One of my previous blogs painted a pretty grim picture of war-time in England. Although, one cannot discount the seriousness of the situation, there were lighter moments as I was growing up.
Except for what was grown in the garden or eggs laid by the chickens, food was always a problem and all of England was on Rationing. Each person had a Ration Book that allowed certain items to be purchased but the amount was restricted. Staples such as bread and sugar were definitely rationed. I remember all of the family sitting around the open fire toasting slices of bread for a late evening meal. Each family member was responsible for toasting his own bread to get it to his or her liking. Needless to say, when it was my turn my slice dropped into the fire and I couldn’t get it out in time to save it. Turns out, mine was the very last piece and so I ended with no supper that evening. If I learned any lesson out of that it was to use an electric toaster and not an open fireplace.
Previously, I had made reference to the Half Moon which was the closest drinking establishment to our house and it was probably 3 miles away. Remember that travel was by foot or by bike so 3 miles is no small feat (no pun intended) especially on the return journey if one had consumed too much of the local brew.
Being only a very young kid, I didn’t have that problem. Mine would be tiredness of both the walk, the time of day and my tender years and I could usually con someone to carry me. English pubs are different from American Bars inasmuch they are split up into different rooms, one of which under age kids and families could go to. Of course the kids couldn’t drink but they could be a part of the party.
Much of the fraternization was at these bars with the service people always looking for something to amuse them. After all, they were sitting on a knife-edge and their life could be cut short at any moment so why not live it to its fullest.
English pubs had strange opening hours even in wartime and were not open all day long. They would open at 10:30 am (if you lived in a market town) and close at 2:00 pm. They would then reopen at 6:00 pm and close at 10:30 pm. The reference to the Market Town is a bit of a throwback to English tradition. Most larger towns held a livestock (and other stuff) market usually every Tuesday. Farmers would bring in their livestock and poultry to be auctioned off. This entitled that town to join with other Market towns and keep their drinking establishments open longer hours during the day. It didn’t stop people from having too much to drink as they would drink faster in order to make up for the shorter hours. Pub food was tasty with meat pies, Cornish pasties, shepherds pie and fish and chips to name a few of the items on the menu.
Following the end of the war, the son of the pub owner returned bringing with him a wife and a pet monkey. This was the smallest monkey you have ever seen which is one of the reasons they were able to get it into the country. It was always with the wife and was very popular with the locals. The wife, was a well-rounded lady and one night rolled over onto the monkey in her sleep and that was that. Shame as the monkey was much more attractive and amusing than the wife…
I had this friend Dennis who was probably a couple of years older than me. He lived right next to the Jack Cade Stone about a couple of miles away. We would hang out together all of the time and most of it was spent in the woods and fields just watching and learning. We would go miles and spend all day out, rain or shine. We had other friends that lived in our vicinity and there would be a half-dozen of us making up games that we could play in the woods and countryside of England. If I had the opportunity to do it over, I would not have changed those early years for anything. Sometimes we would kick a football (soccer) ball around and this was my first brush with learning the game. Life was not all peaches and cream. One time, Dennis and I got into an awful fight over who knows what the outcome of which was him throwing a large rock and hitting me in the back as I was executing a hasty retreat. I was not badly hurt but our friendship was pretty tenuous for a long time after that.
One day, we were both walking across a field as we had many times before. There was this big old cart horse in the field and he never bothered us until this one particular day. Unsuspecting as we were, all of a sudden the horse started running at us at a full gallop and we both took off at a run. I was a faster runner than Dennis and made it to the gate and managed to scramble over and out of harms way. Dennis was not quite so lucky and I turned to see him try to jump the hedge that surrounded the field which was both high and thorny. He barely made it through getting all scratched up in the process. When I caught up to him, we both started laughing uncontrollably at our lucky escape and at him trying to clear this hedge. It was just so hilarious to see Dennis plough through instead of over. We never did figure out what set the horse off or that if we had stood our ground, the horse would have run around us… Maybe.
Dennis lost his mother shortly after but not because of the war. She was walking along the street and was hit by a passing car killing her instantly. I too lost my Grandfather to old age. I never knew him very well as I was so young. I do remember standing in the lane and watching the hearse carrying his body to be buried in Punnetts Town Chapel. Grandfather was a woodworker and had this wonderful set of woodworking tools that he bequeathed to my Father. I got full use of them and I think probably is where my own love of tools and building things came from. There were no power tools back then with the exception of big equipment like saws and planers and everything was done by hand. Alas, through the years and my own set of circumstances, they were lost to me.
I had a Grandmother on my mother’s side. The few times I can remember visiting her was with my mother and sister but again, I was really too young for it to make much impression except how old she was. That part, I can remember. I would dearly love to be able to wind the clock back and spend time with those older folks as I am sure they had some great tales to tell. Maybe if I had the opportunity and had really listened, I would not have made so many mistakes in my own life later on.
We never know what we have missed or even what we have. We are so busy living our lives that we don’t have time for things that are not an immediate part of it. The things I would change if it were possible.
In 1947, we had the hardest winter in memory. Lots of snow and frozen ice all over. I remember seeing a horse in a field looking very miserable with large icicles hanging from its mane. Us kids gathered up anything that would slide and made it to a hilly part of Cade Street and spent days sledding down them. A couple of lucky kids had real toboggans but the rest of us made do with cardboard, sheets of tin and anything else that would make it down the hill.
About that time, I contracted an infection in both of my ears and after several trips to the nearest hospital in Eastbourne, 8 miles away, I was left with diminished hearing in both ears. It was something that would bother me the rest of my life. The only positive out of it was that I was a Grade 4 when it was my turn to enlist as a drafted soldier a few years down the road and they would not take me. About the same time, I had my tonsils out as a part of the ear treatment I guess. I know that I spent a week in hospital much different from today when generally all that is required is to stay overnight.
In late 1947, my Mother and Father separated and she moved out. This was a real shock to me as I had no idea about relationships or what they meant and that marriages could break up. My sister came home from the service to look after me and the family. I had passed the Eleven Plus Exam which entitled me to go to Lewis County Grammar School, supposedly for smart kids but with no stable home life, I was unable to take full advantage of the situation. I was not interested in studying in the evenings and had no one to keep my nose to the grindstone so my grades weren’t the best.
To get to school, we had to catch a bus early in the mornings and make the trip to Heathfield to get on a couple of double-decker buses that waited to drive us the 16 or so miles to Lewis where the school was located. Coming home from school was the same trip in reverse. School lasted from 9:00 am through 4:00 pm with a break for lunch. We crammed in 8 periods a day, some of them double sessions like the ones for Chemistry and Physics. The one thing that I did excel in was Sports. The first year, we played football but from the second year on, we switched to Rugby. Turns out I was a pretty good Rugby player at a young age and managed to play for the school team which got me out of classes in order to train with them. Fine by me as I did not enjoy studying.
We all wore the same uniform, blue blazer, pants and black shoes which was the English way back then. The English really were stuck on tradition and school uniforms was just another one of them. Did I mention it was an all boys school? The girls equivalent was next door to ours and we all traveled on the same buses. They had the same uniforms except a grey skirt instead of pants. The bus rides were actually quite fun and there were a lot of friendships made between the kids. With the older kids, it was an attraction between the sexes and mother nature running its course. Interestingly enough, I had my first anatomy lessons on that bus as one of the many discussions.For the younger kids, it was all about friendship and school mates. I didn’t realize it but coming from a country village, I was pretty naive about life in general. All I really knew about was what happened with my family and the couple of other families we lived close to. And the War. I was not prepared for going out into the big wide world.
More about my school years in a later blog.