Towards the end of the second world war in 1944, my mother had some regular medical appointments in London. That meant no school for me on those days! We had been evacuated to Hertfordshire so instead, we set out on a very early morning walk across the fields. There was no one about, just the cows who would look at us as if to say “Is your journey really necessary?” We were always being asked that on the radio.
Waiting on the platform for the 6.43am to Kings Cross, we would watch for the lamps on the engine to tell us if it was an express or our train. Travelling on steam engines was a far cry from our modern train travel. I recall quickly pulling up the window strap before the smoke from the engine enveloped the carriage as we went into the tunnels.
We would arrive to the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross Station and head down the narrow passageway to the depths of the Piccadilly line. A quick change at Holborn for the Central Line before surfacing at Bond Street station. The unique smell of the underground reminding me of hot lavatories.
Arriving at 43 South Molton Street, a climb up the five flights of stairs to the top floor awaited us. The smell of lino and wood giving way to the intoxicating smell of coffee from H R Higgins Coffee-man (Wholesale only) getting stronger by the minute.
When we finally made it to the top, we would discover my father who, breaking off from roasting coffee, would cut open some rolls put cheese on them then toast them before his flickering gas fire. He would give us a delicious bowl of coffee and we would share a magical breakfast.
He had been working all night. It was the time of the V1’s, doodlebugs, and I noticed men on the roofs. My sister said the nickname for them was “Jim Crows” and they were looking out to keep us safe.
On one occasion, he had been packing a big order. After roasting and grinding the coffee, it was to be packed in tins. Of course, I wanted to help. It was my job to make sure there were good lids to seal the empty tins. Meanwhile, my father and sister carefully weighed the ground coffee. I remember he said to me: “Look. I think these tins of coffee are going to be sent to soldiers in France. Now what about writing your name on this slip of paper and we will put it just inside the lid. The soldier who opens this tin may have a little boy at home called Tony, and will think of him while away from home”. So we did.
I have often wondered who opened that tin, and what they thought as they looked at my name sitting on top of the coffee. A bit like putting a message in a bottle and throwing into the sea, hoping that perhaps by chance someone somewhere will find it.
In this time of emergency, please don’t think that there’s no one to answer your questions about coffee and tea. That because of lockdown it’s like casting them into the great unknown and putting everything on hold. The team at H. R. Higgins are still here to help you. The enjoyment of your coffee and tea is even more important now and this can be a time of new discoveries, look out for a series of new opportunities coming on our website.
My very best wishes, Tony Higgins