RiP Charlie Watts

Image courtesy Brent ArchivesI remember him from when we were kids on Pilgrims Way prefab estate. We lived at number 36 and the Watts family were up the road at number 23. Charlie was two years older than me. One day he held me and my sister up with a toy gun and said something like “Hands up – or I’ll fill you with slugs.” I thought he meant those slimy garden pests that used to chew their way through the lettuces growing in our back garden. Years later, some time in the 60s, we met briefly in a pub in Wembley, where he was playing with an R&B group. I didn’t mention the slugs.

My mum and his mum were good friends from the post-war prefab days right up to when both families had moved on to another council estate in Kingsbury. By that time I had left home and Charlie was famous. My mum told me he sometimes turned up to visit his family, dodging the fans and the press.

In 2012 Wembley historian Philip Grant wrote a brief account of Charlie’s formative prefab days and his later rise to fame. You can read and download it here.

Pilgrims Way photo courtesy Brent Archives. Continue reading

Prefabulous Days

At last! I have completed my novel about growing up on a post-war prefab estate. It’s called “Prefabulous Days”, and it’s based loosely on memories of life on the Pilgrims Way estate, Kingsbury NW9. It’s now available on Amazon as an e-book (2.99) and a paperback (£6.55).

Here’s the blurb:

“On the Friars Walk prefab estate, there’s a cast iron box, about the size of a small wardrobe, set in concrete. The grown-ups think it’s something to do with their electricity supply because it hums. For the estate kids it’s just there to be climbed on, but some believe it’s home to a race of tiny people. They call it the Green Thing.

A few yards away, the nearest prefab is home to the Dobson family. Made in a factory out of war surplus aluminium and assembled on a wooded hillside, the new all electric home is a revelation for bus conductor Harry, his wife Olive and two sons. Just the ticket. They can hardly believe their luck.

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Pilgrims Way: more prefab memories

From Janet and Jim Chignall, who used to live in the prefab behind us on the Pilgrims Way prefab estate after the war:

A few recollections and short stories of early childhood life and times in our prefab, 31 Pilgrims Way, Wembley. Middlesex

  

I remember …… 

  • Sitting on the front doorstep looking at my favourite comics, The Dandy & The Beano.
  • Worrying all night about my younger brother (Jamie) starting school – Fryent’s Infants.
  • Going to Fryent School on the coach which stopped by the ‘Green Thing’ outside our prefab.
  • Taking small bunches of flowers, picked by Dad from our front garden for the school-teacher
  • Mum making a soft football from old socks for Jamie to take to school, often after a last- minute request from him – just before we were due to leave!
  • Watching my favourite programmes on our small 9 inch, Pye television. The Flowerpot Men,

Andy Pandy, Sooty and Muffin the Mule –  (I remember crying when Annette Mills, the Muffin the Mule presenter died in 1955).                   Continue reading

Working title: Prefabulous

During the first pandemic lockdown, I decided to have a go at writing a work of fiction.  Not a very original response to adversity, I know, but it did at least keep me busy, and time flew by. Even before Covid 19 provided the cataIyst, I had been toying with the idea of a novel based loosely on my own and others’ experiences of being brought up on a post-war prefab on the outskirts of London. A fictionalised autobiography I suppose. As it has turned out, it’s more fiction than biography.

One of my motives was to find out if I could write credible fiction. Characters, plot, dialogue, narrative arc – all that stuff. I did write some comedy dialogue when I was in the BBC, and had some input into inventing characters, but most of my writing has been factual, up to now. My worst problem has been getting the real characters out of my head, my family and neighbours.

Well, eventually I decided just to have a go. All I knew was how it would start. A genuine early memory, embellished by a photograph or two. My first experience of a prefab estate, even before anybody lived there. A snapshot, embedded in my brain. Injected into the brain of Tom, the central character:            Continue reading

Season’s greetings 2020

Best wishes for Christmas and New year, even though meeting up with friends and family as usual is off the festive agenda. Here’s something to take your mind off the pandemic, if only for a few moments, the latest release by mando-family duo Simon Mayor and Hilary James:

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Prefabs: Pride and Prejudice

“Whatever you do, don’t play with those Pilgrim Way kids”

When I first wrote about growing up on a post-war prefab estate, I  had no idea that local people living nearby might have formed negative attitudes toward such places and their residents, deserved or otherwise. As a prefab boy, I was not aware that I and other prefab kids may have been seen as social pariahs by middle class home-owners. But following the publication of my 2015 memoir Prefab Days I was intrigued by a comment from a former schoolmate, who quoted a woman living in a “proper house” not far away, doling out essential advice to one of his friends: “Whatever you do, don’t play with those Pilgrim Way kids”.

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Prefabs | Pilgrims Way update

Fryent Country Park Story – Part 5

Paul Kennedy has brought to my attention a Pilgrims Way update by local historian Philip Grant, on the Wembley Matters blog. It’s a must for all prefab old boys and girls. Click here  to read this interesting post, the latest episode in the Fryent Country Park story.

Some key quotes which certainly chime with my memories:

“Paul remembered the woods and fields as ‘a child’s paradise to play in’, and not just in summer. ‘When it snowed we’d sledge at great speed down a very long steep hill next to Barn Hill pond, stopping only when the barbed wire fence of the cow’s field at the very bottom loomed into sight.” (By the way, I once fell through winter ice on Barn Hill pond. Lesson learned.)

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Sir John Franklin, Lincolnshire hero

Last week I got the sack! At my time of life too.  For the last five years I have been running a blog for a well known hotel in Woodhall Spa, England, now suddenly a victim of the Covid-19 crisis. So I have got my cards and the blog has been taken offline. Of the 381 posts published, one or two stories I think are worth re-publishing and updating here. Here’s an one such, originally posted in October 2014, slightly edited and updated today:

 

If you head out East from Lincoln toward the Lincolnshire coast and you get fed up with the main road, you might take the old road through Spilsby. And if you decide to take a break there, you may, as I did sometime after we settled in mid-Lincolnshire in 2001, come across the memorial in the main square commemorating the life and death of Spilsby born and Louth educated Sir John Franklin. On May 19 1845, Franklin’s exploration ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror sailed out from the River Thames, with 128 officers and men, in an attempt to find the fabled Northwest Passage.

Interesting enough in itself perhaps, but suddenly in the international news in 2014, when Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, announced that one of the two ships used for Sir John Franklin’s fatal attempt to find the Northwest Passage had been discovered, over 160 years since it was abandoned in the frozen wastes of the Canadian Arctic.

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Canteen Days

“Canteen” | a place in a factory, office, etc. where food and meals are sold, often at a lower than usual price.[Cambridge English Dictionary]

“Craic” | (Irish English) enjoyable time spent with other people, especially when the conversation is entertaining and funny [Cambridge English Dictionary]

 

I hear some people are finding it hard to stay at home and shun human contact during this Covid-19 crisis. Understandable, especially if their regular lifestyle involves daily socialising. But I am experiencing an unexpected bonus. Ever since I stopped going to work I have found it increasingly difficult to find the time to keep up with this blog; suddenly I have no excuse but to knuckle down and resume normal service. Thanks pandemic, for the first time in ages I have time on my hands.

I am fascinated with communal eating, and it’s ironically apt at the moment, when eating out is banned until further notice, by edict of BoJo. In particular, canteens are a thread which runs through much of my life, from school dinners to university refectories, via worker’s canteens, in the UK and overseas.

Even without the virus crisis I just miss the canteen experience these days, as a social diversion, a welcome pause in the working day. Looking back, there have been periods when no canteen was available on a daily basis, such as when I went freelance after leaving the BBC in 1983. At such times, the lack of a canteen was a minor disappointment, something missing in the working day.

Of course, it’s not just about the food, but the craic as well. Actually, like Commisario Montalbano I am rubbish at eating and talking simultaneously, so it’s eat-first-chat-second for me if I have a choice, but for sure there’s not much to be said for eating alone. .                 Continue reading

Prefab Days update: the green thing

When I wrote Prefab Days, little did I suspect how much interest it would stir up, notably among former residents of the Pilgrims Way estate in Kingsbury NW9. The original post was written for a museum housed in a prefabricated building, and I had to work to a word limit. One of the memories which I chose to leave out of the article concerned a cast-iron object in the street, just outside our back garden, known locally as “The Green Thing”.

Perhaps a subconscious motive for leaving the green thing out of my story was that, as I recall, my sister and I were forbidden to go anywhere near it, even though it held a magnetic attraction for other kids as the place to hang out. I am pretty sure this ban was just one outcome of our Dad’s horror of playing in the street. However I may have defied the edict on at least one occasion because I remember an event which took place right next to the green thing, which I mentioned in “Prefab Days”:

“When we moved in, work on the infrastructure was still going on, mainly finishing the roadway and footpaths. The labour force was a couple of German prisoners of war, supposedly supervised by British soldiers. We kids were strictly instructed not to fraternise with them, but of course we did, as the squaddies seemed to be notable by their absence. One of the POWs smuggled toys to us somehow, and I remember with affection the tiny metal tractor that came my way.” I am sure this happened next to the green thing, where there was a pile of sand, presumably used officially for laying paving slabs and unofficially as a sandpit for local kids less constrained than us.            Continue reading