Biography: Horsham

Where I was born and spent my earliest years.

I was born in Horsham, Sussex, England, and spent my first 7 years with my parents in a bungalow called Orchard Cottage on Farthings Hill, west of Horsham town, between it and the village of Broadbridge Heath.

Orchard Cottage had two acres of ground, and half of that was just a field to the rear of the garden. Like all of their generation in Britain who had endured wartime rationing, my parents prized the possibilities of such a smallholding, in two particular ways. Firstly, In the garden was an orchard of 25 apple trees from which my parents got a huge crop. At harvest time, it was a major job to pick all the apples and store them on trays in the cool, so that they would last as long as possible and still be usable. It must have been while we lived there that my mother began her annual operation of making great quantities of blackberry and apple jelly — for which, of course, we had to go out among the wild bramble bushes in the surrounding area and pick great mounds of blackberries to match the plentiful apples.

Secondly, as a result of rationing many people in Britain had a fixation about fresh eggs. So as never to be short of this commodity ever again, my father and mother raised chickens and geese. They might have overdone it; or it might be something about the sulphur-based compounds in egg yolks that is apparently intrinsic to the smell of an egg while cooking or once cooked; whatever the reason, I hated them. At the age of 4, at Easter when my mother had “grossed me out” (as I think American teenagers say) especially badly by painting the shells of some boiled eggs in garish colours (very safely using food colouring) I rebelled. I told her I didn't like eggs at all. And I still find them repellent and have not eaten an egg, cooked in any way (as an egg) since. (My only exceptions are cakes and batter items of the Yorkshire pudding variety, in which there is enough flour to make the result into more of a cereal based product than one based on egg as an ingredient. See my food area.) My rejection of eggs in this way was a great disappointment to my father. He was essentially a simple man with some fixed ideas, and one of them was that “eggs are Good”. He got used to me eventually.

I am sure it was living in this idyllic, if fairly isolated, setting as a small child that gave me my love of countryside and open spaces, as opposed to the city. I have lived in cities (London, Paris, Brussels) but I definitely far prefer the peace of the country.

My first brother, Robin, arrived in January 1952 when I was 18 months old. Thereafter my mother always had younger children and babies with which to be preoccupied and I learnt to occupy a lot of my time by myself very early. From the age of 1, my mother began to leave me most afternoons in the care of an elderly neighbour for an hour or two. This lady, Mrs Knight, was a country woman with no great education, and she had a rural Sussex accent in speech; but she read children’s books to me and by dint of this regular practice I could read at age 4. This is certainly not as young as some people including some Mensans I have come across, true; but it was well before I went to school.

In those years we had a wonderful time at Orchard Cottage. We had a pedal car probaably around 4 feet long, which one of us would sit in and propel with the pedals. The other might push instead, but there was also a tricycle, and later other vehicles. There are photos in my parents first family album of Robin and me playing together in that vast garden. There was a long straight drive of several dozen yards (I guess) from the front gate down the side of the bungalow and past a barn where my father kept chicken feed to a second barn at the garden's rear which we called the garage. Near the garage was the chicken house and run.

My next brother arrived in February 1955, when I was four and a half years old. I began primary school in September that year, at a convent run by nuns at Billingshurst, in a large country house (which is still there in use for quite a different purpose). This meant a journey of several miles, for which I lad to learn to catch a bus every morning and afternoon. We have never had school buses as an almost universal service the way such things exist in the USA; some exist nowadays but certainly nothing did in 1955. The bus service was an ordinary general-purpose rural bus. I remember a double-decker bus like those used in London, with an open kerb-side rear platform onto which one stepped and where the bus conductor (who sold and checked tickets) would ride standing up when not busy attending passengers inside and upstairs.

For two school years (September to July) I commuted the five miles or so to school by myself. When Robin began school he was two years behind me because of the way the school system works, so that he began schooling only after we moved house.

What became of Orchard Cottage?

Years after we moved away, the dual-carriageway A24 Horsham bypass was built, and for a while construction workers used Orchard Cottage as accommodation of some sort. At that time it stood in the middle of the roundabout forming the intersection of the A24 with the road from Broadbridge Heath into Horsham. However that roundabout was subsequently converted into two bridges over an underpass for A24 through traffic. The large Georgian style house that was two doors away to the west now houses a car dealership situated behind the Shell petrol station on the west side of that underpass/two-bridges-roundabout intersection.