My sisters have a network of roads they use altogether different from those that I follow. Were we making the journey from Taunton to our home village of High Ham, there seem points where our routes might intersect, but few lengths of road which we all three would travel. So it was that returning from Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, where we had taken my mother for an outpatients consultant appointment, my sister, who was driving the car, unexpectedly turned off the main road and began a straight-line journey across the Levels towards Aller.
Anyone familiar with Sedgemoor will know that the droves across the Levels are roads for those who know them well. Sometimes there will be deep ditches either side of the single track roads; often passing places are infrequent. My sister drives with the sangfroid of a taxi driver, unlike me, has no need to silently concentrate on the road ahead, and absorbs every detail of the landscape.
Aller is one of the villages we would call home. The cluster of parishes, Langport, Huish Episcopi, High Ham and Aller, was home to generations of our forebears. There were many stories my sister might have recalled, but never before had I heard the one that was discussed.
“Mum, isn’t this the lane that Grandad cycled to fetch the nurse the day that you were born”
It was the lane. Our grandparents were living in a council house in Aller. But why? How did they come to be there? Why weren’t they on the home farm at Pibsbury?
In my version of family history, my great grandparents were living in the farmhouse, and Uncle Stan, their oldest and unmarried son was living with them. Next door, in the farm cottage, lived my grandparents, with my eldest aunt and then my mother (there would be seven children, eventually). By the time of the 1939 register, drawn up at the beginning of the Second World War, they are all resident at the farm, what had brought my grandparents to live a good three miles distant?
Of course, I could have asked. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I saw a young man of twenty-three pedalling a battered black bicycle out from Aller. Flat-capped, with collarless shirt and corduroy trousers, he wore an old jacket and heavy workman’s boots. These were the days before the National Health Service. Would he have had to calculate how many shillings it would cost for a nurse to attend a birth?
Whatever the cost, he would have enjoyed the day. It was 1st May 1937, war was still a remote thought. The moor would have been alive with springtime and a baby daughter would be born.