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.