Glean­ings

Evergreen - - Contents - An­thony T. Rush

Learn­ing of for­mer prime min­is­ter David Cameron’s pur­chase of a shep­herd’s hut last year, took me back to the post- war pe­riod when we lived in a very dif­fer­ent Eng­land. As far as I re­mem­ber, no­body talked of aus­ter­ity and how hard- done by we all were but, in­stead, we were glad of any op­por­tu­nity that came along. It was still a cash econ­omy, shops had half­day clos­ing and all day on Sun­day.

The econ­omy was not flooded with easy credit and what you couldn’t af­ford you did with­out, or saved up for. “Make do and mend”, the wartime phrase, spilled over to the thrifty Fifties. No­body ever went lightly into the red at the bank. If you tried to pay with Bit­coins peo­ple would think they were the foil- wrapped choco­late money you re­ceived at Christ­mas.

Just af­ter the Coronation, my fa­ther made his own shep­herd’s hut from a for­mer rail­way horse- drawn par­cel van. Upon mo­tori­sa­tion some re­gions of Bri­tish Rail­ways scrapped their horse- drawn ve­hi­cles whilst oth­ers sold them for a nom­i­nal amount. Dad bought his for 7/ 6d ( 37 pence in to­day’s money) and re­built it.

The tim­ber was ei­ther bartered for or was off- cuts from some­thing else and, be­ing a car­pen­ter and joiner, Dad was well- suited to the labours that lay ahead.

I used to love the rail­way as it meant it was play­time. A work­mate, Ike, used to give me a ha’penny to fetch his cig­a­rettes from the shop. “Al­ways ask for Turf cig­a­rettes,” he used to say. They used to smell of Ike’s old socks but that was prob­a­bly just the turf com­ing through.

There was still plenty of horse­drawn traf­fic when I grew up and the weekly rag- and- bone col­lec­tion by Old Tom and Dob­bin — and the milk­man with his horse were fa­mil­iar sights. Mo­tor cars were hideously un­der- pow­ered and it was not un­usual to see cars go up steep hills in re­verse, the car be­ing turned round back- to- front.

I re­mem­ber the de­pot in Bel­grave, Le­ices­ter, where Dad worked. To me it was a gi­ant play­ground with the Me­chan­i­cal Horses busy­ing about the yard mov­ing goods off the wag­gons to the liv­er­ied green Bri­tish Road Ser­vices lor­ries. Les Bland, a BRS driver, used to take me around the place in his lorry. When we came to the end of the run he would rev up as we got near to the perime­ter wall and I would say: “We’re go­ing to crash. We’re go­ing to crash!” I know now why he used to say, “Do you want to go round again?” and of course I al­ways did as it was ex­cit­ing and he used to rev up at the last minute on pur­pose.

A few years ago when vis­it­ing the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum in York, I opened the cab door of a Me­chan­i­cal Horse and the smell of the in­te­rior took me back to when Dad worked on the rail­ways in the Fifties. I gulped. It’s been years since Dad’s fu­neral and now I closed my eyes and felt his pres­ence speak­ing back to me: “Hello, Dad,” I said. It was the first time in years we’d spo­ken.

The ren­o­va­tions to the par­cel van pro­ceeded apace in Dad’s free time and with his avail­able spare in­come.

It was a work in progress for sev­eral weeks be­fore be­com­ing a four- berth car­a­van with bunk beds.

Look­ing back in his diaries from the 1940s and 1950s, I saw one entry which started: “Phew. P- h- e- w. I came home tonight and Ruby said the build­ing in­spec­tor had been ( to home) and had passed the work in the kitchen. I had plas­tered the walls which took up two bags of dry plas­ter. I was al­lo­cated only one bag for all the sur­faces, but the in­spec­tor didn’t spot that the job needed two bags and I got away with it.”

That’s how tight things were; ev­ery­thing was con­trolled and even bread was ra­tioned which it never was dur­ing the war. It was a long time be­fore pros­per­ity came back, but as a small boy I saw the con­nec­tion be­tween a flour­ish­ing econ­omy and our car­a­van and thought my fa­ther had some­thing to do with it by in­ject­ing wealth into the coun­try.

Old Mrs. Whykes next door came round one day and asked my mother if she would like to go to the city cen­tre to see the lights go­ing on. This, ap­par­ently, was all down to my fa­ther for kick- start­ing the post- war boom. For all I knew Dad was the Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer! See­ing the lights go­ing on was tan­ta­mount to say­ing the war was not only over but also won, and neon light­ing, shop light­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing lights were fi­nally no longer re­stricted. We could now take down our black­out cur­tains. I then no­ticed that the night sky seemed to pros­per, too, as it twin­kled its noc­tur­nal sa­lu­ta­tion to a lit­tle boy’s fu­ture well­ness against a red­dish back­cloth.

There came the great day when the van was com­pleted and ready to be trans­ported on a flat- bed lorry trailer. I saw it be­ing man­han­dled up the ramp, pushed into place and teth­ered to the sides in a way that would not pass muster with health and safety to­day!

The jour­ney to a farm near Sys­ton in Le­ices­ter­shire was pre­car­i­ous but nev­er­the­less passed off with­out mishap. The farm where it was even­tu­ally parked could have been that prover­bial cor­ner of a for­eign field which is for­ever Eng­land. It was where we were to spend the en­tire school hol­i­days on a back- to- na­ture so­journ. We had net­tle tea, fried net­tles, stewed net­tles, boiled net­tles, net­tles al fresco, net­tles à la carte, net­tles for break­fast...!

We made our own amuse­ment and I never re­mem­ber get­ting bored. I don’t know how he did it, but Dad rigged up a wire­less that trans­mit­ted.

We were not con­nected to any elec­tric­ity, but as we didn’t have any mod cons it went un­no­ticed by my sis­ter, Su­san, and me. Dad, did, how­ever, con­nect a mi­cro­phone and sat me down in the mid­dle of the field. I was now a bud­ding disc jockey.

It was on one such broad­cast that I de­clared my undy­ing love for my fa­ther. I said, “I wouldn’t swap you, Daddy — not even for a puppy dog.” It was a re­mark he never for­got. A puppy dog was top dol­lar to me and I could not imag­ine how any­thing could be more ex­pen­sive. Dad told the story re­peat­edly and it al­ways guar­an­teed a laugh from his con­tem­po­raries. It was only as a grown- up I un­der­stood what had amused him.

We walked to the farm, about ¾ mile away, ev­ery morn­ing for fresh milk and car­ried it home in a gal­vanised bucket. We bought eggs, loaves and veg­eta­bles as needed. Ap­par­ently, milk comes from live cows and not bot­tles! Imag­ine nowa­days buy­ing Co- op milk to­kens in or­der to buy your milk on the doorstep, that was the or­der of the day back then, but on the farm they took real money in­stead.

The hol­i­day ended and for years it re­mained the best one ever — right up to my teenage years when I went abroad for the first time to Nice and grad­u­ally that parental farm hol­i­day faded from view in my mind’s eye. That was un­til I read of Mr. Cameron’s £ 25,000 pur­chase!

AN­THONY T. RUSH

PETER BAKER

The city of Le­ices­ter where the au­thor’s fa­ther worked in the Bel­grave rail­way de­pot.

Clever con­ver­sion. From rail­way par­cel van to shep­herd’s hut!

The au­thor ( right) and his in­ge­nious fa­ther.

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