came in for very harsh criticism. Everything had to be done model fashion. Then we would go to a lecture; these were on all sorts of subjects and I must admit I found them absorbingly interesting. They were on things like; how to run a bank account and to keep track of one’s money, how to buy shoes and what snags to look for in the workmanship, how to complain prettily when things did not give us satisfaction, how to buy furs and how to give the brush off to the other sex when they proved too demanding; indeed, a very wide variety of knowledge came my way and I got a great deal of quiet enjoyment out of the other students for of course, they were all there for one purpose only, to learn to be a model.

We learned how to open doors and close doors with graceful movements, how to greet our fellow students, how to shake hands and how to apologise when we arrived late for the gym lesson, for a date, for a social call, and for either lunch or dinner. We learned how to cope with all sorts of invitations; how to accept and how to refuse them, how to speak properly and how to cope with an orange at dessert. We had our hair styled by Teasy Weasy, and our faces made up by Max Factor and our figures corseted by the leading corsetiere.

We were made very clothes conscious by having our wearing apparel criticised in the most outrageous manner, but we learned quickly and in a week we were a much better turned out bunch of hopefuls, our stocking seams were straight and the shoes we wore were very well polished. I didn’t finish the course for I felt obliged to call off when I heard that we were to have a fashion parade with us as the mannequins, to which the beauty advisors and clothes editors of magazines like Vogue and The Queen were to be present to pick out future models for their articles.

Mary was very disappointed when I told her that I did not intend to finish the course for she had great plans in store for me, but I’m not really the type that likes to take beauty editors to lunch at Claridge’s even supposing I had the confidence.

We went on much as before at the salon but there was a coolness between us that was not of my making but because Mary still felt that I was not quite adequate without this wonderful course that I had thrown up.

It was about this time that Mary discovered that the thing to do to get money and fame was to find a way to help the countless women who suffer from varicose veins. She put out feelers towards getting a doctor to carry out the treatment in her own salon, and eventually found a doctor brother of a great friend of hers who was quite willing to go to Ireland to the Royal College in Dublin to learn a very effective method carried out there and that the surgeon was quite willing that other doctors should copy.

When he returned to London, it was arranged to hold a clinic once a week, for a whole day at a time in the salon and publicity was given to Mary and this latest exploit, by several of the leading women’s magazines and very soon we had enough customers to start a clinic. Most of the patients had very bad legs and had to come to several clinics but the relief gained was enormous and the women who were treated were thrilled with the results.

The treatment consisted of an injection into a strategic point to block the blood from flowing into the distended vein and to make it find a new course. When the block fluid was put into the vein it had to be held firmly in place with a piece of sponge rubber bound on with a long crepe bandage. It was my job to receive the patients, find their records and get them ready for the doctor, besides keeping a watchful eye on the sterilisers and syringes and make sure that the supply of sponge rubber and bandages did not run out, and of course it was my job too to ensure that everything stopped for tea at appropriate times.

The salon was always very busy on these days and the people never seemed to stop coming but I enjoyed every minute of it, but after a few months it began to seem that there was too much work for a part timer and I told Mary that she should look around for a person who could give her more time by coming earlier in the mornings than I could manage and who would be prepared to work later on the busy days. She gradually began to realise that I was right and I left the salon when she employed a full time state registered nurse as her assistant.

During this year, Paul was preparing for his GCE exams and having skipped a year going up through the school began to work very hard in order to hold his own with all the other boys in his year. The school was very crowded and the prospects of him getting the requisite five or more passes seemed very remote at Christmas time, but he swotted every week night but Friday and when the exams came along in the summer he did splendidly.

The results came out whilst he was on holiday in Ireland; he had asked us to open the letter when it came and to let him know the worst. When the envelope was opened the only thing it contained was a tiny strip of paper with the results written in code, and the code was explained on the back of the strip. Joe and I were dismayed and I had a huge lump in my throat for we both felt that, as this was all that had come, with no letter of congratulation that he had failed miserably. When John came down he soon explained that there were no such thing as letters of congratulation and he soon had the thing decoded and we learned the fabulous result that he had passed in six subjects. We sent him off a telegram immediately and it made him very happy and by the time he returned from Ireland, he had made up his mind that he would return to school and enter the sixth form, to study for A levels and a place at university.

He belonged to the boys air cadet force and attended the meetings on Friday evening. It was a very instructive evening for these lads for they had classes to learn all the science and mathematics connected with the flying of an air plane and each boy was given several opportunities in a year of a flight in a real aircraft and of piloting a dual controlled plane. Paul thought this enormous fun and at one time seriously considered trying for the entrance exam for an air force officer, but after taking all the oral tests he failed because he was found to be colour blind.


Inspection time

He still kept on with the cadets for some time after this but he only seemed interested in the model aircraft which they made; these were small models put together and made from Balsa wood and they were designed in a way which enabled a small motor to be inserted into the tail of the finished model plane. When these little planes were painted in bright enamel they were attached to a nylon thread and the other end of the thread attached to an arm extending from a central pillar and when the motor was started the planes would fly round and round the pole in a most realistic manner.

There were competitions held to find the best models of the term and these were flown for the entertainment of the parents on the open evening held once every now and again. These evenings were very interesting and I think many of the boys’ parents were impressed by all the knowledge and skill shown by the boys.

John’s great love was still the scouts, but he liked any form of outdoor exercise and he began to be interested in hill climbing and saved hard for his climbing boots and the other gear he required for this new pursuit. He had been in the rugby team at St. Ignatius and was always ready to hitch out of London for a game when the chance offered.


John at 17


Beauty at 15

He was always quite clever and did not have to do as much preparation for his studies as Paul and could always do well in his exams. He had the wonderful result of nine O levels and then settled down to get the three A levels required for university entrance. He thought that university students always had lots of fun and he was determined to become an undergraduate.

The strange thing about John was that he never seemed to have any plan for his future such as being a scientist or anything special and it was a great surprise to us when the time came, that he chose to read Medicine.


All grown up

He gained an entrance to the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and got his grant fixed up and travelled up daily for a whole year. He had lots of odd jobs in the vacations whilst he was there and he joined the gallant band of dustmen for the Christmas period. He really enjoyed finding out how these men spent their time and their leisure and loved talking to them to find out about their interests and families. He went wholeheartedly into the job and went into the cafes with them for tea breaks and altogether quite enjoyed this new life. He was glad to find, too, that the housewives became generous at Christmas and he made quite a lot of money in tips.

Another holiday he worked as a labourer on a building site and really enjoyed it, for by this time he had more or less made up his mind that he wanted to try out his vocation for the Priesthood and as there were several Irish labourers on the site he was able to find out what the ordinary man in the street thought about God.

He went away at Whitsun that year and when he returned he told us that he intended to see the Bishop of the Diocese to see if he could be given a place in a seminary. In no time at all it was arranged that he should become a student at The Venerable English College in Rome and that summer he hitch-hiked his way across France to get to Italy to start his new life in the first week in October.


John setting out for Rome


August 1962