SO MANY PEOPLE keep asking me about the books that I thought I’d put up a very short extract from the new autobiography here. It concerns the time when I ran away from school after my mother had died at the age of 13.
I in fact wrote this whilst ‘on holiday’ in 1975 but have just ‘re-found’ the original manuscript (or part of it) buried in a cardboard box. (At least one good thing that has come out of all the building work!). I believe I left I left several large sections out of the manuscript when publishing “Dark Secrets” in 1999 as I considered them to be a little too personal and long. (The following chapter tells of my expulsion from a private school in Weymouth in 1961 for refusing to get my hair cut and for dating girls outside of school hours – Cat might love that!). K. and others have told me that all this stuff must simply ‘just go in’. And so the whole lot is being included. But NOT here. I am not serializing any of the book expect to give a short extract (and even this I have divided into two short parts) just to satisfy all the ‘nagging’! Then you will all just have to wait for the finished publication later in the year. The new title will be different, but that remains a closely guarded secret! The new book will contain some 450 pages, but all you are getting is just 5 or 6 A5 pages here – and even these have been edited here so space purposes. Anyway, here are the short passages . . .
ROAD TO NOWHERE
I left one afternoon after lunch on an open ‘sports day’ which I’d avoided participating in by feigning illness. My pockets were stuffed full with food and other ‘survival items’ such as a tattered ordinance survey map, a torch and a compass (‘borrowed’ courtesy of the scouts), and I had saved up about nine shillings in pocket money.
Because of all the activity, I knew that I would not be missed until 6 o’clock at supper and even then my ‘absence’ might just be attributed to the fact I’d signed in as being sick. I knew no real alarm could be sounded until I might be missed at ‘lights out’ at 8.30 in the dormitory. By that time, of course, I planned upon being miles away.
I slipped into the dense woods and with the aid of the compass made roughly in the direction of Pulborough, the nearest large town some seven miles to the south. (It was too risky to head northwards towards London at this stage, as I knew this was the area likely to be searched.)
The school only lay less than a mile behind, when I was suddenly filled with a sense of overwhelming exhilaration. Everything was so ‘fresh’ and ‘free’, and the woods themselves seemed to be transformed from formidable guardians of a prison into something warm and welcoming. The farther I went, the safer I’d be; and I felt completely unafraid in the lonely expanse..
A little further on, a black feathered mass fluttered desperately at the foot of a bush.. A baby rook had fallen from its nest high above, and panic had entangled it in the undergrowth. Apart from the loss of a few feathers, it was quite perky, but I realized that neither myself nor its parents could get it back to the nest to ensure its survival. I picked it up and snuggled it under my jacket. It wasn’t afraid and when I stopped at the bank of a small stream for some food, it gulped down hoards of moistened bread and butter.
Careless and light-headed, I wandered abstractively; so full of a sense of freedom that I scarcely noticed distance or the advance of valuable time that was supposed to protect my disappearance. I’d already decided to hide away in the woods when night came, but I was more comforted by the absence of people and gave little thought to my bearings. (The woods were so dense I had to keep checking the compass to ensure the right direction.)
Some way on I hit a river, and with refreshed confidence knew I could follow this across country as it led to Pulborough. This twisted and glimmered in the retreating sunlight; through fields and leafy shadows, impervious to the two ‘intruders’ who had stolen upon its territory.
Night eventually threatened and I crept into an isolated barn to make a safe hideaway in the soft hay.
The bird watched me acutely, pecking at my pockets for food, responding to any gentle stroking of its feathers. I had no available water, so I had to first chew its bread, but it was indifferent and seemed to share my contentment of the quiet solitude. The darkness lingered, but I had the torch and felt reassured. I lay snug in the sweet night air and listened to the noises beyond my den: screeching birds and scampering animals; crickets calling and bats flapping wildly in the darkness; a thousand sounds of friendly Nature assuring me that I was not alone.
I awoke scruffy but refreshed; in a flash, back in the wild country and aware of every potential danger of possible capture.