I WAS BORN and grew up on the edge of Sherwood Forest in a little farming village. Everything here was shades of Robin Hood. Naturally, we children made bows and arrows and played freely in the woods, meadows and brooks. When no one came out to play, I knocked up a home made den and disappeared into a wonderful world of books!
Kind people in the village gave us loads of books that gloriously spread all over the house; some for Dad to improve his English, for he was Polish and flew with the RAF in WW2. Other books were from our homely neighbour, Mrs Bradley, who always shared her sweets and sent us annuals and comics her children had grown-out-of. What amazing adventures I had with Peggy, Betty and Joan, The Silent Three, from School Friend Annuals; thanks to Lion, Eagle and Tiger Annuals, I soaked up my brother’s adventure books too. Beano, Dandy, Girls Crystal and Girl - I loved them all, along with more grown up books.
The first of these was an old copy of Oliver Twist, illustrated by Phiz. Feeling grown up now that I was six, I settled comfortably amongst the peace and quiet of old raincoats and welly boots, and let my forefinger lead the way through a jungle of tiny words to find Oliver. That little brain-child of Charles Dickens opened my mind to a world without love - the workhouse - no mummy and daddy, no nice food, no kindness, no pretty clothes, no pet dog, no swings or roundabouts, no Christmas, no stories - OUCH!
No 1 THE AUDITION
The day had come; we were off! We hopped on the bus to Eltham Well Hall, where Edith Nesbit had lived, then took the train to Blackheath, my favourite part of South East London. When my mother lived near here as a girl, she had had piano lessons at the Blackheath Conservatoire; now my time had come and my parents were taking me there for my own audition to see if I could emulate her experiences.
The Blackheath Conservatoire! It sounded terribly grand, and indeed it was, a most impressive building to a little boy. I considered it most distinguished and superior, perched right on top of the hill at the southern end of the village. We had often seen it, for Blackheath was a familiar place, my parents having several links with it. Consequently, I felt quite at home and comfortable about what was in store, being too young to fully appreciate the true import of the occasion; I didn’t feel especially daunted. Although I was only just six, my mother was convinced I had a ‘gift’ that should be utilised and developed. Besides, we had moved very recently from Westerham in West Kent in order to exploit the educational opportunities and advantages that would be available to us in London; my audition was therefore all part of the plan.