River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Memories Of Norfolk Childhood

June 2002

When everyone knew everyone

When all the buds of spring have blossomed into summer, memories of past happy days flood back. Taking the baskets of food up to the harvest fields for the farm workers lunch. Following the horse drawn reapers and binders we would pick up the sheaves of corn and stack them in 'stooks' of 3 or 4 like little Indian tepees. Hot summer days when time seemed to go slowly, watching the workers load the wagons with bales of straw and carting them off to the far edge of the field to build a stack, which looked to us children like a big straw house and when the workers had gone home we would try and climb. We usually managed to get three quarters of the way up at least before one of us either fell off or was hauled off by a parent and dragged home to the dreaded bath with the threat of carbolic soap.

There was the treat of going down to the farm and climbing up the side of the pig sty's to see the dozen or so piglets only a few days old, then running down to the orchard and crawling through the long grass in the chicken runs looking for new laid eggs. One of us usually had to be rescued after climbing an apple or pear tree and getting stuck. At the back of the orchard was a long row of hazelnut bushes laden with half ripened nuts which backed onto a hedgerow of damson trees and cherry plum bushes. Sunday mornings Dad would put some large branches or a tree trunk on the sawing horse and cut them into logs, which we would stack in the woodshed at the bottom of the garden ready for winter. The annual visit of the sweep was always a jolly time when everyone would wait outside the house staring at the chimney pot to see the brush pop out, quickly followed by Grandad taking a very large sack of soot down the garden and tipping it over the rhubarb which he then proceeded to cover with old slightly holey tin buckets and baths. This was done to force the rhubarb for making his wine, which he would dutifully 'test' each Saturday morning until it was ready to bottle. There was always one bottle stored out of grandmother's line of sight for 'medicinal purposes'.

The old well in the front garden was where we used to watch the old folk pull up the days water. We were never told not to go near well but we instinctively kept away. We always helped in the garden armed with a small seaside pail to hold the caterpillars that we picked off the cabbages and when the plants were clear we would walk down to the chicken run and tip the caterpillars in.

The smells that take the mind back; like baked rabbit and onions, usually dished up regularly at harvest time when the reaper disturbed them and when they ran out of the field the farm hands shot them. When the field was finished and the machinery moved to the next one we would go gleaning round the edges of the field picking up the ears of corn and taking them home in a basket for the hens.

Then there was the tradesmen who would call at the door with groceries, the twice weekly bakers van loaded with iced cakes, buns and fresh baked loaves, all arranged on pull out racks. The butchers van with all fresh meat in the back, sausages hanging from a hook set in the framework, the wooden chopping board where whatever you wanted was cut for you on the spot. The ironmongers van with its concertina wooden sides that slid out of sight into the roof of the van and inside the shelves full of soap, scrubbing brushes, boot polish and the like. Bolted to the running board by the passenger door was a cask of vinegar and each week we would take our jug to be filled with six-pennarth. Each tradesman would be given a cup of tea and a slice of grandmothers fruit cake and spend least ten minutes having a chat.

With three generations in one house there was no shortage of stories from Grandads recollections of the First War to Mums land army days of the Second. Grandmother's younger days in service and Dads stories of his Royal Navy days in Egypt and other far flung ports.

Television was a new gadget that Grandad swore he would never have in the house until he found out that football was televised on a Saturday, followed by cricket. We would all troop down to the playing field to watch the local teams either playing football or cricket and when the ball sailed over the wall into the hedge on the other side of the road we would run to retrieve it. Local car drivers that usually used that busy road avoided it when there was a match on.

The tiny back street village shops of the basket maker, toyshop, paper shop, and each one held a fascination for us. The sweet shop, it's shelves packed full of jars, display cabinets full of chocolates, it seemed to take forever to make our minds up. The local barber where girls as well as boys all had their haircut, the boys generally had short back and sides and the girls had a pageboy bob.

Everyone knew everyone else as well as their business. The old folks sitting on the benches at the side of the square, under the shade of the big, old beech trees, discussing the weeks goings on; children gathering conkers from the Horse Chestnut tree in the market square, throwing their sticks up into it's branches and narrowly missing the local traffic with them on the way down.

The times when everything seemed to go slowly and becoming a grown up was so far away it never crossed our minds. The memories may fade a little but will never be completely forgotten.

Ann Zissler

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