Thursday, November 03, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Riverside Gardens

Nothing like a well-tried alliterative formula for a prompt, lots of people do this one. Went and looked out the old photo albums my wonderful nieces put together for my mum in her old age, and pulled out a couple of faded instamatic snaps. Scanning them was less straightforward; I use the PC less and less (Chromebook for me, a betwixt and between kind of technology), never really got very au fait with Windows 10 and don't keep up with all the changes, now there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a control panel, I finally found something called fax and scan somewhere I've forgotten where and probably won't be able to do so again. Why do they have to keep changing things? Like bloody google doing away with Picasa web albums, so now I'm obliged to upload photos to google plus and again I can never remember what I've done from one time to the next, and I really don't want to be involved with google plus but they manoeuvre you into it anyway... blah blah blah moan moan moan.

Anyway. This is I, aged about four, just along from where we lived. I can remember that blue checked frock, and the nylon ruffled lace collar, which my mum made, as she did most of my dresses when I was small, but not the cardigan, as she wasn't a knitter. I think my sister-in-law sometimes knitted me things (my brother was married before I was a year old, my sister-in-law still knits). 

The expression of slightly sceptical, ironic truculence is one which comes up again and again in photos of me at all ages, so I suppose it must be my face. 

Behind me lie Riverside Gardens. We lived in Gossoms End, in a 17th century cottage set back from a horrendously busy main road - the notorious, pet-killing A41, but round the back was a close of very recently built beige-brick flats, Riverside Gardens. 

'Can Janet and I go to Riverside Gardens, to ride our bikes/ catch butterflies on the butterfly bush/ build a camp/ look for Smoky the cat/stroke Cindy the Beagle?' 

Riverside Gardens was where the cobbler's son next door and I  - whom I wasn't really supposed to play with at all since he first made me eat baths salts and then instigated the episode of playing with creosote in Mr S's shed* - formed the headquarters of the Animal Lost Club; we never found any lost animals other than snails, who were disappointingly reluctant to stay in the refuge we made them. It was also where G, the Only Black Boy in the School, lived; a silent, clearly somewhat troubled, fostered child, who one day when he perceived me walking behind him, turned around and without a word or any expression, twisted my arm behind my back to the point of real pain, then walked on. I didn't cry or scream, simply asked him why, but he didn't answer.

Opposite where I am standing in the photo was the rec. After my rather sententious grumbling about why people don't use public parks and spaces, I was led to recall the rec. It was really rather a horrible, unsafe space; we went there for the swings and big slide and see saw and all the other lethal and now banned examples of children's outdoor play equipment, and for the conkers, but it was fraught with broken glass and vandalism and bullying older children.

This all sounds as though I grew up in a very rough and nasty place, I didn't, we lived in a lovely and picturesque cottage in a very prosperous small home counties town, albeit in a rather rougher end of it. I do have a habit of remembering the bad bits.

With the wonders of google maps and street view, I checked out the area now, in many ways it's surprisingly unchanged; here is a near as I can get to the same spot last year.

Over the road though, things have changed quite a lot; the rec is no more but is the site of a sports centre, the old 1930s council houses where the very poor families lived, and the strange mock-Tudor pre-fabs with their flowery gardens from a pre-war Ideal Home Exhibition where the elderly couples lived, have all gone, replaced with a very nice low-rise housing development with pedestrianised street and little squares, and most importantly, there is now a bypass and the A41 is a relatively quiet street which has changed the atmosphere of the whole town. 

What have also gone are the in-between feral spaces, the undeveloped plots, the fallen trees and nettle-sown patches by the dirty river where we used to run and play, catch butterflies, befriend animals, get frightened and bullied, take some risks we didn't know about and some we did, and invent and imagine, these are all spoken for and tidied up and made good use of now. 

I'm not nostalgic.

*Mr S was the local child molester, but our parents couldn't quite bring themselves to tell us that was why his shed was so seriously off-limits, we thought it was just the creosote.


Catalyst said...

I think now I know why you live in France.

Sabine said...

Well, hello there young woman! You had a wild time and all for the better.

That brings back memories of crawling through building sites and collecting bottles (for cash) while my mother was busily arranging my piano lessons and who knows where she thought we were hiding from her. However, we always had to wear sturdy dungarees, no white knee-socks for us except on Sundays.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, I loooove that photo of you at circa 4 years old. The expression on your face is incontrovertible evidence, if any is needed, that you were as interesting a child as you are an adult. That kid takes no bullshit from anybody and asks direct, calm, unanswerable questions, such as "WHY?" to that troubled little bully.

Roderick Robinson said...

There was a child's view of the world, and there was an adult's. It seemed the adults wanted to exclude children; to do this they talked endlessly about less and less ("Surely," I thought, "this must end soon. I mean, how much more can they say about two other adults talking, no doubt about two further adults talking." But no, they talked on.)

Adults behaved irrationally, pretending an urgency about tasks that were of no interest and could surely have been avoided. Whereas my world - peopled by John (upright, authoritative) and Roger (younger, malicious, not to be trusted) the names taken from Swallows and Amazons - was rich with only-too-understandable events and a recurring obligation to suppress Roger's anti-social tendencies. An ordered interesting world which didn't depend on interminable and utterly circular talk.

On the bus I was molested. I can see his face now - staring straight ahead, nose like a beak, his face sweating, wearing (I'm less sure about this) a mackintosh. Sitting beside me, his hand on my bare thigh since I was still wearing short trousers. More irrational and boring behaviour by an adult, I concluded, and looked out of the window.

Later, probably much later, I mentioned this to my mother and her face froze in a mask. How ridiculous, I thought. Adults!

Avus said...

"The expression of slightly sceptical, ironic truculence is one which comes up again and again in photos of me at all ages, so I suppose it must be my face."

Or is that the character of the real Lucy that we have come to love.....?

Lucy said...

Thanks, chaps.

Cat - Yes, Tom said 'it all sounds a bit grim', but as I said, it was just a childhood, and a fairly cosseted one really. We didn't really come here to escape the grimness of the UK; I think French provincial life at the time was probably harsher, and France still feels to me in many ways a spiritually and socially colder place than Britain, but perhaps that's partly because it will always be somewhat other and alien to me.

Sabine - I think your childhood was probably edgier than mine really. Perhaps western Europe everywhere at that time was still quite full of holes, which children could slip in and out of, and which have mostly now been filled in. Yep, white knee socks and Clarks t-bar sandals! Which makes me wonder if I was more like five and at school by then. As girls we still didn't wear trousers a lot, though you've got me thinking about an element of the next throwback post.

Natalie - thanks! I was bit stroppy, but I don't know about not taking any bullshit, I think most kids do at some point, and I wasn't always on the side of the angels. Everyone is ready to remember being bullied, but rarely ready to admit to being the bully, but sometimes I know I joined in the bullying too, not too often I hope. The boy in question, thinking back, was probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum, he was a kid you watched out for, a loner, unpredictable and known to be trouble, but I don't think he was the worst kind of bully really, not calculating or manipulative or part of a gang. He was different, and being a rare black child in a very white area increased this perception.

Robbie - I love that comment, and the idea of your suppressing Roger's anti-social tendencies, which sounds like part of a wicked parody of Swallows and Amazons. It's true about the adult conversation, whoever would have thought we'd end up doing it ourselves? My brother and sister and I when last together were recalling the utter, endless boredom of when mum met Mrs Cripps in the High Street and you were literally aching with the tedium of it, shifting from leg to leg, leaning on the pushchair - in their case, I suppose I was in the pushchair - and then the total dissing of said Mrs Cripps (who happened to be my brother's mother-in-law) by mum afterwards, so why on earth spend so long talking to her? I don't in fact think that as small children we were in much danger from the child-molester, who was perhaps more a borderline homosexual in a time when the two ideas were largely conflated, with a weakness for teenage boys which the latter were not above exploiting in terms of blackmail and extortion, or that's what I learned later. His shed was a bit of a nasty place, though it provided support for my mum's compost heap. Your groping experience and your mum's reaction show how often children keep quiet about things to protect the adults in their lives from distress and embarrassment.

Avus - truculent, moi?

Zhoen said...

You do have the same posture, attitude.

Children live in their own unique worlds.