These photographs of me in my mother’s arms were taken in the Spring of 1949. You can tell the time of year by the young leaves on the trees. I was born on Vaentines Day. Besides that event, momentous things had been happening in Britain since the end of the Second World War in 1945. The National Coal board was established in 1946; in 1947 the British Empire began its rapid break-up with the independence of India. In 1948 the railways of Great Britain were nationalised to create British Railways. These nationalised industries have all now disappeared or been privatised again, but the greatest nationalisation of all. that which created the National Health Service (also in 1948) remains, although many people see the threat of a creeping privatisation underway.
I was lucky that the NHS was up and running by the time I was born, because I was an early user of the service. When I was three months old (which must have been shortly after these pictures were taken) I was struck down by acute osteomyelitis – a serious disease in one so young. This affected my right thigh bone and I still have a long scar on my right leg where I went under the surgeon’s knife. The attempt to remove the infection to my bone marrow was successful as you can tell by the fact that I am still here but had it not been for the recent introduction of penicillin I would surely have died. As it was it was touch and go for weeks.
This was obviously an anxious time for my parents who, once I had returned home, mollycoddled me incessantly. Once I was old enough I played on this concern for my health without mercy; in fact my health was fine once my leg was healed, and I was too young to know anything about that. My mother however continued to be very worried that I was a sickly child. Many times I invented illnesses to keep me off school, and my doting parents believed in these phantom maladies. The imaginary headaches and colds could have been very detrimental to my intellectual development, but luckily for my education I was packed off to boarding school at the age of ten and there were no more days off. I really did catch the ‘flu about three years later, and then I did spend a week in bed.
I am sure I would not have gone away to boarding school if it had been left to my mother, who would have been quite content to send me to the local Secondary Modern school, which was only about a hundred yards up the road. My father had other ideas; initially he was determined that I should attend the Public school at Winchester, but in the end I went to Gresham’s.
I had two elder sisters, Christine and Margaret and they had acquired two stray dogs, Wolf and Bingo. Bingo was a terrier and was claimed as her own by Margaret. You see all four of them here sitting in the garden. The two schoolgirls are wearing their green uniforms of Norwich High School, which they attended. Margaret (who was later to pick up the nickname Tiggie) is in her summer dress of green tartan; Christine is still wearing her winter uniform of green blazer and gym slip.
Wolf and Bingo had disappeared before I was old enough to remember them. They used to run off, often tied together, to return hours or even days later. Bingo still running behind Wolf who was definitely boss. On the last occasion they failed to return, and nobody ever knew what had happened to them. Wolf had arrived shortly after the end of the war, being ejected from an open car which then sped off. My father was sure he was dumped by his former owners who were been American airmen. They would have been unable to keep their pet on returning home, and could bear to have him destroyed, so dumping him was the only option. He was lucky to be left near my parents’ house, and they took him in. He was a loyal companion to his human friends but he could not abide the thought that he had to share the planet with any other dog. It was with some misgivings therefore that my father introduced him to Bingo, another stray that Margaret turned up with one day, together with the plea; “Please may we keep him?” Wolf accepted him without demur; the approval of his master must have counted for something, but I think it was also obvious that Bingo knew his place in the pecking order. Wolf was top dog.
As I said, I don’t remember the dog, but I remember ‘Wolf”s Song’ which was what my father would sing to him as he sat gazing into his eyes. It was basically a descending minor scale with a fancy ending, and the words – which were silly in a rather gruesome way – went like this: I’ll put my hand inside your mouth, and reach down for your tail; and I’ll pull you inside out.