Extracts from Peter Iden: Versions of the Downland

* Extract from the chapter 'Growing up a twin' by Ron Iden

I never asked Peter whether he felt the same, but all my life I’ve thought of myself as being half of one person. And I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have had someone who looks (almost) exactly like me!

Fifty minutes separated in our entrance into the world three days after World War 2’s VJ day. I never got round to asking what was responsible for the delay, but we weighed three pounds something each, and Peter wasn’t expected to live long. Luckily he was a fighter right from the beginning.
Apart from those fifty minutes, we spent every moment of our early lives as though we were glued together; playtimes, mealtimes, night-times, and in the same classroom at South Bersted Primary School. We were very shy, and hardly uttered a word when visitors, even our aunts and uncles, came to the house. We played together in the garden at home; on one occasion our mother rushed from the house when she saw us sampling little mud cakes that we had fashioned from garden soil in imitation of her home-made chocolate buns. We played on Bognor beach, accompanied by our parents when we were very young, but often on our own as we got older. Being two together perhaps allowed us more freedom to roam around on our own. We would construct elaborate dams out of sand to collect the water that spilled from one of the surface water outlet pipes. Eventually the water would overflow, and woe betide anyone who had sat themselves down on the beach below us! At high tides, we’d dodge the huge waves that struck the sea wall and deluged the promenade. I don’t recall many outings with our older brothers, who each had their own circle of friends from school, but I do remember that Nigel helped us make a go-kart from old wood and pram wheels.

Bringing up four young children in the austere post-war years on low-paid employment, our parents struggled financially. We never spent family holidays away from home, but Peter and I, being the youngest, accompanied them during their annual week or two’s holiday, on bus trips to local places of interest, daytrips on weekly ‘Runabout’ tickets on the railway or, when our father began working for the Southdown bus company, quarter-fare coach excursions a little further afield.

Had we passed the 11 plus, our hard-up parents wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of 2 new Chichester High School uniforms, so we were officially exempted from sitting the exam. A slight trauma followed on our first day at the much bigger Secondary Modern School in Bognor, when we were for the first time in our lives separated into different classes – I was deemed to be a bit brainier!

But outside school time, we reglued ourselves together. In 1960 when we were 15 the family moved to Felpham. We took on morning paper rounds together and discovered Mr Richardson’s cycle shop across the road where we bought our first second hand bikes. On these we set off to explore the West Sussex countryside in the days when there was a lot less traffic, and when the A259 main road to Chichester was a narrow twisty road. Thus we enhanced our love of the countryside and long exploratory walks, fostered on earlier day-trips with our parents. In the summer holidays we now bought our very own Runabout train tickets, taking us further west and east, as far as the dizzy delights of Eastbourne. Which reminds me - when we were 10 or 11, the two of us went, without our parents, on a summer coach trip organised by Southdown Motor Services for employees and their families. The outing was to Eastbourne, and we were looking forward to a day on the beach there. In fact the destination was Wannock Gardens, a few miles outside Eastbourne, where we told we had 4 or 5 hours to look round before returning home. We were so disappointed that, without telling anyone, we took ourselves off onto the busy main road and caught a bus into town, played on the sands, and somehow found our way back to Wannock some hours later, to find everyone very worried about us, with search parties being organised!