I had no idea what the word ‘Dunkirk’ meant. This was 1958 and I was 5. We were on board Hugh’s boat, Laranda 2 and this was the third boat that I had known already.
We were all fond of this boat, she was comfortable, not too big and my mother pointed out the bronze medallion on one of the cross beams of the wheelhouse. She explained this this boat had been one of the ‘little ships’ that had rescued men from the beaches in the war. It still didn't mean a lot. My father, like all of the men who had fought, did not talk about it then. It would be another forty years before he told us any stories.
Laranda took us up the Thames to Sonning, where Hugh and Jodie lived, and over the channel for the summer ‘cruise’, parrot, pug, et al. She was a very pretty cabin cruiser and looked good at her moorings in Sonning. We didn't get up to much trouble on Laranda, well hardly any.
It was one very black night that we tried to get into Le Havre ( this was before we had radar). Poor old Jodie was on the prow with a boat hook as we really could not see anything. My father was steering, Hugh looking around, drink in hand as usual.
Jodie suddenly exclaimed , ‘what are all those floating lights ?’. There was a metallic prang. Flood lights came on and blinded everyone. A loud hailer screamed at us in French not to move. A huge black shape was illuminated in front of us.
Jodie had hit a nuclear submarine with her boat hook. As you do.
Boats flew at us from everywhere, we were escorted out of the harbour and down the coast. White faced, we realised how lucky we were not to be spending a night in France’s finest. You can imagine how often that tale was told !
Laranda was finally retired and Hugh and my father went to Norfolk to look at a boat called Alida. Huge excitement. They arrived to meet the broker and having looked round the boat, he introduced them to the owner. It was none other than George Fornby, he of ’Cleaning Windows’ fame. A few drinks were quaffed as they listened to his love of boats and that he bought them for his wife. He loved the Broads. I wished I had been there,
So Alida took them down the east coast, turning right up the Thames and the long haul to Sonning.
George Fornby, the original owner of Alida
Sonning will be ringing bells because of George Clooney now. Hugh and Jodie had the most fabulous ‘Scandinavian’ bungalow. Wood, with picture windows and for my eyes, this was mid ’60s, so glamorous. You could sit at one of the windows looking down the garden to where Alida was moored, or sit at the bar where Bertie, the parrot, would delight in knocking bottles of the top shelf onto your head. Oh how we laughed.
It was a great time. The swinging 60s were in full flow. Hugh's next door neighbours were the Boulting Brothers, the film makers, who joined us on cruises, along with fashion designers, journalists, and family.
Dunkirk - from the Ealing movie
I felt sorry for my father as a good time was had by all, whilst he solemnly studied charts, steered the night and negotiated parrot seed in the pumps.
Hugh Cudlipp proudly greeting the arrival of his junk from Hong Kong