Ducking and diving

24th July 1998 at 01:00
Holdiay Snaps

Arnold Wesker remembers dodging doodlebugs and school for days in the park

We didn't go on holiday much when I was young; we couldn't afford it. But I do remember going away on my own, without the family, when I was about 13.

It was just after the war. Two friends and I went cycling in the south of England. We plotted and planned it, decided where we would go, and how many miles a day we could manage. How surprising that my mother let me - we were living in Clapton - and how surprising that their mothers let them. It was a two-week holiday, so I suppose it must have been the summer, but I remember the weather wasn't great.

We set off towards Maidenhead and Reading and then went further west. I remember getting to the Giant at Cerne, the man cut into the chalk in Dorset, then we came south in an oval and went back through south London. It was adventurous, yes, but we were not frightened and our parents were not frightened. We didn't take any photos; I don't suppose we had a camera.

We stayed in youth hostels. I remember we met two men I corresponded with afterwards. One was called Harry and the other was, possibly, Gordon. They were university students and we were precocious - being Jewish we always had a lot to say for ourselves - and they were impressed with us.

We must have done some cooking in the hostels, but you could buy sandwiches. Thick bread, with cheese in it - nothing like Pret a Manger.

That's the only real holiday I remember, but I was evacuated to several places during the war. I went toEly first, but I was back for the Blitz, then Buckingham and then to an aunt and uncle in Barnstaple, in Devon. I couldn't bear being away from London, and kept coming back. Then I was sent to Llantrisant in South Wales when the doodlebugs fell. I enjoyed Llantrisant. I used to go to Barry, to the funfair. We would go climbing the Billywint - there was an old windmill at the top of a hill - and to the public benches at the bowling green to neck. I had two girlfriends there - Pat Lewis and Rusty something. I was about 12.

I used to play truant from school in London, but I'd always get caught. I would go to the Science Museum with friends.

For a day out there was boating in Victoria Park - I went there from Stepney, where I lived until I was nine - and later rowing on the River Lee when I was 11 or 12. There was a putting green in Springfield Park and sometimes there'd be a fair. "Fair over the Lee", the cry would go up. And sometimes I would go swimming in Hackney Baths. I was given a wristwatch for my 13th birthday and it was stolen at the baths a few days later.

I had one rich uncle, who was lovely. He lived in Worcester Park, Surrey. That was a day out. We'd catch the 653 trolley bus to Manor House - that was the gateway to the world - then the Underground to King's Cross and Morden, then a bus to Worcester Park. The address was 130 or 160 Cheam Park Road.

I fell in love with my cousin June, who was a very pretty girl; we were five or six at the time. Sometimes we went for car rides - he was the only uncle who had a car - to what I used to call The Devil's Spongebowl, which I think is really The Devil's Punchbowl.

Another good day out was Epping Forest. That wasn't very far away, just a bus ride. There used to be an open-air swimming pool there called The Rising Sun. There was a diving board. I don't think I ever dived off the highest board, but I did off the middle one.

Arnold Wesker is a playwright and author. His play 'Letter to a Daughter' will be shown at the Edinburgh Festival and his collection of erotic short stories, 'The King's Daughter' will be published by Quartet Books in October.He was talking to Heather Neill

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