Mum’s Doll

mumTina Turner was blasting “When I was a little girl I had a rag doll. Only Doll I’ve ever owned” from out of my radio. I immediately thought of my mother and her doll made from a tea towel.

Mum had a very disadvantaged childhood. Her father died in a military hospital a few weeks before she was born in 1916. Granny already had 3 other daughters and only a small war pension to live off.

She also had or developed a drinking problem which didn’t add to the families prospects at all. Her Grandfather, James Mitchell, did look out for the family and for a time was the father she never had because of World War 1. He was a distinguished, well known and well liked man but he also had to work as a very old man to earn his living. He was also taken away from the family when he fell down the stairs and never recovered from his injuries.

Times were hard and the modern benefits society didn’t exist then.There was no money for toys. Christmas was about new clothes and shoes not playthings.

Mum’s Grandad showed her how to cleverly fold a tea towel to look like a sleeping baby wrapped in a blanket. That became her toy, her friend in harsh times.

Many times over the years I saw her unconsciously fold a tea towel to make her little doll and give it a sly hug before flicking it out to dry the dishes.

Decade after decade she made that doll continuing right into her ninth.

Comfort can be found in the most prosaic of items.

 

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The Phantom Cosmonaut on BBC Guernsey

Tom Girard

A rare post regarding my musical alter-ego now as, to round what has been an extraordinary year for The Phantom Cosmonaut, I made my live radio debut on Tuesday 3rd December as the guest of John Randall on BBC Guernsey.

Across the half hour session I played my songs Penglais Hill and Lady Dreamer live in the studio as well as covering a whole bunch of things in the interview from playing all three of the Bailiwick’s main summer festivals this year to supporting Wilko Johnson, Norman Watt-Roy and Teaspoonriverneck.

Anyway, you can listen to the whole thing on the BBC iPlayer or through the BBC Guernsey radio pages until the afternoon of Tuesday 10th, just click the links and scroll through to an hour and 34 minutes.

If you want to hear more of my music you can do so on my Soundcloud page and here is…

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The Little Red Trike Part 1

trike

Feminism has always been a strange concept to me. I never grew up thinking that women were an underclass who were being exploited by men. My mother was certainly not a downtrodden house wife without a mind of her own.

My sisters as well were treated no differently to the boys and Dad expected them to be able to do as much farm-work as any man. Family are much cheaper workers than employees and will work longer hours in worse conditions. Camps Farm didn’t have an HR Department.

My parents had three tranches of family. Firstly, Dennis born in the 30s and Ann in 1940 then Alan and Sue in 46 and 47 then finally me as the obvious mistake born in 1954.  Sue was the closest to me in age and often had to keep a reluctant eye on me. I think she still does.

Sue was something of an action hero in the day and had many exciting adventures starting from having a fist fight when she was 6 to recover a school library book from an older bigger boy who snatched it from her. She won.

That wasn’t the last time she had to resort to fists while she was growing up. There may be one or two readers of this blog who will recall the drubbing given them for trying to take liberties.

Those who know Sue as the hard working, much admired former Ladies College girl may be surprised to read of her past.

When she was sweet seventeen she was driving along in her new Ford Poplar along the front when she noticed a horse drawn milk float galloping out of control towards the Longstore. The milkman had left the horse while he delivered the milk door to door. A sudden backfire from a passing car startled the usually bomb proof mare who decided to go home at top speed without waiting for her owner.

Sue immediately decided to try and get in front and stop the horse before she damaged herself or passers-by. That wasn’t as easy as it seemed when the horse turned into the Bouet rather than staying on the wide open road.

Sue followed as close as she could but just couldn’t get past. Then the horse turned up Mont Arrive, presumably still trying to follow its usual milk route to get home. With some skilful driving Sue managed to get past the horse. We have to remember she had only just passed her test and wasn’t exactly Stirling Moss.

With a bit of a head start she pulled up at the Tobacco Factory, got out and stood in the middle of the road ready to face down the bolting horse and the heavy milk float. Being very used to horses Sue waved her arms out as wide as she could and gave no indication that he would move.

This wasn’t really enough to bring it to a halt but she managed to grab the side of the bridle and digging her heels in brought the rig to a dead stop.

Sue, like all real heroes, plays this story down by saying the horse had probably run out of steam by then and was easy to stop. No matter, not every girl would have done what she did that day.

And she’s my sister.

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At the End of the Day

endofday

My big brother, Dennis John Camp, was born over nineteen years before me in 1935. He enjoyed four idyllic years as the literally blue-eyed son of two loving parents. He grew up running free on the farm and spending many happy hours with a doting father.

Dad spent much of his time on the road with the horses and rigged up a hessian sack arrangement attached to the front of the horse van to swaddle Dennis in safely. I’m sure Dad’s idea of safety in the 1930s would not be considered so today.

The young Dennis could milk cows by the age of three and had his own to look after. In fact he made both the local newspaper and the Daily Mirror for being the youngest farmer in Britain.july1939

From birth until June 1940 had an everlasting impact on Dennis and shaped the rest of his life.

The idyll ended abruptly when he evacuated to Stockport with Mum leaving Dad behind. Who can measure the impact on a child to be taken from a rural paradise to be dropped into a war torn, urban nightmare. He suffered the nightmare of the Blitz and long periods of serious illness. He shared a hospital ward with maimed Dunkirk veterans and towards the end of the war trekked by himself from the South of England to Stockport to get back to Mum after running away from the hospital.

His education was near to nothing for the whole of the war and he struggled with literacy for many years.

He saw so many things that a child should never see and all before he was ten years old. The war years increased the loving bond he had with Mum and all the time he was away he never forgot the blissful days with Dad.

Five years is a long time to be parted and the little boy of four who left was not the ten year old boy who returned. Somehow the bond between father and son had been broken and the two of them had a loving but never quite the same relationship they both wished they had.

Just another tragedy we can blame on Adolf Hitler.

The young Dennis now had two strong life memories. One of the farming in Guernsey and the other of war torn Stockport. He loved them both. On the one hand he spent his life attempting to replicate his earliest environment and on the other longing for his war time home.

He lived a full and active life always on the very edge of making a living but in a way that was true to himself. There are many stories to be told about Dennis and I will try to tell some of them.

At the end of the day when the Sun sets in the West the farmer unhitches the horse from the plough and takes him home for the night. I like to think that is where Dennis is now, resting after a hard day in the field. He has seen to the horse before himself and has now gone to bed ready for an early start in the morning.

dennis

Rest in Peace, Big Brother.

Posted in Camps, Carriage driver, Evacuation, Guernsey, Harness, Hitler, Horses, Memories | 2 Comments

The Hat in the Track Lane part 4

haywaggon

July is hay making time and July 2013 has been perfect weather for hay though a tad too hot for me. All the Summers when I was a boy were sunny and warm with never a drop of rain.

Hay making was always a big thing at Camp’s Farm. Hay making machinery is used only once a year and though some would carefully grease all the working parts and put it all lovingly away at the end of the season that wasn’t Dad’s way.

All equipment be it a shovel or a plough were all left where they were last used. Neglected and forlorn they lived in overgrown hedges or convenient corners with never a sight of a grease gun or even the wipe of an oily rag.

The day would come when Dad decided it was perfect weather for hay making. Job number one was to find the equipment. Guernsey farms are not one big ring fenced arrangement of fields all linked together. Not at all. Fields are everywhere, some close and others miles away. So the question was which was the last field to be mowed last year. Was it The Long Field, or Robin’s Field or could it have been the Muck Field?

Once the field was established then the mower would be found. Probably covered in bindweed or grown into a bramble bush. The mower I most remember was a finger mower. fingermower

The finger mower was a two wheeled contraption drawn by a horse with a high seat at the back for the driver. Running out of the side was a long cutting bar containing 2 steel sharks teeth blades that moved back and forth driven by the turning wheels to cut the hay.

It was very robust but a year lying in a field wasn’t good maintenance. Plus whatever had broken the year before would not have been repaired. The first day of hay making, after the mower was found, was then spent trying to get the mower to work and rushing around to get all the spare parts needed.

Usually nothing was actually mown on day one.

Tractors soon took over as I grew up but Dad had a passion for horses and used them for as long as he could. I can picture him now perched on the precarious seat of the mower knocking down fields of hay and singing the entire time.

Dad had stopped making hay ricks shortly before I was born so I only remember baled hay. A horse was a useful tool for collecting the bales of hay. If you use a tractor and trailer then someone has to keep getting on and off the tractor to drive around the field from bale to bale. With a horse it was so much easier. It would walk from bale to bale with just a word of command.

Hay making was very hard work and a pleasant memory was walking behind the last load of hay as the horse slowly plodded up the Track to home.

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The Hat in the Track Lane Part 3

imageHalf way down the Lane was a big granite barn on the edge of , for Guernsey, a big field. Dad rented the barn and the field as his Dad had done before him.

The barn had been used for a multitude of purposes during the time of the Camps. Storing Hay, stabling horses, stabling cows, keeping pigs, storing equipment and even accommodated a big barn dance when such things were popular.

Sometimes it was in good condition and at other times it was pretty abandoned. Sometimes it was a very smelly place and at other times its walls gleamed with a coat of fresh whitewash. Mostly it was a smelly place.

Across the fields to the East of the barn is the The Chateaux De Marais, or The Ivy Castle. A very neglected ancient fortification that was a wonderful playground for us as children. It has the remains of an old moat and on its western side a douit.

The douit bordered another field that dad rented which we called Robin’s Field. In Guernsey we pronounce that “Robe in” not “robin”. I have no idea who Mr Robin was but his field had a stream that the tenant had to clean every year.

While dad was hacking away at the weeds I would try and catch sticklebacks with a little net. On one occasion while running up and down the stream in my bare feet I tripped over a piece of metal sticking out of the bottom. It looked interesting so I dug it out with my hands and became the proud owner of a short sword. Though to me it didn’t seem that short.

I loved that sword. I played with it for years. Sadly, it was my favourite summer pastime to play outside cutting down weeds with it and emulating the exploits of Douglas Fairbanks or other lesser know heroes I watched at the Odeon on Saturday mornings.

Quite a few years after I found it Mum wondered if it was worth anything and took it to the Museum together with several other “treasures” we had accumulated over the years. Including a flintlock pistol that was also one of my treasured “toys”. I’ve no idea where that came from.

She dropped them off and waited and waited for a call to tell her we were rich. The call never came. After many months she went to the Museum and asked if the items had been investigated and appraised. Imagine her horror to be told that the old gentleman she had spoken to had died and whether she had a receipt for the items. There was no receipt and the items were never found.

Somewhere in the bottom of a trunk in an unvisited storeroom housing the unwanted artefacts of the Guernsey Museum service is my beloved sword. I shed real tears for that sword.

Anyway, at one time Grandad kept several of the horses he had for sale in the field and their harness in the barn. Dad would collect some in the morning to be used on the farm and deliver them back late at night. When the nights were drawing in he was a little nervous going to the barn even though he was thirteen.

This was down to the tale of the ghostly grey stallion of the Ivy Castle that he had been told when he was a boy. It was a fine charger which had belonged to a brave knight who had been treacherously murdered by the Keeper of the Castle and the horse would often be seen roaming around on the night of a full moon seeking out his master’s murderers.

On one such night, where all around was illuminated by a full moon, Dad brought a pair of horses back to the field, slipped off their harness and let them loose. Then he hung the harness up in the barn. As he came out and was closing the barn door he looked behind him. There galloping across the field towards him was the grey stallion. Its eyes were glowing bright red and its nostrils were spewing out flame.

Discretion being the better part of valour Dad ran to the gate, leapt over it and ran at full pelt to the farm as though the Devil was on his heels. Which he was. Running through the back door he was totally out of breath and sat at the kitchen table to recover.

Grandad was there and while he was waiting for dad to be able to speak he asked.

“Did you see the new grey stallion in the field? He’s a bit wild.”

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The Hat in the Track Lane Part 2

horses

I was born on the cusp of the tractor replacing horses on the farm particularly because we had a lot of overlap on Camps Farm. Dad was really a horseman and would happily have continued using them but they just didn’t pay in the mechanised age.

As well as farming Dad had a very successful carting business hauling everything around the Island using real horses to provide the horse power. He knew every inch of every road in this Island plus every obscure track or impossibly narrow access lanes. He would often point out a steep slope and say how the horse couldn’t get up there and even the coal in hundredweight bags was carried up bag by bag hoisted up on a shoulder.

Dad was very strong and had been working for his dad from the age of 11. It was generally accepted that to earn a man’s wage wasn’t just determined by age but by the ability to carry a two hundredweight bag up a ladder. Dad qualified for a man’s wage when he was 13, but of course Grandad never paid it to him.

Coal came into the harbour loose and was bagged up in the hold. Lines of carriers with horses and carts would queue up when the boat came in and the first in the line would run backwards and forwards across a plank laid between the boat and shore until they had a full load. Then it was the turn of the next in the queue.

Another test of skill and strength was to have 12 pennies laid along the gangplank and see who could pick up the most while carrying a two hundredweight bag on their shoulder. It was a high risk game because losing balance meant losing the coal into the harbour or possibly taking a dip as well.

A quick turnaround meant a carrier could deliver more coal in the day and therefore earn more so queue jumping wasn’t encouraged but did happen. Grandad decided Dad was ready to have his own horse and cart when he was 13 and gave him his list of customers. For the first load Grandad and Dad were at the harbour at the same time but as the day went on their different routes threw then out of sync.

Grandad was heading back to the White Rock to join the line when the driver of a cart going the other way shouted to him. “Alf, they’re going to kill your boy back there because he won’t give up his place”.

Grandad realising that more aggressive carriers had obviously decided they could easily push a young boy out of the queue abandoned his waggon and ran down the line of carts. Always ready for a fight and a very accomplished boxer Grandad was seeing through the red mist that plagues the Camps and someone would pay for bullying Dad.

When he got there it was all over. Dad had been challenged by one of the men and stupidly had decided to fight it out.

Grandad had no need to mete out punishment because the bully was lying flat on his back in a pile of coal dust. No one tried to take Dad’s place again.

When Dad’s business was in full flow he was running about twenty horses. At the end of each evening in the Summer they would all come home and be stripped of their harness.

At the bottom of the Track Lane, behind the football pitch, was a very large area of swampy land called The Marais. Unusable for most of the year it was a plentiful supply of grass in dry Summers and a great place for a herd of horses to spend their evenings after a hard day’s work.

How to get them from the top of the lane to the Marais? The easiest way possible of course just let them run free. They knew where they were going and off they would go with the minimum of supervision.

It was before my time unfortunately but I’m told it was a sight to behold to see twenty fine horses galloping down the lane for an evening of relaxation and fun.

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