EVERYONE NEEDS GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH INDIA since my earliest days. This association was unconscious for the first 18 years of my life, that is before I met Indians, including my future wife, at university. During my childhood and until I was 30, I lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) in the shadow of the tall conical spire of St Judes Church. This brick edifice that can be seen from all around the HGS and many other places in northwest London was designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) the husband of Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Lytton, a former Viceroy of India. It was Lutyens who was given the task of designing New Delhi, the new capital of British India, between 1912 and 1930.

 

H0

St Judes Church by Edwin Lutyens

The construction of St Judes began in 1909, a year after our family home at 36 Hampstead Way was built. The church was consecrated in 1911, but not completed until 1935, after Lutyens had finished working on New Delhi. The north side of the church lines one side of the grassy Central Square, which was also laid out by Lutyens. The north side of the square is lined by the south side of the Free Church, a domed edifice designed by Lutyens. Its construction began in 1911 but was not fully completed until 1960.  As a child and for many years later, I had no idea that Lutyens had an important connection with India. In general,  I do not like the buildings designed by Lutyens in either HGS or in New Delhi. The only one of his buildings that appeals to me is Castle Drogo in Devon.

A recent visit to the HGS brought back several memories that I will share with you. Our house at 36 Hampstead Way looks much as it did when I was a child. In those days, and still today if you look carefully, the name ‘Inverugie’ can be discerned above the front porch beneath layers of whitewash. When my parents bought the house back in the early 1950s, they did not like the name and had it covered with paint. Despite many repaintings, it can still be seen if you know where to look.

When I was a child, our neighbour on Hampstead Way was the elderly spinster Miss Reinecke. Our other immediate neighbours on Hill Close were the very elderly Mr and Mrs Palmer. They sold the house to a young family, Mr and Mrs ‘S’. I used to babysit their children when I was a teenager. It was an easy way to make some pocket money because their children were always asleep when I arrived, and they never woke up while I was on duty. On one occasion, I was baby-sitting long enough to listen to the five long-playing records (LPs) that contained an entire performance of Wagner’s “Mastersingers of Nuremberg”. We rang on the doorbell the other day. Although Mr S could not recognise me at first, once he knew who I am, he remembered all sorts of things. He told me that all of the other houses in Hill Close have changed hands, sometimes several times, since we sold the house in the early 1990s.

A house at the top end of Hill Close used to be occupied by one of my father’s colleagues at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’), Professor Percy Cohen (1928-1999).  He was born in Durban, South Africa, and after obtaining a degree in social anthropology, he moved into the field of sociology. Occasionally, he used to stop his car and pick me up to give me a lift a part of the way to University College London, where I studied for many years.

A few steps lead up from the Cohen’s end of Hill close to a footpath that runs between hedges. When I lived in HGS, there was a tennis court on the south side of the path. All of the houses on Hill Close, including ours, had access to this court. In the second half of the 1960s, I used to play tennis there after school with three of my friends. We used to play in the fading light of the late afternoon. What with poor light and the well-worn markings on the hard court, there were often arguments about whether a ball had landed inside or outside the lines. Today, the court has disappeared and has been replaced by a well-manicured lawn, which is used by residents of a block of flats on South Square.

The footpath that begins at the end of Hill Close disgorges at South Square. A house on the corner of the footpath and South Square was once occupied by the Zacharias family. Mr Zacharias was a US diplomat. My sister and his daughter, Missie, became good friends. I enjoyed spending time with Missie’s brother, and my parents got on well with his. Occasionally, we would be invited to parties at their house. At one of these, we were introduced to Patrick Gordon Walker (1907-1980), who was an important British Labour politician. I remember being impressed at the time. I realised he was a famous person but had no idea why he was. Eventually, the Zacharias family returned to the USA. Just before they left, they came to our house to give us many half empty bottles of liqueurs and spirits.  My parents stored them in a cupboard in my father’s study. They were not keen drinkers. The bottles remained untouched, gathering dust for many years. They were still there when my father sold the house. I hope someone managed to enjoy their contents rather than chucking them away.

Henrietta Barnett School and the HGS Institute line the eastern side of Central Square. Until our recent visit, I had never noticed a stone plaque inserted in the wall of the school building. It reads: “This stone was unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret on 2nd July 1957 to commemorate the jubilee of The Hampstead Garden Suburb, 1907-1957”.

I was 5 years and two months old on the 2nd of July 1957. I remember that day well. I was spending the day at my mother’s sisters house near Wildwood Road in HGS. Sometime that morning, she took me and my young cousin to Wildwood Road and seated me on a piece of street furniture, a metal cupboard fixed to the pavement, which contained equipment needed for telephones. She handed me a Union Jack flag attached to a blue wooden stick. When the fancy car carrying Princess Margaret drove past, I waved the flag. You might wonder how I remember so much about that flag. The reason is that it was stored in my aunt’s downstairs bathroom for many years afterwards and I saw it each time I used the room.

Southway leads east from the south-east corner of Central Square. Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 then again from 1974 to 1976, lived in a semi-detached house on Southway until 1964, when he moved to 10 Downing Street, closer to his workplace. Unlike his minister Gordon Walker, I never met him. The brickwork on the former Prime Minister’s home in Southway includes three bricks inscribed with letters. One reads “HCP”, another “AEP”, and the third “1909”, which might be the year the house was built.

Bigwood Road intersects South Way and leads south to Meadway, crosses it,  and then becomes  Meadway Close. One of my father’s close colleagues at the LSE, Lionel Robbins (1898-1984), lived in a substantial semi-detached house on this cul-de-sac that ends close to the Hampstead Heath Extension. Lord Robbins was an important twentieth century British economist. I cannot tell you about his contributions to economics because I only knew him as a friend of our family.

Lionel was over six feet tall and his wife, Iris, was truly short. He drove a tiny Mini and Iris drove a far larger vehicle. My mother knew that Robbins was fond of spaghetti. My parents were fond of Italians, and often invited my father’s Italian postgraduate students, amongst which was the former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, to our home for dinner. Almost always, they invited Lionel Robbins as well. This was because my parents knew that most of my father’s Italian students were in awe of the great Lionel Robbins. At these dinner parties, my mother served spaghetti which Robbins enjoyed, and the young Italian guests sat around the great man enjoying his presence and the opportunity to chat with such a famous economist.

Almost opposite the home of the Robbins was the home of my school friend at Highgate School, Timothy Clarke. Tim is the younger brother of Charles Clarke, who became head boy at Highgate School before studying at Cambridge University. A member of the Labour Party, Charles served as Home Secretary between 2004 and 2006 in Tony Blair’s government. Once a Head Boy, always a Head Boy! I lost contact with Tim after we left Highgate. Whenever I pass his childhood home, I remember that there was a stylised metal sailing ship attached to its front door. When I passed it recently, I noticed that the door was no longer decorated with a ship.

We had parked our car near the intersection of Hampstead Way and Meadway, opposite a house on the north-east corner of the intersection. The building is a kind of terrace containing three or four houses. I never knew anyone who lived there, but I do remember that whenever there was to be a general election, somebody in that group of houses always put up an orange poster promoting the Liberal Party. Despite this and Harold Wilson living in the Suburb, the majority  of voters in the Hendon South Constituency, in which HGS is located, always voted for the Conservatives. When I was young, our MP had a memorable name: Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (1903-1985). I wonder whether his name subconsciously inspired me to take up dentistry. He held Hendon South from 1945 until 1970, when he retired from politics.

We drove away from the Suburb, a place that I found dull in my youth, with many memories revived in my head. I hope that you have enjoyed the selection I have shared with you.

 

Shakespeare in the forest

BIG WOOD SEEMED large to me when I was a child. Although it does not live up to its name, it feels like a big wood once you enter it. Located in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’), this woodland and the much smaller nearby Little Wood are quite ancient. They were part of a forest that was at least 1000 years old, part of land given to Wealdhere, who became Bishop of London late in the 7th century. The woods and surrounding land remained church possessions until 1911, when they were leased to the HGS Trust by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. According to the londongardenstrust.org website:
“When Hampstead Garden Suburb was being planned in 1907, its instigator, Dame Henrietta Barnett, was committed to providing green spaces within the housing, planting trees and preserving those that existed. When additional land was acquired to extend the Suburb in 1911, Big Wood was leased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and preserved as woodland. In 1933 Finchley UDC took on the freehold.”

BIG 12

Stage and auditorium of Little Wood Theatre

There is a report that circus elephants used to be kept in a field that existed between Big and Little Woods before the construction of houses in this location (now Denman Drive North and South). Colin Gregory wrote (www.hgs.org.uk):

“Before leaving this story, we should pay our respects to one of the last occupiers of Park Farm: the circus proprietor Lord’ George Sanger … His descendants continued the circus in operation until the 1960s. It is said that when he owned Park Farm he allowed the circus animals to winter on his land. An elderly resident of Denman Drive – constructed in 1908 on what was once Westminster Abbey’s land – used to recall ‘elephants grazing’ in the field between Big Wood and Little Wood, before Denman Drive North and Denman Drive South – constructed in 1912 on what was once the Bishop’s land – were completed.”

We re-visited the woods recently on a hot sunny afternoon. We entered Big Wood from the end of Temple Fortune Hill. At this entrance to the tiny forest there is a wooden gate that was put up to commemorate the 29 residents of HGS who died during WW2.  I do not remember seeing this gate when I was a child in the 1960s. Often in those days, my friends and I used to play in the woods, which I recall as being dark and dingy.

Lopa and I walked leisurely from one end of Big Wood to the other along good paths in about five minutes. This made the wood seem far smaller than its name suggests. However, when we wandered off the main tarred paths onto the numerous dirt tracks, made uneven by semi-exposed roots, threading their way amongst the trees, tree stumps, broken branches, and clumps of stinging nettles, the wood seemed dense and dank despite the fine blue sky above the tree tops. Calls of hidden birds punctuated the silence.  On these small paths, we lost all sense of direction and managed to get lost within the tiny area of woodland.

We had asked some locals how we could reach Little Wood from Big Wood and they had told us to follow a certain path, which they pointed out. We set off along it, but it kept bifurcating every few yards and we were clueless as to which of the two branching paths was the one to follow to arrive at Little Wood. Eventually after going around in circles, we gave up and left Big Wood via Oakwood Road, which is appropriately named as many of the trees in the two woods are oaks. We entered Little Wood from Denman Drive North, the continuation of Denman Drive South. These differently named sections of the same stretch of road link the two woods and must pass close to the field where circus elephants once grazed.

Little Wood, whose history is the same as that of Big Wood, contains one of London’s lesser-known performance spaces, a small open-air theatre.  This was created in 1920 by the Play and Pageant Union, one of two drama groups that later merged to form the Garden Suburb Theatre. It was restored in 1997, and now looks like it would benefit from some more restoration. The stage is a clearing in the woods surrounded by trees and bushes. The audience sits on a circular stepped auditorium consisting of three layers of paving stones set in a curve around the stage.

The theatre in Little Wood occupies an important place in my memories of childhood. It was here when I was about ten years old, back in the early 1960s, that I first saw a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It must have been on a summer evening when I watched this with a sense of wonder that still lives with me. Apart from the odd logs, there were no other props. The actors and actresses appeared on, and disappeared from, the simple stage almost magically, popping through gaps between the trees and bushes surrounding the theatre.

I cannot begin to imagine what The Bard was thinking when he created The Dream, but I feel sure that he would have approved of its being acted out in on the sylvan stage in Little Wood. Furthermore, I think that he would have appreciated a play that contains six amateur actors in its plot being performed by a troupe of amateur actors such as we were watching that far-off evening. Since watching that play in Little Wood so many years ago, I have seen several other performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and only one has given me as much pleasure as that. It was a recent staging of the play directed by Nicholas Hytner at the relatively new Bridge Theatre near London’s Tower Bridge. In that recent show, as the theatre’s publicity said:

“The theatre becomes the forest – a dream world of flying fairies, contagious fogs and moonlight revels.”

And, the result at the Bridge was more than wonderful, although seeing the play in a real forest (Little Wood, in my case) is hard to beat.

Returning to the little theatre in Little Wood the other day, though it was out of use during the Covid-19 pandemic, it kindled many happy memories. Although I had not visited that theatre for many decades, it looked just as I remembered it.

Delivered to your door

After we married in 1994, we used to visit my in-laws in Bangalore (India) regularly. During the first few visits, we stayed in their home in Koramangala, a suburb to the south of the city’s diffuse central area. Although they lived close to shops, some within easy walking distance, their street was visited by itinerant sellers. For example, there were (and still are) people wheeling barrows from which they sell fruit and vegetables. These sellers announce their arrival with shouts in the Kannada language, which I cannot understand.  Other vendors come to the door selling bags of nuts and deep-fried and other snacks. Every street or street corner has a stall that is visited daily by the dhobi, who collects washed clothes to be ironed from your front door. All of this occurred in 1994 and continues today.

When I was a child during the 1950s and ‘60s, I lived with my family in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) near to Golders Green in north-west London. The HGS is a housing project, which was conceived by the social reformer and general ‘do-gooder’ Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936). The Suburb, whose construction began around 1904, is a mixture of residences of varying sizes built in different styles of architecture. Her idea was to provide homes for all classes of society, so that people from all these social classes could live harmoniously side-by-side. As with all the best-laid plans, this social mixing was never achieved. The very pleasant green suburb became a haven for the middle classes, the bourgeoisie. In his autobiography “A Little Learning”, Evelyn Waugh wrote of HGS (in its early years) that it was inhabited:

“… not exactly by cranks, nor by Bohemians, but mainly by a community of unconventional bourgeois of artistic interests.”

Today, this kind of people cannot afford to live there; it is now a highly desired residential area for the sector of middle class with plenty of money at hand.

Henrietta Barnett included three churches, a community hall (the so-called ‘Tea Room’), a school, an Institute, and two areas of woodland in her utopian suburb, but rejected the idea of including anything so ungodly as shops. So, HGS had, and still has, no shops within its boundaries. The nearest shopping centres are Golders Green, Temple Fortune, and the Market Place that is located on an arterial road that divides HGS into two separate parts. Unless one lived near to any of these shopping areas, the nearest shops could be up to a mile away from your front door. Because of this, HGS used to be visited by various roving services in my day.

The milkman made deliveries of dairy products every day. These were loaded on small electrically powered vehicles (‘milk floats’) that moved almost silently along the streets. The only sound they made was the tinkling of glass milk bottles as they rattled in the wagon. The milkman collected his stock from the Express Dairy Depot at Hoop Lane on the edge of the boundary of HGS. It was at this depot that the electric vehicle’s batteries were charged overnight. Newspapers were delivered to the door by a delivery boy employed by a local newsagent. A man with a French accent wearing a beret used to cycle around HGS selling strings of onions. For some reason unknown to me my mother never bought onions from him, but her sister, who lived close by, always did. Several times a week a tatty lorry used to cruise slowly along our streets. His vehicle contained a vegetable shop.

In summer, vans selling ice-cream would occasionally cruise along our street. When they stopped, they played a pre-recorded musical (well, not very musical) jingle to attract customers’ attention.

Every now and then, a knife grinder would arrive on his bicycle. He had a pedal-operated grinding wheel that spat out a shower of sparks when a knife was being sharpened. My mother never employed the grinder, claiming that he would ruin her kitchen knives. Being a sculptress, she was used to sharpening her chisels on a stone, and probably sharpened her own knives as well. Cries of what sounded to me like “old iron and echo” heralded the arrival of the scrap metal collector. When I was very young, he arrived with a horse-drawn wagon. This was later replaced by a battered motor driven lorry.

Twice a week, a mobile public library visited HGS. I never used it, preferring to walk to the better stocked library in Golders Green. The only commercial establishment, the nearest approximation to a shop, within HGS was Mendels Garage, which sold petrol and repaired cars. This has long since disappeared as did some of the other services mentioned above.

A dhobi ironing in Bangalore

Moving fast forward to today’s world, there is little need to leave your home if you do not feel like doing so. With the advent of the Internet, everything can be brought to your front door: from cooked meals to rare books, clothes, and almost anything you might want to buy. Even fast-food joints like McDonald’s will deliver your favourite snacks. Recently, a friend in Bombay needed a new rubber stamp costing a very few rupees. He rang the manufacturer to order it and was told that it would be delivered to his home within a very short time.

The convenience of home delivery is obvious, but this may jeopardise the future of shops that rely on people entering their stores to buy things.  Such is life, as so many people say, rather irritatingly I feel!

Don’t ever use aftershave!

CASIO

 

When I was a child living in north-west London in the early 1960s, I used to accompany my mother on shopping expeditions in the West End. I loved going into the centre of London because I considered that Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived, was pretty, but pretty dull – a cemetery for the living! We used to take the Underground to Oxford Circus. Our first port of call after leaving the ‘tube’ station was Dickins and Jones, a now no longer existing department store on Regent Street. It closed in 2007, long after my mother died.

Like many other department stores, Dickins and Jones devoted its ground floor to displays of cosmetics and perfumes. On one visit, when we were walking through the over-fragrant ground floor of the store, a sales-lady working behind one of the many stalls, each representing a different cosmetics company, beckoned to me. I pointed towards myself, and she nodded, meaning she really did mean me. I walked over to her, and then without my saying anything, she said: “Sonny, never ever use after-shave lotion on your skin. Now, get along.”  I have never forgotten her advice, nor disobeyed it. I was about twelve years old then.

As I moved into my teens, and I began needing to shave, I was inundated with gifts of after-shave. Well-meaning friends of my parents and adult relatives gave me numerous gifts of cuff-links, which I have never used, and copious bottles of after-shave, which I dared not use. The unopened bottles piled up in my wardrobe and gathered dust.

Many years later, I became a dental student. From the second year onwards, we treated real live patients. They had either referred themselves for free treatment at the dental hospital or they had been referred by general practitioners who could not handle their problems. Many of them made multiple visits. Treatment at the hands of students was often slow. Some grateful patients gave me gifts either during their course of treatment or at the last visit.

One of my patients was a young lady from the Far East. She was always accompanied by her little son, aged not more than four years. Whenever I gave his mother a local anaesthetic, he would pipe up: “Look Mama, dentist man coming with needle. Look Mama, dentist man… etc.” When her course of treatment ended, she presented me with what I regarded as a wonderful gift, a treasure. It was a Casio digital watch with a tiny calculator keyboard attached to it. This was given to me in the late 1970s, and these watches had only been available for a very short time.

Someone, who came to dinner with my parents in the 1970s, brought us a gift of a box of chocolates made by Floris Chocolates, a company that no longer exists. I remember that the chocolates were far, far better than any I had ever tasted. So, it was with some excitement that I unwrapped a gift which a happy patient had given me after I had made him a set of dentures at the dental school. It was a box labelled ‘Floris’. At the end of the day, I took my gift home, and opened it with great anticipation and high expectations. My heart sunk when I found that the box contained not chocolates, but small bottles of fragrant perfumes. I gifted these to a friend.

J, an attractive young lady, became one of my patients at the dental school. I asked her what she did for a living. She told me that she sold men’s fragrances at a leading London department store (not Dickins and Jones). She asked me: “Have you heard of Brut?” I said that I had heard of the company. “Well, I represent Brut at the store,” she told me. “Do you use fragrances?” she inquired politely. “No,” I answered. “Oh, that doesn’t surprise me. Hardly any doctors or dentists seem to use them.” I was sure how to interpret this and hoped that I was not smelling unpleasant. “I’ll bring you some next appointment,” she told me cheerfully.

On the next visit, the Brut seller, true to her word, presented me with a large box, saying: “See how you get on with these.” I took the box home at the end of the day and examined its contents. It was filled with little bottles labelled with names that I found mysterious: ‘pre-shower splash’, ‘shower splash’, after-shower splash’, pre-shave rinse’, ‘shaving splash’, and (the to be avoided) ‘after-shave lotion’. No instructions were provided, so this well-meant gift was consigned to the wardrobe. After what the lady in Dickins and Jones had advised me, I was not going to risk the after-shave lotion nor any of the other even more curiously named products.

With the exception of the cosmetic products, I have received many other gifts over the years, most of which have given me great pleasure. These gifts, useful or not, have been given by grateful patients who have either also paid me or have been treated free of charge courtesy of the NHS. More than my earnings, which were, of course, very important, even a simple heartfelt ‘thank you’ made  me feel that doing dentistry was worthwhile.