DIARY 31 January 1968. Goodbye, Dad

Dad died today

I took the phone call in Mrs Haggar’s front room at my digs in Acton. Dad had been ill for years and suffered a heart attack just before Christmas. He was at home and suffered another a few weeks later but he died when he was taken to Selly Oak Hospital by ambulance.

Dad’s death was half-expected but it was still a shock; I cried. I went to Birmingham immediately and he was cremated at Lodge Hill Cemetery a few days later. I was now the man of the house although how I was to fulfil that role from over 100 miles away was not explained.

In our largish, overcrowded, working class family we were not used to expressions of emotion. Dad epitomised this as the head of the family, the breadwinner; Mom was not expected to work but to ensure that we were brought up efficiently and obediently. Dad inspired respect rather than love; I could not admit how much I cried at my loss.

We had watched Dad suffer for several years. His arteries must have been clogged after years of smoking Woodbines and food fried in lard. He became short of breath and heaving crates of milk as a milkman became difficult. He took easier jobs, as a warehouseman in one of the new supermarkets and then worked in Lewis Woolf’s factory making rubber goods. These jobs did not last and, needing a sedentary occupation, he became a microscopist at Cadbury’s. It was his job to check the size of chocolate powder before it was used to make Dairy Milk.

He had shoulder pain which he treated with Elliman’s Universal Embrocation; sometimes I had to help with the application and I can still remember the smell. His medication involved doses of Warfarin, a blood thinning agent originally used as rat poison, which was remarked on with some humour.

We were expected to tone down our natural rebelliousness in case we upset our Dad and triggered a heart attack. This was difficult for us four teenagers who found it easier to avoid being at home. Even when he was ill we always deferred to him. There were tense times when sometimes we miscalculated.

Dad’s death was a loss but with growing up and trying to find our own place in the world, the family readjusted. My sisters were building their own families; I had left home. I was glad to relinquish being man of the house when I tried to admonish my younger brother for some misdemeanour and found myself looking up at a burly fifteen-year-old rugby player.

I wished I could stay with Mom but I had to go back to London. If she said anything or showed emotion I was not there to witness it. Her life’s work, looking after Dad and us, was coming to an end. I did notice a void, sad-eyed expression but with her burdens lifted she began to relax.

Back in London I felt that emptiness which comes when one of the greatest influences on your life suddenly ends. It does not matter if that influence was benign or the opposite; I was adrift. I slowly realised that I was now my own person; I just didn’t yet know what that might mean.

I share the same regret we all do that I never talked to our Dad. I did not know what he did in the war although he was a soldier for its whole six years; I did not know how he felt about it. I did some research at the National Archives in Kew, the Army Museum in Chelsea and the Regimental Museum in York but it was all about his regiment and did not mention subaltern Corporal Perry.

Dad was a stamp collector; I inherited his collection of tens of thousands of stamps. I could not maintain it so I decided to concentrate on an appropriate smaller collection: the stamps of George VI. Because he was the head of the British Empire, this means a collection of stamps from some 70 countries from Aden to Zanzibar.

I sold the other stamps and tried to fill the gaps in the collection. I am still adding to it but this remains a memorial to Dad and a family heirloom.

 Biography. Harold and Ethel Perry          1936 Soldier / 1940 Wedding day / 1967 Grandchildren

Harold Ernest Perry
1912 – 1968

 

DIARY 22 January 1968 Scientific method

Scientific method

Chemical_research_at_Chelsea_Polytechnic_(1950_s)

Chelsea College in the early 1960s.

At Chelsea College I became a scientist, white coat and all. Doing experiments rather than watching them as we had done in school. As pharmacists we had to know a lot – botany, anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, neuroscience. Even physics; the science behind making a medicinal tablet is astonishing. Just imagine; each tablet has to have an exact measured dose, bulked up with an inert substance, compressed so that it remains firm, and uncontaminated. All that for an aspirin.

It was odd therefore that one of our first practical sessions was to learn how to make pills in the nineteenth-century manner. A pointless exercise, even for historical reasons. The main requirement for success was sweaty palms. Thank goodness for tablet manufacture.

Dope under the scope 2

Dope under the ‘scope.

Botany meant studying plants under a microscope, not just to identify them but to assess their medicinal worth. Perhaps it was a sign of the times but the sample I had to investigate was marijuana. A very small sample it was; you don’t need much for a microscope slide.

Muscular system

Studying anatomy made me feel like a doctor although learning lists of bones, muscles and so on was never my forte. I did at least learn how all my internal organs fitted together. And I could dream of wierd voyages amongst the Islets of Langerhans, through the Sphincter of Pylorus to the lacunae of Morgagni, passing the Zonule of Zinn.

I found biochemistry fascinating. My pin-up poster was of the Krebs Cycle[1] with its circular process of chemical changes showing how all organisms release stored energy through oxidation of chemicals derived from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. And all done within each cell of the body.

Pharmacology, the study of how substances act on cells, organs or the whole organism, was central to my studies. Such experiments could not always be done in a test tube. Sometimes we had to use living creatures (go to the next paragraphs if you might find the details upsetting). To demonstrate how drugs can act on the body, we would be given live frogs prepared by a technician who had a special skill in scrambling their brains by inserting a needle in the back of their heads. The live but brain-dead creature would then be given shots of nicotine to stimulate its muscles; the poor thing could be made to jump at will.

Chemist

Titration in action.

As it turned out I had a special skill in quantitative analysis in chemistry. The equipment was relatively simple – burettes, pipettes, conical flasks, very accurate chemical balances. But it needed a steady hand and accurate observation and recording. I could work out the composition of a chemical solution using titration or distillation. Fifty years later I would have no idea what that means. My supervisor suggested that, even in my first year, I should consider doing research or even a PhD.

But I had other diversions.

 

[1] Krebs won a Nobel prize for it.

DIARY 2 November 1967 King’s Road Chelsea part 1

Swinging down King’s Road Chelsea part 1

If you are new to London, don’t bother with an expensive sightseeing tour bus unless you like an open top in the rain and commentary in 12 languages. Just take the number 11 bus. I would get on it near Manresa Road on King’s Road and it would take me eastwards towards Victoria and thence to the City. It would pass Sloane Square, Victoria, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Strand, Fleet Street and the Bank. Get off anywhere and within a short walk you will find most of London’s worthwhile sights.

Although I would arrive at South Kensington station in the morning and walk to college, the most useful bus was the number 11. It would take me to cinemas, clubs, demonstrations, galleries; or I could simply stay on until the terminus at Liverpool Street and take in the sights.

That is, if I wanted to escape from King’s Road. In 1967 it was the epitome of swinging London with new boutiques pioneered by Mary Quant and others, bars and clubs frequented by pop stars, lurid colour schemes applied to both buildings and vehicles, and bright young things in their mini-skirts and paisley shirts.

Collage Kings Road

Of course, I quite liked it. The vibrancy, the music that blared from shops, cars treated as art objects with two fingers in the face of stuffy 1950s London. Here I was in a place that seemed unique and promised to be the centre of a new expanding universe providing what some of us young people wanted.

It might have looked wildly chaotic to the staid observer but it was really not much more than a fashion statement, however revolutionary the mini-skirt and psychedelic colours appeared. The celebrities were pop stars or the entrepreneurs themselves such as Mary Quant and Alvaro Maccioni the restaurant owner.

There were some attempts to show that this was a dangerous place; but King’s Road was no Haight-Ashbury with its free love and drug-taking. I recall a popular sensationalist magazine called Titbits which asked the question ‘Are our girls in danger in swinging Chelsea?’. This headline was above a picture of a group of young women walking down King’s Road arm-in-arm. They need not have worried. These women were all known to me as fellow students and with their knee-length tweed skirts and sensible shoes they were completely incorruptible. King’s Road, with its new shops and restaurants patronised by some of the better-off was something of a breath of fresh air in a London still showing the scars of the Blitz, dirty buildings and grey streets. I had to go to Soho or Covent Garden (still a vegetable market) or the East End to find the darker places where there might be danger.

Collage My places

Not that I could actually go to many places in King’s Road. As a penniless student I could not afford the entry fee or the price of drinks and I knew no-one who could introduce me. Fortunately, there was a new concrete shopping centre called King’s Walk with a Boots and a supermarket where I could buy my essentials. The places I could afford were the Picasso Café where I ate my first proper spaghetti and the Six Bells which served ghastly Watney’s keg beer; I was forced to drink bottled brown ale. I chose this pub because Dylan Thomas had been a regular and they had jazz upstairs on Fridays; this was old bohemian Chelsea. I could buy a meal at The Chelsea Kitchen or The Stockpot. It was free to go into Gandalf’s Garden where you could lounge on large cushions and drink herbal tea. Late at night you could have tea and a sausage sandwich at a stall in Sloane Square; this is where I witnessed the cliched conjunction of a man in evening dress, a drunk, and a ragged homeless man all together at 2am one morning.

In the evening, I would meander back through the streets of South Kensington and take the Piccadilly Line back to Turnham Green and unremarkable Acton.

 

© Derek Perry 2017