Her white coat phobia even extended to veterinary surgeons. When I was four, and still an only child, we got a little black mongrel puppy called Trixie. She looked like a cross between a black Labrador and a dachshund. Of course, years later, I contemplated the practicalities of this supposed mating. Anyway, after eight wonderful years of being the best natured dog imaginable, she started snapping at people for no apparent reason. Nothing too serious â€“ she barely broke skin – but it was frightening for the victims, and totally out of her normal effusively friendly character. One day she bit my cousin on the hand as he was sitting on the lawn next to me, doing nothing in particular. That was it. My parents said she’d have to be put down. Now that was a bad enough blow to a sensitive twelve year old, who was being bullied at school and regarded his pet dog as often his only true friend. But because of my mother’s white coat phobia and my father’s need to work all-hours to provide for us, it fell upon me to take Trixie, by bus, on the one way trip to the RSPCA clinic in Great Eastern Street, off Mill Road, Cambridge. Fighting back the tears I checked in at the reception hatch and took a seat in the waiting room. After a little while a veterinary nurse appeared, checked with the receptionist, then came over and gently took the lead from my hand. “Come on Trixie”, she said, in a bright and enticing voice; and my beloved Trixie, always so eager to please, trotted behind her into the surgery; the door closing behind them; leaving me sobbing my heart out in the waiting room – and indeed again, 52 years later, as I sat typing this. After a few moments the vet came out and told me to wait there until he came back. I wasn’t actually going anywhere anyway, as I was waiting for the collar and lead back, having earlier informed the receptionist of my parents’ wishes for their return. After a while the vet reappeared, and handed me the lead and a still-warm collar, and a sealed letter that I was to give to my parents. I never got to read the contents of the letter, but I can imagine the gist of it.
Getting back to the agricultural front, if nothing exciting was happening on the farms or fields, I’d do the rounds with the Gamekeeper, Mr Stimpson, who lived a few doors away. Most of his energies were put towards producing a good crop of pheasants for the annual shoot, and killing absolutely anything that posed even the slightest threat to them. I sometimes got a little squeamish watching him dispatch gin-trapped ‘armints’ (vermin) utilising the heel of his long brown leather boot on their head, but that’s how life was in the countryside. Although he invariably carried his 12 bore shotgun over his arm, he didn’t waste the price of a cartridge on a rat or hedgehog that would eat the eggs, and even the nestlings of the ground-nesting game- birds, given half a chance.
Every November, on the day before Remembrance Sunday, there was always a big Shoot on the estate; when all the lovingly reared pheasants – and anything else edible – became the targets. All the estate workers, and any of their sons big enough, were obliged to become beaters for the day. We would have to trudge through cold, wet, late autumn woodland, hitting the trees with stout sticks whilst whooping and shouting to drive the pheasants, partridges, rabbits, etc., towards the awaiting guns; whilst all the while getting rained on by the constant drips that we were dislodging from the overhanging branches, and our legs saturated from the wet undergrowth that we were wading through. Come lunch time the toffs with the guns would go back to Trumpington Hall, the Pembertons’ mansion house, to no doubt be wined and lunched in style. We all trudged home to our respective cottages for a sandwich, whilst we tried to dry our soggy clothes and the insides of our wellingtons ready for the afternoon onslaught.
At the end of the day, when the total kill was all laid out in neat rows of each species to count, each adult beater was given a hare to take home for the pot (they were of least value on the Game Markets) and I assume the hours they worked as beaters were reflected in their next pay- packet. Us ‘junior beaters’ were each given a ten shilling note (50p) which in those days was an appreciable amount to a schoolboy who rarely got his hands on ‘folding money’.
Behind the high flint-stone wall that enclosed two sides of our garden was Trumpington Park. This wasn’t a public park, but again part of the Pemberton Estate. However, as a son of an employee, I again bestowed upon myself unlimited access. Through the park ran a private road, with an avenue of huge ancient elm trees, several of which I could climb. The trunks were several feet across, and if you climbed to the crown from where the lower, more horizontal branches spread out, you’d find that many of the trunks were open-topped and hollow for part of the way down inside. These were wonderful ready-made dens where your imagination could conjure up all manner of scenarios. It was also a useful place to go for a sneaky smoke at the tender age of twelve. Mind you, every time I tried inhaling like a grown up, I’d double up in paroxysms of coughing and stomach heaving. I soon gave it up and I’ve never been tempted again.
Continue with the next part of Brian Goodliffe’s childhood memories of Trumpington in the 1940s and 1950s.
Brian Goodliffe, aged 10, June 1954 (probably a school photograph). Brian was at Grantchester School from 1953-55. Photo: Goodliffe family.