A puff of smoke

Three students

 

My father gave up smoking when I was about eight years old. As far as I know, my mother never smoked. I had an aunt who smoked, and entertained us by creating smoke rings with exhaled cigarette smoke. Visitors to our home smoked, so I was not completely isolated from cigarettes and so on during my earliest years. 

I was about 13 or 14 when I went on a field trip with other boys from my class. On that outing, I was shocked to see many of my fellow pupils lighting up cigarettes when we were out of sight of our teachers. I did not realise until that moment thay young children smoked.

In those early years, and possibly still today, I was a contrarian. Being that sort of person and seeing my peers smoking made me decide never to even try smoking, and  this situation remains unchanged tosay, so many decades later. It was not for health reasons nor because of economic problems that I have never taken up smoking. I simply did not want to be one of the crowd.

I often wonder if the situation had been reversed whether I would have become a smoker. If no one else had been smoking, would I have lit up just to be different? I doubt it because as a child I was far from adventurous.

A young explorer

Green signal_500

 

When I was a child, our local Underground station was Golders Green on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. It was the first station on the stretch of the line, which remains open air, above ground, between Golders Green and Edgware. As a small child, I yearned to know what lay beyond Golders Green, where we always disembarked, but my parents did not share my yearning.

Long ago in the 1960s,  the trains bound for Edgware stopped at Golders Green on a stretch of line that ran between two platforms. The doors would open on both sides of the train. The platform on the left side of the train gave easy access to the centre of Golders Green and its large bus terminus. The right side, which we always used, led to an entrance that was on the way to Hampstead Garden Suburb, where our family home was located. 

One day, my father and I arrived at Golders Green after having spent some time in central London. As usual, we waited alongside a door on the right side of the train when we stopped in the station. Unusually, the doors on the right side of the train did not open, but those on the left did. By the time we realised that the right side doors were not going to open, the doors on the left side had closed, and we were beginning to travel beyond Golders Green above ground to Brent, the next station. My father was not happy, but I was delighted to be travelling along a stretch of the line that I had always wanted to see.

Since that time, I have always been excited at the prospect of travelling to the ends of the London Underground lines. Yesterday, I travelled to Watford, the terminus of one branch of the Metropolitan Line, and enjoyed it as much as I would have done when aged about ten!

Tastes differ

 

food toast meal morning

 

When I was a child, I spent a great deal of time with my aunt and her children. They lived a few minute’s walk from our family home and I enjoyed spending time with them. Often, my sister and I used to spend a whole day at my aunt’s house, sometimes over night especially when my parents were away on a trip.

My aunt fed us. Sometimes she made us fried eggs. Then, I was a very fussy eater. In those far-off days, I only liked the white part of the fried egg, not the central yellow bit. One of my cousins only liked the central yellow part, but disliked the white surrounding it.  My aunt was an extremely down-to-earth individual, laden with more than a fair share of common sense. Her solution to the fried egg situation was that after making the fried egg, she used to carefully dissect the yoke portion of the finished product and serve it to my cousin. I was given the white portion of the egg with a neat hole in it where the yellow had been.

Today, many decades later, I am not keen on any part of a fried egg and do not eat eggs prepared in this way. I much prefer omelettes and hard-boiled eggs. However, I do enjoy making them for other people, The challenge is to avoid breaking the yoke. 

 

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The first time I ate rice

rice

 

I had a difficult birth. Both my mother and I nearly died when I was born. For the first few weeks of my life, I was not a healthy baby; my future was uncertain. Then, as I grew a little, I was a poor eater. My mother, who worried about me greatly, felt that it was best that I only ate what I liked. As a result, I became a fussy and unadventurous eater. My immediate reaction on being offered something that was outside the tiny range of foods that I was prepared to eat, was to refuse it.

Although at an early age, I was happy to eat tomato sauce either with pasta, which I still enjoy, or with baked beans, which I now dislike intensely. I recall eating a fresh (i.e. uncooked) tomato for the first time when I was about 13.

When I was 20, I joined some friends on a camping trip in France. We travelled around the country by car, camping at night. We would eat picnics for lunch and visit restaurants in the evening. One of our camping places was at Banyuls on the Mediterranean coast of France close to the Spanish border. One evening, we drove across the border to Port Bou in Spain. Naturally as we were in Spain, my friends ordered paella.

Paella, as many people know, is a rice based dish. I was a bit skeptical because I had managed to avoid eating rice (and rice pudding) prior to this brief trip to Spain. Something attracted me to the paella, maybe it was hunger or its delicious appearance, and I tried a portion. As for the rice, it was love at first bite. Since then, I have been a great fan of rice, which I had never tried during the first 20 years of my life. I still dislike rice pudding as it is made in the UK. In contrast, I really enjoy phirni, an Indian version of rice pudding.

Since that trip to Port Bou, my tastes have become quite adventurous. I rarely refuse trying something new, even if only once.

Looking back on my childhood, I now realise that my very conservative tastes deprived me of the delights of many of the gourmet meals, which my parents enjoyed while travelling with me and my sister. They would enjoy fine French or Italian food whilst I stuck to my ham or steak and chips. 

Well, as the French say À chacun son goût. I am glad that mygoût has become more exciting.

 

 

Train to Florence

Settebello_power_car

 

Until I was about 17 years old, my parents used to take my sister and I for long trips to Florence and Venice every year. Often, we would fly from London to Milan, and then take a train to Florence. Frequently, our reserved seats were occupied by other passengers, who would only shift elsewhere when we had got the carriage’s conductor to intervene on our behalf.

Here is an extract from my reminiscences of childhood travel in Italy from my book “Charlie Chaplin waved to me“:

“Once we were seated in our reserved seats, we began to enjoy the 3 hour journey to Florence. Within minutes of entering our carriage or compartment, my mother would begin to strike up a conversation with whoever was sitting nearby. My mother and two of her three brothers, one of whom lived in London and the other in Cape Town, were always happy to initiate conversations with complete strangers. Her only sister and other brother were less inclined to do this. Mostly, our fellow passengers were Italian, but once I recall sharing a compartment with an elderly American lady who was considerably older than my parents. After a few minutes of friendly conversation, she revealed that her son was none other but the world-famous violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001), who was born 3 months before my mother.

Occasionally we were lucky enough to travel on a Settebello train. These high speed streamlined electric trains, which plied between Milan and Rome and stopped briefly in Florence, were the pride of Italian State Railways. At each end of the train there was an observation saloon. The driver’s cabins were located above these. When travelling in the front observation cabin, one experienced a driver’s view of the track ahead. As a child who loved trains, sitting in these was a great treat for me. I still gain great enjoyment sitting at the front of trams and trains. One of the attractions of London’s Docklands Light Railway, which weaves its way through London’s former docklands and other reclaimed parts of the East End, is that there are seats at the front of the train where a driver would normally be seated had the train not been automated.

About an hour away from Florence after passing through Bologna, the train entered a long tunnel. Even the fastest trains took almost half an hour to travel through this. Soon after we emerged from it we sped through the town of Prato, and then the suburbs of Florence (Firenze in Italian) began. I knew that after we had passed the marshalling yards at Firenze Rifredi, we would soon be entering the huge terminal, Florence’s Stazione di Santa Maria Novella.

 

Charlie Chaplin waved to me is available from:

Amazon, bookfinder.com, lulu.com, and on Kindle

 

Picture: Front of a Settebello train showing the observation lounge and the driver’s cabin above it. Source: it.wikipedia.org

Wasting time by the pool

Pool side_240

 

My parents, like many other parents, wanted me to learn to swim. I was a reluctant learner. The reason was I could not believe that if I took my foot off the floor at the bottom of the pool or the sand beneath the sea, I would not sink like a stone. I could watch others swimming, but could not understand how they could do it and how much they enjoyed it.

Almost every Saturday morning, I used to be taken to one pool or another to get private swimming lessons. Year after year, these produced no results. I could not learn to swim. My parents must have spent a small fortune on these fruitless swimming lessons.

At school, we were taken to a public swimming bath at least once a week  during the Summer Term. The teachers supervising us were uninterested in those, like me, who were unable to swim. We were told to remain at the shallow end of the pool and not to move from there. This happened both at my primary school and also at secondary school.

Eventually my parents learnt of a Mr Brickett, who gave swimming lessons on Saturday ornings at the YWCA, which used to exist in Great Russell Street near Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. The red brick building still stands, but now it serves another purpose. 

Mr Brickett had a system that involved the pupil wearing an inflatable buoyancy arm-band arround each upper arm. Each armband had two separate inflatable chambers. With these fully inflated, I became convinced that I could make it across the pool without my feet touching the bottom. Each week, Mr Brickett would inflate the armbands a little less than the previous week, and then the pupil would be encouraged to swim to and fro across the pool. After a few weeks, I swam across the pool wearing my armbands. When I had done this, Mr Brickett revealed to me that he had not inflated the armband at all and that I was swimming without their assistance.  As I trusted Mr Brickett, I removed the bands and under his watchful eye I swam across the pool unaided. For this, I was awarded a certificate with my name and a Union Jack flag on it. It certified that I had swum 10 yards unaided, under my own steam.

 

I hardly ever swim any more, but I used to enjoy it a little bit, especially in the sea. I am glad that my parents persisted with the lessons, but regret that my slow progress led them to waste so much of their spare time by the pool.

 

A precocious child

Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut at the dental surgery.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, our family dentist was a kindly German Jewish refugee called Dr Samuels. In those days, I learned later while I was studying dentistry, sugar used to be an ingredient of toothpaste made for use by children. I doubt that my mother provided us with children’s toothpaste, which she would have regarded as being gimmicky.

Dr Samuels had a very upmarket practice in London’s St John’s Wood. His waiting room floor was covered with thick pile oriental carpets and the reading matter was glossy journals such as Country Life.

The surgery, where Dr Samuels performed his dentistry, was old-fashioned. Instruments were kept on display in glass fronted metal cabinets. His x-ray machine looked antiquated even to my young, inexperienced eyes. So, did most of his other equipment, much of it made by the German Siemens company. One of my uncles, also a patient of Dr Samuels, once asked him if a museum might be interested in displaying this historic looking dental equipment. Samuels answer was that it was not quite old enough for a museum.

Dr Samuels drilled teeth with a cord driven dental handpiece. He told us that he had an air driven high speed dental drill, but he did not like it because it cut too fast in his opinion. So, having fillings in his surgery was quite a noisy and bumpy experience.

Dr Samuels was a gentle, kindly man, like a benevolent grandfather. He never frightened me.

At the end of an appointment, he used to reward me with a boiled sweet. I looked forward to receiving these. However, one day when I was about 8 or 9 years old and he offered me the sweet, I said to Dr Samuels: “No thank you. Sweets are filled with sugar and bad for my teeth.”

The price I paid for my precociousness was that he never again offered me a sweet at the end of my appointments with him. I should have kept my mouth shut and graciously accepted his kind but unhealthy gift.

GOING NUTS

I was at school throughout most of the 1950s and ’60s. I came into contact with numerous other children. As far as I can recall, not one of my fellow pupils ever admitted having a food allergy. A few had asthma or wore spectacles, but none seemed to suffer from allergies.

When our daughter attended schools at the beginning of this, the 21st century, many of the children with whom she studied had food allergies, notably nut allergies. Some of them even carried adrenaline filled epipens with them to be used should they come into contact with allergens. Our daughter was, luckily, not allergic to anything, but felt left out because she did not have an allergy. It seemed to her that having an allergy or wearing orthodontic appliances were almost ‘fashion statements’

Why are food allergies so common now? Is it a result of obsession with today’s hygiene and fear of germs. We live in the era of the hand sanitizer and obsession with ‘use by’ dates. Today’s children are shielded from allergens from a very tender age and this impedes the development of an effective immune system.

Research done in the USA some years ago compared the incidence of allergies in kids brought up on farms, where dirt and animals are hard to avoid, with that in children brought up ‘hygienically’ in cities. It was found that the city kids had a far higher incidence of allergies than their country cousins.

Our daughter first visited India when she was 7 months old. It was impossible to stop her putting just about anything she found on the ground into her mouth. I like to think that this might be why she differed from many of her peers in that she missed out on having allergies.

So, if you have young children, do not go nuts about shielding them from external factors that might prevent them needing to carry an epipen in the future.

Now, I will play the part of the Devil’s advocate. It is remotely possible that the apparent absence of children with allergies during my school days was because any kids with allergies had died of anaphylactic shock before they were old enough to attend school. I hope not!

My cat

I love cats. I have only ever ‘owned’ one. I named it Crumpet.

I was less than ten years old when Crumpet entered my life. I was lying in bed at home, recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, when my late mother brought Crumpet into my bedroom. She had only just bought the cat at a pet shop to cheer me up.

My mother, who was always nervous about me risking injury, would not allow me to open the tins of cat food that Crumpet enjoyed. She was concerned that I might cut myself on the sharp edges of the open tin lids. So, as my mother did not want to disturb my father, who did much of his academic work at home, she became responsible for feeding Crumpet.

Cats tend to be quite self oriented. They favour the people who feed them. In Crumpet’s case, it was my mother who received much of the cat’s attention. Our cat used to rub herself against my mother’s legs affectionately, especially when my mother was opening the cat food.

Now, here’s the rub. My self sacrifying mother could not bear cats. She put up with Crumpet for my sake.

Crumpet must have realised that my mother was not keen on her because after a few weeks our pussy abandoned our home for another about one hundred yards away from ours.

Since Crumpet deserted us, I have never kept another pet, but my fondness for cats has remained.

Chewing gum

 

It was in Turkey that I first tried chewing gum. I was ten years old. It was 1962, and we were staying at the Hotel Çınar at Yesiliköy on the Marmara Sea just west of Istanbul. We walked from the hotel into the nearby village, where my parents bought me a small pack of chewing gum. The pieces of gum were coated with a hard, sugary outer layer. I thought that this layer extended right through the piece, and I was surprised to find when I bit into it that it contained a soft gooey substance. I was not impressed.

GUM 1

Source: wikipedia

A year later, the family spent the last three months of 1963 in Chicago, Illinois. It was while we lived in the USA that I became very keen on chewing gum and its close relative bubble gum (specially the Bazooka brand). Between arriving in America and leaving Turkey, I had learned how to enjoy chewing gum. In America, the range of flavours of gum was huge compared with what was available in the UK. I used to chew a piece of gum and when its flavour had weakened, I added another piece, and then another, and so on until there was a huge mass of gum in my mouth. This ever-growing glob of gum would remain in my mouth for several hours.

I attended school while we were in Chicago. In each class room there were desks with swivelling desk-tops for writing on. I soon discovered that the undersides of these desks were covered with soft blobs. After touching these blobs, I discovered that the tips of my fingers acquired different pleasant odours. Naïve as it may sound, I only discovered after returning to England that these ‘perfumed’ squishy mounds were bits of discarded chewing gum.

In the late 1960s and the following decade, we used to visit Greece almost every year. In those days, Greek cities and towns had numerous kiosks selling newspapers, magazines, and … chewing gum. The most commonly found brand of gum was ‘Chiclets’. This trade name, established in 1900 in the USA is derived from the Spanish word chicle, which means ‘chewing gum’. The range of flavours available at these kiosks was much greater than what was available in the UK at the time.

We took many flights during my childhood. In the 1960s and ‘70s, many ‘planes were not as well pressurised as modern aircraft. During take-off and landing, there was a risk of much ear-popping. Sucking sweets or chewing gum was recommended to reduce the unpleasantness of the ear popping.

I was happily chewing gum as was usual on a flight when a thought occurred to me. The endless chewing of gum brought the rumination of cattle to mind. Suddenly, I compared myself to cattle chewing the cud. Although I have no objection to cattle moving their jaws endlessly, I felt that it was inappropriate that I should be doing the same. Since then, I have rarely chewed gum, and when I have done so I have found that my jaw muscles tire easily.

 

GUM 2

Source: CollectingCandy.com