Nostalgia: Looking back to a time when children really played

I KNOW a good many very nice people who live on the Beaumont Estate and in no way would I begrudge them their comfortable houses or their happiness within.
Brookenbee Lane, which had the ominous nickname 'Suicide Lane' at the timeBrookenbee Lane, which had the ominous nickname 'Suicide Lane' at the time
Brookenbee Lane, which had the ominous nickname 'Suicide Lane' at the time

But memory lane is one of life’s highways that all of us at one time or another enjoy a stroll down.

Back in the day, long before the houses were built, back when the fields were put to wheat, swede, spud, flax and sometimes even sheep, our council house at the top end of Wendy Ridge, originally named Windy Ridge but changed because the stormy name put off perspective house buyers, butted directly onto the Southfields.

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The road was ‘unadopted’ back then, a mass of enormous potholes which, when flooded with rain, joined and became one huge river, a mighty Mississippi whereon a child could cut a branch from one of the poplar trees and while away the day play fishing the imaginary torrent.

Simple pleasures. I visited the road with my daughter recently, for the first time in 20 years, and walked its length remembering the names of all of our neighbours on the council house side of the street and most of those on the private side my mother called ‘the ‘half a crown’ side.

I have no recollection of the value she placed on our half but it was, I suspect, considerably less.

The strange couple who lived in the dusty old bungalow and the old man who pushed his home-made wheelbarrow across the fields to Littlehampton on a regular basis.

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Mr and Mrs Cox, who lost both of their boys, killed in action in World War II, one serving in the RAF and the other in the infantry.

Young Ronnie Johnson who, in later years, officiated at my wife’s, both of my parents, my sister’s and my nephew’s funeral services.

A verger, two dustmen, a nurseryman, a railwayman, a gardener, a tinker, a head mistress and several retired folk of unknown and, sometimes to us kids, mysterious backgrounds.

Funny old road lined with fir and poplar trees and each house with a neat hedge, a front flower garden and a grass verge now all long gone and given over to hard standing parking bays.

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Just outside of our front gate, turn left, climb the crumbling Sussex flint wall, careful of the rusty barbed wire, and dive through the corn stooks along to the old brickfield before Old Farmer Helyer could give chase and clip your ear.

The one time brickfield, my very own wild west, overgrown with nettles and blackberry bushes, home to rabbits and blackbirds and, occasionally, a fox.

Then across the ‘bricky’ to North Lane and the old Worthing Road to Brookenbee Lane, known locally then as ‘Suicide’ Lane, leading down to the unmanned level crossing gates – from whence the narrow, muddy lane got its sinister sobriquet – and past Mr Dormond’s Knacker Yard. We, well the boys at least, all laughed at that name every time we passed it. A gray bearded old man, a recluse, lived down there somewhere and I had long ago forgotten his name until recently reminded by an old Rustonian that it was ‘Snorker’.

A copper penny piece on the railway line, then the search for the flattened remains after a passing train had done its duty, and off across to the brooks, the withy beds, the wetlands which, one day, I suspect, will also be covered in concrete.

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Through the long grass to the clear running, cold-water, black ditch – a misnomer if ever there was one – which, local legend had it, Steve Cooper, our neighbour in the Ridge, tried to leap across in a single bound but fell rather short.

Then a spot of tree climbing and safely back home for tea.

It all sounds rather romantic now and perhaps it was, but I do believe that we had the best of it and a day like that was much more rewarding than a day spent with busy thumbs dancing over the controls of an XBox or Game Boy.

Still, I guess it is all relative, really, and my children would argue that point: they have their own memories of a happy childhood embedded somewhere between the two periods of outdoor adventure and the age of the PC and who is really to say just who had the best of it?

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