26 February 2003

Ullswater: Barton School Dinners and a Tale

For the first three or four years at primary school we all took a cut lunch to school and a drink but 1942 or was it 1943 the Government Education Board decided to provide a subsidised midday hot dinner to every child. I think the primary reason was that with rationing many children were not getting their full range of vitamins. The cost was sixpence per day or 2.5p and the rest of the cost was subsidised by the government.

Our school had only two classrooms, no dining hall or even a kitchen, many other schools would be the same, but unlike most village schools our school was almost half a mile from the village of Pooley Bridge and the only place suitable for school meals was in the church hall. Three quarters of a mile there and back. For the time taken to walk we were allowed half an hour extra for our lunch break.

So added to my two and a half miles walk to school and two and a half miles back now was added a further three quarters of a mile walks. No wonder I am blessed with strong calf muscles!

So each day we tramped down the road for our hot dinner and we tramped back again, rain or fine. I don’t remember the rain but I do remember the good days, often with pleasure and even today all those years later I still sometimes dream of that lunchtime walk to and from the church hall. The lunchtime meal consisted of meat and three vegetables and a pudding to finish with, the meal was ample enough to fill hungry boys and girls and very tasty.

On the way back from the Church hall was raising ground for most of the way with a sharp hill at the beginning. Often logging vehicles would pass us on our way back to school and on the sharp hill the vehicles would slow with the weight of the logs and the older boys would jump up on to the protruding ends of the logs and ride up to the top of the hill and hop off only when the vehicle started to gain speed again. One day one of the boys stayed on longer than normal and it was too late to hop off and he had to decide to jump off or ride all the way to the sawmill. He decided to jump even though the vehicle would by then doing thirty miles per hour .The speed momentum caused him to fall as he landed on the rough tarmac and his knees and hands were a mess and with bruises elsewhere too no doubt.

The drivers knew the boys used to jump up on the logs but they dare not stop. They could not stop with a fully loaded vehicle and would be unable to restart on the hill if they did stop. Vehicles were not powerful as the ones of today nor did they have the low gears either. The drivers did try to deter the boys by shaking their fists at them when they saw them running towards the vehicles but the boys laughed knowing the logging vehicles could not stop.
Another Major Announcement

OldEric says 8-) The Wedding date is set for May 3rd at Usk in Wales. Ian phoned today.

25 February 2003

A MAJOR Announcement

OldEric says 8-) Happy news on our Sunday night. Ian phoned to say he had popped the question to Vicky and she said yes. Her family cheered and her sister cried. What more can I say, we cheered too!

Gillian was exited and she is going to extend her UK stay another six days. Pat phoned Air New Zealand and changed Gillian's booking and phoned her at work to tell her everything was A OK.

Tony was flabbergasted and thought Ian was pulling his leg. Tony phoned us at 11pm and got us out of our bed, I rushed to the phone and ignored our triggered alarm; to ask us if we knew and if it was true.

Well it is going to be an exiting trip. All of us up in the top bedroom ho, ho,ho!! Pat asked me if she still snored and I said I don't think so.

Wedding date:- Possibly May 3rd or May 10th. Watch this space.

16 February 2003

Ullswater Barton School 4 School and WW2

OldEric says :-) Although we lived in a safe area well away from the effects of war we still had to practise all safety precautions as would be practised and carried out in war torn areas. Every adult and child was issued with a gasmask in case of a gas attack and each child had to take their issued gasmask with them to school each day. So I like others slung my school bag over one shoulder and the gasmask box over my other shoulder and headed for school. The gasmask box was just a square box made of thin highly compressed oiled cardboard with a cord to sling over your shoulder. Even then at that young age I wondered how long the box would last.

I disliked having to put the gasmask on during practise, the close fitting rubber mask used to feel clammy and breathing was difficult with a rubber smell. No plastics in those days, they were not yet invented, rubber was the only suitable material. No one liked putting on gasmasks.

During bombing raids flying glass used to cause lots of injuries so the large school windows had to be treated. Putting adhesive paper strip over the glass in a criss-cross diamond pattern did this. The strip looked very much like narrow masking tape. The glue used was very sticky, in later years it was found to be hard to remove.

Most children found air-raid drill exiting, at the continuous blowing of the teachers whistle we were required to run out of the school, down the back of the playground, over the fence and into the paddock at the rear. Here we had to lie alongside the hedges close in and face down with our faces cuddled in our arms. This was to make us invisible to enemy guns strafing from aircraft. A fine day was always picked for practise.

Fortunately as I said earlier we were in safe area away from enemy attacks. We did see of course the Commando training manoeuvres with tank and armoured vehicle practise but little else. Which reminds me of a story.

One lunchtime we heard the rumble of tanks in the distance and someone said they are coming this way. We rushed out to the road edge and could hear them louder and louder. They had been on manoeuvres and covered in mud and as the army personnel waved to us exited children the tank tracks dropped large sticky clumps of mud on the road. Someone picked up a piece, fashioned it as a snowball and threw it up in the air and splat it landed on the road shaped just like a fried egg. Then someone did the same and threw it at the side of the schoolhouse, splat; it stuck to the sidewall and hung there.

Now the schoolhouse was one of two double-storied and semidetached together with the end wall blank as though waiting for another house to be joined on. The end wall was blank from ground to roof apex and cement plastered.

After the first mud was thrown at the house side and stuck just about every other child had a go and soon the house side was covered in mud splats higher and higher, most of them sticking and those that didn’t a wet brown stain was left on the off white cement wall. Then someone said “what will Miss Paterson say?” and that broke the spell. We all went back into the schoolyard.

Next morning the mud splats were still there stuck to the wall, a very angry headmistress was waiting for us in the classroom. It soon became apparent to her most of the school had taken part and punishment would be difficult. So after a long lecture we were dismissed.

Next morning the local builder with his long ladders scraped all the mud off and scrubbed the stained walls to no avail. The wall dried but the stains remained, the porous cement rendering had absorbed the mud.

Years later when going to secondary school in Penrith we would pass Barton school on the bus each morning and the stains were still there to see, to remind us of that earlier time.

15 February 2003

OldEric says :-) Well I've put a wad of stuff on the Weblog today.
Ullswater: Barton School. The Evacuee’s

Early in the 1940s our class numbers started to swell withWW2 evacuee’s from the industrial cities, which the German’s used to bomb. Children were parted from their parents and sent to safe areas, which our area was and billeted in the homes of the local population. Looking back now it must have been very traumatic for those children, not only were they parted from their parents, they were put in strangers homes and coming from the cities they found the country life style was lived much differently to what they were used to.

Most evacuees were with us until the tide turned in our favour against Germany. I cannot remember any really young ones of school age. Most of them seemed to be older than I. A few parents able to afford the move moved with their children, but I can only recall a few. Mostly the mother only, Father usually had been conscripted for the war.

One family were Belgian, refugee’s from their occupied country, I remember the boy of my age well, not for his accented English but for the day he brought to school a part eaten tubular package of sweets… (Lollies in NZ) and made the mistake of pulling them out in the playground. A big mistake, he was mobbed by children big and small. During WW2 sweets were rationed like most things and when sweets were occasionally available in the shops they were quickly bought out so most children especially the country ones saw sweets rarely. But they did know what they were when they saw them! In the excitement one of the older children grabbed the package and threw it, all we know in the melee the package of sweets landed in or over the hedge between the playground and the headmistress’s house.

Children were in the hedge on their hands and knees, heads in the hedge, in the headmistress’s side, there were kids everywhere; the girls came around from their play area, one big mob of exited kids. I couldn’t see anything for all the bodies so I got down on my hands and knees and stuck my head through a forest the legs and suddenly spied a flash of something silver in the dead leaves and then it was gone. I grabbed at the dead leaves, felt something hard in my hand I pulled my hand back and wriggled out from that forest of legs and stood up. “I’ve found it, I cried” all the hunting kids came to a stop and silence reigned. Everyone came silently crowding round and with me in the middle with his or her eyes on my clenched hand. The Belgian boy stood on the outer edge of the circle and I looked at him, I walked towards him and the crowd parted and I handed the package of sweets to him. He opened the end of the package, gave me one and stuffed the rest in his pocket. I put mine in my pocket too.

The melee was over as quickly as it started and the once exited kids just drifted quietly away.

Next WW2 and its effect on our School
Ullswater Barton School 2 Joey and Eddie

The first subject is Joey and Eddie. I’ve changed the names of both, as I do know at least one of them is still in residence locally.

Both Joey and Eddie were much older and bigger than us younger boys probably five or six years our senior. Joey spent most of his time with his friends and Eddie was usually elsewhere but when the pair came into contact with each other there was trouble. Joey would bully Eddie unmercifully. We younger boys would stop our activities and watch in fascination. Joey would start by name calling Eddie with no reaction from Eddie; this would progress to punching by Joey and usually with no further reaction from Eddie except by cowering. This seemed to drive Joey into a frenzy and he would punch and punch, harder and harder until Eddie was in tears.

Complaining to the teachers had not much effect, I recall the head teacher after one beating saying to Eddie “hit him back, you’re big enough”. Eddie never did. This went on until both left school at fourteen, the school leaving in the 1940s.

Schoolyard fights in those days were part of growing up and unless blood was drawn most teachers ignored fights. Bullying was looked on in a different light in those days, much different than in today’s schools.

One boy lived next to the school playground and I used to envy him a little for his closeness to school against my two and a half mile trek each day. He was always the last one into class in a morning, he always used to wait until the school bell was rung and then he would leave home running. Out of his back door, down his garden and over the back wall, across the lane and climb the iron rails into the schoolyard by the Oak tree. The last pupil into class!

Next time The Evacuee's

8 February 2003

002      Ullswater Me and Barton School 1

   Immediately on our arrival I was enrolled at Barton School which was near to Pooley Bridge on the Eamont Bridge road. This was again the typical two-teacher village school, headmistress was Miss Patterson and the primer classes’ teacher was Mrs Wilkinson an older lady. I was five years old nearly six and I found Mrs Wilkinson to be a nice lady. I enjoyed the primary classes and look back on my playtime memories here with a great deal of nostalgia.

During our morning and lunchtime breaks the boys from five to fourteen would use the playground facing the main door entrance and the girls to one at the other side of the school building. There was no mixing. The playgrounds were not sealed they were packed clay and they must have been very flat, water did not seem to collect in rainy weather. In the summer the clay surface used to be very dusty but us younger boys used to like it that way. We younger ones used to congregate by the big Oak tree with gnarled and large exposed roots. We used to create roads and highways in the dust and build the roads up the Oak tree’s roots with steeply constructed embankments. We used to use water from the tap to moisten so the dust held together and shape the hills to our needs. Sometimes an unkind kid would kick the embankments down on a trip to the toilets but after our initial indignation and what we would do to him if we caught him, two minutes it was over.That kid had given us a good reason to build bigger and better.

A darker moment came at school when I met the Dentist for the first time. The Dentist came round the schools periodically to inspect and carry out any required work. If I remember rightly he had a portable chair with him. I had my first inspection and he told me to come back at lunchtime, which I did. He sat me in the chair and angled the chair back, next thing I knew I had a mask popped on my face and then oblivion. The next thing I knew was being tapped on my cheek and feeling woozy. After I had come to he gave me a cloth and told me to go into the cloakroom and rinse out my mouth, which I did to find the water running red and I felt very frightened. He scared the hell out of me. After a few minutes the Dentist came into the cloakroom and asked if I was all right and I nodded yes. He said to sit down which I did and after a while I felt better. I was six years old probably going on seven. I certainly was not seven; I had not got my second teeth yet. He didn’t even show me the tooth.

Yes it was rough and ready in those days and you just accepted it. He was an old Dentist or it seemed that he was to a young boy. He probably was, this was 1940, WW2 was in full swing and enlistment in the forces was also in full swing. He didn’t have an assistant either.

Many years later when our family were young at Primary school I used to try and make sure our children not only cleaned their teeth regularly but they also took fluoride tablets to combat decay, I used to go into the bathroom and supervise the taking of the fluoride tablets. I tried to make sure they did not suffer my unpleasant experience that I carried with me for most of my life. Until the last few years I would relive that visit by the school Dentist on my periodic visits to the dentist.

Next episode it is Joey and Eddie.

7 February 2003

Ullswater The Nelson’s 2

Mrs. Nelson was the complete opposite to her husband. She was small and little dumpy and as he was shy, retiring and of few words, she was vivacious, talkative and a happy chirpy person. Yes, they were complete opposites but they did seem happy together.

Dorothy Nelson was said to be a doctor’s daughter and “below stairs” gossip was of the opinion that “she married him for his money”. True or not I have no idea. Surprising what small boys pick up from adult conversations.

One of my Saturday jobs was burning the weekly rubbish in the large coke fired central heating boiler in a building just outside the back door to the mansion. It was called the boiler room. The rubbish was mainly cardboard, newspapers, envelopes and other flotsam and jetsam put out during the week. I used to enjoy this chore. I am convinced Mrs. Nelson used to hide little treasures in the rubbish. She knew I collected stamps and foreign envelopes began to appear, once a Japanese layered and lacquered plate with a chip on the edge, a pinned foreign butterfly in a wooden show case with a damaged side wanting to be glued and many other things, some long forgotten but all treasures to a boy. Overseas magazines and coloured prints. Never in quantity, just one or two each week. She would sometimes come out and ask if I had found anything interesting today and I would show her. She would express surprise and smile. I wonder, did she sow the seeds of my interest in all things overseas and influence my later decision to become a sea-going Radio Officer?

The Nelson’s had no children and looking back it was a pity, Mrs. Nelson would have made a wonderful parent.

Excepting during WW2, which lasted from 1939 to 1945 the Nelsons, would go overseas to warmer climes for the duration of winter and arriving back with the onset of spring. Usually this was a meandering world cruise calling at many ports and they would return loaded with treasures from all those far off places. Our first years at Sharrow Bay coincided with WW2 and their winter trips were curtailed but after cessation of hostilities in 1945 they resumed their winter trips.
Mr Nelson’s hobby was collecting walking sticks during their travels and he had a large collection which stood in a custom made rack in the front door hallway by the entrance on the right hand side. One from each country visited. More than one was procured from each country and the best one retained and had pride of place in the hallway rack. There were one hundred holes in the rack and almost all of the holes were occupied. Three sticks I remember vividly, a carved Ebony sick from somewhere in Africa, a patterned glass one from I think Japan and a beautifully carved Maori stick from New Zealand. No mass-produced souvenirs here, these were the real thing and I believe many were or became expensive collectors items.

Mrs Nelson’s travel collecting interests were dolls, she too had a large collection again all handmade, all perfectly proportioned and the clothing beautifully made. And again many collectors’ items among her collection, not usually procurable in England.

I will make mention of these collections again later and their fate.

2 February 2003

Ullswater The Nelson’s 1

 My father came to Sharrow Bay in 1939 to become Gardener to Thomas Basil Nelson, the owner.

Mr Nelson was an intensely shy man of very few words. To me he appeared a large bulky man and very aloof. His wife, Mrs. Nelson always used to address him, as either TB or Jay whom I assume was her pet name for him, never by his given name.

To own Sharrow Bay and all its grounds and then the lakeside woods he must have been a very rich man. So rich he did not need to work for his living in fact he had never worked in his life. His main occupation was reading and he spent most of his time in his large library. Generally he used to communicate through his wife unless he felt something was of particular importance. In fact I think his wife made most of the day-to-day decisions.

Rumour had it that his wealth came through the famous Lord Nelson but as I write this I at present tend to discount this, there is certainly no mention in Burke’s Peerage. Just another “below stairs” rumour passed down over the years?

As I grew older I was asked via Mrs Nelson if I was interested in becoming Mr. Nelson’s beater. I would guess I would be about eleven or twelve at the time. When in season every Saturday morning Mr Nelson would go to organised game shoots on other larger estates for partridge and pheasant. Each member of the shooting party was required to supply a beater and pay the beater from his own pocket. I jumped at the chance, the payment was much more than the two and sixpence I was getting for four hours gardening and odd jobs I received each Saturday morning.

Each early Saturday morning I would wait by the garage for Mr Nelson and he would greet me with a “Good Morning” and I would get into the Jaguar with him. He usually did not speak at all during the trip or at most an odd question. As I was a shy boy then I too said nothing. I wish now that I had asked him questions; looking in retrospect he must have been a very lonely man.

When we reached our destination I would join the other beaters under the direction of the head beater and we would move off to the shooting area. Our job was to walk in a long line abreast through the undergrowth beating the thick areas of bushes and rough grass driving the game out and forward of us into a firing line of shooters standing in a line abreast who shot the flying birds. They did not stand a chance.

By lunchtime or one o’clock the shoot was usually over and after the shooters lunch with me and the other beaters eating our sandwiches we would leave for home. Mr Nelson would put his share of the booty in the boot of the Jaguar and when we reached home he would get out of the car and just say “Thank you”, put his had in his pocket and give me a ten shilling note… twenty shillings was a pound in today’s money. The average wage in those days would be five to six pounds per week so for a days work with a early afternoon finish I was well rewarded.

Mrs. Nelson to be continued.