Categories ......
Back to Memories Menu  
A Mattishall Story ....
by
Peter Walmsley

 

It was the early summer of 1948 when my parents decided to move on once more. My life had started in Dunbar, Scotland in 1931, since when we had moved to Sheffield, three separate addresses in ten years; to Grantham on VJ Day 1945, and now further east to Mattishall, near East Dereham in the centre of Norfolk. Three years later they were off to Norwich where we parted company, and they subsequently arrived at Lowestoft. On retiring from his work as a schools dentist, and not being able to move any further east, my father decided to return to Scotland and my mother dutifully trailed after him to Kirkcudbrightshire where they finally settled and spent their last days. I had taken Norfolk to heart and nothing was going to move me on, and here I remain.

Of all the homes I shared with them, Several House at Mattishall, provided the best three years, and it is of this period that I write. The move from Lincolnshire had taken place during my final term as a boarder at Buxton College in Derbyshire to which I had been hastily moved when war broke out in 1939 in the belief that Sheffield was a prime target for German bombers. So it proved coming up to Christmas the following year. The irony was that I had already left by bus to come home for Christmas by the time the school was contacted to stop my departure. The effect on a nine-year old of arriving in the centre of a city still blazing and rubble-filled from the previous night’s blitz was fairly traumatic, especially when an inspector met me at the makeshift terminus and told me I had to return to Buxton. Put so bluntly one feared the worst, but fortunately I was duly collected and taken home, but that is another story.

In July 1948 I boarded the “Miller’s Dale Flyer”, the aged two-carriage steam train which plied between Buxton and the small station serving the main Manchester-London line. This was a single line railway with no turning places so the train was push or pull according to which direction it was travelling. Some five miles in length it followed the River Wye, twisting and turning through a series of small tunnels and criss-crossing the road over numerous bridges through the heart of the Peak District. Picking up the London express at Miller’s Dale there were two further changes before I finally arrived on the Norwich line. In those days Dr.Beeching had not started to wield his axe, and there was still a network of branch lines across the countryside, and instructions had been given to change trains at Wymondham for East Dereham. Being new to Norfolk ways the fact that many places and words are abbreviated to the basics was unknown to me, so that when the stationmaster shouted Windam at one of the many stops, it was only by seeing the station name on a board as we were about to pull out that I managed to leap off just in time. The Dereham train duly arrived and we started by returning the way we had come, eventually branching off to chug slowly through the flat fields of central Norfolk, stopping at every small halt on the way, until eventually arriving at Dereham in a cloud of steam.

After a long, hot journey I was looking forward to seeing the new home and relaxing with a cool drink prior to a bath. No such luck. Word had spread via the local milkman, who was also captain of Dereham’s cricket team, that I was regarded as no mean fast bowler. The next thing I knew was being driven to their ground where a first team net practice was in progress. As my kit was somewhere on the railways in a trunk full of clothes and accessories, it was a case of rolling up one’s sleeves and performing in ordinary shoes. A ball was thrown to me and it was soon apparent that I was rather faster than what they were used to facing. Unfortunately this proved the undoing of their regular spin bowler who was batting in thin leather shoes, and received a full-length ball on his right foot, departed to the local hospital where it was revealed that he had broken three toes. Though unfortunate for the victim, it did release a place in the team which I was happy to occupy for the rest of the season. It was at this session that I had my second encounter with the peculiarities of the Norfolk dialect. When asked where I had travelled from, and replying that it was from Derbyshire, the response was, “What! Did yew cum orl the way alone tergither?” At that point I knew that Norfolk was the place for me!

With the practice safely over, and a refreshing glass of cider consumed in the bar, we drove out to Mattishall, some five miles distant. Though it has now grown into a modern dormitory for Dereham and Norwich, it was, at that time, a typical straggling Norfolk village tucked comfortably some distance off the main roads. You went there either because you wanted to or because you had got lost. The village centred on the church, a handsome building of the Perpendicular period with a stone tower topped by a lantern once used to guide travellers to the village across the marshes, now long gone. It stood on its own island site enclosed by a stone wall within which the graveyard filled every available space round the church. There had been no burials there for many years and the gravestones were worn and lichen-covered pointing hopefully skywards at all angles. A new cemetery had been established a quarter of a mile away and an ancient hand-drawn bier was used to transport coffins from the church to the cemetery with the mourners following in its wake.

The main village street ran east to west along the north of the church, and the village pub, The Swan, was directly opposite. To the east Mill Road ran due south towards the village of Welbourne, whilst to the west a short lane gave onto a small square, known as Church Plain which filled the area south of the church and joined Mill Road. On the opposite side of the Plain stood our new home, Several House, an L-shaped building filling that side of the Plain and then running along Mill Road for some distance, terminating in two paddocks which were leased for grazing to a local farmer. A large garden and orchard spread out at the rear of the premises. The house was well named as it was, in fact, a combination of three separate properties. The front consisted of two Georgian cottages knocked into one, with two large living-rooms running right through from front to back, behind which the rest of the house formed the angle of the L and was very much older. A step down led into a small-windowed sitting room with a ceiling that was not designed for anyone over six feet in height, from which a small passage led into a huge kitchen with a tiled floor sloping from each wall to a gully down the middle. This part was originally an ale-house, hence the floor, and was still primitive by modern standards. There was no mains water and supplies had to be restored daily by strenuous effort on a rotary hand-pump on the kitchen wall to fill the main supply tank above. The consolation was that the well-water was of much better quality than that available from the mains. As there were no drains either, the problem had been solved by digging a cess-pit in the orchard into which liquid household waste was drained. This pit had reached an age where the filtering quality had reduced to the extent that pumping out was a regular occurrence. On such occasions it was advisable to be away from the village, partly to avoid the complaints of those living in the vicinity, and partly to breathe fresher air. Above the kitchen was a large apple-loft from which one could conclude that the inn had probably been more of a cider-house than for ale.

Memories of the upstairs are a little vague, but there were two large bedrooms and a bathroom in the Georgian part and steps down into the rear where two or three small adjoining rooms finally led into the loft. One of these was appropriated as my ‘den’, whilst the remainder was used initially for storage.

Beyond the kitchen a series of barns and outbuildings ran down to the pastures with a large wooden gate giving access from the road to the adjoining yard. That side of the property gave directly onto Mill Road as did the long terrace of cottages and bakery on the opposite side. There were no pavements and the road was narrow which made turning into our gate a major exercise. This was not made easier by the fact that my father, for reasons unknown, had acquired a large and unwieldy Humber saloon of 1934 vintage, which distinguished itself by regularly breaking down in the most inconvenient places, often in a narrow Norwich street during the rush hour. On one such occasion he walked slowly over to a horn-blowing driver some five cars down the queue and coldly told him that he would be happy to sit there and blow his horn for him, if he would like to get his car going. At least, that was the gist of the conversation, omitting the embellishments. It had to be started on the handle which kicked like a mule, and care was required to avoid either breaking one’s wrist or being hurled some distance across the yard. It will become increasingly more evident as the story progresses that it was my father’s bright ideas that provided the choicest memories of the Mattishall years.

The house was very conveniently situated. In the corner of the Plain, next to us, was the village general store, a veritable Aladdin’s cave. The proprietors, Mr & Mrs. Neave, I’m not sure that they even had first names, had run the place since time immemorial, and neither they nor the layout had altered in all those years. The shop was situate in an old cottage and sold everything from a hatpin to a gallon of paraffin. Lit only by a couple of ordinary bulbs the walls were covered with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with ironmongery, paints, clothing, household wares, groceries, wools, and an assortment of buckets, pans, tin baths, broom heads and other paraphernalia dangled from hooks in the ceiling. Moving round the shop without banging one’s head or demolishing a pile of stock was an art of the first magnitude. Amongst this tangle of wares the Neaves moved with assurance and in full knowledge of where they could put their hands on any item requested. He was a small stooped man with receding hair, metal rimmed spectacles, which always appeared to be about to fall off the end of his nose, and a half-quizzical, half-accusing look which seldom altered. I can never recall him smiling. Mrs. Neave was even smaller, bird-like, flitting about the shop in a permanent state of activity, and anxious to please. Their daughter had fled the nest, and married an actuary who subsequently rose to be Assistant General Manager of one of Britain’s largest life assurance companies.

Two doors along was the butcher’s shop, run by generations of Hewitt’s and as bright and breezy as the Neave’s were dour. They had their own abattoir behind the shop, and also kept poultry, so there was never any question of the meat or eggs not being of the freshest or of excellent quality. Opposite the church on the other side was the entrance to Freddie Faircloth’s farm from whence milk and fresh vegetables were available. Freddie also provided one of his meadows for the local cricket team to play their home matches on. The field was notable for the pond along part of one boundary which acted like a magnet for any ball travelling in that direction. The elders of the village used to congregate around the pond and beat upon the water with their sticks in an effort to float the offending sphere to the side for retrieval. Also usually present was a large white shire horse which had an uncanny knack of positioning itself to act as a sightscreen at one end of the ground. This may have been partly due to it being bright enough to realise that village batsmen seldom hit the ball straight, and it was therefore the safest place to stand.

The length of the road alongside Several House comprised a terrace of small eighteenth century cottages whose front doors gave straight onto the road, making departure a hazardous operation, though traffic was limited in those days. In the middle of this row was Norton’s bakery, itself a converted cottage, from which issued the most enticing smell of new bread in the early mornings. Fresh rolls for breakfast, just out of the oven, were one of the great treats of living where we did, and I can taste them now with a great wodge of butter slowly melting in the middle. The Norton’s, like the Hewitt’s, had passed the business on from father to son for generations and Dick and his brother were the epitome of the jolly miller pictured in story books. Both were large and florid, invariably covered in a fine film of flour, and only too happy to mardle to the customers, for whom time was of little consequence. How different from today! They made a tasty selection of cakes and buns as well, far beyond comparison with the in-house bakeries of modern supermarkets.

To complete the picture was ‘The Swan’, the most successful of the three village pubs. Television had yet to take over our lives at that time, and the pub was the centre of the village social life. There was a building at the back which used to house various events where the inhabitants made their own entertainment with time-honoured party pieces being trotted out year after year. On these occasions there was always a table or two groaning with the weight of food, but normally the pub was for drinking only, as the need to provide meals, other than crisps and packets of nuts, had yet to become a priority. People drank freely but sensibly then and, whilst getting pleasantly tipsy, seldom made themselves ill, or caused any trouble. Breathalisers and drink-driving were unheard of, and accidents few as cars were fewer, more solid and mostly not built for speed in any case. Inside the smoke-filled bar, tobacco not being regarded as a hazard in those days, the elders of the village sat around the tables playing crib or dominoes, while the younger patrons played darts amongst themselves or in competition with other pub teams. The more sophisticated residents sought refuge in the lounge bar, where the smoke was not so dense, and polite conversation was the dominant factor.

‘The Swan’ was presided over by the redoubtable Mrs Earl, a thin ascetic figure who could quell the slightest sign of a disturbance or disagreement with a single basilisk stare. The recipient of these baleful glances would either shrink into the background or hastily depart. Her clientele were mostly regulars as there was little passing trade and, in true rural tradition, the appearance of a stranger would cause a lull in the conversation and a combined stare of assessment from all present. Those hardy enough to survive this reception would soon become accepted provided they proved themselves worthy of the privilege. Her son, Charlie, went in mortal fear of her and finally escaped to manage his own pub, ‘The Dog’, two villages distant at Easton.

The pub was one of the last bastions of the true Norfolk dialect, and I gradually began to absorb and understand it but, in over fifty years living in the county, have never been able to speak it like a native. One has to be born in the county to speak it naturally, a fact to which my wife and son bear witness when they need to. Amongst the regulars was one, Bob Leeder, who was in his seventies, leathery-skinned and hands calloused from a lifetime’s farm labouring. He stood about five feet seven and was shaped rather like a rugby ball. All evening he would occupy the same spot against the bar, apart from the occasional disappearance to make more room for another pint or two. I cannot remember seeing him other than in the same baggy, faded, dust-covered trousers which were held up by a thick leather belt fixed some inches below the waist and hidden from his own view by his bulging beer belly. The upper regions revealed a rough plaid shirt, open at the collar, a ragged pullover which had once borne some form of Fair Isle design, and an old patched tweed jacket which was strained to the limit when he attempted to do up the single button, which was seldom. The apparel was topped with an aged cap which was more grease than material. As it never left his head we had no idea if he had hair or not and it was said that he slept in it. His feet were enclosed in strong farm boots of uncertain age which had never seen polish or brush. Most of the time it was also advisable to stand up-wind of him. His most notable trait was a complete absence of teeth and no inclination to replace them, coupled with probably the broadest Norfolk accent in the county. As he gummed his words, only Mrs. Earl seemed to understand what he was saying, even among the broadly spoken regulars, but as his comments were usually accompanied by the banging of his empty glass down on the counter, the meaning was not difficult to interpret. One gained the impression that he survived solely on a liquid diet.

Like many dentists, my father had a penchant for the drink, though in those days he stuck largely to beer rather than the more addictive spirits. He was, therefore, an accepted member of the fraternity, and I would join him on numerous occasions for a game of darts and a few glasses of cider. I even aspired to the pub darts team in due course and was accepted also because it was good to boast a ‘Mattishall lad’ playing cricket and football for Dereham, and, later, cricket for Norfolk. There were occasions, after a particularly good or successful evening, accompanied by a modest intake of alcohol, when our wavering departure was aided by the presence of the church boundary wall. One advanced with exaggerated precision straight across the road and, on reaching the wall, felt one’s way unsteadily round it until arriving opposite the house, when a concerted effort would, with any luck, bring one through our front gate at the first attempt. My mother remained tight-lipped on such occasions but her disapproval froze the air indoors. I well remember one such occasion, and being sobered up in a matter of seconds when, halfway round the wall, a strange white apparition rose silently out of one of the tombstones and hung over it. With racing heart and momentary disbelief, the ghost revealed itself to be a large white cat which had jumped up on to the stone, by which time I was fully sober!

Active sport in the village was limited. Cricket has already been mentioned and I only enjoyed a couple of rustic matches all the time we lived there, being otherwise attached to Dereham. Football was played on the field alongside the Methodist chapel where a room was provided for the teams to change, though washing or bathing afterwards had to wait till one returned home as there were no facilities. This had its drawbacks for visiting sides as the field was used for pasturing cows for the rest of the week. This involved a pre-match session with shovels and a barrow to dispose of the reminders of the recent occupation which, in spite of every effort, failed to remove all traces. For teams travelling any distance by coach this could add a certain fragrance to the return journey. Fortunately my involvement with the team was short-lived when I was signed up for Dereham in a senior league. Bowls was the other village pastime though, unlike today, this was considered an old man’s pastime and I cannot clearly recall where it was played! Vague memories suggest that there was a green behind the pub at the other end of the village.

The summer of 1948 provided a welcome break after nine years at boarding school and much of the time was spent cycling around the area getting to know the countryside. The hedgerows and lush verges resplendent with the colours of wild flowers, the corn fields and the sugar beet, were a pleasant contrast to the dry-stone limestone walls and faded greens where only sheep grazed in Derbyshire. I did miss the hills, though there was compensation in not having to cycle up them any more. It was about this time that my father decided that now he was a countryman he must assume the role with vigour. Living in a big house in the centre of the village gave him squire-like visions and he would appear in tweeds with a colourful feather in his hatband. Always a keen gardener, he set about making us self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. The orchard was carefully sprayed, apples and pears were bountiful, currant and gooseberry bushes sprouted, strawberries and raspberries thrived and were carefully netted. The first picking of strawberries always had to be available for his birthday in mid-June and his fury was unbridled if they were not. Rows of cabbages, lettuce, sprouts, assorted beans, celery, leeks and cauliflower, beetroot and turnips were drawn up like guardsmen and proudly paraded before any visitor that came to the house. Needless to say the produce far exceeded our capacity to consume it and, in spite of giving large quantities away, much of it finished life as compost. Freezers, unfortunately, had yet to become mandatory household items at that time.

Mother was a keen maker of jams, marmalade, pickles and chutney, so much of the produce went into bottles which stood in serried ranks on shelves in the pantry. She was also in charge of the flower gardens and the borders were soon filled with brightly coloured annuals, roses and a profusion of herbaceous plants. Climbing roses and honeysuckle steadily ascended the trellised walls of the house to give vertical as well as horizontal displays.

I was allowed to weed the beds, and cut the lawn edges.

By September three changes occurred. I was found temporary employment prior to being called up into the Royal Air Force for National Service the following April. My paternal grandfather came to live with us from Westcliff-on-Sea following the death of his wife, AND my father decided to go in for livestock!

My work took me to Norwich, a daily bus journey of forty minutes each way. Through father’s connections with the county council health service, I was placed in a small office with two other minions where our work consisted solely of supplying baby foods,
milk supplements, and other such requirements to nursing and expectant mothers who qualified for such assistance. Parcels were made up from authorised requisition forms to be collected and distributed by the district nurses concerned. The main stocks and packaging were kept in a large basement below the building where we spent much of our time, out of sight and out of mind. Being of an inquisitive nature, it was not long before we started to sample the wares, and finding several of a distinctly pleasant flavour. I must shamefully admit that over the few months we were there, not all the goods found their way to the designated sources, and we thrived!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, not all was going smoothly with grandfather. Though he had a room of his own he preferred to be with the family, and would spend much time in one corner of the sitting room smoking an evil-smelling pipe. Although the tobacco he bought was a reasonable brand, the combination of dribbling into the pipe and a certain reluctance to ream it out regularly, destroyed any fragrance which would otherwise have been there. My parents, especially father, were rather set in their ways. For example the afternoon cup of tea had to be poured as the clock struck four, and the evening meal carried to the table precisely at six-thirty as the news finished on the radio. This routine stretched to the various other activities around the house and any attempt to help was guaranteed to frustrate the system. Consequently the aged grandparent tended to be brushed aside, and his eagerness to help in such small chores as laying table or wiping up was spurned. His only pleasure was in going for walks and meeting up with other village elders who were only too happy to spend time in chatting. Having a very active social life, and spending most of the time out of the house, my own contribution to his presence was limited and in retrospect I still feel a sense of guilt for not having made a greater effort. Whilst his stay with us could have been much happier, it was not a long one, and I returned home from work one day to be told that he had returned from a walk, suffered a brain haemorrhage and died shortly after. His funeral took place across the road, there were perhaps a dozen people there all told, and we trudged down to the Burgh cemetery behind the bier for his committal. So far as I am aware, neither of my parents ever went near his grave from that moment on.

My parents had never been churchgoers, and neither was I at that time, so the only time we attended at All Saints was for the funeral. However, living opposite, with a bedroom looking out onto the Plain and straight up the church path, there was much to be seen.

About this time I acquired a small selection of clubs and an old canvas golf bag that had belonged to an aunt. Up till then I had no idea that she had any interest other than as a skilled artist. The entire collection dated from the 1920s and consisted of a mere five clubs, none matching, and hickory shafted at that. Standing at the bottom of the orchard I taught myself the rough rudiments of the game by hitting balls into our paddocks at such time as they were not occupied by livestock. Today they are buried somewhere under Hunters Avenue and Gregs Close. This was a painstaking exercise as more time was spent retrieving the balls from the long grass than in actually hitting them. Eventually I felt brave enough to join Dereham Golf Club as a junior member, but my dilapidated equipment and a total lack of confidence led to my short stay there consisting of solitary rounds mostly when the course was sparsely populated. Scores of seventy to eighty were the norm which sounds fairly impressive until one realises that the course was only nine holes, not eighteen!

Which brings us to the introduction of livestock. To begin with there was just one cat, a smoky-grey revelling in the name of Midge, which had attached herself to the family at Grantham and made the move with us. Midge was no ordinary cat and liked nothing more than to join me when practising darts with a board on the back of the living room door. By placing a dining chair under the board she would sit out of range while the three darts were thrown, then leap up the back of the chair and knock them out with her paw. It was not long before she discovered that the side door out into the garden was worked by a latch and from the outside she could climb up the trellis round the door and pat it open. Not being concerned with closing it behind her, the puzzle of how the door was often found ajar was not solved until she was actually witnessed in the act. Midge lived to a ripe old age and eventually finished her days a year after my parents moved back to Scotland.

Not many weeks passed after the move to Mattishall, before a henhouse appeared in the orchard, complete with wired-in run. A complement of a dozen Rhode Island Reds x Black Leghorns was duly installed and the egg supply was ensured. Wherever we had lived room had always been found for a few chickens, so this was par for the course. Not so with the next addition, a young and frisky pure white pedigree Saanan goat named Susie. She spent the days on a rope fixed to a stake in the middle of the lawn, which stretched to the edge of the lawn but would not allow access to the borders. Although this ensured the safety of the plants, it did not do the same for anyone who was either looking at the flowers or, worse still, bending forward to admire them. The temptation proved irresistible and many times were family or friends butted gently, or sometimes not so gently, into the middle of the beds. Fortunately she was hornless, otherwise it is doubtful if she would have stayed for long. I never really established the purpose of Susie. She was never taken to the billy and therefore produced neither milk nor kids. She cropped the grass to some extent, though only in a circle, so mowing was still required, but she did consume much of the waste from the kitchen thus saving a trip to the far distant compost heap. Despite constant threats to dispose of her, invariably when father had been the subject of her attention, she was still with us when I went off to serve King and country on National Service the following April. However, returning on leave after the regulation eight weeks square-bashing in the wilds of the Wirral peninsular at West Kirby, Susie had gone one butt too far and was no longer part of the family.

Other developments had taken place in my absence. The range of outbuildings had been partly taken over as a garage for the troublesome Humber, and a workshop for repairing it amongst other things. This left a small barn and a smaller building empty. In the former a hutch had been installed with a couple of rabbits and the other had been converted into a pigsty within which a young pink pig snuffled round happily. Not only were we to have our own eggs, but it seemed that game and bacon had been added to the menu. Wondering where this would eventually lead, I was then posted to RAF Hornchurch to train as a Personnel Selection Assessor. The trade had been carefully chosen, thanks to having the benefit of a proficiency certificate from the Air Training Corps, mainly because it guaranteed Corporal status once trained, and the two tapes afforded certain privileges and a few shillings more each week. It also had the advantage that the permanent posting would be at Hornchurch, putting applicants for aircrew through a series of aptitude tests to determine their suitability. Hornchurch was an old Battle of Britain station on the Essex side of London where they still flew aged Spitfires and even more aged Tiger Moths for reserve training purposes. It also had the attraction of being easily accessible to the flesh-pots of the big city.

Having completed the necessary period of training for the trade, which included a psychology element which was nothing more than common sense, the opportunity arose to take some more leave. The hens were laying well, the pig was fattening nicely, but the surprise was in the rabbit barn. The two rabbits in one hutch had obviously decided to do what rabbits do best and had multiplied at an impressive rate. There were now several hutches, and each time I came home more had appeared until they were all round the walls and in tiers. Eventually when the number exceeded one hundred, the novelty wore off, the attention required was disproportionate to the other activities on site, and the local game dealers were summoned to remove the entire stock. This was in the days prior to myxomatosis when rabbit was still a popular dish. It appeared regularly on the menu at Hornchurch where the rabbit population on the airfield was kept in check by the rifle club amongst others.

Meanwhile the pig rapidly approached its day of destiny. Like most of the livestock, it had a pet name, long forgotten, which always struck me as strange for something it was intended to kill and consume in due course. At the time one could only keep a pig on the understanding that it would be sent to the bacon factory who would keep half and you would get the other half back. Being a large pig the returned half comprised a varied selection of cuts, chops, green bacon and so on, again far more than could be stored or eaten before it went off. What could be smoked was so treated, and the apple loft groaned with the weight of pork and bacon suspended from the rafters. Fortunately I was not about while the curing and rendering processes were in progress, but the house was full of lard at one stage and, for once, mother put her foot firmly down and vowed never again. That marked the end of the end of the venture into livestock, other than the hens and the cat.

One other experiment is worthy of mention which took place prior to my joining the RAF. Father, who was a forty a day cigarette smoker, decided that money could be saved by growing one’s own tobacco. Plants were set and soon formed a fine hedge nearly three feet high. At the appropriate time the leaves were harvested and were taken up to the apple loft where he and I got to work. Each leaf was painted with black treacle and bunches of them were then rolled and tied into tight cylinders and hung up to dry like a forest of black puddings. Eventually the day arrived for the ceremony of the first smoking, a cylinder was taken down and cut crossways into small strips which were then rubbed up into a pipe mixture. Having given up cigarettes at boarding school at the tender age of fourteen I had been smoking a pipe for some three years, aided and abetted in secret by my maternal grandfather who had supplied me with the necessary materials and seen me through the formative stages. Father had never smoked a pipe and had sallied forth to buy a bright new specimen which had not been broken in. We filled our pipes, lit up and proceeded to enjoy the contents. Perhaps ‘enjoy’ is hardly the right word, as this mixture, even to my practiced taste, was in a class of its own. It was more closely related to a herbal smoking mixture than normal pipe tobacco, and it also had the distinct disadvantage of burning at twice the rate. It was not advisable to draw on it too deeply as the embers approached the base of the bowl. In its way I found it not unpleasant, but the effect on father was dramatic. Having struggled to get the pipe going with more matches than I used in a week, he took a couple of puffs, went bright purple and his nose promptly started to bleed. This continued for a full hour before he could staunch the flow and the experience proved to be his first and last so far as pipe-smoking was concerned.

I continued to smoke it regularly, usually out of doors, or well away from the rest of the household, and even ventured to try it in the office basement to relieve the boredom of packaging baby food. This lasted for two days until I was bought an ounce of decent tobacco on condition that the home-grown variety was banished for all time. Something over ninety per cent of the harvest was disposed of. It may have gone on the compost heap, I can’t remember, but if so it is probably there to this day.

A couple of times I tried to hitch a lift home from Essex, and wore uniform for the purpose. It proved a fruitless exercise as there was little traffic on the road and what there was showed little indication to stop. Having walked many miles on each occasion, and finally caught public transport, it proved easier to rely on more orthodox forms of transport. On the second occasion I had hitched home on the Friday evening to play football for Dereham on the Saturday. Having been out of the team for some while I found the pace hard going after forces football. At some stage in the game, a crunching tackle knocked me cold and I took no further part. Concussion must have set in because, having been taken home, I retired to bed to rest. Waking up the next morning the sight of the uniform hanging on the back of the door came as a complete surprise, and I had no recollection of being in the forces, where I was stationed or anything. Fortunately memory returned after a few hours, but it was a frightening experience while it lasted.

Having served the statutory two years, I was due to go up to Liverpool School of Architecture to take a five year degree course. Somehow the idea of such a long period of study after two years comparative freedom no longer appealed. I joined the fire department of a Norwich insurance company with the intention of becoming a fire surveyor. Meanwhile, wanderlust had descended on father once more, and he was looking to move to a similar dental appointment in Norwich and find a house there. It so happened that a member of my department was about to retire and move to Bournemouth and was looking to dispose of his house. My parents were told, they liked the place, and the move was completed in the Spring of 1951.

So ended my brief but memorable association with Mattishall.


Peter Walmsley........ January 2004

Back to Memories Menu  
   
If you are viewing this site through someone else's browser then refresh here:-
http://www.mattishall-village.co.uk