We looked at a few houses in Newbury before settling on 9 Pyle Hill. This was not in Newbury borough but in the rural district area. The other side of the street was called Greenham Road and was in the borough. The house was a typical semi-detached built during the 1930’s; part of its attraction was a large garden and the fact that there were open fields over the back boundary. Newbury race course was visible from the back bedroom; the Queen often attended and we would then see the Royal Standard flying from the grandstand.
On one occasion we took Nancy’s mother to the races where she saw Prince Ras Monolulu (real name Peter Carl Mackay) who frequented race courses selling tips. He was a native of the Danish West Indies but dressed as something like an Abyssinian and was a well-known character with his cry of “I gotta a horse”. I suspect that the envelopes for each race contained names of different horses so that at least some of his customers would get a winner.
On a bitterly cold day in 1966 I took Ruth and Mary to see Arkle run in the Hennessy Gold Cup. He was one of the best steeplechasers ever to race in England. We took up a position on the side of the course opposite to the grandstands and later Dad told us we had been shown on the TV coverage of the race. Arkle did not win; he was beaten by half a length by Stalbridge Colonist who was carrying 35 pounds (14kg) less than Arkle. The cold weather drove us home after seeing that one race.
After moving into Newbury, Ruth attended St John’s infants school and later moved up to St Nicholas’ school from where she won a scholarship to the girls' high school but my itchy feet meant that she only spent one term there. One of her teachers at St Nicholas said in a report that ‘.. she looked forward to hearing of Ruth’s university achievements’. On reaching the age of five Mary started at St John’s school.
Having a car enabled us to do more sightseeing. We visited Blenheim Palace, Windsor Castle, Longleat, Ashdown House near Lambourn. We also made trips to London going as far as Clapham Junction by car and then catching a train after leaving the car in a convenient car park. We went to the zoo and the Tower of London. Lyons Corner Houses provided several of our meals; it was a great disappointment to find they no longer existed when we made our first trip home from New Zealand in 1983.
Oxford was also visited, and we went the Ashmolean Museum and also the Pitt-Rivers Museum, but I have little recollection of what we saw in those places. Yet another trip was to the Slimbridge Wild Fowl Trust in Gloucestershire. It was founded in 1948 by Sir Peter Scott, son of the Captain Scott who died in the Antarctic.
We made two visits to the Haymarket Theatre in London. One was to see Sir Ralph Richardson as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. We were a bit anxious about how Mary, aged six, would like it but she sat spellbound. The other visit was to see Sir Ralph as Sir Anthony Absolute and Margaret Rutherford as Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals. I especially enjoyed that as I had studied the play for School Certificate English.
Soon after seeing The Rivals, Ruth went into hospital for removal of her appendix. I wrote to Margaret Rutherford enclosing the theatre programme and a stamped envelope bearing the hospital’s address and asked her to sign the programme. She did this and asked every member of the cast to sign. Only now have I learned from the internet that ill health made Margaret Rutherford leave the cast shortly afterwards and she never appeared in the theatre again.
I had joined the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) which gave access to members’ day at the Chelsea Flower show, and I had also joined a gardening club in Newbury which hired a coach to go the show. Very young children were not allowed entry to the show so only Ruth and I went. I think our visit was in 1967. Membership of the RHS gave also free admission to the Society’s gardens at Wisley in Surrey and during our time in Newbury we made several visits to the gardens.
I started growing and showing chrysanthemums in Newbury. My first show was at Reading and my one vase got a second place. Soon afterwards I won a large certificate for Best Vase in Show at Newbury with a variety called Martin Riley. I also won all the chrysanthemum classes at Chievely, a village near Newbury. Chievely man Mike Pocock, who like me worked for the South Western Electricity Board, had given me a few tips. I repaid his kindness by winning the cup for chrysanthemums which Mike had monopolised for a some years. He had his revenge within days at the Newbury show when I showed there for the second time.
Nancy’s father had been gassed in the 1914 war and subsequently spent some time in a sanatorium in an area called Nine Mile Ride in Berkshire. Nancy’s mother went there too and stayed with a family called Large. One day we took Nancy’s mother there without telling her of our intention, so she was delighted when she recognised the place. I cannot recall now how we discovered that the Large’s daughter still lived in the village and we knocked on her door. We were made very welcome and stayed for tea; needless to say it made Mother’s day. The day was made memorable for another reason. Mother had been a smoker for many years and had tried several times to quit the habit. On this evening she ran out of cigarettes so I said I would go to the nearby pub to get some. Mother said she would not buy any more and she never smoked again.
In Newbury I met again one of the boys with whom I had joined the navy more than 20 years previously. An engineer called Bill Smith worked for the electricity board and in conversation I learned that he had been in the navy and had risen to the rank of Warrant Electrician. I knew that Ronnie Smith’s dad had been a warrant officer and on a hunch asked Bill “Do you have a son Ronald Alfred?” My hunch proved to be correct. Sometime later Bill rang me to say he and Ronnie would be in the Railway pub that evening. He had not told Ronnie about me so it was a surprise when I walked into the pub. We had a pleasant evening and I also learned how several of my former class mates had fared in the years since I last saw them. Several had attained warrant or commissioned officer rank.