Growing Up “On The Farm”

If, with retrospect, I could choose a childhood for myself I would choose exactly the childhood I was privileged to enjoy: that of growing up on our family farm in Tholthorpe.  It was amazing.  Not only did it shape my whole life in a way that I’ve been drawn to the village ever since, long into adulthood, but I wanted my own children and now their children to spend as much time as possible in the village “on the farm” enjoying the same thrills and experiences shared by generations before them.

A Simple Life 

Village life was simple – we spent all our time outdoors, whatever the weather.  The winters I remember most were “hard” winters with lots of snow – quite deep in parts – during which the pond would freeze over and the village children would skate on it and sledge across it – getting quite a speed up sledging down the slight incline of snow onto the frozen ice of the pond itself. I don’t remember feeling the cold – we just dressed appropriately in hats, scarves, gloves and layers, lots of layers.  Wellies were mandatory.  Green or black Dunlops for all. There was a huge sense of community in the village.  Everyone knew everyone else, the kids all played together on the green and around the village, most of the families living in the village were involved in some way in the farming way of life.
 

Cold, Harsh Winters

Life on the farm in winter was tough and oh so cold.  The farmhouse was draughty with old windows which, until we installed central heating, used to freeze up on the inside.  We had a coal fire in our bedroom and a hot water bottle each in bed, which mum used to prepare and put into our bed a few minutes before we went to bed.  When we came out from one room where there would be a coal fire burning to go to another the cold air would hit you in the corridor, making one quicken one’s step somewhat in order to get back into the warmth as soon as possible.
 
It was dark when we got up and getting dark when we came home from school.  Our time was spent trying to stay upright on our back road whilst bringing in the cows for milking, breaking ice on water troughs for the horses, brushing snow and ice off hay and straw for the various animals that needed “bedding up” and feeding.  Often farm vehicles would refuse to start as the diesel in their tanks would have frozen.  Walking in the rutted fields to fetch the cows in was nigh on impossible and we found ourselves slipping everywhere, often only managing to walk with the aid of a stick broken off a tree for stability.  If we found a good strong stick we would keep it for next time.  Some sticks lasted all winter and beyond!
 

A Sledging Accident

In those winters, we would join other village children and some parents sledging in the fields on the left as you go out of the village towards Myton.  One year my dad, came with us and would join me on my sledge “tandem” style as we went down the hill.  As we approached the bottom at great speed, veering off course into the hedge he stuck his foot out to slow us down.  It didn’t work – all that happened was the sledge ran over it and we tipped into the snow.
It was a soft landing but when the sledge ran over Dad’s ankle it broke it in several places.  This was a big problem because at the bottom of the hill there was no way out of the field!  We had to get him back to the top and he was no lightweight!
 
In true village style, everyone rallied round and a large rope was attached to the sledge, which several of the men from the village pulled whilst others pushed from behind and Dad was hauled to the top of the hill and his transport to A&E!  He still has pins in his ankle to this day from that accident.

Snow and Ice 

The footpaths were never gritted during winter and as we rushed to the school bus many of the children would slide along them, stopping only as they crashed into the other children waiting for the arrival of the bus to pick them up.  In those days, it used to stop just along from the Post Office halfway up the village and you could find yourself sandwiched between one local lad, with his mop of ginger hair hurtling down the street towards you at the same time as another from the other end of the village was careering in the opposite direction.  If you were lucky you would manage to sidestep them both and miss the ensuing collision!  At times because the village was in a dip and the snow was deep the school bus wouldn’t be able to make it through to us.  We would never know this though and all the village children would stand to wait at the bus stop, throwing snowballs at one another and sliding along the pavements until the bus was over an hour late and then we would decide to go home again.
 
Sometimes we would get to school and it would start to snow heavily.  We loved those days because we would be sent home early.  We used to hang around the telephone kiosk and ring people we knew, mostly our own parents.  Someone had drilled a hole into a 10p piece and we had tied a piece of string around it as the phone answered we would push the money into the slot, hear it drop and then pull it out again.  All the person heard on the other end of the line was a fit of giggles.  I’m sure all the parents knew what we were up to but no-one ever told us off for it.
 

Christmas in the Village

As the approach to Christmas came the Sunday School children would go around the village with mum, who ran the village Sunday School with my dad, carol singing as she accompanied us on her piano accordion.  The villagers were very generous and welcoming but it was always so very cold – I remember blowing the breath you could see into our hands to try to warm them up.  We always had a Christmas service of some sorts in the Chapel and the whole village used to turn out to attend it with virtually all the village children taking a part of the service.  One year the whole of the Sunday school stood at the front for the finale, each holding a lighted Candle singing “This little light of mine…..I’m going to let it shine…” which was fine until one of the children’s candle dripped candle wax onto their hand and they dropped the candle!  Chaos ensued and we narrowly missed setting the Chapel on fire when my dad managed to act quickly and extinguish the candle!  We never had children holding lit candles in the Chapel again from that day to this.
 

Spring

My favourite time of the year in Tholthorpe has always been spring.  When the daffodils turn the green yellow and
everything is new and fresh.  We would take jam jars to the edge of the pond just by the village hall and go pond
dipping to see what new life we could find.  We would find tiddlers – stickleback fish – and wonder how they got
there since the pond was spring fed.  We’d paddle in the water but I always kept my wellies on as I didn’t like the smell of it and it was dirty, not clear!  Sometimes we’d grow frogs spawn in the jars watching as it turned from a jelly-like substance to tadpoles and eventually frogs – which we would return to the pond.  Watching this process fascinated us. Simple things.
 
Not everything that went on in the village was quite so simple though.  The first time we heard the drone of what sounded like aircraft engines in the centre of the village people came out of their houses to see what the commotion was.  We could hardly believe our eyes.  One of the village boys had built himself a hovercraft and was skimming across the pond and back at great speed.  It’s fair to say that very few of us in the village had ever seen a hovercraft, let alone have a clue how to build one. He became quite a local celebrity!  I believe he went on to race his hovercraft in various competitions – but that could be my imagination!  
© Sharon Malone 2020

 

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