HAWK Part One
A diversion into the past
It was in the June of 1960 that a group of us students decided to hike across the South Downs of England from Bosham to Brighton where we were employed as Student Apprentices by Allen West and Co and attended Engineering College at Brighton C. O. T.
With backpacks loaded with tents, sleeping bags, tinned and dried food and cooking gear, we trained it to Bosham and then set off north from the coast to the downs.
The weather was perfect and the six of us trudged over the fields for several hours to an ancient hamlet nestling in a crook of the downs where we found an amazing pub. It was just a cottage with two front rooms which were the drinking rooms. The drinks were served through a small hatch in the central corridor by the landlady who you could hardly see through the tiny hatchway.
We were given a tour of the place that took all of ten minutes and shown a private parlour at the back where most of the room space was taken up by an enormous mahogany table. It had been lovingly polished and preserved with beeswax since the days when King George V came to shoot in the area and always ate with the royal party at the tiny Inn sitting at that amazing table.
It was a Saturday evening and we were lucky to witness one of the old Sussex Singers accompanied by his mate on the squeezebox, otherwise known as a button accordion. They treated us to many songs, two of which I remember, ‘Two Black Crows’ that began ‘Two black crows sat on a tree, old thing.’ and ‘Alfie Ainger’ who was the original owner of the Inn and the song was a tribute to him. Needless to say we were there till last orders and then stumbled through the dark to our camp in the woods above the hamlet.
Knowing we had many miles to go in the coming days we had not over imbibed and woke to our leader calling us to a breakfast of porridge. With full bellies and camp stowed we set off through the woods towards our destination.
We had not gone far when I came across a ball of grey fluff moving in the dead leaves of the forest floor. I bent down and cuddled the ball in my hands lifting it for the others to see a young kestrel, with no mature feathers and no sign of a nest or parent near.
My heart went out to the young hawk so I hastily made a nest of dried grass in the hood of my anorak that was hanging down from my backpack, placed it inside and we set off again. That lunchtime with nothing else to hand we fed the young hawk some of our tinned corned beef which he gobbled up. At this stage his little nest in my hood was as clean as a whistle and we found a bit of sheep’s wool snagged on a fence to line and make it more comfortable.
I was sharing a tent with my friend Fred, who was a chronic asthma sufferer, and that night we pegged the front tent flap with small hazel twigs to prevent our new found friend, whom we had named Harry, from hopping off in the night.
I was wakened the following morning by a shriek from Fred, ‘Get this thing off me!’ Harry was perched on Fred’s chest, looking him in the eye, and bobbing his head up and down, as they do, in a threatening pose. I just sat and laughed as the other lads all came to peer through the flap to see what all the fuss was about. It really was laughable to see this tiny ball of grey fluff with a beak sticking out at one end threatening a large sleeping human being, apparently pinned down in his sleeping bag.
When we had all calmed down it transpired that it was not as funny as it seemed as the fluff was making Fred’s asthma worse! So we started out again and divine justice seemed to fall from heaven as my soft feet had given up in the face of new hiking boots, producing huge broken blisters, and the corned beef had found its way through Harry’s digestive system and my hood was full of bird pooh!
As Fred was not feeling very well, being hardly able to breath, we decided to give up, found the nearest station and Fred, Harry and me rode back to Brighton in style leaving the die-hards to complete the course.
Back in Brighton Fred gave me a lift back to my digs on his motorbike with Harry tucked inside my jacket. I bet no other Hawk had travelled in such style! The next hurdle was to convince my landlady that she should let me have the use of her woodshed, just outside the kitchen window, to build a cage for Harry where he could stay in safety until he was able to fly… (Part 2 to follow)
With Love and Blessings to all feathered friends, Hanukah & the Angel