A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 6
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
HOLLANDWOOD MY COUNTRYSIDE EDUCATION
We had a lovely cottage on the edge of a huge wood and with a small forest in front of our house and a hill up to our left. I loved this place generally and had great adventures here, as I had at all the other places we had lived. Our house was the first of two cottages down the end of the farm track, passing a barn on the left. My first adventure came when I had only been there a couple of weeks and one of my jobs was to take an axe into the wood behind our house and chop some wood for our fire. I was cutting some wood when I saw a snake so I threw the axe at it; unfortunately the axe landed near the snake without hitting it and though I tried everything, the snake wouldn’t move. I waited for ages but had to go home without the axe and no wood; when my father got back from work I had to take him back there and of course the snake had long gone, so my dad picked up the axe then clipped me around the ear before taking me back home with some wood that we had both collected on the way. He taught me the differences between adders, grass snakes, and slow worms, and that only adders are deadly, so at least I had learned a valuable lesson, and I would use it to play practical jokes in later years. In the same wood, I found a bluetit nest in a little hole in a tree so then marked the tree and ran home to get a teaspoon, put the spoon carefully into the hole and brought out the eggs one by one to find out how many eggs there were, I counted twelve of them and then carefully put them all back into the nest. My father took me on some specific long walks around the area where we lived and showed me how to look for a rabbit run, and where to lay a rabbit snare along that track, he then showed me how to kill a trapped rabbit to take it home. After one week of going over this routine with me he took me along the same route and we alternated in finding a rabbit run then setting a trap until we had run out of snares. After getting back home he said that he was very pleased with my snare setting and that he had another surprise for me. The good news was that in the morning each day, before going to school, I was to go around the route collecting all of the snares and killing any caught rabbits to bring home with me! I collected the snares but could not bring myself to killing the rabbits, so I kept them in the snares which I used like dog leads and walked the rabbits home! My mother would not kill them either, so they were tied to the kitchen table legs and left there till my father came home from work. He was annoyed at my squeamishness, but because I had done a good job otherwise, he allowed the practice to continue; the only person to really suffer was my mother, who had choking rabbits around the kitchen on any day that we had trapped some! My father sold any spare rabbits to other farm workers, and even to the farmer he was working for. The forest at the front of our house led to the town of Petworth except that there was a river between the two so nobody used that route, but I used to go adventuring there often, until one day I found a tree that had fallen across a narrow part of the river. Babs and I, and even my mother, would go to town that way from then on, it was fun traversing the rapids over a moss strewn tree and shortened our journey quite a bit. Needless to say I had to repeat my routine, I was running through the forest on my own one afternoon where a spider had spun a web across the path which had trapped a wasp. I ran into the web, which wrapped around my knee, the wasp stung me and I started racing for home in extreme pain. Crossing the tree bridge too carelessly I slipped off into the stream and ended up breaking my arm again, so had to be taken to hospital for the sting and the arm! My parents bought a bike for my sister and she used it for a few weeks, then one day a bully who lived along the road to Petworth, threw a stick at her front wheel, it went between the spokes and she fell off, which left a small, but permanent scar over her eye. The boy was called Popsy Dunford and was dreaded by all the children, but I vowed revenge; I caught a grass snake one day then creeping up behind him, I shoved it down his trousers, he was terrified and ran screaming home watched by other kids. It was quite harmless, but he was embarrassed because some other children had witnessed it, so he never bothered me or my sister again. My sister would not ride her bike again so I kept pestering my father to teach me to ride and then one day he took me up a nearby hill, then held the bike while I got on, then he started running along behind me holding on. I suddenly thought that I was going too fast but couldn’t hear him so I looked over my shoulder and he was about fifty yards behind, it was the first time I had ever been on a bike so I had mastered it in a single lesson, I was allowed to use the bike from then on. My father was totally unpredictable though in regard to me; he asked me one day while in the garden, to get some water and I asked if he wanted a lot or just a bit. He was really furious with rage, because I’d said “A bit” of water instead of a drop. He took me for a walk one day when we came upon a rabbit warren, so reaching in he pulled out a tiny bunny which he brought home with us. When I got home from school the next day he had made a rabbit hutch and stuck the baby inside, it was a surprise present for me and then he taught me how to feed it with a bottle and teat because by then we had another child in the family, my brother Colin Anthony. One day I went into our woodshed and saw a bat lying on the floor, before he could fly off I managed to throw a sack over him and then shook him into a bucket and put a board over the top of the bucket. When my father arrived home I excitedly took him into the woodshed to admire my catch, I pulled back the board to reveal – an empty bucket! Where the handle connected to the bucket there was a gap on one side, the bat had just squeezed through the gap. Babs and I had to go two miles across the fields to collect a sack of coal every three weeks, needing to push Colin’s pram across the field, lift it up over fences or stiles, drop it down over the other side and then cross the next field until we came to the coal yard. We then made the same journey back, while this time emptying the sack of coal first before we could lift the pram over the next fence, then refilled the sack before we crossed the next field, each trip took about three hours. We hated having to do it, but children were expected to help whenever there was something they could do, whether they liked it or not; it taught them that a family was a unit not an expectation that only grown ups should be expected to work! My greatest claim to fame at Hollandwood,was both accidental and exaggerated, I had gone for a walk across the fields one day and heard screaming. I climbed a bank to look into the wood where I saw a lady and a young girl clinging to each other. On the ground in front of them was a grass snake, I jumped down the bank, grabbed the snake by its tail and swung it around my head before hurling it away through the air. The person I had “rescued” was Mrs Hoskins, the housekeeper to the farmer that my father worked for and the girl with her was her ward, an orphan that she had adopted, named Jacqueline. They asked my name so I just gave my name reluctantly, led them out of the wood to the farm track and left them. When he got home my father said that we had to go up to the farm because the farmer wanted to see me, he wouldn’t tell my father why, so my father asked if I’d been up to mischief but I was as mystified as he was and so off we went to the farmer. When the farmer came to the door he was smiling, so I knew I wasn’t in trouble; he held out his hand and shook mine saying “ I wanted to thank the young man who saved my housekeeper’s life.” Anyway while I stood confused, he told my father that Mrs Hoskins had come back in some state of distress stating that if I hadn’t appeared, and charged over the bank before throwing myself between her and the snake before wrestling with it, Jacqueline or she might almost certainly have killed! While I stood there dumbfounded, he thrust ten shillings into my hand, then turning to my dad, said “Oh by the way John, I’ll be sending a dog across tomorrow, it’s been worrying some sheep, can you get rid of it?” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but when the dog was brought to the barn near our house the next day, my dad just went out with his gun and shot it! He was paid seven shillings and sixpence, which was also to covered the cost of the cartridge to shoot the dog, it was so cruel and I’d gone out to the barn with him so saw it first- hand. Three other things stood out during my time at Hollandwood, my father took the ten shillings that I had been given, saying it would help with the bills and that I would probably only lose it anyway. But the third thing was more positive, although my sister went to an ordinary school nearby I went to a private school in Petworth and was driven there each morning by taxi, because there was no convenient bus service! I simply imagined that my grandparents must have paid once again. I loved this school partly because it was so Dickensian, also because the school stood in lovely grounds with beautiful elm trees on the lawns but mainly because this was where I was about to have, though I didn’t know about it then, my first experience of becoming totally absorbed with both the enthusiasm and ideas and really exciting subjects, that would come later on that term as a result of meeting my new school’s newest teacher.
My introduction to the school’s peculiarity occurred within a couple of days, I saw the headmaster walking on the lawn with a train of teachers behind him, all wearing gowns and mortar boards, each with their thumbs tucked into their lapels. The head was engaged in a conversation with the leading teacher and I thought he was the obvious person to ask a question to, so I ran across and tugged his arm; “Please sir, could you tell…” My question was never finished, the teacher behind him pulled me away then passed me back to the next in line, and on until the last teacher said “Go to my study boy, then wait there until we return.” I stood outside, quaking and wondering what I had done that was so wrong, until the teacher came back and ushered me into his study. “You are new here boy?” As a statement rather than as a question, to which I nodded. “Firstly boy you address the headmaster as ‘Sire’, all other teachers are Sir, but the headmaster is Sire, do you understand?” I nodded speechless. “Secondly, if you want to ask a question, you must ask a teacher who will then relay it to the headmaster if necessary.” Here he paused so I nodded again. He paused, I am sure for effect then breathed in and seemed to grow bigger “But most importantly boy, nobody EVER touches the headmaster.” The key word emphasised so that I can still remember it vividly all these years later, exactly as it was said. I think that was the only time I ever spoke to the headmaster in all my time at the school. The greatest impact was the start of the next term, the history teacher had left and the new teacher was to be introduced with all the usual melodrama, the whole school were assembled in the hall, the head came forward and told us “As you all know, we have a new history teacher this term, I would like you to all welcome….” there came a deliberate pause for effect, “Miss Stilwell.” You could have heard a pin drop, I don’t think that there had ever been a lady teacher at the school before. A dramatic flourish, and out from the stage curtains came a really pretty and really young, lady! There was an instant and spontaneous burst of applause. I joined in, I was smitten, and I was only nine years old! About a week later I brought in to school, a collection of fossils that my father had collected over the years, and which I had promised to show to our class. As I ran up the curved stone stairway that led up to the entrance I bumped into Miss Stilwell coming down and the box of fossils scattered across the steps. As she helped me pick them up, Miss Stilwell said “These are fabulous, where on earth did you get them?” I told her they were my dad’s and she asked if I would like to meet her at lunch time and talk to her about them, of course I agree and we arranged to meet later under one of the large elm trees in the grounds. To the envy of all my schoolmates, we met several times that term, always under the elm tree, where Miss brought cakes or biscuits and a drink of fruit juice for a kind of brunch! The fossils were kept at the school for a while after my dad agreed, so they could be shown to all of the other classes under her supervision during various lessons, though the lunchtime meetings were solely reserved for me! It’s funny how little things like an infatuation can lead to an interest in their interests’ I became more keen on history through my meetings with Miss Stilwell and I fell in love with history. But although I didn’t know it at the time, my days at Petworth were almost over. Miss Stilwell left the school for a position at another all girls school but through another twist of coincidence, I left the school at the same time, history was going to repeat itself again. Now though it would accidently open my eyes to an entirely new world in an unanticipated way.
HISTORY MEETS LITERATURE
For four years life had continued well, I tended to be accident prone though I made little fuss, but had a few broken arms, shoulder, and collar bone fractures until one day I was again sent to hospital where I think that I lived for almost six months. I didn’t miss my family much since I had been away from them so much in my early life and nurses at the hospital loved me after I made a breakthrough for them and they did the same for me in two different ways. My reason for being in hospital was a mystery to me, I had blood tests and xrays, I was weighed, measured, and poked and prodded by doctors or nurses at any time of the day, but apart from that was free to go anywhere I chose within the hospital, even to other wards where I could roam as I liked. The only limitation being that every morning, someone came in and gave lessons with most of the children, just as if we were in school. Then one day one of the nurses brought me a book when she came on duty with one of the most memorable things that had ever been given to me. The nurse had bought it especially as a surprise present for my birthday and the book was called “Lamb’s Tales”. I couldn’t understand a lot of it because it was written in quite old fashioned English, and often used words that I had never heard before, but to me it was quite magical. I would go to any of the nurses at any time and say “What does this mean?” or “what is that word?” or “How do you say this?” They all helped and when they didn’t know the answer, they would send me to someone who might, all of the nurses got as much pleasure from helping me as I did from asking them, for help. It was obviously September, so the weather was at its best, and because I had the freedom to go where I pleased in the afternoons. I used often to go outside the hospital and across the lawn then up the hill facing us. It seemed like every day, but probably I went there about three or four times a week in reality. Once there I would lie atop the hill looking down toward the hospital, where I could watch all the people visiting or the gardeners and porters, as they made their way around the grounds, before looking down to read until it grew cooler or someone came out and called me down for teatime. The book took me into a different world from all the children’s books I had ever seen before, and it introduced me to a man called William Shakespeare! Gradually it opened up the world of Keats, Byron and Shelley, William Blake, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling and a host of others writers; which had led me further into the world of books. My favourite nurse had brought me magic, as a present for my birthday! The Book’s complete title was actually “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare” and I took it everywhere. December gave me the unexpected opportunity to repay the nurses collectively for their spoiling of me, they had been trying to find a child who would agree to be covered in plaster of paris including the covering of head and face. No child would agree to being covered up as they were too afraid, having seen people with broken arms being covered with hard plaster casts. I overheard two of the nurses talking about this one day and said “Oh I’ll do that for you”. I quite liked the thought of the hospital having “mini me’s” all over the ward. There was a short interrogation by the nurses and the ward sister, but they weren’t too fussy because they needed someone to use as a guinea pig, and knew that they could always call a halt if I got scared. I think we took three days in all to make the models they needed, they wrapped me from neck to feet in bandage, then applied the plaster of paris and had to wait for it to dry before cutting down each side of me and prising the cast apart. A couple of the nurses then rejoined the split casts while I was being re-cast by two other nurses to make the next body. In the meantime of course, the ward needed to be run, medicines distributed and treatment given, meals served and doctor’s visits, so our production line was fitted around the real world. Really the most worrying part for them was whether I would be okay for the heads to be cast, but to me it was more or less the same. Once the heads were fitted we ended up with a pile of child sized models which were then painted and clothed and fitted with caps or bonnets or wool strips for hair. The Christmas tree and decorations rounded off the end of our ward and made a wonderful display, I had made my own contribution to the children and nurses. During her visits my mother had been bringing me some small farm animals and a tractor to play with at the hospital; at the same time and unknown to me the staff had all been buying the odd sheep, horse, goat, cow, lamb or even goose and chicken. When I was thought to be tested enough and ready to leave the hospital, most of the nurses came to present them to me as a going away present, some nurses even came in on their day off, because they had really grown fond of me during my long stay at the hospital. My biggest present though had been the wonderful book that the nurse had given me. I never discovered why I had been sent there, but while recently researching this particular Pyrford Hospital on the National Archives, I found that it was listed as St Martin’s Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School Pyrford, Rowley Bristow near Woking. Interestingly it had originally been classified rather quaintly, as the “Beatrix Ward for Waifs and Strays.” I was really elated that I was able now, to identify myself as “A Waif and Stray.” although I wouldn’t have known then exactly what that meant. Anyway I had been housed in the Beatrix Ward, which I presume was the orthopaedic section, whose purpose was to analyse my bone structure and composition. My tests completed it had been time again to go home.
CONTINUING READING A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 7
REPERCUSSIONS AND CATCH UP. LURGASHALL LAND OF ADVENTURE.
CONTINUING READING A SELF HISTORY CHAPTR 8
Sluices, slides, wagtails & watermills
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