Diary of a Luck Man

October 20, 2012

Diary of a Lucky Man.                     Blog by Merlin Fraser October 2012

 Recently a really good Facebook friend posted a picture with the following challenge as a conversation starter;

 “If there was a book about you, what would the title be ?”

 As usual when responding to this particular friend I started to think about a humours reply, one designed to bring a smile or more usually a groan.  However, on this occasion nothing funny came to mind, quite the opposite in fact so much so that I found myself looking at the challenge a lot more seriously.  I ended up pondering the question for most of the morning this in turn triggered a host of those wonderful absentminded moments when long dead memories flood the mind and drive time and reality towards dinnertime.

I suppose as a ‘Wannabee’ writer I have often pondered the thought of writing my life story but I keep finding myself torn between the slightly serious semi historical ‘Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie’ version.  While at the same time thinking that perhaps the more chaotic ‘Bill Bryson Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ mightbe a more suitable vehicle for me?

Both, of course, have merit being as my life to date spans over six decades which cover the dying embers of an Empire and span the end of the Twentieth century as well as the dawn of a new Millennium. 

I can remember trams and horse-drawn vehicles in city streets, steam railways and a life devoid of such present day necessities as supermarkets, laptop computers and smart phones.  In fact I have the luxury of hindsight and the ability to compare then and now and ponder who is happier but how to chronicle all that I have witnessed in a way that would make sense to those who have not.     

For those who are unfamiliar with Laurie Lee  (Laurence Edward Alan “LaurieLee, MBE (26 June 1914 – 13 May 1997)was an English poet, novelist, and screenwriter.  He was raised in a tiny Cotswold village called Slad, a few miles outside the town of Stroud in Gloucestershire.  His book Cider with Rosie* was published in 1959 and chronicles Lee’s early life covering a period soon after the First World War.  It describes a traditional English village and a lifestyle that was fast disappearing due to the arrival of motor transport and of course the ever expanding railways that led people out and away from the countryside and into the towns and cities beyond.

To say I knew Lee would be a bit of a wild stretch, shall we say we were aware of each other’s existence.

Note :*Cider with Rosie published in the US as Edge of Day: Boyhood in the West of England, 1960.

I was brought up in a village a few miles and a lot higher up the valley from Slad.  When I started to go to school in Stroud I had to take the bus, Lee would sometimes get on the same bus.   Back then at the tail end of the 50’s if you were anyone of any notoriety you were going to get whispered about, doubly so if you rode on a public bus.

I was a kid, I heard the whispers which all seemed to centre round the vexing question ‘who was Rosie?’  It was obvious to all, except me, that there had been some sort of goings on underneath a cart load of hay one fine summer’s evening and a flagon of cider was involved but what exactly happened no one would tell me.

Well almost no one, my best mate Alan ventured that I was as thick as cowshit and Lee had obviously given her one, (or his late 50’s schoolboy version of that quaint phrase) again, at the time this of course left me none the wiser.

Years later I read the book and enjoyed the gentleness of it and the mild history lesson of the drain of labour away from rural England. 

When I started getting serious about writing it dawned on me that perhaps I could write the next chapter.   An account that covered the same story as Lee’s but move it forward to cover the 1950’s and early 60’s  up to the time when I myself headed out of those hills down the valleys and away to follow my own dreams.

Yeah Right ! 

Well for starters I ain’t no Laurie Lee with his fine gentle poetic soul and turn of phrase.  Plus of course there was way more than one Rosie in my spotty youth, this tranquil story of gentle village country life in the mid 50’s would be more like a prequel to ‘Fifty Shade of Grey.’   OK…. OK !  Not quite Fifty, more like five fumbles and a couple of false starts.  Hey, it was a long time ago and trying to get a sex education behind the school bike sheds and watching cars with steamed up windows squeaking up and down in the local woods through a pair of plastic binoculars was the best we had.

Although I do remember the first real description of actual sex that my mate Alan and I heard from a really big kid who divulged what was involved, complete with a few fuzzy diagrams scratched in the mud.  I remember it gave us both a fit of the giggles but in hindsight turned out to be more or less accurate. Of course it’s also true that the big kid was a farmer’s son so his view of things was a bit skewed.  Especially the bit about tying a stout rope around the female’s neck and having two farm labourers hang on for grim death.

How far should I go back, would the fact that I once got my mother so mad she came up the tree after me interest the reading public of today?  Or the fact that Alan and I hid the local policeman’s bike up a tree for a week because we were too scared to confess once his bicycle had been declared stolen ?

Or how about the incident when we rammed a large potato up the exhaust pipe of a bus so hard that when it was finally ejected it flew fifty feet across the road and through the pub window?   Do I confess to all of these and ask that dozens more besides should be taken into account?

Although by now I suppose one might begin to see a pattern forming here as to why I chose the title that I did; ‘Diary of a Lucky Man.’    Luck to have survived so long with my Butt intact for starters.  I was a survivor that was for sure, swift of both foot and mouth the stuff legends are made of.

In a slightly more serious vain it might have been my inner rebel showing through I was born a city kid and lived that life until the age of six.  Wrenched from that existence and taken to the green countryside surrounded by all that clean fresh air… what the hell were my parents thinking ?

We were seven miles from the nearest anything, one pub, one church, one shop, one school and a whole lot of nothing.  I can’t claim it as a first but I am convinced that I may have invented culture shock that year.

As I said earlier, back then a lot of things were changing, none of which I was aware of or even interested in at the time but nevertheless the old era of Victorian servitude was over.  Post World War Britain was a tough place, the country was broke and broken and those who survived the war were expected just to buckle down and rebuild a New Britain. 

Give them their due they bent to the task, they had little choice but this time the mood was different. They would do what was necessary not for the Landed Gentry or the State but for themselves.  This time they wanted a fairer share or they would know the reason why.  I was just a kid I played while they worked their butts off, struggling to make ends meet and give me the best start possible.

Where we came to live was on a big privately owned farming estate owned by a member of a big tobacco family.  Following tradition from the days of the horse the kids on the estate were more or less considered to be the next generation of farm workers, foresters and the like.   There was plenty to choose from, dairy, pig and sheep were all part of the estate.  As was hunting, shooting and fishing, not for us peasants you understand, but it all had to be planned and organised, plus there was arable and forestry as well. 

Back then logistics was not a word they had heard of so the area was reasonably self sufficient least ways as far as the basics were concerned.  All the villagers had gardens where they grew vegetables, kept a few ducks or chickens and one or two even had a pig or two.   There were orchards to plunder and as much wild food as you wanted to pick.

As kids we were encouraged to work and play on the farms, as soon as our feet could reach the pedals we were allowed to drive the tractors. We helped with the harvests, mucked out stables and cowsheds and were sent to bring in the herd for milking.

In reality we were being groomed into the lifestyle and that might have been the end of the story for me if it hadn’t been for  ‘Chunky’ Chivers.   Chunky was my secondary school Maths teacher, who also doubled up to teach us Geography, he was a kindly ‘Mr. Chips’ sort of a character, meaning he was an easy pushover for a smart kid.

Chunky was well past his sell by date as a teacher by the time our paths crossed, a sworn bachelor, he never married and to him teaching and his boys were his life.  He was a lousy maths teacher and easily sidetracked into tell us stories but when it came to Geography he came alive.    There was a big world out there and it was our duty to get out there and see it for ourselves.  He himself never did, he didn’t serve in the war other than as a teacher and he didn’t own a passport.  I know he regretted never having travelled.

Whether because of him or not I joined the Navy and left that life behind me as soon as I could.  Back then Britain still had a Navy and places to go and I saw them all but I never forgot Chunky and sent him postcards from every place I went.

Years later I met my old headmaster and over a drink I mention that I had kept in touch with Chunky (Mr. Chivers) mainly with the odd postcard.  To my surprise he smiled and told me he knew because Chunky would bring them to school and read them to his class and show them around the staff room.         

Recently I’ve watched TV documentaries that talk about the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and how WE of that generation led the revolution with our demands and spending power.  What a load of Crap!  It was our parents and theirs who started it, silently fighting and gaining more rights, better wages, better education and better health for themselves and their families.

We the Baby Boomer generation reaped what they had sown all we added to the mix was Hippies and Flower Power, Make Love not War and with the invention of the ‘Pill’ by God we tried our damndest.

I also happen to think that we the Baby Boomers have enjoyed the best of their sacrifice and efforts while at the same time not contributing one useful thing to the generations that follow.  In fact I think we have made a complete ‘Pig’s Breakfast’ of the whole thing and that is how history will judge us. 

I think my story would show how from a Busted World we inherited and enjoyed the Boom and brought it back to Bust.  We bought into our parents dream of ‘We can have it All’.  However we took that and created a ‘ME’ society of selfishness and greed that said ‘We Want it All’ and we have got it with little regard to the fact that we will leave the next generation to pay for it.


2 Responses to “Diary of a Luck Man”

  1. Thank you for your ‘charming’ explanation of the reason behind your choice of title. As always, most entertaining. 🙂 As you are a born story teller, I’m sure I would find your autobiography very enjoyable to read. I’m a baby-boomer myself, although on the later side (1960), born and raised in the country, so unlike you, no culture shock there for me. I agree our generation didn’t truly appreciate what our parents had achieved for us, and the ball has kept on rolling ever since… Anyway, I found Cider With Rosie (thanks), and I’ll be looking out for ‘Diary of a Luck Man’ one day.

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    Hi Janette, thanks for your kind comments and yes one day I may tell all but probably not in the gentle way of Laurie Lee not really my style but hopefully it will be with humour and a small degree of sincerity.

    I hope you enjoy cider with Rosie, I know I did, and you can picture me a few miles beyond that valley getting ready to take on the World…. Watch this space and one day you will find out who won !

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