My nan lived next door to my Auntie Vera. Her husband, my Uncle Ted, was a semi-professional band leader. This took him up to town every Friday and Saturday evening. To occupy herself during my uncle’s absence, my Auntie Vera would go 100 yards across Balham High Road to a gaming club frequented by the Krays called the 211 Club. Situated at 211 Balham High Road, the 211 Club used to be the Balham Conservative Club. Pre-Ron and Reg it boasted several bars, snooker tables and a massive garden. As the 211 Club the snooker tables were replaced with gaming machines and Black Jack tables.
One evening my Auntie Vera was entertained by Jack “The Hat” McVitie. Sadly, she never left her flat with her autograph book, so she may have lied, although she isn’t currently a central support of the then recently-built Westway.
When not in the 211 Club she would smoke Embassy cigarettes; my job was to count them. She was saving up for a set of new towels – “you can never have enough towels, Michael” she would say (in between coughing). Sadly, she died of emphysema. Looking back she should have been saving for a new lung, the towels could have waited. She could have used my Uncle Ted’s vest; he did.
In addition to being a professional smoker, my Auntie Vera was an accomplished pianist. It was decided she would teach me. After two lessons and being severely wrapped over the knuckles with a steel ruler I decided that Kendo (with me not being armed with a stick) would have been less painful.
However, it was my Auntie Vera who, when I was six in November 1963, came out of her flat to greet me and my nan en route back to my parents’ flat, with the news that Kennedy had been shot. I assumed, given her violent nature and the company she kept when my Uncle Ted was away, that perhaps she’d been the person who’d shot the American President. In Du Cane Court they had lovely gardens, but not a grassy knoll to be seen, so my Auntie Vera was innocent.