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.