When the war began I was five years old and had been evacuated to Dorset. Here I lived with two elderly aunties in a small stone cottage in the country. The walls were over two feet thick and the stone stairs curved steeply up beside the fireplace. The ceilings were so low that you could stand on the bottom stair and put something on the bedroom floor. The tiny bedroom windows were at knee level.
There was no telephone, no television, no tapes or CDs, no computer, no car, no shower, no bathroom, no central heating, norunning hot water. Baths were taken in a tin tub in the kitchen. Except for the one coal fire in the living room there was no heating at all.
The lavatory was a corrugated iron shed under the apple tree. It did not flush. Inside it was a metal bucket containing disinfectant. It was called an Elsan. Mr Blake, a very poor farmer, used to be paid to come in and empty it once a month. He dug a hole and buried the contents under the apple tree. You were not allowed to pee in the Elsan as it would have filled up too quickly. I had to pee in the hedge.
The aunties always kept three suitcases ready-packed in case ofinvasion. If the Germans invaded we would have to flee westwards as refugees. One night, amid the drone of bombers overhead, there came a sudden roar of engines and a deafening burst of machine gun fire. It sounded very close.
Aunt Betty shrieked "Get the cases, Flo!" We hurried downstairs, pulled on coats over our pyjamas and nightdresses, seized the suitcases and stood there trembling. Quite where we were going, on foot, in the middle of the winter night, was not clear.
In the end, we went nowhere and returned to bed, unharmed but very frightened.
Once a week, a bus came through the village about a mile away. We used to walk down to catch this bus and go into Shaftesbury to the shops. A big treat was to go to the pictures afterwards, but we always had to leave before the film ended, in order to catch the one and only bus home.
It was on one of these shopping trips that I committed a dreadful offence which still embarrasses me today. I had lost a little toy in the garden and was very upset, as I'd paid sixpence for it. I even cried. Kind Auntie Flo said "Never mind, dear. I'll get you something next week." So next Saturday she bought me a little toy costing fourpence. I can still remember walking along the pavement beside her and wrestling with my conscience as I looked down at the pavement going past under my feet. I knew it was wrong, but I had to say it. "You owe me tuppence!" I blurted out, and blushed with shame even as I said it. What a vile, ungrateful little beast I must have been!
Of course, I am much nicer today.
Raymond Briggs has been writing and illustrating books for about 40 years. His best-known titles are Father Christmas, The Snowman, (Puffin)When the Wind Blows (Penguin), Fungus the Bogeyman (Puffin), The Man, The Bear (Julia Macrae) and the most recent is Ethel amp; Ernest, a strip cartoon biography of his parents. Some of these titles have been made into films and productions for the theatre. Ethel amp; Ernest is published by Jonathan Cape at pound;14.99 and pound;8.99.
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