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The Day Before Yesterday: 12 - Green Pastures

...With a jam jar carried by string, we would head for a favourite spot to catch tiddlers - tiny fishes - in a stream which wound its way through a beech forest. This looked so lovely with its fresh green leaves. We needed no net to catch these fish because we had got so expert we just scooped them up into our hands...

Gladys Schofield recalls glorious childhood days.

While Mum was in the spring cleaning mood, some of us would take off for greener pastures. John liked the countryside as I did. We would take a few sandwiches and a drink and be gone all day.

With a jam jar carried by string, we would head for a favourite spot to catch tiddlers - tiny fishes - in a stream which wound its way through a beech forest. This looked so lovely with its fresh green leaves. We needed no net to catch these fish because we had got so expert we just scooped them up into our hands.

We walked along a path through field after field of all the different wild flowers you could think of. I knew where to get the many different species: wood anemones in a little clump just over the ridge of one of these fields, harebells growing among the wild bilberries. Each wood was full of bluebells, and May blossom trees lined the paths we walked across. One tree had red May blossom, quite rare in the wild.

John knew where the birds nested. He would only take one tiny egg from a nest and kept a match box for this purpose. We watched the skylarks rise into the air, forever singing their sweet little tunes.

How we loved these days. My arms would be full of flowers, and John always had some tiny live specimens to swim in the jars on the kitchen's outside windowsill. We had frogs in various stages of development and fishes, other jars would be crammed with flowers. I wasn't allowed to take May blossom into the house. Mum said it was bad luck.

We had a competition at school for the pupil who could find the largest variety of wild flowers. I won a lovely book on wild flowers with taking the most. I got into all kinds of scrapes trying to retrieve some of them. Marsh marigolds only grew in one place. I had to climb a wall and drop down on the other side onto a narrow strip of banking by a swift-flowing stream before it disappeared through yet another mill. The flowers grew in the marshy ground near this water, their long sappy stalks enjoying the wet as the golden flowers all faced up to the sun.

I don't think we ever thought of danger in those days, life itself was one big risk but it never seemed to stop us.

John was fond of animals and kept two rabbits in a hut at the end of the garden. He made it himself at the age of seven. It was not the best of huts but it served its purpose, a partition separated the living quarters from the sleeping, which was handy as his rabbits were male and female. The doe was white and fluffy with pink eyes and the buck very much the same but had a black bib and a black spot on his nose.

On warm evenings John would take the buck for a run in a field next to our property. He put a small collar around its neck and with string for its lead, let it run amongst the tall grass, stopping now and again to nibble the fresh green shoots of a variety of wild plants growing there.

One evening, unknown to John, a dog was enjoying the same freedom and got the scent of our bunny. One quick nip and he was no more. John was heartbroken, and to make things worse, as Mr Plump Bunny had been killed instantly, Mum thought he would make a good meal, but none of us children could eat him.

About two weeks later Mrs Rabbit presented him with eight baby rabbits, so John wasn't sad for long.

The subjects John liked best were not the ones that would take him through a scholarship. The Mayor came every year to the school to give prizes to the boy who achieved best at any given subject. John always got the woodwork prize. I wonder what the Mayor thought as this rough little boy with his socks at half mast, boldly came forward to shake hands with him, year after year. The prizes were quite generous, and he soon had an assortment of sports equipment.

Often John would have to stay back and spend one hour or so for detention. He would spend this time with a pencil in one hand and some paper before him, as the teacher marked a pile of books on his desk. John didn't seem to mind at all at these times, as his next best subject was drawing.

The teacher watched this little boy for a while, intent on what he was doing, and stood behind him to see what was interesting him so much. He was surprised to see the picture before him and even mentioned to Mum, "John could do well with that subject."

But she knew this already. It was something she loved to do also and had to lay it aside when her family started to arrive, only to pick it up again in later life. John was the same, he became quite an accomplished artist in the years ahead.

Christmas was a time of magic. Brass bands were very popular and they took part in the festivities in a big way. They walked the streets of the neighbourhood, through the night from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, playing every carol they knew. It was always the early hours of the morning before they reached our house. We always thought that Santa came just after the band and tried to keep awake. We never managed to do this but as soon as the band struck up its rousing carol, we were wide awake.

We waited for a while until we couldn't hear it anymore and all was quiet. Then we would gather together and creep downstairs, listening all the time in case we bumped into Santa, but he had always been and we peered through the dim light of a candle to find our parcels. Everyone had one at this time, our name printed boldly on top of the brown paper. When we had found them all, we crept back upstairs to bed and for a while explored the contents. But sleep always caught up with us and soon it would be all quiet again.

John was three the Christmas we missed him after breakfast and couldn't find him anywhere. It was too cold outside. We looked in the kitchen where Mum and Dorothy were busy preparing dinner. The smell of food usually seemed to attract him to this comer of the house. But no, he had just disappeared.

Going through the bedrooms I heard a small clicking sound coming from under my parents' bed. I lifted the valance and there he was, sitting cross-legged, playing with a small clockwork train set he had received for Christmas, probably finding that quiet spot so that his brothers didn't interfere.


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