Memories of Wickford - Suzette Higgins

Memories of a childhood in Wickford.

Paula Sloane, one of our Archive members, who sadly died in November 2017, had met this lady in the summer of 2017. She explained:
“I met a very nice lady at the Art Exhibition in St. Mary’s Church. Her name is Suzette (Sue) Higgins and she had travelled from Kent to see the Art. She happened to mention that she grew up in Wickford from the age of about 3 and had written her early life story. She sent it to me this weekend and I was absolutely engrossed in it as it was very much like my own, and most probably many, childhood memories, whether you lived in the country or in the towns. I think it gives a wonderful description of being a child in Wickford.”

 

I was born on 29th January 1940, in Rettendon, Essex. It was just a very small community. The bungalow, named ‘Sunnyside’, I was born in was at the end of a row of approximately eight identical properties, no other houses around, all owned by a land owner by the name of Mr Kiddman. I believe most of the fields around were owed by the same man. I had two elder brothers, Brian, aged 5 when I was born, and Alan, 3. I was told that it was very thick snow on the day that I arrived and that my dad had to get out his motorbike and sidecar to go and get the midwife, Nurse Metcalfe, from Wickford. It turned out she had a busy day that day, as she then delivered another baby girl in Wickford called Jose Cootes, who became my very dear life-long friend (more about her later). I lived in Rettendon for the first four years of my life. My only memories of that time were going bird nesting with my brothers, and one day after getting a baby barn owl out of its nest and putting it into my little apron pocket supposedly to take home and keep as a pet, we were chased by a bull, my brothers dragged me across that field with my little legs not touching the ground, and sadly when we got home the little bird had gone, I was so upset and disappointed. It seems a cruel thing to do now but living in the country at that time, it was natural. There were no shops anywhere within approximately 2 miles, so my mother used to have a grocery delivery once a week. A lady called Maureen used to arrive in a van from the shop in Battlesbridge to take her order, she would sit at the table with her cup of tea and mum would think of what she needed. Maureen prompted her with suggestions of what she might have run out of, “jam?” “no I’ve got plenty of that”, “junket?” “Oh yes, two please”. No list made out, no hurry. The shop was called “Blanks Grocery Store” and is still there today, but of course not as a grocery shop, but as an antique emporium. My only other memory of this time was when the shoe mender boy came around and admired our talking jackdaw, only to return sometime later to break open the cage and steal our bird. We never got our usual two weekly visit from the shoe boy again.

We moved to Wickford just before I was due to start school. I am sure my mother was quite happy living in Rettendon, as that was where she was brought up, but my father was working for Carter and Ward, a building company based in Wickford, and was offered a bungalow to rent (most people rented in those days). The boys were already at school there, so it was more convenient for everyone. I vaguely remember the removal van taking us to our new home in Athelstan Gardens, with the sign hanging over the front porch with the name ‘Mirfield’. All homes had names, not numbers, and five doors down in ‘Clovelly’ lived the little girl who was born on the same day that I was, Jose Cootes. Athelstan Gardens was quite a long unmade road, with groups of bungalows broken up with corn fields, thickets, and open plots of land – all were our playgrounds. Adjacent to ‘Mirfield’ was a plot of land that we called ours, as no one ever seemed to come near it, dad had the entrance to his garage through it, the boys had their football pitch on it and the whole neighbourhood came to the most wonderful  firework displays on November 5th .  Everyone brought their own fireworks, the boys with the help of other lads from around would build an enormous bonfire, starting weeks before. Dad always had to stop the building as it got closer and closer to our bungalow. It was so big you could walk inside it, there were large barrow loads of wood chippings wheeled up Harold Gardens from the wood yard at Carter and Wards to be put inside, along with old newspapers, old rubber tyres collected from I don’t know where. The boys would cut down small trees from the thicket which I was expected to help drag down the lane to the bonfire site, my brothers made no allowance for the fact that I was a girl and never had any consideration for the fact that I had just one arm. If I was with them I had to do as they did. One of the scarey things I liked to do was jumping off the garage roof and onto the garden. This usually took several attempts, as you had run to the end of the roof, and then jump. First run up I would lose my nerve, “Ill do it next time” I’d say to myself, then I would run to the end again, “no it’s too high”, I would think, “last time, I’ve just got to do it”, fast run up and I was over. I can still feel how exhilarating it was to fly through the air, over the washing line and land on the garden, luckily no bones broken. The boys encouraged me to climb to the top of the very high poplar tree that stood in ‘our’ piece of ground, I had no problem getting up but couldn’t get down, poor mum standing at the bottom shouting at my brothers to go up and get me down. Alan came up and told me where to put my feet as I came down, some of the foot holds I remember were only nodules, it’s a wonder that I didn’t fall and break my neck, and a wonder that my mum wasn’t in a lunatic asylum with the things that we all got up to. There was the time that Brian and Alan decided to make some money and go around asking for ‘a penny for the guy’ – the thing was, I’d got to be the guy. The pot of tar they found in dad’s garage they said would look good as hair, but realised they couldn’t put it straight onto my head, as it would stick to my hair, so Jo run home and got an old linen nightdress which was put over my head to protect my hair. The tar was plastered on top, eyes and mouth were painted onto the face (no cut outs, couldn’t see a thing) then I was stuck in the wheelbarrow. Everyone declared I looked great and just like a real guy. Brian and Alan knocked on lots of doors and I was told when to keep dead still as someone was coming out to have a look at the guy, it seemed a long evening and I was glad when it was time to go home. It felt good to get that nightdress off my head, but not good when I saw the boys gasp in horror at my hair massed together with tar. They shared out the takings, just a few pence for me, after all it was their idea and I only had to sit in the barrow and be pushed around. I was sent home on my own to face the music, more gasps of horror from mum when she saw my hair, and then the torture began, a bowl of very hot water (it felt like boiling) some Fairy Snow washing powder (mum used that for everything) scrubbing and scrubbing my head for ages, with me crying my eyes out, the boys stayed out as long as they could that night. But how grateful I have been to my brothers over the years, they toughened me up and made me stand on my own two feet. I always had to fight my own battles. We all became good friends in Athelstan Gardens: there was Norma Dexter, Elvena Dolman, Jose Cootes and me Susie De’ath. We were always raking around together, in the cornfield jumping on the bales of hay, climbing over the fence into Payne’s orchard scrumping his apples until he chased after us. We climbed trees to get birds eggs, and played our favourite game “Tin Can Tommy” where about ten of us would all gather in the lane, and decide who was “it”, say it was me, someone then kicked a can as far up the lane as they could and while I walked up to get it, not allowed to look back, everyone run off to find a hiding place. I came back with the can and had to place it on the spot it was kicked off from, I could then start finding my friends’ hiding places. I would walk a little way away from the can and as soon as I spotted someone I would run back to the can, tap it, and say “tin tan tommy, one two three I see Jose behind Mrs Flexman’s wall”. She then had to come out and wait for me to find the others, if I walked too far from the can and someone was hiding near they could run out, get to the can before me and kick it away again. I didn’t let that happen too often. Life for me in Althelstan Gardens was heaven. I was always sorry when mum called me to come in for dinner and bed. We often made sure we were right down at the bottom of the cornfield so that we could honestly say we didn’t hear her calling. The lane was our main playground, and when I said it was an unmade road what I meant was it was a dirt road, with a ditch running down one side. On quieter moments, we girls would sit in the ditch and exchange beads from our bead box collections, the large colourful cut glass ones would have to be exchanged for several other beads as cut glass was the most sought after. Jose reminds me at every opportunity, of the times we would sit in the ditch, with me eating a bag full of sweets and not sharing them with anyone, and Jo looking on hopefully, but as I have tried to explain to her many times, it was my mother’s fault, she would tell me not to go giving them away as they were still on ration. In the winter our playground became deep ruts which filled with water when it rained, it was great for paddling in. Roy Smith one of the older boys called me over to look at something in one of these large ruts, as I stood there he threw a brick into the rut, I was covered from head to toe in mud, dad went after him and clipped him around the ears, that’s how punishment was dealt out in those days. It was great fun riding up the lane in dad’s van, it was like being on a rollercoaster, slowly riding the ruts, cars must have had good suspension back then. Dad was one of the few men down our road who drove and had a vehicle, I don’t know of any women that drove at that time. The path was not muddy like the road, as all the residents put money together to buy clinker, a lorry load was delivered and all the men came out with their shovels and spread it along the path. How I used to walk up to Jose’s house on that clinker path with no shoes on my feet, I will never know, that must be why the soles of my feet are like leather today. Snowy days were wonderful, I would stay out as long as I could, then go in crying with the cold, mum would dry out my clothes in front of the fire, then I would want to go straight out again. The boys were merciless with those snowballs. Poor Mr Hornby, the milkman, delivered the milk in the afternoon, which gave them plenty of time to build a large barricade and a stock of snowballs, when he came around the corner there was a shout of “let him have it” and we all pelted him with snowballs, he was such a good sport. He would put down his milk crate, and have a snowball fight with us for quite sometime, he must have dreaded coming around that corner on snowy days. We were lucky there was never much homework from school, so there was plenty of spare time with no pressure on us. When I went to bed at night after another fun filled day, I would ask myself “if I wasn’t me who would I want to be”, the answer was always no one, as they wouldn’t have my family and live where I lived. The bungalow that we lived in was very small, and I wonder now how my mother possibly brought up three children in such a tiny place. We had two bedrooms, one living room, one front room (called the best room) and the smallest kitchen you can imagine, which had to double up as a bathroom. We started off with a tin bath which would be put in front of the living room fire on bath night, we only had one bath a week, the rest of the week Mum and Dad would give us a “wash down” before going to bed, (when we were little of course).  Dad would always help Mum with this task, we would be sat on the living room table, with a bowl of water in the middle, Dad would have two of us washed while Mum was still rinsing off the soap for the second time, as you can imagine we always wanted Dad to be the one to wash us. Dad soon installed a cast iron bath in the kitchen, it only had a cold water tap. Hot water for the bath had to be boiled up in a gas copper also housed in that small kitchen. You couldn’t swing a cat round in there. There was still only one bath night a week, which was a big palaver, as the wooden plank that sat on top of the bath had to be cleared of all the groceries that were stored there. We only had one cupboard in there for storage which housed the pots and china. Order of bath night was me in first, so couldn’t have too much cold water in it as the boys had to get in after. I can tell you that having a bath was never a pleasure, as it was like being scalded, I always got out with a red bum and back of the legs, there was never enough water to cover the top of the legs, which could have been a blessing, less bits to get scalded. Poor mum always had to stop what she was doing and get out of the kitchen whenever dad wanted to wash and shave. It got worse for her as the boys got older because they also wanted to wash to go out courting (as we called it then). The one good thing was you didn’t have to worry about a toilet in there, as there wasn’t one; it was outside the back door, which was great in the summer, but not much fun in the winter. I can remember being scared stiff to go out there at night, no light, pitch black, I made mum stand at the back door until I had finished. Often there was snow on the ground, we had far more snow and ice in those days, the pipes in the toilet would regularly freeze up in the winter, which of course meant when they thawed, they would burst. Dad was always ready with a lump of lead and a blow torch to create yet another bump in the lead pipe from his repair. There was no problem about going to the toilet during the night, you were allowed to use the ‘po’. Mum had few of the modern conveniences we have today, no freezer, there was no need for one, there were no frozen foods available, the first to be introduced were frozen peas in the sixties, and mum could see no sense in them. We had no washing machine, whites were boiled up in the copper, other clothes washed by hand in the sink rubbed on a wash board, then taken out to the shed to be put through the large hand mangle before hanging on the line. No ironing board, just a sheet laid on the table. No refrigerator, the Sunday joint of meat was kept outside in the garden in a ‘meat safe’ this was a concrete box made by dad with a mesh door to keep out the flies, it seemed to work quite well, until one day the neighbours’ dog worked out how to get the door open, we had no roast dinner that Sunday. Shops weren’t open on Sundays, or Saturday afternoons come to that. Mum and Dad had one bedroom which I had to share with my little bed in the corner; the boys had the other bedroom, sharing a large double bed. The best room was hardly ever used, only when visitors came, and that wasn’t very often. The room was freezing in the winter, no one had central heating in those days, but most rooms had a fire place. The only time the best room fire was lit was Christmas Day and Boxing Day, oh what a treat to be able to sit on the brown leather suite, and have a lovely crackling fire while mum was in the living room preparing the Christmas dinner. A cockerel (fattened up by one of the neighbours), which mum had sat in the cold shed and plucked and drawn the day before, stuffed with the best stuffing you have ever tasted. Fresh sage from Mrs Sargent’s garden, onions from dad’s, and bread crumbs laboriously grated by mum, all bound together with one of our pet chicken Cookie’s eggs. How we enjoyed our Christmas dinner, as we would never have chicken any other time of the year. Oranges and nuts were only ever available at Christmas time. Bananas were always scarce and when the word got out that there were bananas at the green grocer’s everyone made a beeline for them. Mum got her bike out of the shed and it was like wacky races, they had to join a long queue, and were only allowed a small amount. I was told a girl once ate three bananas and died, so I always stopped at one just in case. We had a nice long back garden which dad filled with all different wonderful vegetables. He was a very successful gardener, soot from the chimney had to go into the trench dug ready for celery, all the food waste, this would only be peelings and vegetable trimmings as we ate everything else, had to go into another trench dug for other vegetables. He had a large greenhouse which produced the most gorgeous tomatoes, far too many, but dad loved to give them away. Most people used their back gardens to grow vegetables, as we could all play safely outside.  Dad worked really hard during the week working five and a half days, most peoples working week was full days, Monday until Friday and half day Saturday. He was always up early on Sundays and out in his garden. Mum worked hard too, and cooked well for us all. I remember her mostly wearing a wrap over apron. When the boys started work she would pack their’s and dad’s food up in the evenings, for the next day, each had something packed for breakfast and dinner. People never brought ready made sandwiches, I don’t think there was anywhere that you could buy them. There were no fast food outlets, only fish and chip shops. It would take Mum all evening as she had her own way of doing sandwiches. I was not allowed to help as I didn’t do them properly, didn’t take the butter right to the edges. I tried to tell her that they wouldn’t know the difference but she wanted them done her way. Mum liked to have the odd bet, but it was illegal then and there were no betting shops allowed. She had to find Harry standing on the corner by Warders the bakers and secretly pass him her bet wrapped around the money, sometimes it was me that had to do the secret pass over. I’m sure the powers that be knew what was going on but turned a blind eye.

Wickford was just a small town, with a railway station, cinema, doctor, dentist, post office, infant, junior and senior schools, all the shops you could want. Warders the bakers who baked on the premises, Franklyn the butchers with their own slaughter houses at the back of the shop, who when you asked for pork chops would go out to the cold store and bring in a side of pork, place his knife in position and you could say where he was to cut, so that you got the size chops that you wanted. Usually one large one for the man and smaller for the rest of the family. There was a cashier sitting in a cash kiosk, which the butcher passed your bill to, and you then paid her. There was no meat ready cut and you only ever bought meat at the butchers, as was the case with the bakers, you could only get cakes and bread at a baker’s shop. Sweet shops were full of jars of loose sweets and usually your ration was 2ozs. Especially just after the war when rationing was still on for quite a few years. Your mother would cut out the very small 2oz coupon from the ration book, and wrap it around a sixpenny piece, you just hoped you wouldn’t lose it. I can still see Harrington’s the sweet shop who for a while had all the jars full of the same sweets, those awful ‘Fruit Bon Bons’ hard outside with a runny fruit filling inside. They were all individually wrapped in colourful wrappings showing a picture of the fruit flavour inside, possibly the only sweet I didn’t like, but for some reason the only sweet they could get hold of for some time. You can imagine the joy when sweets came off ration and different varieties started to come back into the shops. Sweets just don’t taste as good today. Mum would know the Christian names of all the shop assistants, and when she went into the grocery shop, the assistants would know all the brands that she liked to buy, Robinsons jam, Crawford biscuits, Shiphams paste, and as with Maureen, would suggest items she might have forgotten. Cheese was cut to size from a large slab, butter cut and made into pats of your chosen weight, salt sold in a slab which you had to hit with the rolling pin when you got home to break it up, biscuits were sold loose, so there were always broken biscuits you could buy cheaply. Milk of course was not sold in shops; it was only delivered to your door step. It was such a pleasure to go shopping in those days, mothers mostly didn’t work so there was no rush and the shop keepers knew all their customers. My most embarrassing moment was when mum sent me to the butcher to get some suet to make her dumplings, this was a very popular commodity and in short supply, but Mum being a regular customer, she was always allowed some, but a pass word had to be used as there was not enough to go around for all customers. I was told to ask Henry for “a little bit of sawdust”, but as Henry was serving another customer I asked someone else. He told me to give him my bag, he took it out the back, when he handed it back it was half full of sawdust. I was too embarrassed to say anything, so took it home to my mum, who called me a silly little fool, and I had to go back and tell Henry what had happened, they all had a good laugh, was my face red!

I always loved going to school, sadly not to learn but to see all my friends, we would all walk along to school together. It was approximately half a mile, no children were delivered by car, and few brought by a parent. I can remember how traumatic my first day at infant school was as it was the first time I had been away from my mother. Children didn’t go to pre-school, there wasn’t such a thing in Wickford, so we were all prised away from our mothers yelling our heads off. I don’t think it was too many days before mum got the boys to walk me to school. Our schools were all situated at the top of Market Road, this was also an unmade dirt road. It was great walking to school on Mondays as it was market day. We had to walk past the cattle market, and could stand and watch the animals being sold. It was always exciting when one of the animals got loose and was chased up the road, especially if someone said a bull was loose, we always got to school early that morning. When moving on to junior school it seemed so much larger and was very strict, you could get the back of your legs slapped very hard if you got caught talking when you shouldn’t, and for other minor misdemeanours. You got the cane for more serious offences. I didn’t experience the cane until Senior School, but do remember thinking one time while in Junior School that I was going to get it.  It was one of those lovely snowy days, and a girl called Audrey who lived just near the school said that her duck pond was frozen over. The thought of skating on that pond was too much of a draw, so at lunch time I suggested that we pop to her home for a short time, another friend joined us, it was such good fun skating across the large pond that we didn’t notice the time going by, and when we run back the playground was empty, we knew we were in for trouble.  Our form teacher Mr Wright was very strict and as we stood outside the classroom door no one wanted to go in first, but it was only fair it should be me. “Where have you been?” asked Mr Wright. “Skating on Audrey’s pond” I replied. “Come and see me after lessons”, he said. I was sure our punishment would be the cane, so was very relieved when he slapped our legs and let us go. He probably wished he could have been there with us. He caught Joan Becket and me another time sitting on the desk with our backs to the front of the class, getting changed for P.E. singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” doing all the animal noises. We didn’t realize he had come into the room until we noticed it had all gone quiet, we got another request to see him after lessons. We had hoped for a quick slap around the legs, but no, he had to embarrass us by getting us to sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” animal noises and all.  Thinking about it now I’m sure he was laughing his head off. It seems to me that we had more freedom and more fun at school when I was there.  There was no such thing as Health and Safety, you could bring all sorts of things to school to have out in the playground during break times. Things seem to go in phases and we were all like a load of sheep, someone only had to start doing handstands up against the school wall, to see how long they could stay there, and before the week was out all you could see was girls with their skirts tucked in their knickers upside down against the school wall.  Then the craze would turn to skipping, two long ropes, held at each end by a girl turning one rope to the right and one to the left, as you jumped in and hopped from rope to rope, keeping the rhythm going “one two three Mother caught a flee, put it in the teapot to make a pot of tea, the flee jumped out, Mother gave a shout”, can’t remember the rest.  Then balls would start arriving at school, girls again, throwing them up against the wall and catching them until you dropped one of the balls, then it was the next girl’s turn.  Two balls were the usual amount in play, but Norma Dexter and some of the other girls could always keep three going.  Then of course, out came those pesky bead boxes, small groups of girls sitting around everywhere exchanging their valuable beads. I think the boys were all playing football, chasing each other or fighting, much like today really. On those winter days when it snowed and froze over, the boys’ slides made in the playground were a sight to behold, they would run on the slope from the school building right down to the playing field, and if you could keep your balance you could travel the full length.  The girls’ slides were wimpish in comparison, it was much more fun on the boys’. Can you imagine these slides being allowed in schools today? Much too dangerous. A few other things that have disappeared from schools, are, small bottles of milk provided to drink in the mornings, (great when they had iced up on frosty days). Pens with nibs that you dipped into ink wells, you then had to blot your work with blotting paper, they were very messy. Outside loos. Laundry lessons, for girls only of course, we had to learn how to wash and starch sheets, and your husband’s shirts, (when you got one), and know how to iron them properly. Knitting was also a very important skill, you started with a practice piece of wool, and when you could knit several rows neatly, and not drop any stitches, you could then go on to knit a useful dishcloth. I was second in our class to be able to do this and if it wasn’t for that Iris Smith I could have been first. I hold a lot against Iris Smith. She was the one who took my place in the sports day relay race, when I had gone into school with Norma Dexter to get my bead box from my desk (yes that bead box again) to do some swapsies. The teacher had been calling my name over the tannoy to come for my race, but by the time I came out my race was over.  I was beside myself when I heard that my team had won the relay race. How could that possibly be? How did they win without me? I was the fastest runner in the team. It still hurts today.

Can you believe that until I was thirteen years old, we did not have a television in our house. We were among the majority of people. The first television I saw was in Mrs Flexman’s house. The make was a Bush, with a twelve inch screen, and it stood in a bakelite case. In the early days of television, programs were only transmitted in the evening, and closed down at ten o’clock. Then children’s hour started coming on to our screens, starting at around four o’clock, we would wait for ages for the test card to disappear off of our screens and for the programs to begin. There was only one channel transmitting for the first few years, that was the BBC, which had a limited amount of programs. All programs were shown in black and white only. Mrs Flexman invited us round on Sunday afternoons to watch the only program showing that afternoon, which was Muffin the Mule, a wooden mule on strings walking about on Annette Mills piano while she sang. Every now and then she would stop singing and say “What is that you say Muffin?” and he would whisper in her ear, but it was too quiet for us to hear, so she would then have to tell us what he had said. It all seemed very magical to us back then. When dad told us we were getting a T.V. we stayed in all day waiting for the delivery. First thing to come onto our screen was a scary play called ‘Face at the Window’. I was both scared stiff, and thrilled to bits. I haven’t seen anything since that has had the same effect. Dad liked to watch hours of “Victory at Sea”, and Mum watched nothing, she had been brought up without radio or television and called it “an infernal racket”. Watching T.V. in those days could be very annoying, as you had interference to contend with. Cars that were not fitted with a suppresser would make a very noisy line go across your screen, and you would have to wait until they had ridden the ruts and moved out of range. Then there were the horizontal and vertical holds to contend with. There were not many evenings when the screen would not start spinning around, or pulling from side to side. Dads would have to fiddle with the knobs (not a job for mums) until the screen stopped. After school I would often go back to Joan Becket’s house for tea, she lived on the Highcliffe council estate, and her family was one of the first in their road to have television. We would be sitting down just before four o’clock waiting for Children’s Hour to begin, when there would be a knock on the door. There would be three or four little children standing there asking if they could come in to watch the television. Joan’s mother was such a lovely kind lady she would always say yes. They would all stand in a group in front of the T.V. Then there would be another knock, and another three or four little ones would be asking to come in to see children’s hour. It wasn’t until the room was full of little ones that she started turning them away. Poor Mr Becket would come home from a hard day’s work, and couldn’t get near his chair to sit down, but he knew what his wife was like, and he couldn’t turn them away. They were so quiet, they just stood there looking at the screen, mesmerized.

We didn’t have many pets, just a cat called Minnie, a chicken called Cookie that had an enormous run all to her self, and several birds that didn’t seem to survive for long. We also had several ferrets (they stunk) they were never given names, as they weren’t always with us for long. It depended on how the boys got on when they went poaching for rabbits, if their ferret was down the hole and the farmer saw them, he would chase them off with his shotgun, and they had to run for their lives, and leave their ferret down the hole, they didn’t come home very happy those days. It was at these times that Mum would say “no more ferret’s”. But it wasn’t long before Brian could be seen going down the path and behind the greenhouse, and you would know he had been to the market and got another ferret. On luckier days, if the farmer was not around, the boys would come home with several rabbits and also their ferret. Mum was always pleased to have the rabbits. I can see her now with newspaper spread over the living room table, skinning and cleaning those rabbits, I can smell them as well. She made the tastiest rabbit stews with dumplings, anything to fill us up, as we all had healthy appetites. There were always plenty of suet puddings, either filled with meat, as a first course, or with apples, plums or other sweet fillings to give us as a sweet. Like most children growing up when I did, we had few toys. What we had were mostly handed down, bought second-hand, or made by dad. He made me a doll’s bed, bedding made by Mrs Cook next door. He made us all blackboards and easels, the blackboards he made from slate. The boys got stilts made, which I remember as sky high. They got quite skilful on them, and used to walk about around the field. Dad bought them kites one Christmas from an ex-serviceman’s store. They were made of canvas and huge. I can’t think what the army would have used them for, but the boys managed to put all the electrics out in Wickford, by flying them into the overhead wires. Another visit from the local bobby. I so wanted a bicycle, so was thrilled to bits to get my second-hand “sit-up-and-beg” bike, there was no stopping me. Mum said I could cycle the four miles to my gran and grandad’s in Rettendon, if I got off of my bike when a car came along, I probably only had to get off it half a dozen times. I remember that trip well, as mum had given me lunch at twelve o’clock so that I wouldn’t be imposing on anyone for my food. I stopped about half way to visit mum’s friend Mrs Pagate who happened to be getting her liver casserole out of the oven. “Have you had your lunch?” she asked me, it smelt so good I told a little white lie and said no, she shared it with me. On I went to gran and granddad’s. My aunt was living with them then and she was a great cook. She asked the same question as Mrs Pagate, “Have you had your lunch?”. I thought as I had told one white lie, what would another one matter, so I sat down to suet pudding with gravy as a starter, followed by meat and vegetables, then a sweet. When my mum found out some time later, that I had had three dinners on that day, she was not at all pleased with me.

I have revisited the places of my childhood, and sadly none are the same. Athelstan Gardens is now a beautiful concrete road, with lovely smooth paths. The cornfields, the thicket, the open pieces of ground, and our field, now all have houses built on them. Mr Hornby has long since stopped delivering the milk. Warder’s the baker, Franklyn’s the butcher and Harry are no longer there. You can put a bet on now in a shop, and get your bread, milk and meat from the supermarket. But where I wonder, do you get ‘a little bit of sawdust’?

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