Guernsey 1950 to 1959

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Quick Facts

Guernsey, a British Crown dependency in the English Channel, is one of the Channel Islands. It’s known for beach resorts like Cobo Bay and the scenery of its coastal cliffs. Castle Cornet, a 13th-century harbor fortification in the capital of St. Peter Port, now contains history and military museums. Hauteville House is the lavish former home of French writer Victor Hugo.
 
Its a small island some 3 miles wide and 9 miles long. The capital is St Peter Port where my grandparents lived.
 
 When I was a baby (1949) and up until the age of about four we flew to Guernsey I have the memory of a twin engine plane and having to climb up the central isle which was steep. Once over Guernsey I would break out in hives, they disappeared after a couple of days. I remember bits and pieces but it is mainly from 5 upwards I remember. The house where I lived in the Harrow Road was three story and in it lived my mother and her two sisters, we were one on each floor. The school holidays were 6 weeks, I would spend all of it in Guernsey and the three sisters would take two weeks each because of their husbands jobs, to look after us at my grandparents house.
 
So when flying became too expensive we used to take the boat train. My memory is a bit shaky of course it was a steam train and about a 3 hour (?) train ride from London to Weymouth. The train would stop at the dock and we would walk to the ferry. Then we had a 8 hour (?) boat trip that was fun.
 

My grand parents lived at 48 Mount Durand, St Peter Port where my mother and her brothers (6 I think) and sisters (5) grew up. The house was nearly on top of a hill and it was a steep climb up it. There was a window at the top of the house that I could sit in, read a book and just see the harbor and sea. I used to smoke the odd cigarette there and get dizzy. Magic place.

Living there were :

 
Grandmother : Edith Winterflood Roe 4ft 11 and the boss, called her Nan. I was with her close to the time she died. Dear Nan. The lads used to wind her up something awful. But she would beat them even Uncle Terry who loomed over her.
Grandfather : called him Gogo as I couldn’t say grand dad. Big man too but badly crippled from The Somme up to his chest in water for days. He could still walk but not so well. A good man. He had a back garden that grew loads of vegetables potatoes peas ( I can remember shelling them and how sweet they were), broad beans, tomatoes and lettuce. Digging in the garden was fun. Name of Toms originally from Devon. He was a band leader and we used to go to hear him at old time dances. My mother and father were excellent dancers as were all the family and could float around a dance floor.
One of my earliest memories is the night the white bait came in. I was down on the beach picking up handful’s of these little fish. However following the white bait was a huge shoal of mackerel. People were lowering baskets in the harbor and coming up full of mackerel. They gave me one as long as my arm and I tied a piece of string around its tail and dragged it across town to the dance hall where my Nan was to show her this big fish I caught.
 
My mother needs a whole chapter. She had a wild streak too having once put a rowing boat, her and her friends put this rowing boat in the middle of the High St. They were all a bit wild.
My Dad I’ll talk about him in a separate piece. He was a good cricketer and once took four wickets in four successive bowls. I have the press clippings.
Aunty Daisy and Uncle Stan. Aunty Daisy was a steady person and Uncle Stan worked as an accountant / manager in an office.
Aunty Pat and Uncle George. Uncle George taught me to swear. He would give me a penny for a bad word. “Biddy shit arsehole” was a favourite of mine when I was about 4. Uncle George was a conscientious objector for the second world war which set him apart a bit. He worked in a mattress factory. He had emphesemia and took about ten years to die, getting ahead of myself. Sad.
Uncle Peter bit mad and a risk taker. Peter, Dave and Nigel (adopted Uncle) were all scuba divers. One early morning dive they caught a huge conger eel must have been 8ft long. What they did was drape it over the drying lines in the kitchen. When Nan opened the door she was met with two staring eyes and she screamed. We cracked up. When she was cutting it up that afternoon it moved and freaked both of us out.
Uncle Dave cool guy mad but not as much as Uncle Peter. Dave and Peter both had motorbikes. Uncle Dave wouldn’t take me on the back, said it was too dangerous. Uncle Peter said hop on Phil and I swear we did 90 around the island. WOOT!
Uncle Roy not the brightest spark in the bunch, bit slow.
Uncle Terry was huge like my grandfather 6ft 4ins and broad shouldered had a twinkle in his eye.
Uncle Percy and Aunty Maud didn’t live with us but out in St Samsons. Uncle Percy was a major in the army and was known as “The Major”. Aunty Maud was a gas, a real memsahib. She told one story when the Queen visited Ghana and she rushed to the front shouting “Guernsey Press move round”. She was a beach comber too. Great lady.When Uncle Percy died he had no children so left his money to us kids. I got just over £500. I bought a Kashmir silk carpet.

Aunty Margaret and Uncle Tom were a bit odd. It turned out Uncle Tom was also her brother by marriage was a bit weird.

That was the household. It was a riot sometimes.  They once bounced me from every bedroom in the house from bottom to top. I had hysterics. Guernsey was and probably still is a paradise. We practically lived on the beach. The one closest to us was First Beach but known as “Gabbers” as all the women would go down there to chat. It was stony which was a bit of a turn off but It was handy. The great thing about Guernsey is that where ever a breeze was coming from you could always find a sheltered beach. I remember the bus station where you could get a bus anywhere on the island. The bus driver would often go off route to pick someone up or drop people off at their houses. We had our favourites. Petit Bot was always protected by its high cliffs and you had to walk down hundreds of steps to get to it. At the bottom was a lovely sandy beach but the tide came in very quickly and I had to be rescued once when I was climbing around the rock pools looking for crabs and the tide came in and left me stranded. My mother was a very strong swimmer and had swam to Herm 3 miles away in her youth. Herm was a grand place just a short boat trip away. It had a shell beach and my mother told stories of how beautiful the beach was in her youth.
One of our favourite beaches was Vazon with its shallow sandy beach. When the tide was out they used to hold car races on the sand. I can remember the sea being so clear and the perfect weather, sigh.
 
One of the highlights was loganberry forays we would come home with bags full of them and jam and tarts would be made.
 
Another snippet I remember was the time I was in the house alone and there was a knock at the door. I was in the kitchen and the milk man let himself in put the milk in the fridge went to my Nan’s purse and took out what she owed him said good morning and left. I guess it was a village thing. No one locked their doors in those days. Guernsey cows are famous for their dairy and the full fat milk needed a knife to scrape off the cream.
Occasionally I would get burnt by the sun but generally lived without sunscreen and I had my mothers skin she only had to look at the sun and she would go brown. 
Some of my happiest childhood days were spent in Guernsey. I was blessed…..My relatives there are mostly deceased now. The price of ageing. But we had a good time and fond memories.

Stories About Dying

Little death

I’ve come close to death three times. Once when I caught hepatitis from a dirty needle. Second when I was bitten by a rabid dog in India and third when I contracted lung cancer.

Well there was a time when I was eight and on the verge of meningitis. I awoke in the morning and started coughing up blood, lots of it. The doctor was called and I can remember him examining me and then calling my mother over to the window. I can see them now, the doctor talking in hushed tones and shaking his head. Oh dear I’m going to die I thought to myself. They came over to me my mother was ashen. The doctor looked at me and noticed blood on my pillow and asked about it. Oh I had a heavy nosebleed in the night. Sigh of relief was palpable. It turned out I had had a massive nose bleed while sleeping and swallowed all the blood! So I don’t count that as a near death experience.

The first time I nearly died was when I was 22 I shared a needle (injecting for the last time – ever) with a friend and eight of us caught hepatitis and had to be hospitalised. I was not going to Neasden Isolation Hospital in London so I dragged myself to my friend’s house In Clydach Vale, Tony Pandy, Rhondda Valley, South Wales. I had no money but jumped trains; in the final leg the ticket inspector caught me. I could not pantomime the lost ticket routine I had developed. I just told him I had no money. He said OK and walked off. I was very ill. I was slowly dying. I don’t know how I did it but I made it to a local GP and he sent me home with some pills. They didn’t work and I wasn’t getting better. I went back and he saw the true state of me. He admitted me that day to a wonderful hospital high up in the valleys. I was there for three weeks and was treated like a king. I recovered.

The second time was when I was bitten by a rabid dog. About twenty of us were attending a meditation course in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India. It was quite isolated. It was 1976 i think. It was an old colonial hill station and we had rented a lovely house on a hill top. We had a pet dog that started acting strangely and had already bitten five of us, breaking skin.  When I saw he had chewed his metal bowl to pieces, well something was seriously wrong. I was in charge of him. Two idiots decided the poor chained up dog needed a walk OMG anyway when I heard I ran to them and the dog was going mad on his chain. I rescued them and in doing so I was bitten and so was one of the walkers.

Seven of us were bitten and if he was truly rabid we needed to know. So took him to a local doctor who said yes he was rabid and had to be put down, our cherished pet. So we didn’t accept it, the doctor was a bit daft, so we needed a second opinion. The only hospital was at a not too far away university hospital. We all piled into a taxi for the three hour journey and tied the dog wrapped in blankets to the roof rack. We headed down the mountain. There was a landslide earlier and the road was blocked so we had to return home. In the two days that followed we read up on rabies. It was fatal and you shook yourself to death. It was one of the worst ways to die. We had no choice we had to find out if the dog was rabid so we set off again and told the taxi driver he had to get us through. The landslide had been partially levelled and we managed to bump across. We made it to the university hospital, the dog died on the way.

At the autopsy they confirmed he was rabid. We went to a restaurant and we discussed what we should do. We were very scared. We talked about the anti-rabies injections 14 daily through the stomach wall. There were known side effects, one of them was permanent blindness. We were into day six of the first bite and the minimum incubation period for rabies was ten days. We decided we would have the injections. We returned home and went to the doctors. Yes he could inject us but he only had serum for a few days. He didn’t have enough. We needed more and the nearest place was Shimla a 12 hour train trip away. Armed with a letter from the doctor (he would phone them too) I and a friend headed off.

The journey was relatively uneventful except we had to keep the small crate of serum cold. In the hot parts of our journey we bought ice to cool it.

We were going to have the injections as a group so no one had started, it was now day 9 of the first bite. From what I remember one was over ten but we didn’t talk about that. The injections were horrible. About an inch of fluid straight into the stomach wall. They left lumps of fluid that lasted days. So every day we all trooped down the mountain, got our shots and trooped back. Not fun and this would last for two weeks. This was 1976 in a remote part of India.

Well we all survived OK except me. On the 12th injection I collapsed and they took me up the mountain on a donkey. They called the doctor and he came up to the house to give me my 13th injection. You had to do the course. That night I nearly died. I developed a fever and my temperature went up to 107 and my friends were coming in to say goodbye to me. I had two angels looking after me Kitty Subho an English Thai monk and a wonderful lady who we thought had recently become enlightened. I remember the delirium well. It was a bit out of body, very spacey and voices shouted from a distance. I was going to die but I had no fear just an acceptance.

In the wee hours of the morning the fever broke and I woke up yellow. I had hepatitis again. Think my liver just couldn’t handle the serum. I was ill for about three weeks but what a beautiful spot to be ill in.

Four years ago during a routine hospital check-up the doctor told me they had found a little spot on my lung. After tests it was found to be cancerous. I researched lung cancer and my prognosis was not good. I prepared to die. It wasn’t so bad, I had led a very full life. I achieved an ethereal state of acceptance and said goodbye to the world. This state stayed with me. It became semi-permanent and was a bit difficult to get out of.

After further tests, going up to St James in Dublin they decided they would operate immediately. The consultant surgeon would contact me the next week. It ended up three months later and all this time the cancer was growing. But I stayed calm and did what had to be done. If the operation was successful I would still not get the all clear they were going to take out my left lung. So be it. I was admitted to St James and had the operation two days later. I can remember the prep room and getting an injection then waking up don’t know when in the post op ward. There was good news they only had to take out a lobe. I have a scar running down most of my back where they went in. My mood, that of acceptance, continued.

My oncologist in Tullamore said the cancer may have spread to my lymph and I needed chemo. So I wasn’t clear. Four months later they decide that that was it. Chemo was not fun. I was in remission. Got another year to go to be out of the woods. After 5 years you are considered cured.

 

Dying holds no fear for me. The mental state that of having done with the world, persisted for a year afterwards. I found it difficult to “come back” . I’m back now but have grown from my experiences. In this day and age longevity is not uncommon and I might look for another twenty years. Well we will see. Whatever the future holds for me I feel I am prepared for it.

I have a WordPress blog so I am immortal. Below is one of my favourite tunes: Gov’t Mule “ Soulshine. I think I let my soul shine and lived better for it.

 

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