WHISPERING SMITH: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day

The last tree standing in John Helyer's Southfields before they became the Beaumont Estate
The last tree standing in John Helyer's Southfields before they became the Beaumont Estate

Saddened last week to learn of the passing of John Helyer, known simply to me when a youngster as Farmer Helyer.

Much of his farm covered the land now concreted over to become the sprawling tarmac and concrete covered Beaumont Estate where, back in my younger days, it was home to arable crops spuds, swedes and cornfields with their attendant hay stacks.

In winter I recall hurdles, and sometimes sheep, with the small wheeled shed for shelter of the shepherd in one corner. It was also the home of the rabbit, fox, the boxing hare and from dusk to dawn the tawny owl.

My father knew John quite well and our house in Wendy Ridge bordered his fields separated only by a blackthorn hedge.

I once found several swedes in our over-grown garden and my dad said he had grown them overnight, I did not spot the twinkle in his eye and later learned it was a regular gift from John tossed over the hedge. I reminded him of this at a recent gathering and he told me, with an equal twinkle, that my dad never paid him for them.

Once, my dad took me to see John’s cattle lodged in a yard on the old Worthing Road. Huge red beasts as I recall, seemingly contented with their lot and very friendly towards John.

He told me that because they were being reared for food was not a reason to treat them badly, or a reason not to make their lives as contented as possible.

Memories of visiting his haybarn for a bag of straw bedding for my pet rabbits, hanging about there all morning playing among the baled golden straw and of the big yellow Caterpillar tractor with the gull cloud following behind him. Of the thresher reaping the corn and John telling me to wait until the last square was cut and the rabbits would run out. Never did see a rabbit.

Halcyon days though, made the better by John Helyer, one of nature’s true gentlemen. Goodbye John and thanks for the happy memories which I long ago shared with my own children, Toby and Hattie. Another good man gone, part of the very fabric of Littlehampton.

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Last Saturday evening, I rather reluctantly took part in a quiz organised by our excellent resident’s association and held at the Lifestyle in the Gardens – better known to most folk as the dog-friendly Putting Green Café.

Great fun, great turnout, super food, service and superbly laid out dining room, not at all like many pub quiz sessions I have attended. All put together and food prepared by just three members of the café’s staff, Ellie, Lorraine and cake-maker supremo Maggie.

More such functions should be encouraged for all kinds of gatherings. The fact that my team, The Beautiful Losers, actually won and well-made lasagne and strawberry flan are my particular favourites, it was an all-round fun social gathering win, lose or draw.

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