It was the nineteen fifties and Bernard was still in short pants. About seven or eight years old. On most Sundays my mother would take me to visit my grandparents.

They had a little cottage of four small rooms. Grandfather would sit in his armchair on one side of the fireplace and, as the other male in the house, I'd sit on the other side. Warm firelight on my right side. My chair was lighter weight but, it could recline. To my left was grandfathers' old writing desk. Dark wood and shaped much like a bureau. A front panel fastened with a brass key could fold down to provide the writing surface. Beyond that a grandmother clock gave a sonorous ticking. Its brass weight and counterweight swinging back and forth.

Across the room from me and in front of the window was a heavy dining room table. Beyond that a darkwood floor to ceiling bookcase stood against the wall. If I asked politely I was allowed to look at them. Encyclopedias with paintings of beautiful butterflies and flowers. History books with illustrations of the wonders of the ancient world. Reference books. No novels there. I was fascinated.

I'd take my own books too, thick annuals of many stories with the occasional illustration. Even in those days I found comics of pictures with little speech bubbles less than interesting. I'd have my sketch pad also and could sit there drawing. There was a black cat called Smut and I'd been warned not to touch him as he was tempermental and often scratched people. He never scratched me. He'd sit on the arm of my chair and I'd stroke his side and feel the vibrations of his pleasure although he never purred out loud. Sitting there he would stare at my grandfather.

Grandfather would sit in his chair smoking his pipe or not, as the mood took him. Reading his newspaper or just staring into space. He was not a chatty man. In his vest, trousers, shirt and tie he was five feet seven of absolute authority in his own home. Occasionally people would call to see him and grandmother would ask if it was alright to admit them. He'd think for a few seconds and then slowly nod his head. Grandmother would bring his jacket and help him put it on. Then he'd strike a pose. One hand on the fireplace and one holding his pipe or thumb tucked into his vest pocket, as appropriate. The silver chain of his pocketwatch and fob shining softly.

At three thirty it was time for my grandfathers' favourite radio program. A narrated story with the characters reading their lines and sound effects in the background. Creaking doors, thunder and rain on windows, footfalls or the sound of carriage wheels on cobblestones. Mostly mysteries although there was the occasional ghost story.

Mother and grandmother would sit at the dining table so their chatter in the kitchen wouldn't disturb the mood. Grandfather would put his pipe out and lean back with eyes closed to listen. I'd recline my chair and do the same. In the darkness of my closed eyes I'd immerse myself in the story. In your mind you can create the whole scene. This was far better than the television programs I'd seen or my trips to the cinema. It was all encompassing.

Afterwards there would be high tea in the Summer or Sunday dinner in the Winter. Grandfather would sit at the head of the table and grandmother at the foot. My mother and I would face each other. I would be expected to eat properly with a knife and fork and hold up my end of the conversation. This would be when grandfather would ask about my school work. Geography, history and, had I found his reference works useful.

Then it would be time for home. My long dark green silk scarf with tiny white dots hung about my neck. And even in those days I favoured calf length coats. Raincoat in the Summer and overcoat in the Winter. My bag of books slung over my shoulder.


Jump forward now in time. Bernard is about eleven or twelve years old and Father Christmas had brought a small transistor radio about the size of two cigarette packets together. It had a little speaker but I preferred to use the earpiece.

At bedtime I'd shuffle down below the covers as far as I could go. Down there in my nest I'd light my penlight torch and turn on the radio. Tuning wheel and volume on the side. First would be Radio Caroline. Caroline was a pirate station just outside british territorial waters. They'd transmit the songs that weren't played on official stations. Steve Hackett, Amon Düül and others. The presenters didn't interrupt the songs, they'd chat in the five minutes or so between tunes. About the world, their home life, wether or not there was enough or too much brown sauce on the sausage sandwiches somebody'd just brought them. You felt as though you were sitting on the ship with them.

Then I'd cycle through some other stations, russian, german, french. Other than some of the french I couldn't understand a word. I just wanted to hear the music that other Countries were listening to.

Then I'd move to the shipping frequencies. Danish I think. I'd imagine some grizzled captain at the wheel while rain lashed at the screen and his wooden fishing boat moved through the waves. Below (among other things) there would be a small cabin where the crew drank rum and ignored the storm outside the portholes............Somewhere under my bedcovers I'd fall asleep to find my torch just a faint brown glow in the morning.

I so wanted to visit these lands, meet the people and live among them. When I was twelve years old my father gave up smoking for six months so that I could go on a school trip to Spain with a day or so in Paris on the way. Here's a link.

www.ipernity.com/blog/246704/428119

That was it, I was hooked. No package holidays for me where you just sit in a hotel or laze around on a beach. By boat, aircraft or train I'd just go. I wanted adventure......and I got it.

I have had the most fortunate of upbringings.