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U3A Writing: The Well: 1 Jack

Paddy Webb presents in verse the life of her great grandfather John Charles Ayling, the first of three generations of elder sons of that name.

The story, set around 1890 to 1902, is based on the recollections of Paddy’s grandmother who appears in it as Ellen Elizabeth. It is presented as a set of monologues spoken by different characters.

Further episodes will appear on the next 14 Sundays.

I never meant to stay away,
I ran when Pa took off his belt.
Planned to do as I usually did
Hang about till dark; creep in
As they slept.

It was a beautiftil evening;
I sat on a stile, listened to the birds.
The dew chilled
When the bats began to flit
So I burrowed into the rick
Lay, watching night cross the sky,
The stars grow big.

When I woke light was creeping over the hill.
There was a hawk, high up,
Wing quivering in the silver air;
Cocks were crowing:
Somewhere a dog began to bark.
It seemed an adventure, to sleep out,
To go exploring in the sunshine by myself.

I began coming out of school
To work with Pa when I was eight.
Started full time when I was ten.
In the evenings there was always
Wood and water to fetch for Mum,
The babies to mind while she worked.
Some nights she sent me to take the money
From Pa's pocket, as he sat drinking
In the Three Fishes, or help him home,
Along the winding Thames-side path,
While she waited, arms folded,
Just inside the cottage door.

A day off, on my own,
Would be worth a beating.
I never felt lost,
Even when I did not know
Where I was.
I was twelve, I was hungry,
I went looking for adventure
And something to eat.


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