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

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!

 

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

Prefabs are back!

So the UK government has rediscovered prefabs! Well done – better late than never I guess. Anyone who had the privilege of growing up on one of Churchill’s post war prefab estates and has lived long enough to tell the tale could have told our leaders at any time since the sixties that prefabs have the potential to transform our endemic housing problem and even help banish enforced homelessness.

Perhaps the government has been influenced not so much by the  opinions of the diminishing number of people who, like me, experienced prefab life in post-war Britain, but by more recent and newsworthy examples of successful prefabricated housing interventions elsewhere, in response to chronic housing problems and international emergencies such as the 2011 Tsunami. For instance, since the only home to remain standing in one devastated Japanese village was a prefab made in the Philippines, business has apparently been booming:


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Thank you, Miss Bugler

best_job_150Someone recently asked me what the best job I ever had was. I found it quite hard to answer. For a start, define “job”; would I include all paid employment, self employment and voluntary work? I decided to exclude voluntary work for the time being, but then I had to work out what I meant by “best”.

I decided that it meant the most enjoyable, rather than the best paid, or the easiest. The answer still did not jump out immediately; I have done a lot of jobs in my time. Running through the chronological list, they all seemed to have their pros and cons. So I took another angle, and rephrased the question – what job do I most regret not doing for longer? Continue reading

Fryent days

Do you remember your first day at school? I do, or at least I think I do.

Here is what I think I remember:

I am sitting at a desk in a room with a lot of other kids, many of whom are crying, and I am wondering why they are upset. The room has a blackboard at the front and the walls are decorated with brightly coloured pictures. Out of the windows I see a field, with houses in the distance. On each desk is a slate, in a wooden frame, with a kind of pencil made of stone or something. Some kids seem to know what these are for, and are using the strange pencils to scribble on the slates.

A nice lady stands at the front and is talking to us and showing us how  to draw on the slates. Pretty soon I notice that one boy is hiding his slate as he scratches away, occasionally looking round to see if we are watching him. Then he stops and holds up his slate, saying something like “See, I can do real writing. If you can’t do real writing you’d better learn fast or you’ll get the cane.” I am not convinced. After all, I have seen the real thing, and he’s an idiot anyway who I recognise from the prefab estate. Continue reading

Me and my Puch

I don’t know what became of my bike, but by the time I was in my second year at University in Leicester (1964), I had got it into my head that what I needed was a scooter. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford a Vespa or a Lambretta, the iconic machines beloved of the Mods, so I shopped around for something cheaper, and what I came up with was something called a Puch.

A what? Well, it looked bit like a Lambretta, but it was made by the Austrian Steyer-Daimler-Puch company. Perhaps I was impressed by the Daimler bit, and it seemed then like a trusty steed, suitable for local and long distance travel. Little did I know.

My cunning plan was to ride the scooter up to Leicester, where I was studying for a degree in French and Philosophy. London NW9 to Leicester is about 100 miles, so this was the first long haul test. The  Puch was fine, but I soon found out that journeys longer than a few miles were a severe test of human stamina, for which I was simply not prepared. Continue reading