Letters to Self 17


47, Bristol Road,



August 31st, 1954


Dear John,

I just went for a run on the sands with Spike. It’s my favourite place to be, whether I’m practising my throwing arm with Spike or playing beach cricket with Traps. Or just trying to reach the sea, which I’ve never seen come in at this end of the beach near Marine Parade, where everyone likes to go. Most of the trippers seem to take the first two weeks of August for their holidays, and they’ve caught their trains home to Birmingham by now. I think all the factories close down those first two weeks so the workers don’t have any choice about when they to their holidays.

I can rely on Spike to bring the ball back to my feet after tearing fifty yards down the beach. That is, if I get my throw just right, not too high so it catches a wind and loses distance, and not too low so it hits the sands before it’s covered twenty feet. Oh yes, he brings it back to my feet all right, but then he’ll never give it up—even though he must know this is the only way he’ll ever get another ball to chase. He always seems about to drop it, then just as soon as I go to grab it, his gnashers grip down and I end up hauling him up and swirling him in a circle without him giving an inch. The only certain way to get him to let go is to let fly a second ball—that always gets him. His brawn, my brain, I say, though it’s probably exactly what he’s waiting for: all part of the game.

Spike’s only about a foot and a half long and less than a foot high. I tried to measure him once, but he just keep swirling in a circle chasing my tape measure. Anyway, he’ll chase every dog off the beach that can outrun him, or they’ll just play victim by groveling on the sand when they see him coming. That’s even the big dogs—must be something about him that says he’s the boss. Only time he came near to serious injury was when he tried to savage the back wheel of a motor bike as it took off towards the ocean. It left him licking a bleeding lip for a while but it didn’t slow him down for long.

Weston sands are hard-packed. I’ve lived here seven years and I’ve hardly ever seen a donkey’s hoof print dent the surface. The ocean seems to always stay way out of sight beyond the far end of the pier. I don’t understand anything about tides, and how am I ever going to learn anything about it if it stays out of sight for my whole childhood? There must have been soft sand when we first came to live here because I remember getting sand in my eye. I was a baby of two or three and  I kept rubbing at it and crying. Grandma Jackson tried to wash it out from a pail of water but I fought her off. My tears must have washed out the sand in the end. I think we were sitting in some dunes up by the old pier near Anchor Head. There were more rocks than people and we couldn’t go up there, except with grown-ups, which wasn’t too often.

Hard sand’s great for beach cricket. A tennis ball easily bounces to shoulder height, and a bouncer can clear the top of your head. I wish I was as good a bat as Traps. It’s something to do with his eye being much better than mine, which must be what they mean about a batsman getting his eye in. I don’t think I ever did. But I never mind chasing after Traps’s fours and sixes, though we never know when he’s hit one because we don’t bother too much with boundaries.

The best part is how strong my throwing arm is getting. One time I was fielding in a St Peter’s third-eleven match right on the boundary line and I threw the wicket down with a straight shot at the stumps. It ran the batsman out by half the length of the pitch. And I think it’s helping my right hand punch, too, though mostly my left hand was good enough in the boxing matches I’ve had so far.

I’m glad for the donkeys the sand is packed hard. It would be a hard trudge for them through soft sands all day, especially with some of the children on board who’ve eaten too many choc ices. I always loved the donkeys, though I’d have felt like a sissy if I’d ridden them after I went to St Peter’s. Gosh, I’m glad I’m not a boarder like my sisters at Westcliffe, though they do come home every weekend. The favourite thing this term for our gang of day boys—Traps, Sid, Joey, Dates and me—will be stuff our coat pockets with sweet chestnuts that have fallen off the tree behind our neighbour’s garden wall. We can swap one sweet chestnut for one of the boarders’ sweets, so when we go home our pockets are full of sweets. My favourites are barley sugars, or I can swap six sweet chestnuts for a Mars Bar.

Mummy is calling up to say it’s time to put the light out and go to sleep. Even though it’s Saturday tomorrow.

Love, Johnny-Boy

One comment:

  1. John, I so love reading your childhood letters. Missing you and Dorothy. A visit to you is on my bucket list when I retire. Luv, Paula

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