Thursday, 23 September 2021

View from the hill, a 70s London childhood.

 I am currently reading Alan Bennet's Untold Stories - I think a present from Andy if you read this.

As I turned the first few pages I found myself thinking different things: why should anyone be interested in the minutiae of someone else's life and childhood? But then why not? All experiences are interesting, to me, anyway. Some folk stifle a yawn as a relative or friend turns pages of a family album - 'that's Aunty Bess in about . . . hmm, 1978, perhaps . . . when she had that job at the first Sainsbury's in East London'; or recent photos lost in a technological maze on an iPhone - 'us in Paris', 'the best pudding I ever had' or, 'Your Dad and me at Sarah's wedding when the cake collapsed.' All human stories, things we can relate to or not; things that provoke memories, cause tears to rise or a smile to stretch.

As often the case, an idea surfaced as I walked the dogs and filled holes in walls this morning, which then refused to be packed away again. My own London child/adolescent-hood. All those little memory chinks that wend their way into most of my writing. How much more would be buried behind the so-many-times replayed recollections. So, between the jobs, Gite construction and editing, I'll write out some of the memories and see what occurs. Bitty, no format - no time for the foreseeable.

The view from the Hill.  

The view being Muswell Hill. One of London's high points and very much my world between the age of whatever age I was when memories started forming until about thirteen when we moved from North London to the gentle rounded hills of Dorset. 

Muswell Hill was the center of everything - school, the pet shop, buses to the West End, the road where Nichola Stott's family lived in their rather handsome Edwardian semi. She was one of my best friends, freckle-faced, long red hair and as tom-boyish as I was. I don't recall much about the house other than the attic where we played and once decided it would be fun to scratch off a large portion of the polystyrene cladding. It had fallen as gently as snowflakes, and we had laughed until almost peeing ourselves. My mother, always feeling in the shadow of house-owners and seemingly established couples generally, had come to remove my seven or so year old self, red faced, apologies streaming. Maybe that was the last time I visited the Stott household. I don't recall Nicola visiting our more humble abode on Colney Hatch Lane. 

                                                            Colney Hatch lane in the 60s

And it was quite humble. A one bedroom, rented ground floor flat in what is these days a prestigious 40s (I think) block, surrounded by, for London, ample and well treed grounds. Mum shared the front room with her precious piano, table, large armchair (which I recall sitting in and crying while listening to Yesterday by the Beatles), second hand jade green Wilton carpet and her single bed which doubled up as a sofa - long before the days of Ikea Click-Clack. I had the bedroom which was crammed with jumble sale finds, cages of various rodents (depending on the phase), toy cars, and later walls adorned with the usual poster pop beings of the 70s - except mine were all of Rob Davies from Mud. I think I was probably the only teenager in London who preferred his flared cat suits and dangly earrings to Donny Osmond or David Cassidy's toothy grins.

Our kitchen, always warm from stews Mum concocted involving such delights as pigs heart or the marvellously termed, scrag end of lamb, had generous built in cupboards, a china sink, an old green enamel gas stove with chrome metal 'taps', a table and two chairs and a fridge being bought on instalments. Mum, being Mum encouraged my various manias for bringing more wildlife into the already crammed space; often a sweet jar of stick insects or butterfly pupae balancing on the table or sink side.

The bathroom was small, dark and purple but furnished with an ample bath and never ending hot water as all the flats' heating and water were fuelled by an enormous boiler somewhere in the grounds. Mum's stack of 'I'll read them all one day' old Guardian newspapers were for some reason housed in that room. Perhaps she read them in the bath. Those odd knowledge gaps that appear now as I think. Did I know why they were in there? Did she? It's just how it was. Just as we never mused over the spelling of the Fuck Of  that had been shakily scrawled in black paint above the bins at the back of our flat. It had been there for years - part of the block's ornament along with the black crittal window frames and brick framed door entrances.

There, I digressed already. Not so much about the hill or the view but here's a picture for now, although the skyline would have been a little different.


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