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Dean Whitbread 2013

Dean Whitbread 2020

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Written on February 21, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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I knew my address as a rhyme. It was find-my-way home mantra, in case I strayed too far from home turf.

“six-teen college-green,
ess-ee nine-teen”

All of us children would chant it, asserting that we had all committed our home address to memory and could thus be trusted to wander off and find the way back should we become lost. It was our licence to roam.

College Green was a pleasant post-war council estate built in the enormous grounds of the Edwardian College for the Blind, which had once existed at the crest of that part of the hill, until being reduced to rubble by Nazi bombs in the 1940s. The large perfectly flat space where the college had been set into the steep side of the hill was now a lorry park for articulated vehicles, littered with skeletal shopping trolleys and smashed bottles.

Trees were thick and leafy, all the way up the narrow path to the brow of the hill, where Crystal Palace’s shops and pubs maintained a steady buzz of human activity within the slightly dilapidated Victorian triangle which had been built for the great exhibition of 1851.

This prime land, looking down on London’s tall towers to the North, and across Surrey heathland to the South, enjoying a prevailing breeze from the coast which kept the air clean and fresh, was covered with a glorious variety of lime, lilac, birch and sycamore against privet and holly, with pre-war planting adjacent to empty plots of wild growth, and some areas fenced off and untended since the war, full of nettles and elder and rusting corrugated iron; but although almost all the old wrought-iron railings and gates had been systematically removed and melted down as part of the war effort, the place still retained some of it’s secluded grandeur.

Much-needed cheap modern council housing was kindly situated in this little dip in the crown of Crystal Palace Hill. College Green Estate was built in around a natural bowl in an incomplete G shape, along paths which followed the wonky natural contours. A single small grey concrete block of flats rose in the middle of the bowl, it’s top below the line of the hill, and this was incongruously approached by a straight avenue of mature horse chestnuts, plane and oak. Here also was a small park with a modern playground, including a wonderfully tall and fast slide, a sick-making roundabout, two lines of proper swings with long, strong steel chains, and a vicious Witches Hat which was capable of braining a child.

This is the place I learned to ride a bicycle without stabilisers.

I ventured out, through what was once probably a rear exit for the gardeners, into Harold Road, and there was the rest of the world, and the rest of my life.

When we moved from College Green, I was 5, but we stayed in this area until I was 14. We kept on moving to various estates around the hill, 5 children crammed with Mum and Dad into inadequate space. I explored the entirety of this hill, all it’s slopes from Sydenham to Thornton Heath, from Anerley to Crown Point, down South Norwood Hill to the swimming baths, and all the way to Addiscombe, on my bike.

Addiscombe is the place I was born.

We moved to College Green when I was 2 years old, so it’s the first home I remember.

Coming out of College Green, the streets surrounded a large Recreation Ground, which we called the Rec.

This is the place I ran for my life with the dog, and sought shelter in my ex-piano teacher’s house as the man grabbed hold of me and tried to pull me out to beat me.

Two thirds of the Rec was surrounded by neat 30s black and white fronted semi-detached houses with pampas and coloured stone (i.e. posh) paved fronts. My end was Harold Road, the other Hermitage Road, leading up to the Convent. At the Harold Road end stood an avenue of stately, somewhat delapidated, red brick 4 storey, 12 bedroom Victorian mansions, with gardens of cedar and fruit trees, verandas and wisteria. The splendid Rec boasted enormous London plane trees, the ubiquitous horse chestnuts, and little copses of silver birch led through a formal garden to tennis courts. There was a gentle slope downhill to where Rockmount School and St Margaret’s faced the park, and a line of large beech trees which were so healthy they drenched the streets in nuts every September. Mature elm trees bisected the park further down opposite the school. They were dying, one by one sprayed with the fatal white X, felled and removed, victims of Dutch Elm disease.

The playing fields part of the Rec weren’t the flattest in the Borough of Croydon, being on the top of a wonky hill, but they had proper goalposts, marked out full-sized pitches, lots and lots of grass, a park-keeper’s hut covered in grafitti, and were a pretty safe bet for a decent bit of park life at any age, or time of day.

This is the place I accidentally kicked Andy Marks in the balls during a game of school football, and heard a teacher use a swear word for the first time in my life.

If I turned left up Harold Road, the way led up to Spa Woods, and on the brow of dangerously steep Spa Hill was Tivoli Lodge.

This was the place my Nana and Grandad used to live, and where Aunty Barbara now lived, Tivoli Lodge, opposite the Beaulah Spa pub, backing onto Spa Woods.

This is the place my Mother came out one childhood morning after a heavy fall of snow to find that one of the circular rose gardens had disappeared. The enormous hole was several feet across and very deep. It was the old water source for the Spa, long since disused, which had drawn Victorians in the 1890s for it’s health giving properties, and artists like Sisely to paint the views across London and Surrey. The roses had been standing in just 2ft of earth on some wooden boards. It took the debris from three air-raid shelters to fill it and make it safe.

If I turned left again and made the arduous journey up to the very top of this part of the hill, then I got to Beaulieu Heights. This was pushing it, strange territory, on the edge of South Norwood Hill, which kept on going down 380ft until you hit flatland. Beaulieu Heights was scary and dark, steep and amazing, right underneath the huge ITV television mast. You could hide and not be found. You could bomb people with acorns. You could actually get lost there.

This is the place I felt my first breast.

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This thing has 4 Comments

  1. Astrid
    Posted 21 February, 2005 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Does the college green ever go white? Like say today or does that only happen when people spill an excessive amount of milk?

  2. transience
    Posted 22 February, 2005 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    that last line was killer. but you know that. the whole post was a beautiful prelude to dying but that parting shot just left me completely, inexorably without life. my muse is shacking up with you, isn’t she?

  3. Astrid
    Posted 22 February, 2005 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Haha .. I can’t believe I missed this entire story, but the place sure made a lasting impression on you! Looks like a fine place to touch your first breast! Haha .. I love useless interesting facts!!! Keep up the good work and how many more days till your birthday?

  4. Laurie
    Posted 23 February, 2005 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Great descriptions. I think I’ll write a mental revisit of my old neighborhood one day soon. Very enjoyable reading.

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