Thursday, December 08, 2005

BELFIELD 1945-56. (4)

Back in Belfield, I would spend much of my time playing in the garden, whatever the weather was like. My favourite spot was probably the magnificent yew tree which I loved to climb. With so much undergrowth and shrubberies there was plenty of scope for hidy-holes and dens.

There were two banks of rhododendrons; inside one of them was an open space large enough to stand up in. It was here that my mother and I made a little "Chapel". We made an altar from three pieces of rough wood nailed together, and above it hung a small cross which we made out of a gilded picture frame.

Many years later, in 1983, I re-visited Belfield with my father, my stepmother Evelyn and my son Michael. The then owners took us all on a tour of the house and garden. When we reached the rhododendron bush where our Chapel had been, they took us inside - where, to my astonishment, they had made a Chapel too. They had found the cross, still where we had tied it over thirty years before, and this had been their inspiration.

Starting with a wig-wam but soon progressing to a proper Swallows and Amazons type ridge-pole tent, I loved camping-out in the garden. I usually set up my camp on the land across the road from the house, which Mr W----- used to call "Down-Over". Here I would pitch my tent and the wig-wam, which I used for stores. Between the two, I cut out a square of turf for my camp-fire, over which I could hang my cooking pot and kettle, and roast marshmallows on the end of a stick. In the embers I would cook roast potatoes.

I furnished the tent with a groundsheet, rug, lilo and sleeping bag, and when I was a bit older would stay out there all night. I once tried to sleep outside without my tent, but once the dew started to form, it became so cold and damp that I soon gave up and went back to my cosy bedroom. In one of the garages, I found an old paraffin hurricane-lamp which I cleaned up and restored to working order to light me round the garden at night.

Mr W----- would come to the kitchen around midday with a basket of vegetables from the kitchen-garden and get hot water for his lunch-time mug of cocoa, before retiring to the secluded brick-built garden shed up the path from the back door. This was his refuge from bad weather and where he would sit to eat his sandwich lunch, enjoy his cocoa, and read the Daily Mirror.

When he had finished with the paper he would give it to my mother, as she and I enjoyed following the exploits of "Jane" - the saucy strip cartoon. Jane was always getting into situations which resulted in her losing most of her clothes, down to her frilly French Knickers, but her virtue always managed to stay intact. In addition there was an entire page of strip-cartoons in the Mirror which I looked forward to day by day; particularly "Garth" and "The Flutters".

When we were at Belfield for only a weekend, and the greater part of the Saturday was spent in Dorchester and the Sunday morning in Church, there cannot have been much time left for my mother's gardening - although I do remember her doing it during the summer as I watched from my bedroom window after I had gone to bed. For a few years after the War we had "double summer time" which gave us an extra hour of daylight in the evening.

On Sunday morning we would walk to All Saints, Wyke Regis to attend Holy Eucharist at 11am. Although this was our Parish Church, my father did not really approve of the Services there, which were of the Anglo Catholic tradition. He would have preferred a vicar who wore a modest surplice, scarf and academic hood - preferably that of an Oxford M.A., conducting a Service of Matins - to Mr Pratt grandly processing up the aisle in his cope and biretta. On reaching the altar he would ceremoniously doff the biretta and bow deeply, at which point my father was inclined to mutter under his breath: "Good morning God". However I was fascinated and rather impressed by all the ritual.

After doffing his biretta, Mr Pratt would soon be relieved of his cope too, revealing a chasuble beneath, and that too would eventually be removed before the sermon, leaving just his alb and stole. He was attended by an altar-boy in lace-edged cotton who seemed to spend all his time, when not meekly kneeling on the altar step, helping with the disrobing, moving Mr Pratt's Service Book from one side of the altar to the other, ringing the Sanctus Bell and generally, it seems to me, acting dogsbody to someone so grand and holy that he was incapable of conducting such menial tasks himself. Indeed I thought Mr Pratt second only to God, if not God himself.

We never stayed for the Communion part of the Service, but would discreetly leave during the last verse of the Offertory Hymn.

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