Saturday, 8 February 2014

WordPress Daily Prompt: Good Fences?

Who are your neighbors? Are you friends with them, barely say hi, or avoid them altogether? Tell us a story — real or invented — about the people on the other side of your wall (or street, or farm, or… you get the point).

Photographers, artists, poets: show us NEXT DOOR.

Street Party WWII

I chose a photo of the neighbours gone by. Although the year was 1945 and I was still a twinkle in mum’s eye, my dad not yet having returned from his soldiering somewhere in Europe, I grew up in this street and many of the faces are still familiar.

I could start with grandad, the bloke with the grey hair second from the left at the back, the lady next to him with the silver top hat being my grandmother who I never really got to know. She died when I was four months old.

But this is all about neighbours and there are a few familiar faces. In the front row, the three ladies from the right were sisters and our next door neighbour family. They lived in a two storey attached house the same as ours. It was a small square in one of the poorer parts of London, but they were all rich in heart I suppose you could say. My memories are of a brick wall separating our gardens, although from the second floor of our house you had a good view over everything. I grew up in my house and the family next door were always the neighbours. They had a row of chicken coups in the garden when I was smaller, but one day they disappeared. Two of the sisters lived on the ground floor with the mother, an elderly lady: the third sister was the only one to be married and she lived on the top floor with her husband. They had no children. It was a time when you did not just enter each other’s houses, the homes were the castles and communication was mostly over the garden wall. Our lives were similar. There were no refrigerators, just a so-called safe in the back yard where you kept the perishables. This was fine in winter, when the outside water pipes froze in the cold temperatures and the food stayed almost frozen and fresh. Summer was a different aspect. The “safe” was absolutely no good as it got quite hot, the sun reflecting on the concrete of the houses. I remember my mum filling the sink in the kitchen with cold water and submerging the butter and milk in the water to keep it fresh.

I probably knew a few of the other neighbours in the photo, but time passes and the memories of familiar faces fade.

On the other side of the brick wall there was a house where Ernie and his wife lived – an elderly couple. My dad always invited Ernie to watch the English football cup final on our television as we were one of the few families in the street that had a television. Ernie’s wife’s sister lived in the ground floor of the house with her daughter. I remember seeing the daughter a few years ago. When the street was demolished most of the inhabitants moved to the same area as my mum and dad, the county/state of Essex. The daughter had become a very old lady. She was a single lady for many years, not having luck with the males. One day she married. It was whispered that she met her husband by newspaper contact. Who knows? But there were dubious rumours about him and suddenly he disappeared from view.

A little further along the street there was H’arry Murrell and his wife (we never really used the letter “H” in the East End. “arry was a pigeon fan, and his small garden had been converted into pigeon coops. Once a day he would let them fly, encouraging them to return by shaking a bag of pigeon feed and shouting “come’on, come’one”. I never heard the pigeons talk, but they seemed to recognise these words. His wife just suited “arry”. I remember her as a lady always clothes in a shapeless loose dress, or in her dressing gown, according to the time of day. They had a small dog and Mrs. Murrell would take the dog for walks early in the morning in her dressing gown and slippers on her bare feet.

Opposite lived Esther Bell. Mum told me it was a jewish family originally, although I never met Mr. Bell, as he had passed on before I arrived. Esther’s favourite job was cleaning the door handle. It was placed in the middle of her black wooden door and probably made of brass. It caught your eye, shining almost gold. The black of the door surrounding the handle had been bleached by the constant cleaning over the years. Esther had a daughter who was married. I only saw her husband leaving the house dressed in a suit and hat going to work. After he left she always seemed to be having a problem with her television as the repair man from the shop around the corner would call in. It must have been a complicated problem with the T.V. as he would arrive before lunch and leave during the afternoon. One day we all noticed that the daughter would become a mother.

In the house opposite lived Mr. and Mrs. Green. They had a son, but he never returned from the war. Mrs. Green was proud of her house and  I remember her living room being full of ornaments. Of course I had my friends, kids that were growing up after the war. There was a very large house at the end of the next square (there were two squares) and the family living there seemed to be permanently growing all the time. One of the daughters was a school friend. There were two sons with Down syndrome, but they were just part of the daily life of the square. The eldest daughter married and took the top floor of another house in the street. Her son also moved into one of the houses after marrying and so the family seemed to spread everywhere.

Between the two squares there was a street. Traiffic was sparse and the street had a wonderful slope. In the evenings we kids would meet to try out our skates. Not the modern shoe type as today: a metal framework strapped them over your shoes and we would sail from the top of the slope to the bottom. I remember mum always closed the door when I was out with the skates. She was always worried I would have an accident.

I could continue with all my street memories. I found a aerial photo of the street in a group I belong to on Facebook, just to show how closely packed together we were. Today the street is a small park.

Aerial view of Norah Street around the 1950's

Click here for more


  1. I remember nearly all of the neighbours from when I was growing up in my grandparent's house.

  2. Another great post. I enjoy reading your posts about England.