Summer 1940. It’s all gone quiet.

I can’t remember the first time I saw a ‘Dirty old man’. Old men exposing themselves was part of growing up in the Chertsey woods.

Although several evacuees had gone home to London, Chertsey was still over-run with children. The schools were so crowded that huts were built in the playground.

Now, attracted by the number of kids without an adult to look after them. The sight of these men showing themselves off to us, was an every-day thing. We said nothing about it to anyone, in case we were banned from our favourite places.

It is Saturday morning. I have done my jobs, and am doing some modelling on the kitchen table.

Mrs. Salmon, is sitting in the old armchair. They now know I can lip read, so instead of ‘Gum Talk’, she is speaking normally—‘Gum Talk’ is mouthing the words without making a sound.

Mrs. Salmon would even take her teeth out for an exciting bit.

“It never happened before, did it Ethel? All these dirty men up the ‘hill’,

some say it’s the soldiers from Chobham common.”

Mum looked over to me—I could still see her as I kept my head down.

“Alan, could you make us a nice cup of tea?”

And then carried on with the story.

“I don’t think it is soldiers, Rosy, they say that they are all old men.”

Mrs. Salmon heaved forward to hear something new. Usually it was her, that had the gossip. Now it is mum who is the star. They leaned forward until they were almost touching.

And in a whisper mum said.

“Mrs. Snelgrove, up the ‘Golden Grove’, told me that she saw a couple of old men talking to some kids under the big tree outside her pub.”

I now feared for the old green chair. It was creaking like never before.

“Some-one had said that the police knew the men, but would have to catch them doing something, and that one of them is an important person in Chertsey.”

Mrs. Salmon quickly took her teeth out, now the chair was in real danger of falling apart, she was perched right on the edge of it. Rosy, well named as her cheeks were normally like a rosy apple, now looked more like a purple plum. And without her teeth, she  had a lisp.

“Who is it Ethel? They should be locked up even if they are important.” She sprayed.

Mum looked over to see if I was listening, and again in a whisper said.

“The police can’t say who they are until they are arrested.

Mrs. Salmon looked quite disappointed.

Fearing the worst, I watched her as she sat back in her chair with another almighty creak, and then she slipped her teeth back into her mouth with a loud suck.

I wonder what would have happened to the old green chair, and for that matter Mrs. Salmons teeth. If I had told them.

 

That I was one of the kids under the tree that day.

 

One of the men was a local employer, he did a lot for the town, although over-friendly with us kids, he was completely harmless. He formed several football clubs in Chertsey.

The other man was eventually arrested and spent some time in jail.

 

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