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THE MAGIC OF LIVING.
Chapter 8.
Our 'dream home' in Weller Close, Amersham, and another illness.

The address of our new home was 13, Weller Close, Amersham, Bucks. We moved into that home during October 1953. A couple of days before we moved in Mum suggested that the three of us take a ride over to have a look at our new home and off we went full of excitement and anticipation.

House pic.
Our dream home in Weller Close.

It was a two storey, brick and tile, end terrace house. The old hut windows had either been made of frosted glass that we couldn’t see out of or too high to be able to look out of without standing on something. This house had low windows that were easy to look out of even when sitting down. The whole house had been painted right through and there was the strong smell of fresh paint in the air as we excitedly explored the different rooms that seemed so bright. To us it was our dream house and we were so happy after all those years in the camps.

As we entered the front door, the stairs were in front of us leading up from the hall. Through a door on the right of the hall was the living room. At the rear of the living room was another door that led to the kitchen. This kitchen had a gas stove (a real luxury after the old paraffin stove we’d had in the hut) and a copper for doing the laundry and heating the bath water. There was no trouble transferring the water to the bath as the bath was also in the kitchen as well, and there was a pipe from the copper to the bath with a tap at the end over the bath. Sometimes, if we were in a hurry to have a bath, the water was scooped out of the copper with a saucepan and emptied straight into the bath. The bath was situated along a side wall and had a lid that served as a work top all day but could be lifted each night at bath time. It was sometimes a bit inconvenient but, we were used to things like that.

There was a back passage going from the kitchen, and the toilet, larder, and coal-hole went off from this before we stepped out of the back door at the side of the house.

The garden was quite large but bare of any plants at that time. There was a shed right in the middle of the back garden which was ideal for our cycles, my few tools, and spares. The house was in a small close with only one entrance, there was no traffic racing by so things were nice and quiet. We were well and truly satisfied.

I was more than satisfied when I found that Alf was living in the next road down and his garden nearly backed onto ours. Mick lived just around the corner, but Arthur had moved elsewhere and I never saw him or his family again.

As we explored the house and garden that day, we heard someone call our name and there, right next door, were Mr. and Mrs. Ridgeway who used to live next door to us at the camp. They were our neighbours once again. Francis came out and said how pleased he was to see me again and what fun we would have together when I moved in. I was very wary as I knew that I wouldn’t put up with his bullying ways anymore. I decided that I wouldn’t encourage him and kept myself to myself as far as he was concerned but, the reckoning was to come.

The great day arrived when we finally moved into our new home. Jim had made me a soap-box cart and I had fun taking two loads of my gear from the old hut to our new house. The loads were mainly my toys and a few tools and spares that Granddad had given me. I suppose it was a two mile trip from the camp to the house but, with the loaded cart in tow, it seemed a real journey. I started early in the morning with the first load, headed across the common, went down Chestnut Lane, turned right into New Road then left into Weller Close. I put the first load into the garden shed and returned for the second load. Back at the hut, the furniture lorry was just about to leave with our furniture. Mum had saved me a few bits and pieces, I piled them on the cart and set off with the second load. The furniture lorry was half unloaded when I arrived back at the house but, it wasn’t long before the removalists had gone and we were left to our own devices.

Soon I had a fire going in the living room open grate and another under the copper to heat up our bath water. The fires had long been my responsibility and it was my job to empty the ash-pans, chop the kindling, lay and light the fires, and get the coal in from the coal-hole. At least, in this house, I didn’t have to go outside for the coal like I used to have to in the old hut.

There was a wood mill about a mile away called ‘Boss and Rodgers’. Alf’s father worked there as a lorry driver and he told me that we could buy a sack of wood there for half a crown. It became another of my chores to go to this mill, buy a sack of wood (sawn and chopped telegraph poles) and bring it back on my cart, When the ground was covered in snow, I’d use a sledge to pull the sack of wood back home on. This wood was easy to chop into kindling.

At the end of that day, with most of the furniture and gear stowed away, we three sat back contentedly in front of the fire and relaxed. It wasn’t like sitting in front of the old range in the hut, we could now watch the flames dancing up the chimney and throwing out raw heat instead of the soft warmth that seemed to envelope us from the range.

We never looked back after moving into that house. I don’t know how long our old hut survived, or the camp. I didn’t go back there until l98l by which time the camp was well and truly gone to be replaced by a housing area. What was more unexpected when I went back, was the fact that the first field up the lane, scene of harvests and the good hiding from the farmer, had also been turned into a housing area as well.

Mum soon had the house looking neat and tidy. There were real ‘Axminster’ carpets on the floor and she made some net curtains for the windows as well as the proper drapes. We were all delighted with our new home. We’d work and play hard all day then sit listening to the wireless in the evening. ‘Take Your Pick’, a quiz game hosted by Michael Miles, was a favourite on the radio and I never missed ‘Journey Into Space’. This latter program was all the rage with us young boys at that time. I’d listen to every moment of the space adventures of Jet Morgan and his crew, Mitch, Doc, and Lemmy. The next day at school we’d excitedly chat about the latest episode.

The school was only about a mile away and easily within walking distance so there was no need to go by bus anymore. I usually walked to school with Alf, Mick, and Roger, who lived just around the corner in Chestnut Lane. Roger was a bit of a scallywag. He was very strong and full of confidence. Like a lot of the young girls in the area, Val would have a crush on this very likeable lad. His parents talked very ‘posh’ but were lovely people and we were always made welcome when we visited Roger in their ‘posh’ bungalow. Us four boys were firm friends at that time.

We were used to the Ridgeway family living next door to us but, we also had other good neighbours. The Patrick family lived on the other side of the house from the Ridgeway family and were very nice and quiet. Maude, one of the daughters, was in my class at school. The Lambert family lived opposite our house and were also a lovely family, I’d play with their son a few times and, I remember that their daughter became one of the famous London ‘Windmill Theatre girls’. Mrs. Swift, who lived on the other side of the Ridgeway family, became Mum’s best friend while we lived in that house.

Just around the corner, on the corner of New Road and Chestnut Lane, was the usual corner shop where we could buy most of the groceries that we required without having to go up to the shops in Amersham. Maggie, as we called the lady who owned the shop, soon became a very good friend of ours and would always let Mum have something on credit if we were short of money. When I think of Maggie’s shop, I seem to think of sliced bread. We had always used uncut loaves until we started shopping at her little corner shop. Nan was never keen on sliced bread and was still buying uncut loaves in 1974.

A few doors up Chestnut Lane from Maggie’s shop lived the coal man (Roger’s next-door neighbour). He had a small coal yard at the rear of his house and once every two weeks he’d deliver our coal. In those days we could only buy coal in one hundredweight sacks and, if you couldn’t afford to buy that quantity, you went without. The coal man would hump the sack of coal on his back, from the lorry out in the road, all the way around the side of the house, and tip the coal out of the sack onto the floor of the coal-hole. A big cloud of coal-dust would belch out of the coal-hole all over the passage and Mum would spend half an hour sweeping and dusting the passage after the coal man had gone.

Our milk, as usual, was delivered every morning to the front door in pint bottles. The cream was always very thick at the top of the milk and we would have to shake the bottle before we opened it so as to mix the cream up with the milk again (there was never any cheating although it was very tempting to pour the cream over Corn Flakes at breakfast time). The milk would sometimes freeze on cold winter mornings and the expansion of the liquids would cause the freezing milk to push up through the cap like a bent candle sticking up out of the bottle. Winter was bad for birds who spent that time of the year around our area and, very often we would find that the cap of the milk bottle had a hole pecked in it where a thirsty bird had helped itself to some milk because all the water in our area was frozen over.

Our post was delivered through a letter box in the front door and I collected all the stamps for my stamp collection.

There was also a ‘Tally man’. This was a salesman from one of the local shops in Amersham or Chesham who would come round and sell clothes that could be paid off each week.

Mum had long stopped working before we moved into this house so there wasn’t any spare money after the rent had been paid and the groceries were bought, but, somehow, we never went short of the necessary things in life.

Through going out with my friends I soon got to know the area.

‘The Plannie’ was just over the back of Mick’s house. This was a small pine plantation set right in the middle of the Quill Hall housing estate and we often played amongst the trees there if we didn’t have time to go to the better spots farther afield.

Behind Boss and Rodgers’ mill, in Raans Road, was a small bridge over the Chesham shuttle railway line and, if we were going that way, we always found time to wait a while until the little train passed under us in a cloud of steam and smoke. It felt very daring to sit on the edge of the parapet with our legs dangling over the outside and the train thundering by below. I never seemed to be able to sit there like Alf, all relaxed as if he were in his favourite chair at home. I would hang on to the top of the wall for dear life and feel very relieved that I was still there after the train had gone.

On the other side of this bridge, Raans Road led up to a farm and ended. This farm was called Raans Farm and the house was like an old manor. At that time we couldn’t see one of the bedroom windows as it was covered in thick ivy. Alf told me that the bedroom was said to be haunted and wasn’t used anymore. After the weird incident in the loft at the bottom camp, I was ready to believe him and resolved never to go near the farm house in the dark. Alf also said it was rumoured that a large, ghostly, white horse, snorting fire and smoke from its nostrils, would charge at people who walked across the field in front of the farm. Alf wouldn’t walk across the field at night but, I walked across the field many times in daylight and darkness without seeing anything unusual, although, I was always ready to run just in case. There was also a pond in front of the farm house with plenty of frogs, newts, etc. at the right time of the year.

Walking on across the field in front of the farm would bring us to the back of a large engineering and logging yard. This yard belonged to T. T. Boughtons and Son, a well known firm in England. Down the rear side of this enormous yard were stacks of tree trunks that had been sawn into planks and had slats between each plank for drying purposes. The trunks were stacked on top of each other, sometimes six high and were a real favourite playing area for us boys. It wasn’t long before we had little secret camps in amongst the planks and logs. It was a real obstacle course to start from one end of the stacks and run to the other end, leaping over the gaps as we went. Some of the jumps required while doing this were very wide and we’d attempt them with hearts beating from more than the effort of running up and down the uneven stacks. At times we had to climb down to ground level then climb up again when the gap was too wide.

Beside the railway, where the Chesham shuttle lines merged with the main Metropolitan and Great Central lines, were the main engineering workshops of Boughtons. Behind these workshops, in those days, the yard was packed tight with old steam lorries, rollers, and ploughing engines. This area was another attraction for us boys and we’d ‘drive’ these old vehicles for hours, gradually working our way around the whole lot, only stopping in our fun to watch a train rush by on the lines just over the fence.

Sometimes we would tire of the yard and walk on to the Elizabeth Avenue housing estate that was being built at the time. It was good fun to jump off the scaffolding of half-built houses and land in the sand heaps. I remember that one time we spent hours taking it in turns to sit in the bucket of a cement mixer while the others used the wheel to try and tip us out. Of course, after much banging from side to side, hanging upside down and gripping the sides of the cement-mixing bucket for dear life, the rider would finally topple out to be replaced by the next lad in line and we’d do our best to topple him out.

On other occasions, we’d walk along to Chalfont station and watch the fireman and driver of the Chesham shuttle train working hard in the engine cab to prepare for the next run. If we were lucky, a Great Central train would come racing through the station seeming to cause an explosion of noise, wind, steam, and smoke.

Alf always seemed to have some money and, if we were at Chalfont station, we never failed to go across the road, up a flight of stairs in the high bank beside the railway bridge, and have a cup of tea in the cafe that used to be there. I felt very grown-up the first time that I did this as I’d never been in a cafe without an adult with me before.

The path pic.
The path going down to the 'Echoing Bridge' is on the left of this picture.

Occasionally we’d go in a different direction. We’d been in our new house a couple of weeks when Alf asked me if I wanted to go for a walk down to the river. As usual, I was keen to go anywhere new. It was a beautiful, mild early winters day, with a warm sun shining out of a blue sky, and I felt just in the mood for a nice walk. We set off, crossed over Chestnut Lane, and walked up a track that closed into a public footpath after a couple of hundred metres. At this point we were on the edge of a hill and could see for miles up the Chess Valley between Chesham and Chenies. Stubbs Wood was on our left, and the Chesham shuttle railway line was clinging to the side of the hill just below us.

We walked on down a path that got more steep with every step, until a small valley came in from our left. The way, to me, seemed blocked by the high embankment on the right that had been built across this little side valley to enable the railway lines to cross from one side to the other. I had visions of climbing the embankment to get down to the main valley. But Alf led me down to the small valley floor and there was a long brick tunnel going right through the high embankment. It must have been a hundred metres long, I’d never walked through such a long tunnel before. The floor of the tunnel was covered in loose chalk and flints. It was wide enough for a lorry to pass through and there were wheel ruts going the whole length of the tunnel but, I never saw a vehicle go through it.

Echoing Bridge pic.
Looking through the Echoing Bridge from the Stubbs Wood end.

A curious thing about this tunnel was that, if you threw a stone against the side wall in the centre of the tunnel, there occurred a very fast echo that lasted for ages. It even worked if we stamped our feet on the floor at the right spot. We’d do this as we walked through the tunnel and the echo would get more pronounced as we neared the centre until there was a din of echoes and we couldn’t hear each other speaking. Then gradually, as we’d walk out towards the other end, the echoes would fade to be replaced by the quiet sigh of the wind through the trees and the distant roar of the waterfall down on the river in the valley. We called the tunnel 'The Echoing Bridge'.

On that first walk through the tunnel, Alf demonstrated the curious echo and I was duly impressed. We played around for a while, throwing rocks at the wall and stamping our feet like an army of soldiers. Then we moved on out of the other side and walked down the edge of a field to the valley floor. The path led through a farmyard and out onto the road that led from Chesham to Chenies. I recognised this road as the one that Granddad used to follow when he took me to work at Latimer.

We crossed this road, walked a hundred metres up Blackwell Hall Lane opposite and came to the River Chess. The river was crystal clear and running over a gravel bed. Alf told me that we’d be able to catch little fish called ‘Miller’s Thumbs’ in the summer from this river. After half an hour of throwing stones into the water, we wandered back up the hill to home. It would be spring before I’d go there again and look up stream from the Blackwell Hall Lane bridge. Then I would recognise the waterfall with the arch in front that was one of my first memories.

A few days later I took Muffin for a walk to the top of the hill and looked across the valley, promising myself that I would explore every inch of ground there. As I looked down at the water meadows with the river winding through them, I thought of all the wonderful wildlife I’d see there once the winter had passed. I could see the mansion at Latimer farther down the valley, perched on the opposite hillside, and my eye followed a track that went up and along from Blackwell Hall Lane to the very woods where the Needhams lived. It didn’t look far at all and I was determined to visit them first chance.

Another thing that excited me were the aeroplanes that kept flying over the valley. They were very low and Alf had told me that his dad said these aircraft were from Bovingdon aerodrome on the hills over the other side of the valley. Well, I knew a bit about the aerodrome and was determined that I’d find out how to get to there once the winter had passed and I was settled in.

Now and again, for something different to do, we’d go up to Amersham and look around the shops but it didn’t excite us all that much at the time.

Val and I would have tea in the evening then usually go out and play with our friends. Both of us had to be in by seven thirty each night. If we failed to be in by that time, we would be kept in for a week. The exceptions were parties, going to the pictures or staying up at my grandparent’s house or with the Needhams.

Plantation Way pic.
View down Plantation Way - Alf's house was last on left, and we
played at the far end.

If we were just out playing, VaI and I would mostly go down to the end of Alf’s road and meet our friends. There was a small roundabout where Plantation Way meets Weller Road and this roundabout had a dim street lamp in the centre of it. We all used to play a game there under the light of the single globe that we never seemed to tire of. 0ne of us would stand under the lamp with his or her eyes covered and count to ten, the others would scatter and hide in the dark shadows of gateways and hedges. The idea of the game was to get back and touch the lamp-post before the person standing there recognised you, called your name and touched the post first. Of course, that person had to come away from the post to try and recognise those lurking in the shadows. All the hiding places were about the same distance from the post, as the person walked away from the post to peer into the dark shadows on one side, someone would run for the post from the other side. The hunter then had to recognise the person, shout their name and beat them back to the post for them to be out. I remember that I lay in the gutter, almost under Mick’s feet, one night. He was so intent on looking over into the shadows that he didn’t see me until I suddenly stood up right beside him and ran to the post. I need not have bothered to run for he was nearly frightened to death when a body came up out of the shadows of the gutter right beside him. He was rooted to the spot with amazement.

We used to have good fun playing that game (I think it was called ‘Pom Pom’) and at least our parents knew where we were. Mrs. Baker, Alf’s mum, was a good sport and would shout down the road to Val and I that it was nearly seven thirty causing us to dash off home, leaving our friends to play on. Then we’d be happy to listen to the wireless or amuse ourselves until supper-time, a bath and bed.

A couple of times I was late home and Mum carried out her threat and kept me in for a week. It was no use expecting a friend to come into my house and play because, to us all, playing meant playing outside, not indoors. So I suffered my punishment alone and made sure I was in on time in the future if possible. Even though I might be trapped indoors, it never bothered me too much, for I was happy playing on my own and would think of all sorts of things to do. I had plenty of toys, books, drawing pads, costumes, and even Val’s dolls could fill in half an hour but, better than anything, I had my imagination. If I did ever have a moment when I could not think of what I was going to do next, Mum would find me a job that would cause a flood of ideas to suddenly come into my head.

A month after moving into our new home, my eleventh birthday was celebrated. Granddad and Nan care over for an hour in the afternoon and Granddad promised that he’d come and get me the following Friday for a weekend at their new home in Chenies. I hadn’t been there at that time, so I was quite thrilled and started to look forward to the weekend in my usual excited way. In the evening, Mum put on a party for us and our friends. There was hardly room to squeeze everyone in, but we all managed and had a great time. As usual, Mum had done us proud. The table was piled up with goodies and she arranged plenty of innocent fun. It was wonderful to have all my friends to our house without having to worry about them having to catch a bus home or, indeed, not being able to come due to the distance from their home to the camp. We all missed out on a lot of parties because of that.

The next Friday evening, Granddad arrived to take me up to their home for the weekend. Mum had my clothes packed and I put them into the sidecar of his motor cycle and hopped up on the pillion seat behind him.

Waving goodbye to Mum and Val, we set off into the gathering darkness with me wondering what their new house would be like and happy at the thought of staying with them again. We chugged past my school, went along White Lion Road, passed under the bridge at Chalfont station, and went out onto the Rickmansworth road. A mile or so along this road, we turned left towards the village of Chenies then right into Bedford Close. My grandparents lived at number eleven. We parked the motor cycle in Grandad’s garage and went into the flat.

Bedford Close pic.
Bedford Close, Chenies. My Grandparents lived in No. 11, hidden behind red tree (arrowed).

It was a very small flat with a tiny kitchen, a hallway, living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms. Nan and Granddad had the larger bedroom (it was only the size of my bedroom at home) and Jim was squeezed into the smaller bedroom. There was no room for me to sleep in any of the bedrooms. For the next twenty years, whenever I stayed at my grandparent’s home (which was often), I’d sleep on their small sofa. But, that didn’t bother me as long as I could be with them.

And so, on that first visit, after a chat and supper, Nan made up my bed on the sofa and we all retired for the night.

That weekend was typical of the many weekends I’d spend with my grandparents and Jim. I’d wake up in the morning, fold my blankets ready for Nan to put away, have breakfast and be ready for whatever Granddad or Jim had planned for the day. Sometimes Granddad, Jim and I would go to Amersham or Watford for tools or spare parts. Sometimes I’d go with Nan, by bus, to do their shopping on a Saturday morning. Often, I went to work with Granddad up to Latimer camp but, spent most of the time with the Needhams. Granddad didn’t mind as long as I was back in time to go home after his shift had finished.

Chenies Village pic.
Chenies Village.

I never failed to take their dog, Billie, for a walk. Sometimes, Billie and I would walk over the main road and down a lane to the railway line. There I’d sit and watch the trains go by while Billie explored the bushes and left his mark on the trees. Other times I’d take him down through Chenies and into the water meadows of the Chess Valley below Latimer. I never let him off his lead down that way as the game-keeper was a bit trigger-happy when it came to lead-less dogs. Billie and I were good pals and wandered the hills at will. Occasionally, Jim would come with us and there’d be the added bonus of having him cut a spear out of the bushes for me with his sheath knife (I wasn’t allowed to have a sheath knife at that time).

Granddad and Jim were still making the model steam traction engine. It was beginning to take shape and I was quite happy to sit up their workshop and watch them drilling, sawing, filing, and hammering in their efforts to get it right. Now and again, Granddad would find something wrong with the plans that they were working from. His experience with steam engines and boilers would tell him that it wasn’t right, or couldn’t be done as the plans suggested. He’d go indoors and sit in his chair quietly, until he’d found the solution. Then, up he’d get, chuckling to himself ,and we’d know that the problem had been solved.

Nan was quite happy doing the cooking, washing, ironing, dusting, shopping, and all those other things that a mum and housewife does. While she worked, she always sang to herself. Sometimes I’d help her prepare the meals and I never failed to wash and wipe the dishes for her after we’d finished eating.

Sunday afternoon was always the time for a big roast. Singing away to herself, Nan would start cooking early in the morning. While she prepared the roast, there would be all different sorts of cakes and tarts baking in the oven. Granddad and Jim (and myself if I wasn’t helping her) would amuse themselves away from the house as Nan use to say that she couldn’t get on with her work with people under her feet. Very often they would have Sunday visitors and the ladies would be going flat out in the kitchen while the men took refuge up the workshop or along at Grandad’s allotment. Then we’d all be called in to get stuck into a mountain of food that would make a modern-day table’s legs bend at the knees. The roast would be demolished and the dishes cleared away to be replaced by puddings of apple, blackberry, or jam tart covered in thick custard. Still not content that she had fed us enough, Nan would then bring in a large fruit cake and a plate of smaller cakes and tarts. Sometimes I thought that I would burst but, I always found room for the great wedge of fruit cake she’d cut for me.

As if this enormous dinner wasn’t enough, Nan would put on just as big a spread at tea time. There would be slices of bread cut an inch thick (‘Doorsteps’ Granddad called them), plenty of Nan’s home-made jam (my favourite being blackberry and apple), a big dish of savoury sandwiches, plates piled high with cakes and tarts, and of course, the rest of the huge fruit cake dominating the centre of the table. It was true when people said that nobody starved at Nan’s place. I normally went home after Sunday tea. Secretly, Nan would always give me a couple of bob (shillings) and never failed to put a great wedge of cake and half a dozen tarts into my bag (“For on the way home.” she’d say.,)

Very contentedly, I rode back home behind Granddad after my first stay at Chenies, knowing that I’d be happy to stay with them again.

Then, it was time to prepare for Christmas.

The Christmas trees in the shops were far too small for Mum’s liking. Not only that, but she couldn’t afford them, not the size she wanted anyway. Her tree had to reach the ceiling or it wasn’t a decent tree.

She asked me if I knew of anywhere that I could get Christmas tree branches. I said that I probably could, thinking of ‘The Plannie, it was full of Christmas trees. That night, armed with my little saw and the faithful cart, I crept into the plantation, sawed off half a dozen big branches and dragged them home. Mum was so delighted that she didn’t even ask me where I’d got them from (which was probably just as well for she wouldn’t have been happy to know the truth). Soon she was burning holes, with the hot poker, into a big pole for the branches to fit into. The smell of burning pine filled the house as she worked away and, by the end of the evening, she’d made one of the finest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen. It stood in a drum of dirt, was the right shape and (most important to Mum) reached the ceiling. Val and I had to go to bed at this point but Mum plodded on through the night decorating the tree. The next morning when we got up, Val and I couldn’t believe our eyes at the sight of that beautifully decorated tree in the corner of the living room. It was a mass of glinting, winking, shining colours with a mound of presents around the base.

Mum promised Val and I that we could help her decorate the rest of the living room that evening after school. She mentioned that it would be nice to have some holly. Well, I knew that there were plenty of holly bushes along Raans Road, for us boys were always pushing each other into them for a joke on the way to and from school. After school that day, I picked some sprigs with red berries on and brought them home. By the time the three of us had finished that night, the room was as Christmassy as a room could be with paper-chains, tinsel, coloured balls, holly, and, of course, the great Christmas tree dominating the corner and taking up a quarter of the room. Everyone who came to the house thought that tree was a beauty and were amazed when they found out that Mum had made it.

At last Christmas morning arrived. I remember that I looked for the stocking that Father Christmas always left at the bottom of my bed but, it wasn’t there that year. I dashed into Mum and Val’s room but, there were no stockings there either. I thought that, maybe Father Christmas had forgotten us. Mum suggested that we go downstairs and see if there was anything there. Like a herd of elephants, we dashed down the stairs and into the living room. There, in amongst the decorations, were the wonderful stockings hanging from the mantle-shelf above the fire grate. We were so thrilled and it wasn’t long before all the goodies were spread around us to the usual chorus of delighted squeals.

Then we had to get down to less important things. While Mum and Val prepared the breakfasts, I got the two fires going. Breakfast was eaten without much enthusiasm, then Mum said that, as Granddad was coming to take us to Chenies for the day, we could open our presents. With joyous shouts we gathered around the tree and soon the piles of opened presents told the story of how Mum had saved all the year just for that morning. But, the joy on our faces and the memories I have of each wonderful Christmas has made it all worth while to her.

That Christmas day, in 1953, was the mildest Christmas day that I can remember in England. I took my new toys out onto the back step in the warm sun and played there until Granddad came for us. I only had a pair of shorts on, which was very much in contrast to the usual thick clothes we had needed to keep warm on previous Christmas days that I could recall. Still, I didn’t mind, it was Christmas day, I had new toys, there was a stocking full of goodies indoors, and we were off to Chenies shortly. Who could ask for more? I was so happy and a nice bit of weather was an added bonus.

Finally, Granddad arrived. Val and I squeezed into the side car of his motor cycle and mum sat on the pillion seat behind him. It wasn’t long before we were sitting down to a lovely chicken roast that Nan had cooked. The Needhams were also there and it was a real effort to squash us all into the little living room, but we managed and had a wonderful time. Nan had done us proud with her baking and, as was usual on special occasions, had iced her latest huge fruit cake.

These huge fruit cakes were a feature of my grandparent’s home that will always stand out in my memory. Nan must have made at least two a week but, family and friends would soon make short work of them. Any that was left over when I visited them, was put into a bag and given to me to take home. I’d more then appreciate this years later when I was living on my own.

And so that happy Christmas day wore on. Presents were exchanged, there was plenty of food and plenty of laughter. All too soon it was time to say goodbye and go home. Piled up with more presents, Val and I somehow squeezed into the side car again and we were off, waving like fury to Nan, Jim, and the Needhams even though it was too dark to see them. It had been another great Christmas day to remember.

While we were at my grandparent’s home that day, Jim had asked me if I’d like Wilfie, his big, black rabbit. I was delighted for Wilfie had become a part of the family since Jim had bought him a few months earlier. Mr. Needham and Jim brought Wilfie and his cage over the next day in Mr. Needham’s car and they fixed the cage up behind the garden shed. Wilfie soon settled down in his new surroundings. He was a lovely rabbit. It wasn’t long before I had built a wire enclosure and he was happily jumping and hopping around in his freedom.

I’d wondered to myself why Kathy, Jim’s girlfriend, hadn’t been at my grandparent’s home on Christmas day and thought that she had probably wanted to spend the day with her own parents. I discovered later that she had found somebody else that she thought was better. I later heard that she had regretted her decision to finish with Jim but, by then, it was too late. Poor Jim didn’t deserve that. He was a wonderful person, would do anything for anyone and had a heart of gold. But his heart was broken by this, his one and only romance, and he never bothered with girlfriends again. He devoted himself to his parents until the end. He was a wonderful son to them and a wonderful uncle and friend to me.

Meanwhile, We slipped into 1954. I was having a great time exploring the local hills and valleys and looking forward to the spring and all the delights the awakening countryside would bring. I still hadn’t became a slave to my cycle and only rode it on special occasions when Mum, Val, and I went for a ride, or if Mum wanted some shopping from Amersham. I loved going for walks and the ‘new horizons’ around our latest home were still within walking distance. Also, none of my friends owned a bike at that time so, as most of the places we went to were over fields and through woods, I was content to walk as well. I very often walked the hills on my own or with Muffin and was quite happy to do so. But, I was just as happy when my friends were with me.

The winter snows finally came and went, ‘Oh Mien Papa’ was the number one song on everyone’s radio, and spring was just around the corner.

Then Alf and I had a fight.

Alf and I had gone for a walk down to Chesham Moor. It was a cool, end of winter Saturday, but the sun was shining. We played around by the storm drain for a while. Then, for some reason that I cannot remember now, we were fighting tooth and nail. Over and over we rolled, each trying to get the better of the other. We were both the same age (by three days), and both the same height. But, Alf was a little heavier than I and he began to tire. Just as I thought I was going to get the better of him, he suddenly rolled away, jumped up, and ran for it.

Whatever it was that he’d done to cause this brawl had really upset me, I was shaking with rage and vowed that I’d get him. With every determination I set off in full pursuit as he ran up towards Chesham Bois. I had to stop for a car to pass on the road and this put him about one hundred metres in front of me, but I knew I’d catch him up soon. I noticed a length of wood laying in the gutter and stopped just long enough to snatch it up, then I was off again. I’d planned to give him a real clobbering with it when I got hold of him.

Although I had the lump of wood in my hands, I was slowly gaining ground as we raced up the hill. I think that my rage was keeping us both going. All at once, a motor cycle came roaring by and I recognised the rider, it was Mr. Jardine, Mick’s dad. Mr. Jardine must have summed up the situation and he stopped beside Alf. After a few hurried words, with me almost upon them, Alf hopped on the pillion seat and the pair of them roared away on up the hill. I could hear Alf laughing above the sound of the engine. I was furious but, I could wait.

Alf wasn’t a bully, in fact he was a good-natured lad and was probably more placid than I was. Nevertheless, he could still handle himself well when his back was up against the wall. But he knew of my resolution not to be beaten anymore and he also knew that I wouldn’t rest until I’d beaten him. Even though Alf was making the most of his temporary escape from my threats by being cheeky as he roared off on the motorcycle we both knew that the matter would be resolved one way or another at school on the Monday - if I didn’t get him sooner. When I watched him ride off on the back of Mr. Jardine’s motorcycle and had heard him laugh, I’d made up my mind to get him sooner. He told me years later that he hadn’t wanted to fight and lose my friendship, so he’d decided to keep out of my way with the hope that I would have cooled down by the Monday.

But something happened that day that caused me to forget all about Alf for the time being and I wouldn’t see him again for more than a year.

As I was walking home on my own after the motor cycle and riders had vanished out of sight, I began to feel very ill. My whole body seemed to ache and the effort to walk got worse with every step. At first I thought it was because I was very tired after the fight, and all the running, and I sat down for a rest. But I became more ill and longed to be home so I got moving again.

Thankfully, I reached home and staggered into the living room. Mum put me straight to bed and called Doctor Howell. Within minutes, it seemed, he was there telling Mum that I must stay in bed. He diagnosed the main complaint as muscular rheumatism with some other complications that I can’t recall now.

All these years later I look back and wonder if I might have been the cause of the one and only dispute that Alf and I ever had. Because of the onset of the illness I may not have been so tolerant with Alf if he had played some joke on me while we were down the Moor. Owing to the fact that I can’t remember what started the fight, I feel that I may not have been feeling too good when the dispute began. Alf probably wouldn’t have recognised that something was wrong with me as I can’t recall feeling unwell until Alf and Mr. Jardine rode off and my annoyance had subsided a bit.

A few days later I heard Doctor Howell say to Mum that I needed a change of air and that it would be advisable to send me on convalescence near the sea again. My heart gave a lurch as I thought of the wonderful time I’d had at St. Anne’s, and I had wondered if it was really possible that they were discussing me or someone else. But, they were talking about me. I heard Mum suggest to Doctor Howell that I might be able to go and stay with Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob over on the Isle of Wight. I held my breath as he thought about it. Then, as in a dream, I heard him say that he couldn’t see any problems. Once again, I was so excited and couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I felt so fortunate.

Within a week everything was settled (except me) and I was ready to go.

Chapter 9

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