My childhood was – in comparison with what most children today experience – one long adventure.

The 1950s were in some ways a more innocent time (and certainly less paranoid). It was quite normal for even quite young children to be out all day, and sometimes a long way from home, without adult supervision. And the landscape around Church Road encouraged exploration.

A short walk away was Church Wood, which extended right across to Marden Park in the valley below. Hidden within it – and duly discovered by we curious children – were the ventilation shafts for the Oxted tunnel. The Oxted and East Grinstead line ran in a cutting right past the house. I was so used to the sound of the trains that I barely noticed them; they certainly didn’t disturb my sleep. And we children would often walk up to the nearby bridge to watch the trains – usually hauled by 4-6-2 tank engines, which were more than capable of pulling a well-laden commuter train up the gradient to the tunnel entrance. (The same could not be said of the diesels that replaced them, which often got stuck just outside our house, especially in the autumn. Wrong sort of leaves…?)

So we explored the woods. We climbed trees (and fell out of them). And later (oh, frabjous day!) we had bikes that allowed us to explore even further afield. (I remember my father going to the bank to get the money for my first bike. It cost £16. And I had never seen that much money in my life…!)

My playmates were the neighbours’ children, (notably Chris and Valerie Staples, and Richard Deffee) and quite often I’d be the one suggesting our games. (Frequently designed around whatever story I happened to be reading at the time.) Richard spoke rather oddly – none of us realised he was deaf. He took part in our games but I’m not sure how much he understood. And to my shame I’m not sure how much we made fun of him. We didn’t know any better – but even so…

A special friend was a boy of about my own age called Alan Turner, the son of one of the workers on Marden Park Farm. My parents and his parents got to know each other, too, and on occasion I would be ‘boarded out’ with the Turners if there was a problem at home. Alan and I went on long bike rides together, and both of us owned – and used – .22 air rifles. I vividly remember Alan (a better shot than me) bringing down a crow – and a very bloody end it had, too.

On another occasion we were playing in the copse behind his house, cutting down hazel branches to make a camp, and using one of his father’s billhooks. Stupidly I was kneeling too close to him, so the blade caught my knee and opened it up. I still have the scar.

One day when I was out in Church Wood with a boy called Robert Landau (we’d made friends with the family when I was in hospital) there was An Incident. Robert was walking behind me, and disturbed an adder – which duly reared up to strike. Luckily we were in deep shade, and the adder was a lot slower than we were. In fact we probably set a land speed record for running away… When I reported this to my mother, she thought for a while and then rang the local GP surgery. ‘Do you keep anti-venom for adder bites?’ she asked. Apparently they didn’t. ‘Well, do you think it might be a good idea?’

She might have been happy for her son to explore wherever he wanted to – but she had her eye out for me as well!