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The Author speaks of more peaceful early days in South-East England
Area covered by Stour and tributariesClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Few Memories of Simpler Times
A Few Memories of Simple Times.
Growing up in England
As a lad growing up in Broadstairs in Thanet, on Kent’s SE coast, our forays into other parts were limited to the time it took to get there on my old Rudge bicycle, a sturdy yet ponderous beast which sacrificed much speed in the name of reliability. This, more or less, for our young legs, meant a half circle extending out towards Whitstable and Birchington on our right as we faced west, around to Sandwich on the mouth of the River Stour to our left. I say half circle, because we had out backs to the sea in the east and that ruled out travelling in that direction without a water-craft.
But still, we had some nice destinations back then. There was Sturry Woods which have all but disappeared today. There, the confluence of one of the tributaries of the Stour provided us with the ideal fishing grounds at what we knew as “Black Water and White Water. As the river left the weir area on the Canterbury Road, it meandered through a meadow, passing Fordwich, until it eventually dissipated most of its force in the Chislet lakes and marshes. This river, the Great Stour, (rhymes with “hour” in Kent…the other Stour in Suffolk rhymes with “more”), runs for more than 20 miles to Pegwell Bay.
People can be forgiven for being confused over what exactly is the Stour in Kent, because there are three rivers called Stour, and about another 12 tributaries all with other names. Half of the Gt. Stour is tidal and was a major inland thoroughfare for the Romans. The two main Stours, Great and Little, meet at Pluck’s Gutter before rolling gently past Sandwich to the sea. The Stour is generally a peaceable stream, but it runs fast in places and has strong currents and flood plains. I once saw a small boy swept under the ferry downriver from Fordwich; he was dragged out by his elder brother; this river has to be treated with respect.
I remember fishing for amorphous finny creatures all along the banks of this pretty river. Named such as Chubb, Perch and Roach come to mind. In fact, roach is a name that has seemed to appear in another guise later in my life. The adult fishermen went a bit further upstream towards Canterbury, where the Stour also formed lakes, these with lilies all over the surface and said to conceal the vicious and crafty Pike.
We also enjoyed a trip along the route past the Richborough power stations and the old Brock firework factory up to the Stour again, this time as it cut through the road in front of Sandwich; the tiny bridge there featured the only toll allowed in Britain at one time, but kid bikers weren’t charged. A good thing too, because there was no regular pocket money for us in those days. I was lucky to see a couple of half-crowns a year when we visited Granny.
One way we kids could make a few pounds was working for Montgomeries farm in Birchington during the hols. We were as reliable as the summer sunshine as we pocketed out £3 weekly pay check and never went back. I had aspirations to be a farmer, but to heck with it if it meant weeding cabbages all day in the bitter East wind while my mates were on the beach.
Another way to make a few shillings was to collect golf balls lost all along the edge of the links near Joss Bay. Sometimes we would wait in handy copses, occasionally pocketing balls before they had been lost. Once, we watched with amazement as the whole of Arsenal football team arrived at the Links Hotel for a weekend break. I had most of their autographs for many years until I eventually lost them.
A highlight of this somewhat boring existence was the arrival of the Danish/Norwegian recreation of a Viking Long-Ship, the Hugin. My grandfather was the president of the Broadstairs and St Peters Angling Society, so was given the honour of piloting the Hugin the last mile or so into her anchorage and he asked me - then about 5 - to come with him on his launch, “Patience.”
And so went my childhood until I discovered that magic creature, a girl. They smelled so different from bicycle oil and sweaty school boys. Now it was “Did you do it!” Many lies were told by young boys about their sexual prowess and the willingness of female acquaintances. In fact, I didn’t do it until I was 18, ancient by today’s standards, but about the norm back then. Of course, then we had immediately to get engaged, which lasted a few months if you were lucky. I was famous for having used the same ring on three different “fiancées” It finished on the finger of a Swedish girl who wears it to this day (she was 15 in 1960 when we met! Jail bait, but we didn‘t quite “do it“).
She told her husband a girlfriend gave it to her. Ah, Sausage, how sweet you were and patient to put up with that as a nickname.
My youth ended, really, with the divorce of my parents and all the trauma that kids go through. “Who do you want to go with?” Heck, I don’t know, neither of you two creeps! But it was mum who won that day; dad remarried and was out of my life for good.
Then mum was, too, as she went to live with my grandparents who couldn’t have a young boy living in the house because of “the doctor’s angina!” Jeez, doc. Heal thyself!
So to h--- with you all, I must have thought as I became a radar trainee at Chatham Royal Naval Barracks…but that was where another chapter called "Man" began…