Born in the beautiful Wiltshire village of Aldbourne, I can lay claim to being true Dabchick. The reason for this title is well known in the locality and the story is best told by an elderly inhabitant of the village, preferably with an untarnished Wiltshire accent. I will say no more except to add that it has something to do with the pond in the centre of the village and if you don’t already know this legend, you must go there to discover it yourself.
The year was 1925, and family life was not easy and very austere during the depression of those post world war years. My father had survived the whole of the Great War and continued to serve in the army in India and the Middle-east until 1924, when he married my mother. It was difficult for anyone to find employment other than very low paid and menial jobs. To illustrate this I recall a story that my uncle told me. He had agreed to paint some gates for a local farmer for a few shillings. It was bitterly cold and my uncle wore an ex WD flying helmet (much favoured by motor cyclists at that time). The farmer approached him and asked why he was wearing such ridiculous head gear. On replying that it was to keep his ears warm, the farmer gave him instant dismissal for being insolent.
My father had been trained in the Royal Corps of Signals and was able to wire our tiny cottage for electricity, and I remember that he also made his own valve wireless set. We must have been among the earliest folk in the village to have both electricity and wireless. (Was it this early introduction that led me to spend 45 years of my life in the wireless/electronics industry?). The loo was of the three hole variety located at the bottom of the garden. We had no running water, but relied entirely on the deep well just outside the back door. I was not allowed to draw water because with a full bucket the handle took some winding, and should it be accidentally released the iron handle would fly back dangerously. Occasionally a bucket would be lost at the bottom of the well, but my grandfather would always retrieve it by skilfully dangling a grappling iron which he had made especially for the job. (he was a black-smith and farrier.)
Allotments and cottage gardens were an essential part of the village economy in those days. Despite his long working hours my grandfather enjoyed cultivating his allotment and was able to produce a wonderful selection of vegetables which granny would store and cook as needed throughout the year. Granny’s rhubarb and parsnip wines were also well spoken of. I was sometimes taken to the allotment in granddad’s wheel barrow, but I was never allowed to share the barrow with the vegetables on the way home! My paternal grandparents lived next door, and they kept about a dozen hens and two black cats. All of these I loved, and to this day I hold a special attraction to fur and feathered friends.
My father had purchased a motor cycle, to which was added a sidecar when I came along. He decided to start a fish business (I never asked him who gave him this idea) and although it did just provide sufficient income for our family of three to exist, there was much long and hard work with precious little reward, in fact I found out years later that quite often there was a loss at the end of the week. Very occasionally my father would take my mother and I out in the sidecar, even as far as Bournemouth, the absolute boundary of my world.
Despite the harshness of the times I have only happy memories of my pre-school years. I was given my first bicycle at the age of four, and due to the scarcity of traffic in those times I was allowed the freedom to ride about the village unaccompanied.
My trips were normally only a few hundred yards to the home of my friend Gordon who was born just two weeks before me. Sadly on one occasion I rode straight into the back of the local coal delivery lorry, which happened to be stationary at the time! I quickly learnt the lesson that even today some motorists find hard, to keep their eyes on the road ahead!
Gordon and I were both adventurous, and one day without our parents knowledge we decided to cycle to Ramsbury, the neighbouring village some three miles away. I knew the way because I had often been there with my father. My parents thought I was spending the day with Gordon, while his parents thought he was at my home. How wrong they were, but since we had both returned safely, and in time for tea, neither of our parents seemed to mind that we had become tourists at the early age of four. Little did we realise how important bicycles would become in our school days and later in life.
I experienced an unfortunate start at the infants school, and sometimes wonder if I ever recovered! In the very first few weeks I suffered a mastoid disease and was taken to Savernake Cottage Hospital for an operation. On returning to school a few weeks later I was subject to the normal classroom punishment (a clip round the ear) for some minor misdemeanour or lack of attention. My parents got to hear about this and were furious, they paid an irate visit to the teacher. From that day on, my life in the infants school was not a very happy one.
On moving up to ‘junior school’, (at first just the other side of a heavy green curtain, and later moving to the ‘big school’) life became much more agreeable, even enjoyable!