Back Tracking

Michael Holliday's version of The Story of My Life was topping the UK charts on the day I was born and, though I've always meant to keep a journal, I've never got round to it. Now it occurs to me that I can't really remember where my life went, so I'm beginning this project: to try to backtrack my life. Forgive the past tense/present tense mixture. I've yet to put this into a coherent whole and some of it I'm reliving as I write. Accept this as a written-as-I-write-it method. I'll edit it at some stage - I hope. Also, I've added random notes to myself with the intention of expanding on them at some stage - and I  seem to remember a lot of the miserable things in life, whereas I'm actually a happy, contented little soul.

Oh, I hate being on the lens end!



My parents marry, and I am conceived shortly thereafter.

Monica, Charlie, Dad, Mum, Granddad Lynch     Monica, Granddad Brown, Nan, Dad, Mum, Granddad Lynch


24th February: I came into the world. My mum tells me it was snowing that day. I was born at Oldchurch hospital in Romford, Essex. Mum and Dad lived in a cottage at 10 The Green, Bentley, Ipswich, Suffolk (I've had a look on Google Maps and the Green doesn't seem to exist anymore), but Mum had been vomiting since my conception, living on bananas and tomatoes, and had been staying at Nan's house at 109 Woodward Road in Dagenham, so I'm an Essex girl.

Michael Holliday's version of The Story of My Life was topping the UK charts (I wish it had been Marty Robbins' version).

1959 — One

I started walking aged 13 months, not that I remember that or anything else from that year!

Nan holding me aged 5-months   Tessa aged 18-months

1960 —Two

26th July: My brother, Mark, was born in Ipswich.

1961 —Three

I think this was the year we moved to 40 Worcester Road, Ipswich.

Our house was the last one in the road. Beyond our house was a meadow, and beyond that woodland. I made friends with the girl next door but one, Diane Dunstan. Diane had mild spina bifida. Her dad, Donald, had a motorcycle and sidecar and I remember going on a trip to Felixstowe in the sidecar. I don't remember the day itself, just the trip in the sidecar.

I remember riding the donkeys on the beach. There is/was a photograph of me riding on and stroking the donkeys, but I don't have it. The donkeys had their names written on  their halters on the crosspiece above their eyes.

WestcliffThis is my favourite photograph of me, taken on a holiday with Nan in Westgate. It is my favourite photograph because: I remember it being taken, I remember how joyous I felt; how joyous life is. It certainly isn't the last time I've felt happy - far from it! I'm happy/content most of the time, and always have been, but I think this is the age just before I recognised there is a distinction - which sounds a bit grim and I don't mean it that way.

1962 — Four

One hot afternoon, Mum, Nan, Mark and I were playing in the garden. Nan had just cleaned my white sandals with chalky white shoe polish (that put my teeth on edge) and left them on the coal bunker to dry. The ice-cream van came along the street and Nan went to buy us all ice-cream cornets. In moments, the beautiful sunny day disappeared behind black clouds and it poured with rain.

At weekends, Dad would take us on mystery trips, which always ended up being the beach at Felixstowe - fodder for one of my Toastmaster speeches, Life's a Gas. We have a gardener, an elderly fellow who arrives by bicycle. On his bicycle is a badge of the Mannequin de Pis, which Mark and I find incredibly funny. Every time the gardener arrived, we'd rush over to his bike to revel in the rudeness.

1963 — Five

I decide that Sunday afternoons are dull. Nothing much happens on Sunday and the only thing to look forward to is Bonanza, that starts with a map of Virginia catching fire, and Captain Pugwash. I start school at St Mary Catholic Primary School, 322 Woodbridge Rd, Ipswich. Some of the teachers are nuns, but mine isn't. I love school. Sometimes our teacher takes us for walks in the wood next to the school and there is a tree that has the Virgin Mary carved into it. My dad is supposed to take me to school. Two bus journeys. What really happens is that we share the first bus journey, then he leaves me at the second bus stop and I make my own was to school. I told my mum about this when I was in my forties - she was horrified! Sometimes my dad would collect me from school (and sometimes he would have my younger brother in the van) and we’d stop off at the docks. My dad thought it was hilarious to point the van towards the edge of the dock, leave it in gear with the engine running, jump out of the van and jog alongside, leaping back in at the last moment to stop. It was probably only a few feet – and probably very slow – but utterly terrifying to his four and five-year old children. As best as I know, neither my brother nor I ever told our mum about this (and it happened more than once).

The Muffin Man

On Sundays, the Muffin Man plied his trade along Worcester Road with his hand-cart of home-made treats: toffee apples, nut brittle, coconut toffee, nougat and such. All my friends (or so it seemed) bought his delectable offerings, but my mum went mad at the very mention of his name, denying us his fabulous offerings, though I clearly remember those flakes of coconut embedded in an oddly-red, sludgy toffee.

1964 — Six

Just after Christmas 1963, we left Ipswich. I live with Nan at 109 Woodward Road, while Mum and Mark live with Granddad at 42 Woodward. It is a very cold winter and I remember the icicles hanging from the back door. I attend St Teresa's Catholic Primary School, Hewitt Road, Dagenham. It's horrible! I'm way ahead of the rest of the class and bored stiff and I'm bullied because I don't speak like the rest of the kids. I only like Theresa Woodage, Kathy Harper and Anne Cassidy. My teacher is called Miss de Valley and my mum and Aunt Monica hoot with laughter because they think I'm calling her Misty Valley.

24th June: My sister, Bo, was born. I'm picked up from school by Maureen Mars' mum and, despite the fact that I know vastly more than I should about obstetrics, I refuse to believe my mum has had a baby. In those dark days, children weren't allowed in obstetric wards, so Mark and I could only view our mum and baby sister through the window (and not an internal window, but outside!). I refused to believe Bo was ours as she was jaundiced: "That's not our baby, that's a Chinese baby!".

August: Granddad took us (Mum, Mark, Bo and I) on a week's holiday to Jaywick Sands in Essex. We stayed in a chalet. Between the chalet and the beach was a pub called "Never Say Die". I found this name very disturbing. Mum told me that it was named after a famous racehorse, though that did nothing to alleviate my unease about the name. One afternoon, Granddad paid for Mum, Mark and me to take a flight in a light aeroplane while he stayed on the ground with Bo. It was so exciting.

We moved to 145 Merton Road, Wimbledon just before Christmas. It was a flat above a modelling shop on the corner of Quicks Road. It had, in the past, been a baker's shop. The bakery was still in the back yard - Dad used it to make his remote control aeroplanes which he then flew at Epsom Downs. Mark and I thought there was a ghost in the flat, because the building had a decided lean towards the street and it felt as though someone was pushing us. The streetlamp outside was very close to the window, which was a boon to me, because it meant I could read long after lights-out when I was supposed to be asleep.

I visited Wimbledon in August 2008 and took a few photographs of 145 Merton Road. The shop is now a kitchen fitters and the whole building looks rather more spruce than I remember it - and the street lamp is long gone, as has the bakery - and the building has no lean to it. Now that is strange, as that street lamp peering in my bedroom window was a close friend.

1965 — Seven

January: While I was staying a few weeks at Nan's in Dagenham (I wonder why, as we'd not long moved to Wimbledon and surely I had started school there), I had my tonsils out. Probably it was because I'd been on the Oldchurch hospital waiting list for the operation. I can be sure of the date as it was when Winston Churchill died. I remember by brother walking into the ward and announcing that Instant Churchill had died. I vomited blood all over the pillow and the ward sister told me off (I ended working on her ward in 1975 and she hadn't improved. Why she was a sister on a children's ward is utterly beyond me). I had to have spoonfuls of a disgusting pink medicine. Even jelly and icecream was like swallowing broken glass. The surgeon had nicked my vocal chords and I was unable to talk for days (it felt like forever, at the time). When I went back to Nan's, glamorous Aunty Betty and her husband Ron had bought me a jigsaw puzzle. 

Back in Wimbledon, Mark and I went to All Saints infant school. It smelled heavily of plasticine - which is always brown when all the colours are mixed together. Again, I'm way ahead of the other kids. I have to go and read to the headmistress during religious instruction because it's not a Catholic school. Too smart and the wrong religion - what a way to make friends. I don't recall the name of one child at All Saints, though I don't recall feeling lonely. The flat had no heating other than a fireplace in the living room. Dad broke up one of the two kitchen tables for fuel and we soon had a roaring fire. 'Dad, there's a fire engine outside,' I said. He thought I was joking, until he put his hand on the chimney wall. Then came the knock at the door. Dad shoved the rest of the firewood under the remaining kitchen table as burly firefighters filled the flat while Mum, Nan, Mark and I stood around table, aiming for a nonchalant air - Mark and my faces wracked with guilt and Mum and Nan stifling giggles. 'Don't they have big helmets,' remarked Nan.

Every week, Nan used to send Mark and me a roll of comics with sweets stuffed in the middle of the roll. Bunty, Judy, Beezer, Dandy, the Beano.


Mark, Bo and I contracted measles. Our doctor gave us tetracycline antibiotics which had an unfortunate effect on our emerging teeth. Although Bo's were the worst affected at the time - her incisors were practically black - they were her first set of teeth and her second set subsequently grew through perfectly. Mark's weren't too badly affected with just some little mottling, but my two front teeth were quite pitted. I had to wait until I was an adult to have them rectified.


Nan took Mark and me for a fortnight's holiday to Margate. We stay with elderly friends on Nan's called The Bodleys. Mr Bodley smoked a fragrant pipe and seemed to have some skill as a ventriloquist. He was a member of St John's ambulance service and the resuscitation doll he kept in a suitcase in the hall begged us to let it out of every time we passed it. One morning, Nan said that she'd been woken in the night by a woman screaming but assumed it was a girl at the funfair. It had been a young woman being strangled in the nearby park. I was terribly worried that Mr Bodley had had something to do with it (he hadn't).


In September, I started going to All Saints junior school in Wimbledon. The teacher, Miss Jackson, is a horrible woman who quite clearly disliked me. Why? She was in her twenties, and I was seven? She once made me read the same book over and over for what felt like (and probably was) weeks, despite the fact I could read the wretched thing several times in a single lesson. I was so upset about it that I told Nan and she marched up to the school and spoke to the headteacher who put a stop to it. Miss Jackson made some attempt to change her attitude towards me after this and asked me if I wanted to go along to the cinema to see Winie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. I was so excited. Daft, isn't it, the affect people have on you?

One afternoon Mark came running in with an encyclopaedia he had found in a litter bin in the park at the end of the road. He insisted I go back to the park with him as the bin had more books in it. Indeed there was - an entire set of encyclopaedias on animals and birds, brand new. Ten of them, nine on animals, one on birds. We brought them home. I absolutely treasured them. I wonder how they came to be in the bin and why was my brother looking in litter bins?


One day, Dad yells at me to "do something with your hair", so I spend my pocket money on a haircut. Mum and Dad are horrified when I return home with my long hair cut short. Apparently, he'd meant that I should brush my hair. On reflection, what was the hairdresser thinking? A child with long hair comes alone into your salon and asks to have it all cut off now please - and you cut it???!!! Eh?

We left Wimbledon and returned to Dagenham. Most of the time, I live with Nan, but sometimes I stayed at Granddad's. I think it must have been in the summer because when I returned to the hated St Teresa's, I was in the second year junior class. There was a huge chunk of cocoa butter on one of the tables. It smelt vile, but I felt compelled to take a sniff of it at every opportunity. Even now it makes me shudder to think of it. I am in Mr Conway's class. History is all 1066 and Harold being hit in the eye with an arrow launched by the Norman army. Mr Conway is everything a teacher shouldn't be. Mr Conway's method of teaching number bonds is by recitation and humiliation. We didn't just learn (or, in my case, fail to learn) multiplication tables by rote, but also addition tables by rote, made worse by his system of one person would begin "2+3=5" and then the next poor soul he pointed at would have to continue "2+4=7", and my eight-year old mind, instead of thinking calmly of the next in the sequence, would be panicking, "ahhh, no, don't pick on me". Total brain freeze! So odd, as if he'd randomly pointed at me and said "You, child, spell serendipitous", I'd have no trouble at all. One time, I'd been off school for a while with some random illness, and on my return we had a PE class (Oh, how I hated PE) and it seemed we had to hurtle around the perimeter of the gym where the vile Conway had randomly thrown down rubber mats. I stampeded behind my classmates and was yanked out and made to stand by radiators by the wild-eyed Irishman. Later, back in class, those of my fellow wrongdoers were called to the front of the class. Conway whipped out the dreaded liquorice stick, as he called the leather strap he kept in his desk, and slashed it across my hand. He did the same to Kathleen. Kathleen's eyes blazed and she stormed out of the class, returning shortly with Mr Kelly, the headteacher. Mr Kelly walked over the Conway's desk, opened the drawer, removed the liquorice stick, closed the drawer, and walked out of the classroom. The liquorice stick never returned. To this day, I wish I'd had Kathleen's sense of righteous indignation.

One night while I was staying at Granddad's, I felt something wriggle into my nose. I screamed like a beansidhe. Mum came rushing up the stairs and switched on the light and found two halves of an earwig in the bed. I've never been in the least bit squeamish, but I still can't bear earwigs. June: Granddad teaches me to ride a bike. I still have a scar on my knee where my first attempt leads me into a streetlamp. Mum and Dad had never let us ride bikes. Just after they married, their friend Brian had died in the Isle of Man TT races and they made the decision that their children would never ride bikes. Needless to say, all three of us eventually had motorbikes. July: Nan and I spent a fortnight staying with cousin Joan and her family in Reading. Her four boys (Michael, Gerard (Ged), Peter and David) are all football mad - and this was the year England won the World Cup. World Cup Willie, the lion.