A little light reading

Remembering the early years.

Over the years many events have shaped my days, some have been unusual, some really amusing, some scary and some just plain out of this world.

As I try to remember each, or find another scribbled note in one of my many journals, I’ll try and add them for your amusement.

Early Days in Henley on Thames.

                                                                                                                                           Henley Bridge.

So, in no particular order I’m going to try and write them down, just as I remember them today.

If my mother were alive today she would say “How frightfully Interesting” one of her favorite expressions when raising her eyebrows in feigned acceptance.

Now I should start by suggesting all these little ‘pearls’ were probably her fault, after all she was the one that let go of my perambulator as we took our morning walk along the towpath alongside the river Thames in Henley on Thames at the tender age of eighteen months.

The ‘pram’ proceeded at increasing velocity across the footpath until it met the kerb by the rivers edge. 

It came to an abrupt stop.

Catapulting its contents – me – into the river !

I was fortunate that we were near a boatyard at the time, a kindly boatman from Hobbs Boatyard fished me out of the river with a boat hook in fairly short order.

I’m told that there was no lasting damage, perhaps though you may decide otherwise.


Around the age of two

We lived in St Marks Rd, not too far from the town center.

After all those years I still remember a number of events from back then.

The one that stands out was of the milkman – he used to deliver milk with a horse drawn cart.

Anyway this particular day he was almost at the point of delivering our milk, we were heading out for a walk.

I had been given a boiled sweet which I proceeded to try and swallow whole.

It wasn’t long before I was choking.

The resultant panic from mother drew his attention to me, whence he came over picked me up turned me upside down and vigorously tapped my back, out popped the boiled sweet.

To be on the safe side my mother then took me to the top of the road and into the small cottage hospital where I was given an xray.

I still remember this because in those days you had to rest on a white enamel like frame, it was really, really cold.

The lady in a white overcoat then hid behind a screen while the machine made all manner of noises – quite scary for a young lad!

Happily, I was fine, we continued on our daily walk.


Around the age of five.


We had a large number of relatives living in Henley in those days so after we moved to Caversham some 7 miles away we were often returning to visit.

On this occasion we used the train, my brother had come along by now.

He was 18 months younger than me so mum used a pushchair and I walked alongside with some reins attached so that I wouldn’t run off.

I cannot remember us arriving by train, but I do remember leaving in the early evening, it was just getting dark.

The journey entailed using the branch line from Henley on Thames, via Wargrave to Twyford where we would catch the train to Reading.

We arrived in Twyford on time, and changed trains, as we left the station.

I remember saying to mum that we had been here before, sure enough we no sooner arrived in Wargrave.

Mum got off here hoping to get another train back, unfortunately the next train was the one we had been on, and it wasn’t due to return until very much later.

The stationmaster allowed us to keep warm by his office coal fire. It was very, very late by the time we arrived home.


My first taste of 7up, about age 8

                                                                                                                            SS Sunrhea – a buaxite carrier from McKensie to Alcan in Canada.

My father was a merchant sea Captain, one of his first commands was a grain ship that sailed from the Great Lakes to Bristol Avonmouth.

As a special treat we were going to visit him on his ship and stay for a few days.

I guess I was perhaps 8 years old, my brother 6 and a bit.

After being given a tour of the ship, a 10 open holds –  grain carrier it seemed huge to us, although I doubt if it was much more than about 12000 tons – the engine room was very noisy and seemed enormous to us kids.

I vividly recall watching the crew handle the giant vacuums that sucked the grain from toe hold in storage bins on the dock.

The operators used wide mesh shoes to stop themselves from falling into the grain – which would be very dangerous.

Every lunch time we were detailed to go around the men’s quarters with a xylophone to announce lunchtime… as we passed the first officers cabins he always came out and gave us a bottle of 7up each – we had never had it before as it wasn’t sold in England.


Just plain hard when you are only aged 10

                                                                                                                                           Bearwood College

My father was often away at sea for many months, it meant that us kids were quite a lot of work for mum, so we ended up being packed off to boarding school.

I was the first to leave at the tender age of 10 and a bit, I’m not sure if I had taken my 11 plus by then, but I do know I passed the exams.

The school seemed miles away ,very big and foreboding, it was rumored to have ghosts.

For a ten-year old it was initially unfriendly, scary, a lonely place.

Fortunately everyone else had experienced the same feelings at one time or another.

You soon fell into, got kicked into, or just went along with the routine that was designed to remove much of your free time.

The training was excellent for later life as you were able easily to compartmentalize each day.

It didn’t always work, especially if you had just come back from a day out and didn’t have another one for another  6 weeks.

As a footnote..

As we became older, wiser and more used to the conditions, we did learn that it was very beneficial to be at such an amazing school , with friends from all over the world, experiences that just a few were lucky enough to have.


Around age 11

I was a chorister, with a pleasant treble voice so it seemed natural to be picked to perform in a musical called ‘Oliver’ Lionel Blair had just written a modern score and he donated its use to us.

Apart from singing and acting the play in the school theater, we traveled all across London to various venues performing for groups.


Around the age of 12

My first trip abroad ( in 1965) was to a small Austrian town of Lech high up in the Voralberg.

In those days you reached Lech using the Osterriche Poste bus which picked you up from the railway station after a two-day train journey that commenced in London, included a ferry across the English Channel and then on through France, Germany and finally Austria.

I still remember playing ping-pong on a concrete outside table, very interesting bounce.

There was also a spring fed swimming pool, very ‘fresh’ water temperature.

On the plus side the bedroom duvets were amazingly warm – convinced me to use them always.

Seem to recall the food was pretty good.

Early Jobs

It was around this time that I started working with a friend for his dad’s forestry company.

During the Christmas break we would finish planting young saplings in the mixed woodlands he was creating.

We also dug up small ‘Christmas Trees, and cut down larger ones which we would them ‘stick’ into pine logs and wrap.

I think Yattendon Estate stills does this.

During the Spring break, we would complete any planting that was hanging over – as long as it was before Easter.

After Easter we would repair fence lines so that Deer, Rabbits etc didn’t eat the newly bursting buds.

In the summer armed with a long handle ‘hook’  sometimes known as a ‘slasher’ we would ‘weed’ the long rows of saplings planted usually at 5ft centers that ran up and down the hillsides.

The weeds were often over 5ft tall, the digitalis was home to way too many ground wasps that would attack you if you let them.

The scariest animal though was the pheasant, at close quarters and 6 inches from the ground they give you a heart attack as they launch themselves out-of-the-way.

Of course the trick is to weed all along each row without cutting down the newly planted trees – the first job in the autumn is to replant those saplings that either die or are chopped off in the weeding process.

During the summer season, we would often ‘weed’ an area around half and acre in size each day.

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