'A Squatters Write' (Part 13) - Memories of growing up in The Camp at Millwey Rise

  Posted: 20.02.21 at 11:26 by Dick Sturch

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The bane of my life on The Camp - Suzanne and her vicious geese

I have mentioned Suzanne earlier in this series of memories of growing up at The Camp in Millwey Rise. She was one of the very early characters who lived nearby our first home and still remains firmly entrenched in my memory.

I think she was French but as for her age, how she came to find a home on The Camp, her previous history or later life I have no idea. In one's younger life these questions and answers seem irrelevant; it's only later that you wish you had been more inquisitive.

Of all the things I do remember was the way she strode everywhere, always seeming to be in a great hurry. Her normal attire was wellington boots, worn all year round, together with what looked like ex- army issue khaki shorts and a blouson shirt. In winter she normally pinned a hessian sack around her shoulders. In summer just a white vest, shorts and always those wellington boots.

She was never without a coloured bandanna knotted over a head of thick black hair. Her skin had a permanent tan, very Mediterranean, no doubt supplemented by the outdoor life she led.

My young eyes were always reminded of the pirates or gypsies illustrated in the many comics I read at the time. When she spoke in her strongly accented broken English her meaning was often difficult to follow. If you failed to understand what she was saying, she would get very agitated, often reverting to her native tongue, which if translated, was probably something quite rude about you and your parentage.

Attached by one of Suzanne's vicious geese

Like us she lived in a Nissen hut, although her's was a solitary hut tucked in the shadows of a tall hedge which divided The Camp from Heal's Field. (It was situated on the left, half way down Second Avenue where houses and bungalows now stand).

If her front door happened to be open you could be forgiven for thinking it was the mouth of a dark, gloomy cave where any glimpse of sunlight rarely entered. I don't think too many people ever ventured through that door, even if they were allowed in.

The hut`s immediate surroundings was cluttered with an assortment of pens and shelters for her livestock and any other paraphernalia she had collected. It all appeared to be in various stages of dilapidation and deposited haphazardly anywhere there was space to do so.

Suzanne's Farm

For Suzanne the whole of The Camp was her farm. No matter where you went, if there was an open, grassy space you would find a goat or two tethered to stakes grazing it. Normally, you could either smell or hear them long before you ever saw them. They were a nuisance to us budding, young footballers as their deposits were strewn all over the grassy spaces we chose to hone our skills on.

When you did come across a goat, you gave it a wide berth as they never appeared to be very friendly. I can bear full testament to this when, having teased them, I was not quick enough to escape outside the limit of the chain or rope by which they were tethered. This could result in a painful butt, sometimes combined with an angry tirade from Suzanne who had an uncanny knack of turning up when least expected.

Then later, when I returned home, my mother would inform me that Suzanne had been to see her and was going to call the police next time she saw me worrying her goats. I don't know whether she ever did.

In late afternoon she would lead the goats back by their tethers to her Nissen hut where she milked them and kept them overnight. She sold their milk around The Camp together with eggs from the chickens, ducks and geese that ran free-range on the ground surrounding her hut. My mother (who was lovely but a real soft touch) would buy eggs, and much against the family wishes, a jug of goat milk from Suzanne, who always declared her goats milk was far healthier than milk from any cow. Our cat and dog seemed to enjoy it far more than we did!

Goose attack

I recalled her geese earlier in the series and how unfortunate it was that the connecting path between our Nissen hut and the rest of The Camp skirted the land where she let her geese roam free. Whenever we walked along the path half a dozen or more of them would make a bee-line for us. Half running, half flying, wings flapping, beaks snapping, squawking and hissing. They were quite intimidating, especially for young children.

I always tried to ensure I carried a stick to fend them off. Sometimes while I was doing this Suzanne would appear from her hut waving her arms and shouting something I never stayed long enough to understand.. I was so pleased when we moved into 14/1 on another part of The Camp.

Suzanne occasionally visited Dorset Farmers, where my father worked as a storeman, to buy a bag of feed for her livestock but on one visit she went into the office to inform the manager, Bill Pattemore, that "Speeler was steelin' corn for his chicken." This occured after my father began keeping chickens and my mother stopped buying eggs from her. In actual fact she was nearly right as he did have access to the feed from the store but only what he swept up off the floor at the end of his working day. Mr. Pattemore soon dismissed her, knowing she was only mischief-making.

When my father heard this he was furious and told her in no uncertain terms never to come anywhere near my mother or our dwelling again - and to my knowledge she never did.

I don`t know what happened to her in later life though obviously she has left a big impression on mine. I received more tongue lashings and bruises from Suzanne and her fearsome livestock than I ever did in the 35 years of playing football. Together they were the bane of my early life on The Camp.

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