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.