Wednesday 3rd May, 1961

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for letter received on Tuesday and thank you to Susan for your drawing of an Acorn House. Glad to hear June is better again. A letter from Geoff this morning says he has been home ill with a cold plus – whatever that means – but apparently he is alright now. Also said that Phasey collapsed on the first corridor last Thursday morning with coronary thrombosis and they only just managed to get him into St Mary’s Hospital in time to save his life but this may not be news to you.

Susan still enjoying her first days at school then – noted request for Mummie to take her again and an invitation to a party already – what a lucky girl. Yes it certainly must be a bit different in the house with only Carol about and as you say you see her without the influence of Susan – a chance for her now to develop her own personality which she will in due course.*

Re: cider – I think I said Don brought up 12 flagons and as a flagon holds a quart my calculation is that he brought up three gallons. Note you may fit in a visit to Lyng if convenient to all whilst you are with us. We shall see them when we return from Exmouth as we are calling to pick up a strawberry net Don has no use for.

Have turned down Office Outing this year – it is a bit soon after our visit to Exmouth and I can find another use for the cash.

I used to get a copy of the Railway Gazette weekly direct from publishers when at Temple Meads and I passed them on to the Chief Insps. The accounts of accidents were most interesting.

I like your point about the Bays and Main Line Platform – am afraid they are all dead ends.

Yes the horse is still with us but Mum gets a bit annoyed when she sees him tearing a few small twigs off the fruit trees and eating them – it means one or two less plums for us presumably. He has access to the river and drinks there occasionally – no fence there but he does not make any attempt to get through the water. He now likes to stretch his neck over the wire fence and get the grass on next garden (Cummings’ old place) and as the posts were a bit weak I had to put a couple of new ones in this morning to stop his caper – the grass on that side of the fence must be much sweeter than ours.

Have not been round with bucket and shovel this week for one reason and another but must do so early next week when we get back home. You mention ‘hot beds‘. That’s why I’m putting all collections in one of the frames together with lawn mowings. Enough strength there to blow the cover off.

Mum’s visits to the field are to see how the fruit is forming and to try and judge whether the season will be good – poor or bad.

Note the carpentry work under way in your front room – the job will finish that corner off nicely. If only we were within reasonable distance I’m sure I’ve enough wood here to finish off.

Sorry to hear of your holdup with car last Sunday. Only a small item but unless you can quickly diagnose the trouble it’s just as bad as if the axle had broken. It’s another experience and one of the first things you will look for if you are stopped on the road again. Sounds like a bit of a Job’s comforter but you know what I mean. It’s most annoying though especially when you are visiting friends and your timetable is upset.

I finished the bathroom on Monday and cleaned up Tuesday morning. It certainly looks better for the doing. Now Mum has to get some different curtains to match. The big bedroom will have to be repapered now the Electrician has done his worst but shall probably leave this item for a month or two until work outdoors eases. The ground is still very wet and we are getting a lot of rain but I managed to cut all the lawns today with motor mower – put in another row of beetroot and started earthing up the potatoes. The runner beans sown in boxes a couple of days before we came up to Ruislip are crying out to be put into garden but I’m afraid they will have to wait until our return from Exmouth. Broad beans by the way are beginning to form and should be available when you are here. Does June like them?

Have heard the cuckoo several times this last fortnight but he was later than last year. So far I’ve not been able to find any birds’ nests in the garden but am sure there must be two or three somewhere. I hope I can locate a couple for the girls to see. Naturally we are looking forward to having you all with us again for a holiday.

Cornish came over this morning when I was putting in new fence posts and I then went over to his place for a look round. Still plenty of weeds and generally in a mess but he has some crops growing well – must be the poultry manure he uses on the ground.

Have not heard from Richings since our visit to Weston but I think he takes his motor driving test early this month.**

Good idea picking up a few barrow loads of earth from the field – will help you to build up the lower side of the lawn but to complete the job you will have to make many journeys with the barrow.

Local election here next week but not much enthusiasm about. I noticed from National Press you had yours a few weeks ago. The comical part of the Clevedon Election is that the Secretary of the Liberal Club – a man named Thomas – is putting up as a Labour candidate. His argument is that the club is a Working Men’s Club and non-political.

I do not think I shall put any more yeast in the Parsnip wine – just let the present lot finish the fermentation then bottle it up. Where do you get powdered yeast? Grocer of chemist? I’ve always used Baker’s yeast to date but as you know it has to be bought fresh for every occasion.

Your journey last Sunday – apart from holdup already referred to – must have been rather interesting although no doubt plenty on the road. We had a lot of rain here both morning and afternoon – drove me home early in morning when walking round the Hill with Bill Aston. Incidentally he has been on the Hill with a wheel barrow where the ponies and donkeys are grazing.

Well I think this is about the lot for another week but will drop you a card from Exmouth during the weekend.

All our love to you both and lots of kisses for Susan & Carol.

Mum & Dad

*Oh my goodness, what Machiavellian horror of an older sister suppresses her sibling’s personality so ruthlessly? And how wonderful of the parents and grandparents to psychoanalyse them in such detail when they could – like lesser (normal) people – just have accepted each day for what it was and taken their children in the same light!

**This might be a good moment to mention that, although they both had driving licenses, neither Alec nor Leonard ever took a driving test. Leonard learned to drive before tests were introduced in 1935 – presumably he got his first practical experience during the 1914-18 war but I have found no actual evidence to support this – and Alec certainly owned a motor-bike during the 1939-45 conflict as we have diary entries to prove it. It appears that driving tests were suspended for the duration of WWII, probably on the basis that most people who learned to drive then would be doing so for military or war-related purposes and it would only slow down the progress of the war if they all had to be tested by a civilian authority as well. In any case there was no attempt to make up for the missing tests after 1945 and so Alec – along with millions of other drivers of the same age – returned to the peacetime roads without ever having taken a test. Fortunately the very few accidents he had thereafter were of an extremely minor nature – and Leonard is not known to have had a ‘prang’ of any sort until the late 1960s!

Eva to the family on the remaining three-quarters of a sheet of Leonard’s paper:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for drawing of the acorn house & what or where is the other to be seen I mean the sunshade & armchair & the television stand.

More people are going in to look over Spenser’s house, trouble is they don’t like the small kitchen. They have had their house painted all over now. White with blue door & gate. Bushel’s house is all cream, ours will be the oldest one presently.

Weston-super-Mare is worried about all the teddys & their girls coming into the town & spoiling it for the nice families but I don’t see how they can stop them now.***

Our bath room looks nice & clean now only needs a few fresh articles to make it look smart. It is moss pink walls & duck egg door & wood work except where the tiles are then the woodwork is white. We shan’t be able to do the rest of house until the autumn, there will not be time.

Glad June’s cold is better, have got a sniffel [sic] myself. What can you expect when it’s hot one day & cold the next.

Mrs Cummings going on all right & yrs truly delivered the mags. Don’t know that I should fancy doing it regularly, it’s hot work.

Well I think this is the lot now except the drawing for the artist.

Love from Mum & Dad

[Illuminated with two small biro sketches, one of something round on a plate with the words ‘This is a pudding house’ and a fork, knife and spoon with twisted handles marked ‘Whose are these?’]

***What the linked Wikipedia article doesn’t make clear is that these groups now had enough disposable income to be able to afford cars and motorbikes of their own and were able to have cheap holidays in traditional sea-side resorts which were usually only too glad of the money. (Some camped or slept on the beach, of course, but some stayed with landladies or in caravans and brought money into the town – not to mention whatever they spent on beer, chips, slot machines, petrol, etc.) People on the whole weren’t used to seeing high-spirited youngsters in large groups and were naturally afraid of them – especially as a ‘yob culture’ developed which included vandalism, spitting, fighting etc. This sort of thing continued through the ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’ battles of a few years later, and has since devolved into large music festivals, cheap flights to Malaga, and hen nights in Hamburg. The problem hasn’t gone away, it’s simply been transported elsewhere. NB: June’s brother Peter was the closest thing the family possessed to a Teddy Boy; he certainly had the hair-style and the clothes. In fact he was a dead ringer for the singer Joe Brown and was almost exactly the same age.


A visiting hovercraft

This is really out of sequence as no doubt we will be talking about the hovercraft again when we reach the letters for 1963; however this is perhaps as good a moment as any to introduce the subject.

As the linked video shows, briefly in 1963 there was a trial hovercraft ferry service from Weston-super-Mare across the channel to Penarth. It was the very epitome of a ‘nine days’ wonder’, briefly enjoyed and then never seen again (like Costa Coffee’s Giant Jaffa Cakes … ) and it must have appeared to some people at the time almost as an hallucination. Indeed, mention it to some people these days and they look at you as if you’d lost your mind; however it did exist, and here’s some footage and some photographs to prove it.