Manor House Farm by Arthur Teal
When the bough breaks ...
As a child in the fifties I loved tree climbing but found out the hard way just how fragile plum branches can be. Seeing our Victoria plum tree with ripe
fruit dangling over the neighbour's privy gave my brother and me an idea. The project was to release the fruit so that it plopped noisily on to the roof
below. Hopefully this would startle the neighbour seated on his 'throne'. With a challenge from Peter, I climbed up the tree and shook the branches.
My satisfaction at succeeding was soon overtaken by fear as the brittle bough broke beneath me. I was scraped and scratched and my favourite
frock was in shreds. Mother didn't mind the escapade; it was the ruined dresses that caused the heartache and precipitated the trouser wearing.
We explored many different types of tree but my particular favourite was an ancient laburnum with broad horizontal limbs. The low branches enabled
my clique of girlfriends to sit together planning the site of our summer den and how to keep it secret from the pesky boys. As part of the tree hung
over the village-street this provided a perfect position from which to eavesdrop on pedestrians or drop missiles onto passers-by.
Attached to our Manor House (the tied house provided with my father's job) were some dilapidated servants quarters. We used these rooms for year
-round storage and to house capons being fattened up for Christmas. A pear tree grew up the front and an old lady told me that as a maid arriving
home late from her day off, she had used this tree as a ladder to clamber up to her bedroom.
By the end of the summer holidays we had usually built a treehouse. One hot day in late summer we hauled up a few planks of timber to make a
rough platform in a mature chestnut. Ensconced in this makeshift crows-nest, we looked across the garden and spied an invader. Uncle Arthur had
been watching our antics and he decided to participate. He attempted to climb up towards us but we pelted him with conkers, which halted his
progress. When he descended under our onslaught and fled to the house, we thought the battle was won but to our amazement he returned, and
protected by a saucepan on his head he was more successful. Convulsed with giggles we continued briefly but gave in with grudging respect for his ingenuity and sense of fun.
After the fruit harvest the pigs were given the run of the orchard to enjoy a change of diet and they used their snouts to root around and create mud
baths. However we considered the fruit trees as one of our playgrounds too and with the pigs in occupation it made tree climbing more exciting. The
snorting sows chased us, their heads bobbing up and down with ears flapping. The challenge was to climb the trees quickly enough without missing
our footing and thus fall backwards into the mud. Another hazard was a dense nettle patch that once provided a stinging painful landing.
I still love climbing trees and I have encouraged my grandchildren to experience the thrill and sense of achievement that it gives. Sadly in these
modern, litigious times I feel the need to provide a safety harness for any visiting child to climb our garden trees without danger. Even this tame
experience gives the frisson of fear conquered, and makes a change from staring at the ubiquitous computer screen.
Multi-tasking in a fifties farmhouse
I came home from school to the warmth of the farm kitchen to find a cardboard box protruding from the lower oven of the Esse stove. When Mother
pulled out the mysterious box onto the floor I was delighted to discover a day-old lamb. Knowing that this coolest oven is only used to dry kindling or
crusts for the latest baby was one thing; but warming up a chilled lamb in it was quite another!
As usual, Mother had a multitude of things to do; feed the baby, occupy a toddler, care for a cade lamb and prepare a meal while showing an interest
in my school-day. As the eldest of five children I was expected to help. I chose to bottle-feed the lamb as a pleasant change from spoon-feeding an
uncooperative toddler. The orphan lamb was willing and eager but as it suckled in milk at one end a corresponding stream of liquid emerged from its rear-end onto the tiled floor.
A farm kitchen is traditionally the warm heart of the house and the layout from my childhood is still fresh in my memory. The solid-fuel Esse stove (an
alternative Aga) provided heat and there was enough space left to take two pine tables and a cosy couch that occupied a favourite spot under the
window. This small sofa was useful for a tired toddler's afternoon sleep or to allow convalescence from a childhood illness without the feeling of exclusion by being sent upstairs.
Cold or wet weather restricted our choice of games on the farm which meant that we would turn to Mother for ideas to fill weary afternoons. My
younger brother and I loved roller-skating and the two kitchen tables made an excellent figure-of-eight racetrack. The noise of metal wheels on the
tiled floor was deafening and sent the cat skittering away to find a quiet corner. Our exploits on wheels also cleared the floor of the youngest siblings,
if they valued their fingers and toes. When we tired of skating, and before the toddlers returned we would open a cupboard door to reveal a dartboard
and continue our wet-weather games, while no-doubt improving our mental arithmetic.
Painting on the kitchen table was a pursuit for all ages and as a change of medium, Mother offered some cheap white plates for us to show our
virtuosity. There were many occasions at the annual village show to exhibit our paintings and also a prize for the best fancy dress. Unlike the ' Janet
& John' stereotyped mother, ours disliked cooking even though she was good at it. Nevertheless she more than made up for this by her sewing
prowess and our costumes were always the most inventive and well made in the competition.
The kitchen table had a multitude of uses; a surface for pastry making, a seat for scratched knees to be dressed or a vet's operating theatre when the
dog's gaping stomach wound needed stitching. (Inflicted by a reaper blade)
Families were bigger in the fifties. With few household appliances, work in a farm kitchen provided little respite for a house-proud woman - I am
thankful that our mother thought it more important to play with her children than to dust and clean!
Her favourite excuse was that a speck of dirt gave children immunity. (A theory that has since become fashionable) We tested that theory to the limit
with childhood scratches and makeshift campfire meals in the woods.
I had a wonderful childhood with a mother who preferred to leave the washing-up bowl and bowl an over with a cricket ball.
See page 1 for more stories ...
Stopping a pig in a passage
A bloody good childhood
Five go camping, in the Enid Blyton era
One summer schoolday