Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Twenty Flight Rock

It takes a lot, these days, to get me to run up five flights of stairs, though I'm pleased to say I can still do it. It seems I'm fitter than some people think.

I've run up a lot of stairs in my time. For many years my home was a fourth floor council flat in a block so ugly that every year I used to see kids from my school down on the ground below sketching -- for some reason the art teacher would assign "draw the ugliest building in Stevenage" annually as homework. A tough call, given the competition, but the smart ones knew Chauncy House was the place to go. Easy to draw, too -- a housebrick made a decent template.

I liked living in that flat. My friend Alan and I used to fill balloons with water and toss them from the balcony. For some reason the grass always grew thicker and greener wherever the balloons had exploded. Happy days! One snowy night when my parents were out I swear we saw someone drive a small herd of cattle through the grounds. No, no-one else believed us, either.

In a way, our block of flats was the fons et origo of the New Town. It was pretty much the first new building erected, and it was where the architects and construction people lived during the first stages of "Silkingrad"* as it was known to the ungrateful locals whose fields had been bulldozed to make homes for heroes. Planes heading for Luton Airport appeared to use us as a landmark: you could hear them change down a gear (or whatever it is planes do) as they went overhead. On summer nights the sounds of the nearby A1(M) motorway came in on the west wind into the small hours, something I found very restful and miss to this day when I am wakeful at 3 am.

But I digress. Why did I run all the way to the top fifth floor of the library yesterday morning, as soon as I got in the back door at 7:50 am? Because I had caught a glimpse of what was going on in the basin of the Itchen River to the east:

Bitterne Park is melting in the rain...

I was concerned that if I didn't hurry, the steamy action over the river would be over before I got to a suitable vantage point. As it turned out, it was worth getting a little puffed out for, I think.

*Lewis Silkin was the Labour minister responsible for the New Towns programme. The name "Silkingrad" was thought by the local Resistance to be jolly funny, implying both personal vanity and Soviet-style social planning.


Gavin McL said...

The clouds today were very good - I spent half a meeting today watching some splendid examples drift past the triangular window (our office building is blessed with round, square and triangular windows, but unfortunately no Floella Benjamin)

A good photo, worth the sprint


Mike C. said...

I had to google Floella B. -- I'm too old and my kids were too young for that generation of Playschool. How generation-specific these things are!

Thinking of kids' TV, the names Wally Whyton, Muriel Young and Bert Weedon (Tuesday Rendezvous?) come to mind. Though Mr. Motivator does remain imprinted on my mind from watching Power Rangers with my son...


Martin H. said...

Nicely captured, Mike. When I was an Attendant, shelving on the 5th floor, I always sent the trolley up in the lift and raced it to the top. Oh, it was all fun in those days!

Mike C. said...

I'd forgotten about that -- racing the lift in our flats was one of my youthful post-pub games (it was generally too unpleasant to get into anyway). The automatic sliding door was just slow enough to close to allow you to press the button and escape.

The thing was so slow, and often opened with the floor of the lift a foot or two above or below the actual floor. I can hear the echoing "pang pang pang" of my feet in the stairwell going up the bare concrete steps. No wonder I used to be thin.


Mauro said...

"Tu proverai sì come sa di sale Lo
pane altrui, e com'è duro calle Lo scendere e il salir per
l'altrui scale ..."

Dante, Paradiso XVII

BTW beautiful view.

Mike C. said...

Woah, thanks for raising the tone, Mauro! It's a great quote, on the pain of exile I believe, and translates something like this:

You will get to know the salty taste of other people's bread, and how hard it is going up and down other people's stairs.

there's no exile like the exile from childhood and youth, is there?


Dave Leeke said...

May I lower the tone immediately? I was recently talking about the very Whyton/Young/Weedon programme and no one seems to remember it. I'm sure it wasn't only broadcast in the Stevenage area. However, it was called, I believe, "Ollie and Fred's Five O'Clock Club" after the stars of the show. Both were glove puppets - one an owl with a school cap on and the other was an offcut of bathroom rug in the vague resemblance of a dog. You can guess which was which.

Bert had a few minutes to show us a finger-tangling chord and then play a lightning-fast version of "Sabre Dance" which may or more likely not, have included said chord.

I remember your flat you invited me in once. I often get invited in to places once.

Mike C. said...


You may. A blog can only stand so much Dante. I remember Fred Barker and Ollie Owl on 5 O'Clock Club (da da-da da) 5 O'Clock Club (da da-da da) very well -- they eventually became spin-offs, like Frazier from Cheers.

Knowing that one has actually seen grinnin' Bert Weedon in his prime (a Roy Cross lookalike, wouldn't you say?) is a good feeling.

A lot of people were terrified by the open walkways on the back of Chauncy House -- it accounted for a lot of one-time visits.