Another country

Prefab

I wonder if anyone would be interested in a further vignette of my early life. LP Hartley famously observed that ‘the past is another country, they do things differently there’. One of the things they did differently was accommodation. Before I was four we lived in a prefabricated house (or pre-fab) in the district of Eastbourne called Hampden Park. Pre-fabs were built in great numbers after the Second World War to cope with the the loss of housing stock resulting from the bombing. I was once told that they were produced from aluminium alloy, pre-fabricated that is, in converted Spitfire factories but I cannot vouch for the truth of this. There cannot be many pre-fabs left now, I certainly haven’t seen one for years, but I understand that some of these cramped and undesirable dwellings are now ‘listed’ by English Heritage and protected.

My estate of pre-fabs had been erected in a road called Midhurst Drive. The road is still there I believe but the pre-fabs themselves have long been swept away. The background of the picture of me with my little barrow will give you an idea of their appearance. But I recall that as dwellings they were cold in the winter, warm in the summer and damp all the year round. I’m certain that they were provided with a small early-model fridge and I believe that watching my mother make rather hard ice cream was a true early memory. The estate was a long way from the shops and I also remember that a butcher’s and a green grocer’s van used to visit regularly. I was once given a free blood-orange by a generous mobile green grocer; oranges must have been in short supply during those early post-war days.

However, into every life a little rain must fall. I had one of those glass or plastic spheres containing a snow-storm scene. Sadly I broke it on the pre-fab step to see what was inside. Clearly I had a spirit of scientific curiosity at an early age. Our garden was separated from farm-land by a small stream or ditch; I distinctively remember falling into it on one occasion. Very close to the estate (it must have been close since I was only three) there were some allotments. Here I learned to love that most delicious vegetable the garden pea by stealing them from industrious gardeners on those allotments. My only other clear memory from those days was being taken for a ride in my push-chair by two ‘big girls’ and being abandoned far from home, well I suppose a couple of hundred yards from home. But that’s girls for you.

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