Christmas in Portslade

It was 1942, and we had a house in 49, Burlington Gardens, Portslade. Mum was pregnant with brother Tony. Dad had a job as welder, making parts for tanks. He had volunteered at the outbreak of war but was turned down for military service due to a slight heart condition. He was a true fatalist; he never got out of bed for an air raid. In his later years he took his heart pills with whiskey and lived to eighty six. He was the nicest dad in the whole world.

Death of a cockerel
It was a few days before Christmas and the shops were empty. We had moved back to Brighton from Kent, where we had lived like lords. Food was a different commodity in the country. My brother Gordon sold his pet rabbits to dad for our dinner, and probably made an arrangement with the butchers. We had no rabbits now, but Gordon still had his pet chicken Cocky. Gordon sold Cocky to dad for two shillings.

Mum told me the story a couple of months later. The time had come for Cocky’s demise. Dad bought a little axe. He was looking out of the window, trembling. Mum said: “Come on Norman, let’s have a couple of the Christmas drinks!” This seemed to do the trick. Dad entered the garden; Mum watched at the window. Cocky seemed to sense his fate and fluttered around his pen. Dad opened the gate and Cocky ran into the garden. Dad chased him, swiping here and there. With a lucky blow he hit, and Cocky’s head fell to the ground. According to Mum, who wouldn’t lie, Cocky ran around the garden three times headless. There was a slight snowfall. The back garden looked like the scene of a massacre. They had to wash it off early in the morning with buckets of hot water.

On Christmas Day, Mum and Dad had a couple of drinks and ate their dinner with ease. I also enjoyed my dinner. I remember distinctly Gordon asking for a second helping. Just recently I mentioned the sale of Cocky to Gordon. He said ”Derek, Dad made me sell him Cocky. I hated doing it.” “It must have been terrible for you, Gordon,” I said. “Yes,” he said, “Heartbreaking”. I didn’t mention the second helping.

Encounter with the Luftwaffe
Gordon and I had roller skates for Christmas that year. Dad had made them at work. On Boxing Day we were roller-skating down our road when we heard a plane diving. We scrambled into our front garden. The German Luftwaffe sprayed bullets all up our road. We thought he had been after us, but later learnt there was a Bofors gun in the empty fields above our road. The Messershmit was taking a line on it.

Trapped in a pipe
Across the top of our road was a lane, probably leading to the Foredown observation tower. On the other side of the lane were farmers fields. At the top of the hill on the open land lay a huge salt-glassed pipe ready for a new sewer. I think it had been there from before the war started.

Gordon, as daring as ever, crawled up the inside of this pipe. It was about fifteen feet long and twenty four inch diameter, with a blank end. He tried to turn at the end and got stuck. His screams for help came out of the end of that pipe like a trumpeter’s call. I was running up and down in front of the pipe, shouting: “My brother! My brother’s trapped!” I shouted down the pipe: “Shall I go for help?” He said: “NO! NO! Don’t leave me!” Just then he said, “I’ve done it, Derek.” “Done what I said?” “Turned round,” he shouted. Two minutes later he reappeared. “Fancy that,” he said, “making a pipe that you can’t turn around in”. To this day we both suffer from claustrophobia.

Comments about this page

  • The cockerel ran round the garden headless?? I find that rather ‘interesting’. But apart from that these memories are wonderful and you should treasure them forever.

    By Mike (20/03/2006)
  • I live in Burlington Gardens, Portslade. I dont think there is a number 49?

    By Alan Robins (14/05/2006)
  • Yes the chicken did run around the garden headless I believe. My mother and also many other people have told me about the chickens running around without their heads. Sorry about the house number. My brother said it was 49 but he had a stroke and gets confused sometimes. The house was around the middle of the road on the left side going up.

    By Derek Hobbs-Ainley (29/05/2006)
  • I am very pleased that I could read your memories – they are wonderful. I found this site by chance. Now I know that you are still alive. I tried to contact you for the last three years without succes. I hope we can contact each other in the future. Greetings from Belgium.

    By Christa Van Deynse (17/06/2006)
  • Christa – I was so pleased to hear that you had been looking for me – I have tried to phone you.

    By Derek Hobbs-Ainley (27/06/2006)
  • My husband is a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to see his book, ‘The Brighton Decamerone’, printed in English. He has made me proud to be a Brightonian – and his wife!

    By Julie Hobbs-Ainley (25/03/2007)
  • Hi, it’s so nice to read Derek’s stories about my dad and himself as children, it’s a part of my late father’s life I did not know. I would love to read more of them. Rest in peace dad (Gordon), I bet he is keeping them entertained in heaven as he was a fantastic entertainer.

    By Nickolas Earl Hobbs-Ainley (28/08/2008)
  • I was born at 48 Burlington Gardens in 1936. I found it interesting to read your memories.

    By June (02/10/2008)
  • Anyone one interested can read more of my wartime stories on the Argus ‘Readers Write’ site. Thanks for your interest.

    By Derek Hobbs-Ainley (29/12/2009)

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