A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 7
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 7
LURGASHALL PART ONE – LAND OF ADVENTURE To continue readig this chapter, you can scroll down on this page.
LURGASHALL PART 1 – LAND OF ADVENTURE
This time I was wrong though, we now moved to an even better place than ever I had lived before, and I was only just approaching ten. Just like our house at Pondhill there was a bit of a puzzle about the place we lived in Lurgashall, the nearest village with any houses was about two miles away and that was where most of the people lived. The puzzle was that the two cottages where we lived were 187 and 188 Mill Farm Cottages, so I don’t know where the other hundred and eighty five Mill Farm Cottages must have been. We lived at number 188 and another young couple lived at 187 when we first got there. We had a large garden at the front with a hedge running along the front of both houses before curving around the sides, a little gate at each end of the hedge led to a footpath going down to that house. In through each gate was a garden with a wooden fence between to divide the houses. At the back of the houses was a fence to divide them again and then a small grass area leading to a large shed for each house. But there was another surprise, for another little gate led out of the side of our circling hedge and into a huge back orchard filled with fruit trees and fruit bushes like gooseberry and blackcurrants, our back orchard was about as big as a full sized tennis court and filled with Blenheim apple trees, Granny Smiths, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Russets and Bramley apples, many of which are now hard to find. We also had pear trees and plum trees along one side of the orchard. Babs and I would take fruit to school for our friends in the autumn, but also to sell to other children for only about a penny each! We also learned how to wrap apples in paper and store them away into wooden drawers to keep them for the winter; my mother would make jams as well and we would eat them if she didn’t sell them. Next door had a garden the same size on the other side of their house, but most of their fruit fell to the ground and rotted, because I don’t think they knew what to do with it. My father didn’t seem to like the other young couple and was always poking fun at them, the husband was a cowherd there for gathering and milking the cows but he didn’t want his wife to get muddy or fall over, so he used to carry her everywhere he went and he took her milking with him. One evening a policeman came to our house as we were about to have dinner and came to sit by the table with us while we were eating. He was trying to be careful with what he said, as we children were at the table “I understand that you said that the woman was not clever sir,” he said. My father denied this, “Well a person who was rather silly?” My father shook his head “An unclever meadow lady?” The policeman was struggling; we children were watching with interest. My father grew bored. “I didn’t use fancy words” he said “I just said she was getting in the way of the farm work and she was a stupid cow!” We all burst into probably hysterical laughter, the policeman shuffled his notes, and my father tucked into his dinner. The policeman issued a few stern words about my father’s attitude, said that he shouldn’t be nasty to other people, bade my mother goodnight and saw himself out. A few days later I was out in the fields with my father when the couple came past, there were some words spoken before my father said if they liked, he would drop the woman into a cow pat, and then her husband into another if they didn’t shut up. The farmer came to have words with my dad, who said he could pick the other man or him, and a couple of weeks later the young couple left and soon after we had new neighbours. My father was rather short on temper and would give no ground, but he was a good and hard worker, so he had favour with the people he worked for, though I don’t know whether he was liked. The Anstee farmers were Phil the boss, being the older, and his young brother “One arm Brian” who had lost an arm in a machinery accident some time before we went there. They liked us kids and we could play in the barns and help collect eggs, or feed the ducks, geese and goats, though that was to save them doing it and we didn’t get anything for helping. I used to go and feed the cows in the stalls sometimes, but one day got a sharp lesson, I went up alongside a cow and went to pat it as I was taking it some cowfeed when it suddenly lifted its leg and kicked me across the cowshed, literally about ten feet or more! It must have been my lucky day, for apart from being badly winded and covered with bruises I suffered no broken bones. It taught me never to approach a cow from behind again though. I also learned for the first time how the cows were milked, and we collected our milk straight from the cows into jugs to take home. I haven’t described the farm though, which was why I loved Lurgashall above all other places. In front of our house,and leading away to the right was a long tree lined lane with high grass banks on either side and which seemed to go on forever. To the right of our house beyond the other house, were fields which just disappeared over the horizon, and behind our orchard was a field which led into a wood that went for about a mile, but then curved around to the right, and here was the best part of all. To the right of our orchard, but also out of the gate at the back of our orchard, was a huge lake, which ran along the whole length of the wood behind us until the wood curved around the back of the lake and ran for about half a mile before curving back to the right again and forming the distant side of the lake where it ran back almost a mile to rejoin the road which led back to our house. At that far corner of the lake was a sluice gate which ran under a bridge carrying the road to our house; the sluice gate had flood gates which could be raised or lowered to let the water escape into a river if the lake should be overfilled. Coming back along the road toward our house was a huge overshot watermill, which was powered by the water from the lake though it was no longer working and was locked up. I looked at the watermill every time I got the chance, sometimes four or five times a day, but it was securely locked up and seemed to be totally out of the reach of anybody, but I kept looking and hoping that something would turn up. In the meantime there were many other things to do, many other places to explore, and first of all a new school awaiting me. It had never occurred to me until I began writing my reminisces, that for the first time since leaving London, I would go to the same school as my sister but only until the next term, when she would move up to a secondary school in another town, I was still under ten years old! In the event it was decided that Babs would stay at Lurgashall school for another two terms because of her late birthday, which meant she could act as my escort on the way to and from school each day. In those days schools were more flexible in accommodating siblings in a small village school if it helped parents who would have difficulty in collecting children. Very few parents had transport and many lived quite a way from the school, mine were no exception. Fortune sometimes comes in the most unexpected guises, we found a shortcut home across two fields on the Anstees’ farm and as they had hundreds of free range chickens, we found eggs in the fields and hedges as we wended our way home. We presented them to our mother and were ecstatic when she gave us a penny each for the eggs! A few days later she told us that she had mentioned it to Brian Anstee in case we got into any trouble, but he told her that they didn’t bother looking for eggs in the fields as most hens came into the pens and a few eggs weren’t important. From then onward I made a point of getting a few eggs every few days, because it became my pocket money. Babs couldn’t be bothered though, as it wasn’t a things that girls would lower themselves to! There were mishaps though, sometimes I would find a large batch of eggs in a hidden hedgerow and would be exited at the fortune I would probably get, only for my mother to crack open perhaps a half dozen or so to release a horrific stink because I had stumbled upon the nesting place of one hen where the eggs might have been laying in the hedge for about four or five weeks, so that they were all rotten! My downfall had to come, I took some to sell to the children at school until someone’s mother told one of the Anstee brothers and he came to our house and told me off. I still collected a few eggs at times, but only for us, and always looking over my shoulder in case he was around, so the enjoyment fizzled out, but I had by then moved on to other things. Many things happened in those following months which were to affect our family in various ways. My father bought me some fishing line and some hooks, a rod made from a hazel branch with staples in it to hold the line in place, and a piece of stick which acted as a float. I loved fishing and would go out straight after school and catch roach and perch in the lake, if I caught enough it would provide a meal for us all sometimes, so I was contributing to the family income although I didn’t think of it in those terms. A new family moved in next door to replace the wife carrying mud walker, and these new neighbours were to cause conflict with us until my fishing exploits one day brought an unexpected truce. There were incidents at times like braving the backyard, the new people had taken a great dislike to us and their children who were a little older than us, would wait inside their house looking out through the window until one of us crossed the back yard to get some firewood, or hang out some washing. They would suddenly charge out and throw a bucket or bowl of water at us, or throw mud at the washing, then if my mother went out to remonstrate their mother would come out and deny it and shout at my mother who was far more reserved and perhaps overwhelmed. When my father got home he would just say we were making a mountain out of a molehill or the matter was dead in the water long before he got back, so we should just ignore it. Funnily enough if my father went into the backyard later, or at the weekend, the chap next door always made a point of coming out to the yard and having a friendly chat with my father and asking about us and my mother, like a kind of peacemaker. Another time of running the gauntlet was whenever I went into the forest to collect any of the branches that I could lasso from the trees then pull on them till they came crashing down. I had to then drag them across the fields to our garden and the woodshed before putting them inside and closing it up before our neighbours came out with more bowls of water; it was a constant and daily battle. Three incidents stuck in my memory around this time, two boys who were probably about four of five years older than me, often went bird nesting all around our area and I came upon them one day while walking around the lake. They had found some herons that were nesting high up in a tree and wanted to know what the eggs were like, how many there were and whether any had yet hatched. They had been set this task by their school after volunteering, they informed me, but were afraid of making the actual climb, so felt that they had let the teacher down and would be laughed at by their classmates, so could I possibly help them? Only too pleased to offer my assistance, I offered to climb the tree for them and made my way up to the nest. There were four eggs I called down to them and offered to bring one down to show them, but they asked if I could bring down two so that they could compare them as one might turn out to be a cuckoo’s egg. Trusting as I was and knowing that cuckoos did lay eggs in other bird nests , (though not in herons nests as I would later discover), I dutifully brought down two eggs for them and handed them down before climbing down the last few branches. Needless to say the boys took an egg each and then ran away before I could give chase, so I learned my second lesson in gullibility, for I had been tricked once before, while we were living in Leyton. The second incident was a painful one for me, I had surprised a squirrel as I came over a hummock and having no escape he ran into a hole in the bank. Ever the determined hunter, I thrust my hand down into the hole and was promptly savagely bitten by the trapped and terrified squirrel; I shook him off my hand and before he could escape, kicked him up into a nearby tree. I felt vindicated by my revenge, though of course the squirrel was the more innocent party to the whole event, although I hadn’t seen it that way at the time. The only redeeming factor was that although I had kicked the squirrel up into a tree, he quickly recovered and ran away jumping from tree to tree so maybe he wasn’t too badly hurt. The third incident was also painful, but this time to a relative of our next door neighbours, he had come to stay with them for a week and had joined in their aggressive campaign against us. As I was returning from the forest with some wood one day, he came rushing out of their back garden gate and hit me as the others laughed. Suddenly our gate flew open and my sister came charging out like a whirling dervish, with her friend in hot pursuit; while he and his friends stood frozen on the spot, Babs swung and hit him with the stoolball bat that she and her friend had been playing with in our back garden. Mrs Thomas from next door went over to the farm to complain, but Phil Anstee came over to hear both sides of the story, and was apparently already aware of the ongoing saga. He informed Mr and Mrs Thomas that he and his brother were of the opinion that the aggression stemmed largely from them and that my father had just ignored all of the bickering, so they needed to adjust their attitude and that of their children. The hostilities came to an end, though there was still to be some tension between us, until my unplanned and aforementioned breakthrough. My fishing was one of my favourite pastimes, not only for the fishing itself, but because my mother would give me a halfpenny for each fish I caught if they were perch or roach, since she could cook them for our meals and I would often catch enough to feed the whole family.
LURGASHAL PART 2 – EVERY THING CHANGES
One day the local fishing clubs hired the lake from the Anstee brothers to hold a fishing competition and as I was a farm worker’s child I could go free, so I took up my usual place on “The Log”. A large tree had collapsed from the bank into the lake during a storm and the branches had been cut and dragged ashore so that only the trunk remained, it was my favourite place for fishing since few people would venture out onto it. The competition was only just starting when I arrived and people had spread themselves along the lakeside shore so we settled ourselves and commenced fishing. After about twenty minutes my float bobbed and I began reeling in the line and could see the fish approaching the log but as I started to lift the line a large shape passed beneath me so I flicked my line over my head to the other side of the log and watched with bated breath as the shape shot forward and seized my small fish. I started reeling in and flicking my rod from side to side as I tried to pull it in but suddenly the line snapped! I could see the line and my float moving around in the water so I smashed my rod onto the water and frantically tried to tangle the floating line around my fishing rod. Some people started to shout at me but luckily one man dropped his line and ran across to the log before clambering along it with his landing net and came up alongside me where he put the net handle into my hands and holding it with me, managed to pull the shape toward the log until we managed to pull it out of the water. It was a huge pike and was the biggest fish I had ever seen! He made me hold the net handle as he assisted me along the log to the shore and then we took it up well away from the water. Quite a few people stopped their fishing and came across to have a look and were congratulating him, but he put his hand up and said “No, the boy caught it, it’s his fish, I just helped him to land it.” They burst into spontaneous applause and patted his back and mine. That was the end of my fishing trip that day, I couldn’t wait to get home so I left the pike with the man while I ran home with my fishing gear and got a sack from my mother then ran back to the man who put it in the sack for me, shook hands and said goodbye then went back to his fishing. When my mother saw the pike she said it was no good because we couldn’t eat it but our one time enemy lady from next door had somehow heard about it and came to see my mother, she offered her half a Crown for the fish so my mother happily agreed, then when we went indoors handed me sixpence for being so clever and put the rest into her purse. I was so thrilled that I had caught a huge fish and been given about two weeks pocket money for being so clever! Later on there was a visitor from the fishing contest organisers and my day became even better, they said that my catch was the best fish caught and although I wasn’t an official entry, my catch was still found to be the best of the day so I was awarded two shillings as a visitor participant! So actually I won a fishing contest, earned my first fortune and gained some new friends, all in a single day. This time my mother let me keep one of the two shillings that the organisers had given me so I was probably the richest I had ever been! Probably more importantly it changed the whole situation with our next door neighbours because they gradually became more friendly for the remainder of our stay at the farm. Better still, when my mother told her how good I was at fishing, Mrs Thomas asked me if I could catch some small fish for her like Roach or perch and she would give me a penny for each fish but only if it was big enough. I would go out and catch about six or seven fish but she would only give me sixpence even if there were more because she would say that some of them were too small. But I didn’t care I would just give the extra ones to her anyway if my mother didn’t want them because they were no good to me and I had my sixpence so I was happy. The Thomases had three children so there was one fish for each child and two each for the mum and dad so I always gave them plenty. The reason that I was good at fishing was because I used to go looking for wasps nests with my father, he taught me how to smoke them out and then we would dig out the nest and collect the wasp larva or maggots which the fishes loved. I remembered that little trick long after we eventually left the Anstee’s farm. Lurgashall educated and informed me in a vast number of ways, but not always to my benefit; I was hiding from my sister under our parents bed one day when I found a packet of little balloons so I blew them up and tied them to the end of the bed like a decoration. Later that day when my father returned home my mother spoke to him and I got a good walloping; the balloons were actually a packet of three contraceptives that I’d never heard of let alone known of their function. We also had a Larder in our house and one night I heard a noise so sneaked downstairs to find my sister eating biscuits and spoonfuls of icing sugar, she started crying and begging me not to say anything , so I promised. The next morning I went downstairs only to be smacked by my mother because she told me that Babs had told her that she had caught me pitching icing sugar the previous evening! I never learned my lesson because I always gave her the benefit of the doubt only to be betrayed when it was in her interest, but that’s what sisters are for. A new girl came to our school and I fell in love with her, she was a foreigner, an American girl whose father bought a house on the edge of the village green, she was older than me but like to me and was flattered by my attention so she used to make a fuss of me and I used to take her fruit from our orchard or take her a few eggs for her family as a special surprise, they appreciated the gifts but as I had pinched them from our fruit trees or from the farm it actually cost me nothing. For some reason Brian Anstey’s wife had taken a liking to me and used to invite me to her home where we would talk for ages; she also gave me biscuits or cake and occasionally chocolate, which we could never afford at home. I think that she liked my cheekiness and disposition, but also that she was quite isolated and being quite lonely, liked the idea of just a bit of company. Sometimes she used to loan me her bike till one day I decided to ride it into Petworth which was some miles away; I think it must have been around the time of the fishing competition because one afternoon I had some money and so I decided to go to the cinema. Arriving in Petworth I left her bicycle outside and went to watch “The Wooden Horse”. By the time I got back to the Anstey house it was already dusk, Mrs Anstey was quite upset and her husband who was now at home, felt obliged to walk me back to my parents home. I think that Mrs Anstey had just liked my company but following that adventure I was not invited there again. By this time the improved relationship with our next door neighbours led to our going to collect wood with them and to explore the countryside beyond the far end of the Lake where they had never ventured before. This in turn led us to discovering a small village not far beyond the Lake. More importantly it made us aware that there were some orchards along that route, so on the way back from the village we clambered over fences and grabbed some apples from people’s gardens before making good our escape. Once safely ensconced on our welcoming Lakeside we threw ourselves laughing, beneath the trees and bit into our precious bounty. Our short lived excitement was replaced with groans of revulsion as we bit into the harsh reality of our first taste of bitter and rancid crab apples! I had learned another lesson “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” The allure of a new village was short lived, there was little more there than could be found in Lurgashall and the orchards were a sharp disappointment. Then too, our newly found friends had discovered the lake and its surroundings because we had taken them there to explore, and as many of our friends from school loved coming to the Lake, we found new adventures on our own doorstep. My father got some large empty oil drums from the farmyard and bound them together with a deck of old timbers and a couple of doorframes. He cut us some makeshift paddles so that we could row or paddle ourselves around or even across the Lake, though we didn’t try that too often. Some older bullyboys started interrupting our games or even pushing the drum boat out into the Lake to annoy us until one day my younger brother Trevor sneaked up behind two of them sitting on a bench on the Lakeside and pushed them both into the Lake. I wasn’t there at the time but apparently a group of the children from the village and our houses grabbed sticks and stones and started piling into them, they beat a hasty retreat and possibly because they felt foolish at being beaten off by a group of younger children, they didn’t come back again. We all swam in the shallower parts of the Lake and then one weekend I decided to really put the boat out so I got Tommy Ailwood to help me carry an old shed door down to the sluice gates near the Watermill; it was time to attempt a new adventure.
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