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04/04/2020

A boy growing up in Wateringbury c. 1955 by Nick Bond


This is where I always sit when I take car numbers.  It’s right on the corner of Canon Lane and the main road.   I write down the car number, the make of the car and where it’s made.  Fords are made in Dagenham, Jaguars are made in Coventry and Austins are made in Longbridge.  I see other cars too, like Morrises, Rileys, Wolseleys, Hillmans and Humbers and motor-bikes like BSA and Norton.  They’re all English cars and bikes.  I don’t see any foreign cars but I wish I did. If I get stuck on a car I look it up in my Observer’s Book of Automobiles which I’ve always got it in my pocket.   One day in the Summer an MG sports car stopped and the driver asked me the way to the village. He had the roof down and there was a lady with him. She smiled at me.  She was nice.  I don’t do vans and lorries.  I put my bike against the seat.  It’s my sister’s blue two-wheeler and I’ve only been riding it a little while after I stopped using my trike which is green with white mudguards.  I’ve fallen off loads of times and grazed myself a bit but it’s all right.  Riding a two-wheeler is really good fun and a bit tricky but I love it.  When I’m finished taking numbers I ride home past the church.  That’s where we go from school at Christmas and Easter and some other times too.  I had to read the lesson from the Bible once standing up in front of everyone.  I was so scared but Mrs. Collins our Teacher said afterwards that I did very well.  l like Mrs. Collins she’s nice though I don’t like school much.  My school is called Wateringbury Primary School.  I don’t really like the men teachers because they get cross with you.  Mrs. Collins reads us stories when we’re in class.  I always want to look at the book Mrs. Collins reads from because it seems to have loads and loads of stories in it. Sometimes, when Mrs. Collins is reading to us some of the class go to sleep. It’s funny because you’re not supposed to wake them up.   Miss Kellam-Smith is the Headmistress. I’m scared of her but I do know that she’s got a Hillman Husky and keeps dogs called Chows, I think.   And she smokes cigarettes.  I sit next to Caroline who I like a lot and sometimes we are the milk monitors for our class.  We all get the same amount of milk in a small, glass bottle with a straw but some children have a small bottle of orange but I don’t know why.  We use a plastic thing to push down onto the bottle top to open it.  When everyone’s finished we have to put all the bottles back in the crate. We walk in twos from school to church and sometimes I walk with my friend Ida or my friend Michael and when we get to church we line up outside the porch and look at the big stones next to the path.  There are names and numbers on the stones and I think people are buried under them.  When we’re in church we sing hymns like “We plough the fields and scatter” and at Christmas “Oh, come all ye faithful” and listen to Canon Soar tell stories about Jesus. I quite like going to church but we have to be very quiet.  Then we all walk back to school.  We go right past the top of the lane where I live.  It’s called Mill Lane and I can just see the gate to our house if I look down the lane.  Sometimes I want to run across the road and go home but I know it’s not allowed. On the way back we go past Mr Bolt the newsagent where my Mum buys my comics like the Dandy and the Eagle.  I wouldn’t go into Mr Bolt’s on my own because it’s all dark inside and smells funny - I think it’s the newspapers.  We also pass Mr Furze the Grocer and over his shop front it says “Service with a smile”.  My mum taught me that.  And we pass Mr. Towns at the Post Office and opposite the Post Office is the Youth Club where my Mum serves drinks in the evenings on a Friday.  My sister goes there, she’s older than me and they do dancing to records sung by Buddy Holly and Elvis.  I can sing like Buddy Holly.  Then we walk a bit further and get to the cross-roads and turn left up the hill to school.  There’s a ladies clothes shop on the corner which has funny, orange plastic curtains in the window so you can’t really see the clothes and the orange makes them a funny colour anyway.  If you go straight on you come to Maidstone which is big town near us.  When we get to school it’s usually dinner time so we have to line up again after we’ve hung up our coats. Everyone has their own hook. Mine’s got a picture of a parrot on it.  Mrs. Long does the dinners and we have dinners like shepherd’s pie and apple and custard and sometimes Semolina that’s my favourite.  If you get strawberry jam and drop it into the Semolina and then whiz it round with your spoon really fast it goes all pink.  I love it.  We also have salad which I don’t really like.  When I was little I went home for dinner with two older girls called Hilary and Margaret who walked along with me. After dinner we go outside and play.  Sometimes we swap Whitbread Inn Sign cards.  I’ve got loads and some of them are metal which is interesting.   I love all the different colours and pictures on them.  Some of my friends skim the metal ones across the playground but I don’t because I think it’s a bit dangerous.  The boy’s toilets are in the playground and if you want a wee you go in and you have to stand outside and it doesn’t smell nice.  From our playground I can look across and see the hop garden. I think I’d like to be there.  I know my Dad’s there.  Anyway, sometimes on my way home I go into the Post Office and get an OrangeMaid lolly that I eat as I walk.  They’re fourpence.   I walk to school and back home on my own now.  Mum meets me at the top of Mill Lane when I get there and watches me cross the road.  At Christmas we have a party at school.  The main hall is laid out with long tables and everyone has a drink of orange and a hat and cake and ice-cream and there’s the smell of candles burning and glue from the streamers that go across the room and are stuck to the walls and there’s a big fire in the stove and sometimes we get presents.  And there’s a big Christmas tree. My Mum gives presents to the Dr.Barnado’s boys and girls who don’t have a Mum and Dad.  She gives the boys Dinky toys but I don’t know what she gives the girls.  They all live together in a big house.  Michael is one; he’s a friend of mine.  When there’s snow I get a lift to school sometimes with my Dad or one of the other Dads who’s got quite a big Austin car.  We pick up other children on the way and they all get in the back or the front.  I can sit in the front because I’m one of the first to be picked up.  Sometimes we have six or seven of us in the car.  We all squeeze in. It’s fun.  When we get to school we change out of our Wellingtons and put on our plimsolls.  Then the whole school goes into the main hall for assembly.  We sing a hymn like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and say “Our Father......” and one of the teachers talks to us and tells us things.  This happens every day.  Anyway, this is my house.  I live at Mill Lane House, Mill Farm, Wateringbury, Kent, England, the World.  My bedroom’s at the back and looks out over the tennis court which is really just a big, grass lawn with a tree called a Silver Birch right in the middle.   Sometimes I shoot arrows out of my bedroom window to see how far they go.  Once I got one all the way up to the greenhouse at the end of the lawn.  My Dad says I should watch out that I don’t hit Mum’s washing or I’ll “cop it”.   Our house has got a back-yard, garage, workshop, rockery, steps going up to what we call the tennis court, a Summerhouse with a thatched roof and a huge tree next to our gate.  It’s called a Yew tree and Dad says that its red berries are poisonous and not to touch them.  So I don’t.  Across the road from our house lives a man called Admiral Moore.  I see him sometimes and he says hello.  Once I threw my hat over his wall and he threw it back – it was funny.  An Admiral is someone who is in charge of a big ship.  My Dad’s manager of Mill Farm.  He grows apples and hops.  He says he’s a pomologist.  He taught me that word.  He’s got an office down in the yard.  It’s a really big farm and I’ve never been to the end of it.  I go down to the yard quite a lot on my bike though you have to dodge the spray if they are spraying the apples in the orchard next to Mill Lane. The spray is all yellow and doesn’t smell nice and you don’t want to breathe it in or get it your mouth.  It’s used to kill aphids and red spider, my Dad says.  Aphids are tiny insects that get into the apples and my Dad showed me a red spider once.  They’re little too.  Sometimes I take my cart which our gardener, old Vic, made for me.  It’s got pram wheels and you steer with your feet on the front axle.  The axle is the part which the wheels are fixed to at each end.  I get a good run-up and then go as fast as I can down Mill Lane to see if I can get from home to the yard without stopping.  Down Mill Lane it’s a bit narrow. Once I crashed into the hedge but that was alright really.  I go fast and I have to steer round puddles and use the hand brake which got stuck under the cart once and turned it over.  I fell out and cut my knees but it wasn’t much.  The cart was alright and that was the main thing.  When you pass the pond you go left round the mill and the track goes down so you can pick up speed.  One day I met my Dad coming the other way in his car and I had to go straight into the stinging nettles.  That was a bit bad and I had to rub Dock leaves into the stings which helped but my legs were covered in stings.  I did cry a bit, I suppose. When I got home Mum put pink stuff called Calamine lotion on the stings which was cold but it sort of helped.   After I’ve had a run down Mill Lane I have to pull the cart all the way back home again.  I love my cart and when I’m driving it I pretend I’m Stirling Moss in his racing car.  One day my sister fell into the pond.  We were there with some friends and they said she went down under the water, came up and went down under again and then came up again.  She was all wet and had green bits in her hair.  I didn’t know what to do really and I sort of cried a bit but we walked her back up Mill Lane to home.  My Mum came out and took her straight indoors.  On a Friday the fish-man parks outside our house.  He’s got a green Bedford van but when he opens the rear doors it’s all white inside and there’s large lumps of ice all smoking and loads and loads of fish in trays and a fishy smell.  My Mum gets kippers for my Dad and plaice for me.  A plaice is a flat fish sort of grey colour with pink spots.  The fish-man slices it up and gives it to Mum in newspaper and he throws bits of fish to our cat Misty.  If Mum gets some I know we’re going to have plaice and chips for tea.  It’s my favourite.   On Saturdays and in the holidays my friends and I play around the farm.  In the orchards we build forts out of apple boxes.  We make a square of boxes and then build them up really high so when you climb to the top you can see a long way and the boxes sway about so you have to be careful not to make them tip over.  The boxes smell a lot of apples.  Sometimes we might take an apple off the tree to eat.  You’ve got to make sure you’re taking an eater and not a cooker because they’re not sweet like an eater.  Then you’ve got to give it a good wipe on your shirt or something in case it’s just been sprayed.  Sometimes the fort does tip over which is a bit dangerous I suppose but really funny.  Anyway, we have knife-throwing games because we’ve all got some sort of knife like pen-knives or ex-army knives or sheath-knives.  Mine’s got a horn handle and five inch blade.  I wear it on my belt in a sheath.  We use our knives to sharpen straight sticks to make arrows and cut thin, straight branches to make bows.  You cut a notch in each end of the branch and fit your string and tighten it and you’ve got a bow.  With arrows, you strip off the bark, sharpen one end to a point and cut a notch in the other to fit the string of the bow.  We never cut ourselves or anything with our knives because we’re using them every day and know how to use them the right way.  There’s always loads of string around because they use it for the hops.  My Dad is in charge of the hops and the hop gardens.   Our hop garden is really big; you can’t see the end of it.  To get there you go past the Mill and carry on up past Canon Key’s house along a narrow track with a wall on one side and suddenly you come out into the hop garden.  There’s rows and rows of hops and hundreds and hundreds of hop poles.  Sometimes I go into a row and take a handful of hops and put my face in it.  I love the smell of hops.  I know that our hops are called Goldings.  In September loads of hop-pickers come to pick the hops.  There’s hundreds of them and they arrive riding on the backs of lorries with their tables and chairs or in old cars all the way from London. They bring their children with them too but they aren’t like us, they look as though they want to fight you and they’re a bit dirty too.  My Mum won’t let me play with them – I’m not sure I want to anyway.  The ‘pickers live in huts around the farm but they don’t have electric light or water.  Well, there is a tap outside the huts which they use.  And they build fires and sit round them.    They have fights too so my Dad said.  He says it’s because they drink too much beer.  One night the policeman came to speak to them – and there was a fight so my Mum said.   It’s always the end of Summer at hop-picking time and near the end of the holidays too and me and my friends are outside all day and right up until teatime and sometimes after tea and our arms and legs and hands and faces go all brown in the sun.  It looks really funny ‘cos the rest of you is white.  I really like that time of year when the hops are being picked.  What we do is we wait for a trailer to come by on its way to the kiln really piled up high with hop pokes full of hops and then we climb right to the top when the trailer’s moving and the driver can’t see us.  When you get to the top of the trailer you can look down on the tractor driver or you can lie on top of the pokes and have a ride down to the oast house.  When we do that I just want to go to sleep because the tractor and trailer is going really slowly and it’s hot and sunny and I feel sleepy.  But you’ve got to still make sure you’re hanging on tight but it’s like lying in a bed.  When we get to the oast house we have to climb down really quickly so we don’t get seen.  Sometimes we go into the Oast house which smells really strong and shuffle amongst the hops.  We kick them up and cover ourselves in them and rub our hands with them.  If you rub your hands with green hops they go all brown and smell funny - your hands, I mean, not the hops.   You’ve got to be careful in the oast because there’s a hole in the floor where they fit the pocket.  The dried hops are pushed into the pocket by the men and then when it’s full the pocket is sown up.  I’ve watched them doing it loads of times.  Sometimes the driver leaves the tractor’s engine running.  I like to stand and watch the tractor – it shudders and blows out smoke and it’s like it’s alive.  It’s blue and a Fordson tractor.  In the hop field my Mum does the tallying.  Tallying is when baskets of hops are emptied into a big round metal bin. She does that all day and makes notes in a notebook.  At the end of each week my Mum and Dad pay the pickers.  The pickers line up outside my Dad’s office window which has got bars and they get paid their money.  In the office is where my Dad keeps his shotgun.  He says it’s a 4/10. I don’t know what that means but he let me shoot with it one day. I fired at a metal drum.  When I pulled the trigger there was a bang and the drum went flying and I went backwards.  Afterwards I looked at the drum and it was full of little holes.  I asked my Dad if I could have another go but he said no.  I used to go with my Mum sometimes when she was tallying but there’s not much to do except watching the men cut the hop bine or ride on the mudguard of the tractor.  It’s really bumpy and you have to hold on really tight because the driver sometimes goes fast and it’s really noisy and smoky.  Or you ride right at the back of the trailer and let your legs dangle over the end.  It hurts a bit because you’re bouncing around and hanging on tight at the same time but it’s really good fun.  After tea I ride my bike round past my Dad’s office when he’s there.  I go past his office, up the slope, go right past the hop dryers - that’s the best bit because as you pass the open door of the dryer you get a hot blast of air, then you hit the cold air, then you get a blast of hot air from the next dryer then you hit cold air again and then you’re at the top where you go down and go right, along and then past my Dad’s office again.  I go round and round making lots of wheel tracks.  When I get home in the evening my Mum takes me and puts me in the bath and then bed.  She says a little prayer which I listen to but I’m sometimes asleep before she finishes.  Then it’s morning again but straight away.  It’s funny.  Sometimes I stay in bed for a while listening to the Rooks in their nests quite a long way away.  A Rook is a black bird – quite big and goes “caw, caw, caw” and builds its nest at the top of tall trees.  As well, I love to watch the Swallows swooping and diving and building their nests right outside my bedroom window and listen to them tweeting.  They fly so fast.  At the end of the hop-picking my Dad gives me a 10 shilling note for being really good.  Sometimes my Dad drives me round the hop field in our car which is an Austin Somerset.  It’s a bit bumpy as we drive round and sometimes my Dad stops to talk to someone and he can be gone ages.  Our car is black and it’s got column-change.  That means that the gear lever is just under the steering wheel and not on the floor.  Also, the hand-brake comes out under the dashboard.  I know what all the switches and knobs do on the dashboard but I’m not really allowed to touch them.  Dad says he’s going to teach me to drive when I’m a bit older – I can’t wait.  Sometimes, if I’ve got my bike I go into the orchard where it’s easier to ride.  I’ve got some tracks I’ve made for riding round really fast.  Once a tractor and sprayer slid down into a ditch - a long way down.  I went to see it and it was a bit scary as the driver was hurt so my Dad said.  The tractor and sprayer were on their side still joined together.  It did look funny.   When I’m not with my friends I like to lie on the grass in our garden and watch the clouds go by and listen to the birds singing and watch the trees blowing in the wind and feel the warm sun on my face.  Sometimes I might read a book like The Wind in the Willows which I’m reading right now or I chase Butterflies – there are so many around with so many colours.  I wish it could be like this for ever but I sort of know it won’t be.  Anyway, that’s what I do when I’m not collecting car numbers.

As written and sent to us by Nick Bond

       

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