Wright Family Album

David' memories - Bourton 1930-1935

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David                                 The terror of Bourton

When I was four, before my first term at St Michael's, we moved to Bourton, Dorset. This was a semi-detached house on a slope overlooking the main road from Mere to Wincanton, joined to it by a lane of cinders which ran past some labourer's cottages to the field behind us. In one of the cottages lived Gladys Screen and her father, Bill, who was usually drunk. Opposite the lane was the Co-op and a short way nearer to Mere was Ada's sweet shop. Gladys was our maid for awhile. She smelled awful and sniffed a lot. I could make the tendon on my wrist stand out be pulling on the chain to flush the toilet. After a bath one evening I was standing by the window watching my tendon, naked, and Bill Screen was standing in the field watching me.

Our grandparents lived in Penselwood, about a mile across the field at the back, up the hill, across an overgrown lane, another field with cowslips, and down and up the steep sides of the combe to their cottage - 'Combeside'. The slopes were overgrown with bracken taller than me and, in the late summer there were hazel nuts and blackberries galore. If we went by road it was several miles of narrow lanes, which all became familiar because we did a lot of walking.

Their cottage smelled of paraffin because they cooked with it and lit their rooms at night with it. The toilet was one of a line of sheds let still further into the combeside and smelled sweet of paint. I took a bath once in an angular, painted metal tub up some narrow stairs. The water came from a ram-pump at the bottom of the combe which pumped water up to a tank in the orchard above the cottage with a cthud-cthud-cthud all day and night. Water from the tank which didn't go to the house trickled between rocks and filled a fish-pond which Grandfather had built. I built my own rockery and pond (which is supplied from our stream by a ram pump) in his memory in Canada. He must have been tough because he landscaped and planted the steep combeside and along paths to his rock garden and pond. The path beyond led into a wonderfully gloomy copse. When Mother and I lived here during the War with Auntie Bessie I cut secret runs through the thickets and brambles in the copse, so we could escape the Germans when they landed.

From the road you entered a narrow drive also cut into the combe-side, with a small turn-around at the end. There were some apple trees and a budleia bush before you got to the cottage. Grandmother loved the budleia and the red admirals and painted ladies which floated round its flowers. She said the crisp, sweet, long green apples were 'Lord Suffield'. She also had a eucalyptus bush there which reminded her of Tasmania, where she was brought up. Dr Whitby's car stood there when he was on his regular visits. Grandfather died soon after we moved, and Grandmother had diabetes and cataracts. One day she went to a specialist in Harley Street, all the way by taxi, to have her cataracts removed. After that she had very thick glasses and used a magnifiying glass a lot. She often sat in a sunporch looking over the combe. The porch smelled of cacti and beeswax and she had a small pair of binoculars on the shelf. To make me feel bigger I looked at things through the wrong end.

She was a brusque old lady. She came in with a basket of mushrooms she'd picked and pushed some in my mouth. I don't know if this was before or after I saw her watch in a shed in our garden; Basil was going to mend it, but I threw it on the dirt floor and jumped on it. I got the back of the brush for that. My cousin, Dick Shepherd, once called her a 'Tasmaniac'. He probably got the brush, too. The older boys, led by Phil, made her a seat which encircled a big oak tree near the edge of the copse. She was getting old, having been born in 1850, before the Crimean War.

I was brought up on the Boer War. There were four books I pored over for hours: two were illustrated histories of that war, one was a Times Atlas in which I could pencil in the steamship routes all over the oceans, and one was "Our Antedeluvial Ancestors". One picture showed a caveman dragging his girl into his cave by her hair: "'ose ickle ducky is 'ou?" And she says,"I's you' ickle ducky!"  The war books made me lust to be a  2nd Lt, his pistol drawn, his gaters and Sam Browne belt shining, reeling back off some rocks near the top of a Kopje his tunic torn by a bullet from the smoking rifle of a scraggly-dressed Boer above him. And his platoon clambering up behind to avenge his death.

Hugh must have seen that picture: he certainly drew cartoons of hairy cavemen and made a stirring copy of Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow. He did wonderful pencil sketches though I never saw him paint. He and Doris I loved the best. They read Greek myths and told fantastic fairy tales at bedtime, or on rainy afternoons. Everyone else was more distant: Elizabeth I hardly knew - a remote, saintly person. Philip had a big appetite and did enormous things, pole-vaulting over hedges and playing rugby with other huge men. The names Britton, Ffoukes and Saul come to mind and I think they were all at Weymouth College and visited or lived nearby. We didn't like foreigners, village kids ('gutter snipes') or Roman Catholics. I had a blazer with a swastika on the pocket which my brothers laughed at, and we always checked under our toys to see if they were 'Made in Japan'. And that was in the early '30s.

Doris the gardener and David the mechanic                         David at the wheel of his Rolls Royce and Hugh

Basil was quiet, thoughtful, and a great fixer of broken toys. There was the good reason for him not to trust me after Granny's watch, and I also covered the tools out in that shed with grey paint. Barbara was closer in age to me but we didn't have much in common, except later when I was at the Junior School and met her every Sunday half way up the hill to St Michael's. She loved farms and exersised a local pony regularly. One day she took me and the pony for a long walk and came back to a terrible scolding from Mother, who thought she'd run away.

The lanes we walked near Bourton all seemed overhung with trees or high hedges. Up in the direction of Penselwood several retired Army officers lived and we passed their homes reverently. General Berners' house was dark and threatening, but Major Maggs' overlooked a pond, which we played in and sailed Waterswet I and, after that sank, II. Phil and Basil (Baz or, not to his face, Crazy Bazle) made these canvas and strut vessels from plans in some magazine like Popular Mechanics or Boys Own Paper.

Every morning there were prayers and all summer the cricket pages in The Telegraph were pored over after breakfast. I knew Jack Hobbs and Patsy Hendren better than I knew my Father, who was regularly in Sierra Leone, being Bishop. When he was home and Pip came back from one of his two or three day courting jaunts, Father whipped him;  I was frightened and felt very sorry for him. He came in limping and whining one day and someone took him by bike to the vet in Wincanton. He'd been bitten by an adder and died.

I clung to Gordon's back all the way to Shaftesbury by bike. There a friendly doctor gave me sweet smelling chloroform and they circumcised me. I came home next day by taxi, probably driven by Mr Suter, who had a very large, smelly car with a temperature gauge on the front of the bonnet but he usually waited for steam to escape before stopping to fill the radiator.  Mr Suter and Mr Lugg did well by our family: they drove us to Gillingham Station  and home from school each term and a few other trips besides. One was to Tidworth after Gordon had joined the Army. We went for the Tattoo; we came home, dog tired, with a large 11th Hussar tea cosy and I was sick in the back of Suter's car.

Till I was 12 life became a cycle of rising dread as the holidays ended, and the rising excitement of coming home again. We did both through the fog of Waterloo and the stench of London Bridge stations. There was waiting. Don't lose the bags. Which platform? Look at the P&O ship models. Smell the dead fish. Don't lean out of the window. See those tiny men in the chalk pit. Close the window, here's Titsey tunnel. Black, hot grit and clickety-clack. When we moved from Bourton to Wokingham the train journeys were shorter but just as mournful one way and joyful the other.

After a few terms I got used to the structure of school. Everything was ordered, tidy, quiet and Christian; none of us 5 and 6 year-olds were. I brought home images of bigger boys to impress my brothers, but Hugh tacked them onto my nickname: David Edwin Please Binns Tich Drunkard Your-nose Felix Biggs Tilley and Tugwell  Wright. I very rarely cried at home but at school I became the 'GLL-Baby' and gradually got more and more into trouble, getting caned almost every Monday after lunch. Three black marks in a week and you got - usually - four strokes of the cane on your bottom. This was normal: in all the books we read boys got 'six of the best'.  Black marks were given for such behaviour as talking when waiting in line.

Brian de Saram was master during most of my prep school years, sometimes assisted by young men not long out of their public schools. Frank Wood came for a few terms and Barbara, along with most of the other girls on the 'Girl's Side' fell in love with him. He was a wonderful story-teller who made going to bed between freezing sheets at 7 pm almost a pleasure. Another was Peter Lilley who had a car and had been to America. He showed us colour films of the New York World's Fair. Brian, who was a wonderful teacher and very well-loved, later married cousin Eileen who was our music teacher and organist.

One of our best holidays was with cousins at a rented house at Banwell, near Weston-super-mare. For me it is memorable for long walks to Cheddar Gorge, picking wortleberries with the wasps, trying to count mosquito larvae in a rain barrel, refusing to ride in the car because Kathleen was driving, and being given a 10/- airplane ride by Eileen.

Doris' memories

Basil's memories

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