I 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.
Fellow 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!
When our local Woolworths closed down it seemed that the heart of the town stopped beating. It’s true that our beloved high street retailer had been ailing for some time, but nevertheless, the fatal blow came as a national shock. My first thoughts were for all those who worked there, suddenly out of a job. This reaction was probably coloured by my own memories of working as a part-time Woolworths Saturday boy in Neasden, London NW10, sweeping floors, bailing cartons and tending the boiler.
The collapse of Woolworths triggered a train of thought; I began to think about all the part-time jobs I had as a hard up teenager, either on weekends or, later, during school holidays. One thing has become quite clear. Though the need for employment back then, between about 1958 and 1962, arose simply because I needed money to buy things which my parents could not have afforded, l now see there was an unforeseen bonus – these were learning experiences which I now value as highly as any amount of official education. Continue reading →
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.
Our rather sudden decision to emigrate to New Zealand in 1967 was really just an impulsive lark. It just seemed a good idea at the time. We were newlyweds and with my mediocre degree my prospects in the UK did not seem in any way promising. At the time commonwealth countries were making some tempting offers to teachers and nurses, so we fitted the bill.
Once the idea took hold, it was a Goldilocks’ porridge choice between Australia (too hot), Canada (too cold) and New Zealand (just right?). A choice based on stereotypes and skimpy research, and in my case influenced by the example of a boy at Fryent primary school who, years before, had beamed down in London NW9 one day from planet New Zealand. Actually I don’t think he remembered much about NZ, but I became so fascinated with this kid from a country on the other side of the world that I read up about it in my second home, Wembley town hall library. (No internet then). The land of the long white cloud must have lodged itself in my young brain as a romantic aspiration; after all for us Brits it’s as far as you can go south without starting to come back.
Someone 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 →
Unlike many in my age group, I admit I have an aversion to family research, but all my life I have been asked where my (allegedly) unusual surname comes from. It has become more and more difficult to avoid some degree of family tree climbing, even if only to satisfy the curiosity of others.
There are two more compelling reasons.
One is an odd memory, with a subsequent explanation. I recall being with my mother, shopping in Wembley High Road, and being accosted by an old man who apparently recognised my mum. I think he may have called out her name (Alice). I would probably not have remembered the incident at all had it not been for my mother’s extreme reaction, as she grabbed me and ran away from him. I think she told me that he was some kind of tramp. Continue reading →
I wrote this article for the Cottage Museum in Woodhall Spa, where an exhibition about prefab life opened this week. I now know that the thousands of prefabricated houses which sprang up after the second world war were Churchill’s response to the housing shortage caused by that war, but all I knew at the time was that something exciting was afoot.
Until 1947, when I was four, we were a family of four living with two of my mum’s half-sisters and their families in a rented house in Stonebridge Park, near Wembley. It seems we qualified to be rehoused on a prefab estate being constructed under Churchill’s scheme, probably because of the overcrowding and the fact that my dad was a returning serviceman.
Memories are elusive, and it’s difficult to disentangle genuine recollections from received accounts, mainly from my parents and other relatives. However, I am fairly certain that an image I have always had in my head of jumping in and out of frozen ruts in a muddy field must have been something to do either with visiting the site of our new home before it was constructed, or perhaps later, after we had moved in. This fits with the records of the terrible winter of 1947. Continue reading →