Tickle Jenkin: pony tickler, boundary marker inserter, entertainer and much loved local character
Lymington Cricket Club are mourning the loss of Tickle Jenkin who died on Tuesday, aged 88.
Born in Lyndhurst in 1919 to Fred and Frances Jenkin, Tickle grew up in Bull Hill and then Pilley, and was one of the last of his generation a true New Forest character with a Hampshire accent as broad as The Solent.
Tickle never much talked about his private life and family history, although we do know that his real name was Frank; that he was one of eleven brothers and sisters, most of whom were very talented at sport, especially football. Tickle himself was a decent footballer, learning the game under the tutorage of his William Gilpin schoolmaster Jim Newman. Tickle left school at 14 to work on building sites with his father, and among the houses he helped build were those for Wellworthy workers in the late 1930s. In 1944 tragedy struck the family when Tickle's younger brother Harry was killed at the Battle of Arneham.
Tickle later worked as a grave digger at Boldre Church where, on one occasion, he was victim of a prank by his friend Tom Figgins. The story goes that Tickle had to dig two graves, and had almost completed the second when he began to hear ghostly voices talking to him from beneath the ground. Fearing that one of the graveyard inhabitants was trying to pass a message to him from 'the other side', a shocked Tickle shot out of the grave like a rabbit out of a hole only to discover that the spooky voice was that of his mischievous mate Tom who had secretly crawled into the other grave!
Tickle and Pete Smith
Perhaps it was this incident that prompted Tickle to return to the building trade, and he went to work for Ivor Lee at Brockenhurst. Whilst excavating foundations at a house in Brock Tickle dug up a clay tile which was found to be from the Elizabethan period. The tile is now set in the wall adjacent to the bar at the Fleur-de-Lys public house in Pilley, along with a plaque, donated by Lymington Cricket Club President Brian Hobby, which mentions Tickle as the finder.
Indeed, the Fleur-de-Lys was a popular haunt for Tickle, especially when it was run by the wonderful Sid Hayward. Robin Goff recalls how the landlord would keep Tickle's pint glass topped up, and in return Tickle would entertain the customers with his country bumpkin act. They grockels loved it and would travel from miles around to watch and listen to Tickle.
In later life Tickle moved into a retirement flat at Barfields and became a familiar sight around Lymington, immaculately dressed in his flat cap, jacket and tie (no matter what the weather!). Apart from his sport, Tickle's great love was his beer. On one away trip at Petersfield Brian Hobby maintains that Tickle drank 16 pints! This generally led to a bout of singing at the end of the night, and Tickle really was the life and soul of the party.
Up until recently, Tickle's official job at the Sports Ground was 'boundary marker inserter', using a 'borrowed' Safeway shopping trolley to cart the markers around the pitch before each match. He also lovingly tended the flowers in the tubs and swept the paving outside the pavilion, as well as enthusiastically reprimanding any dog owner whose mutt might be contemplating committing an indiscretion on the outfield! When his work was done, Tickle was always quick to remind anyone within earshot that he'd been at the ground sweeping up, "since six o'clock this marning" - a clever tactic that invariably resulted in a complimentary pint!
A bit like the lord of a manor welcoming guests to a function, Tickle would sit by the Sports Ground pavilion door and greet the players as they arrived for the match. Despite a fading memory Tickle had a novel way of remembering people's names he simply called everyone 'Nipper'! To some, especially the overseas players, a conversation with Tickle could be a baffling experience. More often than not it was almost impossible to get a sensible answer out of Tickle especially after a few beers. When asked by one youngster to name his favourite football team, Tickle's reply was "West Bromwich Arsenal Preston Both Ends". Similarly, when asked where he was born, "In a bed!" came the reply, quick as a flash. That said, Tickle's thick Pilley burr and occasional befuddled ramblings belied a sharp wit and surprising sense of comic timing. On one memorable occasion during a first team fixture, a notable Lymington player dropped an absolute dolly of a catch. The ground fell silent as no-one dared to say a word for fear of upsetting the embarrassed fielder. Then, in that unmistakable accent, came a bellow from the pavilion: "butterfingers!"
Tickle's tongue could sometimes get himself, and the club, into a spot of bother. Before one crucial end of season fixture, Second XI skipper Don Whitlock warned his players against upsetting one particularly cantankerous opposition umpire. Arriving late, the flustered umpire hurried on to the field to a polite welcome from the Lymingtonians present. Except Tickle who cried out, "where the bloody hell you been?" The captain held his head in his hands.
Tickle's popularity grew as the years wore on, and he became something of an institution in local cricket. At a Lymington presentation dinner a few years back Tickle was asked to accept an award on behalf of an absent player and received perhaps the most rapturous standing ovation the club had ever seen. Tickle lapped up the applause like a true showman.
It was a real shame that Tickle wasn't well enough to attend last Sunday's match against the MCC. How he would have enjoyed the attention of the crowd, not to mention the food and the beer. And how fascinating it would have been to have eavesdropped on a conversation between Tickle and all those stockbrokers and city bankers.
And we could only end this tribute by finally revealing the reason why Tickle was so named. If Tickle was to be believed, it seems that it stemmed from the annual pony round-ups that took place on the Forest. While some commoners used a whip to control the horses, Tickle's chosen method of pacifying a rampaging pony was to jump on and tickle it into submission. Tickle never revealed exactly which part of the pony he in fact tickled. That, much like Tickle's life, will forever remain a mystery.
As Tickle himself might have said: "Farewell my acker!"