Saturday, August 23, 2008


I was born in a place called Welling in Kent, England. I spent the first seven and a half years of my life there before my family migrated to Australia.

This is me, just newborn, being nursed by my paternal grandmother. Beside her is my sister Sally, who says she wasn't really as happy as she looks about the new arrival. She would rather I had been a new puppy.Behind is my grandfather, and my mother's younger sister (and my godmother) Auntie Rose. I think they are on the back patio, with the peach tree behind.

I have never been back. My father died before he could return for a visit, but my mother made two trips "back home". My sister and her family have visited many times. But I have never returned.

Funnily enough I have gone back many times in my dreams. It is a dream that recurs quite frequently. I find myself back in England, but it is always difficult to locate my former home or my relatives. When I go back to Welling, I often find the streets next to Sutherland Avenue, I am able to go to our small "village" of Blackfen, but rarely am I able to find our former house. Either that, or I run out of time.

One night only did I manage to have a vivid dream about our former house, and it was decorated inside with wonderful Indian carvings and screens. I was puzzled by this dream, until I remembered my sister telling me a while before that if I ever did visit, not to be surprised to find there were a lot of Indian people living in the area, and indeed in our house.

Imgine my delight when I found I could go directly back - in a visual sense - with Google maps and satelllite images.
That is our house directly beneath the red arrow, on the laft side of the duplex. I am amused by the cars parked in the front gardens. I actually do not remember ever travelling in a car as a child in England, except for the very occasional taxi. My father had a motorbike with a sidecar.

There it was - our two storey duplex with the bow windows in the front rooms both upstairs and down.

My parents purchased this house when they married and moved from their former homes on the Isle of Sheppey. It was a pretty standard house for that period of time in the 1930's. I see many versions of this same house, frontage and layout every time I watch British TV. I often find myself with a sense of "deja vu" looking through identical French doors out onto a rear terrace when I am watching "The Bill." Or in "makeover" and the ever-popular real estate programmes I see the identical layout of two living rooms and kitchen downstairs, and two bedrooms, plus a "box room" over the stairs and bathroom upstairs.

I am fascinated by this picture on Google of this very house. The really close up picture is a little fuzzy, but I can see there is now a large shed at the rear of the back garden. When I was a child, we had a tool shed, and an "Anderson shelter", because I was born in war time. The garden looks green and leafy, but I am wondering about the lilac tree, which I was allowed to call my own, or the apple tree, which my sister claimed ownership of. Do the present occupants still grow vegetables, and do they experience the delights of gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries? I suppose the little patch of violets near the patio are long gone. I can clearly remember buying them in a pot for my mother, because her second name was Violet.

What wonderful hours we spent in that garden during the summer months. There were only low walls between us and our neighbours. On one side there were the Bishton children - Doris, Gloria and Lesley. On the other side lived Heather Paton, who was more my age.
Here I am in our backgarden. I am wearing a bonnet made by my mother, who made all our clothes, including hats. They look like Easter lilies in the background - we call them November lilies on this side of the world. The sausage curls were produced by wearing rag curlers in my hair at nights!

But when there was no one else to play with, I remember I would look for a hairy caterpillar, and I would nurse it and stroke it - a habit I was probably cured of when we finally acquired "Dinky" the cat. My father had been down to the local Inn (I think it was called "The Prince of Wales") for a "quick half" one evening. He returned home with this cat, His story was that the cat had jumped onto his shoulders from a wall, and he could not make it get down!

My sister took this photo of our old house on one of her visits back to England. This would probably be a good twenty years after we left.
I see that the privet hedge has gone from the front. They have also put in one of those extra sets of front doors, creating one of those "insulation airlocks" that stop the cold air rushing into your hallway. The front door evokes more memories. At nights, I loved to sit on the floor and look at the patterns created by the light of the street lamps through the frosted glass. I wonder if ther is still a coal cellar along the side path? Or are the fireplaces now only decorative?

The front room was somewhat formal, and not used by us much as a family. But I do remember us gathering in there at Christmas time. One time my grandparents came to stay with us, and my grandfather died while they were with us. He was laid out in that front room. On another occasion, I can recall the windows of this room being plastered with posters. We had hired it out as "committee rooms" for a local branch of a political party.

Under the stairs was a cupboard. I was given some shelf space to store my sweets rations, purchased from a little shop on the way to the village on Saturday mornings. I would set out some sweets in groups for each day of the week. On Saturday I would eat the allowance for that day, plus a little nibble of Sunday's. The next day I would eat the rest of that day's allowance, plus some of Monday's. Needless to say the supply ran out well before Friday. But there was a time when I remember being frightened of that cupboard, because that was where Mum kept the Hoover. To this very day I am a little uneasy around vacuum cleaners!

My sister and I shared the back bedroom, but later she moved into the small room over the stairs. I cannot understand how so many British people put up with always having to go upstairs to the toilet in the day time. Our little bathroom was cold, and in winter we lit the cylindrical "Valor" stove to warm it One time a visiting uncle from Australia accidentally sat on it, and probably had this lovely fretwork pattern on his buttocks!

The back living room was where we ate, and read and listened to the radio. It had a fireplace and a mantel radio, and a view of the back garden. English people love to do their own "decorating" and I have memories of my mother wallpapering that room, and attaching a "frieze" in autumn colours. She varnished the mantelpiece and fireplace surrounds, and I was instructed to make patterns in it like woodgrain with something pointed - I cannot recall what it was.

As a child I suffered a great deal of bronchitis, and was often tucked up in one of the armchairs to sleep by the fire rather than go to the colder rooms upstairs. My parents became tired of this regime, and decided to migrate to warmer climes "downunder."

And so in February 1951, we said goodbye to number 63.

But I cannot help thinking - isn't it wondeful that, thanks to the Internet, I can go back and visit places that I have not been able to re-visit in my wildest dreams??

1 comment:

Di said...


I have been reading your blog for a long time and have found it absolutely fascinating. Your descriptions of Norfolk Island, the customs and the people that live there are wonderful. It sounds a truly fantastic place to live. I felt that I had to comment on this post as I come from a place not far from Welling. A place called Orpington and my brother still lives locally in St Mary Cray. Isn't it amazing through the world of the internet we find people who live on opposite sides of the world have some places in common. I also live in a house very similar to the one you lived in. A house built in 1939 with bay windows, two bedrooms and a box room, the only difference is that we have a garage at the back of the garden.

Thank you for a wownderful blog and a fascinating insight into life on Norfolk Island.

Di from UK

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