Wednesday, 20 February 2013

I have dreams of summer skies

I've just heard that Kevin Ayers has died. When I was about 16, I had a mate called Ken Woolley. He lived with his mum and dad and sister on the Park Springs estate over the by-pass from the Middlefield Lane estate. When I first went round to Ken's house, his elder sister, Wendy, was there playing Kevin Ayers' album, Shooting at the Moon, which I immediately loved. It quickly became (along with its predecessor Joy of a Toy) a favourite sound of mine as I kicked around the estate as a slightly aimless school leaver over that very hot summer of 1976. This is one of my favourite songs from the album, Red Green and You Blue, with a lovely soprano sax solo from Lol Coxhill, and Kevin's typically, er, 'relaxed' croon. R.I.P Bananamour.

The Phosco P107

I'm re-posting this photo from my last missive not because I'm about to resume my commentary about neo-liberal land-grabbing/social engineering 'interest groups' masquerading as concerned architects and planners, but because I found out last week from a very reliable source that the streetlamp you see here is a Phosco P107. I've often wondered where these came from and now I know. It's very heartening in these harshly corporate times to realise that there are people out there who are simply interested in identifying and recording historical types of streetlighting, just as it is to find out that the company responsible for making this lamp, CU Phosco Ltd, are still going strong and making external lighting of all kinds in Hertfordshire. 

The lamp you see here is more or less original, and is one of several that are still dotted around the estate: 

In his excellent book, The Child in the City (1990), the always perceptive Colin Ward stated that the “vivid sensory experience commonplace among children is an aspect of the world that the adult has lost”. When I was a child on the estate back in the 1960s, the visual impact of these fabulous space-age lamps on my developing social and cultural consciousness was enormous. They were like something out of Fireball XL5 while also managing to be good blocking posts for a game of Blocko, and I can see now how they played their own small but important part in the social and cultural fabric of that very new council estate environment.

But they are in danger of disappearing. I was on The Green a couple of weeks ago, on a cold, grey February morning, and saw that a new streetlight had sprung up in unnervingly close quarters to the old one, like some fit, lean, but arrogantly opportunist weed:

I don't want to prolong the organic/plant metaphors here but but it does look as if the original lamp is dying, rotting at its roots, and that it will be removed sometime soon to make way for the new growth. I've just been finishing off an article about George Shaw and his paintings of the Tile Hill council estate in Coventry, and while I was looking at this photo and thinking about its implication for the history and fabric of the Middlefield Lane estate, I was reminded of one of his typically lyrical and enticing statements about his work, which serves very nicely as a final comment on both the subject of this post, and the nature of my childhood estate as it changes before my very eyes:

"THERE IS NO NEW WORK. It is the old work rotting and I can't recognise it anymore. It is departing slowly from me. The things that made me are in themselves becoming unmade. Memory becomes as unreliable as forgetting … [my] ... amnesia forces me to live in the today ..." (George Shaw, statement for the Woodsman exhibition, The Wilkinson Gallery London, 2009)