Gibraltar was not of course the end of Pa’s story – not even the end of his book. He was taken by ship to Liverpool, and then by train to London, where he was interviewed by both Dutch and British authorities before being allowed to join the RAF. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit Liverpool, but we wanted to try to find some of the London locations he mentions, as we are in easy reach of the city.
But first we had other things to do! The day after we arrived back, we had to go over to Slough for a meeting with the owners of the other flats in our block to discuss buying the freehold and setting up a management company. During the following week we had several NHS appointments: flu jabs and dental checks for both of us, and an eye test for Ian. Most importantly, Sandie had a hospital appointment, a follow-up to the operation she had last year. There was a possibility of another operation, and radiotherapy, so we were delighted when she was given the all-clear.
We’ve been catching up with friends, and of course spending time with the family. On Tuesday 20th we saw Charlie invested in the Beavers.
Friday 23rd was Oscar’s 4th birthday, and as usual the celebrations extended over the weekend. After school on Friday Claire took him, Charlie and some friends to Jungle Mania (a soft-play centre which Oscar loves). Maggi came for the weekend, and on Saturday we went for a family dinner at Pizza Hut. On Sunday Andrew and Ellie came for a brief visit with Hope and Isobel. It was good to see them all again; there were more presents for Oscar, and lunch together in a local pub.
Last week was half-term, and Claire had a work trip to Dubai, so the boys stayed with us. We had a whole day free on Wednesday, and rain was forecast (although it did not actually happen!) so we decided to go to the Science Museum in South Kensington. The crowds were horrendous, as they always are during school holidays – but when else can you take children of school age? We were a bit disappointed, as they did not seem to have as many ‘hands-on’ exhibits as we remembered from our previous visits, many years ago.
When we’d finished at the Science Museum Charlie was keen to go to the Natural History Museum next door. By then the crowds were thinning, but we still had to queue for half an hour to see the dinosaurs. After that we went to Oxford Street to see the Selfridges Christmas windows. We arrived home exhausted!
A full day in London
On Saturday 31st we made another trip to London, just the two of us this time, with the intention of finding places mentioned in Pa’s book. We made an early start, which was just as well as it was a very full day. Ian had done some research and identified eight possible places to look at. As in Madrid, we did not attempt to do them in chronological order – this would have meant going round in circles. We covered them in the most efficient way, but even so, we made good use of our travel cards and did a lot of walking.
After being accepted in the RAF, Pa had to report to the No 1 Air Crew Reception Centre. He says this was in St John’s Wood, but gives no address. Looking it up, Ian discovered that it was actually at Lord’s Cricket Ground, which the RAF took over during the war! Lord’s is not too far from Marylebone, where the Wycombe trains arrive, so that was our first stop.
We then caught a bus which was supposed to go to Piccadilly Circus, but in fact terminated in Oxford Street. We discovered why when we walked the rest of the way. Regent Street was closed to traffic because of the annual Motor Show. We are not particularly interested in modern cars, but the vintage cars (with owners appropriately dressed) were worth a few photo stops.
As usual on our London days, we bought cheap theatre tickets and had coffee in Leicester Square, then went to Stanfords travel bookshop in Long Acre. After that we took the tube to Green Park, and got back to our research. In the course of a long walk, we saw Arlington House (where Pa met Prince Bernhard) and Charles Street, site of Netherlands House, although we were unable to identify the building. We had more luck in Bayswater Road, as there is a plaque marking the former Oranjehaven, a house provided by Queen Wilhemina for the use of Dutch escapers.
Our next destination was close to Kensington High Street, some distance away but a very pleasant walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, enjoying the sunshine and the autumn leaves. We found Zetland House, where Pa was billeted, and then went by tube to Victoria and walked to Easton Square, where the Dutch Security Service was located (although again, we could not identify the building).
The final two places on our list were some way from central London, so we went by train to Balham and found the school which was once the Battersea Grammar School, where Pa was held when he first arrived in London. Next we went to Clapham Junction, and from there we were able to find the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building (formerly a school) where he was interrogated by members of the Army Intelligence Corps. By the time we arrived it was 5pm, and growing dark. But there was just enough light left for photos, and the building seemed perfect for Hallowe’en!
With our research finished, we returned by bus and tube to the West End, and had just enough time to eat before going to the theatre. We saw the play Mr Foote’s Other Leg: unusual, brilliantly acted and with witty dialogue, though we would hesitate to call it ‘riotously funny’ as the reviews suggest.