I used to regard myself as quite an artist. As an adolescent I even imagined making art my career. I produced many paintings in the 1970s, heavily influenced by my father’s expectations of what a picture should look like. Painting is a solitary activity, and by the time I was thirty I had abandoned it for the more gregarious pursuit of playing in an orchestra. Music also has the advantage that once it has been played it has gone, vanished into the ether, leaving no scraps of paper and paint to dispose of.
I did not leave art behind completely; I continued to doodle a few sketches, but my main artistic endeavours turned to woodcarving. This was a big change; I didn’t use paint brushes or palette knives any more, but I needed chisels and gouges instead. I was fortunate in having a few already, which I had inherited from my father; he was not really a woodcarver (although he did produce a charming scene on the door a grandmother clock that is now in the possession of my sister), but he was an inveterate collector of tools. I could have done with more of them, but I had enough. These tools had to be kept sharp, so a grinder was useful and an oilstone essential.
I had been taught the basics of painting and drawing by my art master Stuart Webster, but as a woodcarver I was entirely self-taught. I worked out a few principles for myself; in doing full 3-D objects the technique was very different from doing low-relief carvings (my preferred method). In this you were essentially drawing in light and shade, and this meant exaggerated undercutting to produce the necessary shadows.
The type of wood used produced very different results. Lime wood was the medium used by that masterly carver of the 17th century, Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). Some of his best work may be seen at Chatsworth House. I don’t wish to minimise his achievement, but is so easy to carve in lime that it is rather like cutting cheese. The grain of the wood is not an issue, and does not affect the resulting carving in any way. With oak this is an entirely different matter; oak is a very hard wood, and an intractable material; the grain is very important. An oak carving is robust and often you can see the way the chisel was used centuries after the carver laid down his tools. This not the case with lime. Objects in oak and lime are the two extremes, but they are also the most common woods used by the woodcarver. Other woods are also carved, but those with contorted grain (like burr walnut), while giving an excellent surface texture for furniture, are impossible to carve.
I had some success with my woodcarving; I entered a carving of a trout in a competition that was run by the Post Office for its employees. Although their number is large (well over a hundred thousand), postmen are not namely for their artistic ability, so perhaps it not surprising that I won first prize. This entailed a trip up to London (on a rail warrant provide by the PO) to the Post Office HQ, which was then still in its historic hub of St Marin’s Le Grand (it later moved to Old Street, which I also had occasion to visit on a different matter). What the prize was I have forgotten (it wasn’t much) but the occasion was special. I was presented with my prize by a man who later became Managing Director of the Post Office. He was a very unimpressive character; he may have had hidden depths, although the progress of that venerable institution into the 21st century suggests that he was as mediocre as he appeared to be.
I subsequently entered another work in the competition few years later, but this time I only came second, and that did not entail another trip to the capital. The winning entry was a sculpture of female nude, which some of my colleagues suggested had more to do with its success than genuine artistic rigour. My declining health gave me other things to think about, and woodcarving was at an end.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
I will start with the letter A, and so I will begin with Dr Andrews. When I arrived in 1959 he had already given up the position of school chaplain – apparently due to a crisis of conscience (as I learnt much later). He was housemaster of Woodlands throughout my school career, and he was succeeded in that post by Steve Benson, who arrived during my time in the 6th form. I was taken to task by Dr Andrews for disposing of a black goldfish I had bought at the Holt pet shop in the Woodlands house pond. Apparently it was spotted by Andrews and caused quite a stir; how did it suddenly appear in the pond? How he found out it was me I still do not know; somebody must have snitched on me.
He taught history, so I came into contact with him quite a lot, being a budding historian myself. His manner was precise and rather formal, and he did not make the subject come alive as David Gregory did for me. Neither Benson not Gregory had yet arrived at the school in 1963, so I will say no more about these masters in this article.
Because it was my poorest subject, my father arranged for me to have extra maths lessons with Dan Frampton. I used to go round to his house in Woodlands Close, where he had a surprisingly elegant study at the back of his large garage. There he would attempt to teach me Pythagoras’s Theorem, long division and such like. He must have been successful, because I passed my ‘O’ level in the subject. Dan developed cancer while I was still at school, although I did not learn the detail of this until after I had left. Although he returned to work following treatment, he died before very many years were up. Before he became ill he was the C.O of the CCF, following Colonel Williams. During my short career in the CCF (I joined in 1963 and left in 1966) I had three C.O.s. Two I have mentioned already, and the third was ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, who had been in a pilot in the air force during the war. (He was not of course the real ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, who was a night fighter ace during WWII.) The other two leaders of the CCF were army men.
Bernard Sankey was my housemaster when I went into Farfield in 1963. In that year he was also my physics master. I might have passed my physics ‘O’ level had he remained my teacher, but instead we had a man who could not keep discipline among us 15-year-old boys. Almost the entire form failed, so it wasn’t just me who played him up so cruelly. I can remember sitting in the physics lab doing experiments with Bernard Sankey. One involved collapsing a tin in which boiling water had been sealed, and then allowing it to cool. To demonstrate that all objects would fall at the same rate he went up to the top of one of the towers that adorn the Big School building, and dropped a stone and a feather from the top. Of course they didn’t fall at the same rate, as he knew the wouldn’t, and he explained why. Another involved the use of mercury, and this got spilt of the desk in front of me. We chased the little globules of liquid metal across the woodwork with our fingers. This relaxed attitude to such a poisonous element would horrify today’s teachers, but in 1964 the phrase ‘Health and Safety’ had not then entered our physics vocabulary. Nor had it in chemistry; although we wore white lab coats to protect out clothes from spitting acid, we wore no goggles to protect our eyes. This worried my father, who was a little more advanced in his ideas, and he was glad I wore glasses which protected them to some extent.
Mrs Sankey, his wife, was already becoming ill by 1964 – also with cancer – and Bernard had retired from Farfield by 1966. He went to live in a restored cottage in the nearby village of Hunworth. He invited those of his former Farfield boys who were leaving the Upper Sixth to a meal in his cottage at Christmas 1966. This was a memorable occasion. After leaving Farfield I did not see Bernard again for over 15 years, when in 1984 I and Molly (my wife to be) attended the unveiling of the Gurney Clock in Chapelfiel Gardens in Norwich. This was a replica of John Harrison’s chronometer, and this was just up Bernard’s street. He was an old man by then, but he was as delighted as a young boy by the clock. He seemed to remember me.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Every English person knows what a picnic is, but who knows why it is called that? Well I didn’t until I began to write this article. It is a French word for a start; pique-nique; but beyond that fact its origins are obscure. Any apparent similarity to an English phrase such as “picking up nicknacks” has no validity. It originated in the late 17th century and referred to a meal to which the participants brought their own wine. This makes me rather keen to have a real picnic quite soon; I had never before associated a picnic with the fruit of the vine, but trust the French.
I am sure that no English person has ever considered alcohol as part of a picnic. My father’s idea of a picnic did revolve around drinking it is true, but his favourite beverage was tea. As picnics are open air affairs, this posed a slight problem, as you need some boiling water to make the tea. This meant that no picnic was complete without a picnic stove. Towards the end of my father’s life this meant a Camping Gaz stove, but for most of my childhood it was a spirit stove. The smell of meths as you poured it out of the bottle is etched in my memory of summer picnics. That, and the slowly increasing volume of the whistle as the kettle came to the boil.
Another outdoor meal is the barbecue, but this was a relatively recently adoption by the English; before 1970 the idea was unknown to us, or regarded as impossibly exotic. Because a barbecue needs some heavy equipment, like a gas bottle or a bag of charcoal, barbecues tend to be enjoyed at home; picnics are invariably taken away from home. if only a short bike ride away. The point is that barbecues form no part of this article.
Certain other things go with a picnic; sandwiches of egg and cress, cheddar cheese or ham; and an apple to finish off with. A rug to spread out on the grass more or less completes the arrangements. The provisions would be enclosed in a hamper, or a simple basket. There should ideally be no folding tables or chairs as these take up too much space, but by the time the picture above was taken my parents were a bit too elderly to sit on the ground. When we were all younger we regarded such things as much too fancy for a picnic.
The ingredients of a meal may be much the same, but if eaten alone a meal is just a snack. Even if it is taken outdoors, this solitary eating does not constitute a picnic. We all have to eat alone from time to time, but the nub of the picnic (for me at least) is that it is a family occasion. It has not always been so; Manet’s famous picture, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, depicts a far from suitable occasion for families; fully clothed young men lounge around a completely unclad lady. It is a French scene naturally, and that says it all. It is something that could never have taken place in England; it includes a naked woman for heaven’s sake; but in one respect it is an authentic picnic – the meal is taking place outdoors.
The open air picnic has followed Europeans around the world, from Australia to North America. In France, where the pique-nique began, in the year 2000 a huge 1000 kilometre long picnic was organised to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In Italy (where Spring is rather warmer than it is in England) a popular time for picnics is Easter Sunday. In other cultures a picnic is an alien concept; Kenyans do not go in for picnics I gather, nor do Saudi Arabians. I would not want to live in a country that did not do picnics, but Europe does. Had we voted to remain in the European Union we could all have had a picnic together to celebrate, but that is now not going to happen. The people have spoken, and now we all have get on with living in post-Brexit Britain; but we should not forget the European origins of the picnic. We are all family really.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
This was a rather eventful year from a personal point of view, and it was termed the year of the watershed by my father. However the year was notable for other reasons, far beyond the family’s concerns. In 1959 Norwich trialled the new Post Code system; it was slightly different from the system rolled out nationally a decade later. Ours in Poringland was NOR 42W (it became NR14 7QR). On a slightly wider scale it was the year in which the M&GN railway in Norfolk was closed, and the former Gresham’s school pupil Sir Christopher Cockerell launched his invention the Hovercraft. The Morris Mini Minor (soon to universally known simply as the Mini) went on sale and the first section of the M1 Motorway was opened. In Cuba the revolutionary Fidel Castro entered Havana.
For the Mason family it was a year of change on several fronts. My father’s lease on his shop in Orford Place came to an end, and although he was prepared to pay the much higher rent demanded by the landlord, none of his fellow tenants of the the adjacent properties was, and this meant that he was compelled to seek alternative premises. He took the bold decision to buy a Georgian mansion in Surrey Street. Without a shop window he could not be sure his customers would follow him, but at least (as an optician) a shop window was not essential to his business. The house had been derelict for several years and needed a lot of work done on it. The freehold on the five storey building cost him the grand sum of £4,500, and he had to take out a mortgage, but he was able to pay it off in less than ten years. To get some idea of property values back then our family bungalow outside Norwich was worth £1,000.
My eldest sister had met a Canadian who was doing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in London, and they married in July before she emigrated to Canada in August. Her younger sister had just finished a 3 year teaching course at a college in Twickenham and was due to start teaching in Suffolk that September; she needed to move into digs in Ipswich. All these things were added complications for my parents, who really had enough to worry about with the business move.
To top it all the biggest event of the year for me was being sent off to boarding school at the tender age of ten. This happened in late September, after the Battle of Britain open day. I can’t remember which local airfield hosted the display this year – there were so many air bases in Norfolk to choose from. Once that celebration was over there was nothing standing between me and the abyss of leaving my dear home. I can remember walking down the road towards Arminghall with the younger of my two sisters (the elder one was already in Ottawa), filled with dread. How my parents could have sent a terrified little boy away to boarding school I do not know, but I am so glad they did. I experienced so many things that I would never have done had I stayed at home, and most of them were positive; it was an excellent education that propelled me to Oxford ten years later.
With all this going on there was no time for us to have our usual summer holiday at Southwold in 1959. I spent a lot of time in the house at Surrey Street doing my little best in scraping the old whitewash off the walls in preparation for a coat or two of more modern distemper, or perhaps bang up-to-date emulsion paint was already available. The whole building had to be rewired (it was still equipped for DC current, which hadn’t been used for years). The plumbing was rudimentary and there were no bathrooms for the guests – the building had previously been a commercial hotel.
Instead of the usual annual holiday my sister and I went for days out by train. I can’t remember anywhere we went, but Cromer, Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Felixstowe must have featured. As the fate of the M&GN shows, the rail network was already shrinking, but places like Swaffham, Fakenham East and Wells were still accessible by diesel multiple units. Aylsham and Burnham Market had already lost their passenger service in 1952. though Watton railway station was still open to passengers until 1964. Unfortunately I never went there.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
A DAY IN THE CAPITAL
I got up at eight o’clock when mother woke me; Fido was very pleased to see me and later I took him for a walk in my old trousers because the weather was so bad. I let him chew up my old hat. I had toast and marmalade for breakfast and then drove up to Norwich railway station. Dad was still asleep when I left. It cost me 17p to park in the Clarence Road car park, overlooking the station. I bought my ticket and some papers to read on the train. As I waited on the platform the sleet was falling, but by the time I got to London it was neither cold or wet. I sat next to two school mistresses on the train who were talking very loudly about education.
Our train arrived at Liverpool Street at twenty to twelve. I had lunch at the Copper Kitchen in Eldon Street (not far from the station). I had chicken soup, pizza and cherry pie and custard, which I paid for in Luncheon Vouchers. (As a businessman Dad had access to these.) I was looking for machinery dealers – I tried one in Tabernacle Street; they did not have what I was looking for, but it is very interesting to find all the industrial equipment for sale so close to the City of London. I then went on long walk to Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road tube station. At Ryan’s I did find plenty of machinery – Myford lathes, lots of big drills and circular saws. I bought a little felt mop to go in a hand drill, and a HSS counter-sink.
I went to Piccadilly Circus; by then I had been on my feet for hours and needed to rest them. I went into a cinema and spent an enjoyable half hour or so watching Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and Movietone News. When Road Runner came round for a second showing it was time to leave to go and meet sister Tig. I got on the underground to Waterloo. Had a snack which included a Swiss roll made with real cream. I read the papers while waiting for her train. When she arrived with her Suki I thought her dog looked rather fat compared to my dog Fido. We all got in taxi to go to Liverpool Street – Tig, me, Suki and her luggage, I thought that it was preferable to going by tube. There were a lot of Army Cadets at the station on their way to camp in Dortmund.
It was still daylight when the train left London at 7.36. We had a comfortable journey after we left the coach where the fluorescent light was flashing for a compartment coach. We had a compartment all to ourselves – what one always hopes for! At Norwich the train stopped at the far end of the platform, but luckily we were at the front of the train. When we got home Fido was of course very pleased to see us. Dad had taken him for a walk at lunch time. We had rosé wine with our supper to welcome Tiggy home.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES
I lived in South Norfolk as a child, and I got to know East Suffolk better than I knew North Norfolk or even Broadland. I went to school in Suffolk, and we went for a fortnight’s holiday to the Suffolk coast every August throughout my childhood. These are some pictures that remind me of those times.
This pub was called the Southwold Arms from 1839 until it closed in 1996. It was subsequently used as accommodation for Adnam’s hotel employees. It has since 2013 been converted into a menswear shop.
The Tide Mill at Woodbridge was being restored when this picture was taken in 1973. It had closed about ten years earlier as the last working tide mill in England. It never used internal combustion engines, as many watermills did before finally going out of business. In its final years it produced animal feed, no longer flour for human consumption. It was not yet open to the public in 1973. The steamer which you can see alongside the mill briefly ran trips on the river Deben.
The Aldeburgh lifeboat had been involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. Aldeburgh still has an RNLI lifeboat station. The lifeboat is launched from the beach; although the river comes within a few hundred yards of the sea in Aldeburgh, it only reaches open water at Shingle Street, some five miles to the south.
The attractive area by the river Blyth was for 50 years on the line of the narrow gauge Southwold railway, until it closed in 1929. The old railway track is still a popular path where walkers may go between Southwold and Blythburgh.
The baker at Stradbroke was my great-grandfather William Rutter. The bakery only passed out of the family’s hands in the 1940s. Although William moved into the shop in about 1860, it was still the Stradbroke bakery when I called there a couple of years ago, over 150 years later. William Rutter died in 1904, but the current owner showed me his will, which he keeps among his documents. Although I have always been a Norfolk ‘bor’, both my mother and father had Suffolk blood in their veins.
Apart from the ancient motor cars (which could be parked almost anywhere in the days before yellow lines) this view of the lighthouse is still much the same. A couple of canons have appeared on the green in the last 50 years.
This ancient medieval castle was built as a Royal Castle in the late 12th century. It is well preserved externally, but unlike another Royal Castle (at Norwich) it has not been used to accommodate anyone for centuries. Part of the building was however used as a radar station during WW2.
Although it is now converted into private flats, this inn was once a stop on the coaching route from Great Yarmouth to London. Eye lost much of its importance when the mainline to Norwich was routed through Diss instead. A branch line to Eye was an early casualty of the growth of the motor car.
The maltings at Snape had been built by the Garrett family in the 19th century. The matings were still in operation after WW2 as this photograph (taken in 1958) shows. Shortly afterwards it closed and was taken over by the composer Benjamin Britten of nearby Aldeburgh as a Concert Hall.
This pretty Market Place is dominated by the 17th century Buttercross. Every morning from the age of five I alighted from the bus here on my way to school. What a delightful start to life; but I only felt dread as I headed down the street to Arithmetic as first lesson!
The Martin Luther had spent most of her working life on the river Medway carrying cement into London. She spent her retirement settled in the mud on the river Blyth at Southwold. By 1960 she had been broken up.
Lowestoft was once a thriving fishing port. It may have reached its zenith in the days of sail, but it was still flourishing when I was a young man. Regular fish trains went from there to Norwich and beyond. Will BREXIT lead to a revival of fishing? Don’t hold your breath.
The canon were by no means new when the government approved their purchase in the 18th century, having originally been commissioned in Elizabeth I’s reign. They were last fired in 1842 to celebrate the birth of the Prince who was later to become Edward VII. Unfortunately a young man had his head blown off – perhaps the only fatality these guns ever produced.
Much excavation followed the discovery of North Sea Gas in the 1960s, to create a National Grid of gas pipes. Gas was brought ashore in North-East Norfolk, and from there distributed across the country.
Bungay Bypass now runs along this stretch of the railway line; a few years earlier the line between here and Harleston was intact. Then there was a daily goods train from Tivetshall on the London mainline to Beccles. Passenger services had been withdrawn on the Waveney Valley line in 1952. By 1966 there were no steam engines left in East Anglia, but the line still reached to the water tower in Bungay.
This is a recent view of Aldeburgh. As you can see there is a flourishing inshore fishing trade in the town. For reasons we have already examined, all boats have to be launched from the beach at Aldeburgh.
Saxtead mill was built in the late 18th century and was last used to grind corn in 1947. It remains in working order. When I went in the early 60s you could only access the upper floors by climbing long wobbly wooden ladders. I am sure that modern Health an Safety legislation has caused these to be replaced by rather more permanent structures. The young lady with a camera in the picture is my sister Tig, but the moped has nothing to do with our family.
These two enamel signs used to stand outside the door of Miss Hurr’s shop in Southwold High Street. She no longer sold Elliman’s Embrocation when this picture was taken, although I understand it is still available. By the 1960s her main stock-in-trade was kites, buckets and spades.
This is how the house used to be furnished when it belonged to the Vanneck family; they had built the property in the 18th century, but disposed of the house and contents in about 1969. The view below is of the exterior. The house was briefly open to the public in 1970/71.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The word recorder can have a number of meanings, but I do not here refer to a legal official. Nor do I refer to a tape recorder, but to the musical instrument. A descant recorder is cheap to buy, and a simple instrument to start to play, which is why so many of us began to learn music as a member of a class playing descant recorders. To reach the higher levels of proficiency however the recorder is about as difficult as any other instrument, except perhaps a theatre organ with its four or more manuals, umpteen dozen stops and a full pedal board. Leaving aside such examples of extreme bodily involvement, the real knack of playing music is to interpret it in a meaningful way, and in this respect I can point to no finer executant than the twentieth century Canadian pianist Glen Gould.
In my case the experience of playing the recorder did not begin when I was very young; by the time my class was introduced to the instrument I was a teenager, with attempts at learning the violin and the piano already under my belt. I could read music by then, and music theory was not a problem for me. I sailed through the theory exam with 100% score. Actually playing anything was a different matter – that required hours and hours of boring practice.
It would have been the same with playing the recorder, had the class not folded in less than a term. Our music lessons reverted to singing and listening to records. I didn’t give up learning the piano, but I began to play the double bass. I found the bass greatly to my taste. I even found practice on the giant instrument quite fun, but I never had more than half a hour’s instruction on it. The only member of the music staff who played the bass was a remarkable Czech who also played every other instrument known to man. Me and my fiend Bill answered an urgent plea from the head of music for a couple of boys to learn the bass, as the previous players had both left the school. We were taught the first position, which was virtually all we needed to know for the simple music we played in the school orchestra. Only upper ‘C’ and ‘D’ were beyond our normal scope, and required a leap of faith with the first finger. Because we had no instruction on the instrument we never had to pay to use the double bass. It was great fun, but that finished when we left the school.
I had already started to strum the ukulele aged about 13, and soon moved on to the guitar. I got quite good at reading chords, (C, G7, F, etc) which is a simple task, but at university I moved onto reading the dots and playing classical guitar. I have never had a lesson on the guitar, but at last I had found something I really loved. I practiced and practiced, when I should have been studying my official course. (I did do enough reading of history to get my degree though.) I continued to play the guitar when I left uni, and eventually played some chamber music with my father on cello.
On finding myself living alone once again I returned to playing the double bass, which introduced me to many fellow musicians (including the woman whom I was eventually to marry). I have already done several blogs of my bass playing career in which I came nearest to a semi-professional status. This reminiscing on my musical life is all very well, but I started by telling you about playing the recorder.
I should have been quite busy enough playing the bass, but for some reason I joined an evening class of recorder players. I had not picked up a recorder for about 20 years, and even then it was only to play very simple tunes. I did remember the fingering however, and I dug out my old plastic descant recorder. I also had a wooden tenor which is the same pitch, although an octave lower. Although I tried the treble it is a fourth lower, and I never quite mastered the transposition. My tenor was a useful instrument as all of my fellow players had trebles or descants. Because no-one had a bass recorder I took the bass line on my tenor, which suited me just fine as a bass player.
There were about eight of us and we formed a consort. This was the term used for a group of instrumentalists in the early modern period. Although we should have played lots of concerts, we did not play the kind of music that went down well in old folks’ homes, for example; it was too highbrow. On the double bass I was for ever playing light music in all sorts of venues, to receptive audiences. Our consort did have one success however, being asked to broadcast on Radio Norfolk, which had recently started to use the local airwaves.
Another instrument I had a brief infatuation with was the accordion. I was even paid to play it at Thurton fête one year. On mature consideration (many years later) I think I tried to play too many instruments. I stopped playing any of them when I was busy helping my wife to bring up two young children. We made attempts to start them on playing cornets with the Taverham band, and Peter began playing the bassoon at Norwich School, but they never practised either.
THE STORY OF MUSIC
It was so long ago; and although I remember some of the events described below, I would have no idea what year they related to had I not kept a diary. I can tell you what I did and when only because it was written down by me all those years ago. So here are the notable happenings of 1972, together with some of the less important ones.
From the headlines you would think that this was in fact a very bad year, with the Watergate Scandal, the growth of terrorism against Israel and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland; the Cod War, coal miners on strike and British unemployment at a post-war high. You get no hint of these problems in my diary, where life is carried out on a more domestic scale.
On March the first my father sold his optician’s business in Norwich to Mr Sergeant of Yarmouth, but he continued to work part-time for the new owner. Later in the month I went to Durham where my university friend was doing his teacher training; he had met a Cambridge graduate who later became his wife. Over forty years later they are still in touch with me on an occasional basis. They drove over from Leamington Spa to spend the evening with us earlier this year, and we all went out for a meal.
That summer of 1972 I went with my sister to see the Aristocats. This Disney film had been released 18 months earlier. We saw it in Bungay, where the Mayfair Cinema was open for business. In 1990 it was still operational, although it had changed its name to the Broadway, but it had closed by 2000, and later the building in Broad Street was demolished and replaced by housing. I had first gone to the Mayfair as a schoolboy at a tender age. On that occasion we had seen another American production in colour; not a cartoon but a wildlife film called Vanishing Wilderness.
In April 1972 we had bought a new car, a Daf 44. It was chocolate-brown in colour, an unusual tint even for those days, and the colour had an unusual name -Tabina. It was still new enough to be cherished in August, when my father polished it before driving the family (i.e. me, my mother, and sister Tiggie) over to Southwold. We saw a stoat cross the road by Henham Hall on the way to have a picnic lunch on the common. We had my canoe on the trailer, and sailed her up the river Blyth from Blackshore. We had by 1972 fitted a mast with a gaff rigged sail, and with lee boards we were able navigate without paddling. We did not go out to sea on this occasion, but dug some ragworms at Reydon quay intending to go fishing later, but in the end we were too tied. Mummy and sister Tig meanwhile went in to town to shop. Dad and I also found some sampher which we picked to take home and pickle. We had some for supper a couple of days later with cold beef.
My Aunt Olive Anderson had bought her cottage at Bramerton in January. It was one half of a semi with a view down the hill to the common and the river. It was in a perfect situation. Both halves of the building had previously belonged to Mr and Mrs Mayes who continued to live in the other half. It needed a lot doing to it, having just two bedrooms leading off each other upstairs, and one large room below. There was an outdoor scullery. Her son Andrew was an architect and he prepared the plans which included a kitchen and bathroom. These improvements turned it into a very attractive home, where I was to visit her many times over the following decade. She moved into the cottage during November of 1972.
In July we had a visit from my sister’s family from Canada; this included her 3 boys (the eldest one was 12) and her husband who had just lost his job. With my parents that made eight people; six of us squeezed into my Aunt Peggy’s holiday bungalow in Snettisham, while Mummy and Daddy rented the bungalow next door. We spent nearly two weeks there, mostly playing in the mud and going cockling. One afternoon was spent by me, my sister and her husband in the rather more elevated surroundings of Cambridge. We attended a concert in King’s College Chapel, where I was introduced to Allegri’s Miserere. That Christmas Eve another family event occurred in King’s College Chapel, when Aunt Olive’s eldest grandson sang the opening solo verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
The year sounds like a round of pleasure, all holidays and fun, but there were difficult times too. My father had another minor heart attack in May which involved some weeks off work. He had to go into hospital for electric shock treatment to correct the arrythmia of his heart. I have not referred to my business activities, because the tedious writing of invoices and visits to the Post Office would make this blog even more boring than it already is.
I should certainly not omit to mention that day in September when we bought a black mongrel puppy from a pet shop near Norwich Castle. My father was rather dubious about buying him; “If I were to keep him,” he said, “I would call him Fido.” Needless to say we did keep him, and Fido was my constant companion during the next twelve years.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Easter was very late in 1973, and did not fall until April 22nd. The 16th was a Monday, and after a morning at work I went with my father and sister to Suffolk. The weather was rather grey but at least it was mild. We drove through Bungay and Halesworth and then exercised our dogs on the heath at Blythburgh. These were my sister’s dog Suki, and young Fido. He was only just over 6 months old, and had not yet learnt to lift his leg when doing a wee!
We stopped at the Stradbroke Arms at Darsham for drink of Adnam’s bitter. The pub was next to the station where the A 12 crosses the East Suffolk line. In is no longer possible to have a drink of ale at this pleasant former coaching inn, which closed in 1994. Darsham station is not the nearest station to Southwold (that is Halesworth, to which the Southwold Railway used to run), but it is more convenient to drive to. In common with other lines, the railway was then approaching the nadir of its fortunes. Freight services would be withdrawn from every station except Felixstowe harbour, and even that traffic was pitifully small. There were strong hints that the whole East Suffolk line would be closed. Now the harbour is the busiest container port in the UK and the heavy traffic has necessitated a new rail link to the main Norwich line at Ipswich. The number of passengers has increase by 100% over the past decade, and the number of trains to Lowestoft has recently been doubled.
We then went through Saxmundham where we saw the Earl of Cranbrook’s flock of Jacob sheep. These distinctive creatures are not like most sheep, as they have four horns. My sister regarded herself as an acquaintance of the Earl, as they had been in correspondence about some wildlife matter, in which he was considered a local expert.
We drove on to Woodbridge where we parked near the railway station. A train arrived while my sister was using the Ladies at the station; this facility has now been withdrawn. It has been rewarding to witness a revival in the use of the railway; perhaps if passenger numbers continue to increase they may reinstate the toilets at Woodbridge station. We walked across the railway footbridge to the quayside. The Tide Mill was being restored, having closed for commercial use not many years before. The exterior had been repainted but the building was not yet open to the public.
The S.S. Yarmouth was moored in the river Deben. As her name suggested, this steamer had previously been used on the Norfolk Broads to give pleasure cruises, and was then doing the same job on the Suffolk river. She later found her way to London where she served as a floating restaurant in dockland before sadly being scrapped. It was to see the steamer Yarmouth that we had made the journey into Suffolk. Normally on such a trip we would have gone to Southwold, but not on this occasion.
We got home in time for tea which mother had been preparing for us – pork sandwiches and buns. The dogs had been walked again at Woodbridge before we left the town.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
It was eighteen years old for the first six weeks of 1968; the year began with me going to Guernsey, driving down to Weymouth in the snow with my father. Dad took the mailboat back to England after a few days, but I remained on the island with sister Tiggy. She was returning to work as a teacher at Elizabeth College; this was a boys’ school, and she was the only female member of staff in the Prep School. I believe she was quite cosseted. I was meant to be improving my Latin, and to that end I had a number of tutorials with the classics master at the school. I had been informed by Eric Smith, who was to be one of my history tutors at St Peter’s, that my Latin needed improvement; hence (in theory) my stay on Guernsey. I remember a lot of things about that spring on the Channel Islands, but I cannot believe that I did much studying. However, at the end of the year I passed my prelims, which included a paper on Bede, requiring not only reading large chunks of Latin, but also (I seem to recall) involved answering some questions in the language; so perhaps I did more than I now remember.
What was more entertaining was exploring the coast of Guernsey. This included the cliffs of the South Coast and the more gentle sandy beaches to the north. All along the coast were the German defences, then not much more than twenty years old. The bunkers and lookout towers were built with much more architectural integrity than the utilitarian British pill boxes that I knew back in England, but the fact that they were Nazi buildings constructed by slave labour gave them a sinister quality that they retain to this day.
I returned to England to spend the summer on daily walks with our old dog Jet, just a few steps up the lane with him before he turned round to go home. In July I flew out to Basle from Manchester Airport with my friend Bill. This was the first jet I had flown in, and it was a BAC 1111. In it we sat facing the rear of the plane. This is a sensible arrangement from a safety point of view, but it is unpopular with the customers; the only other aircraft I have flown in that used this seating plan was a VC 10 belonging to the RAF. We went by coach across Switzerland to holiday in Rimini on the Adriatic. Some of you may have read my account of this trip in an earlier post in my blog. In August I spent some time out in Sole Bay off Southwold in my canoe, but without my sister Tig who had flown out to Edmonton Alberta to see our elder sister Chris. You may have realised already that hardly any of what I have to say about 1968 relates to Norfolk.
I arrived in Oxford as a new undergraduate in the autumn of 1968, and was thrown immediately into the student protest movement. A lot of research has been published recently on this topic, and although what I am about to write has no pretensions to academic respectability, at least I was there in person, unlike the dutiful writers in the learned journals and university tomes. Reading something of the protests of the late sixties, I now realise how diverse the things we protested about were. What exercised us the most, and what we really wanted to protest about (like our American cousins) was the Vietnam war, but as our government was not involved in South East Asia, there was nothing relevant that we could protest about. As a consequence the students at different universities found different things to complain about; at some the causes were more contentious than at others, but in all cases it was the desire to protest, rather than the now utterly forgotten issues that mattered.
At Oxford we occupied the Clarendon Building in protest at the keeping of secret files on students. That at least is my memory of the event, but it is quite possible that others remember it differently, and press reports may tell another story entirely. As I have pointed out, it was the protest itself that was important, not the matter in question. It is slightly depressing that the best minds in the country had such a shallow view of life, but that is to be young and foolish. We were certainly that.
In that Autumn of Discontent, the most pampered young men and women of their generation were busy charging around the venerable university town pretending to be Bolshevik firebrands. For me, the most memorable protest was against Enoch Powell. He had made his inflammatory Rivers of Blood speech in April of that year, so he was the perfect subject for a huge protest. In October or November 1968 he came down to speak at Oxford Town Hall, and a crowd gathered after dark in St Aldate’s, ostensibly to prevent him speaking. As you can see, the idea of providing ‘no platform’ to ideas you disagree with is not a recent phenomenon – only the terminology is new. Of course both he and his audience were ushered in by a back way, leaving the angry students with nothing to do but attack the police.
This was a rather dangerous development. Normally the student protests involved the Proctors not the police, and in their quaint bowler hats they were in fact quite benign. The police (even the unarmed British Bobbies) were a different matter. Nevertheless we began to attack the Police Station, which was next door to the Town Hall. The police shut the large door to keep us out, but a wooden door was no match for the pressure of hundreds of young men. It creaked and swayed, and within a moment it would have given way. Did we really want to invade the police station? Of course we didn’t; that would have meant a serious breach of the peace, so the crowd immediately melted away. I had been a fervent protester up until then, but it was the turning point for me. I had seen that the student protest movement for what it was; merely the upper middle class youth having a bit of fun while pursuing their studies. When the possibility of revolution became too real these soi-disant radicals went off to the pub.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES