I had a treat last week. Well actually four or five treats, some of them expected, others out of the blue. Let me explain.
For a start my sister Carole came down to spend a weekend with me, which was a joy, even though we spent Sunday morning doing battle with a hideously difficult Sudoku – howls, groans, manic laughter and far too many new starts..
Then on Monday morning she drove me back to her house to stay with her, which was another joy, as it always is, and on Tuesday I headed off to London where I had a productive and happy meeting with my agent, whom I like very much and then on to Tooting where I was going to give a talk to the Tooting Historical Society.
They’re a great group, the historical Tootingites and the talk was a lot of fun. I told local stories, which made them laugh and that set them off with stories and memories of their own, which made us all laugh and the time rushed by on roller skates. But they had two unexpected treats for me too.
Before I began the talk and while my audience was arriving, some of the people I’d met in the library last time came up to say hello, which was a happy way to start the evening off. And the fourth person who came towards me was an old school friend whom I’d known since the last months of 1944. It was wonderful to see her and hug her again and she was splendid in the audience because her presence there meant that there were two of us with slightly different views and memories of the school. She’d also brought a copy of the school photograph and there we were, looking so young and standing in among all the other classmates that we remembered. We rushed down Memory Lane together.
And then, as if that weren’t treat enough, after the talk was over, lots more people came up to have a word. But that time we were bubbling, there’s no other word for it. And one of them inadvertently brought me my second surprise. The Chairman? Secretary? of the Tooting group, who is called Janet Smith and has become a real friend, told me his name, which is John Brown and explained that he was the leading light of the Streatham Historical Society, so naturally we talked about Streatham, which I know almost as well as I know Tooting, having lived there for twenty five years. At one point he asked whether I’d taught in Streatham and I told him I had and that my old darling had taught at Sunnyhill Primary School for thirty years.
‘Wait there,’ he said. ‘There are two men here tonight who were pupils there. You must meet them.’ And he went off to get them. And oh what memories they had. For a start they’d been taught by my old darling and remembered him fondly. Then they got on to the school nativity play that they’d been in. It was in the year that Hywel Bennett had played the recorder in the school orchestra instead of being one of the actors, which they said had surprised them when they thought about it afterwards, given what a good actor he’d become. I gave them another surprise by telling them I remembered that play very well because I’d written it.
I went back to Carole’s house, much later than I’d planned but as high as the Shard. What a great thing it can be to go back to your roots.