My dad was one of two boys (his brother, Sydney died a few years ago) born to Grace Hart and John Sutton,but from the way he tells it he might have been raised by gypsies and wolves. Everything seems a lot more fun than it probably was back then. I suppose that's a credit to his incredible story-telling. But there are many poignant moments to be found in the words he wrote, as well as between them.
Anyway, when he finally got around to putting his stories down in print he was just learning how to use a pc. He typed as he spoke - and for that we'll always be grateful! There is no possible translation for some of his unique phrases and perhaps that's for the best.
My sisters were able to ferret out some photos and Lynne managed to get it printed into book form. Since I'm always boasting about my Dad and the stories he tells, I wanted to share a little of his memoirs for you here this week. Today is his 86th birthday. And in his own words...
On his father -
I remember father as being a cheerful man really. He drew sketches of tractor engines where he worked on the farm. Someone from Standens, the agricultural merchants at St. Ives, wanted him to train as a mechanic so that he could go out to farms to troubleshoot the tractors - but he didn’t. Our lives might have been different if he had. He would sole our shoes and put studs in them to stop us scuffing the leather. We weren’t supposed to slide in them and he examined them to make sure we hadn’t. He’d shout at us and tell us to be careful if the studs were coming out. He gave us a crack – as did mother when we did wrong, but other kids got the same at that time. In Hamerton one day me, Sydney and most of the other kids in the school ran across where the brook had flooded the road to see who dare go in the deepest bits. We soaked the leather on our boots, but they dried on our feet thank goodness or we’d have been in trouble. They were always daring me to do something…and I just couldn’t resist it. Father used to play cricket for Old Weston, he had the proper boots, trousers and shirt and he would take us all with him on our bicycles to sit and watch him play. I liked this as we were given tea and sandwiches because father was in the team.
One Sunday afternoon our father said he was taking us for a ride out in a horse and cart, we were all excited and were dressed up for the occasion.
I don’t know where we were heading as we set off all sitting on a plank in the cart, when suddenly after about 10 minutes, the cart tipped up and we all fell out the back because father hadn’t put the lock-in bar across to stop the cart from tipping up. No one was happy.Every Sunday night father played the violin and mother played the piano! I remember it being a new piano but I don’t know how she got it. Sydney and I sat with them and we all sang hymns and mother sang whilst she played. This went on for an hour or more and was quite exhausting I was glad when we stopped for supper and went to bed.
On his brother -
At Grange Farm there was a private road that went up a slight hill to the main one; this is where l learnt to ride a bike. I only had to get on the bike at the top of the hill, push off, fly down the hill and fall off at the bottom before running into the nettles and our garden hedge - pedalling came later. Of course, Sydney wanted to ride as well! I put him on the bike and gave him a push off at the top of the hill. He wobbled a bit then picked up speed down the hill and went straight into the rubbish heap at the bottom that was covered with nettles! The noise was deafening! When I helped him up, his face arms and legs were covered in nettle rash. I might add there were no brakes on the bike - or seat, so you sat on a rolled up cloth and stopped by either holding your shoe tight against the wheel tyre to slow you down to stop, or jumping, or falling off. Sydney didn’t do any of these and ended on the rubbish heap! I was sent out to get some dock leaves out of the dyke to soothe Sydney’s rash - it didn’t seem to help much as it was some time before his yelling stopped. Later I found out that a dock leaf and stalk contains soothing anti-inflammatory mucilage. Just dribble it on the nettle sting and rub it in - I don’t think Sydney would agree.
On himself -
One day I was walking along the road by the wood when I saw two men in a car. Every now and then they stopped to nail something white to a tree. After they’d gone I went over to see what they had done. It was a card with a number painted on it, so I went along and collected five of these cards. Later that evening my father said there were a lot of people shouting and running about up near the wood, I thought ‘I bet they are looking for those cards!’ but didn’t say anything. I spent a lot of time in that wood.
In the Spring there were cowslips, primroses, violets and bluebells. There was also a water spring that bubbled up out of the ground in a clearing; where I would sit and pretend I was an Indian scout at a waterhole (wild strawberries grew near this spring). I would get a small pebble and place it in my mouth to keep my mouth moist until I found another waterhole. I read this in an adventure book where Indian braves could run for miles without wanting water. In the winter when the snow fell I would track footprints. Unless it was a bird, hare, or dog the tracks would lead to a hole in the ground made by a fox, rabbit or badger. In the case of a badger there would be a big mound of earth outside the hole.
In the Autumn I would help mother pick blackberries. We would put them into a large tin bath and carry this up to the main road where a man with a van would weigh them and then pay mother so much a pound, (I would add that the night before she would put water over the blackberries to make them heavier!) We also picked rosehips, the same man paid out on these too; we would get 3d a lb in old money.
When my father caught a goose mother would cook it and pour off the fat into jars with screw tops. This was called goose grease and every winter mother would rub this grease into our chests and backs. She then dressed us in tight vests for the entire winter. I appreciated not being washed all over, but I don’t know what the teacher and other kids thought.
There was a brook near the school and at lunchtime we could play outside the playground. Some boys including me would sit on the brook bank floating sticks on the water. One day one of the boys produced some tobacco and matches. A plant grew on the bank that had white flowers and a thick hollow stem. We cut these stems into about six inch lengths, stuffed tobacco into them and lay on the bank puffing away. When the school bell rang we got up to run, but most of us were dizzy and sick and the teacher could smell the smoke and tobacco. This meant more lines after school…
I MUST NOT SMOKE. This was a good thing for I never smoked again.
On Sundays father would shine our shoes, mother would wash our faces and comb our hair, and we put on clean trousers and a shirt with a tie. We always had to wear a jacket and cap on these occasions, although we hardly ever saw anyone else, then after tea we would go for a walk by the nearby wood. We were told not to run, or dirty our clothes or shoes. On one of these walks I saw a big puffball, a mushroom-type fungus growing in the grass at the roadside. I ran and kicked it, of course it burst and I was covered in yellow spores! I ran off home, but there was no escape from the shaking and ear slapping when mother and father came in. On another Sunday walk by the wood, my mother said, ‘Look eggs!’ and bent down to pick them up. My father shouted and pushed her to one side, because the eggs had been put on a trap by the game keeper and anything touching the eggs would be clamped in the trap jaws. This taught me a good lesson about the countryside and gamekeepers.
When Sydney was five years old he started at the same school that I was attending in Hamerton, so I would have been eight. He considered himself grown up and wanted to roam with me along the brooks and dykes searching for eggs and wild fruit. One day we were walking across a field when the gamekeeper came along, I said to Sydney, ‘You keep quiet’. The keeper said, ‘Hello boys, what would you do if you found a partridge’s nest?’ I said, ‘I would come and tell you Sir’. ‘Good lad’, he said and carried on. The gamekeeper would take partridge and pheasant eggs and they would be hatched off by hens and kept in caged runs, he would feed them until they were big enough to fly and then release them into the wild. A few weeks latter they would be shot by a shooting party on a fun day outing. He must have been blind because I had about a dozen eggs in my pockets! Sydney said, ‘You told a lie, I’ll tell mum!’ I said, ‘I will slap your ears if you do’ - slapping ears must have been in the genes! I reckon mother must have got us trousers and jackets with big pockets deliberately to hold eggs.
One Christmas we were each given a bow and arrow set with a target. Father warned us that we must never shoot at each other; the arrows had blunt, brass points that screwed on. One day we were playing in the paddock where the farm horses were put after work, when one of the workmen saw us and shouted out, ‘Shoot at me boy and I will catch the arrow’. I didn’t want to but he kept on, laughed and said, ‘I bet you can’t hit me!’ so I aimed at his middle. I don’t think he saw the arrow; it hit him before he moved his hands. I can still see it. He stopped laughing and when he pulled up his shirt he was bleeding, he walked into the barn and didn’t say anything. I could hear the others laughing.
His grandparents and other relatives--
One summer holiday our parents decided that we would cycle from our house to Newborough - which is the other side of Peterborough, to visit our grandparents called Sydney and Mary (Polly) Hart.
The journey was about 40 miles there and back! Father worked all one day to get the bicycles ready, mine had some padding for a seat, Sydney rode on father’s crossbar and mother had a ‘sit up and beg’ type cycle. My backside was sore by the time we got to Peterborough! We had a rest near Peterborough market and had some biscuits and a drink .The main road in Peterborough was made up of wooden blocks that were quite bumpy and didn’t help my backside. We got off the cycles and walked until the blocks ended and the road was smooth, then we rode on. I don’t remember how long it was before we arrived at our grandparent’s house, but it was nice to lie down! We stopped there several days. Polly was a small, fussy woman who always complained of being ill. She put stockings on the table legs because in those days any uncovered leg was considered rude. My grandfather liked a drink and one time said that he was ill because someone at the pub had put cigarette ash in his beer. His drinking pals had to carry him home; there was no mention of the amount of beer he had consumed. He didn’t go to that pub again, but would send grandmother with a large enamel jug - it was cheaper than bottles he said.
One year I spent a summer holiday with my grandparents at Newborough. The boy who lived next door to them would play with me, we both had hoops that were cycle wheels without tyres and we would run for miles with these hoops. My grandmother had another daughter - my Aunt Queenie. She was their youngest and was 10 years older than me. She would boss me about. I had a pistol that would shoot out a stick with a rubber sucker on the end and one time I remember I was shooting at the outside toilet door. Aunt Queenie came out and tried to twist the gun out of my hand and of course I pulled the trigger. The sucker stuck on her forehead and made a sucking noise when she pulled it off. She had a red ring on her forehead for some days.