A lighthouse moment


I wasn’t terribly lucky with adventure-filled trips away with school or para-military organisation (my Cub group did go camping, but only in the field behind the church of St Mary’s on Balham High Road – about 100 yards away from where we’d weekly shout “dyb, dyb, dyb”. The field was still considered dangerous and we were inoculated against Dengue fever four weeks’ before.  There was always rumours Anthrax ad been placed there during the war).

I remember, when they were at school, paying for my kids to go to America, Israel, Berlin; I spent a week on school journey in 1968, in Cliftonville.

Cliftonville is a sub-district of Margate, on the Kent coast. In 1968 it was twinned with Roswell.  I remember two trips away for the minus-two-star hotel where we were staying: one was to the North Foreland Lighthouse.  I decided there and then that a career as a lighthouse keeper was unlikely.  Ironically, after failing my O-levels for the second successive time and my dad taking me to an industrial psychologist, I was told that perhaps a career in lighthouse-keeping might be on the cards as I knew what a lightbulb was.  And knew that a very big one was needed to make the lighthouse function.  He did asked me how many people does it take to change a lighthouse lightbulb, when I answered “fish” it was then that he suggested a career in advertising.

Looking back, I’d have enjoyed working alongside the Sirens who lure sailors onto the rocks on the East Kent coast. Although at just over eleven years of age the only siren I knew was the noise coming from one as I tried to sleep most evenings in my ground floor Du Cane Court flat, as the police arrived to attend to happenings in the dance club on Balham High Road opposite.

The second trip was to a farm. 100 yards away from the farm told me I’d not be making a point of tuning in each morning to listen to the programming on Radio 4.  The smell was like some form of olfactory torture.  There also, even at 11, seemed something really quite wrong with what was happening with cows’ udders on the farm.  There smell still lingers: like Virol and calamine lotion.

Secondary school trips at Bec Grammar were slightly more exotic. We went abroad twice.  This was pre-tunnel and we travelled by boat to Boulogne one year (and despite our behaviour on French soil) and Dunkirk, the following year.

Everyone wanted to buy flick-knives (those days they were more in evidence than croissants) and cigarette lighters, whose flames were based on those emitting from the oil rigs in the North Sea.

We were all packed off by our various mothers with enough supplies assuming we’d either we’d never return from this foreign field or they’d hope we’d introduce the French to the joys of family-sized packets of Custard Creams.

The French were never given this opportunity of sampling Custard Creams as all were eaten (as if hovered over by a judge with a stop-watch from the Guinness Book of Records); they were all consumed before the journey back. This is why, on the second journey, we were packed off with Joy Rides and Kwells.

Vive la France – where is the nearest chemist?

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