6 Dec 2012


Tanya was born in Bradford on Avon under an Adam ceiling in a cottage hospital.

For our mother's confinement with Tanya, our parents had moved to our father's house in a hamlet called The Linleys near Corsham. When our parents separated we would shuttle between two homes. During term-times we were collected by our father in his Mini Traveller from our nursery school in Hammersmith on Friday afternoons and returned to Mum's on Sunday nights. Depending on the weather and the season, the journey had a particular routine and several landmarks. We would often stop for fish and chips in Reading where a treat would be a Kit-Kat each. I never had the fish, I always had a steak and kidney pie. He told our older half-sister in a letter I always enjoyed the journey but Tanya, "Baba" as she was then, just tolerated it.

Our Daddy (as he preferred, never just 'Dad') was still in the midst of renovating the cottage, ongoing for a decade or so, so my recollections of these weekends are mostly of him writing at his desk or sawing things. There was always a trip into Corsham or somewhere to buy hardware and often a visit to a pub. We had several choices; there was one with a huge model train layout which ran for a few minutes with a penny in the slot. It also had a number of dilapidated vehicles to play on, one being a US Army Jeep. There was also the 'Pink Pub' (actually the Roebuck) on the way to Laycock which overlooked the London main line just before it went to Box tunnel. When Tanya and I were shouted at by the landlady for turning over a bench in the garden and using it as pretend canoe, he vowed we'd never go back and we didn't. 

Just up the road and the only reason for HGV traffic was a Royal Navy Storage Depot at Monks Park. Whispered talk in the pub was of the atomic weapons and the Queen's nuclear bunker beneath our feet. Mysterious air shafts dotted the fields around us like dew ponds. A stone dropped down one through the grating could reach 'two hippopotami' before a clang was heard. It was said the various underground sites and quarries were all connected; "a man could cross the county underground" a local told me. When I and my friends later explored the nearby disused underground quarries, we found freshly painted steel doors where the hum of machinery could be heard on the other side.

Our father had bought the cottage in the mid 1950's from the neighbouring Mrs Barnett when he ran a furniture workshop with Norman Potter and George Philip in Corsham. Mrs Barnett was in her eighties when I would be sent the 50 yards down the road to buy 20 Senior Service from her shop. Tobacco was all she sold by then and my dad was practically the only customer, the stock was kept in a dusty glass cabinet in her front room that smelled of coal fires, tea and UHT milk. There was a portrait of Queen Victoria above the fireplace. In Gastard there was a sub post office, the nearest phone box, and a commercial bakery we would go to at dawn to get bread fresh out of the oven as they loaded their van. We had to run back passing the loaf from hand to hand or it would burn.

Since the late 50's our father had shuttled between there and London with salvaged bits and pieces and friend and students as labourers stuffed in his 'baby' Austin 7. His journey along the A4 would be broken with a visit to a sight of architectural interest or a pub. The building of the M4 motorway was very welcome, every few months new sections opened until it reached Chippenham. We then missed out the chip shop in Reading. The odometer said 100 miles door to door.

What I mustn't forget but which I have little knowledge of was that this was the home of our father and his previous wife and their daughter, his son and step-daughter long before Tanya and I came on the scene. There are many other chapters which are unwritten but I think they belong in a book about Geoffrey Bocking.

It took a few years to install an inside toilet and a bath.

Winter late 1960's

Here we are exploring on an excavator together. What an HSE nightmare! This would probably indicate that the hamlet of The Linleys got mains sewerage installed around 1966. 

The neighbouring farm's hay barn was our playground until someone, not us, burned it down. The friendly dairy farmer there would show us how to run the milking machine. All the cows had names and each went to their particular stall. He was a genial fellow who lived near Melksham. Surely, I asked, that would be Milk-sham? He probably went to the wall when the price of his milk plummeted as the supermarkets took over.

After our father died there, we didn't visit it for a while and the house became a refuge of many sorts. Chiswick Women's Aid hid a few families there. One occupant claimed to have woken to see a strange figure standing at the foot of her bed.  A charity based in the East End took groups of children there too, which I went along with, though I had very grave doubts about the gay couple - though that wasn't the issue - who ran the charity as one was an alcoholic and they favoured particular male children with overnight stays in their flat. It was also our refuge as our now single-parent mother could employ a nanny or au-pair to look after us for us to live there in school holidays whilst she worked in London and we could stay amidst fresh air and countryside. Some of the au-pairs were terrific, some were terrible and Tanya and I conspired silently to send those packing. Mrs Barnett's son had a haulage business and it was our exceptional luck he had a contract with Heidelberg in Chiswick, so for a bit of beer money, he would collect trunks, sewing machines and bicycles from our house and deliver them to Corsham or take them back, keeping us supplied whilst we travelled by train as Mum didn't drive. 

Over the years various adult friends and neighbours stayed for long periods, faces came and went and my mother had relationships with different people. I don't recall who was exactly sleeping with who, but Tanya and I co-mingled with many other children at different times as if we were all one family. A very kindly woman neighbour with kids our age we'd play with got sent down for growing cannabis and her kids taken into care. Her ex-husband then appeared on the scene and he kept an eye on the cottage but then he or one of his gang of petty thieves and burglars broke into the electricity meter for the coins we fed it.

This was the summer that 'Seasons in the Sun' and Abba were big hits. 

I recall we went regularly to Farleigh. There's actually no buildings there, it's a mill pond and a weir and one of England's best 'wild swimming' places when that was perfectly natural and people didn't make TV programmes about it as if it was some kind of guerilla activity. 

One time Tanya and I went there with two other friends with our bicycles. Dropped off by a neighbour with a van, we left it late and we had to cycle miles home in the twilight/darkness without lights. Quite an adventure. It seemed like thirty miles. I reckon it was that far because we got lost but if we'd known where we were going instead of going through Melksham, it would have only been ten.

In 1976 the bank called in my mother's overdraft so the cottage had to be sold.


- Nat


  1. I was one of the au pairs (hopefully one of the nice ones!) I spent a summer with Nat and Tanya (1969?) aged just 17 myself... Lots of memories.

    1. I wonder which one you were? Names are hazy now. Please get in touch.


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