CHAPTER THREE (b)
HOME & ON THE FARM (PART 2)
I cannot remember many specific dates during my childhood but one winter comes to mind and that was 1947. There was a considerable amount of snow that year and my mother carried me on her back up the lane to the farm because I would have got lost in the snowdrifts. We were able to slide on the ponds which iced up well during the winters around that time and there were plenty of fields with slopes so we could go sledding.
I suppose in a lot of ways I was quite a loner and there was one thing I enjoyed very much doing on my own. I had a favourite cow apart from the one which Richard, the farmers son, liked and he called his own and which we used to ride around the fields on – and this one I called Fanny. I was quite a bookworm and during the nicer days I would go out in the field behind our house if the cows were in that field and more times than not Fanny would be laying down chewing the cud. I used to sit down between her legs and use her as a backrest and sit for an hour or more reading.
When Richard was old enough to officially drive on the road he obtained a two seater open top car – sort of racy – dark green with probably only an Austin seven engine in.
Anyway we would go all over the place in this to the pictures and other venues and being that it was small it appeared to travel quite fast. Probably not by today’s standards but very good fun.
We had our own baker in the village and they did their deliveries with a three-wheeler van - an olden day Reliant Robin but I don’t know what make they were.
I remember one day when my friend Kevin and I were playing round the village we went to the garage where the old bakers vans were dumped. We found some money around the gearbox area which had obviously dropped out of the moneybag when the vehicle was in use. We took it to the bakers who said we could have it, so we bought some loose cigarettes for our mothers (that’s what we said) and ran off across the fields to have a smoke. We accidentally caught one of the trees in the orchard on fire. A clip round the ear from the local “Bobby” put us in our place and we didn’t get up to those tricks again.
Charcott was only a small village but at the end of the war we had ten prefabs erected. They were like overgrown sheds and were put up by the Council for supposedly a short time till proper houses had been built. They were in use for 20 to 25 years to my recollection. Then they were replaced by proper semidetached council houses – ten or a dozen – and later on flats were also built in the village. Even so it is still quite a small community.
There was also a pub, next door to where we lived, The Greyhound, and my father would frequent that establishment quite regularly. When I was old enough, I too, visited there, often on a Sunday lunch time and we had to be back indoors for our dinner at 1.45 p.m. or heaven help us. Mum used to do the traditional roast beef or whatever with roast potatoes and two or three other vegetables. Often with roast beef she would put a lump of pastry over and this would soak up the juices, or a steam pudding would be cooked in a cloth and part of this was dished up with the main course and the remainder would be treacle pudding, or with butter and sugar. My uncle Stan and his son, my Cousin Doug, would often visit on a Sunday and we would all go round the pub.
We used to do our shopping Saturdays in Tonbridge so after dinner we had to walk across the airfield to the station. Every fortnight dad and I had haircuts so immediately we arrived in Tonbridge we would look in on the barber to see how busy he was. If he had several customers waiting we would go off to watch Tonbridge play football while mum struggled round the town doing the shopping. We used to meet uncle Stan and cousin Doug there and enjoy our afternoon’s entertainment. Uncle Stan had a favourite cough sweet – he would be puffing away at a Woodbine, coughing like mad and as soon as he finished he would hand round the “SWEETIES” – “have a Notoid” he would say. You did not dare refuse and they used to blow your head off – as soon as possible I would spit mine out. After football we would go back to the barbers and get our locks trimmed. The last thing we would do before going back to the station would be to the fish shop – Macfisheries next to the river – and buy some soft roes. Beautiful they were and that was our Saturday tea – roes on toast.
Entertainment was not available in the form of Television as it is now and we had to make our own efforts. Locally, at the Landlord’s large house they had a Squash Court. Although we village children did not play squash we belonged to a club run by Captain Hills’s wife, and sometimes her daughter. We used to have games in the court or in the large garden if the weather was fine, and country dancing because Mrs. Hills played the violin in the band. She would take several of us to dances all over the area, up to about 25 miles away.
We would also try and put on shows in the squash court and it was not unusual for a group of us youngsters to accumulate at my home and act out our various ‘pieces’ in from of my mum and dad for their approval before we put on the show at the club.
At home we also made our own entertainment apart from the usual reading, puzzle making, drawing etc. I made my own radio one time - this was similar to the very first ones – a cat’s whisker! It comprised of a coil of copper wire, a cats whisker which was a pointer that was mounted on a stand and you had to put the point into a crystal and by moving it about you could get reception. A pair of earphones were needed otherwise you could not hear. Very basic but fun. Talking of radios – wirelesses as they were called – these were run on accumulator batteries and one job was to take an accumulator to the bakers for them to deliver to the cycle and wireless shop in Leigh to be recharged and collect another one. Sometimes it meant carrying it all the way to Leigh and bringing another one back if it had gone flat.
I also collected stamps and had a considerable collection which got mislaid somewhere along the way. We also collected cigarette cards – many brands had various sets of cards and we attempted to persuade the parents to smoke a particular type so we could collect the sets. When we had more than one of a particular number – for instance two of the same footballer then we would do swaps with another boy at school or we would play Flick. You would stand close to the wall and flick a card then the other lad would do the same and if one landed on another then that person would collect all the cards that had been flicked to that point.
Of course, marbles was another game played at school, you would go armed with about 20 marbles in a bag – and they were extremely pretty and highly coloured – and hope that you returned at the end of the day with more than you started with. Not always the case unfortunately.
Conkers was another pastime. There was a horse chestnut tree in the back garden so we had a goodly supply of conkers. These we took to school, sometimes after baking them as they were supposed to be better but this was not really true. Each player had a conker on a string and the idea was for one to hold his or hers still while the opponent used his conker to hit the first one and if it broke then this made the winner’s conker a ‘Oncer’. As many time as he won with the same conker then the name would change to a ‘Twoer’, ‘Threeer’, etc. Not very grammatical.
Every year Mum, Dad and I went on holiday to Hythe to stay with mum’s sister, Cis and her husband Reg for a week. I was quite happy playing in the sea every day, especially when I had made friends with other youngsters on holiday there but there were also the boring long walks, the same every year. On one holiday I remember having saved very hard and had two pounds to spend. Dad had got paid and he had brand new one-pound notes. I asked if he would swap a couple for me and I memorised the numbers. Believe it or not, it was inevitable that I should lose them whilst we were shopping in Hythe so I reported it to the police and shocked them when I was able to tell them the numbers – they were consecutive so it was not so difficult. The amazing thing was they were handed in to the police station having been found in Woolworth’s. When we asked the name of the person who handed them in it turned out to be a cleaner lady who lived in Folkestone. Obviously she could well have done with the money but we did visit her to thank her – and she refused a reward. There were some honest people about.
One year, after I had got my new bike I cycled down to Hythe, 56 miles, and no motorway. It took me four hours and meant that I was mobile when I was there. A much happier time for me.
Another activity in the village as the Causeway Amateur Dramatic Society (known as CADS) and we used to put on plays and shows in the village hall at Chiddingstone Causeway. Some of the teachers from Knotley Hall were quite keen and produced shows for us as well as acted in them.
Also in the Village Hall, all supplied by Captain Hills, was a games room with a billiard/snooker table. We also had a dartboard and table tennis table so we were able to join the village club and go and play games. My dad belonged to the club but he would go for tournaments playing cards, dominoes, shove-halfpenny etc.
One day when we were playing darts one of the lads pointed to the dartboard with his finger on the spot where he wanted the thrower to put the dart – he did – right through his finger and pinned it to the board.
Cycling of course was another form of entertainment. There were two girls who came with their mother to visit her father who lived at Charcott. They only came from Tonbridge and their father worked on the Railway. This way they often brought their cycles and the three of us would disappear off all day for a cycle ride. Our parents would have no need to worry about us as there was very little traffic around and we would be in the back roads somewhere. This did not mean we were completely immune from disaster. One day when we were travelling down a hill into Penshurst Barbara Young, the eldest of the girls, came off her brand new Hercules and smashed her face so badly that she had to have a load of ‘Scaffolding’ to hold her jaw back into place until it repaired. Her only comment was “I am glad my bike is alright because I can mend”.
I had a friend called Malcolm Line who was lucky enough to own a gramophone and I used to cycle to his house towards Chiddingstone and we used to get in his bedroom and with a Victor Silvester record and a book on dancing attempt to learn how to do it by following the pattern of feet set out on the page. I don’t really know whether it did any good.
When another friend, Roy Fuller, was old enough to have a motor bike and had passed his test we used to go to Sevenoaks Weald regularly each week to learn Square Dancing and Modern ballroom dancing and there was a time when we used to run the sessions – with records of course. I learned quite a few square dances and the calls. It was great fun and many village people used to attend and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Still no TV to deter them from going out.
Roy and I would travel to the Weald whatever the weather and I recall one instance where we came off. First remember we did not have to have hard crash helmets in those days and I used a leather helmet that belonged to my dad when he had a motorbike. Not a lot of protection except to keep your ears warm. I was never a good passenger and from all accounts used to attempt to ride the bike myself and would lean in the wrong direction instead of following him when he went round a corner. Needless to say the bike went one way and we went the other. Roy’s girlfriend Betty used to go to the dancing with her mother. Afterwards Roy would take Betty’s mother home then come back for Betty and then finally return for me to take me home. I certainly did a lot of walking as Betty and I would start towards her home.
I used to go to Old Tyme Dancing with Bill Warner and his girlfriend, his mum and many others – we used to travel the villages for miles around by coach and often took as much as two hours to return home after the dance because we used to tour all the villages to delivery the people back to their homes. One week it would be Chiddingstone Causeway village hall, the next Tunbridge Wells Pump Room (now demolished), the following week perhaps we would travel as far as Godstone, then another to Ashurst Wood, near East Grinstead. Two o’clock in the morning would not be unusual and I am surprised mum and dad did not object but they knew that I was with a crowd.
Practically every night for many months if not years Kevin and I would run round the airfield 3 times – probably a total of 10 miles – supposedly to keep us fit. Look what I am like now!!
We also used to cycle into Tonbridge on a regular basis to meet up with our mates from school, or go to the pictures, or look round for girls to chat up.