Down the Line (15 of 16)

Chapter 6 - Tales from the Bungalow

Life was never dull at the Laindon bungalow. The rudimentary living conditions, the improvisation, the simple life, gave rise to many incidents and stories that became family lore. I remember some of them.

The Water Barrel Disaster

Before the water main came into the bungalow we had to collect drinking water in enamel buckets from a communal standpipe at the bottom of Fourth Avenue, and the Avenue was just a rough rutted track. Well, my father hit upon the idea that we would roll this big wooden barrel down to the stand pipe, fill it up, and with plenty of help would roll it back to the bungalow. So with much merriment, the empty barrel was rolled to the standpipe and the filling started. When it was half full, remembering the weight, an attempt was made to start the return trip. We knew it would be heavy, but we over-estimated the strength of the barrel; the stresses on the barrel were too great, it creaked and groaned and started to leak. Then the whole thing collapsed in a pile of wood segments and iron hoops, and everybody got their feet soaked. It seemed a good idea at the time.

The Concrete Disaster.

Another of Dad’s brain waves was the bungalow entrance columns. Each side of the front steps was to have an ornamental column of quite monumental design. These columns were four feet high and a foot thick, and cast in concrete. So he made complicated moulds from plywood with arris rails and battens all in place. The moulds were marvellous in themselves. They were placed in position, the concrete was mixed (all by hand) and the filling commenced. The first sign that all was not well was when cement slurry started to ooze out of the mould joints. Then the sheer weight of concrete took charge: the plywood bulged and like an Alpine avalanche the concrete burst through. Nothing could be done; it was just a mess of soggy wood and wet concrete. However, Dad did not give up that easily: he made much stronger moulds and this time it worked fine. If at first you don’t succeed!

The Ted and Bill Episode

During the summer weekends we had lots of visiting relations, and it was a conundrum where people would sleep. On one such occasion two of the men, Ted and Bill, slept in Ted’s shed, just a shed in an overgrown patch. Well, during the night they were awakened by a rustling outside at the rear, and were convinced there was a prowler. So they whispered a plan: armed with a broom and a garden rake they would take a side each, creep round and confront the intruder at the back. The inevitable happened, there was no one there, Ted and Bill circled the shed in the dark and attacked each other with their sticks! There was probably a startled hedgehog wondering about this strange human behaviour.

A Night of Romance.

Then there was the warm night that my Uncle Will and Auntie Minnie decided they would sleep in the tent. The adults ragged them about a night of romance – Sheik of Araby – a night under the stars. With due innuendo, they retired for the night. But during the night there was a great commotion in the bungalow and everybody was awakened. There was a summer thunderstorm, the tent leaked and blew down, and a bedraggled Minnie and Will got wet, and welcomed a mattress on the floor under a proper roof. So much for romance.

The Old Boy Problem.

One deeper incident I remember from way back still puzzles me when I think about it. It was a practical example and reminder of my father’s social philosophy. Near the Dunton estate was a place called The Colony. This was a residential re-training establishment for unemployed, mainly elderly men from London, run by the London County Council – a cross between an old people’s home and a farm. The men there tended the vegetable gardens and orchards; they sold the surplus produce to us locals at give-away prices. Generally the old men never ventured beyond the confines of the Colony. Well, one day one of these old boys turned up at the bungalow, asking if we could give him any gardening work. This request appealed to my Dad’s humanitarian ideals. The old boy was invited in, given a cup of tea, and chatted to my Dad, probably about the social inequities of life. I suppose a task and a rate was settled, because in our absence during the week, this man dug the whole garden, did all he was asked. And I don’t doubt Dad paid him promptly.

However, my father became uneasy about all this. It was against his basic principles for one man to employ another to do manual work. He hated the employer-employee relationship. To him this was only one small step from slavery. All his life he embraced socialist idealism, believing that a man must live by his own labour and must not be exploited. And here he was in the role of an employer! It troubled his conscience that he was paying a fellow man to do work that he himself should do. It is almost impossible to comprehend his conviction in present times. So he decided this situation, although occasioned by compassion, was one he could not live with. The obvious counter-argument that one man could be helping another by employing and paying him was unsupportable in my father’s view. I don’t know how my father salved his conscience, but the old boy did not do any more work at the bungalow, we never saw him again.

15 of 16

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