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Saturday, 5 May 2018

An Angry Warden and Starbucks.

Nostalgia, Nostalgia. How could I ever forget the angry warden chasing me down the street like an enraged bull? And then my mother giving me a stern telling off...

Okay, that was well over half a century ago. Sixty years ago more like it.

As one now retired and a legal pensioner, I have wondered whether there are any others of my generation or age group who looks back with an element of sentimentality at various locations which had played a major role during their younger lives. Like standing outside a primary school where they began attending more than half a century earlier, or to stand outside a house, apartment, or any other residential property they grew up in. Or is this level of sentimentality or even mawkishness reserved for us much-maligned Italians, such emotionalism virtually unknown to the average Brit, whose stoicism is meant to be world renowned?

Yes, I guess I do possess a high level of sentimentalism in line with any Italian in his right mind. So no surprise then, when earlier this week I had a spare day with no commitments to be made, when I made a trip into Central London to take a peek at two locations which played as significant role in my childhood days: My primary school in Fulham, which I was already attending sixty years earlier, and my former Pimlico home, where my young parents moved into with a two-year old son as far back as 1954. 

Our childhood home street, Pimlico.

Then I recall the children's playground within the adjoining Tachbrook Estate, long demolished to make way for modern gated apartment blocks. And with the disappearance of the old estate, the playground had long disappeared with it. What a great shame that is! I have fond memories of this playground which boasted a twelve-inch deep paddling pool, a sandpit, a concrete locomotive engine permanently fixed to the ground, and next to it a brick-built ship, and a hard-ground football or netball pitch surrounded by a high wire fence. The warden's office was tucked away behind the sandpit. The entrance into this playground from the street was through a tunnel passing through underneath a Victorian house. A gate closed the tunnel entrance for the night.

From a young boy's perspective, it was obvious for the warden to be taller than me. But looking back, he didn't seem to have been much taller than I was, therefore I estimated him to be about 5'6" 1,67 m in height. Maybe 5'8" at most. But compared to my own height as an adult, he was considerably short. And for someone, I guess in his mid forties, he often reacted with the children - not always in a positive way. I was one of the more unfortunate whom he didn't take a shine to. So when a dispute arose between us, Mum escorted me out through the tunnel. When we were both outside, I suddenly turned and closed the gate, locking it from the outside. The way his fingers clinched at the railings had a remarkable resemblance to a frustrated caged primate at a zoo.  

He shouted at me to unlock the gate. Feeling stunned by his reaction, I unlocked the gate. That was when he ran out and chased me. I believe it was Mum's presence which deterred him from any further action. Childhood memories as I wondered on the outcome had I left him there, locked in within his own playground, whilst Mum and I headed home, a mere ten-minute walk away. 

And therefore a couple of Facebook comments which appeared under the photos I took of my former home environment setting the basis of this blog.

Both these comments were from regular church-going Christians who remarked that Pimlico is such a posh area of London. The very fact that these two expressed such identical opinions seems to indicate a whiff of hypocrisy whenever I question our British, class-ridden culture. Criticising our English social class system and the Tories, like any good Socialite, whilst growing up in a very posh environment seemed to have tickled the fancy of these church-goers. However, all is not what it seems. It's very true that there is a posh look to these six-storey Victorian town houses, and it's also true that these properties were privately owned, and not under any public housing scheme. But by the 1950's these houses were divided into tenements, with each of the floors being an apartment in its own right. The rent from each tenancy was paid to an absent landlord, although ours lived just further down the road.

We lived in the basement below street level, a former servant's quarters alongside the cellars. This apartment boasted just one usable bedroom, the other bedroom long disused and literally covered in giant black cobwebs, and filled with discarded items thrown out by former tenants. There was also a tiny kitchen with an adjoining coal cellar, an underground windowless passage leading to the basement of the house next door which had the same owner, and a living/dining room which door had its own Yale lock. At the rear end of the corridor a flight of steps led up to the ground floor, and to all the other floors above whilst the corridor continued on past our one bedroom, then past the disused bedroom, then into the cellars. From the yard from which the outside steps led to the street, there was another cellar directly underneath the street, where our outside WC was located.

As for the other tenants whose rent payments went to the same landlord, directly above us, on the ground floor lived two men in a permanent gay relationship. There was also a spinster whose upright piano she allowed me to have a try on, although I never possessed a talent for musical instruments. Then there was another spinster who lived with her elderly mother. Then not to forget this apparently insane female living in the basement next door, whose intermittent screams were loud enough to penetrate the rather thick walls. In turn, there was also a family with two boys, both somewhat older than me, whose toys and games they had made me gasp with astonishment (although why I had never met and related to those boys remains a mystery.) After all, my parents had always reminded each other to budget carefully. 

From the former Resident's Garden, taken May, 2018.

Posh? Maybe so, maybe not. But as long as I can remember, I never saw myself as a victim of poverty or suffering from any form of deprivation. Rather, I was quite happy there. Never mind that by the age of eleven years of age, I was still sleeping in the same bedroom as my parents and younger brother, I felt no regrets. Rather, I was rather fond of the environment.

And that was especially the disused bedroom. Regardless of the cobwebs, there was an old Singer sewing machine table, complete with foot pedal and flywheel. The times I spent in trying to spin the flywheel as fast as I could just by rocking the pedal to and fro I always find intriguing. And to find a fully working record player among the discarded junk.* And the banister along the stairs leading to the ground floor - I used it to sit upon to slide backwards. And I could I forget the pair of roller skates my parents bought for me one Christmas. I spent quite a bit of time skating up and down the street as well as on the disused tennis court ground within the central resident's garden. Indeed, with all my schoolmates scattered across Westminster and Fulham, our home provided a good source of activity for this curious child who did not seem to mind being mostly by himself.

Indeed, there was something I liked about the place, creepy as it seems at times. After all, with a child's imagination, I would never know what kind of creature could be lurking among all that junk. But the modern two-bedroom home in Bracknell we all moved to in 1963 could never hold a candle to the basement life in London, but at least my parents can have some bedroom privacy at last!

And so where do I stand in regard to current affairs? Do these two who commented on my photos see me as a stout Socialist, a devotee of Karl Marx, the doing away with class culture and as someone who wishes for our country to turn Republic? Although my late father did lean favourably towards such ideas, for me, I have never been either a staunch Socialist or Capitalist, but I do, and always have done, favour capitalism over the other. In practice, by being self-employed for 35 years as a domestic window cleaner, in a way I did practice capitalism. After all, it was I who first invested in equipment, then set the prices, made agreements and contracts with my clientele, and worked to provide a useful service to satisfy the customer and make a profit without any State interference other than to pay my share of taxes. There were good times and lean times. The good times was when I made enough profit to pack everything away and set off to the airport.

I believe that it is right to own property, to invest and make a profit. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But never at the expense of the customer or consumer. For example, it is good for a business such as Starbucks to make a profit whilst serving the customer to his satisfaction of a good coffee and pleasant social environment. I prefer Starbucks to remain in the black, so that I can continue to buy from the business. Likewise I prefer a superstore chain such as Sainsburys to make a profit than suffer a loss. After all, I rely on the business to buy groceries and other daily essentials. There is nothing wrong with a private company such as Sainsburys or Starbucks to make a profit, for my daily and weekly routines depend on it. Therefore capitalism, when properly administered, must be okay after all.

But as I see it, it the abuse of capitalism which irritates me. That is excessive greed. For example, bank branches closing down, one after another, while City bank bosses amass vast bonuses. And many a customer, including myself who is not into Online Banking, must suffer the closure of the town centre bank branch which was used by the customer for decades. Or in a case of a major department store closing down because of loss and owing of debt while at the same time the company directors pocket bonuses and a healthy pension. And at the cost of depriving the staff of their jobs and the customer losing out of an essential service. It is cases like these which temps me to think more favourably towards Socialism.

As for social class, one very striking example of very annoying class preference is the ongoing McCann case, when their three year old daughter Madeleine disappeared from a Portuguese hotel bedroom in May, 2007 whilst the parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, were eating out. Both parents are doctors, affluent and middle class. Therefore the Police still feels fit to continue with the investigation, eleven years after the incident, with up to another £154,000 of taxpayer's money allocated to the investigation, which is an addition to the £11,000,000 spent in searching for the little girl. Little wonder that Gerry and Kate had suffered vitriol over the years, as we plebs cannot understand the vast resources used to find their missing daughter while over the time, there has been many more children from more "ordinary" people going missing, but we don't hear a single quip about them. And I can rest my case that, had Gerry been a labourer who is married to a housewife, then they would have been totally forgotten ages ago.

Madeleine McCann, at the time she disappeared in 2007.

Sure, just as I spun the flywheel of the Singer sewing machine as fast as I could, so our Englishness continue to spin the wheel of our class-ridden culture as fast as it could. And believe me, churches are affected by this ongoing rotation, to the extent that our churches can be defined as "The Tory Party on its Knees". Surely, God must be proud of that.

*For my blog touching on this, click here.

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