Watford

Well, here we are, living in a flat in Watford. Never been to Watford until we checked out the flat and we knew nothing about the area whatsoever. The flat was a bit – well – it needed quite a bit of work. We found insects crawling around the kitchen sink and all the rooms needed some redecoration. So, the first thing that we did was – get two cats! Well, this is obviously a first step in married life. One was a kitten and the other was a grown cat with problems.

Given my interest in American railways, the obvious choice of name for the kitten was Tweetsie. Tweetsie is the pet name for the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. This was a narrow gauge railroad and one of my favourite topics in Lucius Beebe‘s book Mixed Train Daily. The other cat, a solid black coated one, Valerie decided to call after the only cat she had had before – Tinker. Tinker had a terrible case of nervousness which we never really got out of her.

On the first Saturday of us returning from our honeymoon, we went shopping in the town. As our flat was over the bank branch, we were right in the middle of town anyway so it was no great journey. I have tried to look it up on the map but Watford has changed so much in the intervening years that the old centre of town seems to be unrecognisable. Wandering round the corner, we saw that there was a large department store named Trewins. This turned out to be a branch of John Lewis and caused us to take a step that stayed with us until very recently. We opened an account with them. We recently closed the account because they were discontinuing it. The account we had was a John Lewis only account which limited our purchases but the new John Lewis card is a Visa so it can be used like any other credit card. We wanted to get rid of all our credit cards when I retired so, sadly, we closed the account after 45 years!

The flat had two bedrooms so the second one promptly got a model railway installed although this wasn’t very successful. I brought the basic part of the railway with me – Roger and I had built the baseboard in his back garden when we knew we had some decent space. However, I didn’t really have any spare money at that time so it did what a few of my railways have done. It languished and the room turned into a dump room. By the time we moved out it was even difficult to open the door, so bad was the stuff piled in there. We decided that we had to completely refurbish the kitchen so, with the help of my best man Roger, we stripped all the paint off the built in dresser and ripped out all the plasterwork around the sink. One of our wedding presents was a refrigerator which we installed too soon as we managed to drop some paint stripper down the front of it. From then on the fridge had some very nice stick-on flowers decorating it. Valerie was sure that it looked better for this enhancement. We made quite a good job of the kitchen. We also redecorated the living room using, what became, Valerie’s regular wallpaper as it seem to follow us around!

We had bought ourselves a bed and a mattress and my Mum and Dad gave us a new table, two chairs and a bench as a wedding present. To show how trendy we were, these all came from Habitat in the Fulham Road – a shop only opened by Terence Conran in 1964, since when we had been regular browsers. It also introduced us to paper lampshades, which I think will always be associated with us as they also followed us from house to house. Valerie’s mother and father gave us the fridge. My brother gave us his old bed settee, which was a bit battered but did for us and enabled Roger and Valerie’s sister Marian to stay over sometimes (not together of course 🙂

It wasn’t a bad place to live but it was 32 miles to Romford for Valerie’s parents and 25 miles to Streatham for mine. As we didn’t have a car, this made visiting fairly expensive. At the time, we were  extremely stretched for money as we had taken out a little bit of finance for the bed plus we had my train ticket to the City and Valerie’s to Wembley, where she now worked. I can’t remember the journey to Streatham particularly because, I would think, that it was my normal journey to work and then my old journey home. However, getting to Valerie’s parents was a problem. There was no direct train route and we would have had to travel up to Euston, across London to Liverpool Street and then out to Romford. Not an easy, or cheap, journey. What we did find out was that there was a Green Line bus route that went directly.

This was quite a long drive but it was cheap and just involved sitting on one bus.

Although my trip to work was different – I had to walk to Watford Junction station, take a train to Euston and then take the Northern Line Underground to the Bank station – Valerie’s was all new. Her job had moved to the Wembley branch of the bank and that was completely new. I don’t even think that she had had an interview. Moving branches wasn’t like that. You just got allocated to a new one and off you went to find out what you found out! The work would have been familiar as she had worked at the bank’s Oxford Street and Regent Street branches in the West end for the latter part of her time before she was married. Her job was to enter cheques, credits, etc. into the bank’s accounting machines. Mind you, I think that her biggest attribute was to push the work through to get out quickly. In those days a bank branch’s hours were 10am to 3pm and as soon as the day’s work was cleared everyone went home. Oh, was she good at that! She doesn’t remember much about the work there (she doesn’t remember much about anything in the past so it is no good asking her) but one of the other members of staff was a boy called Dave Foreman. I mention him because he turned up many years latter as a dealer at National & Grindlays bank – which eventually became part of the Australia and New Zealand Bank.

What do I remember most about living in Watford? Hearing the Salvation Army play on a Sunday underneath our living room window; watching Doris Day in Midnight Lace on the TV and seeing a news flash of Harold Wilson announcing the 1967 devaluation of the pound, of which more later; going to an evening party in the City, getting on the stopping trains that finished at Watford, rather than the fast which went to Bletchley and then sleeping on for 30 minutes at Watford Junction station ever grateful that I did get the stopper; Valerie pouring boiling water all over her hand when straining the potatoes and spending Christmas Eve at the hospital rather than travelling to her mothers. That doesn’t seem much for our first year together but actually, we slipped into married life very easily. We were very hard up at the end of every month and the one big memory is of us during that first winter playing cards (rummy is the only game that Valerie has ever mastered) at the kitchen table keeping warm by opening the door of the gas oven and lighting it after a meal of bread and jam. I think that it was this that prompted me eventually to look at my position in the bank. Firstly, I went looking for a better paid job – I know that I had an interview at Burroughs in Dunstable regarding becoming an accounting machine rep but it was obvious that that wouldn’t suit my style. Eventually, I left the bank and went out into the big wide world of international banking to make my fortune.

We stayed at Watford for just 14 months. It was tied to the job and when I decided to leave the bank and take that important first step into the dark, we lost the flat and had to find another place to live…

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