Monday, 14 November 2011

The Straits (part 4)

My time at the Straits was, as previously mentioned, generally a happy one. Although the War had only recently ended I had little awareness of it or its effects other than rationing was still in place. Rationing continued until 1954, a period overall of fourteen years. Meat being the last commodity to be freely available. People were allowed 4ozs of butter, 2eggs, and 12ozs of sugar each per week. Clothing was also rationed. I well remember the ration books with their tokens. Country folk added to their rations by growing whatever they could, foraging for edible plants and, of course shooting pigeons and rabbits. All of these things occurred in Kingsley and rabbit and pigeon were well known to our family as a food source during those days. The diet was also supplemented by blackberries, chestnuts, hazel nuts and mushrooms in season.

During the whole of the time I lived at the Straits there were only two occasions that I remember as unpleasant. Well actually, if you count the smack around the head from the gipsy, it is three. Strangely the most frightening of the three also involved gypsies. I had been sent,from the Straits, down to the village shop with a ration book to collect some items. I don’t recall what they were. However, I was on my way back home and had reached the last house on the left hand side of the road on the hill leading away from the junction with the B3004 when the incident occurred. In those days the three bungalows that are now on the left were not there, there were just two houses. The ground opposite the houses and rising up towards the drive to Old Park Farm house was then an area of scrub with a makeshift path through it. At the bottom of the hill there was a pond on the right and a small area of scrub on the left beside which a ditch ran between the scrub and the first field. This took the overflow from the pond and its surrounding boggy area. The first field on the left extended almost, if not, as far as the sports hut. Having reached the area just below the two houses I became aware of two young men following behind me at a distance, I suppose, of some thirty to forty yards. I looked back at them and increased my pace.

After passing the last house themselves they began hurrying and were getting closer to me, I became afraid. Just to make matters worse they began shouting "get him". I began running, I recall the blind fear and panic that shot through me. I ran as hard as I could and upon reaching the first field on the left I ran into it. It was full of quite high standing corn. Needless to say my little legs would not carry me through this mass of crops. I made only a few yards before I fell and the two lads, they were teenagers, caught up with me. I was on my back and begging not to be hurt and crying uncontrollably.

I think at last it dawned upon the two of them that they had gone too far. They became very apologetic and began to assure me that they were not going to hurt me. They helped me up and helped with gathering up the shopping I had dropped in my efforts to get away. I got back on to the road and made my way home trembling. It was months before I could go there without fear. When I got home the butcher, (mentioned in a previous edition), was delivering. Seeing the state I was in he took me in doors to mother and I told them the story. The butcher got into his van and went off in search of the two. They were not found and the resident gipsies appeared to have no knowledge of them. Clearly it was late summer or autumn as the corn was high and golden and almost ready for harvesting, it was therefore, common in those days for gypsies to move into the area for hop picking and other farming work. It was quite possible that they had belonged to some transient group. I think the village Policeman was made aware of the event. Although no actual harm occurred to me I have never forgotten the terror of those few minutes.

The second event that I remember with a degree of discomfort was quite different and involved taking a flask of tea and sandwiches to my father who was working in the fields. Dad and Sid Northcott were hedging in Forest Field. This is the long narrow field that runs for a long way beside the forest away from the raised area and pond that I dealt with in last month’s edition. As will be seen, the field in question is long and narrow, and can be clearly identified on the O.S Map. Hedging was then done by hand and was a winter occupation. The land, generally, being too wet for work and the hedgerows devoid of leaves makes winter and ideal time to cut hedges. Hedging was them done by hand, there were no hydraulic arms with spinning metal flails which smash the hedgerows as there are today. The job of hedging took months to complete. All trimmings were burned in small bonfires every few yards as the job progressed. The job took place in wind, rain, and as you will learn, in fog. The day I was tasked with the food and drink delivery was foggy……very foggy! What I think could reasonably be described as a pea souper.

Well wrapped up against the chill I set off with the large bag of goodies on my back. I left the road at the Halt and made my way towards the forest. Travelling east, I left the railway line to my left and followed the railway fencing having climbed across it and into the adjoining field. I knew the area well. Dense fog, such as this was,has a deadening effect on sound and plays tricks with your sense of direction. There are no familiar land marks by which to navigate. The visibility on that day was just a few feet. I followed the fence until it ended at a junction with the next field and crossed over the next fence. I was now getting near to the pond discussed last month. It was here that I lost my bearings and got quite lost. I tried shouting but got no response. There was nobody to hear. It took some time but I eventually found the raised walkway at the eastern end of the pond which I crossed and then walked to the left until I was besides the trees of the forest. It was just a case then of walking along the woods until I came to where the men were working. Evidence of their fires told me I was on the right track. I eventually found them two thirds of the way down the field. The food delivered I began my return journey, which by following the woods for the whole of the way brought me to the railway line and that took me back to the Halt and the Straits.

Was I glad to be back. Mother prepared scrambled eggs on toast and a hot drink and I still remember the comfort of sitting beside the range and eating it. A journey of about a mile round trip but due to the weather it took ages and proved to be quite scary at the time. Of course events such as these probably would not happen today and it has to be remembered that life was so much different then. The violence and murders which we take for granted today were very rare them. Children, especially boys, were expected to be boys. Stiff upper lip and all that. Quite simply it was another age in which children spent most of their time out of doors and adventure was much more a part of growing up, even from quite a young age.

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