A R C H I V E
Memories:
The Prefab

IT is a telling moment when one realises that half one's life is studied by the young as that most despised of subjects, History. The process of putting the brilliantly coloured, marvellously textured, strongly perfumed world of one's own circumscribed babyhood into a political and social context is at once both revealing and depressing. Explanations and theories are given for the austerity combined with the powerful camaraderie that was the natural order of my post-war baby days. It seemed like there were millions of kids about because there were millions of kids about. These were the Baby Boom years.

          My parents, along with my Big Brother, were living in one room in the family home of my Dad's best friend, known as Little Jacky, and so they had nearly enough 'points' to warrant re-housing. When it was discovered that I was about to join the company, extra moves were made, seemingly by my kind-hearted, socially well-adapted but somewhat feckless grandfather, to urge the situation forward. 'Grand' as he was known to us, had friends in unlikely and strangely influential places who helped to get us ensconced in a highly desirable, beautifully appointed Modern Prefab on the Grange Park Estate in Layton, on the northern fringes of Blackpool.

          'Prefabs' definitely come under the heading of 'History' with a capital H. These were developed as part of the 'Temporary Housing Programme' immediately after the second world war. There was an urgent need for homes, due not only to the loss of buildings through bombing, but because soldiers were returning to wives, often with chudren1 who had lived with relatives for the duration1 but now wanted independence. The combatants had lived through life changing experiences, and returning to the world of childhood - and a lot were little more than children when they left - was constraining and irritating. In the 30s the average household was 3 adults, assuming that two generations (plus children) lived together. After the war all that changed. The Nuclear Family was on the rise.

          So the pressure was on for homes. Alongside which was the need to keep the wartime industries employed. These two requirements neatly dovetailed in the development of the Prefab. There were four different styles, but I believe ours to have been an aluminium one. Probably made by Vickers-Armstrong at Blackpool. It was the aircraft workers and technicians (with their war-time skills in dealing with aluminium) who developed and produced the pre-fabricated sections, sometimes from re-cycled war planes. Each section could be no more than 7' 6" wide, the maximum allowed for road transport. It had a very modern kitchen, with a gas fridge (pure luxury then) and an indoor toilet and bathroom. It stood in splendid isolation in the further luxury of its own garden on an estate full of similarly placed families with young children. A perfect home for the newly arrived Baby Girl, Prior.

          Like most people, my earliest memories are snap shots or a few seconds of ill-running cine film…

          Sitting underneath a row of peas on a warm sunny day trying to shell and eat them…

          Being led home by my Big Brother after falling in the Newt Pond up the Tip. I had on my Best (probably only) itchy blue woollen Coat and Bonnet. I was soaking Wet and Howling. The Tip was a piece of waste ground which was Dangerous. There were Gypsies camped at the far end of it. And I realize as I write this that when I sing Black Jack Davey I envisage it taking place in that wasteland…

          One Rainy Afternoon coming back from Shopping with Mum in Layton, carrying home some coloured printed sheets for Cutting Out, and sitting by the piping hot stove, all cosy and warm, sticking in and looking out at the rain, with 'Listen with Mother' in the background…

          When I had Mumps and my Cot was moved to beside that same Stove with the glass doors that spat and fizzed and startled me and made me Cry…

          The photo on my friend's gramophone of her Mum and Dad on their wedding day in R.A.F uniform, with an aluminium model plane on a stand…

          There was the pride at being able to jump over the 1' 6" fence that surrounded the park in front of the house. And the Park Keepers. Figures of Authority with Peaked Caps and Trolleys they sometimes let us ride in. And one of them taught us 'Michael Finnegan' and I thought that was his name, and he was Kind, and we liked him. There were others who Shouted at you if you Played Ball or Walked on the Grass…

          But mostly we played in the street on the concrete roads. I remember the smell of the huge vat of tar when they laid it. There were no cars to speak of. We knew one person who had a car, but he lived three streets away…

          The girl across the park had a bike and we all had a go on it. Someone held the back while I stood on the Peddles and could hardly reach the Handlebars…

          Dad using our bedroom as his work room. He was writing his first of many novels. Also radio plays, and later television. One time 'Grand' organised for us to have a scooter each, delivered at the R.A.F. party by Father Christmas. These were hand made by the lads in the R.A.F. and somewhat primitive. There was no rubber on them anywhere and the noise was so penetrating that after ten minutes my father leant out of the window and told us to play elsewhere…

          We were exceptional Down Our Road, because of my Dad's work we had a Tele. Nine-inch distorted screen in black and white. My Party Piece was singing 'Mexican Pete-a-The Bandit-zee-Jra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la' from 'Muffin the Mule'. The curtains were drawn on my fourth birthday party for me to blow out the candles, but all the kids forsook me to go and watch Children's Hour…

          Beginning School. Mum took me for the first day, then I went with my Big Brother. I remember playing with the Triangle and hammering Shapes into a wooden painted board…

          We made Easter baskets out of coloured paper, with sugar-coated chocolate eggs nestling in tissue paper, and a shop-bought fluffy chick tucked in…

          There was a Bell on the Teacher's Desk that you could Ding on your Birthday. But mine was in August, so I Never Got To Ding The Bell. I realized that my birthday moved along a day in the week each year, and by my reckoning I'd be something like 57 by the time I'd crept out of August. I couldn't even get the sums right…

          The coal wagon that was pulled by horse. The lorry that just had crates of R. White's Lemonade…

          The C.W.S. van that came round, which was, for some reason, called the Cworp, which I couldn't figure out. It was, of course, the Co-operative Workers' Society, shortened to the Co-op, which seemed to be one and the same with the Labour Party. I drank in the principle of All Men Are Equal with my National Health Milk. This shifted slightly in my young head to All Men Are The Same As Me, which gave me some confusion later on. My maternal Grandpa was a stalwart Co-op-and-Labour-Party-Man whose even handed fairness stays with me in my dreams as a symbol of sweet puritanism. It was for me a time of generosity to all. Meanness was frowned upon. Sweets were shared. Those less fortunate had to be supported. Those were idealistic times, and it is with regret that I feel how deeply all that has been overlaid with disappointments, selfishness, hurts and cynicisms.

          This era finally came to an end at the time the Old King Died. My best friend Marilyn had already moved and we were to follow into a brand new Three-Bedroomed Council House. I rushed home from school clutching my Easter basket, and watched them pack our few things in the enormous van. We were moving only about 3 miles away but it might as well have been to the Moon.


1998