Martha Longhurst’s Vineyard




People of a certain age (mine or older) will always remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been shot.
I was in the corridor on the third floor of Du Cane Court, where I lived in the flats on Balham High Road. I was six-and-a-half and I had just left my nan’s flat as she escorted me up one floor to my parents’ flat.

I spent more time with my nan than I did with either parent. In the mornings I would go there for bacon and eggs (I blame her for my subsequent high cholesterol) and I’d read her Daily Mirror; I think my nan was a communist and her Russian controller was Andy Capp).  I also spent evenings there and watch Double your money and Take your pick with her.  Or I’d play whilst she watched Coronation Street.

On this particular Friday in November 1963 we had left my nan’s flat and suddenly, ubiquitous Embassy in mouth, came my Auntie Vera out from her flat: “Kennedy’s been shot” reported Auntie Vera. This meant nothing to me being relatively oblivious to US politics and assumed it was another character from Coronation Street being killed off; although it did strike me as being quite soon after the tragedy of Martha Longhurst’s “death” under the collapsed viaduct.

Five years later I was playing at a friend’s house in Oakmead Road, near Balham Station, when his mother entered the room where we were trying hard not to take one another’s eyes out with his new Johnny Seven (multi-action) gun.  “Kennedy’s been shot” she said.  I thought, ‘Either this woman is very behind with the news or another character has fallen off his mortal thespian coil from Corrie’.

Similar to my mother wishing to pursue the half-human/half-porpoise family and introduce me to swimming, my friend’s mother and teller of grave (albeit slightly outdated) news had just started sending her son to elocution lessons. That academic year he was due to start at Emanuel and his mother had decided that a futile gesture was needed.   He was to attend classes to make him more articulate through learning poetry.

These lessons took place in a semi-detached house in Tooting.

Because the problem with having elocutions in Tooting is that there is a danger that you may come out speaking worse after the course, than when you originally started.

People living in Tooting in the late eighties believed consonants were Asia and Africa; a vowel was a very small rodent and a semi-colon was what posh people in Fulham had irrigated.

I met him years later when we were in our early twenties. The lessons hadn’t worked as he sounded more like Eliza Doolittle, only with a deeper voice; but he did know every Philip Larkin poem off by heart. Really handy working in a hospital.

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