Sunday 11 December 2011

Childhood Ramblings

I have recently been introduced to the ‘Kings Blog’ and in particular I have been reading with considerable interest the articles by Derek Yeomans entitled ‘The Straits’. I really must congratulate him on the clarity of his recollections of his childhood. As I am also an ex Kingsley boy, born a little earlier than Derek, there are many similarities in our childhood memories and I have taken the liberty of jotting down some of my own recollections which may prove of some interest. Although only a couple of years older than Derek, I am afraid that my memories are not quite as pin sharp as his. I would point out that these memories are not necessarily in any particular order date wise.

I was born Stephen John Barnes, in March of 1943 in a large house situated at the eastern end of Alresford. Called Langton House, it was a nursing home during WWII and my mother was taken there to give birth, along with many other mums to be from other ‘at risk ‘areas. This in mother’s case I understand was because of the vicinity of the military garrison in Bordon and in particular, Martinique Barracks which was situated adjacent to Oxney Farm, not much more than a mile from our house in Sandy Lane, Kingsley.

I am not aware of how long my mother stayed at Langton House but I do know that she was transported in both directions by a Mr Wilkins who had a taxi business in Bordon. My older brother Alan had been sent over to Aldershot to stay with an Aunt during the latter stages of mother’s pregnancy, as my father was working long hours in Martinique Barracks as a boot and shoe maker which was a reserved occupation. He helped to keep the army on their feet! He then went out with the Home Guard on several nights in the week and mended the villagers' shoes in a small lock-up in the grounds of the Vicarage when he had nothing else to do!

Moving from Oakhanger where they lived after their marriage in 1929, my parents rented Rowan Cottage which was situated on a dirt track to the rear of Ockham Hall. Half of a small semi-detached cottage with only two rooms up and down (I believe) Rowan Cottage benefitted from a large garden which provided most of our vegetable produce and a considerable amount of meat in the form of chickens and rabbits. There were also plenty of eggs so we must have eaten a lot better than some in those parlous times.

Earliest memories I have include skidding around on the brick floor whilst sitting on my enamel pot and having one of our many cats raking its claws down my leg as they dangled beneath my high chair! Toys were few in those times but I do remember a large rather crude wooden lorry and a knitted squirrel which clutched a carrot which for some unknown reason I called 'Coorah’! Although only I suppose about two and a half years old, I also remember sleeping in a large drawer from a chest of drawers when my parents had a post war holiday in Weymouth where they celebrated VJ Day.

The previously referred to dirt track in front of the cottage was either bone dry and dusty in the summer or extremely muddy in winter. Along it, several times a day, a large herd of bullocks were driven either too or from Dene Farm to the field on Oxney and on more than one occasion they trashed our garden on route if the gate had been left open. Somehow my mother coped with all this along with having two ‘land army’ girls billeted with us for the duration.

Sometime in early 1947, we moved onto the main road in Kingsley, to live in Church Cottage which was situated on one end of a row of houses with the Police House at the other end. Earliest memories at that time were of the dreadfully cold winter of ‘47/48. Although we had a fireplace in two out of three of the bedrooms, we did not have sufficient fuel for them so we only had the kitchen range in the ‘living room’ to heat the house, which it didn’t. How often I awoke in the winter to find ice crystals across the top of my eiderdown where my breath had frozen and ice encrusted on the inside of the window pane. We did however now enjoy the luxury of fresh water on tap from the mains, although the kitchen sink vented out to a large bucket beneath the sink. Progress of a sort when a pipe was put through the wall and the bucket placed outside!

The toilet was of the chemical variety which entailed a walk outside to the rear of the house where the toilet was situated. I remember my father ticking me off on more than one occasion for setting fire to the toilet paper (squares of newspaper) using the candle which was the light source. Once a week father had to dig a pit at the bottom of the garden to bury the contents of the bucket!
My father would regularly pester our landlord to build us a proper toilet and bathroom (we still were using a tin bath as well) and the landlord would equally often say that if only the house was on the drains he would love to oblige. In the early 1950’s, work started on building ‘Woodfield’ a small council housing estate to the side and rear of our house. After crossing the site foreman’s palm with silver, miraculously an inspection pit connected to the estates sewerage system appeared at the bottom of the garden which father showed the landlord on his next visit. We got our bathroom!

At about the time we moved to Church Cottage, mother got a position working in the newly built school canteen. This normally would have posed a problem as to what should be done with me whilst she worked, but the Headmistress at that time, a Mrs Garfirth I believe, agreed that although under school age I could come to school and sit in with the infants. This meant that I learnt my letters and times tables quite early on.
The school toilets were terribly scary to one so young. Wooden seats with a hole and a bucket beneath if memory serves me right, they were smelly and freezing cold in the winter. On more than one occasion I sat in class and wet my pants because I was too scared to go outside.

Amongst early school memories I remember sitting up in the old desks with a lift up work top watching the frozen milk bottles thaw out in front of the single coke burning stove. The little bottles came in from the milk lorry with their silver foil caps sitting up on a plug of frozen milk which protruded from the bottles. When the time came to drink it, there would still be a large lump of frozen milk in the bottle!
Another early memory was of Miss Lushington who lived in Ockham Hall, arriving occasionally in her chauffeur driven car around mid-morning. She would sweep into the big classroom and totally disrupt the lessons whilst she gave all the children a talk. Memory fails me on what exactly she used to say but I do remember that when she finished she would wave her arms in a grand manner as she commanded that school should finish for the rest of the day. The Headmistress did not seem to have much control of this action!

Mrs Garfirth retired and a young woman was appointed as Head Mistress. Her name was Mrs Morris and she came to the school fresh and full of new ideas. I remember she had a passion for handwriting and we would spend many hours filling our exercise books with rows of A’s, B’s C’s etc,. Another of her passions was Scottish dancing and when the weather was good we would have the misery of learning Highland reels in the playground. Again if the weather was hot and sunny, we would all be taken out onto Kingsley Common for ‘nature walks’. The three R’s seemed to come further down the list of priorities!

Derek Yeomans noted in his writings, that he moved into new houses at Woodfield in 1953. Living right next door to the building site I had the great excitement of watching the houses being built from the creation of the roads and drainage (including our own inspection pit), to the tiling of the roofs. Having a young boy’s passion for all things mechanical I revelled in watching the Chaseside digger and a large diesel powered road roller. There was also a magnificent cement mixer, a giant of a machine which was in constant use loaded by sweaty workmen.

As Derek remarked, Health & Safety had not been invented and we children could roam the site almost at will as it was never fenced off. I do not remember any of us suffering accidents serious or otherwise.

One of my childhood passions was tractors and the finest local collection was in the tractor shed at Lode Farm. My favourite of all was a giant yellow beast which I think was called a Minneapolis Moline. My poor mother and father would occasionally walk me the mile or so from our house to see this beauty on a sunny Sunday evening. This would have been when I was aged six or seven.

Another Sunday evening walk was in the opposite direction to the New Inn at Sleaford. Here my father would enjoy the odd half pint of shandy with mother and I being treated to a glass of lemonade. At that time there was a large pull- in or what we now call a lay-by, opposite the pub onto which a considerable number of coaches would pull on their way back from the coast. It was the practice in those days for numbers to be chalked onto the rear wheel tyre with a single chalk mark on the mudguard. As soon as the coach stopped, men would gather by the back wheel to see whose number came closest to the marker. The winner would win whatever was up to be won, I think usually cash.

I think at the time Derek’s family moved into Woodfield, his father Arthur was working at Old Park Farm, a show piece farm owned at that time I believe by a Mr Nicholson. Amongst his duties, Arthur used to drive a David Browne tractor with a mechanical attachment at the rear to which implements could be fitted including a plough. One day when I was on school holidays he came to plough the field behind Woodfield. I stood in the corner of the field for what seemed an age until as he approached me he asked me if I wanted a ride. Did I want a ride, you bet I did. Arthur placed a folded up sack on top of the lifting gear behind him and I climbed up to sit on it. Off we went for the rest of the afternoon with me precariously perched above the plough shears, going up and down as they were lifted to allow the tractor to turn around. Health & Safety would have had a fit!

The coming of several new families to live at Woodfield brought a number of new children to the village and we quickly made friends or enemies as the case may be. The summer evenings would see the greater number of us congregating in the grassy area by the pond to play energetic ball and tag games. In the winter when the frost had had a good go at the pond water turning it into thick ice, we spent many hours playing on it both before and after school. A few of the older lads in the village had motor cycles and they would venture onto the ice pulling sledges behind them as they slithered around. No one paid much heed to the deaths many years previously of the two unfortunate children who went through a hole in the ice and drowned.

Kingsley Common played a major role in our growing up. In holiday time many of us children would disappear after breakfast only to return home when our bellies cried out for food. Wonderful games were played in the bracken and heather. The River Slea meandering through the flood meadows at the back of Gold Hill was another source of endless entertainment until Farmer Waters came along waving a big stick and telling us to get off of his land.

Derek also recalls the gypsy families living near to Kingsley Halt. I have particular reason to remember Clara Hughes for two reasons. The first involves a large round of cheese which having been delivered to the village stores was sitting on the floor of the shop when Clara came in to purchase some things. Seeing the cheese, she promptly sat upon it and proceeded to make a skinny ‘roll-up’ cigarette which flared up when she lit it. A priceless memory!

My other reason to remember Clara is more personal and involved falling off my new bicycle at the age of ten on the corner where the Straits Road met Sickles Lane. I had been Bluebelling with a young lady and as we free-wheeled down the hill clutching armfuls of flowers, I developed a speed wobble ending up in the ditch and banging my chin rather badly on a tree. Hearing the commotion, members of the Hughes family came out and Clara took me into her caravan or vardo to administer first aid. The young lady peddled furiously back into the village and eventually my father appeared on the scene. The result of all this was that I was taken by taxi to the Doctors surgery in Headley where Dr Mackilwane applied several stitches to my split chin and remarking on the actions taken by Clara to staunch the bleeding. I believe she had applied a compress containing some ‘special’ herbs.

I fear that I have rambled on for long enough to bore you all silly, but if you are entertained by it I expect I could write more including my passage to Secondary school and my early employment recollections.

1 comment:

  1. this is great to read, it is good to see my grandad, Arthur beg spoken about in such a nice way. It is a shame he is not around to read this. keep up the good work it is absolutely fascinating.