Friday, 28 November 2014

Form, Function, and Society























Last week, I was able to resume my periodic/sporadic trawl through old issues of the Gainsborough Evening News, looking for references to the Middlefield Lane estate. In the edition for Tuesday 26 May 1965, I found a short article on the installation of the estate's communal television aerial. I wrote about this aerial way back in March 2012 in a post called Open Channel D (written in fond remembrance of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). At that time, I reckoned that the aerial was a typical example of postwar, modern, municipal benevolence which would allow the residents to relax in front of the TV without having to splash out on having their own aerial fitted to their chimney. 

The newspaper article began by celebrating what it referred to as 'A new amenity for Middlefield Lane': a 'communal aerial' which was 'installed to serve the entire estate'. Then it went on to quote the County Surveyor, one 'A.B. Whittingham', who opined in a somewhat high-handed manner that "The new aerial scheme ... removes the need for individual aerials. This will give a tidier look to the estate".

This made me think of the fantastic opening titles to the 1966 Francois Truffaut film, Fahrenheit 451 (highly innovative at this time because a dead-pan voice efficiently recites the film's credits over the abstracted appearance of various TV aerials). It gives us some idea of the clutter of wires and poles that Whittingham was obviously trying to discourage on our new estates (Fahrenheit 451 was shot on the famous Alton East estate at Roehampton). But why would Whittingham feel this way? Was it because he was a Modernist planner maintaining an aesthetic desire to keep the architectural lines of the still-new Middlefield Lane estate uniform and free of extraneous matter? Was he some kind of Leavis-ite, surreptitiously hoping to suppress the vulgarising influence of the Telly? Or was he somehow relating to national concerns about the degraded look of our streets as these aerials were beginning to proliferate on the top of people's homes?




I'm not entirely sure what the answers to those questions are, but what I do know is that, by the park where I played as a kid, the estate's 'communal aerial' was in fact a 60 foot-high mast, and it was a futuristic thing of wonder to me back then. We certainly relied upon that communal aerial until about 1974 when we finally got our own aerial fitted, along with the (hire-) purchase of our first colour TV. And I also know that the mast is long gone - removed over thirty years ago now. 

But this is where it used to be. Here, where our recent past - of 'council estates', 'communal' TV aerials, and of not quite so paternalistic planners - has miraculously left a faint trace of itself in the form of a circular mark. So Modern, yet also so strange, so very ancient:


Thursday, 13 November 2014

A 'new' era ...



The New Era estate, Hoxton 





















12 November was Housing Day, a day that was intended to celebrate the positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK. However, the venal Policy Exchange think-tank, with their usual posh-boy, fuck everyone but themselves and their chums, arrogance, shamefully attempted to scupper this celebration by publishing a report entitled 'Freeing Housing Associations: Better financing, more homes' on that very same day. 

At a time when, for instance, families on the New Era estate in Hoxton, London are facing enormous rent hikes and possible eviction after Britain's richest (Tory) MP, Richard Benyon, bought the estate and announced plans to charge “market rents", we need to vigorously challenge the kind of egregious claptrap produced by the likes of Policy Exchange. 

I'll leave it to Colin Wiles, of the excellent, crusading 'SHOUT - The Campaign for Social Housing' to comment on this which is taken from SHOUT"s Facebook site: 

'Housing Day on 12 November was tainted by a report from Policy Exchange which purports to give housing associations the "freedom" to unlock themselves from government debt, to set their own rents and to choose the tenants they want. Policy Exchange is, of course, the government's favoured think tank and many of their past policy proposals have been taken up by the coalition government. But this is a step too far and should be resisted by all those who believe in social housing as the bedrock of a civilised society. The term "Free Housing Associations" is a clever use of words that disguises the real intent of the free marketeers at Policy Exchange, which is to oversee a massive privatisation of public assets. The lesson of the New Era estate is that the market cannot and will not provide for the people at the bottom of the ladder. No doubt there are many well-paid chief executives in the housing association sector who would relish the prospect of a commercial world free from regulatory interference, and it is disappointing to see senior figures in the sector welcoming this report. But if they think that they could survive for long in the cutthroat world of commercial property I am afraid they are deluding themselves. 

The overriding message of the Policy Exchange report appears to be that housing associations could double their output of homes if only they were set free from regulation. But it is not regulation that is hampering housing supply, but lack of government investment, and the policy Exchange report is nothing but a cynical ploy to conceal the fact that the housing investment budget was cut by 60 percent in 2010. A key theme of the report is that regulation is overwhelmingly a bad thing, yet it provides security for tenants and stability for lenders and it has created a sector that is a relative success story. Housing associations only exist in their present from because the British taxpayer has supported them for decades past. Their assets should remain under public control and should not be sold off to the private sector.'

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Both Sides Now

Recently, I've been working my way through DVDs of the marvellous Mad Men series. Mad Men is set in the 1960s, at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City. Apart from its focus on the everyday successes and failures of the agency itself, the series beautifully and subtly refracts the personal lives of its characters, in a most Updike-esque manner, through the troubled and increasingly melancholic lens of 'The Sixties'. For me, one of the most affecting scenes comes at the end of series (I can't quite bring myself to say 'season') six when the central character, Don Draper, a highly successful advertising creative whose life is as much a fabrication as the ads he produces, takes his children out to what one of them nervously describes as 'a bad neighbourhood'. Don nevertheless gets them out of the car and they walk up to a dilapidated nineteenth century clapperboard house that is surrounded by postwar public housing 'projects'. The house used to be a brothel where Don was kept as an orphaned child, and as the wind whips leaves and rubbish around their feet, he simply turns to his children and says "This is where I grew up." 
















The episode is set in late 1968, and as Don's thirteen year old daughter looks up at her father with a face full of both enlightenment and disgust, Judy Collins' version of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now' starts to play over the scene. Overlaying a fictional, historical, melancholic moment with a piece of popular music from the time is an easy device for pulling on the heartstrings and, in this case, I fall for it every time because it has everything: wistful '60s folk-pop playing out a virtually unspoken but beautifully visualised meditation on place and memory, and of a moment where past, present, and future seem to coalesce.


  














I've also been re-reading bits of Lynsey Hanley's 2007 book, Estates, An Intimate History (Granta) - one of really only two books in existence (the other is Alison Ravetz's 2001 Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experimentthat fully attempt to explore the wider social and cultural ramifications of the council estate in Britain today. 





















Estates is a trenchant, if somewhat journalistic, attempt by Hanley to combine personal memories of living on a late-1960s/early-1970s estate in Birmingham with an historical account of public housing policies and architecture. But what came across more forcefully than ever on dipping back into this book is her sheer hatred of the place where she grew up. Like Don Draper's son, she thinks that it is a 'bad neighbourhood'. The first, short, sentence of Estates - 'We lived in Area 4.' - bluntly sets the tone, immediately conjuring up an image of being trapped in a dystopian, once upon a time in the English Midlands THX1138-like hell, and of 'inhuman' Modernist planners stamping their functionalist mark on 'ordinary people'. The residents of this estate would certainly be aware of those numbered areas, and of which 'area' they lived in, but more probably they would have referred to the streets where they lived by their actual names (in the case of this estate, Alder Drive, Walnut Close, Birch Croft, and so on). But you would never know this from Hanley's book. 

The estate itself is referred to throughout as 'The Wood', in a deliberate attempt, it seems to me, to give it a pejoratively gangsta-ish, "typical council estate eh?" spin. Its proper name is Chelmsley Wood but, again, Estates never once affords the estate this privilege (the pop group Broadcast however were not afraid of doing so in their song Michael A Grammar: "Michael. Michael, Michael. Wake up, we're going back to Chelmsley Wood"). This post is not meant to be a review of Hanley's book as such, nor is it meant to be an historical assessment of the Chelmsley Wood estate itself (built on the site of an ancient woodland called Chelemundesheia, hence the tree-derived place names), but I really did find it odd, to say the least, that Hanley is content to carry out her own de-personalisation of the estate where she grew up while arguing that so many people's lives were apparently blighted by the supposedly impersonal and dehumanising consequences of postwar housing and planning. But then she also feels - sincerely I'm sure - that the estate repressed her own social and cultural development as a teenager, and she frequently evokes this feeling through a filter of descriptive disdain and mild horror (as well as a line from a song by Bill Callaghan/Smog): ‘seeing the estate [today] … induces too many of the old feelings – “the type of memories that turn your bones to glass” ... a cold, grey outpost, full of houses but devoid of people’.  

I don't doubt that many people would feel exactly the same about the Middlefield Lane estate, especially after looking at this photo:


Photograph courtesy of the Gainsborough Heritage Association



















It's pretty unavoidable: a monochrome scene of a monchrome day on a monochrome council estate. A black dog is loose, that patch of grass is as bleak as ever. When I look at the boy hiding away from the camera's gaze with that graffitied wall behind him it always somehow reminds me of a photo from around the same time as this one (early 1970s?) of a kid hiding alongside a wall in Belfast with a British soldier crouching behind him. I also look at this view and wonder a little where all those 340 trees for which the council paid £510 back in May 1965 were actually planted. Nevertheless, I still cherish this view as yet another precious window into my memories of the estate, and I suppose I'm lucky that, unlike Lynsey Hanley, those memories have never turned my bones into glass (but then I much prefer Joni's late 60s/early 70s Laurel Canyon musings over Bill Callaghan's millennial, miserablist Americana). And we've all come a long way from all of these places in any case. The place where 'Don Draper' grew up left him with no other choice but to create a completely new identity for himself. Lynsey Hanley is a successful journalist so Chelmsley Wood couldn't have done her that much harm. And me? Well, I guess that growing up on an estate like Middlefield didn't do me much harm either, although my social circumstances at that time perhaps held me back to the extent that I didn't manage to get where I am now (a middle-class, moderately successful academic in a good university) until I was well into my forties. Even now though, years after I left the estate, I'm not sure that I should be here at all. Joni/Judy had it right: something's lost and something's gained in living life that way.  But Middlefield is still where I grew up.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

52/36





















Occasionally, this blog strays into mentioning one or two musical references that largely relate to my childhood and teenage memories of living on the Middlefield Lane estate. These oscillate wildly from Cilla Black to Kevin Ayers or Roxy Music via The Carpenters. Earlier this month, Frances Castle, the creative supremo of Clay Pipe Music, kindly sent me a copy of Clay Pipe’s new release - an album by Jon Brooks called ‘52’ - to write about here. So this post represents a little detour from the blog’s usual business in the form of an album review, but it also gives me a nice chance to reflect a bit on the sound/sonic aspects of memory and sense of place. 

Brooks tends to work under the musical guise of The Advisory Circle. Wikipedia straightfacedly describes The Advisory Circle’s genre of music as:            

Ambient
Library Music
Musique Concrete
Hauntology

Which is about right really, especially when you consider that The Advisory Circle’s albums have all been released on the Ghost Box label. Ghost Box is perhaps the centre-pin for a number of recent British creative projects that are concerned with cultivating an experimental, evocative and enigmatic audio-visual identity based largely on an obsession with the culture of post World War Two Britain.

 



















According to the writer Simon Reynolds, Ghost Box is obsessed with ‘the optimistic, forward-looking, benignly bureaucratic Britain of new towns, comprehensive schools and polytechnics’. The music of Ghost Box however tends to dip into the sonic influences of the postwar period – e.g. the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Music for Schools, archived local news reports from Southern TV – and refracts them through a slightly wonky and ultimately more haunted and pessimistic twenty-first century prism. Brooks summed all this up very nicely when he described his music as an evocation of a time when everything was fine, but not quite right.

‘52’ consists of 14 electronic pieces that are inspired by Brooks’s memories of his Grandmothers' house and garden where he lived as a child – and therefore of a time when your surroundings always appeared fresh and exciting, but with elements - locked doors, cold corners of a room, an old photograph of people you don't know - that had the potential to be unsettling. The snippets of found or half-remembered conversations and feelings that accompany 52 set the tone:

‘The pencil sharpener, the cuckoo clock, everything in its place. The way the dust fell in the late afternoon sun. I wouldn’t leave.’

Correspondingly, the music on the album is beautifully poised and minimal but also sometimes quite unnerving: the final track, ‘End of the corridor’, is reflective of every place you never liked being in when you were a child. As a consequence, there’s nothing overly programmatic, idyllic or predictable about 52. The found sounds, especially of ticking clocks and birdsong, are perhaps to be expected in this particular sonic world of house and garden, but they appear infrequently and obliquely, and often get mangled up behind a set of tones and drones in a way that is suggestive of Eno’s most psycho-geographic ambient work, On Land. Nicer still, pieces like ‘Lichen’ are, to my ears, more reminiscent of the earlier work Eno did with the German band Harmonia in 1976. The really interesting aspect to 52 though is that it circumvents the more idealistic childhood trope of the summer holidays – this is darker stuff, fitting perhaps of a childhood lived within an old person’s world. It also particularly reminds me of those strange but oddly special days when you were ill and at home off school: those out-of-sorts days when you were at home but not at home because you really shouldn't have been there, and because the time went by so slowly and your illness was giving you a heightened (or suppressed) sense of atmosphere and of being.

I’m imagining that the title of the album refers to the number of the house where Jon Brooks lived with his grandmother. The sleeve notes refer to Leafield which I’m guessing was the Oxfordshire village where the house was. House numbers were possibly not the norm in an Oxfordshire village. Was his grandmother’s house one of a small development of possibly postwar, usually early 1950s, council houses that tend to be found on the edges of English villages? Probably not, but it’s a nice thought. There’s not been many sonic champions for the postwar council estate – the nearest, and most sustained example must be Darren Hayman’s 2009 album ‘Pram Town’, a concept album about Harlow New Town – but these tend to be song based and usually written with a punk-rock revulsion towards these estates as places that should only be escaped from. One beauty of the estate where I lived as a kid was that it was on the very edge of the town, and looked out to open countryside. What would a more experimental, abstract evocation of my 1960s council estate sound like? I have a few ideas but, in the meantime, 52 will do for now because its soundscape transported me home again, back to 36, my council house, during one of those days when I was ill off school. And yes, clocks ticked slowly, Radio 2 wavered in and out from a tinny battery transistor radio in the kitchen, sparrows chirped and – being in Lincolnshire during the 1960s and 70s – the occasional Vulcan bomber flew ominously overhead.

52 will be released on 13 October. As usual with all Clay Pipe’s releases, it will be beautifully illustrated and packaged by Frances Castle, this time as a limited edition of 500 vinyl copies from here - so get your skates on. Until then, here’s one track, plus some lovely animation (look out for that aeroplane!) by Frances to whet your appetite:


Sunday, 7 September 2014

By South Parade, early 1970s







































'Sometimes the dreams do not even come out of memories of the past but appear to project themselves into events that are yet to come.'

(From Edward Storey, A Right to Song, 1982)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer on the estate - a daytime Moon.






































I love seeing the Moon in the daytime. It makes it seem stranger and more fantastic than what it already is. Generally, it's a night-time object, it belongs to the night, in the dark. So when it's there in bright blue sky, it is incongruous and hauntingly mysterious, it hangs there like an unknown spectral body that has just appeared and no-one can explain what it is, or why it's there. When I saw it there while wandering idly across the outlying fields of my council estate childhood, I was immediately transported back to July 20 1969 when I sat in the living room of one of these houses (just out of shot here behind the bush to the right), in front of the TV watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Like most kids at this time (I turned nine a week before the landing) I was obsessed with space. One of my favourite books was The Ladybird Book of the Night Sky.


It was not so much the information this book gave me, even though it taught me for life the names and positions of the stars and constellations at any given time in the year, it was the illustrations by my favourite Ladybird Book artist, Robert Ayton.

These books were ubiquitous in the childhood lives of many of us who were born in the 1950s or 60s, and there's a great post by John Grindrod on his blog Dirty Modern Scoundrel here about how Ladybird Books in particular depicted postwar society, building and reconstruction in a breezy and optimistic but also direct and purposeful manner. 

























Illustrations such as this one (again by Ayton) from The Story of Houses and Homes (1963) quite rightly attract a lot of fond and, I'm sure, heartfelt nostalgic attention in this retrofitted age, but to me now they represent much more than that. The nostalgia I feel for these books, the world it depicts and, indeed, my 1960s childhood and the council estate where I spent that childhood, is not soppy or maudlin. It is also a nostalgia for clarity, truth and objectivity, qualities that are as distant as that Moon is today, in a world that now dissembles and flatters to deceive in an increasingly meaningless manner. I look back at this once new and progressive world - of high-rise flats, brand-new council estates, and of space, and the Moon landings - with a fond and wistful nostalgia, but it is also a nostalgia with critique, a nostalgia that can be used with real intent and purpose in these shallow and unravelling days. 
 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

When the Nolans were God


My last post was inspired by a wonderful set of colour photos that recorded the day in 1965 when Pat Phoenix (a.k.a. Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street) came to the Middlefield Lane estate to officially open the Precinct shops there. Since then, the Gainsborough Heritage Association has unearthed another superb photo of the Precinct, which they’ve kindly allowed me to reproduce here:


I’m not certain of this photo’s date although it was probably taken mid to late 1970s. Our attention today is probably first drawn to the scabby square of grass in the foreground, the bald patches of which almost immediately label this scene as that of a ‘typical council estate’, dragging up all the pejorative stuff that continues to flow from our increasingly manipulated prejudice against any aspect of the welfare state. But for me this scene is fringed with joy. It is taken from the end of a little cut-through which led out onto The Precinct as a whole. The white fence on the left marked the end of the back yards attached to the South Parade block of flats. In fact I can certainly date this photo to being taken before 1979 because that year is when The Nolans had their first top 20 hit, and sometime after that – most probably after 1980 when they had their biggest hit, ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ – some wag on the estate sprayed ‘The Nolans are God’ on one of those white panels.

The state of the grass is a puzzle because the bald patches don’t correlate with any particular everyday activity that I can recall – there isn’t, as you might expect, a path worn diagonally across the grass leading to the shops, nor is there a particularly distinctive patch that might have been made by a makeshift goal area. In fact, I don’t remember kids playing here at all – this patch of grass was rather dingy and always too small and too tucked away to do anything useful on. I suppose what I’m trying to say here from the start is that this might well appear to be symptomatic of the council estate stereotype – a rough place, abused – but it is perhaps due to little other than bad drainage and a lack of sunshine, possibly even poor landscaping work from when it was originally done. Any estate – public or private – must have one corner that the planners don’t quite know what to do with for the best. 

Look beyond the grass however, and there is The Precinct in all its glory – a typical early 60s Modernist complex of shops, maisonettes, and pedestrianised landscaping – pictured here a decade or so after it was first completed. There’s the ‘Washeteria’ where we used to try and hang out when it was raining, playing a form of ‘Twister’ on the black and white tiles in there, before we were inevitably thrown out by the manager. Then comes ‘Deakins’, the newsagents. Another celebrity connection with The Precinct for the TV nerd amongst us here is that Mr and Mrs Deakin who ran the shop have a daughter – the actress Julia Deakin, known mostly for her role as the permanently sozzled landlady Marsha in Simon Pegg’s cult TV classic ‘Spaced’. For me, Deakins was my regular haunt for buying the Beezer, the Beano and, best of all, TV21, the Gerry Anderson comic offshoot which was my gateway to the future throughout the 60s. About the time this photo was taken, I'd be going to Deakins to buy ‘Sounds’, the now defunct music paper. A few years later, in my late 70s/early 80s post-punk days, I used to get the once brilliant but now nearly defunct itself because it’s rubbish these days NME.

After Deakins came the ‘mini-market’ that took up the two centre units (a ‘Vivo’ when The Precinct first opened, and a Spar much later in the 90s – but I can’t quite tell from this photo whether it was still a Vivo when it was taken), ‘Glanco’ the fruit and veg shop next to that and, finally, the Parkhill Off-Licence referred to the previous post here (although what I failed to mention then was the fact that the owner of this shop came from Sheffield and he named it after the now-iconic Park Hill flats of his home town – a neat, synchronous instance of the post-war modernist zeitgeist).

The Precinct was a typical example of the neighbourhood centre concept that was so dear to post-war planners – a coherently designed and planned amenity placed centrally in the estate amongst open, pedestrianised spaces with the intention to bring a new community together.



At this time the shops were busy and well used. 


People did sit on those benches, blokes did pop to the off-licence for twenty Players on their bikes, and kids in shorts and ankle socks did play in the central square. We bombed up and down the ramps there on our bikes and, late 70s onward, on our skateboards. In those days the ramps seemed to be there not out of a present concern for disability access (although this might have been a factor given that the ground floor flats you can just see to the left and right of the shops were designated for elderly residents) but because ‘ramps’ were the future weren't they? Or at least the nearest I was ever going to get to a TV21-style future with the overhead transparent tube walkways and moving pavements that I always imagined we’d have by 2014.  

It is a bitter irony for me therefore that an environment which once seemed to be the embodiment of a projected twenty-first century (albeit one based on Stingray and Thunderbirds) was doomed within the first year of the new millennium. A meeting of the West Lindsey District Council Planning Services Committee on Wednesday, 18th October 2000 granted consent to demolish The Precinct. The minutes of that meeting noted that five of the six shop units were vacant, and only one of the maisonnettes was still occupied.  The Precinct was in serious decline because of a ‘a long history of low demand’ and  ‘serious vandalism’. By then, this was also the story for the estate as a whole. The background to the deterioration of the Middlefield Lane estate reflects that of Gainsborough itself – in the early 1980s the town’s big industries closed with mass redundancies which resulted in a marked social and economic decline. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, WLDC increasingly concentrated ‘problem’ individuals and families in the flats here and across the estate in general. As a consequence, the original fabric and environment of the estate began to deteriorate. Many of the original tenants slowly moved away; those who remained tended to be elderly. Houses and flats were left empty, some were used as ‘emergency’ housing for those deinstitutionalised after the implementation of 'care in the community' schemes, others were squatted and/or trashed. 

In 2005, forty years after it was completed to such a star-studded fanfare, The Precinct and much of its wider complex of flats was demolished. It used to sit across the space beyond the two rows of houses you can see below, running more or less along the line of the orange fence behind the van in the near-centre, and looking back down onto the green in the foreground. But now all that's left in its stead is a disjointed, unplanned gap, a ghost roofline of the old block of shops and a few new bungalows that are part of an 'affordable' mortgage 'shared ownership' scheme. 



Tuesday, 10 June 2014

When Elsie Tanner came to the Middlefield Estate

On Saturday 27th of March 1965, the actress Pat Phoenix (a.k.a. Coronation Street's 'Elsie Tanner') visited the Middlefield Lane estate to officially open 'The Precinct', the estate's new block of shops. I was there, though I only vaguely remember being on my Dad's shoulders on the edge of a big crowd, and half recall seeing Pat walking into one of the shops there, the Parkhill off-licence. I'm actually not sure if she ever came out again. But now, thanks to some fantastic photographs in the collection of the Gainsborough Heritage Association, which they've kindly let me reproduce here, we have a wonderfully evocative visual record of that day, and of the fact that she did eventually emerge from the offy after all. 

The Precinct looked like this back then - to my mind a pretty bold piece of provincial modernism by local architect, Neil Taylor:













'Parkhills', as we knew it, took up the last shop unit on the row, complete with its cool concrete and picture glass display window embedded in the end wall. And here is Pat in glorious Kodacolor just seen above the crowd as she entered into the shop:
























This photo brings back so many personal memories of the shop itself. The black and white signage with its mixture of slab serif and modernist fonts was a graphic feature of my childhood and youth, and of a shop that was a sparkling, effervescent, pleasure house of Sixties abundance: Whiskies, Advocaat and Babycham, Hamlet cigars, Tartan bitter, boxes of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk miniatures, giant bags of Glacier Fruits. I would go there as a kid to buy 10 Park Drive Plain with the money wrapped up in a note from my Mum. If the camera had moved to the right a bit, we would also be able to see a clock that advertised Guinness with an image of the famous Guinness toucan and the slogan, 'It's time for a Guinness'.

Just above the shop, you can see part of a balcony that belonged to one of the maisonette flats there, and here's Pat again, appearing to the crowd on that very balcony like a Northern Sophia Loren, 'charming the crowd', as the Gainsborough Evening News put it a few days later, in a 'brown suede duster coat trimmed with fur collar and cuffs':
























I'm also excited by this photo because it shows the Precinct in a still unfinished state. The maisonette next door is yet to be occupied. Imagine what a fabulously new, up-to-date way of life this home would have presented to one of Gainsborough's working-class inhabitants, with its glass front and a balcony that commanded a view across the rest of the estate and the open countryside beyond. The front of the shop unit next door to Parkhills (which was to become Philip Clark's TV and Radio rental shop) is also yet to be properly fitted out. 

All the promise of these postwar years is encapsulated in this photo. Securing the appearance of perhaps the most famous British TV star of the period is a measure of the importance and pride that the Gainsborough Urban District Council had for this still-very new estate back then - and of what still holds for me to be a perfect social and cultural state, finely balanced between a modern, consumer society and sound, forward-looking, social and communal planning by the local authority. 

At the end of Pat's visit to the Middlefield estate, according to the news report, she had 'a quick sip of champagne', and then a 'waiting car' slowly 'edged' her 'through the throng and away to lunch at the Gainsborough Old Hall.' The off-licence's manager laconically reckoned that 'It all went off very well considering there was nothing in the shop at all up to Wednesday' while, in a final speech after the civic lunch, 'Miss Phoenix thanked Mr and Mrs R.L. Cobb for the excellent catering.' What a strange, transitional, yet fundamentally sociable and optimistic world it was. 








Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Reverie 4: No golfing allowed

Here's a couple of photos that Steve Pool took of the estate. Playing (and, presumably, the reverie, the losing of one's self that can happen during play) persists on Middlefield Lane against all odds. Here's the first which still seems to sum up so many childhoods past and present: 


























And there's this, of a sign by a park on Aisby Walk, and which, I'm sorry to say, speaks volumes about the kind of society we currently live in. Where do you begin? Fixed penalty notices? Keeping the site 'in good condition'? That the estate is troubled by golfers?




















This reminds me of what the artist, George Grosz, called his autobiography: A little Yes and a big No. Yes, you can make your own world but no, you won't. Not any more, but back in the day, in 1975, on this estate, me and my friends were making our own world. Indeed, the estate back then enabled us to do it. Here we are on that very playing field, feather-cuts, sta-prest trousers and all: Pete Needham, me, James Threakall and Mark Hemsall ... playing golf.