| It Has Been A Rough Year |
I am adding this additional chapter to my introduction, because after I initially wrote the introduction, it was very difficult to come back to it and try to make sense of all that I have experienced through the various stages of my life and the trials that I have endured or overcome. I wish ...
| The Birth of Charles Leonard Wiggins |
The story has already been written for awhile on my blog "From the heart of Praise, Prayer and Perseverance. 0; Here is a link to that posting, Below are the pictures of the blessed event.
http://fromthehea rt-dotwigg.blogsp ot.com/2008/03/an other-2-prayer-re quest-answered.ht ml
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Alan's Story > Chapters > 16. Alan's War. 16.
| Date Range: 01/01/1945 To 05/08/1945 ||
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| | Not very far away from where we lived was the village of Manningtree, a collection of cottages at the head of the estuary of the River Stour, which refined people pronounced as Stewer!
Tree lined and very pretty, it ran down and merged with the River Orwell to enter the sea near to Harwich and Felixstow, both important ports of embarkation in peacetime to Germany and Holland. The banks were wooded and green with hardly any sand beaches, but more muddy inlets providing security and moorings for small boats, some at the village and others down the river towards the next at Mistly.
What lovely names from ages past these mere collections of cottages had captured. It was from these that the armada of small boats set out for Dunkirk to rescue three fourths, or 360,000 of the bedraggled army. (Compton's)
The fields sloping down to the river were grazed by herds of black and white cows, and the hedgerows enclosing them were home to a rich variety of plant and animal life. When expeditions down the embankment behind the house failed to produce anything of a culinary interest, then come the next fine weekend, all of us, together with dad if he was up or down, (which is it?) from Romford, in two or more cars with people from the Row, loaded down with step ladders, buckets, bowls, saucepans and wicker shopping baskets, headed for the fields and hedgerows along the river--to pick blackberries.
Wearing our oldest clothes and with 'Wellies' on our feet, we climbed into the cars and with the Humber leading the way, set off. We followed behind in the new family Hillman with the windscreen that opened out and upwards by winding a handle on the dashboard, up to it's fullest extent so that we could peer at the road for the first signs of the luscious fruit.
Blackberries spread pretty quickly so once a loaded bush was spotted, it invariably meant that there were more of the same. A good growing summer of sun and rain in equal parts finished off with a few dry days of sun ripened a good crop pulling the stems down with the weight of juicy fruit and my brother and I would soon be fighting over who had found the largest.
"Mum. Mum, look at these."
"Dad. Uncle. Look what I have found! Over here"
If the weather had been bad or others had got there before us, then we moved on. There were times when we traveled for miles finding only red fruit, and we should have packed up and gone home, but it was 'just on to the next field.'
Sometimes though, we found a spot so full with ripe fruit that we never left the spot all afternoon and left empty bushes behind us-picked clean.
We would have a picnic in the field at the end. We had a wicker hamper full of food that all the neighbours had baked and brought and Cream Soda and Ginger Beer and my dad had bought his camping stove and tea kettle along. It had a strainer that sat in the top of the kettle and a spoonful of tea would make a wonderful pot of tea that even we children liked. After the food and a doze it was time to head home.
The buckets in the cars probably held about six or more gallons and we would have a couple of buckets of hazelnuts. Sometimes we found the fruit of the wild rose, the hip, and would stop to pick them if there were enough. The Government would use them to make a syrup which was given to the school children in the cities to stave off dire diseases because they could not get fruit and the rose hip was full of vitimin C. If you picked enough, and we are talking about gallons, you took them to the Department of Health and they would pay you for them. Schools from Colchester and Sudbury would take to the fields and have 'Hip Hooray for Victory " days before the word 'Hip' was invented. We never did find that many, and were usually picking something else, and what we did find Uncle probably cooked up in the animal food.
The hip was hard and shiny and a lovely bright orange shading to red colour. The fruit was the size of a currant and when cracked open was filled with seeds covered in a fuzzy fur. When dropped down someone's open necked shirt, the seeds would cause itching to drive one crazy. It was not considered a very nice thing to do as it took sometimes three or four washings to get the itchings out of the clothes. You only did it to someone you hated as you were likely to get a letter from the teacher and the parent if they knew who did it.
Elderberries were ready from the end of July and were used to make a cough syrup. The berries tended to have a coating of wild yeast and the mix could ferment and make a very 'nice' cough syrup. As soon as the adults tasted it they all seemed to develop coughs and sore throats: especially the dad's. The berries made a very enjoyable wine, although it had to be kept for at least a year before it became drinkable, Uncle said. The flowers that bloomed in April-May also made a superb wine, and if corked early in the fermentation process would make a very acceptable champagne. When I grew up I used to make an average of 15 gallons of Elderflower wine. Fermented to about 10/12% alcohol, it was best mixed with some soda unless you wanted to sleep the afternoon. When you realise that most 'townies' considered the Elder to be an invasive pest, you will see why a countyrman who knew his lore would see the flowers open and rush to get his casks ready. You only needed about ten flower heads to make a gallon of wine. When we moved to America in 1991 we left behind ten gallon that I did not want to bring with me. Still I remember that we had a very enjoyable leaving party which was still going after we left.
The Sweet Chestnut, Bullace and Sloes were ready to gather by August. Chestnuts were picked up off the ground under the tree where they fell when ripe, or were knocked off the braches with thrown stick. They were delicious roasted on an open fire at any time but espeially at Christmas. They were not to be confused with the Horse Chestnut, beloved of small boys, who soaked them in vinegar and secret concoctions passed down the family through the centuries, and then baked them in Mum's oven, not too little but just enough and then drilled a hole though them with Dad's drill to borrow one of brothers boot laces to thread through them and knot underneath. The bigger the knot the more the cushion for the 'conker'.
Daring all and sundry to battles of smashing each others conker against the other held out to be bashed until one disintergrated leaving one victorious. A first time winner was called a 'one-r', then it could be challenged and become a 'two-er' and could go on up to a 'sixer' but that was rare.
Some girls found a way to treat the conker and it soon spread around that a girl called Julie had a 'sixer!' Experts inspected the conker conqueror. It was a fat shiny fruit, not skinny and shriveled as one would expect of one that had taken heavy knocks. No antagonists came forward for a few days, but when they did we realised that someone had spent some time on toughening his missile to perfection to defend the honour, of what was considered a boys only sport.
The playground after school was to be the battle of the sexes (with a small b) and the conkers were dangled and paraded on the end of their strings for all to see. Miss Armitage even stayed behind to watch and make sure that the girls didn't get beaten up.
The girls crowded behind Julie, who as champion got the first bash. Joe Miller, from the end house in our row, held his conker high at arms length. He had confided that his dad had baked the fruit carefully for a time after soaking it for a few days in cider vinegar and had put it in the oven straight from the soak. You could if you sniffed hard, and some of the kids sounded like they hadn't blown their noses for weeks, smell the cider. We won't go into how some kids blow their noses, but we check which way the wind is blowing and anyway our mum gave us handercheifs.
Julie, egged on by some of her friends, closed one eye in a very professional manner, and took aim and swung the string in an arc, and to gasps and screams from the assembled crowd--smashed Joe's conker to bits. Joe stood there in the crowd of children, his mouth hanging open, the empty string blowing in the wind and started crying. The girls were jumping up and down, laughing, clapping and us boys were looking around in stunned silence, except for Joe that is. Even Miss was clapping.
The 'sevener' was retired.
We had to admit that it was an unbeatable conker and the girls wanted to inform the local paper about it but Miss Armitage said that we should keep it quiet because if the enemy found out about it they could sent over spies in a submarine to steal our secret weapon so it was best to be careful. The girls kept on about it for a week; there was even a poster on the classroom wall, 'Julie sinks Joe' and a drawing of a limp string which in those days people only saw as a drawing of a limp string. The conker hung above the poster but now on a red ribbon. After about a month it started to look a bit sorry so Julie took it home and hung it on her wall until her mother took it down one day and dropped it in the dustbin
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