Monday, December 12, 2005

BELFIELD 1945-56. (5)

We would return to London on Sunday evenings - a taxi would come to drive us to Weymouth station. As well as our luggage there would be many bunches of flowers, cut from the garden by my mother after lunch and given a good drink in buckets of water before being tied into bunches for the journey. Once on the train, she would suspend them from the luggage rack in our compartment, where they hung throughout the journey, swaying with the motion of the train. She also had a long wicker basket with a lid, and that would be filled too.

This all helped to deter other passengers from entering our compartment, which my parents hoped to keep to themselves for as long as possible. As a further deterrent, I was ordered to hang out of the window when the train was standing in the station; the sight of a potentially disruptive child and bunches of dangling flowers was enough to put off all but the most determined.

Before the start of a train journey, my father would go to the bookstall to buy what he called a "female magazine" for my mother, often Woman or Woman's Own, and perhaps Picture Post or Illustrated for me. Comics were frowned upon, but occasionally bought when we went to the grocer's shop on Buxton Road during the holidays.

Belfield House, Weymouth, c.1952.

The grocer's shop was near the end of Buxton Road, just before the railway bridge over the old Weymouth to Portland Line and opposite a church which had, I think, been bombed and rebuilt out of corrugated iron: my father called it the "Tin Tabernacle".

Next to the grocer, on the corner of Clearmont Road, was a bakery run by a couple of Greek sisters. The baking must have been done on the premises, as you could smell it cooking and the bread was often still warm from the oven. It smelt so delicious that I once nibbled off the corners of a loaf whilst carrying it home. They also made very good cream buns.

I used to walk to the shops with my father, taking with us a large wicker basket on wheels, pushed along by a long handle, rather like a walking stick. When not used for shopping, my mother used it in the garden when weeding.

For the most part my school holidays fitted in quite well with my father's legal vacations, though he had longer than I did at Whitsun, which was usually Half Term, but we only had a long weekend for it. We had to return to London early too for the start of my Autumn Term in September: Michaelmas Term did not begin until early October.

But these were the times when we could all enjoy Belfield to the full. It was wonderful to leave hot and dusty London and head for the Weymouth train from Waterloo - and even more so to climb out of the taxi at the end of the journey to head for my favourite parts of the garden, revelling in the thought of the long holiday ahead, whilst also hoping to avoid too much enforced piano practice or spelling exercises set by my mother, anxious for me to catch up on at least some of my educational deficiencies.

Until Diane and Lesley Y---- came to live at the bottom of Belfield Park Avenue in 1954, I had only one friend of about my own age living nearby: this was Catherine P--, a year or so older than me, who lived with her parents in the topmost left-hand corner of the avenue. Her other friend was Jennifer P----, the vicar's daughter, who was nearer her age. However for the most part I was perfectly happy to be on my own, playing in the garden or reading story books which fueled my imagination for the make-believe world in which I played.

The only time we were away from both homes was for the occasional few days' stay in towns which had a Public Record Office, where my father could spend happy hours carrying out further research into whatever piece of genealogical work he was involved with at the time. I can remember several visits to Taunton and staying at the Castle Hotel, where I enjoyed playing in the garden which incorporated the ruins of the medieval castle which had once stood there.

We also went to Wells, Salisbury, Exeter, Chester and Bath, and frequently to Oxford - usually in the autumn - staying at the Randolph Hotel. I would be taken round the Colleges, and particularly liked New College garden because there were several chestnut trees where I could search for conkers.

Watercolour painting of Belfield House by Sarah Godman, 1907.

A brass bell was kept by the back door which my parents rang to call me back to the house when meals were ready. One day I thought I would ignore it, just to see what happened. So when it rang that lunch time I stayed where I was, sitting under a bush on the grass bank beside the road.

After a few minutes the bell rang again, with greater urgency; then a long silence while my poor parents must have been searching the garden for me.

After a while my father came past where I was sitting, wheeling his bicycle and about to carry out a further search along the road before going to the police station to report his missing child.

On seeing me calmly sitting there, his reaction was a mixture of surprise, relief and anger. Where had I been all this time? Why had I not come back to the house when I heard the bell? He and my mother had been worried sick and lunch was spoiled.

By now I was feeling not only very remorseful but also extremely foolish, and tried to look both innocent and surprised, saying I must have fallen asleep and not heard the bell. A silly excuse and not believed for a moment!
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