Up to this point in time, the War had dominated all of our lives but by 1947-48 things began to change for me. I was now 11 years old and in a previous blog, had discussed the fact that I attended Lewis County Grammar School for kids bright enough to pass the 11 plus exam. My home life was also changing as our Mother had left and my sister who had come home from the service to look after the family, was considering marriage. My middle brother Peter, had already married and had moved away to work first in Croydon and then to Axminster in Devon. He had studied at home and had passed his exams to be a Draughtsman.
I remember that Christmas was close and my sister had bought me a Woodworking set knowing that I liked that sort of thing (a boy and his tools). This consisted of a fretsaw and a wooden board with a pattern and instruction on how to make something all freeze wrapped together. Somehow, I managed to persuade her to let me see it and to this day, don’t know how I did. Anyway, she made the mistake of leaving me with the present probably after extracting a promise to not open it which of course I immediately did. She came back, saw what I had done and took it away. Come Christmas day, she gave it back to me in the same state as she took it away. For those who are wondering, a fretsaw is a bit like a coping saw with a deeper arch. Probably doesn’t exist anymore in this modern-day and age of electric tools.
I was also a bit enterprising back then by setting up a stand and selling young plants and seedlings that I had taken out of our garden. There were a couple of old ladies who lived together at the top of the Lane. I believe they were sisters and whether they really wanted them, I don’t know but they bought out my entire stock. I think I made something like one shillings for everything. That was my one and only attempt at private enterprise.
Dennis and I were still friends and with the money, we went to the Cade Street store and bought a box of matches and pack of 10 Woodbines, an English brand of cigarette. There were no such things as ‘being of age” to buy that sort of thing so we had no trouble in purchasing the “fags”. We were smart enough to find somewhere secluded to try out our new possession and went to the woods where we spent so much of our time. Between us, we smoked 5 cigarettes each one after the other. Both of us were so physically sick that we hardly made it home. The one good thing that came out of that at least for me is that I never smoked again for the rest of my life. Don’t know if Dennis smoked later in life as my Fathers marriage to his widow lady finished our friendship with me moving away. I wonder what became of him?
I had learned to ride a bike which was my most used (and only) means of transport as with all of us in those years. Like all boys, I showed off whenever I thought some one was watching and remember travelling down Huggletts Lane which was a hill, at breakneck speed, and seeing my sister at our gate thrust my arms out wide, and careened on past her not holding onto the handlebars (Look Ma, no hands). I didn’t crash or anything but when I did return home, she was absolutely furious with me and took my bike away for a couple of weeks. I forgot to mention that all of us older kids had bikes and that we were all pretty good mechanics at fixing them up or building a bike out of spare parts. We even fixed our own flat tires.
What is really odd about that episode is that in my mind, I can vividly see me travelling down the hill with my arms open wide. It’s like an out-of-body experience it’s was so real and to this day, I still have that picture in my mind. I can even describe the bike…
My Father, who I never considered to be very sprightly but who obviously still had some spark left in him, was courting a widow who owned a Fish and Chip shop on a street named Hailsham Road. This was a little on the outskirts of Heathfield but as that village was not very big, didn’t amount to much in the way of distance.
I remember a knock on the door while still at Huggletts Lane very late at night. It was the local police constable who came to tell us that Father had been in an accident being hit by a car while riding his bike home. He was not seriously hurt and had to spend a couple of days in hospital. He did have the honor of having a set of traffic lights installed at the intersection where he was hit although no one else would know the reason they were installed. No plaque or anything fancy. My Father must have been very serious about his widow lady as he was biking 6-7 miles each way to see her. Probably exhausted after his nightly exertions and the bike ride must have made him tired as well.
Turns out he was serious about her and very soon, he was married again taking me with him giving my sister time to go ahead with her marriage plans. This left my brother Norman and his Egyptian wife, Libby at the family house at Huggletts lane. I didn’t know it but that was the last time I ever lived in that house. In later years, I visited my brother and Libby a few times while they were still married. They too were divorced after several years and 3 children later and the house was later sold.
So ended the first episode of my life.