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......... Green Pond ...........

by Sue O'Brien

by Dave Sampson
by Don Tait, Feb 2012
The Green Pond in winter 1974. The fallen and by now sinking tree trunk in the foreground was a vantage point for our fishing in the fifties. Del Smith

Green Pond memories, Del Smith

In 1950 Harold Hill was the outback, populated from the early fifties onwards by young inner London families with children. I was one of those scruffy kids, born in 1948 and arriving in Harold Hill in 1951. I first discovered the Manor in 1953/4, albeit at that age under supervision. To me it was a wild and exciting place, it was also enormously enticing.
I lived in the Brosely Rd flats and my first school was Dycorts infants. Every day my mum would struggle with my little brother in his push chair and me straggling along behind, up Dagnam Park Drive before she eventually dropped me off in Sedgefield Crescent. At 3.30 she would return to collect me, come rain or shine she was always there. In the early days I was always relieved and reassured to see her. But as my confidence grew I wasn't so keen on this arrangement because some of my mates were allowed to do the journey back and forth unchaperoned.
After much badgering mum finally relented and allowed me to make the journey alone, on one condition "that I didn't take the shortcut through the woods" I "give her" my solemn word of honour and needless to say within a few days the pledge was forgotten and I almost always went to and from school via Hatters Wood entering in Sedgefield Crescent at the moat, passing the Green Pond and exiting in Whitchurch Rd or using the reverse route in the mornings. There were occasional exceptions, when it was very muddy, I knew mum would inspect my shoes and ask "have you been in the woods?" if I had "no mum" would be my best po-faced and dishonest reply. She probably always knew, but just to play safe on very wet days I would often walk along the boring pavements, prodding spiders in the privet hedges and occasionally knocking on a random street door and running for it. I was also prone to kick anything left lying around in the street. Strangely there wasn't much to kick around in those days, not much traffic so dead hedgehogs were rare, certainly no tin cans or plastic containers. There were more glass bottles though, mainly milk bottles, but rather than kick them around it was much more fun to put them up as targets and assault them with our catapults.
I remember this could be quite time consuming, firstly our accuracy was suspect and what's more we could never find a suitable supply of ammo. Smooth deliciously round shiny pebbles about an inch in diameter were perfect but rare. What was more if you took too long looking for ammo the chances increased that one of your competitors would hit the bottle first. So ammo selection would get less and less discriminatory as time went by, eventually large awkward shaped flints or lumps of concrete or in desperation even crumbling clay pellets would be launched at the hapless milk bottles. Occasionally this inappropriately sized ammo would crunch up against your thumb upon release; it was these, the most memorable moments that taught us to swear. Swearing was our forte we did it all the time, every other word or more, just as long as no adults were nearby. As if by magic we would always know if an adult was in earshot. The system wasn't infallible, if all else failed we fell back on " no I said shucks" The target practise sessions almost always ended in the bottle remaining intact and the boldest kid getting bored and taking hold of the bottle and smashing it single handed against some concrete somewhere. So much for the catapult.
On reflection we spent a lot of time on various weapons, catapults, spears, daggers, bows, darts, etc. But all of these weapons were totally ineffective against the so called vermin, (Starlings, Rats, Squirrels, and Magpies) All of these animals sidestepped our efforts. But their knowing smiles never stopped us trying and try was all we ever did.
As I grew a little older I was charged with the duty of escorting my little brother to and from school. I immediately initiated him into the brotherhood and swore him to silence, for what it was worth. From then on we both pursued journeys via Hatters Wood along with a whole host of tiny liars trudging through the leaves, splashing in the puddles and throwing stones or acorns at anything that moved.
In the spring we would sometimes pick the Bluebells but as often as not, in passing, we would mow down the swarms with sticks as if we had scythes. I don't know why we did this, but the woodland floor was as blue as blue could be and as far as the eye could see "there's millions of em" It was a contrary blue mist, placid and calming.
In the spring we would hunt out bird's nests to steal the eggs for our collections and in the autumn we would go a little out of our way and collect conkers. We were all in a world of our own, I don't know how we ever remembered we had to get to school by ten to nine, some of us never made it, but I usually did, and there were only a few occasions when I lost my little brother.
There was an occasion when a man who lived in Sedgefield Crescent, a postman I think, hanged himself from a tree near the moat, news spread through the woodland community of small folk and we all went to stare. But we couldn't tell anyone because we were not meant to be there.
Hoping to be horrified for a second time I returned to check the grisly sight in the morning, but sadly he was gone, we guessed some grown-ups had taken him away. It never occurred to me that he may have been someone's father, someone's husband. To an eight year old it was fascinating, frightening, scary, puzzling, a curiosity, but not really that sad. Today I can't comprehend my reaction. To this day despite deaths of close relatives he is the only corpse I have ever seen.
As I got older during school holidays I would virtually live over the manor, I can remember asking my mum to get me up early to "go over the manor" and go over the manor we did. Every day. In the early days she would occasionally make me a packed lunch but this was a hopeless attempt to keep me nourished, because by 10 o clock I had either eaten it or swapped it for a birds egg or even a couple of fags, which I would puff away at in an attempt to raise my status. "Let's have your dog end" the junior members would say and the favoured juniors would be passed the stinking, smouldering butt. From that day on they would owe you.
Since this memoir was meant to be of the Green Pond, I'll come back to it. The Green Pond was where young children did their fishing. No rods or reels required, just a bamboo cane or a stick with a bit of cotton tied on the end. A wriggling worm would then be tied on the end of the cotton and then dangled in the water. On the Green Pond we caught Sticklebacks, the three spined variety, there were large numbers of them all around the margins. The males, we called them red throats were quite spectacular and particularly prized. We would drag them out of the water hanging on to the worm and store them in jam jars. At the end of the session they were usually returned to the water. But on one occasion I took half a dozen home and persuaded my mum to let me keep them in the bath "just for a little while" Amazingly she agreed as long as I kept the bath clean, I agreed and for many weeks that's where they stayed. Bath nights in those days were only weekly. In our house that was on Sunday night, ready for school. So on bath night I used to catch the fish and put them in the sink while the whole family had their baths, often using each other's hot water. After the bathing I put them back in the bath. My mum nagged me continuously to get rid of them and I kept saying I would, but I didn't. Eventually on one particularly sad day I came home to find them gone. "where's my fish" I shrieked, "down the toilet" she said, I ranted and raved and then sulked for days, eventually I got over it.