VT Coughtrey

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Chapter 5: Walter arrives on the scene
Chapter written 1998 & last revised 2013

There are no notes for this chapter yet.  Some of the notes on other pages are based on info YOU send me.
It was 1952 and it must have been Summer, because it happened when I was in the playing field at the back of Underhill School.  On warm sunny days the tarmac playground was made out of bounds and we had to spend playtime in the field instead.  As usual I had sought out the most deserted part of the field so I could hang around as far as possible from other children.  Suddenly a large clod of earth hit me with some force on the forehead.  The world spun for a second or two, but I managed not to fall down.  Then I noticed to my horror that the dread of the playground, Walter Wonfor, notorious for getting into terrible fights, was racing towards me.  Obviously he'd thrown the clod and was coming to finish me off.  I stood rooted to the spot in terror, but thought I was dreaming when he started apologising profusely, telling me it was a dreadful mistake (he was aiming at someone else) and asking me if I was alright.  He then asked me if I was German because, he said, I had a German-looking face.  We hit it off straight away and from then on I was no longer standing alone at playtime.
This new friendship changed my status radically.  Now, to the astonishment of everyone, I had the number one tough-guy as bodyguard.  I invited him to visit me during the Summer holidays.  Although I remained alone in the garden for much of the time, increasingly Walter was there.  I adopted a quite dreadful attitude towards him, always ordering him about and acting superior by knowing more and ostentatiously having more (there were four children in his family and consequently they were poorer than us).  I led the construction of elaborate camps in the bushes and introduced the idea of midnight feasts.  It was Walter, however, who provided the road lanterns (powered by candles in those days) for these feasts, which took place in my wigwam in the small hours, completely unknown to our parents, of course.  Although we had apple trees of our own, it was essential for Walter to trespass into Mrs Philpott's garden and scrump her apples.
I also managed to infect Walter with my enthusiasm for aeroplanes.  In time he became a great amateur expert on aviation, and retained his love of aircraft until his death in 2008.  It wasn't long before we decided to follow the Ansons and Daks across the fields to to their base.  I told my mother I was going round to Walter's house.  She would have been near-hysterical had she known we were marching off across many fields all the way to Hendon.  We simply followed the aircraft as they got lower and lower.  When we arrived at the airfield, we sat on the embankment of the St Pancras main line, with nothing between us and the track, and watched aircraft taking off and landing as the steam trains thundered past a few feet behind us.  We did this trek many times during the summers of '52 and '53.  It took about an hour and a half.  My father had already taken me to the famous annual air display at the same airfield a couple of times, but by Tube.  It took as long to get there on the Tube (High Barnet to Colindale) as it took Walter and I to walk.  If you look at a Tube map, you'll see why!
Walter was the town's greatest tree-climber.  He even managed to teach me to overcome some of my natural fear of such pursuits, so that I was able to climb the trees in the garden.  From the top of the walnut tree I watched Barnet Fair being assembled in September, instead of spending hours watching its construction from my bedroom window, as in the past.  I loved absolutely all aspects of this great annual event, which had its origins in mediaeval times.  My father took me every year.  We always set out after dark to get the benefit of the lights and approached it from across the fields.  Drawing nearer and nearer to this great welter of noise, coloured lights and food smells from the pitch dark tranquility of the fields was indescribably exciting.  The fair covered several fields of rough pasture.  My father always won many ornaments and drinking glasses on the darts stalls.  My main interests were the many great dynamos, some improvised from lorry engines, that circled the whole fair, the candy floss and the fireworks on the last night.  The fireworks had a field to themselves.  As to the rides, I was far too scared to go on any but the tamest.
A particular talent of Walter was the acquisition of large amounts of lead and the know-how to melt it down into what we called 'ingots'.  He also knew which scrap metal dealers to take the ingots to. Some of the proceeds went into a Horlick's beaker.  This was our 'fireworks fund'.  By firework-buying time 1953 we had nearly ₤20 in this fund - equivalent to about 3 weeks' wages for my father.  When I boasted of this to Mrs Strugnell she was horrified.  She said only a small part of it should be spent on fireworks, and the rest should be used to open a savings account.  My father not only strongly disagreed, but added another fiver to it!  We had what was probably the best display in town that year, planned by me down to the minutest detail.
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