This month, I have mostly been ill.
That isn’t the entire sum of it, obviously. I mean there weekend at the end with the dig where I found the howling beastie and there was a rather jolly week after that plus a weekend when we had visitors and I danced arthritically on a table, remember. McMini was ill on the Sunday our guests left and off school the entire week. Then it was half term and he gave whatever it was he’d had to me in time for me to be ill over the school break, obviously. McMini threw it off in a week or so, but felt a bit weird from time to time during the half term holiday. McOther binned it in about twenty four hours. I felt as ill as I’ve felt since I was ten, and had the highest temperature I’ve had since I was ten too, a mighty 103.9 but it was only for one day and on the up side, I got rid of it in four days. On the downside it’s kindly left me with a chest and a sinus infection which I foolishly believed would go on its own. Needless to say I’ve managed to get the one that involves experimenting with multiple courses of antibiotics and some steroids. I have two friends who are ahead of me having completed my current regimen of eight pills plus a blue and white capsule every morning.
Upsides? Well, to be honest, anything is better than the way I felt with the flu AND I was well enough to creep out for a half term outing the day my flu subsided, despite feeling very dizzy and post feverish, so we got a quick day trip in before McOther went back to work on the Thursday and Friday of half term. We all ventured out again on the Saturday so at least we did have a half term that felt like it actually was a holiday, sort of. Neither McMini nor I was up to much on the Thursday and Friday anyway. He was much better but still fatigued and post viral, I was, thankfully, back to normal human temperature, albeit feeling a little tight across the chest and laughing like Mutley as the chest infection began to take hold. We chilled and relaxed together which was lovely, he screened (probably too much) and I read a stack of books! I even discovered a Jim Webster short from the Port Naain Intelligencer series that had escaped my notice. Bonus!
The half term trips out were both to air museums. The first, I had discovered quite by chance going to a dig back before Christmas. First I passed a farm selling raw milk from a vending machine outside. It also had what it called a cheese window. It was obligatory that I photographed that for McMini who loathes and detests yet also obsesses, slightly, over cheese. A few hundred yards further on and suddenly, in what looked like a pub car park.
Not just any old aeroplanes either. Jets. I had passed it by the time it registered and stopped the car.
‘Did I just see that?’
I backed up.
‘Bloody hell. Yes I did!’
I took a photo and squirrelled it away for future reference. So it was, that ‘Future Reference’ turned out to be my sickly Wednesday half term day out.
It was a cracking museum. Not only were there some excellent and interesting planes but there was a fascinating collection of pieces of plane that had been hauled up in the nets of the fishing fleet based around Lowestoft, Gorleston on Sea and Great Yarmouth. This stuff was amazingly well preserved, yet a lot of it was crumpled and bent because it got into the sea by being blown apart. There were wonderful planes, helecopters and there were rooms full of artefacts, models and what I tend to call shed finds. All of it was free to look at and staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. The loos were lovely too, clean, well stocked with loo roll and soap, the towel dryers worked and they were warm! Ah bliss.
While we were there, I discovered a shed find of my own. First let’s spool back a few years. Er hem, about thirty eight, to be precise. I was a nipper and my brother and I had a rubber dinghy which Dad would inflate, laboriously, with a foot pump when we went to the beach. A rubber dinghy, friends from other nations, is basically an inflatable rowing boat. Nothing to do with sailing. Anyway, back to the story.
The inflation process was pretty lengthy, so the dinghy was only wheeled out on day trips. Days at Stiffkey salt marshes when we were on holiday in Norfolk, or trips to Cuckmere haven; that kind of stuff. But back home, on a Saturday morning, or after school, when we wanted to go to the beach for a quick swim, I still wanted to be able to scull about on the waters. To this end, one holiday in Greece I bought a thing that was a cross between a surf board and boogie board, made of polystyrene. You couldn’t stand on it and surf, it would break in half, but it was ok to lie on it and scull with your arms or you could sit and row with a double ended oar. Except I didn’t have one and the only oars were to be kept with the dinghy on pain of death, after arriving somewhere and discovering we only had one.
So it was, on warm afternoon ferreting about in my grandparents’ shed I discovered some of my grandmother’s toys, which she let me have, and an oar in a pleasing shade of blue. The oar had a brass bit in the middle and had clearly come apart into two halves at one point, before someone had drilled a couple of holes and put a some screws in to keep it together. OK so it wasn’t double-ended but it would be better than nothing for sculling about on my crap, polystyrene neither-boat-nor-surf-nor-boogie-board. Could I have it? I asked Nye, my grandmother, and when she agreed that yes, I could, I was stoked. I bore it triumphantly home.
As my mother made a space for me to put it in the car, she explained that it came from her and my uncle’s rubber dinghy. Said dinghy, like ours, had been used to great effect but, like ours, was also somewhat reliant on the stalwartness of those available to pump it up, and, of course, the time available. At the point in my mother and uncle’s life when it was in use, my grandfather was working in Greece and my mother, uncle and grandmother would take a two day flight out, in a Dakota, to join him for the long summer holidays. This meant that the only people available to pump the thing up each time on beach trips during term time weekends or half term, were my grandmother and Grand Nan, Mum and Uncle’s nanny.
Mum then went on to tell us about a trip the four of them made to Newhaven beach with the rubber dingy. My grandfather was still in Greece at this point, trying, on one hand, to help set up the new Bank of Greece and general economy in the aftermath of the war and on the other hand, making concerted efforts not to be killed in the revolution. He saw a fair few atrocities perpetrated by both sides – quite a lot of lining people up and shooting them down with machine guns – and at one point he had to defend the Bank of Greece from a communist attack. I never got the full story of this one, I should think it took a fair bit of balls from all of them, but he always spun it as less to do with courage and more about an ardent desire to avoid being put up against the wall, alongside his staff, and machine gunned. He and the staff held the bank and he was given an OBE. Needless to say the OBE, itself, has long since been nicked from a relative’s house in Kew, according to the police, by drug addicts burgling small shiny things to sell for the next fix – although we still have the box (there’s always an upside).
Anyway, Grand Nan, as she was called, and Nye (my grandmother) worried about the possibility of their little charges floating out to sea while they were engrossed in their reading or their conversation, had an ingenious idea. They took a long piece of string and tied one end to the dinghy and the other to Grand Nan’s wrist. Grand Nan was wonderful; tiny, twinkly eyed and gentle. She had a great sense of fun, and humour, and she was still around when I arrived on the planet. I’m not sure quite how effective she would have been as anchorage but clearly she felt she would cut the mustard. She is another of the people from my Sussex past who turned out to come from near my Suffolk present. She was from Thetford and her grandfather was head gardener on the Elvendon estate, I believe.
Sorry, gone off on another tangent again, where was I? Ah yes. Grand Nan and Nye sat back to chat, or read books or generally chill on the rug while the joyful chatter of Mum and Uncle told them all was well in the dinghy. They were soon so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice a large ship come out of Newhaven harbour and sail rather close to the shore. Neither did they notice the wash, which presented itself in the form of a couple of very large waves heading for the beach.
Mum, in the dinghy, realised something was amiss but too late. The dinghy breasted the first wave and her and my uncle bobbed happily over it, unscathed. Then the second wave came and washed them onto the shore. Mum said she remembered seeing Nye and Grand Nan looking shocked with the the wave which had broken and reached the fluffy white stage now, sloshing over them, and the rug, as she and my uncle, in the dingy, floated gracefully past them. Mum and Uncle were deposited on dry ground a little further up the beach and left there as the wave retreated. Grand Nan and Nye scrambled about in the undertow rescuing rug, lunch, thermos, shoes, books, towels and their clothes. To their impressive credit, I believe nothing was lost. I suspect Mum and Uncle were less than sympathetic. Mum says that even at 85 years old, having seen a lot of funny things, the sight of her mother and nanny scrambling for their belongings, as she and my uncle were floating gently past, still ranks as one of the funniest things she has ever seen in her life.
How can you discover something about your mother and uncle’s rubber dinghy at an air museum, I hear you ask? Ah you’d be amazed at the things you can learn in the most unexpected places if you are prepared to explore. While I examined the exhibits in an area devoted to rescues at sea, I found an oar which came apart into two halves. It was painted a pleasing shade of dark blue. It was exactly the same as mine.
That is how, by going to an air museum in Gorleston, I discovered that my mother and uncle’s rubber dingy was the escape raft from a B17 bomber. The rubber ‘dinghy’ that went with is long gone, but even so, it transpires I have the oar from a B17 bomber’s escape raft in my shed.
On an end note; if the person who stole a red-ribboned medal from a house in Kew in the late 1980s/early 1990s is still around. OK no they’re probably dead but if they got clean or or if anyone out there bought an OBE that was given to R B T Castle from someone who looked quite high, do get in touch because I’d love to buy it back.