Another Character from My Past. (Bob)

March 25, 2013

Told you it was Green !

Another Character from My Past.

Or be honest a whole family of them !

As I commented earlier the tiny village I grew up in during the mid 50’s was high in the Cotswold Hills seven miles from the nearest anything. So you might well imagine that when we first moved there, five hundred miles from where I was born, many things were quite strange to me. Such as, where the hell did all the people go ?

Did I mention I was born a city kid ? I was used to cobbled stoned streets, tram cars, the occasional bus, lots of cinemas an Olympic sized swimming pool and just for good measure a sea beach. OK it was the North Sea and nobody but an idiot or the occasional drunk ventured to swim in it… but it was there. Green things came out of a tin marked ‘Peas’ or sometimes scraped off the hard crusty bit of the cheese.

Now I was surrounded by green, green trees, green fields …everything as far as the eye could see was green. I was promised a new life, excitement, adventure and fresh air. Well the air was very definitely fresh, sometimes tainted with ‘odor de la Cow,’ depending upon the strength and direction of the wind.

Yeah ! OK ! Fair enough, I panicked, flipped, threw a wobbly call it what you will what had my parents been thinking of to drags us away from a big city and come here to the middle of nowhere… it was like a foreign country because while I understood what they were saying it didn’t seem as though they could understand me ! Had they never heard a Scottish accent before ?

It is just possible that I, a mere seven year old, actually invented ‘Culture Shock’ that Year.

So there I was, stranded miles from anywhere, friendless and surrounded by hostile natives, and not to mention big hairy things with horns that ate grass and farted a lot and Oh yes…all that green.

All of which is absolute rubbish of course.

Kids being kids it wasn’t long before their curiosity for the new kid got the better of them. Also it turned out we weren’t the only Scottish family around and pretty soon I was in the thick of the action. When we arrived it was almost midsummer so I was quickly introduced to the gentle country pursuit of ‘Scrumping,’ or put another way, acquiring fresh growing fruit that wasn’t strictly yours, by stealth !

Next came the new school, I had hoped that moving into the middle of nowhere like this, a school would be the last thing they would have…. Hey ! cut me some slack, I was only seven and I didn’t know they were compulsory! And that’s where I first met Bob, alright not met exactly but I was downwind of him as he wafted into class. Alan, the kid soon to become my best mate, brought me up to speed on Bob.

Our village was just a small part of a large farming estate, you know the sort of thing well-to-do Victorian Industrial families used to buy to impress their friends. A place where they could meet at the weekends for jolly parties and shoot the local population… sorry… local bird population, Pheasants, Partridge, Quail, Ducks that sort of thing. Well to make sure everything was there to be shot they had a resident game keeper, a large ruddy faced individual who was seldom seen without either a gun or a large stick there will be more of him later. Bob was his youngest son and at that very moment stood alone and forlorn at the back of the class not a soul within twenty feet of him.

It seems that where the game keeper and his family lived was in a valley and close to slow moving water so at the height of the summer they were inundated with midges, nasty biting little insects that drive people mad and cause cattle to stampede. Now, as it happens, the game keeper’s wife was known locally as a bit of a witch, (to anybody under ten that is) and she had made this special magical brew to repel the midges. As far as I was concerned if it had the same effect on the insects as it was having on any human within smelling distance of poor old Bob it was extremely effective.

So my first few hours at my new school was spent rearranging all the desks and moving them all forward, save one over by the wide open window for Bob. Poor kid spent the first two weeks of the school term on his own at the back of the class, the back of the play ground or in front of or behind us going home depending on wind direction. Trouble was I’m not sure the brew actually worked, either that or the biting hordes became immune and broke through his defences ‘cos by the third day his face and arms were a mess of little red bite marks. Not that that deterred his mother she just simply double the dose and we in turn doubled the distance.

I suppose even sadder was Bob’s older brother Fred, who was a few years our senior and went to another school a bus ride away. Problem was Fred was subjected to the same chemical warfare treatment as Bob but his mates were a lot bigger and tougher. One day we saw the bus arriving in the village and we could see a head sticking out through the sun roof of the bus.

However, British summers like midge swarms don’t last forever and as time wore on I was allowed into more of the secrets and wonders of what country kids do for fun in the absence of multiple cinemas, swimming pools and being dragged from one shop to another on a Saturday.

Sunday, back then it was compulsory to go to church, the local school was a Church of England school, the fact that I was a Scotsman and claimed diplomatic immunity, fell upon deaf ears. So as a male child I was given a fairly simple choice. I was informed that every year there was a church outing to somewhere nice, to go you had to attend either Sunday school in the afternoon or be a member of the choir in the morning. Alan, who was now my mentor and guide, advised the choir, it was like taking medicine, get it over and done with plus of course it didn’t screw up your whole day. I later found out that some of the senior choir boys had a poker school going during the non singing bits and a side bet as to how long the vicar’s sermon was going to be that day.

Oh Yeah; just as a quick aside, the nice trip somewhere was a bit of a con, one year we ended up somewhere that didn’t have a roof and looked like a grave yard. (Tintern Abbey see pic). Alan and I had to pool our financial resources just to buy one ice lolly between us, as he was the oldest (biggest) he got first bite which was more or less half the lolly. Trouble was his struggle to bite through the ice cold lolly loosened the other bit so as he handed it to me it fell off and hit the ground. To stop him laughing I hit him on the back which made him choke so he had to spit his half out so he could get his breath back. A whole sixpence wasted !
Anyway back to the real story, both the Game keeper’s sons were in the choir and it was one day after church I was invited to their home. It seemed as if they lived at least a three day camel hike away, through all that green stuff and off into the woods beyond. Scary ! Doubly so as my mother was reading something to me from Hansel and Gretel at the time, then I saw HER for the first time…The witch…!

You’ve seen the woman out of the Wizard of Oz…The one on the bike? That was her, she was stick thin and at first sight looked bald, not that she was, it was the way she had pulled her hair back so hard and stuffed it in a tight bun at the back of her head that gave the illusion. She had a big nose, high cheek bones and fiery red cheeks and she wore this sort of wrap round pinafore dress that seemed to emphasise her thinness and drew your attention to her string thin legs that ended in enormous feet in big rubber boots.

Turns out her feet weren’t really that big and the boots belonged to her husband and she had only put them on to rush outside to gather a flock of chickens that had escaped their coop and were all over the garden. Soon we were all recruited to round up the birds and return them to their rightful abode. Bob’s father may have been the game keeper but the local neighbourhood foxes were no respecters of authority.

Our reward for the recapture of all the wayward hens was a wonderful selection of homemade bread and butter, homemade jams, scones and other fine things all washed down with a glass of fresh milk from the dairy farm at the top of the hill.

Needless to say, witch or no witch Bob’s Mum was definitely part of our official Sunday tour. True she still looked like she could turn the milk sour with a glance but that was one house you never left hungry and many’s the time we went home with something for our mothers as well, a pot of jam a jar of honey and on one occasion a rabbit. I remember my mother telling my father what he could do with it as well.

I think the main problem with Bob was that for no apparent reason nobody really liked him. Of course we had to stay reasonably nice to him on account of his mother’s cooking skills, but that aside he was always considered a bit of a Prat. I mean he was hopeless at any boyish skills like farting, seeing how high you could pee up a wall or shooting wheat grains through a drinking straw at girls with any accuracy. Accuracy was essential of course, after all this was the wild countryside, hit the wrong girl and you could go home severely damaged.

He was absolutely useless, which of course meant he was frequently the butt of most practical jokes, one time he was tricked into a game of ‘Hide and Seek’ where as soon as he went and hid everybody else got on their bikes and went fishing. If there was a punch up he was always the one on the very bottom of any human heap of bodies and country girls just love to sit on boys. Even Hissing Sid, our school head master, seemed to zero in on poor Bob.

Of course it didn’t help Bob any that Sid had poor eyesight and was too mean to buy decent specs, so if we were ever caught doing something we shouldn’t and he asked us who we were, to a boy we all said, “Bob Sir,” and then ran like hell.

Time for another quick aside, or in this case a plea to all mothers everywhere; P-l-e-a-s-e… I don’t care how cold the weather gets where you live, nor how strong the wind, NEVER…Under any circumstances send your child to school in a hand knitted woollen Balaclava. Doubly so if his name is Bob… or if he has sticky out ears and looks like a wing nut! The sheer temptation for all boys, not to mention a few of the girls as well, to come up from behind, placing the palm of the hand over each ear and rubbing extremely hard is just too hard to resist. Poor kid, by the end of the winter he had ears that looked like two pinkish cauliflowers.

Now where was I, Ah yes back to the game keeper himself, as I said a big ruddy faced individual and with hindsight probably among the fittest men I ever knew. Again, you must remember this was the 50’s, and we weren’t that far removed from bowing and tugging of the forelock as the landed gentry drove by. So as you can imagine dishing out motor vehicles for the staff wasn’t too high of a priority back then. The man was a game keeper for God’s sake, he had a gun, a dog a game bag and a big stick, what more could he possibly want or need ?

Well a Land Rover might have been nice, 5,000 acres of hilly woodland is quite a patch, but no, the estate had a couple of Ex WWII Army surplus Land Rovers but not for the game keeper so in all weathers he and his dogs walked everywhere. So you might think it a tad cruel of someone, who shall remain nameless, to tell him about a family foxes that had taken up residence at one of the local farms.

Off he set shotgun and shovel, bag of poison the lot. When he arrived at the farm he asked where the Foxes were. The head herdsman replied he had no idea where Mr. Fox was but his wife was over there hanging out the washing ! Needless to say we made ourselves scarce for days.

However, you can’t avoid the local game keeper for long, come the shooting season he needs beaters to drive the birds to the guns and kids make excellent beaters. Reasonably cheap ones as well, (This was long before child exploitation laws caught up with the countryside ). Plus of course there is Bounty to be had, we were allowed air rifles and we got two shillings for a grey squirrel tail. The same reward for finding and reporting a wild pheasant’s nest. (the eggs would be taken and placed under a broody hen to hatch for next year’s shooting fun). A wild pheasant was one that had survived the carnage of the previous season.

We also got two shillings for wild ducks nest, a reward that was withdrawn after it was proved beyond all shadow of doubt that the same nest had been physically moved and reported six times, at least !

And there you have it, another chapter from my misspent youth and some of those who help shape the person I am today.

What happened to Bob, I hear you cry ? Of his career I have no idea, as you know from previous stories I joined the Navy and left the village to see the World. Although I returned to the village many time I never saw Bob again. I know he got married and had a family of his own, however, sadly, I only know this because I read it on his gravestone in the churchyard in the village where we grew up. He died at the tender age of 56 of what I know not.


One Response to “Another Character from My Past. (Bob)”

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