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A Shout From The Attic: Ships That Pass in the Night

Ronnie Bray recalls the windmill man, and a single square of chocolate.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's delicious autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Somewhere around 1946, when the first flush of peace had settled down and people were adjusting, sometimes painfully, to a post-war world, the family went to Sir Henry Lunn’s Squires Gate Holiday camp, near Blackpool for the annual holiday. This was the first of the two visits that we would make.

I suppose that it was no surprise that we made friends with one of the summer staff, a chalet maid called Norma. We spent time together when she was off duty and I was impressed that she even seemed to like me, as well as the others in my family. I had two photographs taken with her.

Soon after the war ended, people began to say, “Things are getting back to normal”, although being four months short of being five, I had no recollection of what ‘normal’ meant. I was ten when it closed, and my own perception of getting back to normal meant that things got better even though sweets and chocolate continued to be rationed for many years after the war due to the continuing shortage of sugar.

Getting an economy off a war footing and onto a peace time one takes time and forbearance. The old palliation of “There’s a war on, you know!” was transformed into “There’s been a war on, you know!” Whether we had much or little during the war is relative and can be made to seem one or the other according to how we spin the tale.

One egg a fortnight may not be a positive signifier of the Land of Plenty, but it is healthy and a half-pound of sugar per week makes over-indulgence more than a little difficult. I can not remember ever feeling the pangs of hunger from war-time shortage, and don’t know of anyone who did. My wartime versus peacetime experience of foods is that they are different. Powdered eggs have, it seems, disappeared, and what a blessing that is. One teaspoon of the strange yellow powder and your bottom teeth stuck to your top teeth with no hope of reprieve.

One thing that did not change with the onset of peace was my luck. Some people are magnets for misfortune, and my experiences convinced me that I had been elected to their ignoble ranks. My toys broke soon after I got them – if they were not broken when I got them – and contraptions did not work. This was an age and a country that subscribed to the view that when something went wrong it was just hard luck and should be bravely born. The Boy Scout motto, Grin and Bear It, was coined by an Englishman who knew how things were.

That’s why, when I heard the windmill seller outside what was left of Greenhead Park main gates whisper to his assistant, Green, I knew that I had a chance to be a winner. It had nothing to do with luck. Insider information was the key to success.

The man sat on a box outside the park gates selling coloured celluloid windmills on short canes. The wind caused them to rotate. Apart from that, they did nothing. However, children often desire useless things for no other reason than to have them. This is particularly true of friendless children who settle for things in place of significant others.

I lived about thirty yards from the park gates so a quick run home and threepence secured from my mother and a quick dash back to the windmill seller.

“What colour?” he asked lighting his cigarette.

“Green.” I replied, almost guilty at my secret.

“Threepence,” he demanded, holding out his hand, wherein I deposited twelve-sided brass coin, in return for which he handed me a green windmill and broke off a square of Cadbury’s delicious milk chocolate.

Grasping both, I carelessly crossed the road before I put the chocolate in my mouth, letting it melt and trickle down my ecstatic throat. The windmill was now insignificant.

However, leaving things to luck is a philosophy of destruction and disappointment. Believing in luck requires a chance universe, not a rational one, and definitely not a super-rational one that belief in God demonstrates. Only those who believe that humanity stands alone in a dark and chaotic universe expect anything of good fortune, especially since most people’s fortune is anything but good, and luck of the good kind certainly scores low on the reliability scale.


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