The House On Beechwood Crescent

The house on Beechwood Crescent was a posh house, that is to say it was posh for Burley, that is to say it was, along with its identical twin next door, the only semi-detached house for streets around.

28 Beechwood Crescent sat on a small, awkward corner triangle plot of land, a brick built semi-detached residence of 1920-ish vintage, deposited almost as an afterthought on the bit of land that was left after the developer had built his row upon row of back-to-back terraced houses that made up 99% of the housing stock of Burley and in particular the streets named the “Lumley’s” and “Beechwoods” which stretched in parallel lines down the hill from the Headingley rugby ground  towards Burley Road, Kirkstall Road, and inner city Leeds.

Because we lived at 28 Beechwood Crescent and because our friends all lived in the tiny back-to-back houses in the same street, we were regarded as posh, we had a big house with two entrance doors, one at the front and one at the back so that you could walk right through the house, which was an impossibility in the back-to-back houses over the road where you only had a front door and the back wall of your front room was also the back wall of the front room of the house in the next street behind, and even though our house only had two bedrooms, at least me and my brother Ned had half a bedroom each, some of our friends had to share bedrooms with several other siblings.

We were also regarded as posh because as a requirement of his job as a service engineer our dad had a company car, a brand new Austin A40 which was the height of vehicle technology in 1963, red with a black roof it was and I remember the men in the street walking up to our house just to look at the A40 and marvel at how short its gearstick was, how innovative the daring new shape with its cut-off rear and fold-down boot lid (it was the worlds first hatchback design), why even the back seats could be folded down to make more boot space, the men of the street would stand around gazing in wonder at the small car, sharing their Gold Leaf and Players cigarettes, sitting in the drivers seat and playing with the gear stick, flicking the light switches on and off “eeeh, fingertip control Frank”, “aye, its got a blinker switch right there on the steering column look”, the Austin A40 was so radically different from its Austin predecessors that it quickly became an object of desire amongst the whole of the male population in our street to the extent that they would ask our dad how the car was running on a nightly basis as if it were a thoroughbred racehorse, they all but came and tucked it in every night, it was a lovely car.

I only remember three other cars residing in our street, car ownership was still the height of poshness and the working class community of Burley relied on public transport or their own legs to get about their business, even Laurie Jermaine over the road who was an HGV driver did not have a vehicle of his own, he had to catch the bus to his employers yard to collect his wagon every morning, and catch the bus home late at night when his work was done – or not at all as the case may be, Mr Jermaine seemed to be out of work more often than in it, maybe he was a bad driver, or maybe he just didn’t like the work, but with six kids and two adults in a small two bedroom back-to-back house, money was always going to be tight whether or not you were in regular work, and Laurie Jermaine’s work was anything but regular.

Our dads first task when we moved into Beechwood Crescent was to build a garage for his car, and one of my earliest memories from Beechwood Crescent was of me playing in a massive mound of sand that he’d had delivered for the hours of cement mixing that he undertook to erect his fine garage. There must have been several tons of sand in the mound that was dumped into our small front yard and to stop it spreading itself all over the place, our dad built a fence around the mound out of old scaffold planks then laid plywood panels over the top of it to stop it getting soaked in the rain, and to stop the local cats from shitting in it, such mounds of sand being great attractions to cats for whom one of lifes greatest pleasures is shitting in sand then burying it.

Unfortunately sheets of plywood are no barrier for a young five year old who wants to play in an mountain of sand with his toy soldiers and cars and I always manage to prise a gap in the defences then sit in the hole that I’d dig out and play all day. Of course the local cats would find the same hole and perform their ablutions in the same sand hole for me to dig up the next day, or worse still, for our dad to mix in with his cement the next evening.

Months and months of a couple of hours graft every evening and most weekends culminated in a functional garage of just the right dimensions for the small Austin A40, built from cement rendered breeze blocks with hand made wooden doors and to top off the masterpiece at the back of the garage, three windows which were glazed with etched glass. Our uncle being a printer by trade had happened upon some glass panels that his company had been commissioned to print with emblems to British industry, fine pictures of steel and coal workers, printmakers and builders, our garage became a shrine dedicated to the British working man, and all because our uncle had made a mistake and printed the panels slightly off centre, then somehow they had fallen into his car and found their way to our new garage where three empty window frames awaited them. After installation people would walk past the back of our garage and stop and point out the various industries depicted and marvel at how someone would go to all the trouble of etching his garage windows like that, and for why.

But after the garage was finished the mound of sand had hardly shifted, he’d obviously over-estimated the amount needed by a factor of around ten and so for many more months I had a fantastic playground until one day the hole that I’d dug collapsed in on me while I was sitting in it, burying me up to the chest and my wailing and screaming finally attracted the attention of our mother who was not best pleased, either at me or our dad who was instructed to immediately dispose of the mountain playground.

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