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... the single years...

Miscellaneous By: Peter Hunter
Non-fiction



... before I was ten...


Submitted:Aug 4, 2012    Reads: 25    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


… the single years…

Peter Hunter

Now below the hump backed brick, bridge was the pool where we had taught ourselves to swim. With a depth of three and a half feet or so, adequate for the purpose it possessed an appeal and freshness worlds apart from any chlorinated swimming pool...

… as I idly watched two good trout in the current twisting first one way then the next - feeding on nymphs drifting in the current…

…I realised my childhood freedom had finished.

Around this period, I spent much time reflecting on my life's potential. I had never ever slept in bedroom with electricity other than an odd day or two away from home - we only had the 'electric light' in the two downstairs rooms …

… we had no running water…

… a bucket had to be lowered down a shared well for drinking. washing water was taken from the outside rainwater tub.

The sanitary arrangements were, by today's standards, almost unthinkably basic - and they are the ones I am prepared to mention. Put crudely - it was merely a bucket, in the remote outhouse - initially emptied into a hole my father dug regularly in the garden - then for a few years collected weekly by two deaf mutes. They worked for the local market garden and used a large barrel mounted on wheels and drawn by a carthorse. We called them the Dummy Drews. A small sum, pennies - was paid for this service. The local council replaced this arrangement in the early fifties by introducing its own emptying and collection service.

My childhood had been strict - discipline from my mother was usually enforced with the aid of a stick - a change from my schoolteacher who occasionally used an old chair leg on me. In fact, beatings both at home and at school were regular occurrences. My first - to this day I still nurture a great sense of injustice at the memory - it happened at the age of seven. Towards the year's end I was adamant in telling the others at school - that there was no such person as Father Christmas - that it was merely a lie, a myth, put about by parents to mislead and control children. My teacher objected strongly to this expression of truth and smacked me several times for having the temerity to voice it…

… usually with her hand… as I had yet to graduate to the more senior one who used the chair leg…

I have never, nearly seventy years later, forgotten or forgiven the bitch for the injustice of it all. It was mildly character shaping or should I call it personality twisting - probably something a psychologist would blame for several things that have happened to me since.

The significance of this incident worries me still - now I am well into my pensionable age. That the teaching staff believed perpetuating myths and superstition rather than telling the truth - pretending that subjugating children's minds and prolonging their innocence was enlightening…

… it would be better if they had been able to recognise intelligence and cultivate talent and ability…

One of my criticisms is that for example, my reading and writing skills were mostly self-taught from prolifically reading the more informative comics available at the time - much to the disapproval and annoyance of the village school teaching staff. I still remember many of the characters and stories serialised to this day - which is far more than can be said for anything I read in the classroom…

… and the content of my writing, even at the village primary was often not understood by my teacher…

Her motivational skills were no more than zero. I remember sixty years later - that she gave me a book as a reward for passing the exam, speeding me to grammar school. She could not find the inexpensive generosity of signing it to me…

… if she had I would probably possess it still.

The need to avoid punishment at home often motivated me to ingratiate myself with my mother by killing or collecting useful items to supplement our food supply. There was a shortage of most things in our cottage - although meat did not appear scarce. I subsequently realised that my mother was the girlfriend of the village butcher…

… and that explained our abundance of meat…

However, rabbits and hares were always welcome at home. Several particular animals remain in my memory - for their means of capture. One rabbit, caught when I was eleven, was remarkable in that I suffered the handicap of having my left leg in plaster up to the knee. This handicap did not restrict me greatly - but obviously, I could only run slowly and with great difficulty - more of an awkward hobble. I was still able to cycle and get around quite well…

… although more slowly than usual.

It was a local tradition at harvest time - to frequent cornfields in their final phase of being cut with a binder-reaper - drawn by horses or more usually, a tractor. When half an acre or less of standing corn remained - rats, rabbits and hares would bolt out of the crop and make a run for the freedom of the nearest hedgerow. A surrounding circle, mostly small boys with sticks and an occasional adult with a shotgun…

… would endeavor to deny the poor animals their liberty.

With my leg in plaster, my movement was more restricted than usual but I refused to be denied what I regarded as my rightful opportunities. A plump rabbit ran past me and hid in a shock of corn - the tent shaped structure of sheaves that were constructed to dry the grain-laden straw…

… also known as a stook in some parts of the country such as Norfolk…

My habit at that time was to carry - sheathed and hanging from my belt - an original World War Two Sykes-Fairbain commando knife. This weapon, of stiletto type, had a double - all-steel eight-inch blade, attached to a solid metal cylindrical handle with circular groves, which ensured grip. The finely pointed blade was of a diamond shaped cross-section and could only have one sensible purpose…

… to kill…

With the poor rabbit - running panicking and squealing from one end of the shock to the other - where another boy, Roger competed with me to grab it - I quickly pinned it to the soft earth under the corn sheaves with the commando knife, the next time it came within reach.

After dragging the bleeding, struggling creature out - I then reversed the weapon, and holding it by the blade I used its heavy handle as a priest on the back of its neck, to swiftly dispatch the unfortunate animal. A rabbit was even then a good prize, and the ensuing goodwill ensured my mother did not beat me for the next day or two.

This story may seem brutal in today's politically correct world - but in those times, it was necessary for survival - and considered perfectly normal behaviour.

On another memorable occasion, when a little older, I caught a hare with my bare hands also in the latter stages of harvesting a field of corn. Whilst making its bid for freedom, the hare ran off the stubble into the half of the field that had been sewn with sugar beet. The leveret had then - perhaps mesmerized by the tunneling effect of the sugar beet row - simply refused to deviate from its chosen straight line and ran straight along the row. Whilst running on an intercepting course - it was a simple matter to dive on it as it neared me - then I merely had to struggle with the previously mentioned Roger for its final possession…

… a fight that I am glad to say I won…

A hare was good for several meals - and to this day remains one of my favorite foods.

At that time I was eating so many rabbits I feared might grow long ears. The back wall of our cottage was always festooned with rabbit and hare skins. They were stretched drying in the sunshine ready for the fortnightly collection - by a rag and bone man who gave us two pennies for each skin…

… a welcome visitor in contrast to the tallyman, whose debt collecting visits were marked by hiding under the table in an attempt to delay paying an installment.

Apart from rabbits and the occasional hare, our diet was supplemented mainly by water bird's eggs such as those of the moorhen or coot - which I collected from their abundant nests in the local ponds with the aid of a long stick with a three-inch slot cut in one end. The slot was opened to a 'Vee' whereby it was kept apart with a piece of twig - enabling me to push it over an egg…

… then the twig would fall out - and the stick with the egg lodged in its end - could be gently retrieved.

… a slightly more up market variation would be to lash an old tablespoon to the end of the stick and used it for a similar retrieve.

Moorhen eggs are richer than those of hens - dark orange yokes that, when mixed with flour, butter and milk - make delicious cakes. On other occasions, I might take home a few cobs of maize I had 'found' - or a sugar beet that had fallen of a trailer onto the road.

The nineteen fifties was a period where it was the fashion for the Water Board to improve drainage by the occasional dredging of rivers and streams using an excavator or more usually, a mechanised drag line. The operations would deepen the channel - often straightening the stream - at the expense of damaging the weed life and the fish life…

… it was not in my view very successful.

A side effect of this work was the availability of eels caught by the dredging. I would wait patiently by the excavator until one on the bucket loads it deposited on the bank revealed an eel squirming in the mud…

… then grab it for my own use…

To this day I still feel that that this mechanized interference with watercourses was a disaster. It is always best to leave nature to sort out the streams with perhaps a little tampering by man to improve the habitat such as reinforcing the banks with subtle use of pilling…

… but not re-profiling and in some cases redirecting the flow by excavation.

The eels however were a small compensation….

… everything was welcome…

End

© Peter Hunter 2012

… extract from Peter Hunter's auto portrayal - shortly to be published 'Too Many Miles From A Land Of Rivers…' on Kindle and as a paperback.





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