When I was eight, my mother decided that it was time I went off to 'camp' for the Easter holidays.
Usually, the family - my mother, her friend John Starnes, me, and my bff Jeannette - headed to Cornwall for the long summer holiday, basing ourselves in Port Isaac and spending our time in Northern Cornwall, surfing the local beaches, visiting the restaurants and pubs, searching out Cornish piskies in the gift shops, joining the Flora Dance in Helston and so on.
My mother's family is originally from the area - Tavistock - and though we now lived in Surrey, Cornwall and Devon was home. Our roots there go back to 1660 and before. Every Easter, we'd get down to Devon to visit my godparents, my mother's bff, bright and breezy artistic Jill, and her husband, affable dentist Pete Griffin, and their two kids Martin and Holly. They lived in Yelverton right near Plymouth. From there, we'd drift down to Cornwall. (Photo: Flora Dance in Helston.)
Something must have gone amiss that year, because I was unceremoniously packed off to this school-away-from-school, located in the stuffy south coast town of Worthing in Sussex - a place I had no emotional connection to and had never even visited. Of course, my opinion was not sought, I was simply dispatched. [Photo is Worthing in 1956.]
The place was a "holiday home" for children whose parents couldn't be with them over Easter ... for whatever reason. I sulked and plotted rebellion for the first couple of days.
To its advantage, the home was located on a high point of the cliffs, overlooking the English Channel. We'd go for escorted walks on the beach, and do jigsaw puzzles in the dining room while the rain lashed the windows - that's all I remember. The food was substandard, the company was mostly dull, the weather was chilly and uncertain .
And then, we found the mine.
I had made sort of friends with one of my fellow prisoners, and we'd lag behind the jolly hand-holding brisk walk along the beach with the other inmates - "Fresh air, girls!!" - in hopes of something more interesting than a forced march along the tide line, ending in a jigsaw puzzle or two back at the home, and listening to the bloody boring radio, praying for deliverance. I was very interested in tide-pools at the time, however, Worthing offered nothing of interest, but one could hope.
That day, the tide was going out, the beach sand was dense and wet, when we spotted this gigantic rusted chain sticking out of the sand near the waterline. It had a handle on the end. What was it??
Of course, at 8 years old, we assume it's probably attached to pirate treasure, or something magical ... so we haul away on the chain like terriers, but the sheer weight of the thing buried in the sand defeats us.
At this point in the proceedings, the supervisor returns to the scene, having noticed we weren't among the merry throng under her care. When she saw us hauling on the chain, she had the presence of mind to hurry us away, and when I asked what that chain was, she said she would telephone the Worthing police when we got back. And she did.
Next day, we got local press and radio on our discovery. A unexploded moored contact mine from the war. Detached and drifting for a few years, then washed up on the beach, buried in the sand,with only its handle and connector chain revealed. If teenage yobbos had found it, they'd have been strong enough to detonate the mine, by pulling on the rusty chain, and blown themselves to Kingdom Come. Let alone the surrounding area.
We saw a photo in the local paper of the mine with various officials standing around it, before it was detonated. We also heard the explosion, which was loud. In newspaper reports, we were simply mentioned as two local girls - which we weren't - but no matter. At least we were intact and unharmed, as was the local population.
So, the dreary days dragged on to our time of deliverance, then news came that I was to stay on a couple of extra days after the official end of our sojourn. Oh joy. The place emptied out overnight, leaving just me and another girl hanging about the place, while it rained, and there was the usual Nothing Much To Do.
For the last couple of nights we were both put in the same dormitory - about six beds in an upstairs room overlooking the English Channel. I don't think she and I were particularly friendly, just enduring one another's company until it was time to leave.
On the last night, at around 2 or 3 am, I awoke to "Psst! Psst!" and saw this girl kneeling on the radiator under the window, staring at something outside. "What's the matter?" I was half-asleep and not sure why she was doing what she was doing. "Come and have a look at this!" "What?" "There's something in the sky, it's odd." And she turns back to the window once more.
Something odd in the sky? Could it be yet another undiscovered weapon from the war? Out of bed I spring, and clamber up onto the radiator, hold on to the window-sill, and look out. She was right. It was not only odd, it was awe-inspiring. Covering the entire night sky above the horizon were two gigantic orbs - one on the left and one on the right. As we watched, with our mouths hanging open, these two orbs moved towards each other, and passed one behind the other, with stately slowness. They then moved on across the night sky in their separate directions, until we lost sight of them.
We decided not to tell the grown-ups, and in fact I told nobody, thinking I'd be laughed at or accused of attention-seeking and lying. The next day, we went home, and I never went to Worthing again. But I didn't forget the majestic orbs in the night sky over the English Channel.
I have very recently researched the existence of giant orbs, and paranormal researchers bear out that very large orbs have been seen over fields of battle, possibly containing the spirits of those who died. The English Channel was the location of many naval and air battles, and Worthing lies directly across from the beaches of Normandy, where countless thousands of American, British, Allies and Germans lost their lives. Other than that, I really have no idea what we were looking at, just that it was spectacular and awe-inspiring. The photo is from the website Paranormal Plus, pending their permission.