15th May 2022

A few short weeks ago, I was taking photographs of snow and ice on these plants.

As white as the world was, now it is green.

Even as a child, summer did not suit me.

Although it meant school holidays, summer always brought on severe asthma attacks.

My brother and I would accompany Mum on a visit to her family in Wiltshire.

We went to Paddington Station and waited for our train to come shunting in, emitting great clouds of steam.

It was a real “puffer train”.

The aroma of British Rail will be with me to the end.

Precisely which station we travelled to, I no longer remember, nor can I recall our means of transfer to my grandmother’s home. The only family transport at that time was my aunt Win’s bicycle, which she used to peddle every night to Devizes where she was a nursing sister. Six miles there and six miles back after a 12 hour shift, in any kind of weather.

She never complained of the ride, just that where she kept the bike in a barn there were rats.

Later she got a Lambretta and Billy the budgie used to say “Win’s gone to bed on a motor scooter”.

Uncle George, Mum’s brother who also lived there, presumably taught Billy the phrase, but I was very impressed.

On one occasion I remember that my father rented a Morris Minor to come and collect us. He hated driving and was quite grumpy about it.

That year is stuck in my mind. It was August. On the night of August 15th there was a terrible storm. We sat in darkness, interrupted only by great flashes of lightning followed by earth shattering claps of thunder.

While I don’t remember being especially frightened, I let go of my golliwog and the dog Judy ate its foot.

Grandma knitted a replacement foot for Golly, but that isn’t why I remember that summer so well.

The following morning, we heard the terrible news of a flash flood in the Devonshire village of Lynmouth.

Lynmouth Flood memorial. 34 people died.

As there was no telephone or television in the house, I’m not sure how we heard the news. Perhaps Uncle George had a radio, or maybe there was a newspaper.

It’s hard to conceive of a time when communication was so different. And yet my mother could post a letter from London in the morning and be fully confident that it would be delivered that same afternoon.

My aunt used to pick cowslips in the fields and post them up to Mum. They arrived perfectly fresh the same day.

In the event of serious news, a “cable” was sent.

Cables almost inevitably meant someone had died, or been born. The communication was brief, as each word added to the cost. The words were cold, stark and impersonal, simply a copy of the teletyped message folded into a yellow envelope with a window displaying the recipent’s name and address.

As I recall they were dispatched with a special courier from the post office.

Apart from asthma attacks and thunderstorms, what I did not care for in those long-ago summers was the fact that when visiting in Wiltshire we inevitably walked in the fields, with the current dog .

The walks were great, though you had to make sure, if you went up on Urchfont Hill, that the red flag wasn’t flying because that meant the army was doing gunnery practice and you might get blown up.

One day a shell actually overshot and landed near the village which might have alarmed me, but I wasn’t there at the time.

What I did not like about those walks, was that I was scared to death of cows and often we walked in fields where they grazed. No one cared about my phobias!

On one occasion the cows were in an adjacent field and as we walked by, some of them crashed through the hedge toward us.

In my mind they intended us harm.

No doubt they had been antagonized by the terrier Judy, or perhaps it was her successor, the mad Jack Russell Chini. They both used to bark a lot.

Even when I visited later, as a teenager, I was afraid of cows. Once, I saw a herd coming up the lane toward me and dove into a nearby telephone booth to take refuge.

Fortunately it was not in use.

The Lynmouth Flood was the first disaster I was ever conscious of. When we went to the “pictures” (movies), the main feature was always preceded by the Pathe Newsreel and I am sure some of what I saw got filed in my brain to create various seemingly irrational fears that stayed with me into adulthood.

There has certainly never been a time in human history when there was not plenty of alarming news.

9 thoughts on “Phobias

  1. Lovely musing, Carolyn, except for you being frightened of cows. I wrote a post about traveling on the steam train to a mountain where a farming family lived. They would leave the barn not cleaned because I would clean the place from the top to bottom. The cows loved me and never hurt me.


  2. Wow, just look at those dew/raindrops in your photos – love it! I presume ‘cable’ is the same as ‘telegram’? I vaguely remember those telegrams in the Post Office when I was still very young (maybe 4 or 5). Between my mom’s “keep box” there is a telegram where her friend congratulated her and my dad with my birth ☺️.

  3. The Lynmouth Flood was in 1952. I was a baby, born in March that year. I only heard about it later, when my parents always mentioned it whenever there was flooding on the news. I have also suffered in some hot summers. Hay Fever, skin problems,.and endless insect bites.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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