One of the home trips that remains firmly etched in my mind was during the winter of 1967 when I was nine. I probably had seen snow before, but certainly nothing on the scale of that winter. England doesn’t seem to get such severe winters these days. Mombasa in December is very humid and hot, so it was quite a shock. We rented a flat near the seven dials in Brighton, near 4 Windlesham Gardens, where my Aunty Kath and Uncle Eric lived, (Penny’s parents). Windlesham Gardens was always cold, even in the best of weathers. Kath had a small cylindrical solid fuel boiler in the kitchen which probably fed a radiator in the kitchen and one in the living room next door. To the best of my knowledge upstairs had no heating, as I remember staying there once or twice and being smothered in bed under countless under eiderdowns and still being cold. The bathroom was unbearable!
That winter was so cold that the sea around the pier froze and we had to dig the hired car out of the snow. It did mean however that we could build snowmen. The picture shows ‘Gilbert’, the snowman in Kath’s garden. David and I decided that we would clear the path to the front door of the flat that we were staying in. Unfortunately we forgot to shut the front door firmly when we had finished, and as a result there was soon as much snow in the front hall as there had been on the path! I don’t think my father was best pleased!
Since it was Christmas, my Aunt Kath and Uncle Eric had a tradition of organising a pantomime in their house. They went to great lengths and wrote a script and everyone had a part and had to make their own costumes. Some of the neighbours were invited but it seemed to me that most people were involved. I think it was based on ‘Aladdin’ but since my mother played ‘Britannia’, I think it was very loosely based on it! I remember it as good fun, particularly as at 9 years old I was allowed some alcohol.
One or two other incidents stick out from that winter. Firstly we had real candles on the Christmas tree that were pretty much like candles that you get on a birthday cake. They were clipped to the branches with small pegs and David and I were in charge of lighting them. Not much concern for health and safety in those days!
Secondly I saw my first colour television at the School Boys Exhibition at Olympia in London. My parents took us, and the queue to get in went round the block. I think we only stayed half an hour as it was too crowded. As an anecdote, my fascination with television had a boost that year, as I discovered that the local co-op supermarket at the Seven Dials had closed circuit TV which was displayed in the shop so you could see yourself. I had not experienced anything like that before so I spent quite a while taking tins of beans off the shelf and pointing at them, and pretending I was advertising them.
Finally, and I think it was this year as it was Christmas, I nearly met Father Christmas! I say ‘nearly’ because we went into Selfridges in London who had a Christmas ‘grotto’. For some reason, Father Christmas wasn’t available, but ‘Uncle Holly’ was! Goodness only knows who ‘Uncle Holly’ was. Anyhow, I duly sat on his lap (!) and he asked me where I lived. “Kenya” I replied. “Oh” he said “Is your father a white hunter?”* “No” I replied, “he’s just a clerk!!” (* ‘White Hunters’ in Kenya were ex-patriots who would take people shooting big game. It was still legal, but you had to have a license). Shocking and naïve on so many levels!