24 June 2013


We dug deep into haystacks, yanking out bales till dens were created. Of course these secret places were dark and smelt sweetly of harvest. In there, once, I met with Gillian Hartley's lips, plumped up like miniature cushions and ruby moist. We could hardly breathe though we were less than eleven.  We never knew that kisses could be so intoxicating. The closeness. The sense of having crossed a line. We emerged as if from a bay, gasping for air, her hair tousled with straw.

And in those summer nights upon the old recreation ground up High Stile, we village lads kicked our leather football with wild enthusiasm. Best to Law. Wagstaff to Chilton. Goal! "Over 'ere! Pass it for Christ's sake!" Laughing. Yet again, it went over the wall into the land behind a neighbouring house. They were market gardeners. My playmates nominated me to go round this time. Perhaps I had kicked it. "Excuse me Mrs Hurst, could we have our ball back?"

She was holding the leather orb against her floral nylon  housecoat with a fierce expression. "No!". So I challenged her politely but she resisted when I just wanted to return to our knife-edged game. Where did my next words come from? "The Eagle" comic? "Billy Bunter"? There could be no actual swearing so I said the next best thing - "Well I think you're a damned rotter!"

She was appalled and ugly, grabbed my arm and yanked me into her cramped living room. All antimacassars and seaside ornaments with the vaguely unpleasant odour of their dog. I could easily have broken away - returned to our field of dreams but in those days there were unspoken rules you had to follow and children knew their place. She picked up their black bakelite telephone with its twisted brown cord - identical to the one that sat on the window ledge in our house - and she spoke to my father about his contemptible, foul-mouthed offspring.

Dad arrived and heard her story then he led me away with the ball which we tossed back over the hawthorn hedge to the other fantasy footballers. He wasn't angry with me. Years later he told me how amusing he had found it all. Damned rotter indeed!

With autumn time we would roam the farmland to the west of our village to find the best conkers - hunting for some sort of holy grail. The conkers hung heavily - spiked  like little green World War II sea mines and we would throw sticks or stones or edge bravely along limbs and stout branches - thirty feet up like circus acrobats. Our parents never knew. In a neighbouring village, a boy called Keith fell to his death one bright autumn. For we all wanted the prize conker, the conker of conkers and dreamed of splitting the very next green husk to find it - as shiny as polished mahogany and as big as a child's fist. 

But it never revealed itself and all too soon childhood was over. The Eleven Plus. Be-satchelled me in kneesocks with black and red stripes along the tops, waiting for the bus to that Edwardian Billy Bunter  "college" in Hull where I never belonged and them raucous on the other side - travelling to their secondary modern in Hornsea. Nothing was the same after that.


  1. In 1964, I planted a conker. When we moved, I took a conker from that tree with me and planted it in the new place. I kept doing that and by the time I joined the Army had four conker trees to my name growing in gardens and countless others I had planted across the countryside.

  2. Oh wow ! Conkers? I learn something new! Nice memories from both of you.

  3. Wait. Although there is a photograph of a conker, he plainly said, "our leather footfall" in paragraph 2, and that fact was bolstered by "She was holding the leather orb against her floral nylon housecoat" in paragraph 3.

    The conker is extraneous, unless he was lying about the leather football.

    Read more carefully, people.

  4. HIPPO I'd loved to have played conkers with you - making sure I always missed and rapped your knuckles instead!
    CAROL IN CAIRNS I was about to say something witty but rude about conkers. Fortunately, I was able to stop myself.
    RHYMES WITH MISUNDERSTANDING After much deliberation, I selected the giant conker - hidden inside its spiky shell as a visual metaphor for those departed days. I would have gladly hardened that conker by our fire, threaded it with string and then rapped your knuckles too! It used to hurt like hell! Then the conker would not have been "extraneous" for it would have successfully clouted a Cantonese male.

  5. Nicely remembered and shared old YP

  6. And here I was feeling sorry for that 11+ YP being sent away to Edwardian Billy Bunter College (as she googles it to look for their league tables). Me thinks the education he got there was all extra curricular.

  7. I've never seen a conker before but I've heard that they were/are used in a children's game. They come from Chestnut trees is that right? Lovely trees with lovely flowers - that's what we always see on our visits.
    I love the bit about the risks you took that your parents never knew about. We were just discussing that recently in reference to swimming in the surf when we were children. Don't want to know what our kids did!!

  8. YE OLDE EARL GRAY Thank you. I'm glad you appreciated this piece.
    HELEN We even have a horse chestnut tree in our garden. It is over thirty feet tall and grew from a conker my son and I found when he was three. Our neighbours are not too fond of it now but the pigeons like it and have nested there.

  9. Fun read. I had no idea what a rotter is so I Googled it:

    slang chiefly Brit a worthless, unpleasant, or despicable person.

    Thank you! I likely will have use for this word sometime.

  10. DAVID OLIVER When you use "rotter", I hope it is not towards me!

  11. Well of course not! I was thinking about the bird killers...


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