Sunday, 13 November 2011

When I were a lad...

In response to a comment from Chris, this is a small part of something I have been writing for some time. I suppose it is an autobiography but it is what I remember of my life. The problem is that my life continues on, so where do you stop? Anyway, this bit is from my very early days, when I were a lad....

WWII had just ended and things were looking up, we were able to go to the seaside!   Dad had bought an ancient caravan from somewhere, he never paid more than ten pounds for anything like that, so we got real monster. It was ancient and heavy and we first used it at Tankerton in Kent.  Going all the way across  London, this was a real adventure to a distant and exotic place.

Our caravan with our current Standard car towing it.
(Standard is the make, not the description) 
It was sited there for some time and we spent our first post-war holidays there. Some of the family used it too. I remember my cousin Alan enthusing about it. He was also full of the train journey there and back. It was the first time he had ever been on a train in his life and I recall him telling me it went so fast he could see the clouds moving in relation to himself. I don’t think I had ever been on train then.  Because Dad had the Garage, we always went everywhere by car with him or by or bus with Mum. Mum had a fear of trains anyway and in particular the Underground, so even going into central London we either went by car or Green Line bus.

My sister had been to the seaside before but I had never been, or if I had I did not remember because I was too small. It was not always possible to visit most resorts during wartime because of the defences and in many cases land mines all over the beaches. Beaches remained hazardous places for some time after the war, what with UXBs marked off, closing some beaches and barbed wire still in many places, seaside resorts were slow to get back to their normal pre war condition. When we got to Tankerton, despite the mess the beaches were in, to us it was wonderful.
I was given a strict edict not to touch any of the unexploded bombs we may find. They washed up on to the beaches regularly in those days and were often just marked to be disposed of later when the overworked  Bomb Squad could get around to them and so we actually played between them. That seems incredible now, but everyone who had lived through the war in any large town was used to them and we more or less ignored them once they had been spotted and flagged. One day I had been playing on the beach with some other boys with no adults around, when we came across a small bomb, possibly an anti personnel bomb or may be a mortar round, with nice fins on it like a little space ship. We knew we should not touch it so we didn’t, but we were sure in a vague sort of way the grownups should see it and we intended to take it to them.
To avoid touching it we carefully tied a piece of thick string we had found around the tail, religiously avoiding any physical contact with our hands. Once we had got it supported by the string, it was held between me and another boy and we started back to the caravan site with the bomb swinging on the string between us, detonator down.
My Dad was coming down to the beach to find me to tell me a meal was ready when he saw us coming off the beach.  I can still clearly see his reaction to the sight of a group of small boys carrying a bomb.  If you have ever seen a cat that suddenly spots a large dog running towards it with obvious murder in mind, Dad behaved very much like that. He froze crouching slightly and shouted very clearly and surprisingly calmly, ‘STOP WHERE YOU ARE. Put it down VERY gently and come here as quickly as you can.’ We did as we were told wondering what was wrong and ran up to Dad who had come no closer. He then herded us away as quickly as possible and fetched the police who called in the Army.
This WWII UXB was found on a beach near Felixstowe as recently as 2006
Later, when asked why I had disobeyed his explicit instructions to never touch a UXB, I told him completely innocently, that we hadn’t touched it once, only the string had touched it. I was completely sincere, I did not understand that he had meant not to move it. I really believed that it would only go off on contact with human skin.
Later in life, I often remembered that misunderstanding when giving warnings to my own children and tried to make my instructions to them clear by saying them in two different ways.
When my two boys were still at school in the 1980s, one of our friends had problems with an unknown man talking to one of their small sons. He had been told quite clearly not to talk to strangers and when asked why he had talked to this man, he was puzzled and said he was not a stranger he looked quite normal. To the boy, a ‘stranger’ was someone strange looking, not someone he did not know. Kids can be very literal in their interpretations.


  1. That's a great story. And perfectly timed. I've just included a UXB in my NaNo novel so this tale is wonderful.

    I love the literal interpretation theme too. One of the things I was taught as a journalist was to avoid any phrase or wording that could be taken two ways. It can be tricky - and I'm out of practice these days - but it's important.

  2. Great stories, Snafu. Children do take things often very literally. I came across that fact many times in my many years of teaching and I often wondered why it was never emphasized to trainee teachers. As in your case it could have highly undesirable consequences.
    I remember vague references to the caravan, but don't think I ever saw it.

  3. Chris, a few years after that incident, we took it up to Yorkshire and visited you and your family, whilst staying in the caravan somewhere near you. That journey took several days, but that is another story.

  4. M-AJ, lessons in phrasing are essential for e-mails too, it is amazing how many misunderstandings occur in that form of communication.

  5. Great memories to share with us,snafu! I remember we visited your family one time, and you were living in a caravan for a while I think. We all crowded in and your mom prepared tea and something with jam. I was very little but I remember the jam because the jar fell out of the cupboard when she opened the door. I always remember your mom being so jolly and cheerful - nothing seemed to faze her!