When I tell people that I started my life at Clifton there is a noticeable shift in the way they regard me. ‘Oh, well,’ they say or think, ‘you have been spoiled.’ This is because they are reading the situation in terms of current demography. The smallest property there, even a bachelor apartment, now costs many millions, even in hard currencies; the Clifton Lifestyle is thus available only to the extremely wealthy.
When we lived there, however, this was not the case. The bungalows were, by and large, owned by the city and in poor repair. There were some wealthy people, but they tended to occupy the few freehold properties. The rest were middle-class or lower-middle class, bohemians and the like. Our neighbours were a council inspector, a motor mechanic, a clerk, and their wives, who were housewives. All of the residents at Clifton were, as the law required, white.
Trinity Hall, while not exactly a hovel, rose above that status only by having sewage, running water and electricity. The roof leaked, the corrugated-iron walls at the back were rusty, the wooden planks at the front were rotten, and the embankment behind the house teetered on the verge of collapse. In big winter storms, the waves would breach the wall below and wash around the house, oozing in under the doors. The bungalow was freehold and was owned by one Billy Ray, as my mother’s 1955 diary records. It had fallen, around that time, under the shadow of development, for the 1950s were the time when, all over the world, older buildings were torn down as if in an effort to match the depredations of the recent war, and blocks of self-similar flats were built to replace them.
Lesley’s diary records that during that time, she and Jack discussed the possibility of renovating the place with Billy Ray, called in their friend Jack Barnett to draw up renovations, and had them approved, only to have the approval withdrawn as Ray wavered under the pressures of developers to sell. Some time after we left in 1958, but before we returned two years later, the bungalow was sold. Jack and Uys together bought another bungalow, just two houses away, for, as I recall it, ten thousand pounds. They were still paying it off a decade later. After this, Raymond and I spent the long holidays, in winter and summer, with Jack and Uys: a total of nine weeks every year. The rest of the time was spent on the farm with Lesley.
Sea Girt, as the new house was called, was not much more up-market than Trinity Hall, and Jack, who was uncomfortable without some daily physical work, did such maintenance as he could, but the salt air attacked the corrugated-iron and all other metal continuously. The bathroom was slowly sliding downhill, the floor cracked and sloped. We had a lavatory with a pull-chain, and a telephone that rang an electric bell.
During the 1960s, wealth started to drift into Clifton as residents took advantage of the ability to sell their ninety-nine year leases. Bungalows were refurbished and extended, had decks and picture-windows installed. By the mid-1960s, our bungalow was one of the more scruffy ones on the beach, and I still remember the shame I felt as my friends sang ‘My name is Jack and I live in a shack,’ after a popular song of the time.