By Chris Holdstock
As youngsters we just couldn’t wait for school term to finish and summer holidays to begin. It meant that we were to be shipped off for the duration to our grandmother’s house at Tenterden, a place we all adored. Rob being the eldest, about ten years old, was entrusted to get us there safely by bus from Chatham – all of us in knee length corduroy shorts, gabardine macs and carrying a duffle bag each. He was the leader of our little gang and I saw him as my protector. The next day we would be up at the crack of dawn. An old red deer stag would come to the five-bar gate at the back of the house. Whilst Pete and I peered out from the woodshed Rob would approach it quietly and feed it stale bread until, startled, it would turn and race off down the field and out of sight. We would hurriedly follow – Rob streaking ahead to the old railway line where he would stop, wait for me and help me across as I was scared of the cattle train that used to steam around the bend where we crossed – through the kissing gate, across the deep-cut stream, then Rob would sprint ahead again into the wood where after ten minutes or so Pete and I would find him by the millpond, now deep in the oak woodland. Rob would go in one direction to look for the deer, Pete would explore in another, whilst I would sit in an old half-submerged punt by the tumble-down boat house. After a while Rob would return and the three of us would trudge back home in happy silence tired, wet and smelling of deep woodland.
These childhood experiences obviously left as deep an impression on Rob as they did on Pete and me. One only has to reach up, take a book of his from the shelf, open it and the smell of those early woodland forays is as clear now as it was then.