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Down my ‘Memory Lane’.

Posted by Big John on August 10, 2008

I was recently in South London and decided to take a look at the street where I had spent my childhood.

The first thing that I noticed was that you had to pay to park. When I played in that street more than sixty years ago, not only were there no ‘pay and display’ machines, but there were no cars.

The houses still looked much the same, although in the days during and just after World War II there were no brick walls or gates, just the stumps of ornate iron railings which had been removed so that their metal could be used in the ‘war effort’.

I lived in the house with the window boxes and the white bay window just to the right of the street light. The reason that a number of the houses have plastered bay windows and not the original Victorian brickwork is thanks to Herr Hitler’s Luftwaffe dropping a bomb which destroyed the row of houses on the opposite side of the road, and badly damaged the front of my home and the homes of a few neighbours.

As I looked at those houses, memories returned to me of those working class neighbours amongst whom were a coalman, an ostler, a chimney sweep, a tram driver, a costermonger and one dodgy family who only lived there ‘part-time’ as they spent the rest of their time as ‘guests of His Majesty’.

I had been told that properties in the street had been selling for ridiculous prices recently, and had heard rumours of ‘gentrification’, although I did not see much sign of this. In fact the few people I saw were not of the ‘posh’ variety, but could well have been the descendants of those West Indian immigrants who first appeared in the area during the 1950’s.

To my surprise the far end of the street had ‘disappeared’, just like the old Victorian pub which had gone up in flames during the Brixton riots of 1981; and trees had appeared where there had once been only ruins.

I was pleased to see that kids still played in the street, although I doubt if they still played games like ‘Tin Can Tommy’….

If only I had taken an old tin can with me. 🙂


7 Responses to “Down my ‘Memory Lane’.”

  1. Lucy said

    Please forgive my ignorance, but what are “pay and display” machines? As you may have guessed, I live in the US.

  2. Terri said

    Lucy…….those are what we call “meters” for parking here in the States. But in England, you pay, get the little sticker and then display it in your windshield. Right, John?
    It was interesting to hear how your street changed since your childhood there.
    Guess it’s true, huh? One can never go back.

  3. Betty said

    I love your stories, John. And, the photos that accompany them.

  4. Oscarandre said

    I grew up in a place where people of all sorts lived, John – but now we sort and sift them much earlier and make sure they get a private education untarnished by those of the lower class (read poor, black or foreign). Then, when we grow up, it makes it so much easier to develop social policy and laws when you’ve never met those on whom it will impact…

  5. Ginnie said

    I love the long, narrow windows, John but I can just imagine how so many of them could not stand the onslaught of Hitler’s bombs.
    It looks like a lovely place to have grown up in…but much nicer to think of it without cars.

  6. It can be quite an emotional experience visiting the place of one’s childhood after many years. I once returned to my part of Brighton and walked all around it, remembering so many things. It was hard to believe that I couldn’t just go into the house and walk upstairs to my room…

    The older one gets, though, the more one realizes that the past is not a place but a process. Our memories are like still photos taken from a moving film. Stills give a glimpse but ultimately falsify that which they represent.

    I think we should also remember that we are living history now this moment: the present is tomorrow’s memories. An historian of the future would give his eye-teeth to see what I am seeing, to walk where I walk and to hear what I hear.

    We are all time-travellers. Today is the marvellous future we dreamed of as kids. What would we tell that child now if we could speak to him?

  7. Big John said

    Lucy … Terri is right about ‘pay and display’. We did have the old meters on poles, but I haven’t seen one in years. I believe that in London you can now use your cell phone to pay for parking.

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