Life at Crick Farm

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Meanwhile, back in London, the bombing that had been threatened for so long, began in earnest. My father, who was working as a messenger for the Ministry of Supply in Westminster insisted that my mother should come and join us in Penallt. I longed to see my mother but did not want to leave the Englands and Cartref.

Arrangements were made for us to stay at a farmhouse about half a mile away, not far from the Gleeds’ farm. This was a large square grey house called Crick at the top of a steep hill and owned by Mr and Mrs Norman. “Don’t worry, our Kath.” Rushton tried to comfort me. “You’ll be able to see us every day when you come to school.” It was going to be an adjustment for them too. I believe they had grown to love me as much as I loved them.

As far as I remember, we had rooms at the back of the house, which were large and draughty. It was the coldest place I had ever known and we nicknamed it Bleak House. Instead of being just across the road from the school, Gerald and I had to make our way through fields and past a pig pen, where a big old sow, no doubt looking for food, would always come lumbering and grunting after us. I was terrified of this pig, and would run away from it screaming, much to the annoyance of my brother, who wasn’t in the least bit afraid of it and became impatient with my histrionics.

My mother, despite the hard living conditions, grew to love the country life. Mrs Norman, the farmer’s wife did not much care for the animals and, except for the chickens, would have nothing to do with them. I remember my mother helping Mr Norman encourage an injured and frightened horse back onto its feet by gently stroking and cajoling it until it calmed down. She loved bottle feeding the baby lambs that had lost their mothers. One of these became quite tame and would follow us about. We called her Mary and regarded her as a pet until one day, to our dismay, discovered she had been taken off to market. Gerald and I wouldn’t eat lamb for ages after that. We began to realise that farm life was harsh and there was no time for sentiment. I couldn’t bear to see the sheep dogs tied up on chains outside. There they stayed until they were required to work rounding up the sheep. “They be working farm dogs,” explained Mr Norman. “If we allowed them in the house, they’d grow soft in no time.” I thought of Rono and how he was loved as a member of the family. He was gentle and patient and even let me dress him up in my doll’s bonnet and comb his silky coat. The farm dogs always seemed hungry and would growl and snarl in a most frightening way when I passed by them on my way to the back door.

In her blue dungarees my hard working mother resembled a land girl. The well with fresh spring water for drinking was at the bottom of the steep hill and every day my mother carried two buckets of water from the well balanced on the two ends of a yoke round her neck just like Uncle Rush. How my mother had the strength to perform this task, I can’t imagine. Robust as she was in those days she was smaller than average and in her early thirties still looked like a girl.

One of the most exciting things, as far as Gerald and I were concerned was discovering the old quarry just a little distance from the farm. This was a children’s paradise with its steep trails leading down into ferny caverns with moss covered rocks, remnants of the old stone quarry from which many of the local cottages were built. We played the most wonderful games here. One of our favourites was pretending to have Robin Hood adventures. Gerald had made good friends with a boy who lived in a cottage at the bottom of the hill opposite Gleeds’ farm. He was called Gevan and was the only boy among a family of girls. I remember he was pleasant and friendly and did not make fun of me like some of the other Penallt boys, who sometimes came to join in our games. Gevan and Gerald made makeshift bows and arrows out of nut sticks and during the holidays we played in the quarry all day, just returning to the farm when we were hungry. I found Crick a rather cold, slightly hostile place and never felt truly happy there despite my mother’s presence. I followed Gerald about everywhere and came to depend on him. He must have found this rather tiresome, though we formed a bond during this time that continued for the rest of his life.

Our first and only Christmas at Crick Farm must have been during the winter of 1941. I have never felt so cold in my life. We huddled round the fire in our large, draughty back sitting room but the warmth would not reach the tips of our fingers and toes. The bedrooms were freezing and we were only too glad to jump into bed and snuggle up under the quilt with a hot water bottle. But these too were freezing by morning. From the eaves large, long icicles dangled over the windows like glassy stalactites. One of Gerald’s favourite stories was The Snow Queen and we thought her frozen kingdom could not have been colder than this. How my poor mother managed to keep cheerful during this time, trying to wash and air clothes, walking to the top road to catch the rare bus into town for shopping and keeping us supplied with water from the well, I can’t imagine. At the same time she must have worried about our father back in London dealing with the air raids.

During a visit to us in the early summer of the following year, he was laid low with pneumonia and was confined to bed. It must have been serious as a doctor called several times. I remember an occasion during this period when my mother was beside herself with anger at my brother and me, a most unusual occurrence. I could not understand it at the time but when I was older with children of my own, I thought back to that time and the strain my mother must have been under.

One day, as Gerald and I were on our way home from school and passing a large farm called The White House, we noticed a small group of people watching some soldiers, who were flashing searchlights from the top of the granary steps. Someone said they were on the lookout for German planes. I have a feeling Rushton was there. He always seemed to be around when there was something interesting going on. Gerald and I stopped to watch, fascinated by the beams of the searchlights. We forgot the time and dusk was falling as we began to make our way back to Crick. My mother came dashing out before we reached the door, her face flushed with anger, her voice choking with emotion. “Where on earth have you been? How can you be so thoughtless! I’ve been worried half to death wondering where you were.” She became even angrier when we said we’d been watching the searchlights. “How could you be so stupid!” she shouted. I can’t remember how Gerald reacted. He hated scenes. I dashed upstairs to where my father lay in bed and crept in beside him. He put his arm round me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s hard for your mother just now. She didn’t know where you were and that made her very upset.” His arm held me closer. “We both love you, you know.”

When my father had regained his strength, my mother decided to go back to London with him. She was sure he hadn’t been looking after himself properly. Gerald was nearly twelve by this time and returned with them. Once again I had to wave goodbye to my parents. At the same time I was losing the companionship of my brother, my friend and protector.

I had been visiting the Englands practically every day after school. They took as much interest in me as any grandparents would have done. I missed Rono and my cat Tibby, who had grown huge and sleek and was a great mouser. We tried several times to take him to Crick but he kept making his way back to Cartref. One day he went missing entirely and although we searched high and low, there was no sign of him. Several months later, someone told us that an enormous wild cat had been spotted in Troy Woods. I was sure it must have been Tibby and the story of the wild cat in the woods became a kind of legend and kept Tibby alive for me.

As it was, the Englands happily welcomed me back and I became their little evacuee once more. By this time, Hilda and Rushton’s sister Mamie and brother Ted were living just across the road in an old stone cottage called, Cae Lles, once the England’s family home. They had both lost their spouses and were childless. Ted’s wife Lucy had died suffering from cancer and the dramatic circumstances surrounding Mamie’s second husband Albert’s demise, caused much speculation. Voices were lowered when I was within earshot but I soon gathered that he had shot himself. Whether this was an accident or intentional I never quite knew. I just remembered him as a grumpy old thing, not much given to smiling, so maybe the poor man was suffering from depression.

[Next: Pastor Evans and more on local walks]

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