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The road levels out again and soon they see the post box, set on a wooden pole in the hedge near the head of another lane on their left. The road they are on now descends before rising again. At the low point, a farm gate is set back from the road on the left, between tall conifers. Beyond the gate, in a hollow beside a stream, is the cottage. Built of grey stone, its narrow gable end faces the road. Six windows and two doors face the gable end of a similar two story building across a cobbled yard.
As the younger woman reaches for the catch to open the gate a group of white faced cattle amble out from behind this second building, their hooves skidding on the cobbles. The leading animal stops and stares at the women. The followers jostle each other and the lead animal. Behind them a man emerges, wielding a hazel stick.
“Hup,” he urges the anmals. He strides between the animals and the building, poking the lead animal with the stick. “Get on.” His voice conveys urgency. The lead animal responds by loping forwards, past the gable end of the house, closely followed by the rest of the small herd.
The man looks at the women, lifts his sweat stained trilby hat and scratches his head, bare scalp visible between strands of white hair. “Be with you in a minute.” He replaces his hat and urges the cattle through a gateway into a field on the women’s left.
As he closes the field gate on his charges, the young woman opens the gate leading to the property. She pushes the pram down the path toward the house, being carefull to avoid the steaming deposits left behind by the cows. Her mother turns to close the gate behind them.
“You be the folks to look at the house.” It is a statement, not a question. The man transfers a flat roll-up cigarette, part smoked, from behind his right ear to his bottom lip. His tan tweed jacket has seen better days. From the top pocket he removes a box of Swan Vestas, strikes one and, cupping his hand around the flame, relights the cigarette. The young woman notes that his finger nails are long and dirty.
“I’m Ivy Parker. This is my mother, Mrs Jeffries. And, yes, we are interested in renting the house.”
From another pocket the man takes a heavey iron key. He hands it to Ivy. He peers into the pram. “That ‘un be quiet. Be it a boy or a girl?”
“The father, Mr Parker, he be at war?” This time the statement is rendered as a question.
“RAF. Bomber crew. Based near Cambridge.”
“And you be from London?”
“The rent be ten shillin’ a week. You do pay the rates. Drop the key back at The Castle on your way past. Tell Mother if you do want to take it.”
As he departs Ivy is relieved not to have had to shake his hand. At the gate he stops, turns and points to the left. “Over there be where you do get water.”
Ivy looks in the direction he has pointed and sees four large flag stones overlapping to form a rudimentary cover for what, on closer inspection, appears to be a concrete tank sunk into the ground. A pipe protrudes from the near face of the tank. From it water dribbles into a bucket. Ivy cannot help but notice that some of the khaki coloured deposits left by the cows has landed on the edge of the flags.
The child in the pram makes a sound, a croak which turns into a cry. Ivy picks him up and looks around for somewhere to sit. The first of the two doors has a stone step. There being nowhere else, she sits on it. “Pass me his bottle, please, Mum.”
Her mother is already rummaging in the bag. Ivy continues: “There’s warm milk in one of the flasks.”
When I started this series of memories it was with my first meeting with the young woman who would become my wife. Thus far I have not mentioned, except in passing, my childhood. So I guess it’s time to fill in some of those missing details with a series of remembered events. The first of these is entirely from my imagination since, although I was there, as you will discover, I was far too young to notice what was happening.
The road from Peterchurch to Urishay is long and narrow. It takes about an hour to cover the distance on foot. Anyone doing so will be unlikely to encounter another travelling the same route. Certainly that was the case in April 1942.
In my mind’s eye I see two women walking that road. One in her mid-twenties, red hair in a thick plait extending down the middle of her back. The hem of her coat swings just above her ankles. She is wearing sensible shoes. Her older companion has grey hair pinned into a bun at the back of her head. Her coat is long, too, a kind of blue that is almost black. She emits a sigh. Her feet cease moving. “Can we stop for a minute?”
“Is it your back?” The young woman asks, turning her head and standing still. She takes a step backwards, dragging the pram with her. With her right foot she applies the brake. Leaning into the pram she adjusts the coverlet. Her son is asleep, oblivious to his surroundings.
They are on the section of road that descends gently into a shallow valley. There is no sign of human habitation. The only sounds are birdsong. Both recognise the sound of a blackbird. Another song is new to the younger woman, who has little knowledge of the countryside..
“Listen,” she says. “What was that?”
The older woman can remember her youth, working as a maid in a country house. A long forgotten memory surfaces. “It might be a curlew.” She has been stooping. Now she straightens her back and is siezed at once by a fit of coughing. Recovering she says “That last hill nearly killed me.”
The young woman looks to where she can see the road rising up the far side of the valley, disappearing under a canopy of trees. She says nothing. Thinks it was a mistake to bring her mother on this expedition to inspect the cottage. Except . . . with petrol in short supply, asking someone to convey them by car would have been an extravagance. Except . . . she could not bear to leave her mother and son in the house they shared with another family. Not after the row they’d had that morning.
“I don’t know how much further it is. Jim said it shouldn’t take more than an hour.” She pushes back a sleeve and looks at the watch her husband gave her on their first wedding anniversary. “We’ve been half an hour already.” She reaches into the blue canvass shopping bag that rests across the sides of the pram and withdraws a vacuum flask. “A drop of char? I was saving it until we get there but we could have a drop now if you like.”
“No. Let’s get on. I’m feeling better now.”
There are wild violets and primroses in the bank at the road side as they make their way up the hill and into the shade of the overhanging trees. Those trees remind them of the park they used to take walks in before the war. Sycamore and horse chestnut, upright flower spikes on the latter not quite open. They imagine autumn, the ground covered with spikey green spheres bursting open to reveal glossy brown conkers.
The young woman has her arms outstretched, her back bent, as she pushes the pram up the steepest part of the hill. The road levels out and she stops, takes a deep breath before turning to her mother. “I think this is where the landlord lives.” She points to a rotting farm gate set back from the road. Some distance beyond it on the right they see a collection of farm buildings. High on a grassy bank to the left are the remains of another building. “That must be the castle Jim mentioned.”
“Do we have to collect the key here?”
“No. The man will meet us at the cottage. He has to move some cows or something.”
They set off again. There is another short but steep hill, the road curving round to the left. On the right a rough lane descends steeply. “That’s not it, is it?” The old woman points to a cream painted house on rising ground, accessed from the lane.
“No, it’s further on, on the left. After a post box, Jim said.”
In the satelite image below, the castle is in the top right hand corner, the cottage in the lower left quarter where the road takes a slight bend. The post box is at the junction with Urishay Ct.
Here’s something we don’t hear enough about. Ireland was neutral during World War II which it euphemistically called ‘The Emergency’. The Prime Minister at the time even astonished Allied leaders by sending his condolences to the German government on the death by suicide of Adolf Hitler. But many ordinary Irish people went beyond the call of duty in their humanitarian response to the suffering caused by fascism. Here David Lawlor tells us about a Cork woman whose efforts saved the lives of thousands of children.
A few days ago Stevie Turner posted on this subject, taking her cue from an earlier post by Colline Kook-Chun. It inspired me to think about some of the events that influenced the direction my life has taken.
- My father’s death in action in 1943. Had he survived the war, who knows what my life would have been like? I would probably have been brought up as a Londoner, since both parents were from there. I certainly would not have gone, at age 10¾ to a boarding school established for boys who had lost one or both parents. The school still exists, although the majority of pupils these days pay expensive fees. I shall be back there later this year celebrating 60 years since I left. Thanks to modern technology, many of my contemporaries communicate regularly with each other despite being scattered in different parts of the world.
- Meeting my wife in the summer of 1961. I was 19, she 16. I proposed in the early hours of December 27th, as I walked her home from the Boxing Night dance. We kept our engagement secret until her 17th birthday in June 1962 and were married in September 1963.
- Discovering, in the spring of 1965 as we moved into our first new house, that she was pregnant. We had not planned to start a family quite so soon but our son brought a new phase in our lives as a family unit and, as you will discover below, led to us coming to live in Ireland.
- Joining the staff at the Engineering HQ of a large corporation in the summer of 1968. That took me to South Africa and eventually to East Lincolnshire. Altogether I worked for over 18 years for that corporation and the pension I paid into now provides about 1/3rd of my annual income. It also led to:
- Being elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. I was one of 4 Liberals elected that year. The other two parties had 35 and 36 members so we held the ‘balance of power’, able to veto any proposal from either of the other parties. I like to think we used this power wisely. It was certainly extremely time consuming because, in order to do the job, we had to be represented on every committee, sub-committee and working party.
My employer was extraordinarily generous with allowing me time off to do this, but after a year and a half I was offered the choice: cut down on your council activities or take redundancy. The redundancy offer was generous and I accepted, having visions of a new career as a writer and politician. After working, unpaid, for the party in the run-up to the 1987 General Election I needed to find some alternative source of income which takes us to:
- Our shop. We decided that, since Freda had worked all of her life in shops, latterly as manager of a charity shop, we should set up our own shop. I would look after the administration whilst she worked ‘front of house’. I researched the market and decided that Cleeethorpes could benefit from having a quality glass, china and giftware outlet. A unit was available in a building belonging to a kitchen design specialist who had his show-room upstairs. This seemed like an excellent fit. I talked to potential suppliers, put together a business plan and everything looked promising until the building went on sale. The owner’s plan to increase his income by creating and letting units had not worked out. Any thought that the new owner might still be interested in having us as a tenant was dashed when planning permission to open a fast food outlet was applied for.
The next premises we looked at meant a complete change of plan. It was a moderately successful food retailer. The owner, a chef, prepared a range of chilled ready-meals in a kitchen at the back which he sold in the shop, alongside the usual deli-type goods and speciality foods. His recipes had been so successful that he had taken a small factory unit in Grimsby and wanted someone to take on the retail business, with him continuing to supply the popular ready meals. We opened in September and did great business in the run up to Christmas. Then the chef lost a big contract and had to close the unit so we lost our main supplier. We struggled on for the next few months but the risk involved in food retailing is enormous and we just could not compete with the supermarkets who were starting to develop their own deli counters and chilled ready meals.
I got a part-time job writing business profiles for a regional business magazine but in the May 1989 election I lost my council seat and returned to my original career as an Engineer.
- Our son’s marriage in 1993. His wife is Irish and in due course they moved to Dublin with their daughter. So, when considering retirement options in 2006, moving to Ireland to be near them was a ‘no brainer’. More than eleven years on we are still here, enjoying life in a small Irish country town where we have met many new friends, some through the writing group to which I belong, and some through the support centre for people touched by cancer where we both volunteer.
At the end of Stevie’s post are two questions, originally posed by Colline. Here they are, with my answers:
- Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… a Ryanair jet bringing home the owner of the Grand National winning horse and offering free drinks to all the passengers
- What music do you like: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Blues, Broadway/West End Musical scores.
Thanks, Colline and Stevie, for the inspiration. I wonder how many of my followers will be tempted to follow suit?
Rebecca Bryn is the next subject of my “A Date With . . .” series and will feature here on Thursday. Meanwhile I urge you to read her passionate justification for writing the book that drew me to her powerful writing. She writes about women of extraordinary courage. Writing the book took courage, as she explains below. Reading it will take courage, too, as there are many harrowing scenes. But nothing can match the courage of the prisoners of Auschwitz and the other death camps of Nazi Germany.
Words have the power to invoke compassion or hate, empathy or enmity. In these days of fake news and scapegoating, it’s important to distinguish between the two.