PLATT Congratulations to Mark and Samantha on the birth of BENJAMIN STUART on 2nd of June 1953, younger brother of ANTHONY JOHN
I always tell people that I grew up in a mansion, and like many of the things I say, it’s true in a general sense.
My father was a farm laborer, and my parents rented the gatehouse of a country mansion. The other buildings and most of the grounds were deserted back when I lived there. The mansion itself was impressive but was slowly crumbling because the owners didn’t have the money to keep it up.
I assume I had a room to myself until Ben was born, but I don’t actually remember a time before we shared a bedroom. Most of my early memories of home life are of the large kitchen, which always seemed to be cold even in the hottest of days. I have some good memories of it, but my most vivid ones are of sitting on the floor by the fire playing with Ben and hearing my parents from the other end of the room. Usually, it was just routine things, but sometimes their voices started to get louder, and when one of us tried to say something we were told to be quite because our parents were “trying to have a grown-up conversation.”
This often ended with Dad putting on his coat and going down to the village, with Mother noisily cleaning up the kitchen. Later, when Ben and I were in bed I’d hear Dad come back in, and sometimes the voices would carry on, but mostly there was silence for days afterward.
The cottage we lived in was about a mile from the sea, with nothing but rolling farmland between us and the sandy beach. The tide went out for miles, leaving a vast expanse of glistening sand, which made a fantastic playground for young kids. Ben and I were always finding something to explore, shells to dig up, and occasionally a dead fish or bird to examine.
The village of South Uppingham was about a mile in the other direction, and at the time, it seemed like the most exciting place in the world. Really it was just a little collection of cottages, a church, a couple of stores and three pubs. The market town of Lynn was another 15 miles away, but it might as well have been in a different country for all the relevance it had for us. Even so, every month Mother would go “up to town” and spend the day in the Lynn shops. Sometimes she took us, but I was happier wading barefoot in the sand pools than walking the streets of Lynn. Between us and Lynn, the resort of Hunstanton was the bright spot during the summer, always full of tourists and day-trippers up from the city. Us local kids preferred our own small area of the beach, where we could talk to the fishermen, play in the sand dunes and spend the long hot summer days just being happy to be alive.
One day Ben and I happened upon some driftwood on the shore and decided on a great adventure. Filled with some strange fantasy idea, I resolved that we would make a raft and sail across the sea to Germany. I’m not sure why Germany, maybe I’d heard a fisherman talk about the country, but it was an idea that stuck in my head. Ben was apprehensive at first, but I told him it would be OK, and that we could get some cake when we got there. He was happy at that, so we set about building our craft.
It took about 3 days to put together our makeshift boat, and we waited until the next high tide before pushing our craft into the waves. It was a calm sunny morning, and for a time it was fun as we floated gently along with a slight breeze. It wasn’t long before Ben started to complain about being hungry, and wanted to know when we would reach Germany and the cake I had promised him.
As the day wore on I realized that maybe it would take longer than I had thought to get to Germany, and I wished we had brought along something to drink. Eventually the sun began to set, and the adventure didn’t seem so much fun anymore. We were both soaked to the skin and starting to shiver violently when we saw one of the local fishing boats approaching.
Mother and Dad had discovered we had gone and reported us missing to the police, who, in turn, had alerted the local fishermen to keep an eye out. I remember how much the fishermen laughed when they pulled us out of our craft and the smell of fish as we sat there. I thought it strange when they gave me a cold drink to warm me up, but when I swallowed it, I thought my throat was on fire, and my gasps made the men laugh even more.
Needless to say, we were severely punished for our escapade, and I don’t think we were allowed out on the beach for many weeks after that. We had to go to the police and apologize for wasting their time and thank the fishermen for their kindness, but every time I started to explain about wanting to float to Germany they just started laughing all over again. Soon it became the talk of the village, and for a while, we were known as the German brothers.