Friday, September 19, 2008

Life at Ullenwood 2: Dr Ferris writes ...

Like Crickley Hill Man, I thought I would also set down some memories of living at Ullenwood while digging at Crickley. Certainly the camp was very much as remembered by Crickley Hill Man even in the earlier seasons-I first dug at Crickley in either 1971 or 1972. There was also a private house, next to the mess hall and kitchen, lived in by Lofty, the exiled Hungarian coach driver for Swanbrook Coaches and Mrs Lofty his wife, whose real name we never knew. Beyond this was a large tarmacked area known, for obvious reasons, as the football pitch, and to the side of that a few Nissen huts dubbed 'the married quarters'. The most curiously monickered buildings were The Ablutions, the washrooms and toilets, but I cannot recall if there was a sign on the doors designating them this way or if the name originally came from Richard Savage.
The mess hall or dining room was the hub of the camp, with book readers and letter writers spilling out of the mess hall to sit on the steps in the better evening weather. Dinner served at 7 o'clock was always somewhat of a stampede, though there were always inevitably seconds available. I cannot recall a season when the food wasn't really good, though those diggers who on a couple of mornings had their breakfasts cooked by John Boden and myself in order to give the hard-pressed cooks a sleep-in may beg to differ.

In those pre-mobile phone days Ullenwood was amazingly quiet and restful, generally until after the Air Balloon had shut. There was no TV and record players or cassette decks only tended to be brought out on party nights-on two or three Wednesday nights every season. I do remember though many of us being gripped by certain dramatic news stories listened to on transistor radios whenever we could, these being the fall of Saigon in 1973 and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

After dinner, if we weren't on chores, we would go the Air Balloon or attend one of the evening lectures and then race down to the Air Balloon for last orders. I particularly remember Richard Savage's marvellous lectures on the Irish sagas which had a huge influence on me. Kenneth Jackson's Celtic Miscellany, recommended by Richard, is still a favourite book of mine.
Getting back from the Air Balloon could either be by the simple direct route or on some evenings it would involve walking up Crickley Hill and along the scarp through the woods. In the dark this could be quite time-consuming, particularly when we stopped off to sit on top of one of the barrows near the top of Greenway Lane to drink cider take-outs- Gold Label, GL -and tell ghost stories.

For a couple of seasons I was a member of the terribly-named Below Average White Band whose regular drink-fuelled late night performances of improvised 'sound sculptures' on 'found' instruments such as an old piano frame, a kettle with a rubber hosepipe attached and some biscuit tins and empty cider bottles gave GBH of the earhole to many more sober diggers back in the mess hall. Other members of the band included Chris Philpotts and John Boden but I cannot remember who else might have performed with this sadly not-missed floating collective of troubadours. Update: definitive history from Dr Phillpotts now posted here. About 20 people "performed" one way and another over the years.

1 comment:

PennyH said...

I believe the music genre to which the Below Average White Band belonged was "bedrock"