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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Sweet Dream Baby

God, it's miserable. Dark, wet, cold and windy. Ireland looks to be going down the pan; students are revolting (Ed: nothing new there then!) and Boris Johnson has unveiled the new design for London's iconic Routemaster bus - it's ugly, so ugly. 

However, this  re-birth has made me all nostalgic - remembering dark winter evenings struggling home on the bus. Dense fag smoke and steaming macs, wet papers and steamed up windows. I'm not old enough to have experienced the deadly London fogs which regularly killed off hundreds in the winter. The Clean Air Act killed off the fogs and belching coal fires, coal men and station coal depots.

Now we have a (smokeless) coal fire in the front room; a welcoming glow that drives away the winter ghouls and spirits.

A news item on the radio today was about the Welsh railways and the success in recent years in opening some of the old lines closed by the Beeching axe.  That threw me back to the  late 1950's, early 60's when I'd go to my uncle Charlie's farm in Wellow, Somerset for a few weeks in the summer.

Then it was possible to get to this small village, tucked away between the hills and surrounding farms, by rail. The Southern Region took over the  Somerset and Dorset Railway which operated the line that served Wellow in 1948; but enthusiasts being what they are, there is a Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust and they keep alive the memories of these beloved branch lines axed by "chopper" Beeching.

It's strange but I can't make out whether my memories of my train journey to Wellow are real or false. I recall that the train stopped in the middle of the countryside, to pick up milk and passengers as well as  at the tiny halts. I might be re-running the "Railway Children", except I don't recall seeing Bernard Cribbins at Wellow station.

My uncle's farm was, as I recall, just up from the High Street and I would "help out"  feeding the pigs and chickens and milking the cows (often experiencing "golden showers"). At harvest time I remember sitting on bales of hay piled high on the wagon as my cousins and the farm hand threw the bales up to me. I also recall muck spreading. Having cleaned out the pigs, we'd go up to the fields above the farm, I sitting on the tractor's mudguard bouncing along; the right little country lad!

Roy, my cousin who couldn't have been more than 14, drove the tractor and as we entered the field he'd engage the drive shaft  which operated the spinning blade of the muck spreader. Muck was spread in a wide, dense arc. Wide and dense enough to coat me in freshly churned pig piss and shit.

Boy, did he laugh as I ran across the fields to the farm yard. There his brother Brian hosed me down and I dried out while they called in  the cattle for milking.

The last time I stayed there was in the early '60's. It must have been 1962, I was 15 and the track of that holiday was "Ginny Come Lately" by Brian Hyland. It was in that year that I fell in love for the first time. To a lovely country girl who lived in a cottage just down the lane from my uncle's farm.

Walking hand in hand down the High Street, stolen kisses and my  hand brushing against her breasts. And it was over, I went back to Brighton, O levels, A levels and University. In three years I was a universe away from that idyllic time and place.

The last time I visited Wellow was in the mid 1980's. My uncle's wife Rene had died and he was living in a bungalow built for him just across from the farm. I found out, a few years later, that he'd committed suicide on the anniversary of Rene's death.  

As I said it's a miserable day today.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel like my past is so remote it's not really me or mine at all - it could have been a story I was programmed with before I came out of the cloning-vat like in some dystopian sci-fi. I was living in the country around that age too, and also had a crush on a lovely country girl. She said her legs turn orange in the cold, and showed me. They really did. But I remember my amazement more than the sight itself. And the feelings of the interaction.

Barry Coidan said...

I too went out with a girl with orange legs. It was the sun tan lotion she used.

Selina Kingston said...

Oh Barry, what a lovely post but one that took me through so many emotions. Your days on the farm sound idyllic but everything from back then in childhood years is like watching a beautiful film - even those pea-soup fogs which gave my Dad permanent bronchitis after he got lost in one for hours when he was young.
But the end of your post is so sad - I'm sorry about your Uncle Charlie

Barry Coidan said...

Dear Selina, thank your for the kind words.

I often think about that little village in Somerset. Last year I contacted the parish church there and was told that my cousin Roy still farms in the area. I ought to check the church records because my cousin Joy was married at the local church.

Amazingly, when I was living in Homerton, Hackney one of our neighbours moved: to the old vicarage in Wellow!!