Friday, July 20, 2012

The Maltings

The Maltings, Leamington Spa, 2012Modern suburban bliss.

That’s what this photograph conjures up.

But lying beneath that idea, for me, is a whole heap of childhood memories.

The building above form a residential development in Leamington Spa called The Maltings. It takes its name – and indeed much of its design aesthetic – from the buildings that were there originally.

When this site was first developed the buildings formed a local brewery – we’re talking some time in the 1800s here. Back when I knew the site in the 1970’s the brewery had closed down and I think the site was somehow shared between the local authority and Severn Trent Water. Certainly Severn Trent used to park their fleet of vans in the car park alongside those of the council bin men.

My grandfather worked for Severn Trent for much of his working life. Hence the connection.

Sunday’s were my favourite day as a kid. Every Sunday me and my sisters would spend the day with my grandparents – my Nan and Bampap. Bampap would pick us up around 10.30 and the journey we’d take to my grandparent’s house was painfully, joyously circuitous. We’d call in on family friends first – a whole host of people who became adopted as Aunty This and Uncle That. My grandparents came from the generation where friends were people you actually made time to see and visit rather than just poke on Facebook. They are each memories in themselves.

Regularly though we’d call in on the site now known as The Maltings.

Due to the Severn Trent connection my grandfather had access to the place and the facilities (such as they were – this was the 1970’s after all). This consisted solely of a standpipe and a hose with which he’d wash his car for free while me and my sister (my youngest sister was yet to be born) sat in the car and giggled at the sound of the water hitting the metal roof and running in curving arcs down the windscreen. On occasion, Bampap would allow us out of the car and we’d go for a nose around the offices. All strictly covert and secret. He’d tell us not to touch anything and then slyly nick us notepads and pencils from the stationery cupboard or dial the speaking clock on the telephone so we could hear the time recited to us in clipped BBC English.

I remember once he left us in the car while he went off about some business or other. He wouldn’t be long he said, we were to wait in the car. I daresay he was gone barely 15 minutes but to me and my sister, at 8 and 7 years old, it seemed an age and we began to panic that he wasn’t coming back. An idea that seems so ridiculous to me now I can’t believe I ever thought it. Being the oldest it was up to me to act and I decided we ought to roll down the window and climb out and go look for him.

Having made the decision I then sat back whilst my sister acted and I have a fuzzy memory of her managing to squeeze out of the driver’s side-window and dropping down to the ground just as Bampap appeared asking us at the top of his voice what the hell we were doing? I remember I was relieved to see him, not least because I doubted I’d be as agile as my sister and would not have got out of the window safely.

My other memories of this time are fragmentary. Reflections in a broken mirror. I remember the vans that used to be parked there. I remember the clock tower on the old brewery building. I remember the feral cats that we’d sometimes see scampering about and that Bampap would try and entice towards him by rubbing his fingers together as if to proffer food.

An entire decade of Sunday mornings are reduced down to a few mental snapshots and disembodied feelings that I know would hold me tightly if only I could bring them more into the light.

The Maltings development is lovely. I’m sure it is a very nice place to live and there are plaques commemorating the site’s former usage as a brewery – all part of Leamington’s rich history.

But when I walk by now I can’t help but feel a wistful sort of regret. Regret and sadness.

All that meant anything to me about the place is gone. Long gone.

And the plaque I have in my mind is now not as clear as it once was.

As my Nan would have said: happy days.

The Maltings, Leamington Spa, circa 1970

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21 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

I can see the budding writer in you, dreaming up slapstick stunts for your sister to carry out. At what age did you start wearing long trousers?

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: I'm thinking about possibly starting next year. But only if the climate warms up.

Nana Go-Go said...

The fact that you're writing about those memories means they're well and truly 'embedded' in your memory banks and you'll have them forever. Big Up to your Nana and Bampap for putting them there in the first place. Good Weekend to you, Sir.

Steve said...

Nana Go-Go: thank you, good madam.

the fly in the web said...

By the time you get old (you know, past forty) those memories will become as sharp as clear glass.

I've just remembered being taken to Wandsworth gasworks to sniff the coke exhaust by the a cousin when I had whooping cough when staying with her family.
Think the idea was kill or cure.

Steve said...

the fly in the web: I am, alas, already past forty...

Hannah Denski said...

Ah Steve, the older we get, the harder it gets to part with memories from our childhood, the more we resist the change... fact : ) x

Steve said...

Hannah: can't argue with that!

The Sagittarian said...

This post struck a chord with me, not least because we have lost so many buildings that it is hard to even recall what was where!!
I too recall being left for probably days in cars while parents and grandparents were just going to be 5 minutes....

John Gray said...

steve as GB states the writer is within you!

libby said...

I loved that old building.....I walked past it every day to school..and now I! Drive past the new one every week and feel just like you do steve.......you were lucky to have such loving grandparents in your early years.

Being Me said...

That is gorgeous. All gorgeous. I visited Colas Mews the first (and second, come to think of it!) time I visited London. I've grown up hearing about it, it's where my Dad lived with his parents before coming out here when he was 11. Amazingly, only the wall where a photo of him of about 3-4yrs old remains. The rest, like in the case of your Maltings buildings, is unrecognisable - demolished and replaced with dwellings that look fine... but clearly have little to no character. (Or is it just our memories or fondness for a place the "thing" that creates the character/attachment to the old bricks and mortar that stood there??)

Steve said...

Amanda: kids do really have a different perception of time...I try and remember that wih my own kids.

John: or the trickster.

Libby: the old building was fabulous though I had no idea of the history behind it at the time. I'm just glad I got to see inside it a bit too.

Being Me: so much of the new is just too clean - clean lines, clean style, clean rendering - the character of a building is in the little blemishes and the dirt and the functionality over pure aesthetics.

Being Me said...

Agree!

Steve said...

Being Me: yer a pal!

Katriina said...

Sometimes the actual bricks and mortar of a place are the one thing that can trigger childhood memories that hidden in one's subconscious. Without those physical reminders it can feel as though certain memories are condemned to remain beyond reach. A couple of years ago my siblings and I made a kind of pilgrimage to the small town where our grandparents once lived, to find their old house. We had so many memories of spending time there, but time had blurred everything. The house was still there, but had been sadly neglected and was a shell of its former self, and the wonderful garden we remembered had vanished as though it had never existed. The house was still there but its soul had gone.

Steve said...

Katriina: I think you allude to a simple truth - buildings have souls and a presence and a memory of their own. But without the shell of them there are no ghosts left beind.

Nota Bene said...

What fabulous memories...these days it would still be standing converted into trendy designer flats....

Steve said...

Nota Bene: yup... which I'd never be able to afford.

About Last Weekend said...

Its much more beautiful as it was, bampaps and all. My brother always used to push me over the fence to a high tree to knick the neighbours fruit - until one day I fell off and broke my arm. Course he was the first to scarper inside, stinkbum

Steve said...

About Last Weekend: plainly it is the noble office of brothers to provide such service to their sisters.