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A colonial boy steps into a London pea-souper

Memory Lane | June 2017


Memory lane by Oldie reader, Mark Milbank

Back in the 1950s when I was living in Kenya, my aged grandmother, who lived in London, offered to pay my airfare to England so that she could see something of her eldest grandson.  Aged then in my late teens, I accepted the invitation with alacrity as I had only ever visited London once as a small child.  Granny met me at the airport and took me in a taxi back to her flat in Egerton Gardens, off the Brompton Road in London.  A small cocktail party on the first evening was arranged to introduce the rather gauche, colonial youth to some ‘suitable’ girls and small glasses of dry martini and canapés  handed round somewhat to the disappointment of gauche, colonial youth , who would much have preferred a beer and some ‘biltong’. The followed evening a visit to the theatre was arranged to see the inimitable ‘My Fair Lady’.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show and emerged from the theatre holding granny by the elbow and was about to hail a taxi to take us back to her flat when I realised that I could barely see my hand in front of my face ! A pea soup style London smog had descended on the city and and no traffic was moving anywhere.  I was quite good at finding my way round the African bush but had absolutely NO idea where I was in London.  Granny was not much help either and contented herself by complaining about the lack of taxis. What to do? I asked granny if there was a tube station anywhere near and she said there was, but in which direction ?– she did not know. I asked the guy at the ticket counter of the theatre and he pointed vaguely to our right.  For the next forty minutes we crept slowly in that general direction by feeling our way along the shop windows and eventually did find a tube station but discovered to our horror that even the underground  tube trains were not running due to the smog. There was little we could do except sit down and hope the smog lifted – there was no other way of getting back to the flat. After about two hours the smog did lift a little and trains started to run again, but it was well after midnight before I escorted an exhausted grandmother back into her flat.

MARK MILBANK.


This story was from June 2017 issue. Subscribe Now