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About the Author

John Flint was born in Ambergate, Derbyshire, in 1937, where


snow was measured in feet rather than inches. After a spell in
industrial Yorkshire he eventually settled in Pinner, Middlesex,
where he married Trish Patricia in 1963 living in the Harrow
area until the death of his wife in 2007. He then downsized and
moved to Chesham.
He was variously employed as an organ builder, Civil Servant,
then in several branches of BT, finally serving six years in the
Crown Prosecution Service.
His interests are music, languages, woodwork carving and
walking.

Dedications
To my daughters Kathi, Niki and Rachel
To all who work in St Luke's Kenton Grange Hospice Harrow, to
Lesley Dodd the walks organiser, and to the Hospice Walkers
Trish
Patricia Flint
5 November 1940 - 20 January 2007

John Flint

YOU DID WHAT?!

Copyright John Flint (2015)


The right of John Flint to be identified as author of this work has
been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the
publishers.
Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims
for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British
Library.
ISBN 978 1 78554 123 0 (Paperback)
ISBN 978 1 78554 124 7 (Hardback)
www.austinmacauley.com
First Published (2015)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
London
E14 5LQ

Printed and bound in Great Britain

Acknowledgments
My thanks to Liz Hudson of 1stSecretarial Office Support.
Also my grateful thanks to all the staff of Austin Macaulay who
have been involved in the production of this my second book.

YOU DID WHAT?!

On the 27th of March 1937 in Ambergate in the Peak District


of Derbyshire, I was BORN! I emphasise born because so
many children of my generation were told either they had
been left by the fairies, or found under a gooseberry bush, or
brought by the stork. The fairy theory was not very sound, as
extensive searching in what was called fairy grass by children,
a very delicate grass in abundance on the banks at the side of
the roads, revealed no hidden babies. I dont know the name
of this mysterious plant supposedly involved in childbirth,
even less do I know its Latin name. In any case, dogs lifted
their legs and weed on it which wouldnt be the best welcome
for a baby. Mind you, it didnt stop us from chewing the grass.
We had seen local farmers with some kind of grass in their
mouths, chewing away and so we copied them. I guess we
chewed a fair amount of dog wee in the process. Maybe it
stopped us getting allergies later in life. Dont forget, I was
born in a country district, there were no pavements or verges,
just grassy banks on either side of the road, and street lights
were gas lit and only started nearer the village, not where we
lived.
Then there were the fairy rings, circles marked out on the
lawn which appeared mysteriously overnight, legend had it
that it was where the fairies had danced at midnight. Maybe
so, but there were no babies to be found there either.
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Then there was the story of the gooseberry bush. We had


two rows of gooseberry bushes, but I never saw any babies
hidden amongst the prickles. To those of you accustomed to
supermarket shopping, gooseberries dont grow in sealed
plastic cartons, they grow on spiny prickly bushes and it is
impossible to pick the berries without drawing blood at some
time. So what a place to hide a baby, stark naked and getting
impaled with every movement. No, I dont think this is the
true story either.
It is interesting that it was generally the poorer children
who had the gooseberry story, was this the beginning of the
class system?
But then there was the stork, a very upper class delivery,
but all the more expensive cards for the birth of a baby had
some very imaginative artwork, showing the bird gliding
serenely over an upper crust neighbourhood, baby suspended
from its beak in a sling. I dont recollect ever seeing a card
with a gooseberry bush!
But I was BORN. When, as a precocious child, I asked
where I had come from, I was told in a very avant-garde
manner that Daddy put a seed in Mummy, and it was kept
warm for a very long time, until one day out you popped!
Mum had been a teacher at one time and was obviously keen
that I should have a sound education, although omitting quite
a few relevant details.
Now as a child I was a very keen gardener, and I had at
least two square yards of prime Derbyshire soil (in the corner
of two thirds of an acre of garden), and I knew when you
planted seeds, you used a dibber. We had several dibbers of
varying lengths, sizes, and diameters, and for the life of me, I
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couldnt see which size would be appropriate for planting a


seed in Mummys tummy, or how it would be done. Why
dont parents finish the detail of their imaginative stories
instead of leaving a child puzzling?
My education was broadened slightly as one day I was
walking across the fields with a neighbouring farmer, when I
saw a very energetic bull with a monstrous long willie getting
on the back of a cow. Whats he doing? I asked. She wants
a baby calf. How do you know? Oh, its the way she
looks at him!
On reflection, I suspect the latter comment might have
been more relevant to the farmer and his wife, than between a
cow and a bull! But it satisfied my curiosity for a time, at least
until I started school, of which more later.
As I was saying before the baby question arose. I had a
small patch of garden where I grew radishes, and occasionally
I would buy plants in the market and grow them on, generally
the type of flower that was immediately noticeable and
virtually indestructible, they may have been marigolds or
something similar. Apart from my own garden, I looked after
Dads vegetable patch, following his instructions for weeding
and watering. I never enquired in those early days why Dad
had not joined up or been called up, or whatever the
phrase was when you went away to join the army, but I know
there were several men around who either worked in Rolls
Royce on aero engines, or on what was then the London
Midland and Scottish Railway LMS, which linked all the
industrial areas of the Midland and the North and were in
reserved occupations, i.e. they were more important where
they were employed than in the armed forces, or so it was
believed.

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The gardening was of major importance as it provided our


vegetables, which we supplemented with the plentiful nettles
which grew rampant and which were cooked as a substitute
for spinach. I dont suppose youve been out with a sickle to
reap your second veg. If you kept your pullover sleeves down
and wore an old pair of gloves, you didnt get stung too badly.
I took the bundle into the kitchen and Mum sorted them out
and cooked them. It never occurred to me that there was
anything strange in using a razor-sharp sickle. I know it was
razor-sharp because I sharpened it, and I was only about seven
or eight!
Part of the garden was called the wilderness it was so
overgrown, and my sister and I would play hide and seek,
build dens, and light fires on which we boiled water to make
tea in an old metal pot. We played bows and arrows, the bows
were made of ash branches which Dad cut down for us, and
the arrows were any straight thinner branches we could find.
We sharpened them to a point, never firing at each others
faces, but anywhere else on the body was a fair target. There
is something hilarious in seeing an arrow prick somebodys
bottom if it was a good shot, or it bounce off if it wasnt so
good. In any case the bows were not very powerful!
My sister would sometimes bring a friend in to play, but it
always seemed to be arranged that I lost, as I was younger
than my sister.
Indoors there was no television, no play stations, no
computers, in fact no electronic gadgets at all. Boys might
make things with Meccano, basically engineering in
miniature. You could make cranes, lorries, gearboxes,
machinery of different types. In fact, it was not unknown for
adults to use it to try out theories for the work place. Or
perhaps you might have a clockwork or electric train set, mine
was electric running off a 20 volt transformer which was
about the size of a lunch box, but you could use it for hours
without it overheating. Nothing in those days was
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miniaturised; it was big, solid, built to last, virtually nothing


plastic of the type then available, Bakelite. The transformer
also provided power for Meccano models, and could be used
for giving friends a tingle, if they put wet fingers on the
model railway track or could be persuaded to lick it!
I seem to remember my sister had a dolls house and pram
and all the usual dolly things. Most of the clothing was
handmade, either knitted or sewn.
Many of the toys had been second hand as it was war
time, but then we didnt expect presents with all the wrapping
and presentation now believed to be essential.
Helping with the housework was almost part of your play.
As electric washing machines were extremely rare, boys could
be expected to do the physical side of washday, moving the
agitator, the device that moved the clothes backwards and
forwards through the soapy water, could become driving a
train or tram, with a little imagination. If it was bedding to be
washed, then it became very heavy work. The wringer was
always fun, because if you put pillowcases in with the open
end first, you ended up with a tight balloon of air and water
which sizzled as you tried to feed it through. Ours was quite a
new type of wringer; it had rubber rollers, whereas the earlier
ones were wooden. Rubber meant you had a bit of give if
your fingers became trapped. There was no emergency
release; you just had to turn the handle the opposite way!
I certainly had my fingers caught, generally whilst feeding
the washing through, and forgetting to stop turning the handle
when fingers and washing became intertwined and went
between the rollers.
My sister and I both did jobs like shelling peas and
topping and tailing gooseberries, no pre-packaged fruit and
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vegetable then. We had probably picked the gooseberries


earlier, and still had the scratches to prove it! We would pull
rhubarb and then with a big sharp knife chop the leaf and base
off the stalk, no not on a chopping board, on a good solid
table, just hold the stalk a little way below where you were
going to cut it and then flick the blade through the stalk. Yes,
the blade was sharp enough to take your thumb and finger off,
but after one or two misplaced chops, you soon learned the
technique and then it was a competition to see how near your
thumb and finger you could cut! And kids at school nowadays
have safety scissors and craft knives with hardly a blade?!
Whilst picking the peas I must have eaten hundreds of them
raw, shell as well, unwashed, with the occasional maggot or
caterpillar being consumed. Well it had rained last week, so
they couldnt be too dirty! I chomped on purple sprouting
broccoli, straight from the plant. I did pull off the caterpillars
first, but that was all, and I never washed my hands until I
came in for a meal, snacking round the garden on whatever
was available, was with dirty hands and probably dirty plants,
fruit and vegetables, too.
All this was while I was between the age of five and nine,
so I confess Ive cheated a bit by telling you about things that
happened after Id started school, but the knife was just as
sharp, and the gooseberries just as prickly, however old I was
at the time!
In spring, the chaotic ritual of spring-cleaning took place.
One room after another was emptied, cleaned, dusted,
polished; fire places black leaded. Black lead is a solution of
graphite which you put on black metalwork, generally
fireplaces, or kitchen ranges, and when the solution is dry, you
buff the metal with a brush until it shines, and you are
completely filthy. No, we didnt wear masks or gloves, or
protective clothing. You just wore any old clothes.

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The kitchen range was a bit like a Rayburn, but bigger and
black with the fire exposed on some of them. This masterpiece
of engineering really had the full treatment; you swept the
short metal chimney, which led to the main chimney outside,
then cleaned all the flues which lead to the hot plates, hobs
and ovens and to the boiler. The latter either provided hot
water through a brass tap on the front, or if you were super
modern, the hot water went up to a tank from where, O luxury
of luxuries, it would feed a bath, probably one wash hand
basin and the kitchen sink. Baths were on a rota basis, as the
boiler could only cope with one bath per night. If you think
this is medieval, the house my parents had lived in before I
was born, and where my sister had been born, had a green cast
iron hand pump at the end of the draining board, very much
like the ones now sold as ornaments in garden centres and the
water would be bucketed into a gas boiler which stood in the
corner of the kitchen, and then, when it was hot enough, the
big zinc bath hanging behind the door would be taken down
and filled. Bubble bath? Scented soap? Dont make me laugh!
But I digress. The kitchen range was black-leaded and
because it was bigger, you became filthier. Gloves and masks
were unheard of, but you knew where the dust had gone when
you blew your nose!
Then there was the other metal work, brass, copper steel,
silver if you had any, you name it, we polished it. Your hands
changed colour several times according to what you were
cleaning, and what witches brew you were using. True, there
was Brasso for the brass and copper and Zebo for black lead
work and Grandmas special concoctions. There were also
special potions in unmarked jars, recipes handed down in the
family, probably for generations, and, which, should you
accidentally swallow some, no one would have a clue as to
what was dissolving your internal organs. Suffice it to say
many of these recipes contained more than one poisonous
substance and probably acid as well. Hygiene being what it
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