Parents used to make strange decisions, with the best intentions and even self- sacrifice, but with little realisation what they were condemning their children to. Single parenting is not, and never was, easy, conscience has to be weighed against pragmatism, welfare, economic resources and what is possible. My mother decided I should not be kicking my heels throughout the summer holidays in London, so twice she sent me off, for a month on my own for a Holiday. Summer jobs were rare so vocational work was the exception. In the countryside, there was fruit picking or harvesting for nothing or a pittance, On the first occasion she took me to a boarding house in Worthing, introduced me, stayed a day or so, bought me a season ticket for a seat at the bandstand and left, giving the woman my pocket money to be doled out, a shilling daily, I was bored out of my mind, lonely, made no friends, and I sat and listened to the brass bands night after night.
The experiment was dropped for a year or two; then I was sent to stay with Floss and Val at Pegwell Bay, in Kent. Val was a roly-poly, rosy faced lady, with a sense of fun and generous nature, who had a handful of guests, mostly friends of the family. Floss was small, tough and rugged, an ex-regular soldier with service all round the world in various regiments He had laid paths round the house in concrete, with regimental badges picked out in coloured cement. He and Val amicably shared the house and one another when visitors were not in residence, but cohabitation was something only whispered. The house at Pegwell Bay was furnished with brass ornaments from India and the Middle East, colourful china, and rugs which Floss had brought home from his travels, and there were flowers everywhere, both inside and out. The hangings were of rich colours – Val herself was colourful, like a Gypsy, with red cheeks, dark hair and huge earrings always dangling to her shoulders.
The house below, on the road leading to the beach, was occupied by an AA man I found interesting, who covered the district on his yellow motor bike and sidecar. He had small children I played with, although I think I preferred to play with Val’s goat which I milked, and was tethered beside the house in a small pasture. The goat, knew me so well it would baa even when I was a quarter of a mile away. It always wanted to play butting games and its forehead of solid bone often caught me unawares in the thigh. The goat’s milk I accepted with tentative caution as I did the vegetable salads which contained fruit, more colourful than Mother’s – Val liked colour. I liked the salad no more than I did the milk but the outdoor life gave me an almost insatiable appetite.
Feeding birds, cats, the goat and a tortoise which hibernated in the cupboard over the cooker through the winter, together with Floss’s influence taught me much about the wider aspects of life – full justification for the working holiday experience, but much of it solitary. There was wonderful hay making, the hay transported in horse-drawn wains and stooked. The fun of building ricks with horseplay among the youngsters, the lunches brought to the field and the smell of the hay itself. I liked guiding the horses by the bridle when on roads, but was always fearful of their huge hooves. I also got jobs as a way of filling in the day, plum picking up tall rickety ladders, with a sort of apron bag in which to put the plums and filling wicker baskets, we were allowed to eat all we liked while we worked, and were paid on the number of baskets we filled. I didn’t get rich, but I did lose time with diarrhoea on the second day. I cycled to some of the Cinq Ports, Sandwich and Canterbury,. and wandered through the remnants of the invasion defences left from the First World War and to Manston and watched the RAF planes taking off and landing.
Down the road beside the bungalow I found another road running parallel with the beach and when I was cycling along there I was assailed with the marvellous scent of fresh lavender. I went into the lavender fields, which, like those in Grasse, in France, stretched in rows to fill the huge field. On the middle of one edge of the field was a gloomy wooden barn-like building which was store and shop and in there one could buy sachets to sweeten sheets in drawers, bottles of essence, hair grease in boot-polish-like tins, solid perfume blocks and sprays of all kinds and above everything was the concentrated smell of lavender. I was allowed to pick lavender and received sachets and hair grease for my trouble.
If you are a conscience ridden single parent, worried if your child should have a holiday, please make certain he or she is accompanied, or else forget it!