‘My first and probably accurate memories were at the age of about 3 years, in St Mary’s Street, in the family home where I had been born. The word home normally relates to a warm and cosy refuge but it was anything but that. I hated it! Dark, dingy and scary and definitely on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, but probably all that my parents could afford to rent when they were first married at a time of depression and uncertainty. I believe my father at that time earned £2 : 10s a week and I vaguely remember that there was some problem about paying the rent on a Friday, ‘pay day’, to a mysterious Rachman-like character who lived at the bottom end of ‘front street’. I sometimes went with my father to deliver the ‘pound of flesh’ and I was always left outside on the pavement for a few minutes whilst he went into the lair. I know I was frightened by my short Friday walks!
I remember little about the house except that it had a kitchen with a large fireplace and there was an outside loo – a ‘double seater’ over a cesspit with supplies of newspaper and spiders! (I believe I suffered from constipation which is not surprising). After a visit from Mr Reginald Poulton, the chimney sweep, I also tried my hand at soot removal – whilst the fire was alight and using a broom which, of course, went up in smoke. There are more pleasant memories of pretending to be a ‘Bristol bus’ and running around the house using a pikelet (which was a type of bread like a muffin) as a steering wheel! The small untended garden with its sinking rockery backed onto the old Fire Station. Father, a fireman, who when on duty was splendidly attired in a dragoon-like brass helmet, navy uniform with brass buttons, black leather high boots and wide black belt with fireman’s axe, could ‘go to work’ through a small door in the back wall of the Station. For parental amusement, I was occasionally allowed to wear the boots and the headgear – and there is a photograph to prove it! Just outside the house was a standpipe, one of several in the town, and the only sources of water until the main supply arrived in 1934/35. Two galvanised buckets were filled from the tap as required.
At this early age, expeditions from St Mary’s Street were, I am sure, few and far between. In fact, I only remember the trips to ‘Mr Rachman’ and walking the 50 yards or so with my mother to the family house on The Plain. I enjoyed the latter but I can’t remember exactly why! The pushchair was always with us when we went to grandfather’s house which was across St Mary’s Street to the beery, Plough Inn, down to Trayhurn’s the butchers, my cousins, and then across St John Street. It was probably the relative spaciousness of the whole place that I appreciated – particularly the large garden – and I think ‘Charlie’ Symes was kind to me. An early recollection was to be taken up to what I later knew as the ‘John Street bedroom’, where my grandmother was lying and I sensed something was seriously wrong. In retrospect, it must have been 1932 and she was dying from what I believe was cancer’.