Monday, October 3, 2016

To the woods

I am not sure why, but if I think of the countryside these days I don't visualise rolling fields and all that, but of woods.
Perhaps I was because woods figured quite a bit as a young evacuee from the east end of London living in Surrey.
There were woods on the way when we made our weekly visit to the school allotment to grow vegetables to be brought back for school dinners. In the autumn we went into the woods to gather up sackfulls of leaves to be dug into the ground in the pre-winter digging.
The same woods skirted the edge of the park where we went to play and roam.  In the summer time there was an old tramp living in a kind of shelter in the woods, cooking over an open fire.  We used to spend time talking to him and he spoke of his travels to places we had never heard of like Birmingham and Manchester.  He was cooking a hedgehog one day wrapped in a layer of clay and offered us a taste insisting that it tasted just like rabbit.  I was not game to try it, but my mate did and said that he like it. One day we asked if he was a swagman as we used to sing "Waltzing Matilda
There were also woods up on the South Downs where we went to gather rose hips on a school expedition.  I assume the school was paid for our endeavours, we weren't but it was an afternoon out and some of the older boys and girls disappeared into the woods whilst the younger ones carried on working.
There was a different kind of wood above the river Wey at St. Catherine's mount. It was actually a small bamboo plantation at the back of a big house.  It was quite a climb up from the river level but it was worth it to be in this jungle where we could cut down canes with our penknives (all boys owned penknives then) to be used as arrows in the incessant war with boys from the neighbouring school.

All highly dangerous stuff which is frowned on today and yet there were not that many accidents. The only one I can clearly recall was when we were on the allotment and throwing garden forks like javelins and I managed to spear a boy through the foot with a misaimed fork.  He was carted off to hospital, not by ambulance but on the teacher's bike.  And don't recall any repercussions on me, perhaps it was all part of life, after all there was a war on and worse things were happening.
If you think about it, in many school sports which are encouraged today like boxing and rugby there is more chance of injury than of being speared through the foot by a garden fork