Ina and Godfrey Part Four
On the 15 July 1960 Ina and Godfrey, Richard and Finola and Paddy Miguel arrived at the port of Southampton on the RMV Carnarvon Castle. Once again Godfrey was unemployed and penniless but this time at least he had somewhere to live. During the voyage he had befriended an elderly widower, a retired engineer called Ernest Testi, who was returning to England from Tanganyika after the death of his wife. He offered Godfrey the use of his little cottage on Fallowden Lane in Ashdon near Saffron Walden.
The voyage had been uneventful. We sailed from Durban to East London on my 12th birthday which passed unnoticed by all except Richard who gave me an orange, the only present he could find.
After Port Elizabeth and Cape Town we sailed north towards Las Palmas, crossing the Equator with the customary Crossing the Line ceremony and fancy dress party.
The contrast between a third floor flat in an apartment block in downtown Johannesburg and a tiny end-of-terrace cottage on a country lane in Essex could not have been more stark. Godfrey spent the summer looking for work, resorting to potato-picking to feed his family. He eventually was taken on by Acrows, the manufacturers of the eponymous jack posts, as a storekeeper.
In September, Richard and Finola started at Ashdon Village Primary school and I went on the school bus to Saffron Walden Technical and Secondary Modern. I learned metalwork and woodwork and digging. Mostly digging. I don’t remember being taught algebra or French or science. On my first day I turned up in khaki shorts, standard South African school uniform and was ridiculed by my fellow second years. Somehow, Ina found the money to buy me my first pair of long trousers.
In the evenings I would roam the fields with Fred Smith, the boy next door, looking for bird’s nests and badger setts, whittling sticks and scrumping apples. He was astonished at my ignorance of country matters and took it upon himself to show me how to blow an egg for my collection and what weeds to pick for rabbit food. He also showed me how to trash the vicar’s garage, throwing paint everywhere. I still burn with shame some sixty years later.
On Sundays I sat in All Saints Church surreptitiously holding hands with Anne from the council houses across the road. I got a Saturday job at Fallowden Farm stacking hay bales, sixpence an hour for three hours. On receiving my first 1/6d I was told ‘a good workman is worth his wages’, a phrase that caused my chest to swell with pride. I was saving up to buy a bicycle.
I had joined the 1st Hadstock Mounted Scout Troop. The Scout Master, Dr Jock Dawson, was an ex-Army vet who founded the Troop and thought it should be mounted to be more in keeping with the spirit of Baden-Powell. It was unique, being the only mounted troop in Britain. We dressed like Mounties with long pants instead of shorts and proper hats not berets.
In return for mucking out the stables, cleaning the bridles, learning to use dandy brushes and hoof picks, and currying and grooming the horses, Jock taught us to ride, trot, jump and gallop. He was an impressive man with a huge walrus moustache, obsessive and gruff but very thorough in all that he did. A fellow scout, John Vincent, had discovered the troop whilst on his paper round and was intrigued by these ‘mounties’ milling around on horseback. He went on to become one of Australia’s greatest horse trainers working for the millionaire Sangster brothers.
Getting to Hadstock involved a 4 mile walk across RAF Hadstock, a disused airfield. It had been a USAAF airbase known as Little Walden when it was decommissioned in 1958. The control tower was boarded up but not well enough to prevent a twelve year old boy getting in and snooping around, climbing the concrete stairs to the top and looking out over the flat farmland that stretched in every direction. After Scouts it was a four mile walk back home, hence the desire for a bicycle. Godfrey managed to buy me a second-hand one for Christmas. I don’t know how old it was but it was so heavy I could barely lift it.
About the time Richard sailed through his 11-plus and I passed the 13-plus, Godfrey found a proper job with Marconi in Chelmsford so our short country idyll came to an end and we moved south to Great Baddow and King Edward Vl Grammar School for Boys or KEGS for short.