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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The Hat in the Track Lane Part 1

hatlane

To the current generation of Guernsey people the Track Lane will mean little. To the older generation it will be remembered fondly as a route from Pitronnerie Road to The Track football pitch which thousands would take each May to watch the Muratti Vase Final.

To me it is a memory of Home. Camps Farm was bounded on the west by the Track Lane which was a rough unmade farm road. It was a way to some of our fields and it also led to The Hump. A granite outcrop which was half quarried and had in ancient times been a rabbit warren. In the late 1950s it was a wonderful playground for a young boy.

Younger readers will need to understand that in the 50s and 60s children had something called freedom. During school summer holidays we would try and stay out of adult view from dawn until dusk. Especially true for me because if I happened to be seen around the farm I would be given a series of jobs to do.

Mooching around the Hump was great fun. It was very overgrown with gorse and other weeds but the plentiful rabbits kept a lot of tracks and open areas clear. The Germans had heavily fortified the area and their slit trenches and strong points were still very visible.

One of the machine-gun posts was right on the edge of the quarry where it had an excellent field of fire. At the edge of the pit was a deep drop but there was also a little ledge. Someone noticed that there were some cartridge cases down there and it was a common pursuit to dangle over the edge of the precipice trying to reach them.

I never managed it but I did find a few by digging. Luckily I never found  any live munitions here as I did a little further down the lane.

Our pet monkey who we named, Chimpy, was given complete freedom and often would swing through the trees along the top of the lane. People regularily came down to see him and would try to coax him out of the tree with sweets.

They would hold a big bag of sweets in one hand and tentatively stretch up their other hand with the sweet as bait. Many times I watched Chimpy swing down, ignore the proffered sweet, grab the bag and then climb up to the tree top and scoff the lot.

If the sweets were in wrappers it was even funnier to watch Chimpy unwrap the sweets and then deliberately try to drop the sweet papers on the heads of the people below.

One midsummer night when the hay had been carted in all the kids from the Bouet who had been “helping” decided to play a game of hide and seek. The playing area was the Track Lane which one way or another stretched from Pitronnerie Road to the Coutanchez.

hidenseek

In the illustration above I have highlighted the Track, marked The Hump and need to explain that the industrial estate with Guernsey Selfstore marked was the site of my boyhood home. Sadly now long gone.

As you can see the playing area was vast, wild and full of potential pitfalls for a group of young children to be playing around at about 11pm on a warm midsummer night.

But it was so much fun.

No children were lost in this last mass game of hide and seek, totally without adult supervision.

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What One Says is Not What the Other Hears Part 3

burro

Unusually, I start this tale with the punchline which is how to a Guernsey ear Burro and Bureau sound alike. For not only does Guernsey have its own language it also has its own accented English. Fortunately or unfortunately both are now heard but rarely.

For those who may not know and who don’t want to resort to Google, a burro is a small donkey. I will assume you are all familiar with the word “bureau”.

Mum and Dad have now set up home but with half of his 30/- (30 shillings or £1-10s or £1.50 or, at today’s rates, $2.31) going on rent and with mother no longer working things were tight. There was little left over for furniture.

Pre decimalisation money was so much fun. Years later when I was a little boy I had to take my turn behind the counter in Mum’s shop. It did wonders for my maths because the wooden box that was the till had no computer within it tallying the goods sold nor computing the amount of change.

The customer would come in and would ask me for various items and I would write the price down on the back of a paper bag with my pencil. Two items at 3d, 1 at a tanner, 2 a bob a piece and the last one two and a kick. A 10 bob note is presented and change of 4/6d is given. Simple.

The shop was a general store with an off-licence. In stores now assistants under 18 have to be monitored by an older staff member when selling booze but if there was such a restriction when I was ten years old we took no notice of it.

Drink has always been a problem in Guernsey blighting many families. Various ideas have been tried over the years to reduce the problem but it would seem to no avail. In the 1960’s we had “The Black List” which was a set of photographs of offenders who had requested to be added to the list which prohibited them from buying alcohol.

Many still tried. I can recall several interesting chats with drunken men who tried to bribe me into selling them a bottle. Possibly dealing with incoherent drunks as a child has stood me well in adult life.

Back to the Burro.

Mum had only “a few sticks” of furniture so when Dad asked if she would like to have a burro that was being given away she jumped at the chance. A bureau would be her first piece of “posh” furniture. While Dad was off getting the little donkey she moved what furniture she had around to leave the optimum space for the new piece of furniture.

She had save up a little “egg” money and rushed to a shop to buy some beeswax. Expensive but she would be able to polish the bureau up to a fine finish using the skills she had learnt in service.

Dad returns leading a small donkey. Mum comes out and looks for the bureau. “Where’s the “buro”?” asks Mum.

“Here”.

“Where, I can’t see it.”

“I’m leading the “buro”.

I’m told this conversation went on for a few minutes before it dawned on Mum that she had made a place in her house for a donkey.

She never got to like the burro.

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The Pig in the Sidecar

pigsidecar

Starting married life together is never easy and even more interesting when husband and wife come from very different backgrounds. Mum came from a poor Town family with a mother who was the widow of one soldier and married to another. Dad was from a first generation farming family just trying to get a foothold into the industry.

Granny Camp thought that Mum was a painted up doll who had entrapped her son into marriage. This wasn’t helped by Dennis being born eight months after the wedding. Nor was it helped by dad having a motor bike.

I think having personal transport in the mid 1930’s was one of Dad’s big attractions. Mum loved hanging onto his back as they sped around the Island. After he had eventually forced her to leave working for the Dugmore’s and come and live with him the new Mrs Camp expected to go on long motorbike rides every day.

This was, apparently, a really heavenly period for both of them but given that Dad worked for his father at the time the family were not happy about his frequent disappearances. It is said the farm nearly went bankrupt that year. Mum, received all of the blame and was generally shunned by all the Camp’s. Except Dad of course.

I came along many years later a complete and unexpected mistake in 1954 so I have no memories of my parents as young people. Dad to me was very much an old fogey with very old fashioned ideas. But in his youth he was very forward thinking as demonstrated by his desire to get hold of a motorbike even though they were extremely expensive and well out of his reach.

He read in the Press one day that a motocyclist had been killed in an horrific accident at the Chene. As he told it to me a vehicle was being towed across the cross roads with a long chain between it and the horses pulling it. The motorcyclist didn’t spot the chain until it was too late.

Some time later Dad heard that the man’s widow was having difficulty selling the bike because someone had died riding it. The chain had caused terrible injuries to the rider but the bike was unscathed. On chance Dad went along and said he would take the bike off her hands but didn’t have a lot of money to pay for it.

She was happy to see it go and sold it for a few pounds.

Dad had his first bike, which attracted my mother to him and ultimately led to me typing his story.

Anyway, this tale isn’t about that bike it is about his later motorcycle side-car combination which he traded up to as Mum preferred to be sitting somewhere safer than on the pillion.

It was a good bike for picking up shopping and generally moving small items around as well. Which is why when there was a pig ready to go to the slaughterhouse Dad decided to use the sidecar instead of paying for a carter to take it in.

It was a big pig and it wasn’t too easy to get her in. Dad had to tie her trotters together and put her in on her back. She struggled into a natural human like sitting position and then settled down.

Dad whizzed her off to the abattoir without any problems and that was the end of the story.

Except the very next day a good friend dropped in to see Mum for a cup of tea and a chat. Mum wasn’t the painted up doll she was accused of being by the Camp’s but she was a very beautiful and petite woman.

Imagine then her horror when her friend said to her “I saw you and Horace out with the side-car yesterday. I waved but you didn’t seem to notice me.”

Mum said nothing then but Dad got an earful later and pigs were banned from the Motorcycle Combination for ever.

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What One Says is Not What The Other Hears Part 2

My Granny at the first possible moment got Mum a job in service at the age of 14. It was a live in job and I think Granny Cox was relieved to see her move out. Relationships between Mum and her stepfather were not good and if the young Agnes was anything like the woman I knew she wouldn’t have been easy to live with.

Despite all the problems, Mum, wasn’t pleased to be leaving home. She was to work six and a half days a week starting at 5:30am and finishing at 10pm. Mum’s wages  were paid directly to Gran and so he only benefit was her keep.

Her first night was terrifying. She was on the top floor of the biggest house she had ever lived in and had a room to herself for the first time ever. To cap it all there was a huge thunderstorm and she couldn’t close the window to keep the rain out. Not a good start.

The start wasn’t good but things got and better and better. For Mum it was like moving into Downton Abbey and being part of a way of life she had never imagined. Even if she was at the bottom of the pile. The leftovers from the table that were her perks made better and more varied meals than she had ever eaten.

Her employer was the ADC to the Governor and the house was opposite Government House. He had had a bad First World War and suffered both mentally and physically. His wife was a wonderful woman who really took to Mum and was became her inspiration.

I think the house was full of boys so perhaps Mum stood in as the missing “daughter”. She began to ape her “betters” ways and accent, so much so that when she visited Gran on days off she often got her ear boxed because of her “airs and graces”.

She gradually worked her way up from skivvy to general maid and though the work was hard and long absolutely loved it. Even hauling coal up flights of stairs for the bedroom fires and blacking the range in the kitchen.

The Governor and his young wife were invited to dinner which started a massive programme of redecoration, refurnishing and cleaning. The mistress was leaving nothing to chance and Cook had practised the menu so many times Mum was fed up of eating the leftovers.

Nothing could go wrong. Except that Cook became ill on the day and was consigned to her bed. Guess who was asked to take her place in the kitchen. Yes, it was Mum. She had helped before but had never cooked a meal. Certainly not for a Governor.

The courses went up one by one and the plates came down with Mum checking each to see how much hadn’t been eaten. She was used to some food being left for politeness sake but couldn’t determine if it was more or less than usual.

After the last course had been delivered she relaxed a little until she was summoned to the dining room.

At 16 years of age she entered it nervously not knowing what to expect. The men were in dinner jackets and the ladies in fine gowns. Her employer with a straight face said the Governor wanted to speak to her about the meal. She was very frightened.

There was a happy ending though. He told her that when he was informed a young maid would be cooking that night he had expected the worst but in fact it was the best meal he had had for some time and that if she was ever looking for employment to be sure to contact his butler.

She was so happy there.

So much so that when she got married she didn’t tell her employers or hand in her notice. Dad was very confused by all of this and one day went to the house, told the mistress, grabbed his wife and took her to the rooms he had rented.

She only went back to apologise and to take tea from time to time as an “equal”.

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What One Says is Not What The Other Hears Part 1

A short post today.

When Mum and Dad first married they took some rooms in a house near the Salerie Corner. Mum was very comfortable with her rooms in the house where she was in service and was reluctant to resign, as Dad insisted, and to move into lower grade accommodation.

Mum was eighteen when they married and Dad wasn’t exactly the man she was looking for. He saw her working in a tea shop in Town and decided she was the one. He wasn’t exactly a ladies man and wasn’t sure how to approach her.

He did summon up courage a few times to speak to her but she didn’t engage. Once he had an idea in his head it was hard to move him away from it. On one night he waited for her to finish her shift and as she came out he grabbed her lifted her off her feet and asked if she wanted to go for a ride in his motorcycle combination.

She at first declined the kind offer but then it became clear he wasn’t going to put her down until she agreed. I’m sure there are feminists out there who would not endorse his action and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do the same. But it was a great “pick up” line.

Strangely Mum agreed to go for a ride, the ride on the bike being the greater attraction than Dad. Mum said Dad had film star looks because he looked like Wallace Beery.

beery Something happened that night because a very sought after woman and a Wallace Beery lookalike decided to go out together a decision which made this post you are reading possible.

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The Bull in The Bathroom Part 3

The German invasion of Guernsey in 1940 was a dark time for Islanders but it also showed how people rise to the occasion and demonstrate remarkable courage and adaptability.

Mum and Dad were making hay at the Blanc Bois when the news of the evacuation reached them. They decided that Mum would go straight away with Dennis and Dad would follow once he had sorted out how to leave the animals.

I heard that story many times as I grew up but the true impact of it didn’t sink in until I had a wife and family of my own. I am grateful that I never had to make such a heartbreaking decision myself.

Mum, who was 3 months pregnant, did go with Dennis but Dad never made it. They were parted for five years and again the true heartbreak of this didn’t sink in for me until many years later. The five years away made such an impact on Mum and she relived those years by telling me all about them, over and over again.

She was such a good story teller that she really did bring the incidents and the hard graft to life for me. My children often make fun of me by saying that I actually believe I lived through the war. Sometimes it seems to me that I did.

Mum’s story is a great one but the Bull in the Bathroom is a story about Dad’s war.

In the time of war food becomes a very important commodity. Guernsey is a very small place and hasn’t been able to feed itself for centuries. The civilian population halved in 1940 but they were replace by thousands of German soldiers. On a per head of soldiers to civilians, Guernsey must have been the most occupied place within the Third Reich.

Everyone had to be fed and we had to shift from England as our main trading partner to German occupied France. The English Channel was a battleground and every ship bringing food here had to run a gauntlet. In the early years the Germans were in the ascendency but as the years went on the Royal Navy and the RAF dominated. After “D” Day the Allies had Guernsey completely besieged with nothing getting through.

From the start all food production became regulated. All food produced was centrally accounted for and distributed. Every piglet born had to be reported and one day it would be appropriated and slaughtered.

The same was true for calves. The farmer had no control over which heifer calf would live and join the dairy herd or which would go to the slaughterhouse.

Dad had a problem with seeing “good” heifers being taken for meat, particularly those from his best cows. There came a time when he had had enough. Three cows calved one night, one had still born twins and the other two each had a beautiful heifer calf.

A story was worked up. Two of the cows had had a still born calf. The third cow hadn’t yet calved and never would. A phantom pregnancy.

But where to hide the two heifers?

The main farmhouse was billeted with German soldiers. Dad had the cottage but as it didn’t have a bathroom he retained the bathroom in the house.

The farm would be searched because the officials didn’t always trust Dad, even when he was being backed up by Grandad. The bathroom in a house full of soldiers seemed the immediate answer to hide two small, day old calves for a few days.

As often happens in the Camp family temporary fixes seem to last a long time. The calves stayed in the bathroom for more than a few days. In fact they stayed in there for nearly a year.

Feeding and cleaning them out under the eyes of enemy soldiers wasn’t easy. Nor explaining the bad smell. The penalty of being found out wasn’t only what a court would hand out but the starving German soldiers would happily eat the heifers before reporting Dad.

They certainly were starving. Dad had the contract to pick up the bread and soup rations from the German bakehouse. The soup was in a big pot and as they went from strong point  to strong point Dad and his assistant would dip a bit out and have something warming on their way around. Until the day they opened the lid and saw a dog’s head floating on the top of the soup.

The heifers came out of the bathroom on Liberation Day. Both went on to produce champion cows, proving that Dad had a good eye for spotting talent even in day old calves.

Why did they not become champions? Dad may have evaded the Germans but he couldn’t do the same for Guernsey officials. Because he hadn’t registered the calves at birth they were declared to be non-pedigree. A stupid decision because what else could they be but pedigree Guernsey cows?

Dad pleaded special circumstances but his pleading was rejected. He was allowed to register them as Foundation Stock which allowed their calves to be registered as pedigree.

Small minded, no, the officials who had the wool pulled over their eyes with the dead calves were also the ones running the herd book.

Peeved and a little bitter, not small minded.

Oh, by the way the Bull in the bathroom itself isn’t much of a story. Mum had gone ahead to the show while Dad was still preparing his good bull for the show ring. He scrapped its feet and horns with glass and sandpaper then smeared them with butter to make them shine.

Then he moved on to shampooing the bulls tail and washing him down. This would take a lot of hot water. The only hot water supply was in the bathroom. Mum was out so the obvious solution was to take the bull through the kitchen, into the hall and then into the bathroom.

This is what Dad did. I won’t tell you what the bull did in the kitchen but Dad didn’t clean it up well enough for the story not to come out.

Posted in Camps, Carriage driver, Evacuation, German, Guernsey, Guernsey Cow, Horses, Liberation, Memories, World War two | Leave a comment