3. To England
As I have written elsewhere, Dad said to me when we were on holiday in Delgany "I have been asked to be a bishop in Africa." This was Rwanda. I was excited, but he was thinking of the family and our education, and said he probably would refuse. But, he said, "it's either Africa or England."
He has written about the move, and I added to his memoirs on line, so I won't repeat too much. The journey, starting from Granny's place in Dun Laoghaire, was memorable. I armed myself with maps and checked off the stations as we passed, first in Anglesea, then through Wales. We stopped for the night at Rhyll, I think. Sophie our maid was with us.
Dad and I spent our first London night in Bermondsey. I remember the Old Kent Road in those days, lively, eels being sold. The last of the old way of London life. Seen from the top deck of a red bus - Irish buses were green. Bomb damage still widely seen. I'd always felt English. When in Kimmage we had a flagpole in the garden, and I hoisted a Union Flag, and it stuck ovenight. Consternation among the parents!
Now in London the buses and pillar boxes were red, and all was as it should be. The thrill soon wore off, naturally.
The early days in Blackheath are not clear in memory. Dorothy and Robert went to the church school, but I was sent to Christ's College, a private school by the heath, to prepare for Monkton Combe. The school had been bombed and the chapel was a ruin. Mr Crombie the head gave me private Latin lessons. The best teacher was a lame ex-soldier - forget his name. He believed in me. We had art lessons from Victor Passmore, a well known abstract artist whose work I once saw at the Tate. There were no changing rooms. We shanged in classrooms. There was rugby, and I once persuaded the teacher in charge to give me a merit mark for my playing, though I knew I hadn't been much good! It was then that I realised that he was not omniscient or infallible, and that I could probably manipulate him and others, but I never did. If I had, habitually, I should have been better placed to spot when my pupils were manipulating me!
The PE teacher got into the national papers by posing as a docker and speaking at the Tory party conference. Was this my introduction to the dirty ways of politics?
I got to know John Gill early on, and he became a bosom friend. We made a den in the vicarage garden.
Gavin Reid was a bright shining comet, a bit older than me. Later became Bishop of Maidstone. Organised Billy Graham's later campaigns in England. I was rude to him - jealous, I'm sure. I remember once he took his bike into the vicaragefor safety, and because I felt he was intruding on my space without asking, I just brought it out again.
St John's Church, where Dad as vicar, had a flourishing children's and youth work. I joined only a little later, I think. The evening service every Sunday was followed by the Youth Group meeting, and although I can't remember much of what went on, I know it was quite a high point of the week. I remember a delightful lad with cerebral palsy who was also a crack table tennis player and lover of shaggy dog stories. John Gill eventually became chairman. It was there I met girls properly for the first time. I think we are talking several years after I had started at Monkton Combe School, which is now co-ed but was then monastic. Anyway, I met Mary Corney there, the first big love of my life. She was probably 15. I used to go into church on Saturday mornings to practise the organ, and she also found a good reason to be there, and I think I actually put a tentative arm around her waist, which she didn't seem to object to! But I was so inhibited that it never went further. Certainly no kissing! At another time John Gill and I were friends with two girls, friends of each others, and I took one of them out to a meal in London, which seemed a daring thing to do - all parentally approved. She went up to Oxford to read English, and we exchanged a few letters, but it fizzled out.
Oh yes, I was a Crusader. I think the organisation has changed its name for p.c. reasons, ut it was a flourishing organisation of Bible Classes. I joined in Dublin, and the Sunday afternoon after I joined, I brought my friends Alan and Gordon with me. We met in Dublin near Harcourt Street, I think. The Blackheath class met in the church hall of another Anglican church, St Michael's I think. I used to walk over the Heath, past the pond where people sailed model sailing boats, and up the hill. The girls' class also met at St Michael's, but in the church and never the twain met. It was a very narrow kind of Christianity. The leaders had to keep away from worldliness like cinemas and probably theatres as well. But we boys didn't know that, and we enjoyed the meetings. After a while I played the piano for the class.