Thursday, March 7, 2013

1971: Far far away

Cul-de-sacs: hotbeds of infidelity, in-fighting, neighbourly politics and behind-closed-doors intrigue. Remember Brookside? Quite.

I grew up in a cul-de-sac, or close, from 1965 to 1975, and believe you me, what didn't go on there is nobody's business. It was apparently famous for its parties, more notably, its wife-swapping parties. And there wasn't a pampas grass in sight. I remember endless parties at all the houses more or less, coming downstairs in the morning and finding underwear hung on car ariels. How we laugh now. I'm not sure if it's all true or not, but they certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.

So we're going down a different route today, and I'm going to talk you through all 18 houses, their inhabitants and some key memories. It's not that everyone in this list was there for the full 10 years, but there was a low turnover of residents and here's who I remember being around most. While we're doing this, we'll listen to Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road, the song that soundtracked my early years by being never off the radio and with a band who looked like the neighbours.

No.1. The Davises.
He worked for Barclays Bank, she grew up round the corner from my mum. They had one child when they arrived, another came in 1970. He put a pink sheet up at the window to announce her arrival. My dad remarked that it was a 'big girl's blouse' thing to do. We went to Majorca together in 1972 then they moved to Jersey in 1973. But our families remained life-long friends. Replaced by those life-changing Americans.

No.2 ?
I cannot for the life of me remember their names - they seemed a bit dull, but they had two children called Jane and Ruth. We weren't friends. I once saw them fall out of their mother's car as she turned a corner and the dad took the neighbourhood kids for rides up and down the Close on his motorbike.

No.3 The Bullises
She did Blue Peter makes and hid them in the shed. Had a mute son called Julian who was friends with my brother. Moved to Redcar.

No.4. The Kellaways
My parents second favourite bete noire, university types with an untidy front-garden, three kids and a red setter called Jane that died after eating a piece of string. They'd lived in Uganda. House smelled of something I could never quite put my finger on. Unkempt hair all round.

No.5 The Barrats
My parents ultimate nightmare: hippies! Bare boards, garden completely plain and flat, lots of kids, awful old Austin 7 sitting in the drive. Funnily enough, like people do, they became leading lights on the local council and mum recently attended her funeral and denies all knowledge now of ever having been irritated by them. Moved in '73 to be replaced by Jill and Bob. He worked for Gillette and had a very noisy nervous breakdown.

No.6 The Yorks
Brummies who came to our street by way of Brighton. He had a shock of red hair. She was in love with Gilbert O'Sullivan. Their loo door was black. Years later, when we'd moved, they moved in across the street from us once again. Had a wet son who we taunted resulting one day in father slapping me round the face in the street and the police being called. When my dad went over to demand to speak to him he turned all the lights out and pretended he wasn't in. NB Was once the last person to see a colleague before she was murdered.

No.7 The Comptons
He looked like a toby jug. She was called Joan. Had two daughters who must have been a few years old than me, as they bought Gary Glitter records and we watched Top Of The Pops at their house and they'd ask me what I thought of Jimmy Osmond. My uncle would take Joan chocolates on Christmas day. I was once in a chip pan fire at their house. I can still smell it. Joan was never the same again after she burnt her hand.

No.8. The Cripps
Three kids, we'd meet at the ice cream van. Anything else I can't recall.

No.9 Christine and Terry
I never did know their surname but they were by far the youngest in the street. She was a glamorpuss with Adrienne Posta hair. He had big sideburns and drove a yellow Ford Cortina. Eventually, he left her for a woman he was having an affair with, leaving her devastated. Years later, my best friend Jonathan Murgatroyd moved into that house with his family.

No. 10
The Wheelers. Three kids, he was an alcoholic estate agent who hid bottles all over the house. I remember one kiddies party there where I called out to the magician that I'd seen him before and this was all old hat. He took me aside afterwards and gave me a major dressing down. I remember the sting of that humiliation. The Wheelers eventually divorced and he disappeared. When she and the kids moved out we watched it from the window. 'No one got divorced in my day,' said my granny, 'And if they did, they were ashamed of themselves.'

No.11 The Huffys
Worked for IBM, always extending their house. Once reputedly put LSD in the punch at someone's party. Daughter who looked like David Bowie and dressed in huge fun fur bomber jackets. One day, while playing with the two boys, I was asked if I'd like to stay for tea. Seduced by the smell of grilled bacon I readily agreed, only to find the bacon was reserved for the daughter who was due back from her paper round and we were all having banana sandwiches. I realised at that moment that life was likely to be full of disappointments. Mother appeared in a documentary in the mid-Eighties about divorce, as apparently the small town I grew up in was the divorce capital of Britain.

No.12 The Peatties
The original owners had moved out after father, whose affair with a younger co-worker resulted in her pregnancy, killed himself on the edge of the A33. So along came this family. Both children slightly older than me but we were great pals. Her mother did hairdressing from home, had married at 19, smoked for Europe and took us to Beaulieu Motor Museum on more than one occasion. Often played host to foreign language students who smelled. We used to take daring peeks at the father's not so carefully hidden knack mags. Always seemed to watching either The Sky's The Limit, David Nixon or And Mother Makes Three.

No.13 The Browns
Had a baby who was strangled in his own highchair while mother's back was turned for a split second. I don't remember this, but I do remember their older daughter who was a teenager and covered her room in flower stickers and humorous teatowels. Had a lovely extension with bare brick walls. Dad was a bank manager and gave us a lift to school, during which he chain-smoked with the windows shut. She worked for NatWest too, and years later helped me open my first bank account.

No.14 That was us.
You know enough about us.

No. 15 The Cleavers
Loved them, still do. Though mum and dad weren’t exactly super friends with them, what with them being academics and Labour voters, they were fond.  Where our mum threw dinner parties, their mum could be found mooning over art books or painting an Airfix model of the Cutty Sark, and they encouraged modern role-play games. They had two boys who we were best pals with.  I was devastated when they moved, but it was only round the corner. Mum might bump into them in the supermarket now and again.

No. 16 The Monaghans
He was an Irish hairdresser whose mother was head housekeeper at the New York Hilton. She was a blonde, northern glamourpuss. They were immensely stylish. It irks my mum when I say we copied them, but we did. They had an extension, we had an extension. They went to Colley's Supper Rooms, so did we, etc. He drove a bronze Jag. They had one daughter then another 16 years later. I was sent a clipping from the local paper featuring him retiring from his salon after 40 years. I remember going there on opening day and finding a secret door into Hepworths' stockroom.

No.17 The Fyalls
We were huge pals with their two boys, and I remember thinking why my trendy mum and dad couldn't be a bit more ordinary, especially when they had invited some other neighbours (who replaced Jill and Bob) to their firework do. The older son collected 2000ADs and was into war. We often watched Sykes at their house.

No.18. The Sears
IBM again, often watched T with their children after school. Mother thought the girl from The Kids From 47A overacted. Years later I'd babysit for their kids and let them watch Hammer House Of Horror because I was too scared to watch it on my own.

And that's that. Memorable, colourful, always something going on, but with a slight dark side.

So who would you be friend with?


  1. This is utterly priceless. I can hear Shaw Taylor's voice intoning over a photofit that "this man is extremely dangerous and must NOT be approached" while you all scream "BUT THAT'S MR YORK!"

    I would love to know what happened to poor Christine, too. I hope that Terry got his comeuppance.

    This post bears unlimited re-reading.

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  3. The Monaghans and Christine and Terry would be the neighbours of choice now.. but as a child any family with kids of a similar age.

    A few from the close were I grew up from 4 - 16 and looking left to right from my bedroom window.

    The Campbells: Dad Dave looked like Bullet Baxter (without the beard) - permanently in synthetic polo necks, mum Christine was like a glammed up Hylda Baker and walked with posture of a dancer (she had been a dancer). Kids (in order of age) Dave, several years older than me black Frizzy hair and beardy, rode a motorbike. Allergic to cats. Ron, very trendy loved Bobby Vee, made Airfix models and pinned them to the ceiling (at action-angles). Fiona, two years older than me - large-ish and had reversible trousers. We went out for six weeks - and later, was very keen to show me how show was 'developing'. Now looks like Demis Roussos (without the beard)

    The Menell-Taylors (known to most as The Menstrual Taylors): trendy teacher types. Alphonse Mucha art, wicker furniture and pot plants - he was blonde, wavy, wispy moustache and wore a university scarf. She wore black. All the time. Looked like the red head from Manhattan Transfer and is known as Lady Over The Road in my Dear Diary posts.. Would pop out of her upstairs windows calling and waving topless to Ron Campbell next door.

    The Lyons: single mum with a son just younger than me, Andrew - who we named Bonio (not sure why). A year after moving in, Mother Lyons had a Spanish Lorraine Chase-a-like lodge there. Just friends apparently

    The Reeves: Mum Carol was always in Dr Scholl's mules. Dad Stan looked permanently fretful - like an angstier Brian Moore, synthetic polo necks and cardigans were his wardrobe of choice. Daughter Andree had eyelashes like butterflies, nuts for Donny Osmond, but was deeply dreary. Son Adam was like Oliver from the musical - and generally just as irritating

    The Martins: Dad looked like Danny La Rue meets Sacha Distel. Minced like a champ and drove a brown Volvo. Mum was the spit of Kate Williams. Daughter Jane was the street's looker - we all had the hots for her. And she was mine for two weeks in 1978 *sighs*. The parents now run a pub in Billericay

    The Gordons (but known to all as The Spuds): Outsider academics with no telly. Dad David wore Harry Hill glasses and a thunderous frown with black eyebrows like slugs. Was occasionally seen beating the kids with a belt. Ham radio enthusiast. Mum was like Gimli's sister - short, plain-faced, frizzy and frazzled. Always in a quilted anorak. Eldest Dave was a rebel - apparently stabbed a boy at his grammar school. Think Graeme Garden meets Sid Snot. Ian, loved a pale tangerine nylon shirt and had the smugness of Richard Stilgoe about him. Simon, always nervous - with the voice of Python's Terry Jones. Youngest Mark was ginger and dragged through a pile of dog shit by some of us (not for being ginger obvs). Which had Mother Spud banging on our doors. She also brought some sort of milk pudding to the Jubilee street party which looked like an Angel Delight made from sick and brains… the same street party that Ron Campbell's girlfriend brought a donkey along to.

    1. HOORAH! "LOTR" makes a welcome return to my consciousness!

      But I have to admit that the concept of 'reversible trousers' is deeply troubling to me. Did you turn them back-to-front, or inside out? And WHY??

      Lovely entries from Mondo.

  4. I don't know why they were reversible - best, not to ask. Probably a 70s thing. They blue and white gingham one - turn them inside out, and behold - multi coloured troos!

  5. Love that Mondo, especially the Reeves. There was cleary something sinister going on there.

    Not only have I never owned reversible trousers, I've never heard of them either. What have I missed?