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Simon Willace (who used to be known by another name) writes this about his Tanners Times...
I grew up there, and have many good memories of my misspent, well- spent youth. I became politically aware, and tasted food from all over the world prepared by the total strangers who became friends as they shared food prepared on lines of gas rings..
I got hopelessly drunk for the first time, stoned as well and both times recovered on the golf course lawn. I met so many possible wives within sight of the old well and made as many life long friends, but I regret I have lost touch with them all, except one, since then.
There was Jennifer who took me off her travelling companion who I cannot remember much about and cannot name, as it was Jennifer who gave me the memory. I will just say that they had both become local tourist attractions after nude sunbathing in the gardens of the local mansion if that makes things plain.
Sevenoaks and Rick who got me so pissed afterwards, in the Royal Oak Great Bookham. So pissed that we were still drinking from chip packets after the glasses were recalled. We eventually staggered back to Tanners up the track and it took us nearly a whole weekend to sober up. I was found in a blackberry bush in the morning all of 14 years old and Rick was an English teacher, teaching me the wrong thing but at least I learnt how to swear in Dutch.
I wonder what happened to him and his friend Harold. I visited them in Holland once, but like I say, outside Tanners people change.
Tanners hatch had that kind of effect; the people were changed before they walked through the door. I think it is the 4-mile hike from the road that began to restore them, then 'whoosh' - the heat from the fire vaporised any preconceived idea’s of what might have made them the way they were. All before they sat and rested with mug of hot tea in an old settee by the fire.
At Tanners, you were the way people liked you, thats the way the place affected you, it makes you willing, at Tanners, you were willing to be you.
Is Graham still there, I wonder? I heard the place was renovated, I heard that 'news' from a stranger in Queensland Australia. He mentioned that Tanners was his favourite place in the whole of England even with electricity. Isn’t it funny how word gets around?
Even Graham was still there unchanged in 1988, but that was before the Gulf war, a lot has changed since . Graham would have been amused that the Christians were on their little crusades again, "Bloody Hypocrites", he would say, "Morning Morning", as he wipes his nose with his sleeve and steals breakfast from the kitchen.
I picked up a readers digest once in Calcutta; it was second hand, in English, although targeted at an Asian audience. Graham was actually mentioned in one of the stories, it described him racing around Crystal Palace on one of his crab-like races, snot streaming from his nose and coming in 3rd, all according to the American who wrote it.
Jewish John cannot be left out of any Tanners memory. Jewish John's tall stories, Mossad exploits, and his amazing intellect, craftsman skills, and penmanship let alone a memory that would put a computer to shame, possibly the most intelligent man I ever met, and defiantly the most twisted.
There are so many others which make up the numbers, faces of transient characters long before travellers became the latest thing.
The Folk nights, No fist fights, bonfires on cold nights and camping in the snow. I met a few famous people and a few criminals, and I am still married to someone who shared some of my youth at Tanners. We change but remember.
I am glad Tanners survived and you have me to thank for it, for averting the great fire that wasn't on Christmas eve 1978.
Graham had left us to it, 25 Christmas revellers, all fully paid up members of the YHA. There was Rick, Swedish Sven, Roger, my brother Chris. Nancy a Canadian with steel knickers according to Dickens. A French girl, a friend of American Bob famous for Pizza, she fell for a young bloke who could not decide if he wanted a career in the post office as a postman. The career really troubled him, but the French girl distracted him.
We all were self catering and there was not a cyclist or youth hosteller in sight. It was cold, Rick was playing warden and had got up early on Christmas eve to light the fire and get the day started. It was then that disaster was averted...
I was the next one up, and in a mad dash headed for the loos, boots and all in a freezing ‘see your breath’ kind of winters morning. Everything was white, not with snow, just with heavy frost, and it was not yet light although clearly bright enough to see.
Returning to the main building after unsticking myself from frozen plastic, I entered the dining room and a heavy acrid smoke filled the room. Choking I entered. The air was filled with those floating black things that are created when plastic burns. By the door to the kitchen, the wall beneath the gas light was well ablaze, and this is where instinct took over or I behaved well out of character. Either way that morning Tanners the building and lives were saved.
Rick had lit the gas light, no blame intended, and it had leaked at the tap, then the gas ignited from the flame at the mantle long after he left and started making breakfast in the kitchen.
The flame melted the plastic knob, which dripped onto a polystyrene notice board advertising walking and cycling on pamphlets pinned to a paper map. It was all in flame by the time I approached. It was burning and melting, with flames to the ceiling by the time I came and put it all out with just my bare hands.
And here's the magic Tanners tale bit; although I had to remove molten plastic from my fingers, palms and arms, and my clothes were ruined with burns, I was not harmed, not a bit. Coughing up soot yes, but not a blister, not a single mark, However the notice board was melted to the floor.
We had a great Christmas, all the trimmings, plenty to go around and laughs, some of the best days ever, happy times, when everyday at Tanners was a good memory just being made.