Putney

I like to think of Putney as the spiritual heartland of modern Britain. Most famously it is the site of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the former home of Thomas Cromwell (Putney mentioned 41 times in Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize Winning book Wolf Hall), the site of the 1647 Putney Debates at St.Mary’s Church and the home to a series of pubs like the Half Moon and the White Horse that once hosted some of Britain’s best live rock and roll music. Putney is aware that God Is Dead yet still find great merit from Church of which there are two major protestant church primary schools, one connected to St.Mary’s Church, the building at the start of Putney Bridge, then All Saints on Putney Common. In Putney you have two Football teams, Fulham and Chelsea. The Common and towpath feel like ancient pagan fields, especially on long summer evenings when people bring drinks from the Spencer and there is a smell of lawns mowed for the local cricket club. As a child, thanks to my Grandparents and Parents I was well aware of London’s treasures, the 22 Bus Route, Notting Hill, the V and A, the Imperial War Museum and the stalls and cafe’s around the South Bank, yet, Putney was the nucleus of my existence. 

Looking back Putney was like the town described in Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year

When I was seventeen

It was a very good year

It was a very good year for small

Town girls and soft summer nights

We’d hide from the lights

On the village green

When I was seventeen

Or that described in the Phillip Larkin poem MCMXIV

The crowns of hats, the sun

On moustaches archaic faces

Grinning as if it were all

An August Bank Holiday lark; 

And the shut shops, the bleached

Established names on the sunblinds,

The farthings and sovereigns,

And dark-clothed children at play

Called after kings and queens’. 

At primary school the strength of ties between families, schools and sports clubs was immense. I was born to a generation blessed with good guides as most of my friends had older brothers. Not only were our parents known to one another, we also had the benefit of imitating the behaviours, music, video games, styles, activities and actions that our brothers had enacted. Moreover, we had the ability to walk the route trodden by our older siblings through church, school and scouts. 

To add to this environment I had Grandparents and Cousins that were always around making play after school, holding family dinners and extending offers to other families throughout our summertime community. My Grandparents lived in a house on Richmond hill. The house in Richmond was the the ideal location for a hammock, a badminton lawn, elderflower, chocolate cherry cake and Christmas Dinner. Richmond was the epicentre for family life and with an older brother, a younger sister, and three cousins from my Mum’s sister, we had plenty of entertainment.

Life was spent immersed in the alternate world of games. At school we played Football through the Autumn and Winter and Summer, Cricket and Tennis in the Summer and then occasionally Crazy Bones. After school on Friday Evenings myself and friends from St.Mary’s school played 5 a side football at Rocks Lane. The Green Giants won the 5-A-Side league twice. From a very early age we were built not just to feel loved, but to feel like we were winners and that the energy throughout our community had the ability to breed talent. After football some would experience greater levels of competition through the Friday Night Scouts, run by a local postman without a wife or children called Rob. This was an environment with children from both St.Mary’s and All Saints, and had been the playing field for our brothers generation. 

Home became the site of alternative digital worlds. On the Playstation 2 I played endless games of Fifa and Medal of Honour, determined to be at a level that I might offer my Brother an effective match. On the Gameboy Advanced I played Pokemon. On the computer I would play vast amounts of Call of Duty 2 Team Death Matches, fighting as a team of allied soldiers in World War Two battles like Carentan and El-Almein, as well as building an army to defend Joan of Arc in Age of Empires and then fighting for the Allies in the Cold War in Red Alert Yuri’s Revenge. I also spent hours on miniclip.com playing games like Motherlode and Club Penguin. When people visited we had the opportunity to play Beyblades, an advanced game of spinning tops where you have the ability to engineer the attacking blade, the frame and the spinning end. I spent hours building the perfect combination. Putney’s virtual worlds entertained challengers, defeat and victory, imagined and soundtracked by films like Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan and fuelled with Snack A Jacks, Krispy Kremes, Jelly Tots and Haribos.

The calendar revolved around the Church, The School and the Families associated with both. At Christmas we had the nativity play at St.Marys, were I always played Shepherd. In the Summer we had the St.Mary’s BBQ in which we had the defining moment of seeing England lose to Brazil in 2002 after Ronaldinho lifted the ball above the head of David Seaman, then further suffering in the losing to Portugal on penalties in 2004. This environment gave me a very early understanding of the importance of English football towards British masculinity. On Boat Race day we would host a cake sale. On Fireworks night there was a regular household event with marshmallows and sparklers. On Christmas Eve we went to the same house enjoying Cornish pasties and Christmas Carols with my Brother playing violin. 

On graduation from St.Mary’s the neighbourhood moved as a tribe towards Kingston for our secondary education. The 85 Bus enjoyed different generations from St.Mary’s and All Saints attending either Kingston Grammar School or Tiffins. Just as the two schools dominated the playing fields and houses of Putney, we would do so on the 85 and then at Kingston Grammar School. Like St.Mary’s, Kingston Grammar School had been attended by some of our older brothers. We were known and possibly even protected by all that had gone before us. Those on the 85 lured Kingstonians living in Clapham, Richmond, Teddington and Wimbledon towards the houses, the video games, Sky Sports and eventually the pubs of Putney. 

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