The thing I remember most clearly about that little country school, was the clock. It had a large round face and even I, a mere five year old, knew the position of the hands at quarter to four. How ever boring the day had been, it held one moment of pure joy. When it was time to go home.
It was one April afternoon in I925, the clock hands had at last reached their desired position and the children spilled out of school like potatoes out of an overturned sack. And rather drab they all looked, their clothes had been chosen with two things in mind; firstly that they should last, and secondly they shouldn’t show the dirt. By the look of them they had achieved their first objective, whether they had achieved their second was a matter of opinion.
A handful of us took the road leading away from the village. It was hardly a road, more a gravel track with wide grass verges. Although I was the youngest, I had no trouble keeping up with the others; no one was in a hurry, we were all children of the countryside, it was our natural element, we were part of it and it of us.
There was little warmth in the pale April sunshine, but in a thousand ways spring was making herself seen and heard, and yes, smelt. She was colouring the hedgerows with tender green, and the thorn she had dressed in a wedding gown.
Sidney, my eight year old brother and another little boy by the name of Horry Ruffles, darted from one side of the road to the other, gazing into the hedges like frantic ornithologists, for their sole interest at this time of year, was the finding of bird’s nests. Each new nest was examined carefully at a distance; for if it was interfered with in anyway, the mother bird might take umbrage and forsake her babies’ cradle that she had fashioned so lovingly, forever.
Sadie and Stella, two little sisters, whose homeward path took them part of the way with me, were both fair, but otherwise very different in appearance, one being thin and sharp featured, the other quite the opposite. They frequently stopped to pick violets and an occasional early primrose. I didn't join them in their pleasant task, for wild flowers look so much happier living and growing in their natural surrounding, and would have been dead anyway by the time I had reached home.
Sidney called to us, turning from the hedge his blue eyes shining with delight. He had found a thrush’s nest with one egg in it.
It was John Clare who wrote;
“And bye and bye, like heath bells gilt with dew, There lay her shining eggs as bright as flowers”
We all stood on tiptoe to admire the nest placed conveniently low. Turning to Stella, Sidney. said, ‘Don’t yew touch that nest,’ knowing she would be passing that way several times before we all went back to school after the weekend.
“Why not? It’s not yours,” she answered reasonably enough. “‘Cos I’ll give yew a clip o’ the lug if yew dew,” Sidney replied, looking as aggressive as his words implied. The two children eyed each other, then to my relief Stella turned her attention to a violet playing hide and seek on the bank.
We came to a five barred gate leading into a field, and I said goodbye to the little girls. Sidney, who by this time was up the road some distance with Horry, shouted and waved, which I knew by experience meant, “I’ll meet you on the other side of the little plantation.” I climbed the gate and took the very indifferent path that ran alongside a field, fortunately the day had been fine, for when it rained I got my boots and short legs sodden in the long wet grass.
I was alone and could take out my thoughts, as it were. Lovely, lovely, it was Friday, the best day of the week, no school for two whole days. I skipped along, two days of bliss stretched before me, and when one is five years old, that’s practically forever. I ran through the wood which was only a handful of trees, but seemed quite dark and dense to me; I wasn’t frightened, although I was always glad to be out on the other side.
It was then I saw a little animal in a black velvet suit blinking blindly in the pale sunshine, he was a beautiful creature about six inches long, with spade like hands. He must have sensed my presence, for he disappeared into the soft earth in a matter of seconds. I’d seen a lot of dried up carcasses that had once been moles, strung up by Mr Fisher to prove what a good mole catcher he was, but I had never met one in the flesh before.
Mr Fisher was a little man with a slight stoop, who always wore a corduroy suit and looked rather like a mole himself. For a small sum he undertook to trap the moles on our farm. He always pushed a stave into the ground to mark the spot where he had set the trap.
Sidney came running up, out of breath and rather anxious.
“You won’t tell Mum I went the long way round will you?” he asked, for he was supposed to keep with me.
I answered, “No,” whether from loyalty, or fear of reprisals I can’t say.
We ran hand in hand till we came to where Ting-a-Ling, a white terrier, was sitting in the grass a short distance from the house. We went through our usual routine of turning out our dinner bags. Sidney gave the dog a jam roll, but I only had a few dry crusts to offer. Everything was so gratefully received, I felt guilty my contribution was so small. Sidney never ate his jam rolls, for he could not bear to get his hands sticky, I was not so fussy.
We looked up and saw Mother standing in the doorway, a loving smile on her face and her soft brown hair secured by two tortoiseshell side combs. She kissed us both, we were home again. Home to love, security and the smell of freshly baked bread.