Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday 13th August 1939

Sunshine! And a holiday morning! Grey bags, khaki shirt, no tie, RNVR scarf, tweed jacket, brown shoes, socks rolled down to the ankles, saucy French onionman’s beret on my head.

George and Jacko alighted from the bus, strolled across to where I waited with Slinky B, outside The Cock. Sun glasses were needed! Billericay, Laindon Hills, Tilbury and – over the river! Caught a bus to the outskirts of Gravesend (I never know which bus to take and I’m still ignorant!) Usual path across the fields and up to the mill. This climb in the noonday sun “sweated the callow fat” off us as they say in books which revel in cliché. We ate our sandwiches and had pints of shandy at Ye Olde See Ho, Shorne.

Aeroplanes droned overhead as we took to the fields again and the enthusiastic George told us how to recognise the various types. Thereafter Jacko and I, at frequent intervals and after great concentration would cry, “Avro!” or “De Haviland” or “Hawker!” Surprisingly, our elementary judgement was often confirmed by the expert George.

Once Cobham Park was reached, our pace slackened considerably and we strolled leisurely through the woods, halting frequently. George tried to make cigarettes from some dry plant he’d found; Jacko lay, hands behind head, and looked at the blue sky, then cut himself a stick; I lounged on the ground and sleepily examined the contents of my rucksack – Prayer Book, pack of cards and map in one pocket; cotton wool, whisky flask (almost empty) aspirins and string in the other.

Later we reached a railway cutting and sat down on the bank whilst several trains passed. I became an inert subject in the sunshine. George sang “Over the border, down Mexico way.” Jacko hurried off to investigate the merest flutter of a feminine skirt, seen some distance away, across the bridge. When he returned, we tramped along the line. We read all the letters we found lying beside the way and tried to weave fantastic romances out of them. Jacko spat hopefully on the live rail but nothing happened. “It’s terrible tempting,” he said wistfully.

After two miles or so of alertness for trains, live rail fascination and fantasy production we left the line and got onto the main road at the intended point. I loudly referred to my magnificent map reading, but nobody else seemed impressed.
Soon reached Cobham and had tea at the Dorrit (one glass of milk, four cups of tea). Then we shamelessly called at the Leather Bottle, ostensibly for a glass of grapefruit, actually for a wash.

When George and I reached the lavatory, Jacko had disappeared but the door of the inner chamber was marked “engaged” so we (rightly) deduced that Jacko was within.
Determined that an eavesdropper should hear no good of himself, George and I, whilst washing, discussed Jacko in the most scathing terms (“Of course, I wouldn’t like to say it to his face, but…”) and then hurried out. Looking slightly worried, Jacko rejoined us in the street.

To atone, we eventually agreed to go to Church with him. George was extremely reluctant; as we went up the churchyard path he grumbled, “But I don’t bloody well want to go to Church” and he was still muttering impotently as we sat down in a pew.
Two things I liked: first, it was nice to take part in the familiar ritual once more, secondly it was a good chance for praying – a rare habit of mine. There were so many things to pray about – requests, apologies and thanks.

Bus. Ferry. Slinky B. Lengthening shadows, dusk, night.

Ten o’clock. We all sat in the car outside Jacko’s house. He was to join the Army in eleven hours time.

“Well, so long you fellows!”
“Cheerio, Jacko, all the best”
“Good-bye Jacko. Good luck!”

Handclasps. End of a trio, no doubt. George and I arranged to meet again next Tuesday.


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