Norman Plastow interview: Early years

Birth and background:

Norman Frederick Plastow born 27th March 1929. I'm just coming up for 83. I was born in my grandfather's house in Griffiths Road, South Wimbledon. No 48, known as Southey House on the corner of Southey Road. It's still there. My father was Frederick Stephen William, my mother's name was Helena Florence. I'm not quite sure where they came from. The house was bought by my grandfather. It was a large house so we were all made to fit in there. I know my mother was born in Dulwich. I'm not sure where my father was born. I had one brother, eight years older.

Did he always live in Wimbledon too?

Yes he did until the war years. He went into the RAF, then came back and lived in various places.

When did they move into what became your first home?

I think it was bought by my grandfather in about 1910. Then his son lived there and they stayed on there right through. My grandfather stayed there too. His wife, my grandmother died quite early in fact before I was born, in 1926. My grandfather lived on in several rooms and we had the rest of the house. General family house.

Family business:

My grandfather and his brother had some sort of wholesale business in the city. It was a draper's, dealing with fabric, and my father worked for them but he basically worked from home. He would be there in the mornings and go out in the afternoon. My grandfather would go up to town in the morning and spend the day in London. I'm not sure how it worked. I wasn't really interested. I don't know the name of the company although the name Cook's of St Pauls comes to mind but I'm not sure. I know they had a warehouse in the city. I remember going there as a very small child. It had a very dangerous system of lift - a Jacob's Ladder lift. It had a vertical conveyor belt with platforms which was continuously moving. You stepped on as it arrived at the floor and stepped off at the next floor. If you didn't, you went over the top. I must have been about five at the time.

My three schools:

Living at the corner of Griffiths Road and Southey Road, Pelham Road School had opened comparatively recently and my parents knew the headmaster, Mr Burton. He used to come and have lunch, we used to visit him and so on. So on the doorstep basically, not nursery but from five years old I was there.

My grandfather also knew Mr Collins of All Saints School which is not that far away but he was very much in favour of this. It was a church school and he was quite a religious person. In spite of going there I wasn't particularly religious. The vicar used to come every day and we used to go through the Bible. It's amazing how many difficult questions you can ask to embarrass the vicar. Not just Sodom and Gomorrah but other things as well. So we didn't take it that seriously and then I was very fortunate in getting a scholarship to King's.

I went there when I was 10 or 11. Junior school and then went on to senior school. It was just before the war. There was some confusion. When the war started, a lot of children had gone away so some schools were almost empty. So for a period of about six months there was an amalgamation of schools with all of the schools mixed together to make up the numbers from those who hadn't been evacuated. This was for about six months in 1939 before I went on to King's. I finished at King's around 1946, just after the war.

What do you recall most about your first and second schools?

Anecdotes. At my infants school I was quite bossy and did all sorts of things. I remember the family of a friend who was a chemist and I put together a first aid box. You'd see children falling over, grazing their knees and so on. I used to take it to school with sticking plasters and things. It was quite unnecessary but it gave me a feeling of power over five and six year olds. I didn't injure myself apart from the usual falls and grazes.

My second school was very traditional with desks ranged up in tiers - with inkwells, dunce's cap and those sort of things. And canes. If you had a detention it was done during the morning break. You didn't get the break but had to stand to attention in the hall. There was a very interesting case there full of all sorts of historical things that no-one ever referred to at all so you would stand there and study all these things. It was quite fun. No sort of punishment at all. If you were interested in museums it was great.

Life at King's College School:

At King's because I hadn't had the background that most children at King's then had - most had been to prep schools which really had prepared them for King's - so all sorts of things were completely new to me. Languages, jumping into Latin and French starting from absolute scratch. And also with sports. I never really enjoyed sports, mainly because no-one ever taught you anything about it. They assumed you knew what you were doing. So you weren't taught the rules of rugby or cricket. You were just out on the field and that was it. You performed. I wasn't very good. I think in all those years I scored just one try. And most of the time I'd be offside because everyone would be running down the field and I'd be near the back. Then the ball would be turned round and I'd be at the front. I did play in various roles, forward and so on. In cricket I scored a couple of runs in that time but not many. I finished up doing a lot of umpiring because it was much easier. I think sport just didn't inspire me.

For sports day in the spring you had to choose at least three events to take part in like the 100 yards, the long jump and the 440, those were my main choices. The 440 was known as The Scramble - 440 yards. Everyone went in for that. You started with about 50 people and you ran a quarter of a mile at whatever pace you chose and eventually you finished up. And that was great in the junior school. When I moved into the senior school and the same things came up, I chose the same long jump, the 100 yards and the 440. But I was surprised to find there only about six or seven other people there. I couldn't understand it. It was only at the start that I realised this was now a 440 yard SPRINT. Needless to say I didn't win and I'm not even sure I finished. I wasn't a champion. What were my main interests? I wasn't particularly interested in languages but I liked maths, chemistry, physics and art.