Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Home Sweet Home Seven

Much as I enjoyed full time youth work it was obvious the unsocial hours made life difficult. Another career was sought and after much deliberation I applied to become a teacher and was accepted as a student at Kesteven Teacher Training College at Stoke Rochford in Lincolnshire. We had little money so buying a house was way beyond our means. (Houses were available around three thousand pounds, we did not even have three hundred in the bank!)
We drove around the area south of Grantham looking for empty houses. We eventually espied a virtually derelict farm cottage, found its owner and persuaded him to rent it out for the princely sum of eight shillings a week. (The owner was a gentleman farmer, county councillor and governor of the college. I later offered references and was informed they were not necessary, he had looked at my file in college.) Welcome to Lincolnshire, 'Big Brother' was alive and well!
So began one of the happiest periods of our lives. Our new address was Ponton Heath. The Heath consisted of a farmhouse and four other houses including ours. (Before the war the farm employed sixteen men. mechanisation meant only three men were now required hence the proliferation of empty farm cottages.)
The house had roof tiles missing frequently. It was almost impossible to heat, even with the aid of paraffin heaters, the paraffin delivered fortnightly plus we improvised with home made briquettes on coal or wood fires, the briquettes made from coal dust and cement. (A young Swedish lady stayed one weekend and never took her coat off. I hadn't realised how 'nesh' even the Scandinavians could be!)
There were no street lights, the only bus ran once on Saturdays and the nearest shop was a mile or so away in Great Ponton. We were visited weekly by vans, the butcher, the baker and, no, not the candlestick maker but the greengrocer. We shared our house with many, including mice from the neighbouring fields until the acquisition of a large ginger cat solved that problem. He was so grateful for his sparse but welcome new home that he brought us frequent presents; rabbits, even larger hares and at least one full grown pheasant. Though a weasel he brought home proved his match, it's ferocity for its size amazing.
My wife constantly sewed and made bread in large quantities. I made copious amounts of home made beer. ( Left outside in winter it froze up and cracked the bottles. No problem, carefully remove the glass and there you have it, alcoholic ice lollies!)
Someone presented us with a television. (Often relations gave us all manner of goods. It gave them a warm feeling no doubt; we were grateful and did consider registering as a charity.) The picture on the television was obtained by connecting it to the metal window frames of the house. (You could actually see the television mast sited at Waltham near Melton Mowbray from our garden.) Our improvisations knew no bounds.
I became a reasonably proficient gardener, growing all manner of vegetables, though my knowledge of such matters left much to be desired. A crop of perpetual spinach was amazingly proliferate and, yes, perpetual. Every visitor left with a bundle. Evidently it is best served with olive oil and garlic. How on earth were we supposed to know that! I have neither grown or eaten it since, it is sadly way down our list of favourite food.
It was indeed a simple life. One day gardening I hit what was seemingly a large stone orifice in the garden. Having spent the best part of two hours uncovering it, I proudly showed my only neighbour the results of my labours. "Oh," he said dismissively, "that's the old cess pit, best to leave well alone." We we not in fact on a watermain. The toilet emptied into a huge tank in a nearby field, emptied twice a year if you were lucky. Our drinking water came via a borehole in the ground and failed regularly when the nearby golf course was being watered; someone had their priorities right!
Yet it was an innocent yet exciting existence for two newly weds. My wife worked for Aveling Barford, a local engineering company in the town, I had a grant, the huge sum of £750 pounds a year plus I worked on the farm for all of 38 pence per hour in the holidays. My wife used to turn down overtime in the factory. Her fellow workers were amazed, but their priorities in life were not our priorities. We were self contained, totally oblivious to the world outside Ponton Heath and Kesteven College. Life was indeed good and I looked forward to four years of the same. But, surprise, surprise, life is never that simple.

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