Tuesday, 18 November 2008

ROAM FREE!

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Roam Free!

This memory takes me back to the time I had my
first 'real' bike given to me. It was my welcome home
present from my Mum and Dad after being away
for a couple of weeks at my eldest sister Mary's
house in Tongham, Nr Aldershot, Surrey. I suppose
I was eight or nine years old at the time.

It was a bad time as my Mum had to go into hospital
and have an operation to remove a lung. Myself, and
my younger brother and sister, Billy and Sally, were
'barracked' out for two weeks in a really 'hot' summer.
Adventuring was very high on the agenda, and thanks
to a neighbours boy who was just a couple of years
older than me, I got plenty to think about.

From playing down at the 'rickety' railway bridge,
where we used to invade some poor chaps spinach
patch, and playing 'chicken' with the steam trains.
(Ashamedly). To messing in the orchards and hop-
fields that were rife in the area at that time. An old
deserted 'oast-house' in the village was one of our
favourite spots for just 'hanging out'.

It was the time of Tizer and Jubblies. Two things
we'd not experienced back home in leafy Wargrave,
so that in itself seemed like we were 'big-time'. As
for bed-time, we had to share beds with my sister
Mary's other four kids in a three-bedroomed house.

My sister Sally naturally shared with our niece
Valerie in her bedroom. But in the boys room there
was my brother Billy and Me. Little Ray, Tony, and
baby Graham who were of course our nephews.
Do you think much sleeping went on? Not a lot.

Those two weeks seemed to last forever, and even
today, I can't believe we could have crammed so
much adventuring into two weeks.


Anyway, when we got back home, we'd all three
been bought something 'special' as our reward for
having to be away from home, and as I said earlier,
mine was a bike. It was a girls bike. 'Pink', and a bit
on the big side. It was our neighbours' daughters' old
bike that she'd grown out of, but that didn't worry me,
I was now independant to the point I could go any-
where I wanted, when I wanted, and I did.


A few weeks later, and I was really starting to miss
the friends I'd made in Tongham where we'd spent
the summer, and I got to conspiring with a good
friend at the bottom of our road, Bob goddard. His
dad used to drive a huge lorry, and Bob would often
go out with his Dad on long lorry trips, so knew his
way about our part of the country well.

I asked him if he knew how to get to Aldershot,
and he did. I asked him if he fancied doing a bike-
ride there on the Saturday, and he did. So we
managed to get a few bits and bobs to eat along
the way and a couple of bottles of water. Then on
the Saturday morning we both sloped off in the
general direction of Aldershot.

I mentioned earlier that it was a particularly 'hot'
summer, and this day seemed to be the hottest. We
thought we'd been going for miles when we ran out
of water, but infact, we'd only gone four or five in the
'right' direction, as Bob had taken us on a rather
longer route than we'd needed to go. He was
following the route that his Dad used to take in his
lorry, but his Dad delivered grain from the BB&O
depot in Twyford, and of course went 'round-robin'
as it were. I know at one point we were pushing
our bikes up Bix-Hill on the north side of Henley-
on-Thames. Completely in the wrong direction.

We stopped at a little shop in Spencers Wood to
tell the shopkeeper there our plight, and hope for
some sympathy, (which we got). Thankfully in the
shape of some Smith's Crisps and a bottle of
Corona Lemonade. This helped us get the rest
of the way to Aldershot, and from there I knew
my way to Tongham and my sister's house.

Sadly, it was now gone two o'clock in the after-
noon. It had taken us 'far' longer than we'd hoped,
and to cap it all, there was no-one in at my sister's.
Our hearts sank as we sat there wondering what
to do. The whole estate seemed deserted, there
didn't seem to be anyone around.

Then a neighbour from accross the way, who I'd
not met before came over to us. Said she recog-
nised me and that my sister and the family were
over the park playing 'Stool-ball'. (Apparently like
rounders but with slightly different rules). My
sister was in the team and it seemed like the
whole village had turned out to watch this 'mom-
entous event'.

We made our way over the park and caught about
half an hour of the game. Enough to see Mary
batting away and running for all she was worth.
(I'd never seen her so active). When she finished
and came over to see Me and Bob who were
sitting with 'Big Ray' (her hubby) and the kids, she
was absolutely flabberghasted, she couldn't
believe we'd made so much effort to get over to
see them on such a hot day.

We got taken back to the house naturally, and got
fed and watered. But there was only time to have
a little natter before we had to start making our
way back home to Wargrave. Only 'this' time,
Big-Ray drew us some directions to follow so that
we'd get home a lot quicker than it had taken us
to get there.

I suppose it was a sign of the times back then, that
our Mum's and Dad's never even missed us. Just
asked if we'd had a good time. Great stuff!

Although we never got to meet the friends I was
originally missing, that day is 'so' ingrained in my
memory that I consider it one of my 'treasures'.

I wonder if old Bob Goddard still remembers?
Or even if he's still around? So many friends now
dropping off the perch, you begin to wonder.

Catch you later.

Pete.

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Monday, 22 September 2008

Farewell, Brother Dave.

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Farewell, Brother Dave.

This week the first of my ten brothers and sisters
died of a heart-attack at the age of 68.
He was Dave, and he died on September 17th 08.

As a young lad he was my Hero of course.
Ten years older than me, and a dedicated 'Teddy-
Boy' he was a bit of a 'Geezer'.

He bought me a bright red blazer and black jeans
when I was 5 or 6 years old, and he used to smother
my hair in Brylcreem and style it into a proper Teddy-
Boy Quiff with a DA at the back.

Then he used to take me into Reading town centre
to tour 'The Cafe`s'. Sampling the Pepsi's and 7-ups
in each. Of course, I used to get all the attention
from the Teddy-Girls who thought I was 'lovely' at
the time, and I naturally revelled in all this attention.

It wasn't until I got older that I realised what Dave's
ploy was. Doll me up to look like a 'mini-ted'. Get all
the Teddy-Girls to crowd around me. Suddenly, Dave
was the focus of ALL their attention. (What a lesson
in self-marketing?)

He used to be the talk of our village often because of
the outrageous clothes he wore. he would make waist-
coats up himself out of patches of brightly-coloured
silk cast-offs. On one occasion, he ripped down our
curtain pelmet to wear as a 'Giant Kipper-Tie'.
No,Dave wasn't the most understated chap in the village.

He worked for a while on the railway, and each night
for about a fortnight, he would walk up from the station,
(which was about a mile down the road) with a railway
sleeper on his shoulder. These were our fuel for the
winter. But I still don't know HOW he managed to carry
them that far.

He did have a bit of a reputation as a 'hard man'. Not
many would dare argue with him. But to me he was a
gentle giant who was extremely caring and protective.
He was a master at playing cards, and took every
opportunity to teach us all the different games and
tactics so that WE wouldn't get beat.

He loved his music, and introduced us all to it by buying
this huge stand-up gramaphone to play his rock'n'roll 78's.
We all had to learn 'the Jive' and spent hours helping him
'perfect' his technique.

He just loved board games of every kind. Was very good
at crosswords too. Infact every Sunday Morning, he and I
would sit round the kitchen table with the 'News of the
World' completing the crossword that always had what at
the time seemed like a 'huge' cash prize which was going
to change our lives.

We're talking mid to late 50's here, and the prize was
probably £1,000. With houses costing an average of £500-
at the time, that was a lot of money to win.
(We also did the womens fashion competition. But don't
tell anyone).

Dave was a very generous brother, and each week he'd
bring back the 'Dinky' toy cars for me and younger brother
Bill to play with. He bought a 'Scalextric' set when they
first came out as well, and each week he'd buy us some-
thing new to add to it.


Now, our house was a bit of a focal point. Think 'Madness'
and their record 'Our House' and you've got it in one.
Each bonfire night on November the 5th, we'd have a dirty
great bonfire in the back garden with loads of friends and
family attending 'the show'. I was Mr Bossy-Boots and liked
to be the one setting off the fireworks. (Yes even at the
age of 9, I was a little precoscious).

Anyway, myself and a gaggle of others had been doing the
old 'Penney-For-The-Guy' routine to get money for fireworks.
(As you did back then. No ageism in those days matey). We
had a massive collection all piled into a big cardboard box.

On the night, the fire burned fiercely, the spuds were thrown
in, and the old Guy had seen the last of his days. NOW! Time
for the fireworks.

The first dozen or so; roman candles, fountains, jumping jacks,
catherine wheels, all looking good.
So now it was time to let a few rockets loose into the night sky.

Place milk bottle firmly in the ground. (check)
Place rocket into bottle (Check)
Light blue touch paper and stand well clear (Check)

CLUNK!! Milk bottle falls over. Rocket takes off.
Straight towards the big cardboard box full of our fireworks.
Yes, you guessed right. The whole lot went mental.
We all scattered as far as possible from the mayhem. (Though
it really was a GREAT 'unintended' show). But that was it. Our
much anticipated, wonderful firework display which should have
lasted at least an hour. Up in smoke within just a few minutes.

We all consoled ourselves with the fact that we still had our pop
and baked potato's to look forward to, but really we were all
rather GLUM.

Then we heard the front gate screetch.
(It was metal, and did screetch).
Who was that coming down the path?
More to the point, WHAT was he carrying on his shoulder?

It was our Dave who had just got back from Reading with another
HUGE box of fireworks for us.
How GREAT did we all feel?

Hopefully Dave knew how much we appreciated him then, and
hopefully he'll be looking down now, remembering so many fond
memories of our childhood that can never be erased.

God bless you Dave, and may you be forever happy wherever
you are.


Pete.
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Thursday, 5 June 2008

THE GHOSTS OF THE ROMAN WALK, WARGRAVE.

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The Ghosts Of The Roman Walk. Wargrave.

I’m probably about ten years old now and I’ve been down the village with my older brother George. It’s dark, getting late, and extremely foggy. (Never thought I’d be looking back at ‘foggy nights’ with affection, but we just don’t get them now).

Halfway up the road at the junction of School lane, Victoria road and Dark lane was one of the very few street lamps at that time in the village, and it’s where a ‘congregation’ would form regularly at nights to discuss all manner of things. Usually mischievous, but nothing too serious.

Anyway, this night in particular, there were two of the local ‘great story-tellers’, Mick Jones, and Eric Llewellyn. Both were quite a bit older than me, but fascinating to listen to. They seemed to always have the ‘perfect’ night time stories that would send shivers up your spine and give you nightmares for weeks.

Mick Jones was particularly keen on the little War Magazines that were prevalent at that time, and would often relay the stories to us, with many extra ‘gory bits’ added for good measure.

Eric was more of the local ‘murder, mystery and suspense’ story-teller. He was obviously very interested in local history, but used to love to ‘embellish’ the truth somewhat. Just to make his stories seem more scary than Mick’s I should think.

It was one of Eric’s ramblings that set me off on one of my frequent trips into fantasy land. He was telling of the history of ‘The Roman walk’ at Wargrave, and why it got it’s name.
According to ‘Eric-the-fibber’, battalions of roman soldiers would walk through the village on their way to Linden Hill.
(Though we never did find out WHY they used to march to Linden Hill)

Apparently they used to use The Roman Walk to hold ‘Orgies’ and secretly worship the Devil in Black Magic ceremonies. He would go into great detail about WHAT actually went on there. So much so, that he was really believable.

He also went on to say that the Walk was still haunted, and that regularly, if you settle down nice and quiet, you’ll hear them marching, flame torches will be lit, and you’ll be able to see for yourself EXACTLY what used to go on in those days.

George and Myself got home very late that night, much to the annoyance of my Dad, but he was pretty much used to it by now. I went to bed to settle down into my late night reading, but all I could think about was Eric’s fantastic tales.

That was IT! the next night I went down to The Roman walk to keep watch. I settled in the tunnel that runs under the Roman walk about halfway down, where a tree trunk used to lay across he path. I waited, and waited, and waited and…….
you guessed it. No Roman Soldiers turned up. But what DID happen as I got more and more tired was……….

The trees started looking at me. They started bending in my direction, pulling faces and ‘talking’ to me. I’m pretty certain that I also saw a few of them actually MOVE. As I looked up into the wintry sky the twigs on the branches formed fingers that were curling and beckoning me, while at the same time creating quite a noise in this ‘dead’ of night.

Because I was down in the tunnel, I felt trapped. Too scared to leave incase ‘the trees’ got me. But then I would also hear all the other noises of the night as the nocturnal wildlife took over the area.

I felt stuck. I knew I had to get back home as it was getting late now. But my imagination and my tiredness had got the better of me and I was just TOO scared to move. You can imagine my relief as I heard voices coming along the walk. Not just any old Roman voices, but voices I recognised instantly. Stan Povey and his older brother Gilly were making their way back home. They lived at the far end of The Roman Walk and used it all the time.

I think I might have startled them a bit as I jumped out from the tunnel in the dead of night, but they were good enough to walk me back to the relative ‘civilisation’ of the Wargrave Village High St.

When I told them WHY I was there, they looked at each other, nervously laughed, and changed the subject quick.

Did they know something I didn’t?

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Hamilton Rd.....The Flint Rock Face.

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Hamilton Rd. The Flint Rock Face.

Hamilton Rd in Wargrave, Berks, is a nice smooth surfaced road these days. But back in the 50’s it was an old Flint road.
Not just little flints either. These were industrial sized flints.

They must have ripped the car tyres of the unsuspecting stranger to pieces. But to the locals, they knew to keep over to the left as you came up the hill, as it was a little sandier over there. It was certainly the route we all walked up and down, or rode our bikes.

Now our Mum had never learned to ride a bike. But knocking at the door of forty, she was given one by one of the people she ‘did for’ down the Loddon drive. It was an old ladies all black bike. Very good condition too. She was over the moon.

The trouble was, as she couldn’t ride a bike, we kids had to teach her. Our plan was to go to the top of the road, sit her on it, and we three youngest would guide her down the hill.

Plans, as you know, never quite go as you’d like. Mum and her bike gathered a bit too much momentum and got away from us, sending poor old Mum right into the bushes half way down.

When you’re a Mum of 11 kids, you’re made of stern stuff, and she got straight back on her bike, determined not to be beat. I don’t remember how many times we repeated the torture, but after falling off too many times to calculate, covered in cuts and bruises, she eventually made it on her own from top-to-bottom of the road. She was now, an ‘independent’ cyclist. Skilled in the art of bicycle riding and ready to get to work in double-quick time.

It was a proud moment for all of us. We’d taught our Mum to ride a bike. Great! But there was just one thing. She might have mastered the art of bicycle riding, but she never did master the art of ‘BRAKING’.

The bike had perfectly good brakes. Maybe they were TOO good, I don’t know. But Mum was just too darn scared to apply them. It got to be a standing joke in the village. “Look out, Ven’s on her bike again”. She had been accident prone all of her life. If anyone was going to get run over, fall over, or slip into the river, it was our Mum. But she just bounced back up every time and kept on going. Narrowly missing the ‘Grim Reaper’ on many occasions.

After a few months of crashing her prized possession, she agreed that maybe she should give up the bike, and go back to walking. (Which she did). She gave me her bike, which I immediately painted every colour of the rainbow, (multi-coloured chevrons up the back mudguard), and took to the dirt-tracks up the back of the Estate, and just past ‘The Old House At Home’ in Sherlock Row. It was a ‘Hercules’ bike by name, and certainly a ‘Hercules’ by nature. No matter how hard I treated that old bike, the only thing that ever broke was the tyres.

Can we still say the same thing about bikes these days?
(Maybe if you pay over £1,000- for one you might.)

As for my old Mum? Maybe me taking her bike off her hands gave her just a few more years on this mortal coil. But I bet she took the fondest memories of that old bike with her,
(as will I.)

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Monday, 26 May 2008

DAVE'S VAULT OF EVIL.

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The Wargrave Manor House.

From a very young age, (as I remember) the Manor House grounds at Wargrave were always accessible to the villagers.
Although we didn’t have right-of-way, there was a kind consideration from the owners at the time, who didn’t feel threatened in any way by allowing walkers, children and possibly ‘poachers’ to roam the land.

I never even realised until I was in my teens that the land we used as an extended playground WAS infact ‘private’ land at all. (Of course, these days you can’t even take photo’s within spitting distance without a burly, armed security guard questioning your motives).

There was a lad who I shall only call Dave in this blog entry, because if he’s not in a maximum security prison serving life for multiple murder or torture right now, he might Sue me, (or worse).

He was the chap who had the BIG bowie knife, a rip hook in one hand and a real ‘Colt 45’ in the other. (With real ammo too, which in those days you could buy from ‘Hammants’ at Henley perfectly legally). He also had the attitude and ‘mentality’ to match. He was about five years older than me, but I still think he was pretty lucky to count me as his friend. All the other lads kept well clear, to their credit.

Dave had a couple of sheets of corrugated tin at the bottom of his garden, which were propped up and used for target practice with his Colt 45. Fine, but he used to get me to hide behind it, pop my head up, and then move one way or the other. The game was, that he had to guess which way I’d moved and then try to hit me. The bullets would comfortably pierce the tin, but had slowed down enough not to pierce ME! It did used to sting quite badly, but you didn’t dare come out until Dave had tired of his target practice.
That’s just the kind of lad he was, bless him.

If you were to be stranded in some remote location with no hope of rescue and NO food, Dave would be the last person you’d need around, because he’d definitely EAT you.

Back to the Wargrave Manor grounds, and the field to the left of the main gate as you look at it. Inside, what looked from the road like just any other clump of blackberry bushes, was the entrance to an old air-raid shelter. Dave decided this day to hack his way through the brambles to the opening, which was covered with yet another piece of old corrugated tin.
Amongst all of Dave’s regular ‘exploring regalia’, he had a torch. So it seemed like a great idea to go down and explore. We might find all sorts down there. Dead bodies, hidden treasure, who knows? So we crept down very carefully with ME obviously leading the way, hacking at all the cobwebs and stuff with my trusty hawthorn branch. (Always carry a hawthorn branch when you’re an exploring kid. It’s strong, springy, and very hard to break).

There seemed to be several compartments down there. It was bigger than we thought it’d be, so we were having a good ‘mooch’ around. Then Dave said he was just going back to the entrance to get his bag of ‘regalia’. I didn’t suspect a thing, and stood there waiting. Not long I might add, as the ‘Evil Dave’ decide to turn off his torch, bolt for the exit, and cover it up with the tin, making it pitch-black down there. I shouted and shouted for Dave to stop messing about, but he didn’t answer, or wouldn’t answer.

To say panic set in would be a bit of an understatement. I was terrified of spiders at the best of times, and this was my worst nightmare. I fumbled and felt my way around for what seemed like forever, shouting out to Dave all the time, with no answer. Eventually I found the exit steps and climbed them as fast as I could. Only to hit my head on the tin, which was secured SOLID. I pushed and pushed with no joy whatsoever. I shouted and screamed at the top of my voice hoping to attract the attention of the people who lived in the house on the opposite side of the road, but no luck.

Eventually, I heard a little snigger from above, and realised that Dave was actually SITTING on the tin so that I couldn’t move it. He thought it was extremely funny, and couldn’t stop laughing all the way home. I, on the other hand, had nightmares for months after.

But STILL I would go back and call for him to go ‘adventuring’ with.

Some of us never learn I suppose. As you probably have already guessed, there’s more to come from the ‘Dave’s vault of evil’ in future posts.

Catch you later,

Pete.


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Sunday, 25 May 2008

THE BULL AT WARGRAVE ON THAMES.

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The Bull at Wargrave on Thames.


The Bull at Wargrave came to figure prominently in my younger days, (from the age of about 8 upwards). because my Mum started working there as chambermaid, cook, barmaid, bottle-washer and chief confidante` to ‘Madge’, wife of Len Gibbs the landlord at that time.

It very soon became almost my second home, and I was always made to feel welcome in their private quarters. Len was a particularly ‘protective’ light over me. Always seemed to be giving me ‘good advice’ about what I should, or more to the point, should NOT do. Not in a bossy, condescending way, but more as a favourite uncle would. (Or should).

Knowing that I was a fidget-bum. Not able to sit still for five minutes at a time, (unless I was reading or writing of course) Len would find me jobs to do around the place. Weeding, tidying the garage, cleaning his beautiful, treasured JAG, (The excellent Mk 9 ) or just sweeping the yard out the back. Anything really, just so that he’d have an excuse to give me a couple of bob for my efforts. (I got to learn the REAL value of work from Len).

The Bull at Wargrave was a very popular retreat or stop-over for the good, gracious, rich and famous in those days. I don’t know if it was because Len was a top-notch Freemason, but something attracted them. (Usually fairly anonymously, as my Mum was often asked to be ‘discreet’ about their famous guests).

Now….My Mum, albeit our very humble status in life, was a staunch ‘Conservative Party’ supporter. She was a member of the local ‘Conservative club’ and wouldn’t have a word said against them. (Harold Macmillan was God in her eyes.) So you can guess the excitement when she found out that Sir Alec Douglas-Home was going to be staying over at the Bull. (This was early sixties, before he became Prime Minister.)

It’s all she would speak about at home, before, during and after the visit. Undoubtedly leaving a mental scar on me for the rest of my days. (Only joking folks).

The other ‘mental scarring’ I received from the days spent in the bosom of the Gibbs family which included their grown-up daughter Vanda, and Len’s brother (whose name escapes me right now) was the time they got a new dog. A collie by the name of TESSA! Not the best choice in the world for a ‘pub dog’, but a lovely ‘lassie’ she most certainly WAS.

I was made ‘chief looker-afterer’ of Tess’ and would take her for long walks every day to give her some much needed exercise. We became ‘an item’, so much so that I couldn’t even walk past the window of the Bull without Tess’ running riot inside and creating mayhem.

Len loved Tess’ and he felt very protective towards me, but Tess’ was wrecking the pub. Drinks would go flying, glasses smashed, all sorts of havock was caused as soon as I got within her ‘radar’. After a while, Len and Madge realised the BIG mistake they’d made replacing their old Alsation with a ‘COLLIE’ and plans were made to re-home Tess’ to a farm many miles away. They took me to one side and explained the situation to me and how they hated what they were doing, but had no choice.

I remember that first night going home with the news ‘ringing’ in my head that Tess’ was going. I was always a regular ‘Sunday-school-goer’ and remembered what we were always being told there. That if you prayed really hard, you’d be heard and helped. I remember ‘praying’ myself to sleep that night. Asking God to keep Tess’ here, and not let them send her away.

The next day? Good news, Len told me they were going to give it another try, just to see if Tess’ could be ‘trained’ not to go mental all the time, and that I could take her for walks still. (Coincidence? I don’t know). But what I do know is, that over the next weeks, this happened THREE more times.
Three more times I prayed myself to sleep asking Tess’ to be saved, and she was. Until the day she escaped out of the yard to chase after me up the Wargrave High St, nearly causing a nasty car accident.

It was then that Len REALLY sat me down to explain WHY they had to send Tess’ away. It was for her OWN GOOD. That she could have been seriously injured or killed just then. Or that somebody else could have been. That where they were planning to send her was a farm out in the middle of nowhere and she could have ALL the freedom to run that she liked there.

That night I didn’t Pray myself to sleep. I just lay there realising that Len was right, no matter HOW unhappy I felt about it.

The next day, I went down to the Bull and it was ‘silent’. No Tess’, and no Len, as he’d taken Tess’ to her new home. Somehow the Bull at Wargrave lost a little of it’s spirit.

Tess was replaced by a Bassett Hound. Can’t remember the name. I never took it for walks. But it was a friendly, lazy old soul that used to just look at you with those big old brown eyes as if to say; “I hope you’re not thinking of taking ME for one of those ‘walk’ things”.

Catch you later,

Pete.

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BLACKBIRDS UNDER MY WING...

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Blackbirds under my wing.

This post is way ‘off-kilter’ here, but something’s just this minute happened and I feel the need to write it down.

Outside the window, near to where I sit at this computer writing away for a lot of my time, is our extension flat-roof.
All kinds of birds accumulate there waiting to be fed by me at regular times of the day. We also have four regular squirrels at present, (mum’s about to have more soon) who also come to be fed. On ‘cream biscuits’ believe it or not, they’ve gone off of the plain ones unless I refuse to give in to their head leaning and pleading looks through the window at me.

These birds and animals all co-exist very well with our cat who also likes to use the roof for ‘access’ and ‘sunbathing’.
Altogether they all get on famously without too much arguing.

Next door, they have this large tropical tree. I don’t know what it’s called but it has very long (about a metre) pointed leaves. Looks like a giant spiky chestnut shell. Our pair of Blackbirds started building a nest in the top of it a few weeks ago, and it was good to see them industriously working away at the task.

Last week though, I noticed this ‘huge’ magpie arrive on the roof. Have you seen how BIG these birds have got right now? (As big as a Duck). Anyway, it wasn’t wanted, and the other birds all made a fuss every time it appeared.

I was sat here typing away when all of a sudden, all hell broke loose, with the Blackbird’s in particular screeching at the top of their voices. I looked out of the window to see this giant Magpie trying to get to the top of the spiky tree where the blackbird’s nest was. They were attacking the Magpie with a vengeance but it wasn’t giving in at all. It was focused on those eggs (or chic’s), so drastic action was called for.

Now I NEVER would usually do this, but I quickly got my son’s BB gun and gave the magpie a sharp ‘jolt’ in the backside. It was enough to make it fly into the nearby Giant Sycamore at the bottom of our garden, but STILL the blackbird’s wouldn’t let it rest. They kept harassing it, trying to get it to fly away, but it wouldn’t. That is……wait for it….until the FOUR Squirrels all started attacking the magpie as well. Yes, honestly….They went to the aid of the Blackbird’s.

End of story?…. Not quite.
This morning, just after feeding the bird’s and sitting down to check my E-mails and Twitter updates. The Blackbird’s were on the roof creating a real fuss again. I looked up, and both of them were looking in at me ‘screeching’ at the top of their voices. I quickly got up to see what the matter was, and yes, you guessed right. The ‘Fat Duck’ Magpie was back. Sat on the corner of the roof, looking up at the nest in the top of next door’s spiky tree.

I didn’t get the BB gun out this time. I got the large fairy liquid bottle, now filled with water, and gave it a BLAST! to scare it away. (Which it did thankfully). But I have to say, I felt really proud that the Blackbird’s actually looked to me as some sort of ‘protector’.

OK, got that off my chest. Must get back to work.

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

De` Ja` Vu`?.. Coincidence?.. Or Gift?

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De` Ja` Vu`?.. Coincidence?.. Or Gift?

I don't remember the start of this dream, but I do remember being on the back of an old truck as it drove into the village of Wargrave where I grew up.

The buildings looked old, grey and a bit deserted. There were just a few cars in the High St and were of the late 50's period, but were rusted away, decomposing where they stood.

The truck pulled up just outside the Greyhound pub car park in School Lane, and I sat there watching just a few people
walking around. Mostly looking drawn, grey and unkempt.

One young girl about 18 years old was pushing a large 'Coachbuilt' pram up the road with her baby, and a little toddler also sat in the pram. (I somehow got the feeling that this was my older sister Mary, pushing myself and my younger brother Bill in our old pram.)

As I looked down Church St toward the doctors and the Old Bakery, (there in the 50's), I saw two children coming up the Road. One was
on a child’s scooter, and as he got nearer I could see it was an old friend, Steve Kirby, who was about nine or ten years old with the haircut he adopted later in life at the age of about 17 or 18.

As he scooted past, I shouted out; "Kirby".
He looked at me quizzically as if he'd recognised me somehow. (Though I was the age I am now, 57).
He couldn't have recognised me.
Unless, he had just experienced De`- Ja`- Vu or something similar.

I woke up with this 'vivid' experience and feeling that he'd actually 'visited' me in my dream. That he was trying to explain something to me.

I was thinking maybe he'd died, and had called in to see me while on his final journey.

Or was it my subconscious mind explaining exactly HOW De` Ja` Vu works?

I gave him a call a couple of weeks later because the dream was sitting heavily on my mind. Living in Wales now, we don’t keep in contact as often as we should.

The news wasn’t good. He’d had to go and have tests to prepare him for a liver transplant. Afterwards, they continued on up to Blackpool to visit their family. While there, Steve had a brain haemorrhage which almost wiped him out.

He spent several days in hospital and has had to revisit several times since. He’s not as badly affected as some. But his ‘spirit’ seems to have taken it’s leave. (Hope it’s temporary).

But how strange that as children growing up together, we retain this almost sub-conscious link where we can visit each other in dreams at times of stress or need.

Has anyone else had similar experiences?

I know I’ve had many. So please let us know in the comments to this post. (COMMENTS link below).

Pete.


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Sunday, 18 May 2008

THOSE OL' GREY/PINK BOYS TROUSERS.

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Those Ol’ Grey/Pink Boys Trousers.

In the 1950’s money was tight, and for our large family it was tighter than for most. But my Mum WAS very good at all the home-craft things that Mum’s ‘were’ good at in those days. Like making jam, sewing, cake-making/decorating, knitting, etc, etc.

Infact, each year the village would hold it’s annual ‘Flower Show’. Some villages still do, but it’s a dying tradition due to the enormous bills that the ‘Health & Safety’ guru’s put on the organisers, by way of ‘third-party-insurance’.
(I know, it’s a joke, but that’s today’s society for you).

To get back to the point. My Mum used to enter these flower show competitions where the best prize you could win was a ‘Rosette’ for 1st, 2nd or 3rd, (Very coveted rosettes they were too in their day) and she would always come away with several 1st place rosettes. Especially in the cake-making/decorating, jam, and dress-making sections. It got to the point where she was ‘expected’ to win.

(The Wargrave flower show was hardly 'The Chelsea Flower Show' but still.)

Naturally, this brought attention from the ‘better-off’ women of the village to request ‘favours’ from my Mum. Which she duly complied with, and was usually rewarded for the efforts, building up quite a reputation as a ‘good’ seamstress and general ‘sewer-upper’. As well as provider of some of the best home-made jams and cakes anywhere.
(Wedding cake? No problem, and decorated to perfection.)

Now, as part of her ‘reward’ for doing a favour to ‘one’ of the villagers, she was given a good amount of this high-quality material that was left over from the job in hand. GREAT! But what to do with it, that was the question?

My brother Bill and I were at junior school, and as such only had short trousers. We’d been pestering Mum to get us some ‘long’s’ for ages, but she just couldn’t afford it so we’d wear these shorts that were getting tighter and tighter as we grew.

Now in those days we ‘never’ had a telly. (Only got our first ‘Decca’ radio in about 1954). As you can guess, a lot of sewing, jam making and cake-making went on. The sewing usually got done in the evenings until long after we kids had gone to bed.

One Monday morning, our Mum told us we didn’t need to put on our shorts, she’d got some ‘long’s’ for us. Bill and I looked at each other, well pleased and couldn’t wait to see our new trousers. When we did, our jaws must’ve nearly hit the deck. She'd made them for us out of the left-over material that this other villager had given her as reward for doing one of her ‘favours’. Nothing wrong there. They fitted great. But the material was ‘pure 50’s’. That itchy-grey, wool/cotton material that was generally ‘grey’ but with flecks of ‘pink’ and ’white’ running through it. I’m sure whatever she’d made from it for the villager was fine. But for two lads who had to now wear ‘trousers’ made of the same material to school?…….No!…No!…No!

As you can guess though, we ‘did’ wear them to school, and for days we had to defend ourselves against jibes of ;
“Your Mum made your trousers….Hah Hah Hah”.

I steadfastly stuck to my story that our local ‘Tally-Man’, Mr NorthEast, (Genuine name by the way) had sold them to my Mum on ‘tick’. That they’d come straight from ‘Tutty’s’ the department store in Reading, Berks, where most of the lower class used to get their stuff from using credit vouchers.

Eventually, the jibes died down, and everyone got used to Bill and I wearing our strange ‘grey-pink’ boys long trousers.
Anyway, I’d convinced myself that ‘they’ were just jealous, and we were naturally very proud of ‘Our Mum’s’ ability to make almost anything from scraps of old material.

Could their Mum’s do it??
I don’t think so. Which is why they all used to come to ‘our house’ to get things like that done.

Who else could have such ‘vivid memories’ of one pair of Ol’ school trousers?
If nothing else, we were left with those, and ‘memories’ as you know, are ‘Golden’.

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Monday, 12 May 2008

Henley Regatta -The Fair & Rastus.

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Henley Regatta -The Fair & Rastus.

Growing up in the village of Wargrave in the 50’s was a
full time adventure, and unlike today, a totally ‘white’ one. By that I mean there were no coloured people in the community. There were foreign residents, but all were white. So when a young lad called ‘Rastus’ started as an apprentice chef at the St George & Dragon Hotel it really was a novelty. He instantly became the talk of the village.

Call me ‘pushy’ if you like, but whenever anyone new came to the village, I was generally the first one there to claim them as ‘my mate’. The village was then, and probably still is a magnet for overseas visitors, and back in the day, there were several railway coaches down at the railway siding that were permanently hired out as ‘holiday homes’.

People from all over the world would take their vacations camping in these fully equipped train carriages, and I was a bit of a ‘goal poacher’ as far as befriending the kids that holidayed there. So when Rastus came on the scene it was only natural that ‘I’ got to him first. Albeit that he was 16 and I was only 11. (I always thought I was 17, even at the age of eight. Still do)

Everybody in the village took to Rastus as he had the wickedest grin and greatest sense of humour. Wherever he went, he lit up the place. He was an orphan from a children’s home in Somerset, so it was even funnier to hear him speak in a strong west-country accent. But growing up in an orphanage environment made him very street-wise, and for a slightly built chap, he was as tough as old boots. Which brings me on to our visit to the Henley Regatta Fair.

Rastus, being a worker, had bought himself a little BSA bantam to race about on. He used to let us ride it up the ‘Straight Mile’ on the way to ‘Crazies Hill’ next to the Wargrave Manor grounds after it got dark. One of the best feelings in the world is the very first time you ride a motorbike and you feel that power ‘dragging’ you through the air at what seems like phenomenal speed, but probably only 20 or 30 miles per hour. Naturally, I was always begging him to take us on the back somewhere, just to get that ‘rush’.

The summer before I left Wargrave in 1963, Rastus said he’d take me on the motorbike to the Henley Regatta Fair. He’d pay if I wanted to go. Naturally, I didn’t need asking twice, but then he gave me a crash helmet to put on. In those days, only ‘squares’ wore crash helmets. Wearing them was a personal choice which not too many people took up. So at first I said “no way”, but then he said I’d definitely need it and he wasn’t taking me unless I put it on. (So I did).

We arrived at the packed fair that was in full swing, and because we were on a motorbike, could park up right next to the fair. But instead of just leaving the helmets on the handlebars which was the ‘usual’ thing to do in those days, Rastus said we needed to take them with us.

Now I don’t know if you’ve read my previous post about the Henley Royal regatta Fair, but I did mention the overpowering and bullying tactics of the ‘Hooray-Henry’s’ at the fair. We wanted to get onto the dodgems, and we wanted to ‘stay’ on them for several goes, so when our chance came we made a bee-line for a car and got in with a bit of bumping and bashing.

OK, we’re going round hell-for-leather, whacking the Hooray’s as hard as we could, (when we weren’t getting whacked first that is.) then Rastus told me to put my hand inside the helmet and grab the webbing inside as tightly as possible, we were staying on this little missile and no Hooray was going to get us out.

The cars stopped. The usual bashing, thumping and screaming started as the Hooray’s ran riot grabbing all the cars for themselves. (Until they got to ours that was).
Rastus was first to take aim and fire with his helmet, and in a state of sheer panic, I followed suit. We were swatting them like flies until they gave up and we got another ride in the same car.

This was fine until it came to the end of the second ride, because they were about to employ ‘new’ tactics. They came at us with brollies this time, so instead of hitting them with my crash helmet, I put it on my head to protect it while I just lashed out in defence. Rastus, on the other hand took a different tack. He gave me his helmet to hold and then started to set about them like a whirling dervish.
Kids think these days that Bruce Lee was fast, and he was. Well Rastus was certainly the fastest I’d ever seen in my life and he frightened the life out of the Hooray’s.

Strangely enough, the dodgems seemed to return to some form of order and normality after that, and we stayed on for several more rides before the money ran out and we high-tailed it back to the Bantam and off home.

Happy days.

Pete.

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Friday, 9 May 2008

WILLY-THE-WITCH....BABY-KILLER.

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Willy – The – Witch.

YES, every village has to have one, and we had ours.
This little old lady, always dressed in black as I recall, with long flowing dresses and coat. She used to ride her old lady’s ‘sit-up-and-beg’ black bike with a basket on the front almost everywhere. (You’d seldom see her walking.)

As a very young child I found her very scary indeed. Especially as somewhere in the background of ‘grown-up-talk’, I’d here the rumbling that some old lady dressed in black was going around pricking babies with a big needle and killing them. I know I used to have nightmares about this, but more to the point, I thought this little old lady on her bike was the culprit.

With her bent over posture, and large hooked nose, peddling furiously around the village, she was the prime suspect in my very young eyes. Her image engraved on my memory for the rest of my days.

As I grew older and able to explore more of the village, I found out that she lived in a ‘shanty shack’ right down the other end of Loddon Drive. Having found this out, I’d entice a few other kids including my younger brother and sister to accompany me down there to ‘spy’ on her. I was going to solve this ‘murder mystery’ all on my own. (With a little help from my friends of course. ‘coward’)

We’d creep about behind bushes, whispering to each other and making coded hand signals to tell each other she was on the move. Though most of the time she’d sit either in the garden around a fire she’d keep going. Or on hot sunny days, she’d sit on her veranda reading books. She never seemed to have visitors, and struck a very lonely figure.

Because she wore black all the time, had a bent over posture, a raggedy face with a large hooked nose and sat around a fire most of the day and evenings, we decided she must be a ‘WITCH’, and duly christened her ‘Willy-The-Witch’.

Now Willy loved her own company and was a very private person indeed. So whenever she caught us ‘snooping’ for clues to the child-murders I was convinced she was guilty of, she’d start shouting and screaming at us to get away from her house, and the area itself. Often chasing us up the drive with her big stick.

It got to the point (I’m now ashamed to say) where we’d bait her, calling her ‘Willy-the Witch, baby killer’ as she rode past us in the village on her bike. Or as we were running away from her screaming outbursts when she caught us spying on her at her ‘shanty shack’.

To compound our theory that she was a witch, you’d often see her visiting the graveyard below the Piggott C of E junior school. (Bottom of the old chalk pit). Where she would vanish for ages into the little ‘baby-cottage’ that was in the grounds. (Sadly no more, just a memorial bench)

We were convinced this was her ‘other house’ and maybe she cast spells in there, being that it WAS in the corner of the graveyard. Some of us would creep down there as it started to get dark, to see if we could catch her up to no good. But often scarpering hot-foot away from there as fast as we could the moment we’d hear some strange noise, or feel the bats winging past our heads. (Naturally believing what our Mum’s & Dad’s had told us about bats getting tangled in your hair if you stayed out after dark).

Willy-The-Witch had such a profound impression on my life as a child, that when I’d tell my youngest daughter Corrinne bed-time stories, they would always be about ‘Willy-The-Witch’. I would cast my mind back to a particular adventure in my life as a youngster, then adapt it around Willy. Always with a BIG! SURPRISE! at the end as Willy did something really scary.

I know. Some of you are saying I was cruel. But Corrinne absolutely loved them, and I used to have to come up with a FRESH story every night, from about eighteen months, right up until she was about five years old. If I started to repeat myself somewhere along the line, she’d remember and tell me so in no uncertain terms.

How did I manage it? I guess I had a remarkably adventurous childhood as they were all ‘truth-based’ stories. But sadly, as is usually the case, a couple of older girls who used to come round and play with Corrinne decide to tell her that there was no such person as Willy-The-Witch, and that I was ‘lying’ to her.

She told me she didn’t want to hear any more Willy-stories and denied ever being enthralled by them. Though now that she’s grown up. (All of sixteen years old) She reluctantly admits that maybe she ‘does’ remember them more fondly than she let on. (So I didn’t damage her for life as some of you may be thinking).

Willy-The-Witch obviously wasn’t a baby-killer, but later on in life I did read in our local rag, The Evening Post, that in the early fifties there WAS a ‘notorious’ Reading woman who was discovered as a baby-killer. So it’s likely that the gossip I was hearing from the ‘grown-ups’ about a woman dressed in black killing babies, was actually about her.

The moral of the story?
Don’t encourage your children to eavesdrop on your gossip. Their interpretation of what you’re talking about, might not be as accurate as you’d think, and could affect THEM for the rest of their lives. (Only joking).

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Thursday, 8 May 2008

THE HOME GARDENING CLUB.

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The Home Gardening Club.

After the war, when life could only get better. Everyone was
encouraged to garden at home and grow their own food.
Council houses were built with large gardens and at least
'one' fruit tree to get people started.
A sort of 'Home gardening club' really.

I mentioned in one of my first posts that my dad was a gardener/
handyman. Well, gardening really WAS his forte`. His fingers
were so green they almost lit up in the dark. Our back garden at
home was filled to overflowing with every traditional vegetable
known to man, with pride of place being given to the runner beans,
sprouts and cabbage. The potato's which took up about a third
of the garden were a 'given' anyway, and we had two apple trees
that produced bumper crops of the tastiest apples imaginable.

Having said that, in the early days, we had an orchard almost next
door, (before development became the 'buzz-word') and we kids
would go scrumping there to get the 'cookers', plums, cherries,
damsons, gooseberries, etc, etc, etc. So basically we were
virtually self-sufficient.

You don't really see it now, what with the 'Nanny-State' protecting
us all from ourselves as they like to. But in the 50's & 60's it wasn't
at all unusual for people to leave boxes of surplus vegetables & fruit
on the path outside their house for any passers-by to take if they
needed it. Now that really WAS a 'Home Gardening Club', where
the whole village shared in each others good fortune. Those who
weren't quite as greenfingered could still benefit from those who
were. The home and garden were one and we all benefitted.

Another benefit of the home gardening club was that the streets had
a 'sweetness' about them. Yes, the back gardens were full of every
kind of veg, but the front gardens were very proudly tended indeed.
Folk were so pleased to be alive. To be able to afford to actually
'live' a little now in their nice new council homes, that the front gardens
were proudly displayed with the strongest scent of 'English Country
Garden'. Lupins and Lavender being the most prolific as I remember.

That's not to say that the private houses weren't just as fragrant, they
were, which made life then seem so much better maybe.

These days, now that everyone has two cars or more. Those sweet-
smelling front gardens have been replaced with hard core, block-
paved, flood promotion areas for the cars to park. In most suburban
areas and villages alike, the car has become God and must be
protected and molly-coddled at all costs. The gardeners club is just
a distant memory, much like the bumble bee whose numbers are
drastically declining lately. Without Bees and the like, we have no
flowers, fruit or veg. What will we eat?? Are we witnessing the end??

It's OK Peep's, we've still got our cars which we can keep at the front
of our house, as near as we possibly can. We can just look out of the
window now and worship it anytime we feel low or in doubt about our
own mortality.

(Cars 1....Bees 0) (Block-pavers 1.....Gardening club 0)
(Multi-nationals 1.....We, the public......0) Who's winning?

Answers below in the 'comments' section if you please.

Catch you later,

Pete.

To those of you who arrived here after doing a 'gardening' related search, and you're particularly interested in the mechanics of gardening, I've included this Youtube video I found recently.
The chap actually looks very much like my old Dad funnily enough. (Though my Dad would have been 102 now so it's not him) But please do click and enjoy.

(Don't forget to come back here though when you've finished. LOL)




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Monday, 5 May 2008

THE WARGRAVE AND SHIPLAKE REGATTA.

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The Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta.

I won’t pretend I’ve been to any of the Wargrave & Shiplake Regatta’s since leaving the village in 1964.
All I can say is that pre-’64 it was a brilliant day of celebration, enjoyed by virtually every member of the village and for miles around.
(Never actually knew it was called the Wargrave ‘And Shiplake’ regatta until thirty years or so down the line. Always thought it was just ‘The Wargrave regatta’.)

For a start, it was the day that the funfair came to visit.
Setting itself up as if by magic the night before in the field opposite the St George and Dragon Hotel. Also the field used for the hosting of all the regatta paraphernalia.

We’d all make sure we got over there early so that we could get the best position for watching. The lads from Val Wyatts boat builders were usually in charge of all the competing craft. We’d marvel at their dexterity in handling so many in such a tight space, but they seemed to cope just fine.

My brother-in-law Grainger Edney, used to think he was top honcho, but his younger brother Wilf had the ‘starry eyes’ and always got the full attention of all the mesmerised girls there. Though he’d often nearly fall into the river as he tried to be ‘cool’, pretending he hadn’t noticed all the attention. (He used to get a bit bashful).

Being a bit of a ‘water-babe’ myself, loving everything about ‘Old Father Thames, the Wargrave and Shiplake regatta was Utopia for me. I’d be sat there day-dreaming of the time that ‘I’ would be competing. Obviously ‘Whupping’ all the competition. But the nearest I ever got to entering the regatta was trying to get to the end of the ‘Greasy Pole’. (Never managed it I’m afraid.)

Once all the racing was finished it was time for the fair. How my mum always managed to fish another tanner out of her purse on demand always baffled me. But she did, and all of us kids would have the best time of the year.

On regatta day, Val Wyatts used to use a ‘huge’ barge as a ferry. The everyday one would probably only carry 20 or so at a time. But the barge would carry what seemed like a hundred at a time. So many that the sides would be almost submerged, with water lapping over the edges.

a chap called Bill Sumner used to be ‘Chief-Punter’, and was he ever good at aiming that barge accurately? Sometimes one of the other hands would take over. What a fiasco? You felt you were on the way to the Royal Henley Regatta instead sometimes.

Anyway, the last ferry of the day would be around Tennish. The car parks of the George & Dragon Hotel would be crammed to bursting with everyone trying to get served in the make-do pub that was; The Val Wyatt boathouse. They had a huge workshop almost next to the hotel which used to double-up as a ‘Brakspears Bar’ on regatta night. We kids of course would have our Corona Lemonade in PINT mugs, and our Smith’s Crisps and little blue wraps of salt to sprinkle in.

It used to be a competition between the kids to see who could find the ‘most’ salt-wraps in their bag. Smith’s were nothing if not over-generous with the salt-wraps.
Once everyone had their drinks. Dad with his Mild, Mum with her Babycham, (Special occasion of course), then the field to the right of the fair and regatta would be lit up with an amazing firework display.

All the OOH’s and AAH’s would be quite deafening, until the big ‘THANKYOU’ display went up at the end and everyone gave three cheers for the whole occasion.

Great days. Great memories. The walk home was a bit bumpy though. Wargrave Village never had many street lamps in the 1950’s, early 60’s, (Probably only four or five in the whole place) so we usually ended up getting separated from each other, being ushered along by the crowd, which fortunately enough, used to trundle up Victoria Rd, past Hamilton Rd where we lived anyway.

Does the Wargrave and Shiplake regatta still maintain the same magic today? I really wouldn’t know. The fair was stopped many years ago I know that. Whether it’s been re-instated I wouldn’t know either. But if it hasn’t, then the regatta organisers have missed a huge trick there.

Does the Wargrave & Shiplake Regatta rival the Henley Royal Regatta?
Maybe not EH?

Catch you later,

Pete.

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AT THE TENDER AGE OF FIVE.

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At The Tender Age Of Five.


In the early 50’s when I was very young, I remember having this little friend called Tim and we’d spend a good amount of the time playing in his large overgrown garden.

On my 5th birthday I had the most memorable party ever. Infact, it was the ‘only’ one, as we weren’t really a ‘party’ family. Our little house was jam-packed with friends and neighbours who’d all brought me a present of some description each. I’d never seen so many toys and books.

Strangely though, little Tim wasn’t there. The following morning I was to find out why.
20 years or so ago I wrote this poem to explain my feelings about that day, and most days since.

Timothy’s calling.

At the tender age of four
we were barely alive.
But adventure we were finding,
in your garden, long and winding.

It seemed to go forever.
No fences of despair.
We forged a bond of friendship.
Took our fun out of the air.

Old saucepans, now we’re warriors,
hunting out our foe.
The old tin bath is now our boat.
Across the sea we’ll go.
The woodshed is our castle,
defended with our lives.

Look out for ‘Old Nick’,
my dad says he’s quick.
He hides in the long grass,
and he won’t let us pass.

He’ll chase us, and kill us,
for being a kid.
All innocent children,
‘Old Nick’ will get rid.

It’s quiet this morning
in assembly at school.
The teachers look sad.....
Have they heard something bad ?

“Listen now children, you have to be brave.
Timothy’s left us, ask Jesus to save,
all of you who are in this room.
The scarlet fever is hitting a boom”.

Timothy’s dead. Timothy’s dead.
These words keep rushing through my head.
Now cut in half, how will I play
our special games, the natural way ?

An angel made of pure white marble
looked out for Timothy, all alone.
Just fifty yards from our noisy class,
I could hear him calling from the grass.

‘Old Nick’ had crept into Timothy’s bed.
While Tim lay asleep, crept into his head.
‘Old Nick’ thought he’d struck young Timothy down.
In life, he did.
But Tim’s still around.

He talks now about the power of gold.
The diamond eyes that can unfold,
to show ‘Old Nick’ residing there.
Tim shows me life, and lays it bare.

Into my mind, he comes each day.
He tells me how the ‘chord’ is played.
He keeps ‘Old Nick’ away from me.
He shows me secrets he can see.

Tim’s grave has now been vandalised.
The angel broken down.
Those children didn’t know young Tim.
They would have shown respect for him.

But Tim still says he loves them,
and will try to help them through.
But they have to open up their minds,
or there’s nothing he can do.

‘Old Nick’ will climb inside instead,
and they’ll wake up,

to find they’re dead.


Catch you later,

Pete.


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Sunday, 4 May 2008

THE £15- CANVAS CANOE.

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The £15- canvas canoe.

My love of the river outweighed my swimming ability, because although I loved the river and everything about it, I was never a strong swimmer.

I’m sure this was based on the fact that I had an awesome ‘respect’ for it. I’d seen the swirling underwater currents where the River Loddon met the River Thames at Wargrave. I’d known of people previously regarded as strong swimmers, drowning in innocent looking water. So although I loved being on top of the water, I was always rather fearful of being out of my depth in it.

My first so-called boat was the proverbial car tyre innertube. Every kids best friend in the river. The next move up was the ‘li-lo’. I felt pretty safe on that thing until one day a swan jumped on my back and started pecking my bum. (Aged about eight or nine then). When I eventually got to the riverbank, PC Float, our local bobbie was there, ready to tear me off a strip for being so stupid. Hmmmmm?

Anyway, that scared me off using the li-lo for river crossings. So, best mate at the time, Stan Povey and I went searching the cherry pits in the area for dumped five gallon drums and a load of wood. We were going to build the best ‘Huckleberry Finn’ raft you ever saw. (And we did). It took us a while, but we got there eventually. Got it out on the river and away we went. GREAT!!

We kept our raft moored down at the ‘Free Ferry’. (The back end of Woodclyffe House.) However, we didn’t bargain on the jealousy of others, and found our beloved raft had been vandalised with holes being punctured into the drums. Not that we noticed until we launched it, and it started to sink in the middle of the river. Stan was a useless swimmer, and I wasn’t much better, but somehow we got ourselves back to the riverbank.
(Another great plan scuppered).

UNTIL……as we were going to Saturday Morning Pictures at Henley, and I read a card in a newsagents window; ‘Canoe for sale £15-‘.
Never mind the pictures, I was round to the house like a shot to see if it was still going. It was, but there was a problem……I didn’t have enough money. I only had the two-bob in my pocket to cover the mornings entertainment at the pictures.

Anyway, the man was a very gentlemanly, kind fellow, and could see I really wanted the canoe, so he asked if I though I could pay him a pound a week for it. Well, I wasn’t sure, but I told him I could, and knew that if I used my noddle I could get the £1- a week needed. I came back later in the week after I’d raised my first £1- doing odd jobs for people in the village, and after convincing the gentleman that I was going to put it in the guards train to get it home, he let me take it.

This was about 7pm in the summer, and I put the canoe on the saddle and handlebars of my little bike and set off down St Andrews Rd towards the station. But here was the dilemma; I didn’t have any more money. I’d planned to walk the canoe, on my bike the whole 3 miles along the very hilly, windy road that links Henley on Thames with Wargrave. Those that know this road will know how steep those hills are.

As I was climbing Johnson’s hill, it was starting to get dark, I was getting very tired, and the canoe slipped off my bike. It was a canvas canoe and I really thought I’d messed it up. But after I eventually got it home at about 10.30pm that night, I inspected it to find I’d only broken ONE of it’s ribs. (Easily mended).

My pride and joy was placed just below my bedroom window so that I could get up at night, (just to make sure it was OK, and still there).

It was a two-seater, so I used it as a ferry to help finance itself. It was fairly easy to take from my house to the river each day, so there was no chance of ‘IT’ being vandalised. Many happy days were had from my old faithful canoe. I paid every instalment on time every Saturday as I went to the Saturday morning pictures, and needless to say, I was extremely proud of my first MAJOR possession, as it brought a whole lot of joy to so many of us kids who couldn’t otherwise enjoy the pleasures of the river. As boats of any kind were generally considered the ‘playthings’ of the Rich who lived down by the Wargrave riverbank itself.

The Wargrave Adventure Playground. ‘Utopia’.

Catch you later,

Pete.

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Saturday, 3 May 2008

THE WARGRAVE PENNY FERRY.

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The Wargrave Penny-Ferry.
From as young as four or five years old, my Mum would take us over the river on the ‘Penny Ferry’ to go splashing about in the river on the hot summer days.

We’d all pack our trunks and costumes with just the one towel between the lot of us, along with some old lemonade bottles filled with water. (Our picnic). Then we’d head off down to the front of The St George and Dragon hotel where we’d catch the ‘Penny Ferry’ to the other side of the river Thames where the water was clear and shallow. Where we could be with a whole load of other Mum’s and their kids having a whale of a time in relative safety.

I can still remember the river being a very light green. You could see the sand ripples caused by the passing boats creating a sort of artificial tide. Half buried in that soft, rippling sand were hundreds of 'freshwater mussels’. They were very common then, but you hardly ever see them now.
(Occasionally I’ve seen the odd one while walking along the Prom’ at Henley-On-Thames recently.)

One other memory of those days (especially the first one) that is still VERY vivid in my mind was the shock I got when I found out that the swimming trunks my Mum had ‘knitted’ me especially so that I could go in for a splash, would slip unceremoniously to my feet when they got wet. Undeterred I would still splash about for hours with one hand holding on to my trunks as if my life depended on it.

Mum’s Eh? The things they’ll do to make their kids happy.

The ‘Penny Ferry’ operated by the boat builders who had their yard adjacent to the St George and Dragon, Val Wyatts, is no longer there. Swancraft took it on after Val Wyatts sold up to them, but the owners of the Hotel in cahoots with the farm owner over the other side of the Thames, were determined to ‘spoil’ the spirit that WAS wargrave.

The land that the Ferry used to moor at was owned by the hotel, and when the big conglomerate (which I shan’t name) took over the George & Dragon, it decided to maintain it’s philosophy of ‘Greed is best’, and excluded all of the ‘locals’ who had used the land, along with the mooring green at the front. They took away the swing, flower beds etc, leaving it a baron wasteland, only good for mooring boats, (But only if you were a paying customer of course).

Even the car park had some twerp permanently ‘on guard’ there incase any of the ‘lower-life’ locals showed up and only wanted a pint. “Parking is for ‘eating’ customers only Sir”.

Wargrave holds many beautiful memories for me. The St George and Dragon was one. Sadly, it now plays a large part in the ‘demise’ of the ‘spirit’ of Wargrave. I haven’t been there for a couple of years now. Why bother?
Though I did drive past the other day and saw that access to the river-front had been permanently blocked off.

Hopefully, someone will tell me one day that some other enterprise has taken over the hotel, and the spirit has been restored. (I won’t hold my breath though). But I will forever have the memories of some great times had at what was the prettiest and friendliest little riverside pub/hotel to be found anywhere.

Catch you later,

Pete.

PS. Check out some old Wargrave 'past' photo's here;

PPS. Please Click The Header Above To Visit the Main Blog.
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Friday, 2 May 2008

The Wargrave River Bank.

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The Wargrave River bank.

It has to be said that the Wargrave riverbank has
had a positive effect on the whole of my life, but
particularly my years up until the age of thirteen.

My very first memory is of the time when I was
just eighteen months old. My three older sisters,
Linda, Bev and Mary had decided to take me for
a walk down ‘the bottom end’ of Wargrave village.
To the winding river Thames that is still it’s jewel
in the crown. It was a hot, sunny day, and we were
walking across the fields as a short-cut.

We were some way across this field when suddenly
Linda grabbed my hand and virtually dragged me
across the rest of the field, screaming that the bull
was chasing us and we had to run for our lives.

Obviously we escaped the charging bull and carried
on our way to ‘the bottom end’ where we eventually
ended up at ‘the dirty water’. A little spot along the
side of the main Henley Rd just past
‘The St George & Dragon’ hotel.

We spent what seemed like forever there, sinking
jam jars on string to try and catch minnows.
I remember I was absolutely fascinated by these
little silver fish, which we took back home with us,
(though not across that field).

I grew up loving ‘the dirty water’ spot, and as I got
older I progressed to a fishing net, which our local
barber and neighbour Alf Beckford gave me.
(He also sold fishing tackle from his barbers shop
in Wargrave High St) This made catching those
minnows a whole lot easier.

At age seven or eight my older brother George
showed me how to catch the ‘really big fish’ that
I could see gliding through the deeper water.
This was done with a bit of old hawthorn tree,
(Nice and springy) with a length of string, a
safety pin and squashed bread for bait.
(Yes, we did catch fish that way, back in the day).

I don’t know about BIG fish, but we did catch some
gudgeon, dace and roach there using this basic
fishing rod. Out-fishing some of the Dad’s that used
to pride themselves and their expensive ‘split-cane’
rods and all the latest equipment imaginable.

Remember, the river end of the village at Wargrave
was (and still is) the posh end, but ‘the dirty water’
used to attract me like a magnet that I couldn’t
resist, and I would find myself often just sitting there
in wonderment of the place, hoping I’d catch the
kingfishers and dragonflies speeding past.

Believe it or not, I was at least nine years old before
I was told that it wasn’t ‘the dirty water’ at all, it was
‘Camps Pool’. Somehow, that name never sat very
well with me, and still doesn’t to this day. It will always
be ‘the dirty water’ as far as I’m concerned, and
although the main stretch of the River Thames at
Wargrave has been desecrated by the greed of
local landowners and the owners of ‘The St George
and Dragon’ hotel, ‘the dirty water’ remains almost
as it was over fifty years ago.

If ever you’re lucky enough to visit the ‘chocolate
box pretty’ village of Wargrave, Berkshire.
Stop by Camps Pool for a while and enjoy the
beauty that remains to this day. Look over your
shoulder there and you may well be lucky enough
to see the deer herd grazing on the front lawn of
Wargrave Manor.
The home of the Sultan of Oman.

Check this short video of Camps pool, (The Dirty water).

Turn your speakers up and listen to the birds competing and 'WINNING' the war of sound with the passing cars.



Wargrave Manor?
Now there’s a place that’s featured significantly
in my days at the village, and stories involving
the magnificent manor will feature later as this
blog progresses.

Catch you later,

Pete.

PS. Please Click The Header Above To Visit the Main Blog.

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Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Henley Royal Regatta Fair.

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The Henley Royal Regatta Fair.

When you’re a youngster, the fair is a magical, mystical wonderland.
(At least it was for us in the 50’s and 60’s.)

The problem was though, that money was very scarce in most working-class
families back then. But the lure of the fair was SO powerful it just
couldn’t be resisted.

At the Royal Henley Regatta, in the 50’s and 60’s the fair used to be
almost directly behind the ‘Finish Line’ of the boat races, in the field
that they now use as the ‘hospitality’ area.

Between races the fair would get ‘swamped’ with the ‘Hooray’s’ who would
push, shove and bully their way onto the rides so that we mere mortals could
hardly get a look in.

Now….as a kid of 8 or 9 I was pretty resourceful. I would walk the three
mile to Henley so that I could be at the fair for early afternoon. The most
popular ride for the Hooray’s was the bumper cars (of course), they ran
amok every time each session stopped, hogging the cars for themselves
each time.

I could see the ‘respectable’ folk looking totally dismayed and frustrated
that they couldn’t get a look in.
Seeing this, I realised that being quite small, tough and hardy, I’d get to
at least One of the cars before the marauders. This I’d do, (most times).
Then I’d catch the eye of someone who’d missed out and beckon them over.
I’d get out letting them take the car, telling them I’d saved it especially
for them.
The look of gratitude on their faces said all I needed to know then.
While the ride ran it’s course, I’d stand on the edge making sure I’d make
eye contact now and again, with a little smile as they got ‘shunted’.

Now I’m not saying that I had a 100% conversion rate, but most of those I
saved a car for would come to me afterwards and thank me, saying they’d had
a great time etc. But more to the point. The people who visited the
Royal Henley Regatta then, were generally pretty well off. I would usually
get a couple of pennies, threepenny-joey, or a tanner handed to me for my consideration.

Occasionally I’d catch the eye of a single rider, and then more often than
not, they’d invite me along for the ride. (No cost of course). So my wily
little plan got me the best of both worlds, and due to the 'greed' and 'slovenliness' of the ‘Hooray’s’, I was able to repeat my little ruse
on other rides at the fair as well.

Did I used to enjoy Henley Royal Regatta week? You bet I did. For several
years on the trot, until they moved the fair OUT of the regatta grounds.

The Hooray’s and the well-off didn’t fancy the long trek to the fair, so it
was left to those with just enough for themselves.

Yep...US....The working class.

Ahhhh…..Those were the days…………

Pete.

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Monday, 21 April 2008

The Royal Henley Regatta..Henley-On-thames.

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Royal Henley Regatta..Henley-On-Thames.

I was laid in the bath today, thinking about the next
few months and what might be happening.
Then from out of nowhere, memories started flooding
back to my childhood visits to 'the most glorious'
event I could ever remember.

Yes, the 'Royal Henley Regatta' was viewed as 'the'
most important event in our small village of Wargrave's
calendar. Henley-on-Thames being just three miles
along a very hilly, windy road, it was right on our door-
step. Our village was 'almost' Royal for a couple of
weeks a year, thanks to the Royal Henley Regatta.

Now Wargrave was generally a sleepy little village
for most of the time, with nothing much happening at all.
Maybe the odd fete, the march on remembrance day,
and the odd sighting of a few of the very famous
residents we had smattered around the place. The
most familiar I suppose was Robert Morley, the rotund
actor of many a comedy and farce.

BUT!….Usually in May, the village would be descended
upon by several removal lorries filled with bedding,
beds, chairs, luggage, catering equipment of every
size and dimension, and a whole load of GIANTS!

Well, as kids, that’s what they looked like to us.
They were of course rowers, preparing for the annual
Royal Regatta. Not just any old rowers mind. These were
the boys from ‘The Thames Rowing Club’
(based in Putney as I remember).

OK you say, a memorable annual event for the entertainment-
starved population of Wargrave, but.....“what else”?

I’ll tell you what else…..’Money!’….Yep, sorry for lowering
the tone here, but the arrival of the ‘Thames Rowers’ meant
the family funds suddenly got a boost!

My Mum knew the ‘main-man’. The co-ordinator of the whole
military operation, on whose broad shoulders it fell to make
sure that these GIANTS had their every whim catered for.

They needed digs, they needed feeding, they needed cleaning
up after, and they needed errands run.
They were also pretty well financed, so guess who used to be
the second-in-command to ‘the main man’?

You guessed right. My Mum……..and her little private army of
deed-doers. Me and my brothers and sisters of course. We were
the cleaner-uppers, the tidy-uppers, and the message-runners
extreme. To top it all, we were very well paid for our few
weeks of hard graft. We got paid by ‘the main-man’. We also
got paid by the GIANTS, who all seemed to have too much money
for their own good anyway.

Does it still happen these days?
Remember….This was in the 1950’s….
When children were FREE human beings.
Allowed to get dirty, cut and bruised.
Who were allowed to use their own imagination and resources
to get by the best way they could, with VERY little in the way
of resources. (Except their wits).

These days, the parents would be hauled before the courts.
The children would be GIVEN their human rights, even though
they don’t want or need them.
The ‘main-man’ would likely be imprisoned for using child labour.


Is it TOO LATE to turn the tide?
This post continues with….
‘What happened at the Regatta Fair’ later.

Cheers,

Pete.

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