Thursday, July 07, 2011

Google maps memories No.2

I've found a few more of the places where I've lived on Google Maps - see yesterday's post.

As far as I can tell, as Google only drove past the end of the drive, this might be the farm on the English-Welsh border near Chirbury, where I worked when I first left home. It was called Moat Farm, but I like to think of it as Cold Comfort Farm, only worse. I got the job through an advert in Farmers' Weekly. It was no rural idyll. For the first few weeks, my friend Ann kept me company, before she left to go to university. After that, I was on my own with a weird family - Mum, Dad, chain-smoking Auntie, several unpleasant kids, and an old man whose origin I never knew, who wore creaky gaiters and lived in the attic. They bred Friesian dairy cattle, now commonly bred with Holstein imported from the US. If you've seen black and white cows in fields, that's them. They also produced fertile hens' eggs to be sold to the hatcheries, so we always had the double-yolkers, which were rejects, for breakfast. I milked cows and cleaned up after them, as well as a variety of other jobs, from 6.30am to anything up to 10pm, and all for a few £ a week. In those days, the milk was collected every day in large churns that had to be loaded onto a lorry from a milk stand about a metre high. Some churns were aluminium, some were steel. They were all heavy, but the steel ones were heaviest. I soon grew muscles on my muscles from lifting the damn things. The best thing that you could say about the place was that I was well fed. I had to be, all the calories I burned every day. Apart from that, it wasn't great. They sacked a couple of men the week before I started, and I was expected to do a lot of the work they'd done for less money. It didn't take me long to realise that I was being exploited, so I left. I spent the winter of 1962-63 on another farm, near Flint, where my boss was a kind man who'd survived the war as a prisoner of the Japanese in Changi Prisoner of War camp and working on the Burma railway. Bill said that the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was nothing like his experience; it wasn't horrible enough. One of the other prisoners was the illustrator Ronald Searle, most well known for the Belles of St Trinians, who drew everything that went on around them. When I left the farm to go back to Liverpool and art college, Bill said that he'd always think of me when he saw a box of Kleenex; we'd spent a lot of time that winter delivering milk around Flint with a box in the van, suffering from never-ending colds.

After a year at Liverpool College of Art, Ann and I spent the summer working in a market garden in Poeldijk, Holland, run by the Van Wingerden family. Ann lived in the house on the left with Papa and Mama and their unmarried son and daughter, while I lived next door in the bungalow, with the married son, his wife and baby. There were acres of greenhouses at the back, where they grew tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, peaches and other crops. We were very healthy, with so much fresh food. We mostly worked with the tomatoes, either pricking out seedlings or picking ripe fruit. We went on a barge to take them to market once or twice. The family was very kind. Papa spoke no English but that didn't stop him telling long-winded stories about the war, when they'd been occupied. One of his favourite stories was about fooling the Germans when they came to inspect the house with a view to billeting soldiers there. Papa borrowed some babies and small children from friends and deliberately made them cry, so that the Germans decided the house was far too noisy and crossed him off the list. He used sign language when Theo (his youngest son) couldn't translate fast enough to keep up. Papa smoked fat cigars and whenever he laughed it set him off on a wheezing session. Ann and I learned enough Dutch to get by; enough to fool the tourists when they saw us walking down the street in our wooden clogs and assumed we were local. We'd wave and smile and say a few words of Dutch, and the Americans (it was usually Americans) took photos and went away happy. One weekend, Papa decided to take us to the museum in The Hague, where we joined a party with a tour guide. She was giving a commentary in English, Dutch and French. For some reason, she thought Papa was English, so she directed some of her English commentary at him, while Ann and I were assumed to be Dutch. Papa played along, nodding furiously and saying "O yes!" now and then, while we said "Ja!" whenever she looked at us. As we left, Papa was laughing so much that he couldn't stop choking on his cigar.Theo was a student at the university in Amsterdam, where he shared a house, so we were able to stay there some weekends, drink a lot of lager, and explore the clubs and galleries. It was a good summer.

After a year at Liverpool College of Art and a summer in Holland, I went to Exeter College of Art for a three year course in Fine Art. To begin with, I had digs with a family in Topsham, on the River Exe, a short train ride from town, then I rented a flat here, in Monmouth Street, with another eccentric family. The house with the arch over the door on the right is where I lived. The couple who owned it dealt in junk of one sort or another, so the hallway was always full of the overflow. The wife's standard of hygiene left a lot to be desired, so it wasn't surprising that her husband, a small, weedy looking man, was frequently ill with stomach claimants. Apparently he'd been a prisoner of war too, which hadn't done his health any good. His wife's cooking didn't seem to be doing him much good either.

Wile I was in Topsham I worked here, at The Lighter Inn, for a man called Harold, who had a heart attack late one night after a lock-in. Small cargo boats used to moor at the quay next to the pub. I was going out with (or staying in with) one of the regulars, a former professional footballer called Patrick, when a small Dutch crew invited us aboard after closing time for a few drinks. I was so busy enjoying myself that I didn't notice that my glass was being surreptitiously topped up with Dutch gin as fast as I was drinking it. When we went up on deck I was so drunk I couldn't stand up. Patrick gave me a fireman's over the gangplank. The next day, with the worst hangover I've ever had, I realised that (a) he was almost as drunk as I was and (b) the tide was out, so there was just thick mud under the plank, and (c) I can't swim anyway. If he'd dropped me, that would  have been it. Patrick and some of the other guys took me fishing with nets in the Exe, so I often got to keep the smaller fish they'd otherwise have thrown back. I used to collect buckets of mussels along the shore as well, which were good with brown bread and butter, and if I hadn't been fishing, there'd be fresh mackerel for sale off the back of a van in the pub car park at weekends.

After a year or so in Topsham, I moved into Exeter, where I shared a flat in Wonford Road, on the left of this photo. I bought some old furniture for my room, including an enormous desk where I worked, kept my pet rat, Oscar, and a collection of skulls and pickled creatures in formaldehyde (I got there before Damian Hurst). While I was in Exeter my friend Lyn (who shared the flat for a while) got married one summer. We trooped off to the register office and then went paddling in the park with another friend's baby. Lyn and Nick are grandparents now.

2 comments:

Stevenw888 said...

Wow, you've lived in a lot of houses, haven't you! I've only lived in five in total. Good idea for a blog though, I'm going to post Google streetview pictures of my first three homes on my blog too!

Margaret said...

Compared with most people, not that many. Been in the current one for over 25 years.