VT Coughtrey

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Chapter 6: Stuart Nicholls
Chapter written 1999 & last revised 2013

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Soon after striking up the friendship with Walter, I had a second chum for a while.  My mother had made friends with Kath Nicholls, the mother of Stuart who was in my class at school.  Stuart's father was foreman of the Barnet sewage works in Mays Lane.  My mother, who was by now working only part-time in the Co-op, took to spending the one or two afternoons a week at Mrs Nicholls' place, and in the school holidays I usually went with her.  They lived in a fascinating Victorian house which, being the foreman's lodge, was in a rather isolated position on the sewage farm (as open-air sewage works were then known).  Mr Nicholls' great hobby was building miniature steam engines and the Council had allowed him to construct a railway which ran right round the perimeter of the 'farm'.  He was also allowed to grow the grass waist-high all around the site, then mow it in June and build a great haystack.  He sold the hay to the riding-schools, which were at that time just beginning to be an important industry in Barnet.
At the back of the sewage farm, just the other side of Dollis Brook, were the Fair Fields.  Fair time was a time of dread for the Nicholls.  They claimed that the gypsies associated with the fair regularly trespassed on the sewage farm and stole all their washing from the line.  One year, a spent rocket from the fair set light to the haystack.  But for me this place was heaven.  We were allowed to roam freely between the filter beds, even though another of Stuart's playmates, Christine Herald, had fallen in the sewage and nearly drowned.  We stalked each other in the long grass and, when it had been mown, romped in the haystack.  Even the stench of the place (which wafted over the whole district in hot weather) was somehow exciting.
I was playing cricket with Stuart and Christine when a front tooth was broken.  I've good cause to remember that, because it resulted in about 40 years of having to wear various unsatisfactory contraptions with a single false tooth on them, or sometimes just having a comical gap until a proper bridge was fitted in 1990.  That bridge was eventually responsible for the onset of a bone infection which caused all my upper front teeth to fall out, so that little accident at the age of eleven was destined to have very far-reaching consequences!
Walter and Stuart couldn't stand each other for some reason, so I don't think all three of us were often to be found together.  Certainly, Walter was fed up whenever I told him he couldn't come round because I was going to Stuart's. In fact, I stopped bothering to visit Stuart once we had left Underhill School and had been scattered to three different secondary schools, whereas the friendship with Walter continued.  However, I know that Stuart started work at 16 as an apprentice at Standard Telephones (now Northern Telecom) in New Southgate and that he was still there and still unmarried a few years ago.  He probably stayed there until he retired.  His great ambition was to work on the railways, for which he by all accounts has had a lifelong passion, but he somehow never made it.
The sewage farm and the house were replaced in the 1970s by part of the vast Dollis Valley Estate, which probably doubled the population of Barnet and certainly altered its character.
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