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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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

My window faces the south, Part 4: Netley days

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A few weeks ago, out of the blue the phone rang to tell us that our old, and much-loved next-door neighbour Tony Bray had died. This sad news, followed by his memorable and moving burial at sea near Gosport a few days later, reminded me just what a formative period this was for us all.

Looking back, Tony, his wife Adrienne and their two sons remain right up there in the top ten greatest strokes of luck we ever had. There’s only so much research you can do when looking for a new home – estate agent blurbs, surveys, casing the joint, it’s always hit-and-miss, and one of the most important factors, your new neighbours, is the hardest factor to find out about. In this case we had won the lottery, but we didn’t know it straight away.

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Roman life in Kirkby on Bain revealed

On a fine day in December last year, Kirkby on Bain Parish Councillors were invited by Alan Stephenson, Quarry Operations Manager at the Woodhall Spa Quarry, to attend an open afternoon following the recent discovery by local archaeologists of a Roman settlement. It was a fascinating event, led by Lydia Hendry, Community Archaeologist, Heritage Lincolnshire, and her team. She took us round the site in small groups and explained what they had found so far, demystifying numerous trenches, artifacts and data.

I understand that there will be another opportunity to discover more secrets of this ancient settlement, later this year. Lydia has very kindly written an account of the December event for us:

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Ethel Major – A Lincolnshire village murderer?

Not long after we moved into Kirkby on Bain in 2001, somebody said to me something along the lines of “Of course you must know about our famous murderer, Ethel Major”. Of course I had never heard of her, so I did some very superficial research and found that this Kirkby on Bain lady was convicted of killing her husband (a nasty piece of work, allegedly,) in 1934 and hanged in Hull gaol.

A little later Betty Dixon, who was born that year and until recently was one of Kirkby’s oldest residents, kindly lent me a bundle of newspaper cuttings and a book about this case. Like a lot of accounts of past murders, quite a bit of this material was written in sensationalist styles, with little by way of references or source attributions. I also noticed that some accounts were word-for-word copies, apparently lifted from one original newspaper write-up.

During subsequent searches, I stumbled across a real surprise – macabre testimony to the everlasting obsession with murder, a knitted representation of Ethel’s house, made by Jean Arkell, originally installed at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester. Believe it or not there really is a website featuring knitted representations of houses lived in by female murderers. Midsomer Murders scriptwriters, please take note.
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Working for Auntie 1973 revisited (RIP Michael Dean)

Some time ago I wrote about my short-lived spell in the BBC2 Presentation Programmes Department in 1973, not long after the demise of Late Night Line-Up in 1972. Its predecessor “Line-up” had started out as a kind of early evening trailer when BBC2 first went on the air in 1964 but later that year it morphed into “Late Night Line-Up” featuring “open and candid discussion among invited guests”, transmitted live after the 9.00 p.m. watershed.

In my earlier post I mentioned Michael Dean, whom I got to know post Late Night Line-Up, as a friend and colleague, when I moved over from BBC2 programme directing to BBC1 Presentation Department as a Network Director (AKA Transmission Control and Trailers.) At that time Michael was working for Auntie as a continuity announcer prior to returning to his native New Zealand, and we used to chat and have a laugh or two in the tea room from time to time, often about NZ , whence I had just returned after a six-year stopover. At the time I knew Michael had worked on Late Night Line-Up, but did not fully realise that he had been a celeb as a “highbrow” arts and current affairs presenter and interviewer on the show, along with colleagues such as Denis Tuohy, Joan Bakewell, Tony Bilbow and Philip Jenkinson. Continue reading