THERE is a school teacher known as Slipper because of his choice of punishment, a cricket team who would be village heroes if only they could win a game, and a teenage barmaid loved by the local lads for both her frothy pints and her inability to stop flirting.
Ah, welcome to the Loxley Valley in the Forties and Fifties.
A new novel describes Sheffield’s western farmlands as a laugh-a-minute melting pot full of characters and prevaricators, charmers and farmers, and schemers and dreamers, who are always up to mischief and misadventure. And author Frank Wilson says it’s all absolutely true.
“Embellished in places, perhaps,” admits the 71-year-old. “But very much based on the real-life people and places I knew and loved growing up there.”
The memoir is called Nowt To Do With Me, and it’s been released this week by Bakewell-based Peak Publish. And if you think Laurie Lee but with real Yorkshire ale instead of Gloucestershire cider, you’re on the right sort of (farm) track.
Here there are bellringers, organblowers and a postman who knows everyone’s name. Just like, says Frank, it really was.
“It’s very much about growing up in that close-knit community at a very special time when life was still very traditional,” says the grandfather of five, whose father ran Loxley House Farm in Bland Lane.
“Back then the Loxley Valley was full of what I think you would call characters – people who always had a tale to tell – and they made the area a great place to be a child.
“No real-life people are named in this book but the characters are very clearly based on real life people. If you grew up in Loxley you’ll know exactly who Slipper the teacher is – and will probably still remember the gym shoe he kept in his draw.”
You’ll also be able to recognise several landmarks – different episodes take place everywhere from Wortley Church to the Cross Inn pub, Bradfield Cricket Ground to the old Loxley Junior School.
Frank himself didn’t stay in the area. He moved to go to Leeds University at 18, and has spent much of the last 50 years living in countries across the globe while working as an agricultural advisor. Samoa, India, Sri Lanka, Albania and Romania have all benefitted from his expertise. He now calls Victoria in Canada his home.
“But my heart will always be in the Loxley Valley,” he says as he spends a month in a Bradfield holiday cottage. “A place like this stays with you. I come back every year, and it always feels like I’m returning home.”
He decided to do the book after spending much of his working life writing academic papers. “This,” he notes, “was a chance to write something more enjoyable.”
As a reader, it is hard to argue that he hasn’t achieved that goal.
Nowt To Do With Me is available at www.peakpublish.com