History > Reminiscences > #14

 

Reminiscences 

Joseph Arch 

 

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Even more reminiscences of Barford in the 1950’s.
By Clive Byerley, now of Melbourne, Australia

I was not always at school. The long summer evenings when I stayed out until after nine, the weekends and the six weeks holidays, they all had to be filled somehow. Later, when the confines of the village seemed more like a prison than a defence, I longed to leave. Until that time came there were lessons aplenty to be learned, not to mention mystery and adventure! I had my share. My horizons were set close, but they contained a great deal of landscape.

Sex!

Now that I have your attention; like any microcosm of the wider world Barford had its share of sensuality. Our eyes were everywhere and our tongues followed. For a whole summer I had been paid to keep look-out when one of the boys on my estate did a spot of “homework” with his girlfriend. I learned a lot from looking both ways. There was the afternoon when two “butter wouldn’t melt” girls did a “show-and tell” with my mates and me under Barford bridge. We’d promised mutuality but, perfidious blighters that we were, we lads reneged on our part of the deal and ran away squealing!

Another informative event took place along the river banks at Wasperton. We’d been mesmerised by a strange rubber object which had floated by and got caught on a willow branch. We’d prodded it with a stick. One of the older lads knew more than I did and told us what it was – a “johnny”. I was stunned, not by what it was for, so much, as by the size! How long would it take for our shrivelled worms to fit into one of those things? A marrow from our garden would have found it spacious. So that was what the barber in Warwick was talking about when he used to farewell leaving customers with a wink. “Something for the weekend, Sir?” He’d never said it me when I left; I’d thought he meant razor blades.

All this came later on. My first step in acquiring information on the subject had begun one day in 1951. I was standing at the bus stop at Sherbourne turn waiting for the two o’clock. I remember asking my mother, “Where did I come from?” I wonder if she was expecting such a question quite so soon. I was not like her other children - more concerned with newts, model airplanes and such like. I was observant, thoughtful and talkative; I missed nothing.

“Well,” she said, “I’ll tell you.” And she did. Before the Midland Red double-decker came round the bend I knew that my family had not been complete; that my parents wanted just one more baby. They had written to the stork at the North Pole asking if he had anyone special, and nine months later he had dropped me down the chimney, to the evident delight of all. “With your arrival we were a family.” It was all I needed to know; for then.

It was five years later before I learned the truth about sex. In 1956 we had moved from the cottage in Church Street, where I had been born, to a new house in Sandy Way. I was nine. The estate was still being built and there were no metalled roads. Workmen were everywhere, providing a nice little trade between themselves and the local boys in mushrooms, secretly picked from Caddogan’s fields.

At the edge of the estate, bordering the ditch on Wasperton Lane were “The Climbing Trees” – sapling elms about twenty feet tall that grew so closely together that a nimble boy could climb into the canopy of the first and move secretly along from one to another without being seen. There I was one sunny early evening, after tea, when I heard a group of older boys talking about sex. When I edged nearer to eavesdrop they saw me off with thrown sticks and threats. Resourceful being my middle name, I was up amongst the branches and invisibly above them before they had exhausted the topic. Quietly I listened, quietly I was shocked. Surely grown-ups didn’t do that? But these were eleven year olds, they would know! I was down the trees in a flash and off to my mates with the news. I had a secret!

I spun my tale out for as long as I could. It was a revelation to them also; I was the high priest of Secret Men’s Business. To maintain my new status I had to pretend that there was more I could tell; I was driven to improvise upon a basic theme which became ever more baroque as I was forced to disclose fresh revelations. Hoisted on my own petard I eventually fell back on a meaningful silence. To take their minds off things, and quell the barrage of questions, I prayed for an invasion of dragons - or at least World War Three.

Two years later, when I was in the Science class at my secondary school, we were “doing” sex. Miss Edwards told us that we were going to learn “... some important new information about human reproduction. Now you must not be embarrassed, or afraid to ask me any questions.” This was my chance to shine! I wasn’t embarrassed. Up went my hand.

“Yes, Clive, have you something to say?”

“Yes, Miss, I know all about this.”

“Do you now? Perhaps you’d like to share your knowledge with the class?”

“Well, Miss. When they want to have a baby... a man puts his....”

“Yes?”

“A man puts his... tongue in a woman’s ear and wriggles it about. A year later her belly button opens like the hole in your bottom – and out comes a baby!”

The only thing that made my discomfiture bearable was that there were no Barfordians in my class that day to witness my humiliation! My reputation as a sage on all physical matters never quite recovered – though I passed off the whole incident as a joke that I had intended.

Then there was The Great Barford Riot!

At some time in the late 1950s a ruction to rival the French Revolution swept the streets of Barford. There were marches; threats; crowds demanding culprits to come out from hiding and face their wrath; even a camel got into the act! Yes really. I was there!

In those days before easy transport and cars for the masses (not the Stone Age, but 1959, or so) there were a number of one-horse (literally) and one camel circuses that toured villages to put on a flea-bitten show for the benighted peasantry. Word got around that one of these was heading our way!

Posters advertised the circus’ manifold delights. We were in a lather of anticipation. The circus was to put up its big top in the Rec, which in those days was just a grassy field of uncertain use, behind the Village Hall. As the time drew near my mates and I were thrilled at the prospect. We longed for bespangled skimpy costumes, lion tamers and trapeze artistes. I had seen a real circus - once. My mother had taken Alan and me to see Bertram Mills’ Circus in Leamington. I have memories of nothing beyond the intense embarrassment caused by the clowns and their, to me, pointless and un-funny stupidity. But camels, well, that was another thing!

The riot, the riot, you’re thinking, will he never get to the riot? Well, I’m coming to that.

Word got around on Friday afternoon that someone had objected to the whole thing before the Council in Warwick and that they had pulled the plug. There was to be no circus! What? Heads would roll!

By the early evening a crowd of angry and disappointed villagers began to gather in Church Street, just by the gates to the Hall. Someone in the know knew who was responsible for this outrage and was quick to point the finger. We would march on his house and demand justice! The crowd, fuelled by idlers, gawpers, late arrivals and my mates and me hoping for a fight, surged like a tsunami against the house on the corner of Keytes Lane where a Mr Wilson lived. The finger pointed at him! He was something at County Hall; he did not want camel poo and sequins on his doorstep!

The crowd began to shout. (I, of course, did not join in anything so uncivilised. I was waiting for the blood!) What the truth of the matter was I have no idea, but poor Mr Wilson hid behind closed curtains in fear for his life while the mob outside bayed for his blood – or at least for his face at the door to answer questions. He would not come out!

Things quickly became heated. The crowd leaders banged on the door and furiously rang the bell, but no face appeared at the window and no brave soul dared the door step. Eventually an upstairs curtain twitched and the brother of the victim, a trainee Anglican priest, Arthur Wilson, beseeched the crowd for calm, exculpating his brother of any responsibility in the kill-joy cancellation.

What then? Was there blood on the streets? No, and no camel poo, either. We went home. The crowd, deflated and lacking a sacrificial victim to mass disappointment, slowly dispersed towards the pubs, there to re-hash the enormity and to re-affix the blame. There never was a Dromedary, or a Bactrian in the Rec, and I remained a stranger to sequins, feathers and fishnet stockings with seams.

Always “Life” is what happens somewhere else.

Clive Byerley

to contact Clive by e-mail.

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