Friday, 24 February 2012

Ken's guest blog

This week's blog is a guest memoir rendered beautifully and drily by my octogenarian uncle....

An Old Man’s Musings 
The widely-held assertion that with age comes wisdom, is a comforting responsibility to which one, already enjoying an agreeable retirement, must dutifully respond. Plainly, a life-time of mature reflections will contain some beneficial message which those, younger in years, must surely be eager to learn?
Just starting out in life

Homes fit for Heroes promotional picture
There is but a brief time allowed for this before the potential years of emergent dotage take over. This then, perhaps, is such a moment for one boy born after the First World War and in 1928, settled in one of the vast numbers of new council houses built as ‘ Fit for heroes’, evidently such as my soldier father, then a civil servant.
Yet even with such a blessing compared to the many more bound to the Victorian slum properties of East London, there was a vague air of austerity to life all around one. It touched even this, then a five year old, together with my father struggling to raise a deposit to buy a detached house in South West London.
Great then, was the uplifting of spirits on moving day as the Waterloo Station escalator rose to the bright sky seen through the clean glass roof. Such a welcome metaphor of progress indeed. Such a contrast to the steam train grime of Liverpool Street Station.
The bright new and spacious placement of these houses with potential for every then conceivable mains electricity device, promised luxury, even holidays in Cornwall and Devon before the age 11 school choice.  Was this to be further progress or not? Well, an entrance exam later, I found myself in school blazer at Rutlish College, Merton.
This rather grand private school offered expanding new worlds of study, languages, sciences, humanities and the gentler scholarly way of life the school espoused. And even enhanced, in the choice of rugger with such as Haberdashers’ Aske and Taunton Grammar Schools in preparation for Oxbridge.
But we had to be fit for such company, observing the school motto translatable as modesty, strength and holiness set in politeness of manner. These are hardly the attributes of the raw, emergent teenager and even less so with an estuary-English accent. So we had social customs and speech training as priorities.
On Monday afternoons for two years we learnt our diphthongs, to pronounce terminals such as d’s and t’s . We emerged ready with phrases such as ‘Jolly decent, old chap’ with an authoritative delivery under a straw boater. We were beginning to make our mark.
As our dear Victorian-moulded Headmaster put it:
‘The right accent must be accompanied by politeness of manner’.
He instanced in a career advice talk, "Suppose you were being interviewed by a prospective employer and he asked you to ‘take tea’ with him? " 
Plainly you would have to fluently measure up to this test if you were to secure the job.              
In RAF uniform
But war intervened and schooling was evacuated. Thence post-matriculation, the VI form and the R.A.F. After four such years civilian life imposed a career choice.
Well, my father had progressed in the Civil Service to an observable affluence and so I followed his example in some good times and some bad times. Thus I progressed to a senior position over some thirty-eight years.
Inevitable white hair 
Thence to retirement 27 years ago and now inevitable white hair, which with well-practised gentleness of manner, does often tempt quite nice young ladies to rise, offering their seat on a crowded bus. Only polite to accept of course: “Thanks, jolly decent of you”. But an invitation in gratitude, to “Take tea” might not be properly interpreted.
Perhaps my old Headmaster was only partly right. Mild manners and the right accent can help one both in work and retirement, but only so far.


  1. Dear Susan,
    Your uncle's memories--shared with wit--delighted me today. I so enjoy journeying in the past with others. Please thank him for sharing his remembrances.


  2. What a fascinating but totally different way of life your uncle experienced. It's a shame that things have changed so much, language is no longer considered important and I for one have never been invited to 'take tea'.

  3. Dee - I certainly will thank him - and thank YOU for commenting!

    Rosalind - I have never been invited to take tea either - he does conjure up a bygone age doesn't he!?