It is a glorious, hot sunny day as I write and seeing a group of kids going back to school after the long summer holiday has turned my mind back to those halcyon days we Whitwell Dickenenders spent once the doors had been flung open and we flew out like pigeons from a wicker basket, not to return for a whole month.
Of course on a hot day like this the first thing in our minds was how quickly we could get to the 'Dosh'.
I had better explain to the uninitiated without being too technical that the 'Dosh' was a local name given to a place where sheep were doshed or dipped in water containing chemicals which not only cleaned the fleece but also killed the germs which caused sickness among them. This dosh then, in a field at the bottom of Whitwell Wood, was our swimming pool where we lads by many trials and many errors taught ourselves to swim, dog paddling at first of course.
It is rather a long time since I doshed mesen in the dosh but I can best describe it as a stone walled hole in the ground, roughly 12 feet long and six wide through which a stream ran.
This stream could be dammed, so allowing the hole to fill with water, by means of an ingenious device, a flat piece of wood which fitted into two metal slots at one end. Called the 'shuttle' it had to be borrowed by one of us remembering to say please and thank you and promising on his word of honour to see it was returned, from a farmhouse some little distance away.
There was never any trouble getting someone to fetch the shuttle. Indeed there was no shortage of volunteers. But for some reason the tekkin on it back was never accomplished without a lot of unpleasantness like a minor riot or fracas with blows being struck, and returned with interest in all directions.
I always put it down to them chemicals in't watter!
Anyway we are not theer yet, we are all sitting on those steps in front of the hard-packed soil we called a garden in front of our house, debating like, everything had to be debated because whatever was suggested there was always a non-conformist who wanted to do summat else.
This time a crank suggested we go smoking out wasps, another highly over-rated pastime, but as we hadn't got all't stings out of our bodies from the last 'smoking-out' he were soon out-voted. In any case, he didn't really want to go himself, he wor just covering himself up in case owt went wrong like us being chased by a keeper and he could have the satisfaction of panting out to his running mate 'Ah told thi' we should a gone wasping.'
Having settled the crank either by persuasion or threats we would scatter, fly home for some snap, a bottle of cowd tea (in those days tea pot wor always on't 'ob) AND a towel.
I don't have to remind anyone as towels were in right short supply in them days, and a lad running in the house and asking his mother for one would likely receive a welt ovver the 'ead as owt resembling a towel.
Eventually we would assemble in the square by Ward's spice shop, each with his snap and towel substitute in his shot, his bottle of cowd tea in his hand and away we would go to the woods and the dosh.
Bathing costumes? We were wearing them. We had had them a long time. They were all the same colour, skin. They were what we used to jump out of when any fool crept up behind us and put his hand on us showder.
Of course before reaching the last 100 yards to the entrance of the wood most on us had already 'snapped up', thus making a climb over the five barred gate of fost field wi' tonnups in it an absolute necessity.
Now climbing a five-barred gate to a normal person presents no difficulty at all... you simply place one foot on bottom bar and using the others as you would a pair of steps you go up one side and down the other. Nothing to it.
But not to us. Even our own mothers would bi fost to agree as we were ow't but normal.
Therefore we first tried to vault it wi' one hand on top bar (very painful). Then tried to climb it backwards. Then to get through the bars or underneath the gate. Owt but right road.
Coming back over would be different of course. We each had two tonnups inside our shot now, making us look like a tot of extra-well-developed Mae Wests.
So as we were now carrying top weight we surmounted the gate with more circumspection which is a good word and so is galvanised which I use to describe the mode of our evacuation of the vicinity when someone shouted out 'Somebody coming'. We could move you know when needs be.
The next stopping place would be the spring at bottom of the wood, an oasis indeed where we, now snapped up, drunk up and done up, covered in bruises, cuts and scratches sustained on our journey would fling ourselves down and drink about 40 gallons apiece of that crystal clear icy cold water bubbling up from the very bowel of the earth.
I have often thought since growing a bit older that if we had thought on it then, we could have made a fortune by bottling that spring watter, calling it 'Whitwell Wonder Watter' wi' a label on it saying as how it cured everything but arrears of rent, was invaluable to folks ower 40 all that jazz. It would have been money for now't. It's bin done at other places, course we had now't to think wi' 'ad us?
Anyway we will pass on our way rejoicing, certainly burping, which was only to be expected wi' all that watter inside on us, to the dosh. Not far to go now.
Emerging from the dark wood into the brilliant sunshine, our hearts would be lifted up and so too our heavy and tired feet as we actually galloped across the field in which lay our goal, the dosh tucked under a hedge to one side, and the sound of the stream running through it was music to our souls.
Now all was activity.
Whilst the shuttle fetcher nipped off on his mission, we would go through the long established dosh routine, first examining the watter at the bottom of the hole for any sign of them chemicals. Lf it had a bluish or greenish tint it wer not fit to go in unless we were asking for the 'dosh itch', a dreaded complaint of which I will tell you later.
Then we would find a big stick and stir up the mud at bottom bringing dead leaves, small branches, bits of sheep wool etc. to the top where we skimmed 'em off.
Of course all the probing stirred up the mud turning the water a dark brown with hundreds of leaves floating on it. Here and there was a blotch of some greenish substance which began to dissolve into oily looking strands which made little islands of the leaves.
We gazed at these coloured islands with doubt and trepidation till one of our mates, either braver or dafter than rest on us would shout 'it ull goo, it ull goo'.
At that we gathered up our courage and after scooping out what we could of the greenish stuff we sat about awaiting the arrival of the shuttle fetcher.
We never got completely undressed till he had arrived, so many things might have happened to him, the farmer might have strangled him for wekkin' him up from a snooze, bull could ev had him or the farmer's wife done a Sweeney Todd on him and made a pie on 'im. Such were the wild thoughts which ran through our heads till we heard from the gate tu field a plaintive voice calling out 'Gi us a 'and then'.
THE SHUTTLE HAD ARRIVED.
Within seconds it was in place and all we had to do was wait till dosh filled up so now we divested ourselves of our clothing, didn't tek long, one jersey, one shot, one pair of boots, ditto stockings and shorts and that were it.
Experience had taught us to place these articles in a neat bundle that could be picked up in one grab if we were threatened from any quarter and we had to run for it.
Now stripped to our bathing costumes or to the buff, whichever you prefer, it were all the same, we lost our identity as Dicken scallywags and became the Whitwell corps de ballet as we leapt and danced about on the grass, breaking off now and then to see how the dosh were filling up.
I mentioned towel substitutes a little earlier. Weird and varied were these, ranging from oven cloths, dusters and articles of under-clothing snatched up in a hurry by a desperate towel hunter.
On this day one of the boys unravelling his towel discovered he had snatched up an over size pair of ladies bloomers. He tried to hide them but they had been spotted and now't would suit us but that he put them on.
I can see him now standing there with these blue, fleecy-lined (I didn't know they were called that in those days, but I do now), unmentionables flapping round his ankles.
That they were more 'oly than righteous goes without saying but they were 'olier than ever by time we had finished chasing him around the field a few times, failing down between circuits and rolling on our backs bustin' wi' laughin'.
You don't see owt as funny as that today. Not even on telly.
To cap it all, this lad took a fancy to his bloomers and decided to go in't dosh, now full of stone cold watter wi" em on. Looking a bit like a Mack Sennet bathing beauty, he dived in wi" em on but came up wi" em off. We couldn't find them and as far as I know they are still deep down in the mud where we must have trampled them.
What I mean to say is, if in two or three hundred years from now some of them archaeologists start excavating the dosh and come across an outsize pair of blue fleecy lined bloomers, they will know who they belong to.
I must cut an already too long story short but I must tell you about the dosh itch.
I don't believe the story of the chemicals but there was no doubt about the itch. 'Some folks got it and some didn't. On this occasion we all got it. Lf I say it caused an almost unbearable itching on the lower part of the body and on the inside of the thighs, lasted for some days and now't would cure it, it had to have its bout out, most sensible folks will imagine what it were like.
No matter where you were or who you were with when it came on, you had to have a right good scratch when it started. It were indelicate I know to scratch yourself THERE in public, but you just had to scratch furiously with your eyes closed and your mouth puckered up. You couldn't help yersen.
I have often wondered what folks must have though one night on seeing we 'doshers' once more assembled where we set off from, Ward's spice shop in the square, but this time leaping and jumping about like Dervishes wi' one hadn up each of the legs of our shorts, scratch, scratch, scratching.
What must have made it worse was that all on us besides having the itch also had one or two at least, deadly twitches which had to be exercised at same time. Mine was tossing me fringe back out of me eyes rapidly like and stretching me chin as far forward as I could wi' out actually separating me head from me body.
There was no wonder some folks took one look at us then went back home