Down my ‘Memory Lane’ Part 2
Posted by Big John on August 16, 2008
Well I must say that my recent photograph does make the old street look a lot better than I remember it, but ‘lovely’ is not a word that springs to mind when I think back to the bomb ‘blitzed’ street of my childhood.
To be fair I suppose anywhere is a ‘lovely place’ to grow up if you know nothing different, are part of a loving family and are surrounded by friendly neighbours.
Most of the houses in the street were occupied by large families or shared by two or more tenants, including the one in which we lived. Our upstairs neighbours were Charlie and Ethel. Charlie was a retired Royal Navy stoker and Ethel worked in the local laundry with my mother. They were rather a sad couple whose only son had been killed during the war.
I, on the other hand, was a very happy little boy as I played amongst the ruins. To me they were not all that was left of families’ homes and where people had died, but were exciting playgrounds where my imagination could run wild.
I always think of the place as being rather dirty and grubby, or perhaps that was just me, for most housewives kept their houses immaculately clean, even going so far as to ‘hearthstone’ their front doorsteps.
I think that one thing that contributed to the grime was the fact that a main railway line runs just behind those houses in the photograph, and in those days the old steam trains covered everything in soot, including my mum’s washing hanging out in our small backyard. The mixed coloured brickwork was a lot darker in those days, and there was not a green leaf to be seen anywhere.
My bedroom was only a few feet from the embankment, along which ran the railway tracks, and I well recall watching the troop trains passing by on their way to and from the Channel ports. When one of these trains stopped at a signal near our house it was easy to speak to the soldiers onboard. Sometimes a soldier returning from Germany would toss some foreign coins or even a Nazi badge if you were lucky; and of course the big treat was if the trains were full of American GI’s for the one ‘American’ phrase that all we kids knew was … “Got any gum chum ?”.
Now as I told you in my previous post, there were usually no cars to be found parked in the street, but there were often a few horses to be seen as they pulled various tradesmen’s carts, and a much sort after by-product of this traffic was the steaming dung that the horses left piled in the road.
One day my scruffy young mates and I were collecting this ‘fertilizer’ for use on our families’ allotments and backyard vegetable patches, when we had to get out of the road as a large car slowly approached. To say that it was ‘large’ is a bit of an understatement as it was the biggest bloody car that any of us had ever seen. As I recall it was a sort of drab khaki/olive colour with a big white star on each side and ‘funny’ number plates. It stopped outside my grandmothers’ house, and out stepped …
… Well, that’s another story.