Monday, 12 May 2008

Henley Regatta -The Fair & Rastus.


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.


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Sister Toldja said...

Pete, you are over my head as well, but I also admire YOUR style. Thank you for reading.

~jj~ said...

Pete,I thank you for visiting my site,appreciate the very nice comments. I know I do have quite a lot of ads on my site, however I purchased the blog and the ads came with it. I have not had a chance to change some of the ads and such. After reading some of your stories, it took me back to my childhood days.I l enjoy your writings....keep up the good work. ~JJ~