When I was about nine we moved from France to the little village of Kingston, near Lewes. The village was a great place to grow up. We lived at the end of the Avenue at the foot of the Downs, a few minutes walk took you to the village green where the village kids gathered to play cricket, football and tennis. Just beyond was the flint church and, a popular watering hole in later years, the Juggs Arms. One of the first things I remember is meeting the family with the cool name — Freeman. A name so much better than the hilarity the French kids had when they translated my name to Vieux Jambon! Later I would associate Freeman with Freethinker.
The Freeman family built a swimming pool in the back yard and the deal was that anyone who helped dig the hole got unlimited access. I was a regular and enthusiastic member of the work parties. In those early summers I must have used the pool more than anyone, stopping by daily. I talked more with Chris’s wife Peggotty, as I stopped by for a quick dip in the pool the door was always open for a cup of tea and a chat. And on occasion I would help harvest apples from the big trees and put the geese to bed. It was a sad day when Peggotty died, she was one of my first encounters with loss and death.
At some point Jenny Dean came to stay with us. To this day I am remembered for cooking dinner for her when my parents were out — Swedish meat balls in a sauce with vegetables. She was very impressed that I could cook. Thinking of meals, I can remember guests from all over the world coming for dinner and being required to sit at the table until everyone was finished talking.
I was up early every day to do a paper delivery route. I delivered to the Freeman’s, Charltons, Turners, Charles Cooper and other university luminaries like Maynard Keynes Smith up on the Ridge. I would often wave to Chris as he set off early walking to catch the bus. No doubt he got a few rides home with Dad but I was very impressed he did not drive a car. My clearest memories are of meeting him out walking up on the Downs. I walked and rode my bike everywhere, after school I would take our black Labrador dog, Jimmy, for longs walks in all weathers up onto the windswept solitude of the Downs and unexpectedly meet Chris, perhaps walking back from the University after a pint at the Newmarket.
Our conversations were mostly country talk, about the weather, the crops or just watching the birds darting in the hedgerow. He was an avid birder and a keen observer of nature and as I recall could identify the birds by their calls and flight patterns. What I remember most was the slow, unhurried pace of conversation, there was a moment before he responded. I felt he was actually listening to what was being said. Perhaps it is this quality of attentive listening of a keen compassionate mind that is key for solving personal and planetary issues of the day. He would always leave with a cheerful smile and wave, no matter the rain and mud — after all he was a Yorkshire lad.
If I speculate today about the influence of the Freeman’s on my childhood, clearly Chris’s influence on my Dad, through the creative and intellectual development of SPRU, is significant.
But also, my parents long absence from England meant they were out of touch with English child-rearing conventions of the late 60’s and 70’s. Mom and Dad often consulted Chris and Peggotty on how to deal with teenagers. Perhaps it is as a friend and neighbor that Chris and Peggotty’s influence on my parents is more profound than I could imagine — that thought makes me smile.