WITH THIS WING I THEE RED – THE WEDDING

Mallison Road
Battersea
January 1967

Knock, knock

Knock

There was Hopelyn standing on the door-step.

That wasn’t merely a surprise – it was a shock. I hadn’t seen her for two and a half years, except for the very few times we had glimpsed each other on or from our way to work. On Old Year’s Night I had seen in the New Year with Yvonne Frederick at The Lyceum ballroom. Joe Loss led the band with Ross McManus, father of the future star Elvis Costello, as the main vocalist. I had no idea then that before many hours were out I would be making the defining decision on my future.

Hopelyn had been visiting her friend Gloria nearby in Clapham to wish her a happy new year. Although she had learned through the grapevine that I was living in the neighbourhood, she had stuck faithfully to the promised plan to stay away from me until she was twenty-one. Gloria, who also knew that I was “around” in the area, suggested that it was a good time to activate the next stage, especially as she would be 21 in only a few months time.

 My feelings for Hopelyn hadn’t changed a bit. I was elated to see her, and to find out that the rumour of her impending marriage to somebody else had been unfounded. By abiding rigorously to our promise to stay apart for that time we may have given the impression that our ardour had cooled far from it. Far from it. Did we still want to get married, we asked each other. Yes, indeed. Now it was up to our parents to show whether they had been equally sincere.

My more recent friends thought that if I did marry soon it would have been to Rema. As late as 1988 her good friend, model Miranda Small, told me as much. That, however, was never an option. Rema was young and at the start of a career that required her full attention – without the burden of starting a family. I wanted to settle down with a wife, children and family. More than that, I had known for 5 years that my wife should be Hopelyn. Nothing that had happened had shaken that conviction. However, Hopelyn must have picked up on what was being said at that time. At our 40th wedding anniversary in 2007 she told her mother, who was then in her 80s, that she would leave me to Rema in her will. Alas, by that time Rema, herself, was destined to live only two more years. Nevertheless she did play an important part, for which we have always been grateful, in getting the life of Hopelyn and myself together off to a smooth start.

When Hopelyn left my lodgings that dark January evening we knew that the road ahead of us would be rocky. For a start, she had to break the news to her father.

Barely an hour later, Hopelyn was back on the door-step. As soon as he had learned of our decision Mr Mills threw her out of the house – with immediate effect. My landlady, Valerie, told me, too, that as my room was for only single occupation, not double, either Hopelyn had to go or we both would be shown the door. In view of the circumstances she let her stay for the one night. While I had a wee to find alternative accommodation, Hopelyn had to live in the morning. Fortunately my parents allowed her to stay with them for those seven days. Thus for our first week “together” we had to live apart. It proved to be much harder than we had expected to find suitable rooms.

 

218 Melfort Road
Thornton Heath, Surrey
January – June 1967

That was when Rema came to the rescue. She knew of a place to rent on Melfort Road in Thornton Heath. When we got there, however, it had been already taken. The hour was already late and the dark Saturday evening was cold. We faced a sad night on the streets. Fortunately a visitor to the house at which we had just called had heard that another room was available further along the same road. It was Number 218.  He was warned us that the landlord, Mr Lewin, a Jamaican who was known for reasons which I have been unable to find out as Ginger, had the reputation of having a short temper. We had no choice than to give the place, and the man, a try.

Ginger eyed us with perplexed amusement. We must have looked like a pair of waifs. He had a ground floor to rent, not a room. The rent was £3 weekly for the sitting-room and £2 for the bedroom. The use of the bathroom and kitchen was shared with other tenants. The Lewin family lived upstairs.

Then Rema said good-bye. Ginger closed the door. We were alone. The scale of our predicament hit home. As we hadn’t eaten all day, and the shops would be closed the next, we had to go out and buy some food. But to buy what? In the years apart we had forgotten each other’s taste. Luckily is particularly fussy, and the little change we had on us did allow scope for too much choice. We found a shop still open at that hour in a side-street by the clock-tower. Along with the food we bought a cheap, uninsulated kettle which became unbearable to hold when it was heated.

The prospect before us was daunting. While we were still getting to know each other’s ways, there was a wedding to plan. Hopelyn’s father had shown that nothing could be taken for granted. There would be some tough calls to make. From the rough budget we could see that there wasn’t nearly enough in the kitty to stage any sort of wedding. Correction – there was nothing at all in the kitty. Both of us would have to boost my meagre income and Hopelyn’s wages as a typist. But how? The most basic outlay had to be pruned further still. It wasn’t so much cutting our cloth to suit the purse as cutting just as much cloth as would make a suit for the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale – which, you may remember, didn’t exist.

We had one stroke of very good luck. The Lewin family could not have been better landlords. Yes, Ginger did lose his temper occasionally, but never with us. He told us he became irate only with those who, because of his limited education, tried to confuse or cheat him (understandably so). Ginger struck an immediate rapport with Hopelyn. We lived there happily for two and a half years and left only needed more space and a garden when our elder child was born.

At a party a few years after we had left, a complete stranger, a Jamaican, who had overheard me telling friends about this stage in our lives, cut into our conversation by saying:

“You must be Mr Goodwin. My friend Mr Lewin told me that you and your wife were the best tenants he ever had”.

That must have been because we had such a good landlord.

We got on well with the other residents of Melfort Road, albeit that some regarded as us a curiosity. One old white man, who stood by the bus-stop mid-way along the road, used to fix his eyes on us we appeared on our way to the train station going to work, continued to look at us as we passed him, and turned round to keep us in his vision as we disappeared out of sight. It was a long road and he didn’t blink for a moment.

The awkward incidents were few. A black bus-conductress told Hopelyn were – among other epithets – “slimy”. When we went to the cinema together that same evening, the same conductress was on the bus. She said nothing to us, but I hope that she had the good grace to blush with embarrassment.

Drilodge, Honeysuckle House
Old School House
Longfield
January – June 1966

 My family were magnificent in their support. After an anxious evening, in which they said nothing one way or the other, my parents threw themselves whole-heartedly into planning the wedding. I suspect, too, that my mother was relieved that I was about to settle down and she preferred that I should do so with Hopelyn rather than one of the other more bizarre young ladies I had brought to their home from time to time.

We called on my grandparents, Harry and Lillian Pennicott, on the Saturday afternoon knowing that other members of the family would be there then too. Gran offered to show Hopelyn the family photographs. That was the sign that she had been accepted into the family and that her picture would be there soon. Gran also suggested that my cousins, Mary and Judith, should be bridesmaids. That seemed to be jumping the gun a bit as we hadn’t got that far with the planning – though we were in full agreement with her choice. Even so it showed the strength of Gran’s support.

My other grandmother, Margaret, we feared, could present more of a problem. She was so nervous of black people that she crossed the street rather than pass one on the same pavement. Nevertheless, for my sake, she agreed to meet Hopelyn. It went so well that they became very fond of each other. And why not? In character they had much in common.

There was one disappointment for me in relation to the wedding. My brother had been on school exchange visits with brothers Guenter and Herbert Boll for Loerrach in the Black Forest, and they had invited me also to spend time with their family in the summer of 1967. It was an exciting prospect as I had not been abroad. Now that had to be cancelled. With heavy heart I wrote to them that I couldn’t accept as the invitation had been for one person, and now we were two. Also, I added tentatively – how would their parents feel about my wife being black?

Herbert’s two-page reply came by return of post. On the first page e wrote in large letters, and in German, “We have no racial prejudice in our house!” On the second he explained that two people who were married would occupy no more space than one, and he did not expect that one extra mouth would eat them out of house and home.  Had we thought, Herbert asked, of making the first our honeymoon.  A honeymoon!  We hadn’t had time to think of having a honeymoon. How wonderful! It is a pity that the scope of this story doesn’t allow me to describe the honeymoon and our continued relationship with the Boll family, which through our respective children and grand-children, lasts down to the present day.

St Mary Magdalene’s church
Longfield
January to June 1966

Rev’d Reginald Dunkley was rector of St Mary Magdalene’s church where I had been baptised and my parents were married. He found a convenient date for the wedding on Saturday 3rd June, a fortnight after Hopelyn had attained her 21st birthday. All began to slip into shape. The big question was the attitude of Hopelyn’s father? Would he relent and come after all? Would be turn up all the same and wreck the celebration? Would he ban his immediate family from attending? Hopelyn had access to her mother, and her younger brother and sister, by visiting them on Friday evenings when the father was out drinking with his colleagues.

He remained steadfast in his opposition to boycott the wedding and ensured that his wife and younger children did the same. Hopelyn’s grandmother, Vi, with whom she had grown up in Jamaica, and her elder brother, Cedric, did not live under their father’s roof and, therefore, we free to make up their own minds. They supported us. Mr Mills’ opposition even helped our cause by adding a Romeo and Juliet touch to our relationship. Several people who we had expected to be lukewarm towards us were so keen to show their disagreement with his attitude that they helped to buoy up the optimism.

The practical problems were minor. The most pressing was to get a wedding dress for Hopelyn, who is quite short – she is under 5ft tall. She found one that had been returned to the shop from a wedding which had been cancelled. It fitted as if it had been made especially for her.

For one day I paused in the preparations for the wedding – more than paused, I stopped – to attend the memorial service to Sir Frank Worrell at Westminster Abbey in April. He had died from leukaemia, aged only 42 years, the previous month. It was the first time a sportsman had been so honoured. Appropriately the Abbey was packed to capacity, and beyond, with the great names from cricket, and the world at large, and by hundreds of ordinary members of the public who had been touched by the great man’s humanity as well as by the skill and artistry of his play. Worrell’s place in cricket is unique.

The weather posed as big a threat to the wedding as did my future father-in-law. The rain fell in buckets throughout the two months leading up to the big day. The appeal of holding the reception in my parents’ garden began to lose its appeal. Although the garden was quite large, the house was not big enough for all the guests who would be forced indoors if it rained.

Mr and Mrs Stevens, owners of the large Old Rectory across the road, offered us the use of their lawn to erect a marquee if the circumstances required. That could have been a problem for my father. As the local election candidate for the Labour Party, and an outspoken socialist as well as a church-warden, he would not have wanted to be seen as being beholden to Philip Stevens, who was chairman of the Conservative Association.

But Dad had another concern as well. His consent to the reception being held at his home was conditional on there being no music. Why? I am not sure. Maybe it was out of consideration for the neighbours. Perhaps he was afraid that they would be swamped by over-loud Jamaican rhythms, even if it was before the days of sound-system speakers and ghetto-blasters! If we had sunshine, everything would be fine. The guests could walk around the garden freely, talk among themselves, and find their own amusement. If it rained they would be penned indoors with a hundred or so more guests with whom they had little in common.

Saturday 3rd June 1967

Nobody needed to have worried. The sun broke through fiercely on the day before. By Saturday, there was a heat-wave. The activities started early in the day with neighbours from the village dropping by to extend their good wishes. My mother and her sisters – aunties May, Gwynne and Pat – stood on the garden lawn in almost a chorus line shaking the water from the parsley, cress and lettuce. They joked that they had invited a new country dance of “shaking the parsley”.

Uncle Charlie made sure that the tea urn was working properly. Uncle Freddie agreed to give a speech. My parents and brother Richard, the best man, were everywhere helping as they could. It came together splendidly. No couple could have been given a better start into their married life. The weather was so hot that before the service began in early afternoon, guests stood around in church in their shirt-sleeves.

There was one hiccough. Hopelyn, who had spent most of the morning at the hairdresser’s, hadn’t arrived at the church by the time the service was due to start. Where was she?  Had she had second thoughts after all? I knew all about a woman’s prerogative and about the Jamaican reputation for poor time-keeping. All the same, it was worrying. Meanwhile Hopelyn was still waiting at the house for brother Cedric who was meant to be travelling with her in the official car to the church where he was expected to give her away – but he hadn’t arrived.

“I’m sorry, I can’t wait any longer” Mr Dunkley said. “We have another wedding straight after yours. We must start now”.

Who could we find to give Hopelyn away? I looked at the congregation. They were generally my friends or family. Then my eye fell on colleague Robert Duthie, prominently resplendent in his kilt of the Gordon clan. Would be oblige by standing in until Cedric got there?

“Happy to do so” he replied.

Somebody managed to get the message to Hopelyn in time to save the service. She arrived with her bridesmaids and entered the church on Robert’s arm.  As I have said many times afterwards: “You can’t tell me a Scotsman never gives anything away. A Scot gave my wife away”.

The organist started to play the first hymn which, according to memory, was either Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken or Praise The Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him. Either way they share the same tune as something else – as we shall see. Because Hopelyn had applied for British nationality on her marriage, the Home Office insisted that her new passport would be sent direct to the rector. Until we got to the service we couldn’t be sure that it would be there.  If it was not there, we would not have been able to go on honeymoon.

As our honeymoon was due to be in Germany, we quipped that we would let people know that the passport had come through by having Deutschland Ueber Alles played. After that we thought no more of it. Friends Bob and Paddy Baker, who came over that morning from Belgium where they were working for Reuters, arrived at the church-gate just as the service was starting. As they hurried along the path they heard the organ sound forth a tune which sounded very much like the German national anthem.

“They’ve only gone and done it” they said before we were singing a hymn to that same tune.

As Hopelyn came to my side I was surprised at how beautiful she looked. To my eyes she has always been beautiful, but the hairstylist and beautician had really lived up to the honour of their profession. Mr Dunkley spoke about our family’s long association with the church and about the time he had first welcomed Hopelyn into the congregation. From the corner of my eye I could see my father’s work-mate, George Preston, sitting in the pulpit recording the service on tape. Perhaps the distraction of my attention caused me to fluff my lines, promising:

“With this wing I thee red”.

Then we knelt on the same chancel steps as my parents had done 26 years earlier.

When she came out of the vestry from signing the register, Hopelyn saw that Cedric was there with her grandmother and some of her family’s friends after all. Unused to the side roads of the Kentish countryside they had taken a wrong turning and got themselves lost. We stepped out into the sunshine to face the flashing cameras, thinking aloud:

“This is the moment we shall remember for the rest of our lives”.

And, of course, we have.

The people of the village had hoped to catch a glimpse of Tony Mossop, whom they knew had been invited. They would have to wait a bit longer. He had misunderstood the direction to “change trains” at Swanley as being he should “change from the train” at Swanley. As a result Tony and his wife spent much of the afternoon on a country bus winding its local circuitous route around the villages. Fortunately he brought with him some promotional copies of his latest recording Mama come on home to give to our friends. He was very popular and became the centre of attraction – even though he there as guest and was not singing.

Start at Village Wedding – was the headline in the local newspaper. It was illustrated by a photograph of Mossop, with bride and groom, and the report referred to his presence as well as that of model Rema Nelson and of Ruby Mason (known also as Ruby James) who was in the early stage of her own successful singing career. After a comparatively long-time learning the profession, Ruby had success as a member of the vocal trio Ritz on the Cannon and Ball television show. She followed that with high profile television appearances, tours with internationally-known performers, and success in the Orient and Antipodes.

Uncle Charlie was so engrossed in sharing a drink and a chat under the apple tree with Albert Blackwell, the church’s senior chorister (whose hymn-book I used to hold while he carried the cross), that they almost missed the service. My grandfather was pleased he had spent a long-time talking with a lady who “was a nurse”. She was a friend of Hopelyn’s family, and her husband had made a final appeal that morning to get her father to change his mind and come to the wedding. He was unsuccessful but he did get him to stump up £25 to pay for the photographs.

It was as well that the shutters of the photographers’ cameras closed out the shadow of the future. George Francis, who took the shots for the family, was a personal friend whom we used to visit quite regularly. He lived with his wife Tina (Velvetina), sons Tony and Jerry, and daughters Georgina and Fernanda, on Devonshire Road, Forest Hill, and he worked for British Rail at Lewisham station while trying to build up his photography business. He is also the same George Francis who became chairman of the New Cross Fire Parents Committee. Jerry was the disc-jockey at that party in January 1981 which ended tragically when he and over a dozen other young people lost their lives.

Errol Neckles and his journalist wife Carmen, from Croydon, handled the pictures and reports for the West Indian press. In the early-1980s Neck, as he was known, had a post in the radical administration of Maurice Bishop in Grenada. He was out of the country, in a hospital in Moscow, when that government was overthrown. Otherwise he may well have shared the fate of his assassinated leader.

Whenever he called on us Neck didn’t hang around. He had a purposeful approach. Neck starting talking as he came through the door-way, continued speaking while pacing to the kitchen, turned, back again, and was finishing what he had to say as he went out. The Six Day War between Israel and the Arabs broke out over the weekend of our wedding. Neck was the only person I can recall speaking up for the Arabs. He found himself in more numerous company as time went by.

The afternoon passed well without either argument or music. I would love to be able to mention who was there, giving us their support, but as this story is specifically about my time with the West Indian press I must move. Hopelyn’s grandmother chided us for not having a group photograph taken. She was right. A lot of future frustration would have been avoided if we had heeded her advice.

 

Victoria station
Saturday 3rd June 1967

Too soon we had to leave Longfield to take the train to London Victoria for the boat-train to our honeymoon. The London-bound guests came too, smothering us in confetti in the privacy of the carriage. When we walked into the station cafeteria there could have been no doubt as to what we were celebrating. Yet the youths sitting around inside broke out into a chorus or two of Happy birthday to you.

Then we were off into the summer twilight, the rest of our lives together, and, more immediately, ten days free from all our cares.

   
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