Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Marigold Says...

When we actually decided to look at buying a property in London we looked at an absolute dump in Shepherds Bush for £12,000 and a couple of terraced houses in St Margaret’s, Twickenham for £13,000.

We were under the illusion we could borrow endless money. The papers said it was boom time for first time buyers. When we actually applied for a mortgage they told us our maximum borrowing power for a mortgage was £4,000. In 1969.

We eventually decided we would have to move out of London and buy in the north. We found a new (unbuilt) property for £3,200. 3 bedrooms, its own bathroom, no more sharing, a garage and a garden. We put down £25 deposit, that’s all they asked for. Just imagine what that Shepherds Bush property and Twickenham dumps would be worth now.

That was the easy part as for the next two and a half years we were paying rent in Richmond and a mortgage on our empty new house as they wouldn’t release G from his job, but kept on saying he would be able to transfer out of London soon. We decided we’d just make the best of it as we were loving life in Richmond.

Flat life in London in the late 60’s was totally unregulated and it was a case if you don’t like it move on. The characters we met made life interesting and most of them you are grateful to forget.

When I was temping there were so many out of work dancers working as ‘temps’ and waiting for their big chance on the West End stage. Lots had come from abroad, and Earls Court was full at the time with Kiwis and Australians, all waiting for a break.

I can remember one girl who was working at the Palladium, had trained in ballet, but damaged her foot and was waiting for it to heal. She was 17, living on her own and was running out of money fast. She ended up sleeping on our floor for a couple of weeks and then went back to Oz. We heard from her several years later. She had married a sheep farmer, took dancing classes, and was as happy as Larry.

Some of the girls were waiting for jobs as nannies or au pairs which was a lot easier to do then. They didn’t get paid much but had somewhere to live and were at least getting fed. Hyde Park was full of them in their uniforms and carriage prams, the elitist of which wore brown.

My personal favourite place to live was Richmond. Shops were great and it was just like a big, friendly village. G was playing rugby and football there so we we knew lots of people. Richmond Park was up the road and we spent many a happy hour with a picnic watching the polo although I never understood the rules. Sometimes Prince Charles played and once Jimmy Edwards. I felt sorry for his horse but he was actually pretty good. There were always lots of very posh girls squealing away at the slightest thing, with one eye on the rich polo players. It was free entertainment and a lovely thing to do on a sunny afternoon.

We had our first cat there, Simon, a fat ginger moggie who’d been given to us by a middle aged woman who worked for G, but always acted as if it was the other way round. She’d left ‘Rhodesia,’ never ‘Zimbabwe,’ in a great rush and ended up in a fabulous apartment, far too posh to be called a flat, in The Boltons with another woman who smoked Black Russian cigarettes in a cigarette holder. We both thought she was a man at first glance. At second glance too.

One Christmas Eve we were travelling ‘home’ for Christmas when our ex Post Office van blew up on the motorway. A large stone fell off the lorry in front of us and smashed the radiator. We were just glad it didn’t hit the windscreen. We got to a railway station somehow and caught the last train of the night which was going to Glasgow. I hid Simon under my coat as we only had enough money for two tickets as far as Stafford and I was terrified they would insist on him having to have a ticket.

The carriages were full of drunken Scotsmen, singing and shouting. We had our arms full of Christmas presents for our families, plus two suitcases, and Simon saw his opportunity and bolted. It took me ages to find him amongst all the passengers’ legs.

We got off at Stafford where we’d arranged a lift the rest of the way and by then it was already Christmas morning. Simon escaped again as we were setting off to go back to London and had to be sent off to us a couple of days later in a cardboard box. G collected him from the Guard’s Van at Euston station and he purred all the way home.

Simon was a real softie but he was quite old when we got him. We weren’t intending to have another pet for a while after Simon died, but agreed to help a friend out when she was trying to find some abandoned kittens who she had heard crying in a blackberry bush.

G got dozens of scratches on his arms wading into the middle of the bushes, but eventually found six kittens and carefully passed them out to us. As he was about to climb out he heard a sneeze and realised there was one more kitten. This last one was tiny, completely black with gummed up eyes and wouldn’t stop sneezing. Nobody would ever want him so he came home with us.

Our friend was called Odele and we said we would name the kitten after her, but it turned out ‘Odele’ was a boy so I called him Oddie. He lived to a great age, moved house with us half a dozen times and was fabulous.

G Says...

 ‘You don’t know what you've got till it's gone.’

That’s probably the best known line from Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. Promoted by a friend’s reminiscences of our shared dim and distant past I was trying to remember the music of that era and thought of the ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ album which almost everybody seemed to own in 1970. That familiar line, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ now appears remarkably prescient fifty years hence.

Particularly in our own case.

We used to travel, hit the open road, now all we have is a view from a window. Almost at a stroke we went from planning another three or four month trip through Europe, revisiting favourite destinations and hopefully finding new ones to waking up one morning and finding the world in lockdown.

Even worse my most regular correspondent Matt Hancock – Matt to his mates – saw fit to include me in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable cohort,’ a tortuous description if there ever was one!

I became irrationally jealous of thrushes and squirrels, free to do as they please while I could only watch from behind a sheet of glass. Other people became a risk to life itself, the kindest thing we could do to a friend or relative was to stay well away from them and a hug has now become potentially more dangerous than a machete.

With the connivance of the broadcasters our tv screens are now full of uninformed ‘members of the public’ pontificating on subjects about which they know nothing. Is it any wonder I shout at the television?

The notion of quarantine isn’t new. The practice began during the 14th century and the term comes from the Italian expression ‘quaranta giorni’ meaning 40 days, the time ships were required to spend at anchor outside their destination port to protect those on land from plague.

Despite the obvious frustrations of aborted journeys we’ve coped pretty well in lockdown. We get on, always have done, and can always find something to do, something to amuse, even with all the restrictions on space we now face, but being prevented from ‘wandering’ has been hard.

Denied the opportunity to travel, we still have our imagination and what remains of our joint memory as compensation. Revisiting the past has replaced our as yet uncertain future and we are fortunate to have a wealth of material to call on for this blog. I promised more details of our favourite destination, New Zealand, but remembering the splendour of South Island has proved overwhelming and will have to wait a little longer.

I’ve previously written accounts of our early life together, particularly moving to live and work in London during the late 60s and early 70s, and this latest blog post moves the story on from Central London to Richmond Hill. It’s pretty light on my own photos as I only have ‘old school’ prints, no digital pics, from 50 years ago and the box containing most of our old photos vanished a couple of house moves ago.

‘On Richmond Hill there lives a lass

More bright than May-day morn

Whose charms all other maids' surpass

A rose without a thorn.’

That’s the opening lines of a song first performed in 1789 and said to be a favourite of George the Third. It’s been claimed by the (lovely) town of Richmond in Yorkshire as well, but the Surrey version, Richmond-on- Thames, has a Lass of Richmond Hill pub so that helps with bragging rights.

The arrival of Marigold on Richmond Hill in 1970 surely settled the matter. Looking at those lyrics it’s hard to see anyone fulfilling the criteria for Lass of Richmond Hill better than Marigold.

I rest my case.

When we moved from London, towards the end of 1970, we didn’t go far. Just a few miles upriver to very smart Richmond–on-Thames. Quite a change from Bayswater which was being demolished around us at such a rate we were worried we’d end up still living in the only slum left in town. We’d loved our time in the area, never a dull moment, but a job change for me and the chance to play top level rugby persuaded us it was time to move.

We soon discovered accommodation in Richmond was as expensive, perhaps even more so, than we’d been expecting. It seemed especially unlikely that a flat at the top of Richmond Hill, the most prestigious enclave of all, would be affordable but the people running an estate agency from a tiny shop premises at the far side of Richmond Bridge assured us it would be perfect.

The flat had two rooms, one being a bedroom only fractionally larger than a double bed, while the living area included the ubiquitous Baby Belling cooker and a sink. There was a basic toilet room on the landing outside the door, shared between three other flats. As for a bathroom that was on the floor below and once again we faced up to the joys of communal ‘facilities.’ Much like we’d known in our previous London flats, but in a different place. Three flights of stairs to climb, but that was a minor inconvenience.

Marigold was working in the West End and would need to commute, but there was a tube station terminus down in the town and a regular bus service, mornings and evenings, from the end of our road to the station. The bus itself was a vintage model, all rounded curves and brown and cream livery, but the driver said hello on the first day we used it and that made a difference. We’d noted the absence of ‘chat’ since we moved South. We’re both inveterate talkers, but had found London residents a bit on the reserved side, prone to keeping themselves to themselves. Maybe Richmond would be different.

It wasn’t.

We’d experienced transport problems in the past. Londoners take them in their stride. No option. On one occasion, a tube strike was announced at the last minute leaving Marigold stranded in the West End and as we didn’t have a car available at the time she decided she’d walk back.

We were living in Holland Park, so it’s only about five miles or so. By the time Marigold found a working phone box – no mobile phones back then – it was eight o’clock at night and I was frantic.

‘Where are you?’

Silly question, I should have known better.

‘No idea. I’m following some people who seem to know where they’re going.’

‘Okay, are they heading for Holland Park?’

Long pause, then finally, ‘I don’t know.’

Not promising and Marigold has the worst sense of direction I have ever encountered. I’ve lost count of the times she’d wander around car parks looking for where she’d parked and multi storey car parks are out of the question. Given a choice of turning left or right, Marigold decides on a whim, rightly or wrongly. A similar system applies to doors marked clearly push and pull. Amazingly, one time in a hundred she makes the right choice. It’s one of the many foibles that make her so fascinating.

We eventually found a landmark we both recognised and I could set off to meet her.

‘Buckingham Palace looked lovely, all lit up,’ she said.

‘That’s the opposite direction to the way back,’ I pointed out.

‘Well, that’s the way the people I was following went.’


Living in Richmond during the frequent power cuts of the Three Day Week brought fresh problems, but at least I was mobile again and often drove through dark city streets to collect Marigold from work. On one occasion I got there early and walked back to wander around Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Liberty’s Store looked fantastic, a glittering beacon in the darkness. It’s been a London landmark since 1875 and the present Mock Tudor exterior was added in the 1920s. This remarkable building was constructed using oak timbers taken from two famous ships of the the Royal Navy: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.

I went inside, only the second time I’d ever entered the shop, and discovered an absolute fairytale scene. The entire store was illuminated by Victorian oil lamps, their soft glow and subtle aromas adding so much to the occasion. In such a magical setting the iconic store was reborn, looking exactly as I imagine it must have looked originally. I walked back, collected Marigold and we both returned to share the experience.

Weeks later, power restored, I walked past the Liberty Store again. The exterior remained stunning, but inside it was just like any other department store. Sad, really.

A Bit More Chat

There was a small sub Post Office just off the top end of Richmond Hill and I went there late on in 1973 to collect my petrol ration book. The conflict in the Middle East had made the prospect of fuel rationing almost inevitable and ration books were to be issued to every car owner in readiness. (In the event they were never needed.)

I produced two letters of entitlement: one as a humble motorist and another reflecting my job being ‘of National Import’ – well, that’s what the letter claimed. This second ‘extra’ ration book promoted raised eyebrows in the Post Office.

‘Two ration books? We’ve had that Mick Jagger coming in here and I bet even he’s only got one ration book.’

Rated as more important than Mick Jagger? Can’t be bad.

I mention the never to be used ration books as I came across one of them recently in one of our ‘clutter drawers.’ ‘Might be worth a bit,’ I thought and a quick check on E-Bay revealed quite a few petrol rationing booklets from 1973. A typical ‘Best Buy’ price was 99p. I put the booklet in the recycling bin.

Our existing friends had made the most of the opportunity to have free accommodation in London, even if this only extended to ‘dossing down’ on our sofa. Sadly, some of them had overestimated our generosity and proved hard to shift. We learnt to be a little more evasive when suggestions of ‘coming to see you for a few days’ were being made. The old saying, ‘a friend in need…is a pain in the bum’ came to mind with far greater regularity.

The National Census is here again.

In 1971 I was chosen/ asked/ordered/instructed/commandeered to be the census officer for Richmond and Twickenham as there were large numbers of rough sleepers there at that time and I had built relationships with many of them during my ‘day job’.

Most people called them ‘tramps’ at that time as a catch all description, but in the main these were people who may have been technically homeless, but almost all had actively chosen the lifestyle. Some of those homeless by choice rough sleepers were fascinating characters and one man in particular had a lasting effect on me. When I first came across Group Captain Walter George Broomhall – he always insisted on the full salutation – he was rather the worse for drink. To remain relatively lucid while completely unable to remain upright was a feat in itself.

He asked me to mediate on his behalf in what he called ‘a territorial dispute’ and would henceforth become my ‘eyes and ears’ in certain aspects related to my job. ‘Down and Outs’ are invisible members of society. Their presence is barely noted yet they see and hear a great deal so it was an intriguing proposal.

I made a few enquiries and discovered my inebriated acquaintance had a fascinating history. ‘Broomstick’ Broomhall was born and bred in the area and his well off parents sent him to the City of London School and Imperial Services College. At age 16 he was an apprentice at the Hawker Aircraft Factory where, in his spare time, he built 'The Broomhall Special', his first racing car, which he entered for the Lewes Speed Trials, averaging 62mph over half a mile from a standing start. Quite impressive for a 16 year old in 1928.

Broomstick passed his Flying Test at 17 and was soon the country’s leading figure in stunt flying. Cars, planes, what about something completely different? Ice skating? By the time he was 19 he was British Ice Skating champion, had scored a winning goal for England at Ice Hockey and went on to break numerous long distance skating marks, including two world records.

Popping across the Atlantic in search of fresh challenges, Broomstick test piloted a Whitworth Atlas to 21,000 feet without oxygen, flew across Canada coast to coast and won the Ontario Ski Jumping Championships.

I had only scratched the surface so far, but my impression of the man had already taken a radical upturn. There was so much more to discover and over the next couple of years I learnt a great deal.

In 1936, as Chief Pilot with the South African International Aircraft Corporation, Broomstick won the gruelling Durban to Johannesburg motor cycle race on a machine he built himself, then broke the World 12 Hour Endurance record for a Class A motor boat.

When war broke out the RAF snapped him up, initially as Chief Flying Instructor. He won the 50 Mile speed boat championship at Poole while on leave from Bomber Command, but the war soon put an end to other pursuits and it was as Leader of Flight No1 Fighter Squadron that he became a noted air ace during the Battle of Britain.

Medals and the acclaim of his fellow pilots proved a hard act to follow and after the war he confessed he was at a ‘bit of a loose end and rather too fond of strong drink.’

His aeronautical skills took him all over the globe, but after leaving the Flying Doctor service in Australia he came home and ‘decided to drink myself to death.’ That decision was made about ten years before I first met him and I could only admire his stamina.

Despite neglecting himself shamefully and abusing his body over many years he remained a lively and interesting companion.

Most of the time.

His friends, also alcoholics of long standing, were prone to drastic misfortunes. One perished in a fire at a derelict house where he’d been using the floorboards as fuel and the bonfire got out of control while another friend, whom I also knew quite well, fell into the river and drowned one night while crossing the rickety bridge leading to Eel Pie Island.

I eventually left the area, moving back up North, and lost touch with Broomstick, but he wasn’t entirely without friends and I discovered a local Councillor, Ken Elmes, had proved a real lifesaver, or at least life preserver. Mister Elms inherited Broomstick’s scrapbook detailing a remarkable life ultimately doomed to self destruction.

Broomstick died a few years after I left the area, but the memory of him will never leave me. I’m indebted to Twickenham Museum for confirmation of much of what I remember and for adding much more.

My census duties involved much more than chatting to alcoholics in derelict houses. There were some grander houses on my list, many of them very grand indeed. One of our ‘hobbies’ is looking at houses we don’t have a hope of ever being able to afford and wondering what they’re like inside. There were many houses like this in Richmond.

We often walked from our house – strictly speaking the small section we occupied of what was a rather fine house - down to the river, through the magnificent Terrace Gardens, often with our ginger cat Simon draped around my neck like a fur boa. He was happy to go anywhere with us, looking around from his vantage point, safe from passing dogs and purring contentedly.

He’d only jump down when he saw a vast area of grass in which it was safe to run around and when we said, ‘Simon, we’re going home now’ he’d leap up onto my shoulders and resume his favourite perch.

The start of this favourite walk was just up the road, almost opposite an iconic pub The Roebuck which dates back to 1500. As we walked through the gardens we never failed to admire the gypsy caravan in the grounds of a magnificent house.

The Wick was owned by Sir John Mills when we became near neighbours and in the following months there was much local gossip about a possible new owner. The gypsy caravan, which the owners understandably preferred to call a summer house, was where Mary Hayley Bell, actress, writer and wife of Sir John Mills, wrote the novel Whistle Down the Wind, inspired by the breeze whistling about the hill top property.

When I called at The Wick on census duty it was empty. Sir John and his family of thespians had moved out and the new owners had not yet taken possession. I was at least one of the very first locals to learn the identity of the new owner; a complete contrast - Acting Royalty replaced by Rock and Roll Royalty.

The Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood took possession of the house in 1971 but did not have enough money to purchase the adjacent cottage as well; he persuaded Ronnie Lane, one of his bandmates in The Faces to buy the cottage. Another ‘Rock Legend,’ Keith Richards, was rumoured to have lived in the summer house/gypsy caravan for several months but we never saw him.

The two Ronnies, (no, not those two), Wood and Lane were regularly seen at The Roebuck. Nobody bothered them and the selfie was as yet an unknown phenomenon.

We never received a single invitation to any of the parties at The Wick. Much to Marigold’s chagrin.

We’ve long since left Richmond Hill, but The Wick retained its ‘famous resident’ status as the next owner was Pete Townsend of The Who. He used to live in St. Margarets, next door but one to one of the reprobates I played football with on Sundays. My team mate never got party invitations either.

Other houses we admired from afar included Clarence House, a gorgeous property in The Vineyard owned by Brian Blessed and Downe House, quite close to us on Richmond Hill where Richard Brinkley Sheridan, Mick Jagger and Gerry Hall all lived, not at the same time and sadly not in 1971.

Sadly, none of these esteemed Richmond residents required my advice or assistance to complete their census forms.

One woman who needed a great deal of assistance also lived on Richmond Hill and Marigold insisted, strictly against regulations, on accompanying me so she could look inside the house which was hugely impressive.

On admittance, we found a woman living alone wearing evening dress and bedecked in clanking jewellery. Keeping up standards while ‘living in penury,’ as she put it. It was a glorious house and we were shown into a huge room with lofty ceilings, an Adam fireplace and magnificent French furniture.

Penury? I doubted it.

The lady of the house refused all talk of census completion. She insisted that as an ‘important representative of the British Government,’ – a description I failed to recognise as being applied to myself – I should take up her case with the current ‘occupant of the Élysée Palace - ‘I refuse to say his cursed name’ – in order to ‘right a grievous wrong done to me under the Code Napoleon.’

Her husband, a French Vicomte, had died, but under French law (the much reviled Code Napoleon) his estate passed mainly to his numerous children with a mere ‘few centimes’ being passed on to the grieving widow.

‘Now I am reduced to this,’ she declared, dismissively, waving a gold bracelet clad wrist at the splendour of her surroundings. In the end I completed the census form on her behalf, she signed it and we were off, Marigold complaining at every step that she’d only been availed of the opportunity to view the entrance hall and one room of the mansion.

I wasn’t required to enter Old Friars, the long term home of Sir Richard Attenborough on Richmond Green, another blow to Marigold, but we did occasionally chat to his gardener at the nearby Cricketers Pub.

No, I know it’s not the same.

Richmond Green was once the ‘front lawn’ of Richmond Palace, built by Henry V11 on the site of a much older palace that burnt down on December 21st 1497. No, not actually Christmas Day but close enough to imagine a ‘Palace kitchen in Christmas morning fire shocker’, as a possible news headline of the time.

Before becoming King, Henry was Duke of Richmond so named the palace and eventually the entire surrounding area after himself. He died there in 1509 and Queen Elizabeth 1 also died in the palace in 1603. Henry the Eighth, Anne of Cleves after her divorce and Catherine of Aragon lived here as well.

That’s certainly a step up from mere actors and rock stars.

Following the execution of Charles I, the Commonwealth Parliament sold off the palace (for a mere £13,000) along with many of the other Royal residences in an anti Royalist frenzy to the ‘scrap men’ of the era and it was promptly demolished. There’s virtually no trace of it now apart from an entrance arch and some bits of the original outer wall.

Trumpeters House was built on the land in the early 18th century which is very much on our ‘desirable residences’ list. It’s been converted into apartments now, but Prince von Metternich lived there whilst in exile in 1848-9. Disraeli visited him in 1849 and wrote to his sister, ‘I have been to see Metternich. He lives on Richmond Green in the most charming house in the world.’ We won’t argue with Disraeli.

No, I didn’t get to see inside that one either, but I did get as far as the front door.

Broomstick Broomhall aged 16 with his first hand built car, the Broomhall Special.

The Wick, home to Knights of the Realm Thespians and Rock Stars

The Trumpeters's House where once a huge palace stood

Marigold and I in 1970. One of us is still gorgeous. If you need a clue, it's not me.

Old Friars, the house on Richmond Green owned by Sir Richard Attenborough

Richmond Green

The Delightful Cricketers Pub

The Theatre on Richmond Green

Final Memories

Just up the road from us was one of the entrances to Richmond Park, the largest of London's Royal Parks. I played my first ever round of golf there, we occasionally went to watch the polo if Prince Charles was playing and it was our favourite picnicking spot.

Especially after a stroll through the Isabella Plantation, absolutely gorgeous in May with the azaleas in full bloom, then perhaps a trip to King Henry’s Mound, which may be of Prehistoric origin, but probably isn’t.

Either way the vantage point is the highest part of Richmond Hill overlooking the Thames Valley and affording a unique vista towards St Paul's Cathedral. It’s one of of eight protected views across London, meaning it has to be completely unobstructed by tall buildings.

I didn’t know such a thing as protected views existed, but one of my neighbours looked after the Richmond Park deer herd and knew absolutely everything about the park.

I did know how the mound got its its name. King Henry the VIII, in his favourite hunting grounds, climbed to the top in 1536 to watch for a signal from the Tower of London that Anne Boleyn had lost her head and that he was free to remarry.

I later read many articles debunking this theory, claiming Henry was many miles away in Wiltshire at the time. Shame as it’s a good story.

With the current levels of air pollution it’s not as easy as it used to be to view St Pauls, only ten miles away as the crow flies, but the overhanging trees are regularly cut back to preserve the view.

Richmond Park is three times the size of New York’s Central Park and certainly felt like it when I ran a circuit of the park three evenings a week after work. Those days are long gone!

I often came across David Bedford, holder of many British records and the World Record holder for 10,000 metres, on training runs and on one occasion I rashly attempted to keep pace with him. My arrival on his shoulder prompted the famous David Bedford ‘kick’ and that surge of acceleration left me floundering. I didn’t attempt it again.

That fitness regime was sport related. Many of my rugby team mates were Internationals with far greater natural talent than myself and maximising fitness became my means of compensation. I’ve never got near those fitness levels ever since.

This athletic superiority wasn’t much use on Sunday mornings when I played football for a local pub team, the Turk’s Head.

The pub, in Winchester Road, East Twickenham, was close toTwickenham Studios and there were photographs on the walls of Ringo Starr supping a pint after shooting a scene for a A Hard Day’s Night.

The area was often used for filming. One of the football team lived in a terraced house in Ailsa Road and all four Beatles were filmed simultaneously entering his house and those of three of his neighbours during Help! The four houses are then magically transformed into one enormous Beatle mansion, but the interior was actually a film set at Twickenham Film Studios.

Our pub football team played against some very odd opponents, such as ‘London Prima Donnas,’ a group of Italian waiters from all over London who made life very difficult for referees with their histrionics and an absolute (misguided) conviction they were good enough to play for Juventus or Inter Milan.

Our own team was very much a ‘pub team,’ being a mixture of mainly lapsed athletes and those with no athletic pretensions whatsoever. Only myself and our right winger had ever played any ‘serious’ football, but on rare occasions the father of one of our players put on his boots if we were short handed. He’d once been a sprightly winger for Everton, but that had been 30 years and thousands of pints of Guinness ago. Even so, playing ‘up front’ he conned numerous referees into awarding us penalty kicks. ‘Street wise’ footballers don’t need to run around very much.

We did have a celebrity following. Eric Sykes, Jimmy Edwards and a man I’d barely heard of, but found hilarious, Cardew (the cad) Robinson were keen supporters. Bill Oddie often frequented a rival local pub but was obviously far too busy to wander down to the Old Deer Park on a Sunday morning.

The folk singer Jake Thackray, who seemed to be ‘on the telly’ as he called it in his broad Yorkshire accent, every week at the time, played in goal for us when not off on tour. Not the best goalie I ever played with, by some distance, but at least he was always keen to play.

One of our players lived on a houseboat. If he’d enjoyed his Saturday night out a bit too much I had to go and try to get him out of bed and find his boots for him. This involved climbing across the decks of other craft to reach his unofficial (free) mooring.

One of the boats belonged to (Sir) Richard Branson, then a relative unknown. I don’t remember a bearded figure appearing on deck to complain about me disturbing his Sunday lie-in, but there were plenty of others who did.

Hippie communes have been an attraction throughout our travels. We would have been almost definitely classed as hippies by anyone who met us in the late 60s. Since then the hair styles have changed and we settled long ago for going out to work for a living, but when we set off in the first of our camper vans many years later it was as free spirits once more, living off our wits and seeking the freedom of the open road.

We’ve visited many hippie settlements, both official and transient communes, throughout the world. Christiania, or Freeland, in Copenhagen is a Danish institution. A massive site occupied by about 1,000 residents we wandered around for hours. It’s been in existence since 1971 and despite several attempts to ‘clean up Copenhagen’ it’s still there. Cannabis is on open sale along with some of the best designed tee shirts I’ve ever seen, but it’s recently reinvented itself behind the Ecology Movement.

In the USA we met hippies virtually everywhere, from San Francisco to Beatty at the edge of Death Valley and on to Bisbee near the Mexican border, it wasn’t hard to find people living ‘off the grid’ from choice.

I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about our frequent visits to Orgiva, especially the long established and incredibly well administered commune of Beneficio, but we were also charmed by the rural simplicity of life in the caves around Sacromente in Granada.

In Australia, small settlements like Byron Bay and Nimbin remain long in our memory and so many areas of Morocco are strongholds of an alternative lifestyle. We associate much of our time spent in Essaouira and Chefchaouen with the people we met there living outside society’s norms.

Turning up in London in 1969 we found many ‘hippies,’ many just espousing the fashions and hair styles of the day rather than the creed of ‘peace and love’ and by the time we got to Richmond an ‘interest’ became intertwined with my new job.

I became a frequent visitor to Eel Pie Island, an inhabited island in the middle of the Thames on the outskirts of Twickenham. Opposite the island was a pub on the embankment with a big beer garden which I think was then called the Queens Head, later to be renamed the Barmy Arms.

At that time the island was home to fifty or so houses, mostly no more than shacks and a couple of boatyards, as well as some small businesses and artists' studios. It had nature reserves at either end, both with no access for the public.

There was also a hotel, the legendary 19th century Eel Pie Island Hotel which had eased away from genteel respectability as it became more and more decrepit, became a major jazz and blues venue in the 1950s and a rock venue in the 1960s when it played host to some of the most influential British musicians of that period including The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, The Yardbirds and Rod Stuart.

When I first saw the hotel it was unrecognisable from its rather swish heyday, was virtually derelict and had become the UK's largest hippie commune. In 1969 the abandoned hotel was occupied by a small group of self-styled ‘anarchists’ and idealists seeking to create a commune of politically conscious artists, but there were a few arrivals, many from overseas, whose interests lay in fermenting revolution.

This was an era of considerable social unrest with groups such as The Angry Brigade on the scene. The hotel eventually burnt down, in somewhat mysterious circumstances at which time there were well over 100 people living there.

It wasn’t just a haven for drop outs. The first ever Doctor Who, William Hartnell, lived on Eel Pie Island, as did Nigel Planer, best known for The Young Ones.

The only ‘celebrity resident’ I actually met was Trevor Bayliss, the inventor of the wind up radio amongst many other things who was moving into his house on the day I first came across him and remained there until he died almost fifty years later.

After the hotel burnt down a few of the residents became ‘squatters’ in a row of empty houses in Grosvenor Road, Twickenham. Occupation of unoccupied properties had been common in the area for a while, but the Grosvenor Road squat would gain national recognition as people flocked there from all parts.

Shortly after the first house was occupied, workmen arrived and proceeded to tear up floorboards from the remaining empty houses and board up the doors and windows. The floorboards were replaced gradually, as each new house became ‘squatted’.

The arrival of squatters spotlighted the problem of property developers allowing houses to become derelict. The press gave the squatters much publicity, especially when it became known that building firm Bovis were the owners of most of the properties in and around Grosvenor Road.

As with Eel Pie Island, Grosvenor Road was ‘on my patch’ and I visited on many occasions, often prompted by official concerns over ‘dangerous activism’ but these suspicions soon dissipated.

The squat was generally peaceful and appeared to tick over without anyone plotting to overthrow the established order! Yes, that really was a concern in some quarters at the time.

Each house was run differently, thus blowing the conspiracy of activists theory out of the water, sometimes I was asked to knock on the door, others had a complete ‘open door’ policy.

I may have mentioned my fondness for quirky graffiti elsewhere in this blog – yes, many times, yawn – but I first saw one of the most memorable in Grosvenor Road, ‘CATS LIKE PLAIN CRISPS.’ I’ve speculated on its hidden meanings for years. In vain. Soon after that first sighting a much larger version appeared on the roundabout as traffic entered Richmond, provoking local outrage and promoting a retired military man, I think a Brigadier, to write to The Times. After that the ‘cats’ graffiti turned up all over London.

I’ve seen ‘cats like plain crisps’ duvet covers, shopping bags and tea towels too, all fairly recently, so it’s not just me that’s had it imprinted in memory for fifty years.

Initially the squatters were mostly scruffy young men, almost all were well educated and from distinctly middle class backgrounds choosing to live an alternative lifestyle and resentful of any interference from ‘the State.’

I had long hair, a large moustache and in no way resembled an authority figure which made my job much easier. Official credentials were never required; basically having established these people weren’t plotting sedition I was on their side, especially when, within a few weeks, females, children, whole families arrived and mains services were connected for a loosely linked community of over one hundred.

When Bovis gave twenty of the empty properties to Quadrant, a large non-profit making housing association, to be used for housing homeless families, the perceived risk to the entire fabric of society disappeared and I was finally able to devote my work related attention to other matters.

We’ve lived in a (tiny part of) a mansion in central London, the Cotswolds where Daylesford Organics was our local ‘corner shop’ and several other decidedly ‘swish’ places in England, but for sheer style and glamour the ‘Richmond Years’ take the prize. Our next door neighbours had ‘his and her’ Rolls Royces and an E Type Jag for the weekend. I had an ancient Austin A35 van. That wealth chasm didn’t seem to matter much to either of us and we stayed in touch for many years.

Easily the scruffiest area of Copenhagen, but also one of the most fascinating

Eel Pie Island Hotel at its peak

It was rather less smart when I first saw it and inside it was much, much worse

Any Ideas?

You can still buy a duvet cover emblazoned with that enigmatic phrase

This wisdom of the street was far more common

An area of the fabulous Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park

The Viewpoint on King Henry's Mound

Only ten miles away as the crow flies but we found a clear view fairly elusive

There it is, but it's not in any of my photos! Nice attempt at preserving the view though.