“Derwent One Five Two O, East Horsely Two One Seven Eight, Gypsy Hill Double Two Double Seven, Popes Grove Seven Eight Eight Nine, Fairlands Seven O Five Seven.”
Had you said those words into the mouthpiece of an English telephone in the 1940s or ‘50s, you would have been calling my Aunt Dorrie and Uncle Bill, Uncle Reg and Auntie Nina, My Dad’s place of work, Uncle Eddie and Auntie Gladys and my cousins, Uncle Jack and Auntie Connie, i.e., my mum and dad. For some reason, I’ve remembered those numbers for all my remembering life. It’s the rhythm of saying the words, I think. Given all that, let’s go back to the aunts and uncles.
One hundred and thirty two Brockenhurst Avenue, Worcester Park, Surrey: That’s where my Auntie Dorrie, Uncle Bill Bolding and Cousin Clare lived. Derwent One Five Two O was their telephone number, and I can still hear in my mind Auntie Dorrie saying that in her clear, refined voice with the “o” pronounced “Oh.”
Going to Dorrie’s as a child was always a pleasurable experience. From North Cheam, we would board the one two seven bus – a peculiarity in London buses, being a special short double-decker to get under the railway bridge in Worcester Park. Getting off at the Plough, we’d cross the road, turn left (always taking a look at the green-weeded duck pond), cross over to walk down that odd pavement with trees and bushes growing in the middle, turn right, then left on Brockenhurst, where nearly at the end on the left-hand side was number 132.
On ringing the doorbell, we’d be warmly greeted by Auntie Dorrie and enter that fascinating house. The kitchen was small and smelled of things to come for tea. In the living room there was the pile of Picture Post magazines, with their intriguing pictures of wars and peoples’ tragedies and triumphs. Two tall exotic China dragon vases flanked the fireplace. A huge, empty-yetsealed bottle of Dom Perignon, perhaps a Jeroboam, was supposed to be the home of an imp, said A. Dorrie.
Upstairs in the bathroom hung a cartoon done by my dad when he was a young man. An urban child was smelling a flower in a pot. “Ain’t Nature Wonderful?” the caption said. There was the back garden with its flowers and grass where we would play after getting bored with the Picture Posts. When time for tea came, the table would be set with a variety of savories and cakes and biscuits. It always seemed a little more posh than the scramble of bread and butter and jam we had at fourteen Walton Avenue, North Cheam, Surrey.
I left England at age 17 and only saw Auntie Dorrie on my occasional visits to the Old Country. We kept in touch, however, by correspondence. I would send her letters recounting my adventures as an oceanographer around the world, and she would write about the family and England and the state of things. She kept my letters and post cards, and a few of years ago sent them all to me, for which I am grateful. As an adult, I considered calling her Aunt or Dorothy, but couldn’t do it. She will always be Auntie Dorrie to me. She was devastated when Uncle Bill died after 50-something years of marriage and talked about him whenever we met. Auntie Dorrie was surprisingly down to earth and frank about the state of life, I learned in my adult conversations with her, but remained old-worldly in that she did not embrace the computer age and decried the loss of civility in the modern world. She wrote her letters in a steady hand until our correspondence ceased when age compelled her to withdraw. She’s gone now, but her memory lives on in her grandchildren and the great-grandkids. In my memory, I hear her answering the telephone as clear as a bell – “Derwent One Five Two Oh!
* What to give you as a photo this week? I think Auntie Dorrie would have liked the symmetry of the picture that I call “Counterpoint.” (Northern flickers pose on a palm tree.)
* A great sea turtle rescue story is coming next week, and the ugly head of blow-gun darting of birds has reared again. Stay Tuned.
* Parts of the Auntie Dorrie Story were published in the South Jetty in December 2004.
Tony Amos is a research fellow at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas and director of the ARK – Animal Rehabilitation Keep.