Our journey today is not too long but challenging nonetheless. We leave number four at a sensible hour, heading in the direction of St Timothy’s Park. One of us is travelling by scuttlebug and it’s not me. Neither am I the one sporting a star-covered straw hat. Wharton Road, along which we’re travelling, is, according to the estate agents, situated in Bromley North Village. Despite the proliferation of friendly old-fashioned pubs and a large number of Victorian homes with tiny, but surprisingly energetic cottage gardens, it’s an optimistic nomenclature being, as it is, part of Greater London. I wonder where lesser London lays. Woking, perhaps? Anywhere in possession of trees within a short train journey? In Wharton Road, ninety-six of the 149 residences are terraced and half of them are owned by folk of the highest social grade which says something about what you can get for your money in the twenty-first century if you have to live within reach of the capital.
The weather, and we’re English so must mention meteorological conditions, is difficult. It’s thirty- something. We’ve lost count and inclination. For a start, we have to close every window, which is all of them, before we can leave in case of burglars. Anyone could prop a ladder against the front of the house says the daughter to the mother who leaves her back door open in Dorset. By mistake. It’s what you do when you get a bit old. I’ll just pop to Tesco. There might not be much left when I return. The wood on my garden gate has contracted so much that bits fall off when you try to shut it. It would be easy for someone to get in. Mind you, they’d have to be a bit desperate to rob my house. In Wharton Road, the majority of crimes, according to the census, are violent and/or sexual. What’s going on behind those wisteria and newly painted rose-covered entrances? Nothing on television tonight. And it’s so hot.
Those not leaving their terraced homes in Wharton Road today have their front and back doors wide open in the optimistic hope that a careless breeze might pass through. Folk are talking about the summer of ‘76. Last week, towards the end of the World Cup, everyone had gone back a decade: it’s coming home. He’s coming home. Here comes trouble. Those with me today weren’t even thought about in those long-passed days. I may as well be speaking of the Battle of Hastings. She’s already told me I have the wrong sun cream – factor 50, baby version. Apparently, it doesn’t work. You have to have one with five stars. They count stars now, mum. It’ll be something else next week I say like an old person who’s, yet again, made an incorrect purchase. Yesterday, I was in trouble for fiddling with my bag at Charing Cross. Are you oblivious, she asked? To what, I replied? Mum, they’re evacuating the station. It could be terrorists. Oh.
I dawdle along the pavement, overcome by the heat which is sweating off my factor 50, only to turn and discover I’m being chased by Jack Nicholson on his baby tricycle. He’s not yet two but has the eyes of a demon this afternoon: GRANDMA! Help, I cry, sidestepping the inevitable. Monkeys, he shouts with glee. It’s bloody Bromley – there are no monkeys. But, it transpires, monkeys are present in Wharton Road. Who knew? The flocks of luminous green parakeets overhead are sufficiently surreal to draw my never-bored attention, but here are see-no, hear-no and – most importantly – speak-no primates outside the social housing block into which Jack Nicholson runs, joyfully abandoning his transport; stone monkeys ornamenting what’s left of a sun-dried garden. A tattooed female terrorist, not from social class AB, and thus minus a degree or professional qualification, emerges and does a passable impersonation of Catherine Tate: you’re not going to believe this, she says without invitation or contextualisation, but my daughter had a scuttlebug seven years ago. And? We don’t say. We smile innocuously. No, we’re not looking for trouble.
Jack Nicholson, having forgotten the scuttlebug, is about to run across the road, just on the bend where the suburban cars scream round the corner. Hold grandma’s hand, I say, assuming the unidentifiable third person’s identity. Paaak, he shouts. Paaak. It’s mini-speak for park. I knew that. The scuttlebug is reclaimed but where is St Timothy’s that gives its name to the park and the mews? A place of prayer within spitting distance is St Johns. And what is a mews? Actually, it’s the site of a former row of stables that have been converted. When their house was built in 1869, much of the land adjoining Wharton Road on the side away from the town centre still comprised farms, parkland, private estates and suchlike so it’s perfectly reasonable to assume there were stables here in the distant past. Meanwhile, Timothy is the patron saint of stomach and intestinal disorders about which, as one who has been hospitalised twice with diverticular disease, have little positive to offer. Perhaps the person who built the new properties suffered too. No wonder it’s gone. The scuttlebug driver has little interest in the fact that Bromley North was bombed with a degree of efficiency during WW2. Who knows what the target was or why? It seems that the churches caught the flak: all that was left of the parish church after 16 April, 1941, was the tower but there are no records showing that Timothy’s ever existed.
In the paaak, some bigger boys, possibly around ten or eleven years old, are hanging around on their bikes; two on one side of the fence, one on the other. Very small boys are always interested in bigger boys, especially those with bigger bikes and the scuttlebug is once again temporarily abandoned whilst its straw-hatted driver makes a formal inspection of the bicycle on our side of the fence. I’m a little anxious: you never know how bigger boys will react, especially in front of their mates. This one is fine and smiles thinly. In any case, an ice-cream van arrives which is all that matters. The same one as we saw at Kelsey Park the other day. Is there only one ice-cream purveyor in Kent? Its alerting ring-tone is the introductory music from Match of the Day… da,da,da,da,da-da,da,dad-da… The cyclists rush home for money and our man who, to my knowledge, has already consumed two lollies this afternoon, heads for the slide.
When his desire for park-life has been sated, we head on back to number 4. Crossing the road is as equally dangerous as it was on the way: when you’re nearly two, everything has to be accomplished in a hurry which is not that different as when one is seventy-two or eighty-two when time is running out. Or thirty-two when there’s too much to fit into a single day in an orderly manner. Suddenly, one of the few advantages of being in one’s sixties becomes clear: work is behind you and old age has yet to be faced. It’s surely the only decade where you can go at your own pace. Tricky in Greater London where the world is in a rush and everyone thinks you’re pretty fit because you do a lot of walking, but, thankfully, not my world. Our boy has landed on the right side of Wharton Road and, full of excitable beans, escapes back into the social housing complex where he makes an investigatory foray into an uninviting alley. His mother rescues him from who-knows-what and we journey home.
But who is waiting there? Not daddy who’s still trapped in the melee of London town. Maybe the ghost of Arthur Webb who once resided in their house when it was his home. I am drawn to Arthur because he shares a surname with my mother’s adoptive parents. On closer examination, it transpires that an Arthur Webb who lived in these environs was sufficiently famous to be known as a bit of a techie in the 1920s. In particular, Arthur was the sidekick of William Willis who perfected the art of transferring photographic images onto glass. For this, he received a medal that was donated to Arthur and subsequently to the Webb family. I have no means of knowing whether it was the same Arthur who lived at number four but wouldn’t that be apposite given that the scuttlebug’s father is a tech journalist? Life is a circle but that’s too philosophical or flippant for our boy. He needs a bath and we need a glass of wine.