Once upon a time we lived in the Cotswolds. We did not have a Cotswolds income, just my service pay, but not being then anywhere like eligible for a service married quarter we had to make shift where we could, and we ended up by great good fortune in a portion of a village Rectory. The walls were very thick, thick enough that you could have a window seat underneath a window within the thickness of the wall. We were there in the winter of 1962 – 1963 which began on Boxing Day of 1962 and continued until early March, and were grateful for their protection. The house was built of that beautiful Cotswold stone and on the ground floor were flagstones through the gaps in which earth worms would occasionally appear.
Most windows had leaded lights which were bent and bowed and provided ventilation in the summer and cold draughts in the winter. In the aforesaid bad winter the condensation from our general living froze onto the glass and sealed up the cracks, and the draughts ceased. We bought a cooker which used Calor gas and by the judicious keeping in hand of a spare cylinder, we survived being snowed in without having to go without hot food. We used paraffin convector heaters in those days – which contributed water vapour to help the window sealing process and the paraffin tank at the village shop, like the widow’s cruse, never ran out all the time we were there.
Although our car had its correct dose of anti freeze there was one occasion when I went to work and as I climbed the hill to the airfield there was a tremendous gurgling noise from under the dashboard. The heater circuit had been frozen and the extra heat generated by hill climbing produce enough hot water to clear the pipe work. I told our Met man about this and he said he wasn’t surprised as on that day the temperature in the valley was 14° C below that on top of the hill.
At that time we had one of the original Austin Minis – the Alec Issigonis variety, none of this modern BMW stuff – but I decided as another child was on the way, to get something bigger and something we could use for holidays, so we bought an old Austin J4 van formerly the property of the Cirencester Washed Potato supply Company with a diesel engine which I hoped would give us a better fuel consumption that a petrol engined version. I began the conversion process and as the time of arrival of the new infant my parents came to stay with us. As my father and I were in the process of cutting out a window panel from the side of the van my mother appeared in the kitchen doorway and said, “I think you will have to stop that, the waters have broken”.
The Rector at that time was a nice old man but not what you would call technical. There was an equally elderly rotary mower in one of the old stable sheds with which I mowed a piece of grass to the side of the Rectory. It was not a part of our garden but it did look better is it was kept tidy. The Rector was most gratefull but was at great pains to brief me abut the use of the mower. “It is MOST important”, he insisted,”to put oil in the petrol. If you don’t it will ruin the engine. You MUST put the oil in the petrol”. So I said i would do that, and I quite understood and it must be because it was a two stroke. The Rector said he didn’t know about that but I MUST be sure to put oil in the petrol.
Well, I did this faithfully for some time until one day I thought that in addition to this I had better check what looked like a filler cap low down on the crankcase. I unscrewed this and found nowt but a dribble. Why does it have a filler to put oil in the crankcase if it is a two stroke I thought ? So I cleaned off the engine a bit – it had probably never been cleaned since it left the place where it was bought – and I found an obvious valve chest, and inside it – valves !! So it was not a two stroke at all, but a conventional, side valve four stroke. I filled up the crankcase with oil, hoping it was not too,late, told the Rector what I had found and carried on using the mower until we left and it performed perfectly well. I think they build these little agricultural engines tough because thy know what sort of treatment they are likely to get.
Some tears later, probably through the deaths column of the “Church Times”, I learnt that the Rector had died after a car crash which was sad He had a little Austin A35 saloon in which I rode with him once or twice and the experience made me fear something like this might happen