I really don’t remember much about my pre-school years. At some point, my parents somehow managed to buy the house they were renting; 125 Haywood Road. I learned later that the landlords were Mr and Mrs Anderson, whose own house was in Gretton Road, just the other side of Mapperley Plains. At the time the acquisition of the house meant nothing to me of course, but I believe the price was something of the order of £500. What a laughably small amount of money by today’s standards!
I remember Gretton Road, because we would always be up and down that hill to my paternal grandparents’ house in Coronation Road. The image of my grandmother is very much like the one I have of Queen Victoria. A rotund lady, dressed in brown with her hair in a bun. I know my brother was very fond of her, but I barely remember her at all. She died when I was six or seven, and was buried out at Selston. I was deemed too young (or too much of a hindrance) to go to her funeral. I never saw that grave until my grandfather joined her in it several years later.
Another road I remember well from those days was Breck Hill. When I was a toddler my mother and I would go and feed fallen apples to the horses in fields that lined Breck Hill Road. The view from there, as from my grandparents garden, was of open fields leading down into Arnold (Arno Vale I suppose) but it didn’t stop there. Looking north from near the top of the long ridge that was Mapperley Plains, the view north extended out over Arnold to Hucknall and beyond, and most of it was open fields. The horses were very gentle. I was shown how to put apples on the palm of my outstretched hand so they could somehow ‘snuffle’ them off. The firm message was that if your palm and fingers weren’t held out flat, the horses would have finger and apple pie but I don’t believe it for a minute.
If we didn’t have any fallen apples, we would buy some from the ‘open all hours’ shop that stood on the corner of Westdale Lane and Plains Road. The shop was run by Cyril Scales and his wife. Not only could you buy scruffy apples there (decent ones too of course if you could afford them) but also broken biscuits. Very little was pre-packaged: what you wanted was scooped out of a tin or a barrel into a brown paper bag for weighing. Bacon and cheese were put on greaseproof paper first. I can still remember the smell of that shop. It was just one of a number of small shops that were owned and run by local characters, and which have nearly all been replaced these days by franchises with shop fronts that you can see pretty much anywhere.
It’s a wonder that some of those shop businesses were viable, but many of them seemed to thrive. Of course, few people had cars in those days, and there were no supermarkets, so there was a symbiosis between them and the captive market that they served. The wall at the side of our back garden was the back wall of Allingtons the greengrocers, and the end wall was the side wall of Beales, the wallpaper shop. Silsons’ newsagents, the cobblers, the fish shop, Smiths jewellers and Mr Peake’s chemist’s shop, they’re all long gone now. I was surprised to see, when I passed through recently, that Baileys greengrocers is still going at the corner of Bennett Road. Well done Baileys!
On those open fields on Breck Hill, behind my grandparents’ place, I remember we used to go sledging (tobogganing) every winter. Even the climate has changed, and I’m sure it’s not my memory playing tricks. Why would people go to the trouble of making sledges these days, and how many kids in Nottingham are given sledges for Christmas? In those days, snow was a reliable feature of seemingly every winter. Even if it did snow so regularly these days, there’d be no sledging: those fields now have a long-established housing estate on them. I drove through the new roads and found that they’re neatly joined to the bottoms of Clumber and Beech Avenues, thus making a connection to Mapperley Plains. It was bizarre to drive up them, remembering that in the Fifties they were little more than tracks that petered out. The only thing I can remember being down there was a mushroom farm, but there was no sign of that among the neat little bungalows and semis that line them now.
Emerging onto Plains Road, the constant bustle of traffic makes it a real feat of imagination to get back to the hot summer days when I’d sit at the kerbside with one or two friends, number-plate spotting. With cars passing so infrequently then, it wasn’t exactly a taxing pastime – these days, you’d need some kind of electronic assistance.