My Treasure Tin

I listened to Rich Lakin reading one of his poems on his blog yesterday. It was about ‘Word Tins’. You can check it out here.

My reply to him was that I never had word tins, but I did have a tin that I kept my treasures in as a child. He suggested I should write about my tin.

Most people smoked when I was young, including my mum and dad. Dad rolled his own cigarettes, favouring a popular tobacco called Old Holborn, which is still sold here. To keep the tobacco fresh, he would keep it in the tin that it came in, a tin emblazoned with the distintive logo of the brand.

By the time I was given my tin, it was old and well-used, a lot like the one in the photo above.

The first things I kept in that tin were some foreign coins. Some were from India, a legacy of my dad’s army service during WW2. I also had a coin with a hole punched in the centre, which I think was from somewhere in Asia. (Probably Japan) I was sure that those unusual coins would be worth a great deal one day.

Next to go into my treasure hoard was a medal. It was in the shape of a star, and was given to me by one of the family friends who were always known as ‘uncle’, though they were not related. Sixty-two years later, I cannot be sure, but I think it was a Burma Star. It certainly looked like one, as I recall. Here is a photo of one.

Something else I expected to be incredibly valuable when I was older. Hard to believe that they now sell online for around £20. Given what they went through to get one, that doesn’t seem right.

The coins and medal were the only occupants of the old tin for at least a year. Then for some reason I became interested in elastic bands, especially coloured ones. Very soon I had a dozen or more stored in the tin. One very light blue one was a favourite, until I acquired a bright yellow one from somewhere and that went to the top in my estimation. I used one of them -a red one- to secure the tin after that, as the lid was becoming loose.

A day at the beach provided the final addition to the tin, when I was around eight years old. On a stony beach somewhere in Kent, I found a beach pebble that looked like a small pig in profile. At first I presumed someone had carved it into that shape and dropped it, but my mum was sure that all those years on the beach had formed the shape by the pebble constantly being moved by the sea. Either way, it was certainly a treasure, so the pig-stone went into the tin, which was now almost full.

Resecured with the red elastic band, I put it in my small hand-made wardrobe, and there it stayed. I would occasionally open the tin, feel the smooth lines of the pig-stone, and hold the medal to my chest as if I had won it. When the red elastic band finally perished, the tin went into a drawer under my socks.

Between 1967 and 1976, I moved house three times. During one or other of those moves, my treasure tin disappeared.

I just hope whoever found it valued its contents as much as I did as a child.

Favourite Presents Of My Childhood

Christmas is coming on fast. Too fast.
That got me thinking about Christmas presents of my youth, and the fond memories I still have of them.

I was luckier than most. As an only child I got more than my fair share, and on birthdays too.

Sometimes, I even got a present ‘just because’.
I might have won a prize at school, helped out at home, or recovered from an illness.

Thanks once again to the Internet, I can find images of the identical toys that I received.

Fuzzy Felt was a wonderful toy, if you had the imagination to make the best of it. Pre-cut felt shapes could be stuck to the base, creating anything from a flower, to a wild animal.

My Dad made me a wooden castle when I was very young. When it got broken, I got a new plastic one for Christmas.
The great thing about such toys was that you would get the ‘extras’ to use to play with them.
I accumulated a large collection of Knights in Armour, and weapons like medieval catapults that actually fired stones.
The drawbridge and portcullis both went up and down too!

Around the same time, I also got a Farm Set for my birthday.
Within a few months, I had farm animals, tractors, and even a combine harvester!
(The camels and elephant seem rather out of place in this set though)

Along the same lines, there was a Wild West Fort.
This became home to US Cavalry soldiers and cowboys.
They fought great battles against marauding tribes of Indians on horseback.

Being a boy in the late 1950s meant I was given guns as presents.
I loved my ‘Davy Crockett’ pistol.
This was given to me for being ‘brave at the dentist’!
As well as ‘defending The Alamo’, this was also used when I wanted to be a Pirate, or Highwayman.

I later ‘upgraded’, to a Colt 45 Peacemaker that fired caps.
This was give to me in a cowboy holster, and I used to practice my ‘fast draw’.

Summer holidays meant playing outside, and along came the ‘Spud Gun’
Push the end into an ordinary potato, and you could fire a small plug of the vegetable at anyone.
We had some legendary Spud Gun battles, using large baking potatoes ‘borrowed’ from home.
(This image is American, but my one was identical)

Electronics arrived in the form of a Train Set connected to a transformer.
This was my first set, which was added to over time.
I had more track, a turntable, signal box, and a small station too.
Trouble was, my Dad used to take it over, and I ended up watching him.

The racing-car game Scalextric was a real luxury. My set was like the one shown, with contemporary Vanwall cars.
Extras were numerous, including a Pit Lane with buildings, and a Grandstand full of miniature spectators.
Sadly, as with the train set, my Dad usually ended up commandeering both cars!

Over the years, I had hundreds of toy soldiers. But my favourites were the sets of tiny soldiers sold by Airfix.
They were cheap to buy, so I could even add to them with my pocket money.
I think I must have had every set they sold, including US Civil War, Romans and Greeks, and French Foreign Legion and Arabs.
But when I got the Desert Rats and Afrika Corps duo, I built a sandpit in my bedroom, to recreate the battles of the 1940s.

Let me now about your favourite toys, in the comments.

Bermondsey summers

Another nostalgic post, from 2013. Not many of you have seen this before.


What is it about memory, that makes us remember summers as being better in our youth? Ask most people about the weather, and they will almost always agree that the summer was better when they were young.

Six weeks of unbroken sun, school holidays spent outside, with perhaps the occasional thundery shower, that helped to clear the air. Given that this might span a time period from 1958, to 1998, it cannot really have any basis in fact. Although I do not have the real statistics to hand, (and cannot be bothered to look them up) I am sure that we didn’t always have fabulous summers, with weeks of Mediterranean heat, and unbroken blue skies. So why is it that this is how I remember them?

Before we moved to Kent, when I was fifteen years old, I spent my summers on the streets of Bermondsey, a South London district…

View original post 1,183 more words


Searching out a Pirate Ship for our grandson recently, I started to reminisce about toys. The toys of my youth, in the 1950s and 1960s. One of my earliest memories is of a spinning top, like the one in the picture. My Mum would spin it for me, and when I was old enough to be able to push the plunger on the top, I would play with it on my own for what seemed like hours, never becoming bored with watching it spin.

Many of my childhood toys were home made. My Dad was a useful carpenter, making me a sword and shield, so I could pretend to be a Knight, and a wooden gun, for when I wanted to play at being a soldier. The best thing he ever made me was a wooden fort. This served as housing for many varieties of my figures, from Cavalry and Red Indians, to Foreign Legionnaires and Arab warriors. For a long time, it became a farmhouse for my toy animals, until I got a ‘real’ toy farm, and was also used as a garage for my collection of toy cars. My imagination made it into anything I wanted, and I would happily sit on the floor arranging it for hours.

As my parents’ financial situation improved, I was bought a large plastic castle. This was amazing to me at the time; with turrets, flags, battlements, and a drawbridge that could be raised and lowered. I would line up my Knights on the top, and attack the castle with others. Each week at the shops, if I had been good, Mum would buy me one soldier, animal, or Knight, and I would stand for a long time before making my choice. I looked after all my toys too, never breaking them, or damaging them. By the time I was eight years old, I had around a hundred or more figures of all kinds, and kept them in boxes after I had been playing.

When the 1960s arrived, better jobs and widespread manufacture meant more money available, and a wider choice too. Birthdays and Christmas would see fabulous additions to my toy hoard. I received many toy guns, (no political correctness back then) and they were usually very authentic too, with working parts and plastic bullets that sometimes fired. I got metal cannons that fired matchsticks from a spring mechanism, and even a medieval catapult, that I used to attack the plastic castle. One year, I was decked out in a full Roman Soldier outfit, complete with armour, short sword, and plumed helmet. Heading off to play with the local kids, I could have passed for a Roman invader from history, at least as far as I was concerned.

Age and dexterity made it possible for me to make model kits too. I was lucky to get many aircraft models, as well as tanks and artillery pieces. These spiced things up in my games with toy soldiers, and my improving imagination meant that I could do things like glue cotton wool to the planes, simulating them being shot down. Unfortunately, I had little patience when it came to building these kits though. So my propellers never turned, and my tank tracks were fixed solid. My Dad became frustrated with this, and took over the construction himself. I suspect that was the main reason he bought them in the first place.

I still went back to my old fort and castle though. Being an only child, I could play out with local friends, but in the house I had nobody else to play board games with, or compete with when playing the many plastic toy games that were becoming popular then, like ‘Ker-Plunk’, or ‘Connect Four’. I never had any electronic toys either, as I was too old by the time these became affordable. As I got too old to continue to play with all these toys, and spent more time out riding my bike, I slowly passed them on to younger relatives, always hoping they would be looked after, and reluctant to see them go. When I see such things being treasured as antiques now, I regret not being able to store them all away.

Let me know about your childhood toys in the comments. It is always fascinating to see the changes in such things, over time.

Recollections of youth (2)

When I was aged eight, in 1960, we moved to a new home, less than a mile from our old one. It was a newly-built maisonette ( a flat with an additional upper floor) and owned by the local authority, so my parents would be renting it. I could still attend the same school, and many of my family lived within walking distance. My memories of where we lived before this are less clear, though I know that we shared a house with my aunt and uncle. This also meant that I lived with my slightly older female cousin, someone I always regarded as the sister I never had. I am sure that they lived upstairs, and we lived on the ground floor. I could check the details of course, but these posts are about my memories, and what I have retained, not those of others who may or may not have much better recall. I have no mental picture of my bedroom there, or any other room for that matter; and few actual memories of events in a place where I lived for some years.

Our move to the new flat is a very different matter. I can remember a great deal about that place. I lived there until just after my fifteenth birthday, and little of what happened there has escaped me. Perhaps this was because we were the first tenants there, or it might be that it seemed very smart to me, and somewhere desirable to live. We had a shed as well, called a bike shed, though at the time we had no bikes. It was used for storage, and I did eventually get a bike to put in it. The key for this small lock-up was very large. It reminded me of the keys that I had seen in old films. I can still see that key clearly, fifty-four years later. Although the block was low-level, with only a ground and first floor, we also had a rubbish chute. I thought this was incredibly modern, and I enjoyed the novelty of putting small bags of rubbish into it, and closing the large metal door. There was a small ‘whoosh’ sound, as it fell into the large bin below.

We also had a small balcony, though we didn’t sit out on it. Mum got some plant containers to put on the railing, and I remember geraniums being planted. It still had one coal fire, in the living room, but it had a gas igniter, which made lighting it very easy. There was a coal-cupboard inside the hallway, and the coal was delivered into it through a hatch on the outside. I can vividly remember the smell, when the cupboard was opened. Coal has such a distinctive smell. The bathroom was heated by an electric fire, mounted on the wall above the door. It glowed very red when lit, and took a long time to warm up the room. The toilet was separate, something I have always considered to be a very sensible arrangement.
My parents decided to go with the latest fashions for furniture and decoration. I don’t remember the wallpaper, but the furnishings were all ‘G-Plan.’ This was the real deal in 1960. Expensive, cutting edge style, and like nothing we had ever had before. We even had ‘room dividers’, large display shelving units used to give a two-room feel to the one living room. They were so well-made, I was still using one in 1977, when I first married. There was also a swivel and recline chair, with large ‘wings’, and wheeled feet. It felt very ‘executive’ to sit in, and was always considered to be Dad’s chair. Like the room dividers, it eventually found its way into other places we lived in, and made it to my first marital home too.

Remembering feelings rather than things is very different. This new home provided me with a larger bedroom. I was allowed to choose how it was decorated. I chose one wall in a wallpaper that was a photo of bamboo. It gave the room a ‘jungle’ feel, and seemed very exotic to my young eyes. This new bedroom was to become my personal sanctuary. It was somewhere to escape from my parents’ disintegrating relationship, by immersing myself into a world of books and imagination. Part of me has always remained in that room, studying, and thinking. I had my own record player, an old Dansette Autochanger. Playing my favourite records, over and over, until I could recite all the lyrics, and anticipate every change in the beat. At that time, they were records of songs from the decades before I was born, giving me a love for the crooners, jazz musicians, and even the big ballad singers of the day. Kay Starr, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Mario Lanza, Crosby and Sinatra; they were all in there, together with the newly-arrived Blues singers, records made many years before, just gaining popularity in the UK. Within a few short years, these would be replaced by the pop records of my youth, but I never lost my love for the other music.

I was given an ancient typewriter by my Mum, which she had sourced from her office job. It was very large, and most impressive. It had red and black ribbons, and could type a stencil too. The carriage was enormous, and the sound of the keys was like a machine-gun. I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard, and to type at a reasonable pace, so as not to jam up the keys into a metallic tangle. I typed ideas mostly, as school work had to be handwritten then. I also had a double bed, as I was given my parents’ very old one, when they got a modern divan. It had a dent in the middle, like an old swayback horse, and I loved to snuggle into that dent. In my small wardrobe, I kept my most treasured possessions. I had a bayonet from the war, and a Gurkha knife, called a Kukhri. Both of these were mementos from my Dad’s time in the Army. I also had his Warrant Officer leather wristband, and an album of small black and white photos he had taken during his years in India. My toy soldiers, wooden fort, and plastic castle, all had pride of place, even after I stopped playing with them. The large reference books; maps and atlases, flags of the world, dictionaries and bible stories, together with my collected comics and old newspapers, were tended carefully, and always treasured. I still have some of those books.

My memories of the hours spent alone in this room are mostly good ones. I never feared loneliness, and when I felt the need, I could always go outside, and see if other kids my age were out doing something. But I liked my room. I knew every inch of it, from the candlewick bedspread that I habitually plucked at, to the stuffed head of a tiger, shot by my Dad in India, that roared down at me from the top of the wardrobe, seemingly emerging from the bamboo on the wallpaper. And even as I sit typing this, I can still feel that dent in my bed.

Recollections of youth (1)

My first real memory is a hazy one. I am lying on my back, and a dark-haired girl is waving tight plaits in front of my face. She is laughing, and I definitely like her. From there, it jumps to my first day at school. I am five years old, and my Mum is trying to get me to leave her side, to go off with a kindly lady teacher. I am afraid, though not crying, and I want Mum to stay with me. Low chairs, strange kids, and coat-hooks almost at ground level. There is a play-tent in the corner of the room, small desks fill the middle of the space, and it is all very quiet. For a while.

Not long after, we moved a short distance across the borough, and I had to go to a different school. I can recall most of what went on there, as by that time, I was almost seven years old. In between that first memory, and being able to remember almost everything since, there was a significant gap. Of course, I have never forgotten when I almost drowned; something I have written about previously. There are fleeting moments where I can clearly see my grandparents. My stern maternal grandfather, stroking an old black dog, sitting in front of a fire in the kitchen area. My grandmother, hands covered in flour, her body concealed under a huge apron. Childhood illnesses; feeling hot, covered in itchy spots, unable to sleep. Mum covering me in cold Calamine Lotion, supposed to soothe me, but making me cry out in shock from its freezing touch. I was bitten by a dog, as I tried to stroke it. It was lying asleep outside the shop of its owner, on a baking hot summer afternoon. I do not remember the pain of the bite, just the surprise that the animal was unfriendly, and the blood all over my hand.

The times that I was injured or hurt are still very fresh in my memory. Helping my Dad to wash the car one afternoon, he failed to see that my hand was in the door frame as he slammed it shut. If I think hard enough, I can bring back that moment of terror, looking at my trapped fingers, screaming with shock and pain. Out driving in the car with Mum and Dad, on the way back from a nice afternoon out somewhere. On a main road in Kent, we are involved in an accident with a large motorcycle. I can still hear the noise as he hit us, and my Mum’s scream. I could hardly see above the window, so the other details are unclear. My Dad was shouting though, and telling me to stay in the car. It is becoming obvious that pain and problems seem to take precedence where memory is concerned.

However, I have countless memories that do not involve either of these, so the last statement does not hold true. More to the point, why do I have these snapshots of memory? Why don’t I just remember it all, in great detail? That is the crux of the matter, and the whole point of this post. Where do the ‘other’ memories go? I wish that I knew. I want them all back, to retrieve them, as if on an accessible hard drive. This will have to become a series of posts, exploring the strange nature of memory: how it sometimes lets you down, and how it provides joy in recollection. I need to think about it. A lot.


Last week, a friend sent me a poem. I am showing it here, as it resonated with me, and I rarely feel that inspired by poetry. (With some notable exceptions) It made me think of Novembers that have passed, Autumnal days, and my youth.

This was written in the Victorian Age, probably in the 1840’s. It is interesting to compare the foggy murk of Victorian Britain with the changes in the weather today. As I type this, the sun is blindingly bright. Fogs, especially those that crippled London annually, are now something to generate warnings on the news, not part of everyday life, as they were in my childhood. Travel was obviously exceedingly difficult at this time of year during the Victorian era, as we can see from the references in the poem.

Last Saturday, we visited friends in Oxfordshire. Leaving their house, past 2am on Sunday morning, we were treated to a stellar delight. A beautifully clear sky, a crispness in the air, and every constellation visible, as if we were visitors to a Planetarium. We stood looking for some time, unwilling to leave this display of natural wonder. How rarely we look up. We should do it more often.



By Thomas Hood

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–
No road–no street–no “t’other side this way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–
No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!
No traveling at all–no locomotion–
No inkling of the way–no notion–
“No go” by land or ocean–
No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds–

The Novembers of my youth meant Firework Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, whichever appellation you used. Excited children, waiting for adults to start bonfires, set off fireworks, and serve food only ever eaten on that one day. The sky was always clear, the night invariably cold. We wrote our names in the air with sparklers; their white trails lingering just long enough to read our scrawls. When the fireworks were all gone, we would put our Guy onto the bonfire, and watch him burn, singing the song, ‘Remember remember, the fifth of November’, oblivious to the real historical significance of the whole event. When I was a child, the Autumn leaves were dry, stacked in huge piles in the park. We would rush through them, kicking and scattering, making the most of something that would last too few days. The leaves are wet nowadays; congealed and impacted, no fun to run through.

The frosts are late again, despite a growing chill in the air. Showers and sunshine, sunglasses and windscreen wipers at the same time. More like April, than November. Christmas is hovering, like someone outside the door, waiting to use the toilet. November more or less finishes after the fifth, as the rush towards Christmas grows too strong, and overwhelms it. Then this month is hurried through, an inconvenience delaying the anticipated festivities to come.

We should take time to appreciate this lonely month, and to note the changes it brings.

As Thomas Hood did, all those years ago.