JOE JET GINGER BEERThis picture shows me in the front of Ferry Way, a bungalow in Ferry Road at Southwold, on our annual holiday in August 1958. Although the walls were pebble dashed the house was built of wood and was raised up on stilts about 2ft 6ins above the ground. No doubt this was to save the proper from flooding, an ever-present risk, especially before the 1953 flood led to the building of a sand bank along the front. Lizards used to scuttle below the house and out of the sun on my approach. The gap between the  house and the land below was an impenetrable mass of concrete slabs and boulders.  I think it has how been boarded in.

In this photograph I am hugging our dog Jet, and just behind his head you can see a corked flagon in a basket. This contained the ginger beer  we were making at the time. This involved feeding a ‘ginger beer plant’ (yeast) with sugar, ginger and water and drawing off the brew from time to time.It then matured in the flagon and after day or two was nice and fizzy. I thought it was delicious as it was very sweet, and the fact that it was alcoholic made it even more attractive to me. I never had enough to make me more than slightly tipsy though. Quite how my parents allowed this I don’t know.

The year began with quite a heavy fall of snow. It did not last long, but long enough for me to make a snowman on the front lawn. In January 1958 I did not yet wear glasses. This happened later in the year, when my schoolteacher noticed that I was not seeing the blackboard. I think my father was rather mortified that he, an optician, had not noticed this himself.  He bought me the very best of glasses, a plastic frame with sprung ear pieces called Rubis. By the summer I was wearing them, as you can see in the photo.

1958 was the year my sister Christine graduated from Oxford with a degree in English. She spent the whole three years of her undergraduate course at Lady Margaret Hall. She stayed on another year to do her Diploma in Education (as it then was called) or a Dip Ed for short. We went to see her take her degree at the Sheldonian Theatre in October. Daddy liked to do things in style, and we stayed at the Randolph Hotel. He went to town too on the photograph which he took, arranging a red velvet curtain and the Oxford coat of arms as the backdrop. Whether he set this all up  at the hotel I don’t now remember. By the time I graduated thirteen years later he was content just to take ordinary snaps as anyone would; but we again stayed at the Randolph.

J. I. M. Stewart

J. I. M. Stewart

In 1958 Christine was staying at Professor J. I. M. Stewart’s house in Charlbury Road in North Oxford, while he went on Sabbatical with his wife. My sister was left looking after his teenage children and dog,Berkeley (as in Barclay’s Bank).  J. I. M. Stewart was a Scottish academic and an Oxford Professor of English, but is better known as the novelist Michael Innes. He had many Penguins published; he wrote thrillers mostly, with the detective Appleby as their hero. However his best known novel is Christmas at Candleshoe. This was filmed by Walt Disney as Candleshoe in 1977, It stared Jodie Foster, Leo McKern and David Niven.

My father covered himself in glory by his answer to one of the professor’s daughters who asked in reference to the dog: “Do you know why he is called Berkeley?”  “Was the dog named after Bishop Berkeley?” (the 18th century philosopher) my father suggested. Of course he was, but the girl had obviously not suspected an optician from Norwich would be aware of this 18th century Irishman. Berkeley was a dog who escaped onto the streets of North Oxford from time to time and could only be recaptured by cries of “chocolate Berkeley”. On one occasion he bit the Regius Professor of Medicine while on one of his escapades.Bishop Berkeley was a great believer in the merits coal tar for its medicinal qualities and Berkely was a suitably black dog.

The Autumn term saw the beginning of my last year of education as a day boy at St Mary’s School in Bungay. Thereafter I would be a boarder at Holt. I was in the First Form at St Mary’s, in a building that had been the hay loft over the stables. The Second Form was downstairs where the stables themselves had been.This building is still there on the corner of Outney Road and Scales Street, although the coach house opposite, which in my day was full almost to the ceiling with years of grass cuttings from the lawns, has gone. The building on the other side of Scales Street, nearer the common is also still there, now as a residential house. In 1958 it was the warehouse of Spashett’s the toy shop in St Mary’s Street. I always hoped to see a model engine in its box through the window, but I never did.

The whole of the block from Earsham Street to Scales Street was school grounds, with a lovely lawn and two beech trees, one a copper beech. There were a couple of air raid shelters from the war, and behind a crinkle-crankle wall facing Outney Road a sand pit and the large shed, with one side open to the air. In this shed we could just about play a game of football when it rained. There was a well in one corner, with a concrete cap, onto which a footballer fell and cut his temple. This bled profusely. This sort of danger would horrify a Health and Safety inspector, but such people were not yet born. The crinkle-crankle wall is still there and so is the copper beech, although the other beech tree has gone. The area where the shed was is now a car park.

All this is now well over fifty years ago. A lot has changed, but I am slightly surprised that so much remains. Ferry Way in Southwold seems to have changed its name, but the Ark, a bungalow a few doors away retains is name.  We stayed at the Ark in 1954.  The houses in Charlbury Road in Oxford are even more expensive  than they were half a century ago, but even then they were by no means cheap. I no longer drink ginger beer, but the copper beech still spreads its shade at Bungay. St Mary’s School is now a home for the elderly, which is what it became when the school closed in the 1960s.





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