Sad to say the series of Cradle to Grave has ended, but it made me think of my early years in SE5. Just off the Old Kent Road and not too far from where Danny Baker grew up. Attached is a picture of the road I lived on. We lived not in a house, but on the top floor of one of the houses pictured. Me, my three sisters and parents occupied three rooms. One of them a kitchen. There was an outside toilet and bath time was a once a week affair in a tin bath. When I was old enough I used the public baths about a mile away.
In the early 70’s the council decided to rectify the lack of open spaces by planning a new park. My road was due for demolition to create this green paradise in north Peckham/ Camberwell neighbourhood. One by one the streets were bring cleared of houses with the aid of a ball and chain. But before that happened the empty houses were our playground. Bit by bit green spaces appeared around us and we were able to play football on grass instead of on the streets. Other childhood games were He, Hopscotch and running round the block.
Mine was a normal childhood, at least that’s how it seems when everyone around you is living exactly as we were.
Attached is a photo of the Public Baths I mentioned, last time I went it was a boxing gym instead.
My childhood was spent mostly playing with other Turkish kids, of which there were a few on our road, our families all knew each other. Although there were other nationalities in the area we didn’t mix much socially unless we needed to make up the numbers for a game of football and the Greek and English kids joined in.
I had a Liberal education, no really. No timetable as such, and apart from set time to do cookery or drama or games we were free to do what we want. Some kids spent all their time drawing birds, I alternated between reading and playing Lego. Our headmaster was Mr. Nind and at Christmas he treated us to a viewing of Wizard of Oz, Not. Another treat was to play us a single created out of a childrens tv progeramme, The Wombles, to my shame I gyrated wildly to this number. I more or less lived across the road from the school, which meant I went there alone from an early age. The school had a boys and a girls playground. In the radical 70’s our school decided to do away with such nonsense and allowed us to play with girls at break-time. I didn’t. I carried on playing football and no girls joined in.
My mother used to give me 2p to buy milk as Mrs. Thatcher had banned free milk in schools as she was the Minister for Education in the early 70’s. I instead went to the corner shop on the way and brought sweets.
I remember a lot of casual violence in my childhood, whether it be fights I got involved in myself or witnessed. On one occasion youths assaulted an old Turkish man who was our neighbour and I hid out of sight ducking under cover of a car. Later in life I became an advocate for non-violence.
Two major events occurred in my childhood. The first was my parents separation and then divorce. It wasn’t quite so common then.
The second occurred in 1974 when the government of Cyprus was overthrown by Greek fascists. This was followed quickly by the Turkish government sending paratroopers and soldiers to protect the Turkish Cypriot population. It was a time of great anxiety, I was sent to the corner shop to get the Turkish papers which was one of the few ways of getting information in pre internet age. You could also get Turkish radio stations on short wave and it was also a big news story in the UK so on the television news too. One of my neighbours across the road lost a family member, who committed suicide when about to be captured or killed by Greek Cypriots. This death was one of many in the tragic events of 1974, tragic for both communities who lost lives, homes.
Two years after this event I went to Cyprus for the first time. It was my first time in a plane and my first time out of London. We stayed in our village and I went to the fields with my grandfather to harvest the sesame and carob beans. That involved sitting in a cart pulled by donkeys. There were few cars then and I only had one trip to the beach in the five weeks I was away. Our village was a mixed village and two years after the war only a few elderly Greeks remained, they were gone by the time I returned four years later. Greek was the language our elders spoke when they wanted to discuss adult issues, or maybe even talk about us, as most of our family were bilingual. My grandad had his own cafe across the road from where he lived. This meant an endless supply of Pepsi Cola’s for us. There were never many customers, I think it was just my grandfathers friends who went to his cafe.
My final photo is of my grandparents on my mothers side, Arzu and Jafer, On my fathers side they were Ayse and Yusuf, I saw them at the airport on the day I left Cyprus on my first visit but I don’t have any photos of them, if any of my cousins have I would appreciate seeing them.
Things I recommend; non violence. It’s less traumatic and more civilised.
Things I don’t recommend; dancing to The Wombles.