Of Cuckoos and Conkers
(From 'Yesterday Remembered' article in Best of British magazine, February 2009 Edition)
If you ever meet someone who says they come from the Cuckoo Estate, you can bet serious money that, within three minutes, they will tell you that Charlie Chaplin is the most famous Cuckooite. Technically, that isn't true.
The estate was built during the 1930s, to re-house families from the more deprived areas of
On the eastern boundary were fields where we could play football, climb trees or paddle in the pond. To the south was the River Brent, where we fished for sticklebacks and retrieved golf balls, which could be sold back to careless golfers. It was also where most of us learned to swim before we could afford the luxury of the local swimming baths.
The pride of the estate was
At the northern end of the avenue was what we called the
With the outbreak of war, the already tight-knit community became even more united and formed groups, among their neighbours, to help in digging out the ground, mixing cement and erecting
As the Blitz progressed, I ended up being evacuated to
A year later, when I heard that my father, who was in a reserve occupation, had decided to enlist in the Army, I opted to go home. Three months later, we were bombed out, and I spent 18 months with an aunt in Hertfordshire, before our house was made safe enough to move back. By then I was old enough to go into the
I was elected to become the milk monitor, which involved helping a lady set out fifty beakers and fill them from churns, one third of a gill to each beaker. Then I'd go off to summon the first class to the hall, return the beakers, refill them, and dash off for the next class. This activity took up most of the morning, so I missed a lot of lessons.
Underground air raid shelters had been built in a field opposite the playground and, during the doodlebug siege, I became the sweet monitor. If we sat down there for one hour, a teacher would produce a cake tin full of wine gums, and I had to hand one out to each boy, asking which colour they preferred, before digging around to select one and handing it over. Grubby hands were never taken into consideration.
When the war ended, we had the most spectacular street parties, the bonfires doing more damage to the roads then the Luftwaffe. The
As we grew into adolescence, many of the girls married American servicemen from a local Air Force base, which prompted their siblings also to leave home. This exodus became known as 'moving beyond the Brent'.
A few years ago, two of the expats in American met up and, after holding a nostalgic reunion and swapping memories of the Estate, decided to set up a website seeking other former residents (www.cuckooites.org). We now have a flourishing site with Cuckooites from all over the world recalling those times we had as children, and how we've moved on to new horizons and experiences. A crest was designed with the slogan, 'Beyond the Brent,' which has now been developed as a lapel badge or brooch. Last year a book was produced called, Memories of the Past,' which has been compiled from comments and photographs sent in by many people and, last year, a third reunion party was held in Our oldest surviving member is 102.
These days a lot of the houses are privately owned and, where a car used to be a rare sight, parking is now at a premium. The
I have always wondered why the estate was called 'Cuckoo' because I can never remember hearing one in the twenty years I lived there. No doubt someone will post a comment on our website to say that they heard them all the time. We shall see.
Written by Derek Southon, Hadleigh,