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Walnut Wisdom: Episode 2

Alan, aged nearly eight, has found himself transplanted from London to the unfamiliar surrounding of the countryside on the first day of World War 2, and was soon in trouble with his mother for dirtying his best clothes. Now, changed into his old 'play clothes' he was being shown around the farm by 'Old Matey', the farmer.

Arthur Loosley continues his story of a city lad who has to learn rural ways.

Dressed more comfortably now in a grey woollen jumper over khaki 'Boy Scout' shorts, Alan followed Old Matey into the kitchen garden. It was bigger than any garden he had ever seen in London.

'This is where Aunt Molly grows all our vegetables,' the old man told him, 'There are three gates which must always be kept shut. Aunt Molly won't thank you for letting the chickens in again.'

The only gate that Alan had used was the one from the road to the red brick path leading up to the house. He thought for a moment of protesting that it was not he who left the hen-yard gate open earlier. He knew who did, but also knew that telling tales would not endear him.

Old Matey started the tour of the garden with a visit to the gate in question, tucked in a narrow gap between the dairy and the farm office. A third gate led to the main yard, with the cow-shed and stables. In the centre of the yard stood the magnificent walnut tree from which the farm took its name.

'A man offered me a hundred pounds for that tree once,' the old man told him, 'Wanted to cut it down and make furniture from it.'

'A hundred pounds?' Alan gasped, 'That's a lot of money.'

'It is,' Old Matey agreed, 'and there's been times when it would have come in handy, but that tree has as much right to live here as I have, if not more.'

They stood at the gate for a moment but there were other things Alan had to be told about before they ventured further. Most important of these was the water-tap, on a wooden post just inside the gate. The pipe was wrapped with rough sacking and a steady drip of water fell on to the sodden planks which partly covered a sunken metal tank.

'Must get that drip fixed before winter comes,' Old Matey observed, 'Learnt that lesson years ago. Took all day to thaw it once with a blow-lamp.'

Alan thought it was a silly place to have a tap. Back at home in his parents' house there were taps in the bathroom and the kitchen and that was so much more sensible, but they did things differently in the country and anyway there were other things here that had caught his eye and needed investigating.

Pointing to the faded sign saying 'Office' in flaking white paint on a faded green door, he asked 'Can I have a look inside there please, Old Matey?' His mother had a part-time job in an office in London. He didn't know what she did there, but assumed that it must be important because she had told him that you need to me really smart to do office work.

'Not now,' the old man replied, 'Nothing in there you need to see and there's plenty of other things more important,'

'What about the dairy then?' Alan had seen the word on the milkman's cart when it called at their home every day, but was not really sure what it meant.

This time his request was answered. Old Matey opened the door and Alan walked into a room with a long marble-topped bench along one wall and metal jugs and bowls hanging from hooks on the wall. The bench top and much of the floor held an amazing assortment of old pots and pans, cardboard and wooden boxes, empty bottles and jars. There was even an old leather saddle with its stuffing poking out of split seams.

'This was where we made our cheese and butter when we had a large herd,' Old Matey explained, 'But since Colonel Vickers took most of the land back we've only had room for half a dozen cows and they barely give enough milk for ourselves and a few neighbours, so this room is not used any more.'

Alan didn't like the sound of that.

'Why did that man take your land away?' he asked, 'It's not fair!'

'Nothing's fair in this life, Young Matey,' the aged farmer replied, sadly, 'We just have to make the best of what we have.'

'But how could he take your land?' Alan insisted.

'Because it was never mine,' came the reply. 'I'm only a tenant farmer. Colonel Vickers owns all of the land around here and when I got older and couldn't manage it all, I had to let it go.'

Alan was learning a lot today. He vaguely remembered something in history lessons at school about rich landowners, serfs and peasants. Old Matey was clearly not rich, but which of the other two was he? He decided not to ask, but the question was unlikely to leave his mind, Perhaps, one day, all would be explained, but now was not the right time because there was something else he wanted to know.

'Why does everybody seem to have army names?' he asked.

'Because when you accept the King's commission, you can use the title for life,' the old man told him, 'It's many years since I wore my uniform but I still expect to be called Captain Pacey.'

Alan had noticed a large framed photograph on the wall in the farm parlour, of a man in military uniform on a magnificent black horse.

'Was that you in the picture?' he now asked.

'Your mother's right,' Old Matey replied, 'You do ask a lot of questions.'

But it was not an admonishment. There were so many things to learn here, and he was sure that this ancient gentleman who had seen so many things in his long life would be an excellent teacher. Better even, than dear Miss Copley back at Adley Green School.

He wondered how she and the other teachers would fare when the bombs started to fall. And all his school friends. And of course, Dad and Granddad.

Old Matey had ushered him out of the redundant dairy now, and was leading him through the gate leading to the hen-yard and orchard. The old man went first, looking behind him to see if Alan remembered to shit the gate after them. He did, and they both smiled - Alan with smug satisfaction and Old Matey with relief.

The hen house, a small wooden building with wire netting windows, was empty and the hens were all scratching about in the yard, but Old Matey ignored it and pointed to a much smaller hut a little further away from the house. 'That's the privy,' he went on, 'Just remember that somebody has to empty it and it's not a very nice job, so only use it when you have to, and if you only want to pee, find a hedge.'

Alan was surprised to hear the old man use a word that was forbidden at home, and had never heard the word privy before, but when the old man opened the door and he could see the wooden seat over an iron bucket, he knew at once what it was. Hw could have guessed, anyway, from the smell.

Old Matey had work to do now, so he left Alan to continue exploring on his own. 'Have a look round the orchard,' he suggested.

Alan could see the geese in the orchard, and could hear the angry noises they were making.

'Are they safe?' he asked.

'Oh, they're safe enough,' the old man assured him', and so will you be if you take a stick with you. Not to hit them with, you understand, but just waving it slowly in front of you will be enough to warn them off.'

Alan did as he was bid, but he soon stopped worrying about the geese because something else had attracted his eye. Over in the far corner of the orchard was on old cart. It must have been there for ages because it was covered with moss and there were weeds growing through its wooden-spoked wheels. Throwing caution to the wind he climbed aboard. What did he care if he got more moss stains on his clothes? These were his old play clothes, after all, so surely his mother wouldn't mind, this time.

Sitting up there on the cart, just high enough to see over the hedge and across the fields to the river beyond, he felt amazingly at ease. He felt that this was where he belonged. He would make it his special place, to visit as often as possible in the days - or perhaps years - ahead.

He had been up since very early this morning and had learned a lot of new things in a very short time, so he sat down, resting his back against an inside corner of the cart, and soon fell asleep.

It was there that his mother found him when she came looking for him later.

'Are you ever coming in?' she demanded. 'I've been calling you for hours. Just look at the state of those nice clean clothes!, and don't ever climb on that filthy contraption again'.


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