ABOUT THE BOOKIn the history of Britain there is a shortage of Second World War stories detailing the lives of ordinary families living in poverty, the children’s games and the black market profiteering that history has forgotten.
The story of young Eric and John is here to set the record straight. Two boys growing up in the midst of rationing, with a flair for mischief and a sense of humour history will never see again – what could happen? Quite a lot, apparently, if the exciting family life of Eric and John is anything to go by. Telling of their family life in war torn Birmingham where poverty was rife, Eric’s account is full of wit and the kind of humour history should remember. From the infamous Bread Pudding Incident to the charming children’s games like ‘Penny on the Brick,' you will find laughter and warm memories of time spent in an age before computers, when children had to entertain themselves. Yet there is poignancy here, too, as Eric and John find themselves swept up in the greater tide of war as evacuees, made to travel to the country with no chance of looking back . . .
EXCERPT FROM EPITAPH TO 'NICKLE ECK'
Chapter 11 ‘Evacuation’
The Billeting Officer then sent us to lodge with an elderly couple called Golland, who must have needed the money.
We shared our attic room with a youngish woman who appeared each night after we had gone to bed. She never put the light on but undressed in the dark, discarding about seventeen garments. A large bowl of assorted nuts was then pulled out from under her bed, and we drifted off to sleep to the sound of cracking shells and grinding molars. Each morning she would be long gone, leaving evidence of a monkey’s meal behind her.
“Funny woman,” I remarked.
“A nutter,” said John. Ah! He was so witty.
In an old outhouse one day we found dusty bottles of homemade elderberry wine. The description ‘wine’ we thought a little presumptuous considering its humble origin, but amusing enough. We got into the habit of swigging a few mouthfuls now and then and replacing the missing quantity with tap water. The ‘wine’ was sweet and made us feel squiffy for a while – and bolder, with disastrous consequences.
Mr. Golland was a very keen gardener, somewhat constrained by a gammy leg which caused him to use a walking stick. We often helped him, but only with mundane tasks like weeding or watering the pots in his greenhouse. This greenhouse had a brick base about three feet high, surmounted by the usual glass and wooden framed top, with only one narrow door.
One day, growing tired of watering the individual pots, John suddenly exclaimed, “IDEA!”
My heart contracted and my breathing became shallow. John’s ideas always worked, after a fashion, but I usually came to grief.
“Wha’?” I enquired, trying not to sound too keen.
“Water the greenhouse,” John replied, pointing to the brick surround. “We’ll put the hose pipe through a broken window into the base, jam the door tight with cardboard, turn the water on and - after a while - the level will reach the pots and do the job automatically.”
After a few swigs of elderberry wine I was game for anything.
We lined the potted plants up on slatted staging, put the hose pipe along the floor, jammed the door and turned the water on. The level was slow at first as the water soaked into the gravel floor, but soon the depth increased. We watched fascinated as the brick base turned into an indoor swimming pool and lapped at the bottom of the pots.
“That’s enough,” said John, “turn the water off.”
I hurried to the tap and met Mr. Golland on his way to the greenhouse.
“What are you two up to?” he asked.
“We’re watering your plants and cleaning the shelves,” I replied loudly, to give warning to John who was removing the hosepipe.
Mr. Golland sniffed and said that he would inspect our work. He hobbled onward as John and I stopped breathing and watched, frozen with horror, as he grabbed the door knob and pulled. The door stuck. Mr Golland was having none of this; he put his stick over one arm and, using both hands, gave a mighty heave. The door crashed open and a huge rolling wave engulfed him. Frothing whitecaps lapped round him as he surfed past on his way to his supper, surrounded by bobbing plants and his stick.
“This is going to take some explaining,” I thought.
Amazingly, Mr. Golland accepted that we had accidentally left the hosepipe on. We retrieved the pots and his stick, and begged his forgiveness. I did my wide-eyed innocent cherubic act, and John reminded him that the greenhouse wouldn’t need cleaning out for some time.
As Mr. Golland went towards the house to change, John pointed out that he should really be quite pleased, as we had watered the whole garden as well as the pots. This intelligence was greeted by another sniff as Mr. Golland went inside.
All would have ended, if not well, at least amicably had Mr. Golland not sent his wife to the outhouse for a bottle of her elderberry wine to help his recovery from the storm-tossed sea. John and I stared at each other. The wine by now was much diluted and was merely pink water. We didn’t wait for the repercussions but postponed the inevitable return of the Billeting Officer by going for a long walk in nearby Nottingham Forest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For almost 20 years he worked for Bass Charrington, controlling licensed premises throughout the Midlands, and also for Mitchells & Butlers in Birmingham, during which time he was with the Hall Green Little Theatre and became a stalwart member of the Blossomfield Club in Solihull, where for many years he performed, directed and was co-writer of original musical comedies produced and performed there.
At one time a presenter for BBC Radio Birmingham, Eric spent ten years with the Monitoring Section of the BBC World Service in Berkshire, becoming well-known locally for his acting talent, especially mimicry and humour, winning numerous awards over the years.
Eric was married twice and met his second wife in Henley-on-Thames, when she directed him in J.B. Priestley's When We Are Married. At that time he was semi-retired working as a warden at Windsor Castle, where he endeared himself to his colleagues but was often reprimanded for displaying his unique brand of humour to the general public.
Retiring to Devon in 2001, Eric enjoyed boat restoration, brewing very strong cider, cultivating rare trees and plants and reading. He began writing his stories in 2004 - and also began tales from his adult life, regrettably unfinished. He and his wife performed in Salcombe, where he is celebrated in the South Hams for his performance in the famous music hall sketch 'Dinner for One' (YouTube - Dinner for One, Eric).
His final memorable performance was at the 2011 Dartmouth Drama Festival, five months before he died, where he brought the house down in the two miming sketches from Michael Frayn's Alarms & Excursions, directed by his wife. His expertise was as sharp as ever and, as always, he received tumultuous applause.
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