There was a time when Kensington Olympia was the gateway to Devon. All you needed was a nervous driver, a Ford Cortina and a Motorail.
In the summer of 1972 I was taken, by my dad, from our home in Balham to Kensington Olympia – the Motorail terminus. I sat in the back of my uncle’s Ford Cortina as we travelled the 100-yards to board the Motorail. When we parked and my uncle had applied the handbrake I remember thinking that Devon was not all it had been set up to be and the beach smelled of exhaust fumes; there wasn’t a cream tea in sight, either. Having never been to Devon before, it looked suspiciously like West London.
I didn’t have to spend the entire time in the Ford Cortina – my only companion, after my uncle had got out of the now stationary car, was the model dog in the back of the car. Not much conversation, although it did seem to agree with everything I said; it certainly nodded a lot!
I realised, after what had seemed an eternity, that Dawlish was the end destination. Luckily the house where I stayed backed onto the railway line, so it felt, for the entire fortnight, that I was still on the Motorail.
I rarely went on holiday with my dad; but he would visit for the odd day. He made a special effort this holiday to come to Devon as he’d heard Dawlish were playing a Chelsea XI in a pre-season friendly. I subsequently realised my dad was more interested in Marvin Hinton than me. More Marvellous Marvin than Marvellous Micky.
The Motorail no longer runs, probably because Ford Cortinas are no longer that popular. As are nodding dogs.
Lionel Messi has probably never played Subbuteo before as, roughly translated from its original Argentinian, means, I’ve been substituted.
With World Cup fever still gripping (like the last Ice Age) memories of playing Subbuteo in the bedroom of my fourth-floor Balham flat in the 60s and 70s, still puzzles me: Why did the little men break so easily? If the pitches in England were as unironed as the Subbuteo playing field felt were you’d never play a single game. And why was it so hard to get the Red Star Belgrade away kit in any toy shop on Balham High Street? Was the loathing of Marshal Tito so bad in SW17 in the late 60s?
I learned to iron attempting to flatten out my Subbuteo pitch, although a consequence of this is that I can now only iron shirts made out of green felt – and having given up modelling for canned and frozen vegetables, this is now a rarity.
Many Subbuteo games for me were ruined before they even started – I had a mouse who would eat more Subbuteo goal-nets than he did sunflower seeds; my knees, as a kid, clearly had a mind of their own and were obviously anti-football as they would, with unerring accuracy, invariably break several players before kick-off and there was always that inherent looming fear of getting carpet burns on my index finger (which was needed to play the violin badly).
Rather than having penalties in World Cup games, I’d like to see an introduction of thirty-minutes of Subbuteo with the winner being the person with the most intact figurines remaining at the end of that half an hour. Or, if it were held in my Balham flat, the fewer mouse turds on the pitch was the deciding factor.
I always fancied being Big Chief I-Spy as I collected several of the pocket-sized books he began publishing from his office in Bouverie Street, throughout the 50s and 60s.
Because I rarely travelled outside the SW17 postcode as a child, books like I-Spy On The Farm; I-Spy At The Zoo and I-Spy Country Crafts remained largely empty. Although I did once make my own entry of 100 points for spotting a Woolly Mammoth on an imaginary farm.
I nearly completed I-Spy In The Street – spotting a Belisha Beacon; a Zebra Crossing and, if you took your A6 book out at night and walked up Bedford Hill in Balham, you’d get fifty points for spying “a lady of the night”.
The most marks you could get in I-Spy On The Train was ticking off a severed head which’d been poked too far out of a window you used to be able to pull down.
In 2011 new editions were launched to bring the series more up-to-date: I-Spy On A Car Journey In France being one. Within this the top points were: seeing the suspension go on a car carrying far too much cheap, Beaujolais; a French policeman nicking the car in front just because it had GB stickers on and General de Gaulle saying “Non!” (all a bit academic after Brexit).
The idea was actually first thought of in the seventeenth century with I-Spy At The Public Execution, where you were encouraged to look out for a basket (extra points if it contained a head); an axe and a woman with no teeth, knitting and swearing at the same time.
Keep ‘em peeled, as Big Chief I-Spy would say *
*With apologies to Shaw Taylor
I don’t think I could have ever have been a train driver as the hat would have messed up my hair (being daubed in soot wasn’t a major attraction either, even for a ten -year-old boy who loathed washing!); however, until it was withdrawn in 1972, watching the Brighton Bellle through the railings on Wandsworth Common – the only thing which ever stopped our games of football there – was a fleeting glimpse of railway magic, where you contemplated becoming one.
Although, running toward the track invariably resulted in our opposition team scoring a goal whilst our entire defence were peering through the rail-side railings wondering if any of us would ever become Casey Jones (the late 50s Californian TV train driver, not the burger shop)?
If you played against the bigger boys on Wandsworth Common there was the inherent danger that your jumper-cum-goalpost might be nicked. So, a few, fleeting moments of pre-Dr Beeching joy, frequently ended in pain (and a subsequent slight chill).
But Wandsworth Common has changed since the time the Brighton Belle would make its daily visit. As a kid, kicking a football or sending down a leg break, instead of fancy wine bars and Michelin Star restaurants, the poshest shop on Bellevue Road was Budgen’s. No doubt the current residents there pronounce every consonant too; whereas in my day, the only thing we had in common with the French was in inability to pronounce the letter H at the start of words!
I’m envious of people who witnessed the steam train days as the nearest I ever got to seeing Mallard was feeding one on Wandsworth Common ponds.
Unless I’d suddenly acquired a shocking sense of direction, after being given a new bike, living on the 4th floor of a block of flats, may have been life threatening.
However, I never owned a bike (new, old or jet-propelled in case of emergencies). My parents clearly realised that turning right from our lounge would have led me to become more lemming than Lance.
Because of my devotion to Twix, Lycra is not my clothing of choice. Although, men of my age in their droves are switching to cycling from playing golf. However, I’m better off holding a putter rather than looking like I’d had one shoved down my Lycra shorts (especially in cold weather).
In the 60s, growing up in south London, few people had bikes, going everywhere by “Shank’s Pony”; which I realised, later on in life, didn’t mean they owned horses.
I did have a bright blue scooter and was allowed to propel myself (supervised) around Wandsworth and Tooting Bec Commons. This may be why I have one quadricep bigger than the other as I never mastered changing legs. (I became very proficient at accelerating past The Priory on Tooting Bec Common as that was very menacing).
There were no cycle lanes back then – no need as there were fewer cars. The only markings on the roads were hop-scotch grids – and the occasional chalk outline of a man on Balham High Road – I assume this was some prehistoric cave painting, like the Cerne Abbas Giant – he’d have certainly looked good in Lycra.
I always wanted a Chopper – but that’s perhaps a question for my gynaecologist?