Nothing like a well-tried alliterative formula for a prompt, lots of people do this one. Went and looked out the old photo albums my wonderful nieces put together for my mum in her old age, and pulled out a couple of faded instamatic snaps. Scanning them was less straightforward; I use the PC less and less (Chromebook for me, a betwixt and between kind of technology), never really got very au fait with Windows 10 and don't keep up with all the changes, now there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a control panel, I finally found something called fax and scan somewhere I've forgotten where and probably won't be able to do so again. Why do they have to keep changing things? Like bloody google doing away with Picasa web albums, so now I'm obliged to upload photos to google plus and again I can never remember what I've done from one time to the next, and I really don't want to be involved with google plus but they manoeuvre you into it anyway... blah blah blah moan moan moan.
Anyway. This is I, aged about four, just along from where we lived. I can remember that blue checked frock, and the nylon ruffled lace collar, which my mum made, as she did most of my dresses when I was small, but not the cardigan, as she wasn't a knitter. I think my sister-in-law sometimes knitted me things (my brother was married before I was a year old, my sister-in-law still knits).
The expression of slightly sceptical, ironic truculence is one which comes up again and again in photos of me at all ages, so I suppose it must be my face.
Behind me lie Riverside Gardens. We lived in Gossoms End, in a 17th century cottage set back from a horrendously busy main road - the notorious, pet-killing A41, but round the back was a close of very recently built beige-brick flats, Riverside Gardens.
'Can Janet and I go to Riverside Gardens, to ride our bikes/ catch butterflies on the butterfly bush/ build a camp/ look for Smoky the cat/stroke Cindy the Beagle?'
Riverside Gardens was where the cobbler's son next door and I - whom I wasn't really supposed to play with at all since he first made me eat baths salts and then instigated the episode of playing with creosote in Mr S's shed* - formed the headquarters of the Animal Lost Club; we never found any lost animals other than snails, who were disappointingly reluctant to stay in the refuge we made them. It was also where G, the Only Black Boy in the School, lived; a silent, clearly somewhat troubled, fostered child, who one day when he perceived me walking behind him, turned around and without a word or any expression, twisted my arm behind my back to the point of real pain, then walked on. I didn't cry or scream, simply asked him why, but he didn't answer.
Opposite where I am standing in the photo was the rec. After my rather sententious grumbling about why people don't use public parks and spaces, I was led to recall the rec. It was really rather a horrible, unsafe space; we went there for the swings and big slide and see saw and all the other lethal and now banned examples of children's outdoor play equipment, and for the conkers, but it was fraught with broken glass and vandalism and bullying older children.
This all sounds as though I grew up in a very rough and nasty place, I didn't, we lived in a lovely and picturesque cottage in a very prosperous small home counties town, albeit in a rather rougher end of it. I do have a habit of remembering the bad bits.
With the wonders of google maps and street view, I checked out the area now, in many ways it's surprisingly unchanged; here is a near as I can get to the same spot last year.
Over the road though, things have changed quite a lot; the rec is no more but is the site of a sports centre, the old 1930s council houses where the very poor families lived, and the strange mock-Tudor pre-fabs with their flowery gardens from a pre-war Ideal Home Exhibition where the elderly couples lived, have all gone, replaced with a very nice low-rise housing development with pedestrianised street and little squares, and most importantly, there is now a bypass and the A41 is a relatively quiet street which has changed the atmosphere of the whole town.
What have also gone are the in-between feral spaces, the undeveloped plots, the fallen trees and nettle-sown patches by the dirty river where we used to run and play, catch butterflies, befriend animals, get frightened and bullied, take some risks we didn't know about and some we did, and invent and imagine, these are all spoken for and tidied up and made good use of now.
I'm not nostalgic.
*Mr S was the local child molester, but our parents couldn't quite bring themselves to tell us that was why his shed was so seriously off-limits, we thought it was just the creosote.