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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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

Prefabs update: Pilgrims Way talk

Pilgrims Way NW9, looking toward Barn Hill. Origin unknownPretty much as I remember itFellow Pilgrims Way denizen Paul Kennedy recently sent me a file used to illustrate a talk by Philip Grant of the Wembley Historical Society. The talk covered all the prefab estates built just after the war in Wembley, including Pilgrims way, and draws on evidence held by Brent Archives. The Pilgrims Way section is about half way through the talk, and includes a letter from Charlie Watts and some images I have not seen before. Thanks Paul!

Here are some of the slides Philip used, but you can also download the complete presentation Kingsbury’s Post-War Prefab Homes (pdf file – 8Mb) Continue reading

Season’s Greetings 2018

Image Courtesy Somebody Think of the ChildrenMerry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, dear readers and followers.

Thanks for all your comments – keep them coming. More musings in the pipeline for 2019!

 

Kingsbury County Days

In 1954 I passed the eleven plus exam, a bundle of tests which, according to Tory MP David Davis “rescued a generation of underprivileged children”. Even at this tender age we all in our last year at Fryent Junior understood the what was going on, and many feared the consequences of failure. I can’t remember much about the tests themselves, and I was surprised that I passed, as I suspect did my parents.

I know my Mum and Dad were pleased, especially as I had missed best part of a year’s schooling when I nearly lost my eyesight when I was eight. I learned later that for Dad, Grammar School entrance was a pretty big deal as he had always resented having been denied the opportunity himself in favour of one of his three brothers.

I remember the impact of my attainment on my Dad’s meagre wage packet, which immediately arose from the need to kit me out with an expensive uniform, only obtainable from a posh tailors shop in Golders Green which enjoyed a monopoly supplier arrangement with Kingsbury County Grammar, the school in London NW9 which the local education authority had selected for me.             Continue reading

Early memories

Or are they really memories?

My earliest memory is really an image in my head. It could only have been seen by me – the mental equivalent of a point-of-view shot in a film. I see the world through some kind of netting. Two faces appear and the netting is pulled aside. The faces of two young girls appear, one blonde, the other brunette. That’s it – just a brief flashback, but I am convinced I have not made it up or been told about it. What is odd is that I must have been no more than two years old.

I think I once mentioned this to my mother, who probably thought it was just another of my silly fantasies, but when I later learned about the circumstances of my infancy, I became convinced that the faces belonged to my cousins Pamela and Barbara. My Auntie Joan, the only person whom I have trusted to tell the truth about those difficult times, confirmed this theory years later.

To explain:       Continue reading

Thank you General de Gaulle (for my bubble car)

1965 was not a good year for me. As a student reading French I was required, not unreasonably, to spend a year teaching in France. This ought to have been a pleasure, but by and large it turned out not to be. However there was one unexpected consolation prize, thanks to General de Gaulle, then president of the republic.

For some unknown reason, that year he decided to pay an extra month’s wages to all those like me who had been engaged in the mostly futile task of teaching English to French schoolchildren. This inexplicable but welcome gesture enabled me to buy my first car – an Isetta bubble car.

From two wheeled hell to three wheeled heaven! Continue reading

Me and my Palm Beach

In my teens, my liberation from the dull confines of life in NW9 was my bike – a Triumph Palm Beach 3 speed tourer, on which I used to escape to Hertfordfordshire and Buckinghamshire, or to my Auntie Ellen’s place in Kenton and later in Shepperton, or to spend the summer holidays on long distance youth hostelling jaunts.

I think I was fifteen or sixteen when I finally got the bike. For ages I had been lobbying for one, mainly on the reasonable grounds that everyone else had one, but my Dad was adamant, on equally reasonable grounds, that I would not last five minutes on London streets. As a result, when I did get my way, I had missed out on a few years of practice on the road, compared to other kids on the patch. I can’t remember anyone teaching me to ride, so I guess it’s ironic that I successfully taught my own children to ride a bike years later. Continue reading