Sunday 25 July 2021

Thamesway, 660 Bath Road Taplow, 1943 the Garden of my Dreams

Thamesway, 660 Bath Road Taplow, UK

When I imagine heaven, I always think of a special corner of the very first garden I ever knew. I can see it in my mind’s eye. It is the corner of the garden where the gravel path of orchard meets the tennis court with a rustic rose-covered arch and a greengage tree, the only tree that I could climb.

Sadly, like most of the buildings of my youth, this garden is long gone, now the heavenly garden is covered by concrete and six rather unattractive houses but for me these do not exist. All I see is the beautiful garden that my grandfather so lovingly tended. It is as fresh in my memory as my garden today and it is worth remembering as a reminder that progress is not always better than what has been replaced.

So now let me the tell you all about this enchanted magical place where I spent the first four years of my life with my mother, her two unmarried sisters, my grandparents, a parrot, a dog and a tortoise and occasionally my two cousins, John and Gillian and their parents. It was known then as Thamesway, Bath Road Taplow and was in a row of rather grand houses that line the Bath Road. Nearby was a cafe, Western Biscuit Factory, a pub, The Mile House, the local telephone exchange and Barr’s Tulip Fields. The rest was farmland. This was my world.

Please note NO father. I did not have a father! I did have one but because of an event known as the Second World  War this more or less essential item did not feature in the first four years of my life and when the  highly desired object did turn up it was a disaster for all of us. This need not concern us here.

Thamesway was the prized possession of my truly remarkable grandfather, Henry Thorpe, the chief accountant and manager of Wembley Stadium. He had managed Wembley Stadium since The 1923 Wembley International Exhibition and he and Sir Arthur Elvin the Managing Director had introduced the world to Speedway, the FA Cup, the dogs and eventually The 1948 Olympic Games. At this time 1943 Pop was still managing Wembley Stadium, travelling by train every weekday via Taplow Station and Paddington, then the tube to Wembley in the morning and back at night in the  blackout.

The most remarkable thing about Henry Thorpe is that far from being educated at Eton and Oxford he was born in the slums of Manchester, Gorton to be precise, one of ten children of a Wagoner, a man who made coal carriages for the railways. To say Pop was poor was an understatement. One can still see pictures of their house by the railway lines a small two up two down Victorian terrace house by the railway into which were crammed 14 souls every night. Not a garden in sight. In fact, for many years I doubt if Pop had ever seen a garden.

By incredible hard work and industry my grandfather had  educated himself through night school from a railway ticket office clerk, to be the first graduate of the London School of Economics, pass in the first 100 of the Civil service Exams to become eventually Governor of the Ceylon Railways and on retirement Manager of Wembley Stadium.

His passion was his garden in Taplow which he managed entirely by himself.

Pop bought Thamesway for his wife and four daughters, Flo, Jo, Tippy & Honey, my mother, in about 1930 when they moved from Dachet as his wife Ma was fed up with the flooding from the Thames that happened each year. The house was not remarkable being rather small for such a large family who just squeezed in but the garden even for 1930 was something else for it was  a double and a half  building plot which allowed for a round drive in and a huge garden. It was also large enough to allow Pop to buy the Indian Exhibit, the Indian Room at the Wembley Exhibition and have it moved and built onto the side of his house. This room has got a a blog entry of its own. The Indian Room. This alone made Thamesway magical.

To make matters even better the garden had been designed. The world is used to designer gardens today but in 1930 this was unusual to say the least although I did not realise it then design is everything.

Here is a ground plan of the garden and the house which as can be seen covers a very small area except for the attached Indian Room which was about 12 meters square. You can see the entrance, the Orchard, the long herbaceous and rose border, kitchen gardens, (not used as such) and tennis court . 

You entered by car through the double gates  from the Bath Road on a yellow gravel path. There was quite a ditch in those day. This road was very busy from 1944 on as all the tanks going to D Dad passed by on the ay out and those that were left back on the way in in 1945. These scared me stiff. The car could sweep around the central flower bed to the porch and front door. This flower bed  was always a mass of flowers. Tulips in Spring and Asters in summer, like a park. The car which was  a Ford V8, DMK 945 was driven by my Auntie Flo, the eldest sister and it was her job to fetch and carry Pop from the station when it rained otherwise Pop walked the short distance to Taplow Station.

Once delivered the car could sweep around the central circle and drive on the gravel road around  to the back of the house to the large garage by the back door. All boundaries were lined with large trees, the front and garage side fir trees, the other side  had deciduous trees like a great weeping willow and all the boundaries had hedges of common  laurel that had to be carefully cut by hand every year. This was down by a jobbing gardener twice a year. Huge job.

Next to the Indian Room there was a bed devoted entirely to  old fashioned roses. This was backed by a rustic trellis covered with climbing roses. In early summer the smell from these flowers was overwhelming.  A rustic arch led through to the orchard and the herbaceous border. 

The orchard which had 45 mature fruiting trees was the main garden and used all summer for picnics on the finely mowed lawn. This lawn was like the finest Aubuson carpet and would put Wimbledon tennis court to shame. Not a weed in sight, beautiful swathe and carefully cut with straight lines like the Wembley Cup Final. Every adult except Ma had to mow the lawn. Pop did it with a motor mower but the daughters had to mow it by hand on occasions. It was always perfect.

There were three cherry trees, one was the variety white heart and these were a treat every summer. The then was a range of plums, Doris, greengage, damson, lots of damson jam and Victoria plums for eating and a great selection of eating apples of which my favourite was  Coxes Orange Pippins. On summer afternoons all during the Second Work WarWar 

When  she was not working at the home office   Auntie Jo made and prepared afternoon tea in the orchard. This was a massive production as if the lawn was not cut she had to do this first by hand with the hand mower. Then she would put all all the deck chairs,  There would always be six at home  but usually many more. Hammock and cushions with a blanket “sur l”herb pour mois!” This also included small tables for Granny and Pop, who was only around at the weekend.  She would take the Polly the parrot out in his cage for an airing ns bring the wind up gramophone and 78s with the latest record for background music.

Then she would make the tea. During the Second World War there was really nothing of interest to eat so the main item was Bread and jam with no butter followed if one was lucky by some sort of cake. However the bread was thinly cut, at that time sliced bread had not been invented. Auntie Jo’s thinly sliced bread was delicious. There was plenty of tea but no sugar. The best Royal Albert tea cups and service were used  along with napkins and appropriate  cutlery and this alone made these out door meals special. At 3.0 pm the gong would sound and everyone would  drop what they were doing descend for tea under the apple trees. It was an unforgettable occasion. This would last 20 minutes at most with Granny serving each cup. Tea in first!

Then as soon as it had started and we had all eaten as much bread and jam as we could manage it was over and Auntie Jo was left to put the whole production paraphernalia away and wash up too. No dishwasher in those days while Granny did what she did best and cooked the dinner.

On Saturday mornings in summer there was a tennis party for the entire neighbourhood as Thamesway was the only house with a tennis court. Occasionally there were serious local competitions but these were always won by the proprietor of the local transport cafe, The Vincents who were top class players. Mrs Vincent made Wimbledon one year but was prevented from going as she was pregnant with her first daughter Pamela  who was to become my best friend and sort of sister. Being an only child I was lucky to have a sort of  sister for the rest of my life. The tennis court had an 8 ft run back and a bank for spectators and was where James the Tortoise lived in a special garden frame. This bank was about a meter high and James was forever falling off and escaping. James hunts were held at least once a week.

The garden was my grandfather’s passion. He adored it and worked in it in his free time. In Spring we had a show of tulips to match any that Holland could muster as Barr’s Tulip farm was just 100 yards away. All the beds were massed with tulips and for get me knots. Mr Barr was a regular visitor and great friend and was the only person my grandfather took to the FA Cup. No females allowed to their game of football as it would be a waste t waste a ticket on a girl. John my male cousin got to go. I found out many years later that Mr Barr was the fourth richest man in England. Maybe that had something to do with why Mr Barr got the tickets!

Pop grew all the flowers himself. Pop was not interested in vegetables, he could have ploughed up the tennis court to help the war effort but refused to do so. He grew the forget knots and pansies for the spring and asters, thousands of them for the summer. The beds were crammed with flowers. And I still love these plantings. I especially loved the pampers grass and the grey lamb’s ear/Stachys the bordered all the edges of the beds. Pop also loved roses. The fruit was useful and after the autumn harvest, the apples were stored in the attic in rows and lasted all through the winter. This fruit was useful for all sorts of pies.

Pop had a small dark garden shed where he stored his poisons and worked on wet days. To discourage me from entering he told me terrifying tales of the huge child-eating spiders that lived there and how I would become entrapped in their webs. I have not recovered yet!

Thamesway made me appreciate a beautifully designed and well cared for garden. I had to leave this heaven in 1947  for the patch of Middlesex clay of the semi-detached in Stanmore where I lived for the next 18 years. Actually, it was quite well designed too but my father ruined by removing the flower beds and turning it into a muddy weed filled lawn but that is another story. I longed to return to Thamsway.

Now this beautiful garden is no more but to me, it still lives in my memory and now thanks to the miracle of the Cloud it can once more live on.


Why I find I relate to the Romantic novels by Danielle Steel


I only discovered the novels of Danielle Steel comparatively recently. I had seen  few of her novels transferred to Hollywood and I was not impressed. Far too formulaic and vulgar for me so I dismissed her as like I did Dorothy L Sayers many years ago, but because of the Covid Pandemic and hours of isolation I became addicted to audio books and I happened upon one entitled The Mistress. I had no idea who had written it but it took me into a world that I knew not of to quote the Bard.

The Mistress tells the story of one of those exotic creatures that become the toys of rich and powerful men who cruise the Mediterranean in luxurious liners. Money being no object.  It tells in detail what happened to this Mistress of three years when she was summarily and unexpectedly dumped one night  by her lover and how she survived without him. The writing had that feeling of verisimilitude that only someone who had known how these rare creatures live could bring so vividly to life. I was impressed.

I listened over the months to many of Ms Steel books and each one surprised me. Steel is is no formulaic writer. Unlike Agatha Christie who gives variations on a theme each of Steele's novels is highly original and well researched.  Zoya a novel based on a Russian Countess and the Diaghilev Ballet was astonishingly accurate. The novels are not about ordinary people but strange elusive heroines who like the rest of us have to find a way through life and have wonderful ups and horrific downs. The ending is not always happy.  

It took a few books for me to take the simple step of looking Danielle Steel up in Wikipedia. I found this author is a exotic as her heroines and she could well be a character in one of her romances. No half measures for her. She has written over 179 books selling 800 million to a resounding lack of critical acclaim. She has 9 children and 5 husbands, one of which she met while he was in jail. She is fabulously wealthy  and so can describe that life style that seems out of reach to many of us. Her heroines run the gamut from rags to riches and back. She knows how the world she describes ticks. Few of us do.

At first I was a bit annoyed at the heroines as I felt that the situations they faced and they way they lurched from fame and fortune to the daily grind of abject poverty unreal but I enjoyed every one. Steel is very good with dialogue and is not afraid to face the realties of life head on. The last book I have listened to was called Remembrance and had the most dramatic description of birth and a murder I have ever come across. Both were alarmingly real and rang very true. 

The question is why do I relate to these unusual creatures? Why do I empathise with them? No one could possibly live like that going from a princess to a refugee and back to a place in the highest society could they? Then it hit me, yes they do. This type of woman is around only unrecognised but Steel being one herself, having known riches to rags and back can write about their lives. Writers write about what they know. Steel can describe this life style in detail for those who would like to understand it but will never experience it for themselves.

Today it struck me that my own life would make a magnificent Steel novel.  My strange life, and believe me it has been strange, is the stuff that Steel novels are made of. I could be a Steel heroine. I think my life is perfectly ordinary like those around me but it isn't.  No wonder I have problems fitting in.

The novel begins with the birth of a daughter in Windsor UK in the middle of the Second World War to a young war bride. The city and surrounds of the Slough trading estate are being heavily bombed.  Because her father is away fighting the Germans in North Africa our heroine called Honey lives with her grandparents in Taplow. Honey's father born into the slums of Manchester where his father made coal wagons rose from a ticket clerk at the age of 13 to becoming the Manager of Wembley Stadium, along the way becoming one of the first working class graduates of the London School of Economics and passing out in the top grade in the British Civil Service Exams. 

After a 22 year stint in Ceylon  Pop returned  in  to run the British Empire Exhibition 1923 -24 for which the Empire Stadium was built. In 1925 Pop tried to buy the empty unwanted Stadium but missed out to a young Jewish entrepreneur who beat hm to i.t Instead of raising the money through the City the young man just went around the working class areas of Wembley knocking on doors and selling shares at £2 each until he raised the £10,000 required to buy the stadium. However the young entrepreneur was wise and asked Pop to join him in running the Stadium. For 2 years they ran it as a scrap metal yard with the pitch piled high with scrap metal but in the next years they gave the world, the FA Cup, Speedway, the Dogs and in 1948 The Olympic Games.

Pop had four beautiful daughters, Honey's mother being the youngest and Honey was brought up in the most beautiful house,

Thamesway which was packed with glorious works of art of the finest quality. One was an exotic Indian Room which Pop bought from at the end of the Empire Exhibition and had  built on to his house.The house had a large designed garden with roses, orchards and tennis court which Pop tended at weekends. Other than the war, the bombs and the tanks outside the gates preparing for D Day one would never guess there was a war on. Honey had three mothers, the three sisters, a grandmother and Pop who stood in for her absent father.

 What happens to this privileged child? Her father returns when she was four, not the man that married her mother but a completely different man who had spent his life burying the dead of the war including the German's dead horses which Honey's father thought was the worst. Her father was demobbed but could get no work. 

Honey was wrested from the comforts and luxury of her grandfather's home and taken to live in an unfurnished semi detached in Stanmore. A house with no furniture, coupons were needed for the very basic items, you could have a dining table but no chairs or a bed but no curtains. There was little food, little money and 1947 was the hardest winter in centuries. There was no coal only bags of wet slake if you could get it. Honey once doted upon by a loving family was left totally alone as was her mother. Her working class neighbour a Mrs Rutter made it clear that her two sons would not be allowed to play with Honey and she and Honey would never be friends. For the next 9 years Mrs Rutter kept her word. Mrs Rutter died of cancer in the next door house separated by a wall. Honey only once se t foot in the house to gt a ball that had landed on the wrong side of the fence!

As you can see  already Honey fits very well into the Steel class of heroines.  So what happens to our heroine, she gets abused by a young nun at her Convent School for 5 years but at the age of 12 is rescued by her father who censing  her lack of education sends her to a London ballet school where she becomes the pet of the ballet at Covent Garden. Her debut is at a Gala Performance in front of The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Because of her attractive speaking voice Honey quickly becomes the voice of Mandy for one of the biggest biscuit firms in UK who exploit her paying just £10 for 5 years of use of her voice on radio and TV.  

Next she meets a famous  supposedly very gay composer who needs her for an opera he has written  and who falls under her spell. She meets  and gets to know members of the Royal Family.this relationship carries on over the course of 5 years with unfortunate consequences for both of them.  Honey wants to direct in the theatre on on TV but although winning the most prestigious prize in UK for this discipline the is rejected by BBC for being a woman. Two years of unemployment follow until  Honey is taken on as a ballet mistress for a London Musical and in a flu epidemic is forced to take over a major role in a  revue. She takes London by storm and is the IT girl of London West End Musicals where she it said to be "The best thing in London" Men love her and women would love to be her. She is enchanting.

She is invited by an Australian aboriginal theatre director to accompany him to Apartheid South Africa. Here again she is treated like a goddess while witnessing the horrors of extreme racism all around her especially her visits to the Catholic Cathedral in Johannesburg, the only place in SA where there is no apartheid  where she is spat upon by the White boar inhabitants for attending Mass. 

Well you get the picture! Honey ends up marrying a brilliant Oxford educated doctor who has mixed race practise in Auckland NZ,  She  runs a small professional opera ballet company in Auckland New Zealand where she becomes a Woman of the Year for her services to The Arts, gives birth to a brilliant daughter who goes on to be a senior scholar at her University, becomes an international Rhythmic gymnast and goes to live in Italy to get away from her mother.  Honey's ballet shows for Children in the school holidays rival audiences for rugby and cricket. 

Meanwhile Honey trains the NZ team which wins a Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. But her husband dies young and Honey catches a super bug in the local hospital that nearly kills her. Her physical illness is mistaken for grief and the drugs given for depression nearly kill her.  Left alone and with a highly compromised immune system and a cold turkey withdrawal she slowly recovers and  makes and sells DVDs on and now write novels like Danielle Steel. 

The above is a prĂ©cis of my life and is only a tiny part of it. I left out the bit where I escaped being raped by a white  South African policeman by climbing out of a second floor window and inching along an edge to another bedroom and much more. 

My life has been  just as unbelievable as any Steel heroine. I suppose the is why I bond with her heroines as they remind me of me and my life's experience. No wonder I find it hard to fit it. I am the consummate outsider!

DorothyL Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsy reminded me of my husband but Danielle Steel is me! I admire Danielle Steel who wrote The Mistress when in her 70's. The world needs more women like her and dare I say it me who are larger than life, take what life throws at them, struggles against the odds and sometimes, just sometimes succeed!

Saturday 10 July 2021

My Daily Journey to School in Baker Street London in 1956

This YouTube virtual bus trip shows my walk from my ballet school, AES, near Baker Street in London, in 1956 . AES was near Portman Square and I had to walk the length of Baker Stree to get to and from the Baker Street Tube Station where I took 2 Tubes to Stanmore nearly 25 Miles away I was 13 and I did this trip alone for over 2.5 years as a young teenager.
In 1957 this area was still a huge bomb site and nearly all the buildings are post war. London could not function without tubes. I hardly ever used a car in the 14 years I worked in London.

Notice it is raining! I used to get wet. I spent 1d and caught the bus but if dry I walked. I had another long walk at the other end. Selfridges is at the start out of shot. I used it as my dairy for lichees and chocolate violet creams. I could afford just one a day, not both! I was very precocious! Still am on some occasions.

The buses in my time carried far more passengers. I hardly ever got a seat. We were crammed in. After this I did 3 hours of ballet, tap etc. and sometimes after school I would go to work at Covent Garden as my after school activity. Many of us did this.