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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Country Roads? Take Me Home!

 This is the most recent article to appear in the Derby Telegraph:

I mentioned my Auntie Mabel's Chocolate Sponge cake with plum jam filling last time, as an effective incentive to go out to the wilds of Holbrook and "get some fresh air into your lungs", as my Mum would exhort.  I'm not saying that this was the only reason for going, but it was pretty high on the list!

Having been born and brought up in Burton upon Trent, and spent all of my childhood within roughly the same square mile of that town, the appeal of the countryside was lost on me.  You see, I knew Burton like the back of my hand.  I knew where to go and where to avoid.  I knew the cinemas and the library, the shops and the museum, in fact, just about every 'crook and nanny'.  The countrysde, however, was a mystery to me.

Do you know Holbrook?  I believe it is a much larger affair now than it was back in the early 1960s, when I could be found lurking around Pond Road.  What amazed me about the village was how everybody seemed to know everybody else.  Coming from a town that made 'keeping yourself to yourself' practically an art form, this was a shock to the system.  Holbrook might have been a foreign country as far as I was concerned.  I certainly used to actively yearn for the comforting certainties of town life and, when I was old enough to be let out on my own, I used to take the bus to Belper.  Now I accept that Belper is hardly a throbbing metropolis, either now or then (unless, of course, you came from Holbrook) but I found it had some of the aspects of town-life that I enjoyed, like traffic and people. 

My invariable routine was to plod up and down the High Street, look at the shops, buy a packet of Dentyne chewing gum (because I never saw it on sale anywhere else, and it was the nearest I was prepared to get to 'cool' gum chewing) and invest in a chocolate milk shake in a café.  Then it was back to the Bus Station and Holbrook.
Actually, being given the chance to stay at Auntie Mabel's was really an act of considerable generosity on their part.  Not only did it mean an extra mouth to feed, in addition to their three children, but it also placed a considerable strain on the sleeping arrangements. 

Being of the male persuasion, I was something of an oddity on Mum's side of the family.  Auntie Mabel was one of Mum's two sisters and she, herself, had had three daughters.    In a three-bedroomed house, this did not leave much scope for accommodating nephews. 

Accordingly, I was billeted at the foot of Auntie Mabel and Uncle Leslie's own bed, in a sort of early version of a sofa bed.  I seem to recall that it was a dark green, buttoned, high-backed chair with wooden arms, and the whole thing folded down into a bed that would just about contain a child.  The buttoning effect on the upholstery made the 'mattress' support somewhat sporadic, and the wooden arms with their Barley Twist struts gave the effect of, at best, being back in a cot and, at worst, being in prison.  Nevertheless, I usually slept well, probably as a consequence of having "that fresh air in my lungs" and being prodded into taking more exercise (in the sense of country walks, trailing after my youngest cousin) than I would normally take. 

The difficulty arose if I had not gone to sleep quickly enough, usually due to clandestine reading of my cousins' collection of Enid Blyton books and Rupert Annuals.  I had no desire whatsoever to see either my Auntie or Uncle prepare for bed, and I was pretty sure that they would find it disconcerting, to say the least, if they knew I was awake.  So, with my eyes as tightly shut as they were for Santa's visit on Christmas Eve, I awaited the turning off of the light and the regular breathing that would indicate that proper decorum had been restored.

Jambalaya, Philip's first foray into book-length humorous fiction, is now available at