‘put your skates on!’
Ma likes to give me shopping errands. I take the linen bucket bag, collect her list of shops to be visited (no supermarkets exist, not even the one place to turn ‘self-service’ has done so yet), and since Ma knows I love to stop and note car numbers in my little notebook, she always adds ‘And put your skates on!’
Which I do, literally. My roller skates are strapped on at the heel and pushed into metal holders at the toe, holders that can be tightened with a square key. I take them off at every shop. I am not popular. The skates have metal wheels. The more you skate, the squarer they get. I skate a lot. The paving stones take their toll.
Five years after the end of the war, there are still hoardings up covering bombed-out premises on Hatch End’s single street. I buy a small loaf for fourpence farthing at Chowen’s (For Goodness’ Sake Eat Chowen’s Cake!), clatter past the cycle shop, now stocking Brocks fireworks (the only brand worth buying) for Guy Fawkes’ Night, cross Cornwall Road and skate past the petrol station and the one hotel, with a pub and an off-licence where ‘alcoholic beverages’ can be bought at specified hours. Such is never consumed in our house. Drink is of the devil. Pa relaxes the devil’s rules several years later for Stone’s Ginger Wine, sweet madeira and a bottle of hock (liebfraumilch) at Christmas. Petrol is rationed. Sweets are rationed. So it goes.
On my return, Ma always greets me. ‘What took you so long, dear?’ ‘Life,’ I feel like answering. And the cars were nearly all black.