The remarkable true life story of Peter Newman (Part 4)
A Menace To Society
Within days I was off again; this time steering clear of towns and policemen. I took to the open road and slept in barns. I can't remember being afraid of the countryside at night; I was just glad to be away from my step-mother and that big old house.
The barns were a good place to stay. Early each morning the farm workers would arrive and hang up their food bags before going out into the fields. I would peer over the tops of the hay bales and when the last one had gone outside to do his daily work, I would swing down from the loft and tuck into my breakfast. The wives of those men will never know how much I appreciated their cheese sandwiches, cakes and biscuits. To a hungry eleven-year-old, they were like manna from heaven. I wonder who got the blame when the workers discovered their lunches were missing?
If it rained really hard and there wasn't a nearby shed or barn to shelter in, I would make a den in a ditch and cover it over with branches, leaves and grass. Imagine my horror one day when a stranger in an army uniform unearthed my crouched body from my hideaway. Visions of police stations and endless questions flashed through my mind but the army sergeant didn't hand me over to the authorities. Instead he smuggled me into a nearby German prisoner-of-war camp. So I became a German prisoner of war.
For several days he brought me food and tea, and an officer soon discovered my existence and, almost before I knew it, I was back with my grandparents at Kosicot. By then I was rebellious and insolent and even Grandad despaired of me. During the day I would sneak onto a nearby American airbase and steal whatever I could get my hands on. Life at Kosicot was boring after my travels on the open road and I couldn't stomach all that religious stuff from my grandad. Those happy Bible class days were a long way off - I was different now and didn't need all that soppy stuff. After a few weeks I grabbed a handful of biscuits and headed off into the countryside again.
I had a wonderful sense of freedom as I sauntered up and down the country lanes. I was my own boss, answerable to no one. Sometimes, for fun, I would steal some penny bangers and go off into the woods at night to let them off. Soon gamekeepers and police would be hunting for the "poacher". I used to run for miles with them all in hot pursuit. When I had had enough fun from my game I used to duck out of the woods, leaving my pursuers chasing shadows. Later on I would turn up at the gamekeeper's cottage, waking him up in the middle of the night by bouncing stones off his corrugated roof. The dogs would bark, and in no time at all the lights would come on, but I was gone.
I could eat when I wanted to, providing some farmworker had left his lunch within reach. Pheasant, chicken and rabbit were often on my menu. I slept where and when I chose. It felt good to be free. I became an artist at relieving people of their goods. I enjoyed the thrill of not only eating and stealing but of being hunted as well.
I decided one night to make a ditch my bedroom so I borrowed a haybale from a local farmer and covered it with some leafy branches. I'd just finished my home when the heavens opened and it started to bucket down. I was happily whiling away the time when suddenly I heard voices. I looked up and saw two pairs of eyes staring at me. I was terrified but determined not to show it.
"What are you doing here, m'lad?" said one of the men who were peering so intently at me. I gave him a mouthful of colourful abuse and told him to mind his own business. My tongue always thought it lived inside a fourteen stone hulk of a body.
"We aren't coming to do you any harm," said the other man. "We've been keeping an eye on you over the past few days and we thought we could help you. We weren't thinking of turning you over to the police."
I was curious, to say the least.
"So who are you, then?" I asked. "Gypsies, that's what we are," said one of them with a laugh. "Come with us and see our caravan."
"Have you got a horse, as well?" I asked, fascinated at the thought of a real gypsy caravan.
"Yeah, we got a horse," said the other man. "Come on with us and we'll show you."